Huancayo, Peru - 1998
From July 8th to August 4th, 1998, truk and
Katherine traveled through various areas of central,
10 Julio 1998 HUANCAYO! We made it here yesterday after a seven hour bus ride from Lima. The bus ride itself was rather uneventful (s/ 20 each), but the altitude is dizzying. Right now, we are at over 10,600 feet (3,200 meters) and we've already had a couple of pens explode from the lack of air pressure.
After writing on the 8th in Lima, Kath and I went to dinner at Restaurant Machu Picchu, about 80 meters from the hostel. The portions were huge; we got our first glimpse at our culinary future on this trip chicken, potatoes, rice. Every dish touches at least one of these ingredients, and many dishes have all three in them. Bisteak (beef) is also prevalent, but pollo (chicken) rules the roost, so to speak. We got up in time for the bus without an alarm, had some breakfast at the hostel, jumped in a cab for the bus station, and waited for the bus. While waiting, I had time to reflect on the overabundance of security all over the place in Lima (and elsewhere). I would guess that 10% of the employed males in this city work in some capacity within the security field (federal or city police or personal security). Most big businesses have a guy standing our front in a brown uniform with black boots and a night stick and what appears to be a fake bulletproof vest. The cops are way more professional than the security guards, which is probably a good thing, as they are armed with a .38 and a grimace. The guard in front of the bus station appeared to sign a log book every half-hour and spend the majority of his time conversing with the stallkeeper out front and opening doors for the buses and his bosses. I got the strange feeling I could "take him" without any problem, but who cares? He's just there for show anyway.
[on the bus to Huancayo] We waited for a half hour and then boarded the bus. At first, we were the only ones, save two others, but after a few stops, that changed. I took some Dramamine in preparation for the steep climb and numerous switch-backs. Between snoozes, the landscape was beautiful. There was a painting-like balance between the brownish-red clay earth, the green shrubbery (mostly cactus), and the white-gray stones that rose up out of the earth. Villages along the way were formed from earthen clay blocks with sometimes reed thatched roofs. Others had tin roofs. Once outside the oppressive limits of Lima, the hazy sky lightened to a beautiful, bright blue, and sunshine poured down from the heavens.
We stopped for lunch at about 3,200 meters. We were close to the clouds. Stacy and I did not eat at Restaurante los Americanos with the other passengers; instead, we stood out in the sunshine and breathed clear air for the first time in days. The altitude did not seem to have an effect at that point. Four hours to go...
[in Huancayo] Beyond the lunch stop, we climbed another 1,500 meters to the pass and then began back down. Toward the top, snow still adorned the mountains like a crown. Villages got closer and closer together as we descended toward Huancayo. We passed through a number of smaller places. Off the bus in Huancayo, we headed off to find a hotel - Hotel Percy - where I sit now with horns and bad mufflers as my moonlight sonata. The room has two beds arranged "abstention style," as well as a private bath and , supposedly, hot water for showers in the am (but we will have to see about this tomorrow).
The bus stopped several times in Lima before heading out of the city. The bus left half-empty but picked up people along the way for s/ 10 or /s 5 to the next town. Kath took some Dramamine and slept most of the way to Huancayo. The scenery was amazing: blue, blue lakes, snow on some of the higher passes, and an insane bus driver who just knew the smaller cars and trucks will just get out of the way of a larger, faster object. We stopped for lunch before La Oroya and then continued on through La Oroya to Jonja, Conception, and Huancayo. We found a place at Hotel Percy's in Huancayo for s/ 20 a night. The showers are not hot. We went straight to dinner at La Cabaña on the other side of town. Kath had the Huancayo speciality (a potato with cream and other sauces all around it). I had the chicken sandwich and fries, with a side of shish-kabob and potatoes. We washed it all down with over a liter of strong sangria. We even tried the local coca-based drink that is supposed to help with the altitude. (It did relieve our headaches.) The bill was a prince's sum but we didn't care. We were just happy to be here.
I think it is sad that we don't know Spanish well enough to communicate beyond simple phrases. I feel at a disadvantage - not being able to talk to people and not being able to understand what they are saying. As we walked back to the hotel tonight, passing groups of school-aged girls, they looked at us and especially at me and giggled to each other. It must be weird to them to see such a pale-complected, light-haired person. There are few other gringos here. Looking different makes it even more of a disadvantage that we can't speak the language - if we spoke the language, perhaps there would be less of a barrier between us.
A taxi took us home and we slept. After getting up and around, we bought bus tickets for Ayacucho at s/ 18 each and went for a bath at this place down by the restaurant. Kath had a great time; the ladies side was mostly empty, and she love the sauna, Jacuzzi, and hot shower (first one so far). The guys side was too busy; I got in and got out. After that, we ran some errands (bought a watch with an alarm, got some money out of the ATM, ate some lunch and played with the idea of going to San Jeronimo, a village nearby where they specialize in filigree silverwork. But, we didn't have a map or speak enough Spanish to get around without one, so we went back to the hotel for a nap. Tonight, we called Kath's parents, ate yet another chicken dinner, and went back to the La Cabana to hear some tunes. Not bad music, but definitely not good, either. They could really use some control of the reverb.
Taking Lonely Planet's advice, we opted for a trip to the sauna rather than the co-ed (public) shower. We walked a number of blocks to Sauna Bulb - now, also a hostel and restaurant- for a bath. Again, language would have been helpful, as an attendant stood by watching me undress, trying to tell me to tie my towel around my waist and explain the order of the sauna. The first room is a very steamy, hot room with benches. Some sort of plants, reminiscent of eucalyptus, were giving off a wonderful, therapeutic smell. I sat and breathed in deeply and let the sweat and steam accumulate on my body. You leave this first room wet, as if having just stepped out of a shower. There there are cold showers to cool your skin -- Not realizing the order until well into the process, I skipped this part and went straight into the dry heat room. A traditional sauna, but dry and warm rather than hot. A short time in this box will dry the skin and prepare you for the next step. The shower and the hot sauna are interchangeable third and fourth steps. I chose the shower first, asking the attendant to take the soap and shampoo to Stacy upstairs. Then I opted for the hot sauna. The attendant also brought me a glass of fresh papaya juice to sip between sauna and shower. The juice was a bright orange with a twinge of yellow. It was sweet, but in a natural way, no sugar or preservatives added. It must have been mixed well, as the texture was frothy like a milk shake - minus the thickness. The option from the second "hot" sauna is to take a whir in the Jacuzzi, but I opted out of this one too - a bit too timid and unsure of the protocol. The attendant left me a towel for when I was finished and disappeared. Two other women bathers and I get the idea that this can be an all morning thing if desired. The secret is to cover your mid-section. When I first got undressed, the attendant decided that my travel towel was not good enough and went upstairs and returned with an apron of sorts. Underwear and bathing suits are OK, though, and I would have taken advantage of this if I had known. Breasts are also OK in women-only places. It is a weird division but not unlike Turkish baths. This has been the highlight of Huancayo for me. I felt so refreshed after the sauna - more than clean, somewhat purified. The feeling has stayed with me all afternoon. It helps too, that the air is so dry here - little sweat = little smell =less dirty feeling.
Today, I sense that people here keep to themselves. Unlike other counties where I've traveled, there is no one running up to me to practice the 3-5 works of English that they know. Again, not knowing the language is tough. However, despite how stand-offish people seem, when we try to speak Spanish, whoever you are talking to attempts to understand and sometimes correct your pronunciation. Still, we are definitely outsiders here. There is a strong undercurrent of nationalism - no one "Westernized" country is at the forefront of the capitalist endeavor. The music from the radio is Peruvian, the language is Spanish or another regional dialect, and the people seem content in this life. Additionally, the majority of people seem to be working class people. I have seen little of the fringe - either very poor or very wealthy- so far. People on the street dress average - pants/jeans, a shirt and sweater or jacket, socks and shoes. Some of the cholita women wear the wool hats, full mid-calf length skirts, long socks, and tightly plaited braids on either side of their heads. The braids are wrapped on each end and then connected to each other with cloth. Only the clothes of these women seem to distinguish them, but I am not sure why there is a difference.