25: Mission Inca-Kola – The Year of Living Differently – Peru …


Mission Inca-Kola

ARICA, CHILE to LIMA, PERU – 26 February, 2003
For the last two days in Arica, I had been considering if I should cross over to Peru as this was probably the closest I would get to Peru in a long time. I was there three years ago and had visited the southern bits of Peru.

Yesterday, I received an email from Fanny from France. She and her friends, Nathalia and Nadege, were with me in China on the 4-day horse-trek in Songpan way back in May last year. They had just completed their 1-year trip. However, during the last few weeks of their trip, in Ecuador and Peru, they all separately had their bags and cameras stolen.

It was so sad. Both countries have amazing cultures and tremendously interesting history. But security is always a problem. I had heard many, many, many stories from various travellers who either had bad things happen to them or knew someone who had bad things happen to them in Ecuador or Peru.

Three years ago in Peru, I was violently robbed as well, knocked unconscious and left lying on the pavement. It was horrible.

Sigh… when you are able to hold conversation, saying, “My first robbery happened in… And my second robbery happened in…”, you should really consider switching your interest from travelling to cross-stitching.

Well, tempting as it is, I am struggling now but… I think I will stick to travelling. You go, girl.

And so, I crossed over to Peru with a heavy heart.

Various Peruvians at the International Terminal in Arica harrassed me to take their colectivos (shared car). After filling out the Immigration Form, I could not locate the driver whom I originally agreed to, for the Peruvians still looked alike to me. So, I went with another who already had two persons in his car.

At the Peru customs, the customs officer asked me how long I wanted to stay in Peru. Two weeks. He gave me two months, muttering that he did not want to see me married in Peru.

Hey, don’t worry. My betrothed is in Cafayate, Argentina, busy turning five.

And so, I was soon placed at the bus terminal in Tacna, Peru’s border town with Chile and I had scarcely filled my lungs with Peruvian air before I was harrassed by a tout who wanted to bring me to buy a bus-ticket although it was a task I could very well manage myself. 1:15pm means bus would leave at 1:15pm. Arequipa means bus would leave for Arequipa.

He refused to leave me alone and remained unnecessarily earnest and helpful until I tipped him. Well, he did perform a useful task, he informed me Peru was two hours behind Chile. Hence, I left my hotel in Chile at 12:30pm and arrived in Peru at 12:15pm.

With the robbery stories nagging in my head (all happened at bus terminals and buses), I paid for a relatively expensive bus to Lima. The price was comparable to those in Chile and Argentina.

The bus terminal was full of Peruvians with really, really huge bags of goods, stuffed with shoes, electronic products, toys, etc. These items were obviously bought in Arica, the duty-free port and hence, consumer-goods heaven.

I did not think double-decker comfortable semi-‘cama’ (semi-bed) buses existed in Peru three years ago. Now, they do. The bus indeed felt secure and was very comfortable, with dinner, continuous movies on working TV sets and even a game of bingo.

LIMA to TRUJILLO, PERU – 27 February, 2003
Unbelievably, I actually slept very well on the bus last night.

Upon reaching Lima, I stayed put at the bus terminal to wait for my connection to Trujillo. I did not remember much about Lima from my last trip but, Lima is Lima. Hardly anyone who had been here liked it. I didn’t then and I don’t now. The sky was very Lima too, entirely and depressingly shrouded with clouds.

Really long day on the bus yesterday and today. Gosh, this was such a last minute decision. In Tacna, I had actually bought a ticket to Arequipa, a city at the southern end of Peru but half an hour before my bus left, I changed it to Trujillo, at the northern end of Peru. Up til the last minute, I was still unsure where I wanted to go. But I was CRAZY! For the further north I go in Peru, the longer the distance I would need to cover to back-track to Buenos Aires for my flight out of the continent.

TRUJILLO, PERU – 28 February, 2003
Chan Chan are the famous ruins near Trujillo which I set off to visit early in the morning. We were only able to visit Palacio (Palace) Tschudi for the rest were pretty much left in crumbles.

It was a great ruin, rather well-restored. There were motifs artistically representing sea-lions, fish, pelicans, etc. The diamond-shaped adobe structures represented nets used for fishing, which was very important to the Chimu culture. Everything was related to some aspect of their lives. A better understanding is attained when one employs a guide and is able to UNDERSTAND the guide. My guide was very kind to speak slowly for my benefit.

Chan Chan was the most important city from the Chimu culture which existed around 1200 to 1400AD, before the Incas conquered them. Unlike the Incas where the sun was the most important god, the Chimus worshipped the god of the moon, the sea, the land and the stars.

I later headed to Huanchaco, a nearby fishing village where the locals used totora reeds to mould and tie into boats with one pointy end and a hollowed-end for one person at the other side. They paddled the tiny boats in the sea in the early morning to fish. They are called caballitos (little horses).

The totora reed boats in Lago Titicaca down south, on the other hand, were shaped differently, very much bigger with two pointy ends and a hollow-centre for a whole family to sit in.

During my forays around the centre of Trujillo, I spotted many rather well-preserved colonial houses. The Plaza de Armas of Trujillo was truly one of the most beautiful I had seen in a while. The houses surrounding it were all colourfully painted. The windows had white-painted grilles with the top bit shaped like the top half of a tear-drop. Very charming. Many houses had wooden balcony boxes hanging out of the sides. Some of these colonial houses were open to the public for visit for free.

TRUJILLO to CHICLAYO, PERU – 01 March, 2003
I caught a bus to Chiclayo, a few hours north of Trujillo.

Gosh, Peru was so different. Really, every country has its own little distinctive flavours. Here in Peru, there were a lot more unfinished buildings, with bricks exposed, with the metal rods sticking out of beams on the top storey as the family ran out of money after constructing the bottom stories; there was a lot more rubbish; there were a lot more ‘Chifas’; there was a lot more Cumbia music, a personal ‘favourite’; there were a lot more street-vendors hawking sweets on trays, fly-swatters, cotton-buds, whatever; there were a lot more ‘China’, ‘Chinita’, ‘Japonesa’ (which were alright until it came to ‘Jackie Chan’) hissed at me when I walked past people; there were a lot more shoe-shiners and these were mainly young boys; there were a lot more money-changers-on-stools with huge stacks of cash clasped in one hand and a calculator on the other, sitting along the streets, calling out ‘Cambio Cambio’ (Money Changer); there were a lot more taxis.

On the streets of Trujillo and Chiclayo, at one glance, it seemed 80% of the vehicles were yellow taxis and perhaps, 80% of these taxis were empty.

I remembered from my last trip, that in Lima, Arequipa, Cuzco, anyone who owned a car and could print out ‘TAXI’ on fluorescent stickers could be a taxi-driver. In Lima, it apparently was still like this. But in Trujillo and Chiclayo, there seemed to be more control: anyone who owned a car and could print out ‘TAXI’ on fluorescent stickers and PAINT their cars yellow could be a taxi-driver.

They were tooting their horns all the time, whistling at you, beckoning you, enticing you. I was browsing in a shop and I kept hearing a insistent tooting and whistling amongst the melee of tootings and I happened to look up. Indeed, through the door, on the street, a taxi driver was giving me the ‘come-on-you-want-taxi?’ look. What the? I was shopping!

And not to forget, the Peruvian’s own brand of cola – the Inca-Kola, the sickly yellowish, urine-coloured, chemically-flavoured cola that they are so proud of. Adverts everywhere. Bottles on sale everywhere.

Ah, Peru… how I had missed you.

CHICLAYO, PERU – 02 March, 2003
The tourist office of Chiclayo had been closed yesterday for it was Saturday. The tourist police were right next door and I had popped in to ask when the tourist office would be opened.

Instead, a guy, I was not even sure if he was tourist police as he was not in uniform, very earnestly helped me with all my inquiries, even went out on the street to photocopy a map of Chiclayo to give me, pointed out all the places where I could take ‘colectivos’ (shared taxis, a car or a van) to visit the museums and ruins around Chiclayo. The nice Peruvians were great.

I got into a colectivo and headed to Lambayeque, a small town near Chiclayo which had two reputable archaeological museums.

The first one I visited was Museo Arqueologico Nacional Bruning de Lambayeque. It was alright, not super impressive.

But the next one was amazing! Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipan was the museum that housed the entire collection of the treasures discovered in the tombs of a ‘Lord of Sipan’ from the Moche culture (around 100 BC to about 700 AD). The items uncovered were incredible. There were tiny, intricate, gold figurines that needed to be assembled (with dangling ear-rings and minuscule ornaments); many gold and turquoise round ear-rings; necklaces made from micro-sized shells; other gold and silver chunky jewellery shaped like peanuts, heads of men, spiders, etc; enough pottery to cook and feed Calcutta; many, many more. Stupendous collection!

Besides the treasure on display, the museum had very good representation of the tomb of the lord, buried with eight people, a few llamas and dog, and lots of pottery and treasures. There were wonderful replicas everywhere to present to us how life was like in that epoch.

This was truly one of the most impressive museums I had been to. Personally, I felt the treasures here were comparable to those unearthed in Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt. This made coming to northern Peru all worthwhile already. The rest would just be bonus.

After lunch, I headed further north on another colectivo to Tucume. Here were 26 adobe pyramids from the Lambayeque culture (which was before the Chimu culture).

As these pyramids were made from adobe, or mud, unlike stone-pyramids in Egypt or Mexico, these did not last very long. It apparently did not rain that often in this region at that time, but occasionally, the ‘El Nino’ phenomenon would arrive to wreck havoc with the weather. And so, these pyramids basically looked like muddy mountains, with signs of erosion caused by rivulets running off at the base.

I was perhaps the only tourist there and I was totally alone when I walked up to the mirador for a view around the pyramids. That was nice. Later, I saw many broken ceramics amongst the ruins too. No, I guess it was not possible to pick up everything and try and piece them together.

To go to these little towns, there were no set schedules for buses whatsoever. Anyone with a vehicle could supply the transportation. Usually, there would be an assistant hanging at the door, shouting out the locations they were heading. This was required because while there were signs in front of the car or van, many people were illiterate or some, so old and blind, they could not read anything.

Usually, I did not know where to catch the colectivo-van but people on the streets would point me to the place where the colectivo-cars waited. They would wait until five people show up and then, they were off.

The colectivo-vans were easier to catch back to the main town and they usually tried to pile as many people in as possible. I was standing with my back bowed for a good distance before someone got off and I could snuggle my butt between two locals.

The 1 Sol and 50 centavos coins I handed over were declared ‘falsos’ (counterfeits) and I had to fish out other coins for payment.

OK, I was warned about counterfeit coins on my first day in Peru. Every time I received change, I studied them closely. But I had no idea what to look out for. I was just pretending. Sometimes, I would return a nearly smoothened-out coin and they usually changed it without a word. Now, with a few days into Peru, I might have accumulated a handful of these falsies and it was time to study the differences.

I spread all my coins at the reception of my hotel for my receptionist to analyse. However, he passed the ‘rejected’ 1 Sol and 50 centavos. I pointed out the different fonts. He said, yeah, but these were the new ones issued from 2000 onwards. Some local folks still had not caught on. Well, he did detect a false 2 Soles coin. The font-size for the two ‘S’ in SOLES were larger than the other letters.

Hmmmm… I had worked in a credit-card centre for six years and I had seen MASTERCARD printed as MASTECARD on some counterfeit cards and saw a fax of a passport once, with PASSPORT spelled as PASSPORTE. What was wrong with these fraudsters with their spelling and font-size mistakes? Were they not afraid of counterfeit laws but of copyright laws?

I spent my fake 2 Soles on a bus-ticket later.

I headed to Pimental, the coastal town near Chiclayo. There was a very long wooden jetty that cut across the beach and stretched way into the ocean. It provided good shade and I rested under it for a while, studying all the happy Peruvian families out to enjoy the sun, the sea and the sand.

I did not bring my swim-wear. I was catching the night-bus out and had checked out of my hotel. I did not fancy sleeping on the bus with a sticky body. I had forgotten public bathrooms might exist for me to shower. So, later when I felt like some sun, I lay fully-clothed on the sand. Unlike in Brazil, no one stared at me.

Later, I crossed the beach and walked towards a hive of activity. Upon nearing it, I realised the same sort of totora-reed ‘caballitos’ were all parked on the beach and there was a fish sale going on. The fish were laid out on the reed-boats. The crabs were squirming inside the hollowed-out ends. Locals were everywhere, buying the fish, washing the fish, gutting the fish. There were shouts here and there. Sea-gulls dived down to make a grab for the discarded guts. It had such a wonderful energy here.

Food in Peru offered a lot more varieties than in Chile and Argentina. Cerviche was raw fish or seafood, served in lime, onions and chilli. On my last trip, I had been surprised by it for I had had no idea what it was before ordering. This time, I relished it.

I grabbed the night-bus to Chachapoyas that evening. The first five hours or so were on rather smooth roads but the latter five, from 12 midnight onwards, were on terribly bumpy roads. It was impossible to sleep.

CHACHAPOYAS, PERU – 04 March, 2003
It was 5am when I arrived and I followed a hostel tout to his hostel. Argh, I was issued a prison-cell with no ventilation. There was a musty smell. It was terrible. But it was now raining and I had already paid up so I decided to sleep for a while and hunt for another one later.

Usually after night-buses, I would have some difficulty peeling myself off the bed before 12 noon but I was up and about by 10am, swearing I would not enter my room until bed-time tonight.

It was raining and raining in Chachapoyas and all the streets transformed themselves into rivers. I waded to another hotel nearby and had the presence of mind to inspect the room first. It was perfect. Yes, I would change to this one tomorrow.

I usually could not be bothered to change my hotel, even if I found the mattress too hard, too soft or had killed two cockroaches already (but the third one got away, darn!). I usually would have made friends with the receptionist, the man with the mop at the lobby, the guy manning the counter at the adjoining bar, whatever, and it would be like a betrayal to them to abandon them for someone else.

But, well, some people ascertain the prices, the quality of the bed-sheets, the colour of the carpet of the hotel… they are, as we know, the Famas… but I go for the smell of the room.

The receptionist of this hotel tried to hook me up with a few other tourists for a shared taxi to Karajia tomorrow. I told her I would think about it.

I spent the rest of the afternoon, gathering information from the tourist office and various ‘combi’ (van) providers to try and find out how I could reach the various sights around Chachapoyas.

In Trujillo and Chiclayo, the sights were also around and NOT IN these towns, but they were merely 10 to 30 minutes away on colectivos. But, the sights in Chachapoyas were 2½ hours to 3½ hours one-way on very harsh road conditions. In the end, I agreed to the Karajia trip on shared taxi with two other tourists, just to make my life less complicated.

Later that evening, there was a crowd gathered at a road junction where two trees of the type ‘yunsa’ or ‘umisha’ had been moved there. On these two tall trees, the locals had hung clothes, toys and balloons. This was part of the celebration for the end of Carnaval. Passing this spot earlier today, I had been attacked by a water-balloon. Now, amongst the crowd, one could see flying water-balloons everywhere, some even hitting poor, little old wrinkled ladies.

OK, it had been raining. We were wet anyway. Water-ballons just contained water. But, the nastier ones were smearing other people with black motor-oil and coloured paints that appeared to be impossible to remove. This did not appeal to me, not when I was living out of a backpack. I kept watching my back for possible attackers.

A group of people around the trees took turns to chop the trees down. When the first one fell, people pounced forward to grab the clothes and toys. The second one fell after a while, this time amidst an even crazier mob with flying flour and bursting water-balloons.

Hey, readers, Carnaval at Chachapoyas, Amazonas Province in Peru is strictly NOT to be confused with Carnaval at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. There are no jiggly breasts here. Repeat: there are no jiggly breasts here. Do not show up with your sequined and translucent costume and that feathery thing on your head.

I later learnt that the one who managed the last chop that fell the tree would be the boss for next year’s Carnaval, paying for food and drinks and stuff.

A parade went around the square later with a coffin and an effigy on it, representing ‘Carnavalon’ or ‘Mr Carnaval’. After a long but apparently funny speech in front of the Municipal, made by Mr Carnaval (to much puzzlement amongst the toddlers who veered near to check out where the voice could possibly come from) they set fire to the coffin and Mr Carnaval. Well, until next year, Mr Carnaval.

CHACHAPOYAS, PERU – 05 March, 2003
The other two tourists sharing the taxi to Karajia were Femke from The Netherlands and Glenn from Australia. They had previously engaged Edwin, the taxi-driver, to Kuelap two days ago. And apparently, Edwin was now ‘in love’ with Femke.

Poor Femke, she was just into her first week in Peru when she had her bag and camera stolen in a cafeteria in Trujillo. One really had to be careful everywhere. Glenn mentioned that he had been to Latin America (including Mexico and Central America) six times and had been robbed eight times. Hmm… when you are able to hold conversation, saying, “And… my eighth robbery happened in…”, you are SURELY NOT doing so well in the department of travelling. Still, he persevered. You go, Glenn.

The drive to Karajia was about 2½ hours, through very windy, mountainous road. The road was sometimes just wide enough for one vehicle. One had to be careful to avoid a head-on collision as there were numerous blind and very sharp bends. Whenever another vehicle in the opposite direction was spotted, the one closer to a ‘spare’ area would stop and let the other pass. The road was also full of pot-holes and with the rain, utterly muddy and wet. Very terrible road conditions.

During the ride, I asked Edwin if it would be safe to go to Kuelap by myself tomorrow, on public colectivo and then trek to a tiny town, Tingo, for three hours, as suggested by the tourist office. He did not find it wise to do this alone but agreed that there were no robbers in Chachapoyas, only robbers of your heart, turning to glance at Femke. “Oh, mi corazon roto…” (Oh, my broken heart)

Edwin really looked like the amorous Pepe Le Pew, of Warner Brothers cartoon.

We finally arrived at a tiny town Cochane and my lower back was very sore from all the bumps we had gone through. This was the furthest we could go by car. The rest would be on foot to Karajia. Edwin Le Pew would go with us and he offered to carry ‘mi amor Femke’ (my love Femke) on his back.

Three smiley old men sitting in front of an adobe house assured us Karajia was very near. Sure, with their evolved ‘campo’ (country) feet and iron-lungs, it would be near to them.

We descended and climbed up undulating hills for the next 2½ hours, squelching in the mud, balancing ourselves on slippery rocks. There were green farm-lands everywhere, amidst the clouds. It looked really peaceful. We passed by even tinier villages. Oh, it was so great. There were many locals dressed in their traditional ponchos, riding donkeys, spinning yarns, whatever… They were rather reserved however. They were not so smiley, unlike the old men in Cochane. But there would be the few who would greet us and some bolder children would smile and wave.

We stopped by a church which was having a mass for Ash Wednesday, which was today. Children came running out to check us out. Some had an ash-cross drawn on their foreheads. Peruvian children were really beautiful.

After a lot of huffing and puffing, with me and Edwin Le Pew, surprisingly, way WAY ahead of Glenn and Femke, we arrived at Karajia.

Karajia was area where several sarcophagi from the Chachapoya culture (which was in the north-eastern region of Peru in the mountains, before the Incas culture) were found standing on the side of the cliff. Just twenty years ago, there had been rows and rows of these sarcophagi. But now, only a set of three and another of six were left. The rest had been plundered and destroyed.

The sarcophagi were made of cane for the outer structure and mud to mould it into the shape of a man with a head. Some of them were painted with red, white and ochre colours. Inside the cane structure were mummies, laid in foetal position and wrapped in bamboo or cloth. The natural roof of the cliff had protected them from rain all these years. The Chachapoyas selected this inaccessible cliff to preserve the peace of the dead, until, of course, it was discovered by ‘modern men’.

I had seen these sarcophagi on a magazine once and I had read that it was very difficult to reach. Indeed, it was a supreme honour to be here at last and have a glimpse of these unmeasurable treasures, these remaining sarcophagi.

CHACHAPOYAS, PERU – 06 March, 2003
Last night, my receptionist and Edwin Le Pew had tried to help me find more tourists to share his taxi to Kuelap today. But they were unsuccessful.

I was walking along the market in the morning when I heard, “Kuelap. Kuelap.” I made inquiries and a guy driving a combi, was taking three tourists to Kuelap today and they would be leaving in half an hour’s time. Price was also much cheaper than a taxi. Just perfect.

Soon, we were off, on more bumpy, windy, muddy roads to Kuelap… a whopping 3½ hours away. My spine was badly rattled, my lower back bruised. We passed by many little villages, some I would even hesitate to call them villages. For example, at a very sharp hair-pin turn, there were perhaps three or four houses on the outer curve and two houses on the INNER curve of the hair-pin turn. Imagine that!

Many of the villages had houses made from mud. A good number of them were painted with election campaigns from the past. Even ‘FUJIMORI PRESIDENTE’ was spotted. There were many pictorial representation of the parties’ logos painted three times and marked with an ‘X’ across to try and educate the ‘campesinos’ (country-folks) which to select. One political logo apparently had the side profile of a rooster! Pictorial representations were essential, I supposed, due to the lack of literacy in this region.

Kuelap was at 3000 m. The other tourists, three Colombians, had stopped to buy coca leaves. I felt fine then. But, during the 20-minute climb up to Kuelap, I did feel rather out-of-breath.

I engaged a guide and he was also excellent in explaining everything very slowly to me. Kuelap was a fortress by the Chachapoyas culture and later, briefly conquered and used by the Incas. The 420 houses in this fortress were mainly round, stone huts with conical straw roofs (the straw-roofs were no longer existing, of course). A few rectangular houses were attributed to the Incas. There was a burial site and a ‘hospital’ where skulls had been found with holes cut out, a form of ancient brain surgery, performed in Central and South America by several cultures, including the Mayans in Central America, the Paracas and Nazca in southern Peru. He showed me various adornments that represented the eyes of jaguar, puma, serpent and condor, the four animals worshipped by the Chachapoyas. There were some astrological and calendar structures too. It was very interesting. Thoroughly worth the bumpy ride here.

That evening, I decided to try the other typical dish of Peru – the ‘cuy’ or guinea pig. Three years ago, I did not get the chance to try it, feeling that it was too expensive but this was my second time in Peru, what were the odds there might be a third time soon?

Glenn had been grossed out the other day when I told him I would be ordering a ‘cuy’ one of these days. “ARRRGH… it’s so small, full of bones. It looks so gross… it’s like eating a rat!”

OK, he got me. Unlike him, I had never eaten a rat before. And so I ordered one tonight and took a picture of it before wrecking its tiny little bones as I devoured it. It was suprisingly meatier than I thought. The taste was not too bad but the skin, although deep-fried, remained very tough and after chewing it for a long time unsuccessfully, I had to spit it out. I did feel a tad grossed-out when I examined the skin closely later.

Lemeybamba had a museum that contained the wonderful finds from another site down south of Chachapoyas, the Laguna de los Condores. It was also from the Chachapoya culture, but a different region, compared to Karajia.

Again, Lemeybamba was not merely 30 minutes away. It was three hours away. I bought a bus-ticket out of Chachapoyas tonight, leaving at 8pm for Trujillo with the intention to change to another bus to Cajamarca upon arrival at Trujillo.

I thought I could catch a early shared taxi to Lemeybamba, visit the museum, catch another shared taxi back to Chachapoyas, in time for my night bus.

We needed four to go on the shared taxi. But I waited for more than one hour and still, no one showed up. People in the ‘campo’ had time. On the shared taxi, it was 12 Soles. On the combi, 8 Soles. They would rather take the combi.

Jorge, a guy who passed by the shared-taxi stop, stopped to chat with me. He insisted that even if I found a ride to Lemeybamba earlier than the combi, it would be impossible to find enough people to return to Chachapoyas later. “Really?” I asked. Immediately, he proffered his hand and said, “I am from Lemeybamba. I’m a police.”

A little too suave. A little too packaged. I asked the taxi-driver. If he could not find four to return to Chachapoyas this afternoon, would he spend the night in Lemeybamba? Or would he finally ‘give up’ and drive back here? He said he would stay the night in Lemeybamba.

OK, indeed I did not feel secure about being able to return in time tonight. I decided to change my bus-ticket to Trujillo to leave tomorrow.

I would take the combi instead. The problems with the combis were that they leave rather late from Chachapoyas, noon and later. And the next morning, they left Lemeybamba really early, like 3am to 5am.

Jorge followed me to pick up my backpack and he suggested the 1pm combi, as he was returning to Lemeybamba too.

There was a noon combi which would place me in Lemeybamba at 3pm, which would give me about 1½ hours to visit the museum before it closed. The 1pm combi would be too late. But he was insistent. I told him he was free to take the other one. I signed up for the noon one and he decided to take the same one too. He wanted to hang around with me until noon but I told him I rather be alone. Somehow, I did not trust him.

Naturally, by 12:30pm, the driver and the assistant were still struggling to pack the baggages at the top of the combi. Campesinos do not travel light. If they travel, sacks of potatoes, fruits, sand-bags, gigantic bags of clothes for sale, the occasional live-stock and that wheel-barrow go along too.

By 12:45pm, I started to regret my decision. Was it really worth it to travel three hours just to see a museum for barely one hour?

By 1pm, they finally got that wheel-barrow secure and we left Chachapoyas. I tried to recall the Zen in me to stay at peace, for there was no use trying to force the situation for whatever will be, will be… que sera, sera. Then, the driver popped in his Cumbia cassette and ‘ping’, Zen vapourised.

We pulled in at Lemeybamba at 4:30pm. Jorge told me his aunt worked at the museum, he would go with me to explain to her to open it up a little longer for me. Darn, we needed to take a taxi costing 5 Soles, to reach the museum which was way, way off the village too.

Indeed, Jorge’s aunt was the sweet, matronly sort and she was so kind and patient and explained the museum very clearly and thoroughly for me and some late-comers.

While the Chachapoyas up north, for example, from Karajia buried their dead individually in sarcophagi, the ones from Laguna de los Condores buried them in groups of ‘houses’ found on the side of cliffs too. In this museum, were 219 mummies, some still wrapped up in their original material, with the picture of a face (rather cartoon-ish) painted on them.

It was a wonderful museum. I learnt a lot from her, even about those mummies in Karajia. Edwin Le Pew was a driver, not a guide after all. While I was in a foul mood upon arrival in Lemeybamba, walking around the museum with the wonderful guide put me at peace once again.

On the way down, the taxi-driver packed the other late-comers, two ladies and two children, Jorge’s aunt, Jorge and I, into his taxi and we returned to Lemeybamba.

I saw Jorge’s aunt give him 1 Sol and the driver smiled, “Suficiente (Sufficient)”. Plus whatever the other two ladies had given him and my 1 Sol, I reckoned it would make up the 5 Soles, if not more. But when I got off, he wanted 3 Soles.

I: Why?
Driver: Because xxx
D: Because xxx
I: WHY?? We were many!
D: Because xxx

I did not look but I was sure the bored aunties, the deaf old men and the shrunken grannies sitting along the streets must have all turned to stare at us.

D: “OK, OK… 2 Soles.”

I was mad. I hated it when they wanted more from foreigners. It was the principle behind it. I slammed 2 Soles in his palm and walked off. By the time I got to the other side, he had handed 1 Sol back to Jorge to return to me.

Sorry, I was sssooo NOT Miss Congeniality today. Might be the Cumbia talking.

That evening, another guy from the combi, Manuel, started chatting with me at the plaza. From the questions he was asking, I sort of knew where it was heading. So, when it came to “How can someone so beautiful as you still be single… Oh, when you leave tomorrow, I will feel very sad… You don’t believe me?? Why don’t you believe me??”, I knew it was time to roll my eye balls, shut down, pack up and leave. Bye, Manuel.

Gosh, did such guys really think that sort of crap would work? Have they ever worked? Gimme a break. I liked to talk to locals and learn more about their cultures and stuff but I could not stand this sort of talk.

Me? Beautiful? When I find myself a facial and unclog my pores of 10½ months worth of grime, then I show you beautiful!


LEMEYBAMBA to LIMA, PERU – 08 March, 2003
The combi back to Chachapoyas was rumoured to leave at 3am, 4am and finally, a guy who seemed to know what he was talking about, said it would leave at 5am. He would come round to the hotel and blast his horn.

You know what it is like when you know that you have to get up at an ungodly hour and you really need to sleep as much as possible now, but because you are waiting for that ungodly hour to show up, you cannot sleep properly?

So, when someone from the hospedaje said, “Room 8,” I stirred and woke up at once. That was my room.

Someone knocked on the door and said he was Jorge and it was time to go. It was 3:30am. Now?? For a moment, I thought the combi was leaving earlier. I thanked him and started to pack my backpack.

There was a window with frosted glass next to the door. I saw Jorge trying to peer in. He also tried the door a few times.

I: In a minute. I am packing.

Jorge was jiggling the door.

I: Please! In a minute!

He stopped but was now leaning at the window. I did not like him waiting outside. I opened the door to tell him to give me a minute. The smell of alcohol hit me like a boxing glove and I slammed the door and locked it even before I knew what I was doing.

I did see him reaching his hand towards the door. So, he had the intention to push his way in but was not as fast as me.

Shit!!! Shit!! SHIT!!!

I then thought, he was FROM Lemeybamba. Why was he the one waking me to take the combi? Yesterday, he did not indicate that he was going back to Chachapoyas today. Also, NOBODY would arrive so late in Lemeybamba yesterday and then, immediately take the early-morning bus out of Lemeybamba today. NOBODY except me.

I: Don’t wait for me outside. Why are you waiting for me?
J: I go with you.
I: Why?? Why are you going with me? Don’t wait for me.
J: …..
I: L-E-A-V-E!!!!!!!!

He finally slithered away.

The senora from the hospedaje then came knocking at my door. She said the combi was still leaving at 5am.

I: Then, why did he call me now?
Senora: He wanted to go with you in taxi.
I: Please!!! He is crazy!! So much alcohol!
S: Yes… yes…
I: Please, protect me! Thank you.
S: Yes… yes…

The senora also needed her neck wrung. How could she let a man who showed up at 3:30am, reeking of alcohol, into the hospedaje and tell him my room number? And she herself knew I was taking the combi at 5am.

I was really mad.

Later, on the ride back to Chachapoyas, I suddenly decided to leave Peru. I did not think this morning’s incident was the reason. Although nothing happened, it did frighten me a little. But, for a few days now in Chachapoyas, when I made the decision to include a short visit to Cajamarca, I had had felt uncomfortable. My instinct was telling me, “It’s time to leave Peru. Do not prolong it.”

I wanted to see as much of Peru as possible. So, I had ignored it. But now, I told myself to listen to it. I had, after all, been right about Jorge.

Instinct, sixth-sense, call it what you want. I want to learn to recognise it and follow it. For I do not want something to happen to me and then, it regrettably becomes HINDSIGHT.

The first time I was robbed in Peru, I felt something strange that morning. I had taken more money out to change and I told myself, “So much money? Bound to be robbed.” And?

The second time I was robbed in Buenos Aires, just before reaching that spot, I was telling Lydia and Carolyn, this was a poor neighbourhood, we had to be careful here for robberies could happen. I warned Lydia against carrying her camera outside her bag, thinking more of the slash-and-grab robbery. Indeed we were robbed but instead, from another sort of robbery.

So, I made up my mind and immediately after that, my heart felt so much lighter. Hmmm… to simplify Borges (and I mean to really simplify Borges), there are so many forking paths in one’s life where one decision leads down one path and another leads down a separate path, forever forking into more and more paths, perhaps infinite number of paths, sometimes, the paths might meet back again to the same situation, creating some sort of labyrinths. Life is a labyrinth, isn’t it?

(OK, Borges sounded a lot more intellectual than this.)

What would happen if I did go to Cajamarca? I will never know. Have you ever wondered what if there are many little ‘yous’ each taking a different path as it forks, how would each of the ‘yous’ have turned out?

And so, I changed my ticket to leave for Lima at 1pm today.

The road was as usual, terribly bumpy and winding. We finally reached paved roads after five hours. Still, winding around the mountains but PAVED! The stewardess strangely issued us plastic bags to puke in from this point onwards.

Indeed, the Chachapoyan locals could not cope well with paved roads and many were throwing up into their plastic bags for the rest of the ride.

LIMA, PERU to ARICA, CHILE – 09 March, 2003
Surprisingly, I slept rather well last night. Might be the straight Pan-American highway that was working for me.

I arrived in Lima at around 11am, after a 22-hour bus-ride. One did not go ‘wow’ upon arrival at Lima. One go ‘uh-huh’ upon arrival at Lima.

Uh-huh uh-huh uh-huh.

Half an hour later, I had walked to another bus-company and coincidentally, the bus going to Tacna was leaving at noon and so I was barely on steady ground for one hour before embarking on another 20-hour bus ride to Tacna.

ARICA, CHILE – 10 March, 2003
Now, this night-bus did not do so well for me. I went on the Economy bus and there were people who got on the bus even though there were no seats left. The poor things would rather stand.

I was sitting right in front of the on-board toilet, so it was rather stinky already and quite disturbing with the usage throughout the night. But those people without seats were all standing at the back around me. A few held onto my head-rest, trapping my hair under their grasps throughout the night, their plastic bags hitting my face.

All the windows were shut (because opening it a little would be noisy) and I could feel myself dying of lack of oxygen right there and then. I am really claustrophobic. I had to ask the guy next to me to open the window a crack to survive the night. I think I sprained my neck too.

Amazingly, the bus arrived two hours early in Tacna, ending my 40-hour bus marathon and beginning my 2-hour border-crossing procedure.

I had gained two hours crossing into Peru. But back to Chile, I only had to return one hour for they had just advanced the clocks two days ago.

I had more Argentinian pesos left and so I thought I would try and go to Argentina as soon as possible. The first bus company said they would leave tonight.

TONIGHT! No, I could not take another bus-ride tonight! I had not seen my toes since… let me count… 5am in Lemeybamba, that’s what? For 51, 52 hours??? I needed to be horizontal for at least eight hours before I could embark on another bus-ride.

Thank goodness, another company would leave tomorrow. Hello, toes.

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