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Thread: Traveling in Peru

  1. #1
    The Wolf of Larsen WolfLarsen's Avatar
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    Traveling in Peru

    An excerpt from the novel
    Wolf Larsen

    My hotel room in Lima, Peru had no window. It was a little dark. But it was five dollars a night. Cheap and clean – what an unbeatable combination!

    I walked out into the anarchy of Lima, Peru. The sidewalks were crowded with endless streams of people. The nightmarish traffic was stalled everywhere. The cars turned through intersections like possessed monsters intent on striking down pedestrians.

    The architecture was something else. Lima is nearly 500 years old, and the buildings were shining with a Baroque magnificence. Except most of these luxurious-looking Baroque buildings were decrepit and crumbling. Often these buildings were overflowing with desperate poverty-stricken people.

    Half the sidewalk space was taken up by street vendors displaying just about everything possible. It seemed like you could buy anything in the world here literally right at your feet on the sidewalk.

    I passed by a huge crowd of people exchanging money – dozens and dozens of people all yelling out, “Dollares! Dollares! Dollares!”

    They ran after cars that slowed down and stopped as they yelled out, “Dollares! Dollares! Dollares!” They sometimes even pushed and shoved each other for a chance to exchange with the driver in a smiley-laughing-manner. Drive-through money exchange!

    I walked up to one of the moneychangers. Soon I was surrounded by a sea of these guys all yelling out, “Dollares! Dollares! Dollares!”
    I felt sort of like a sheep surrounded by a bunch of hungry wolves.
    “How much?! How much? How much?” they were all yelling.
    “One hundred dollars,” I said.
    Some guy put a huge wad of bills in my hand. Each bill said 50,000 intis. I was a millionaire again!

    The inits had replaced the old sols, because the old sols had become more valuable as toilet paper due to inflation. It was 1990, and Peru was experiencing inflation of 7,649.6% a year!

    I found a place to eat with a table outside. It looked cleaner than most of the other restaurants, and the idea of eating outside with the smog and the noise and the passing crowds of people at my elbow seemed pleasant enough.

    I ordered a club sandwich.
    When the waiter brought the sandwich I was kind of surprised. That sandwich had avocados, boiled eggs, filet mignon beef, cheddar cheese – it was like they had stuffed every delicious thing imaginable into that sandwich. It was nothing like a club sandwich, and it was the BEST club sandwich I ever had!
    After just one sandwich I was nearly full, but I ordered another one anyway.

    Then I started walking. There was block after block of these sensuous baroque-rococo buildings. These buildings were so appealing and sexy it was like every building was a beautiful woman. But there were advertisements plastered all over the seductive facades, and the paint was often peeling, and many of the porches were sagging like they were about to fall on the passing people below. Some of these elegant buildings had partially collapsed – many others looked like they were about to. And the next big earthquake is due in Lima anytime now.

    Whole truckloads of soldiers with M-16s at the ready – and
    fingers on the trigger – circulated through the city eyeing the population with anger and suspicion.

    Lima, Peru is the same size as New York City. Lima has no subway system. Can you imagine the chaos?

    Many of the buses were not buses at all – they were these little Volkswagen vans that were crammed full of people like fish in a sardine can. These little “buses” seemed to stop every half block or so or anywhere there were people. A hawker (who also collected the fares) would jump out of the little Volkswagen bus and yell out the destination.

    Lots of intersections had no traffic lights or stop signs. On the other hand, plenty of drivers didn’t pay much attention to traffic lights and stop signs anyway.

    Crossing the street was an adventure. Walking through the black ghetto on the South Side of Chicago with blond-hair and blue-eyes as a kid during the wild 1970s was a hell of a lot safer than simply crossing the street in Lima, Peru. People kept warning me “beware of thieves.” But thieves seemed like harmless insects compared to these four-wheeled hunks of metal turning around corners at crazy speeds.

    I did have a problem with a thief though. Some dude grabbed my wallet, but before he could get away I grabbed him by the neck of his shirt and SCREAMED, “GIVE ME MY WALLET! GIVE ME MY WALLET!” as I violently shook and shook the guy.
    In a quick dash he grabbed about a third of the money in the wallet, and then he threw the wallet with the rest of the money in it about ten feet away.
    There were LOTS of people walking by. The wallet could be snatched up at any moment.
    I now had to choose between the thief who had about thirty dollars, and the wallet, which had twice as much money plus plenty of other stuff too.
    I let the bad guy go. He was gone in an instant.

    Everyone just stared and stared at me. Nobody had helped. But then again, nobody knew what was going on! In the excitement of the moment I had yelled in English instead of Spanish.

    I spent five days wandering around Lima lost as hell. I jumped on buses with no idea of where they were going just to see more of the city.
    One of the most shocking things to see were these “cimas”. “Cima” means high place in Spanish. Lima has mountains here and there in the middle of the city. You’d see these “invasions” of poor people built up these mountains like a huge festering sore of poverty.

    Houses on these “cimas” were literally crammed on top of each other. There were no parks. No space. Just an endless tidal wave of little houses all rising on top of each other in these mountains in the city.

    These older “invasions” (some of them are 50 years old) had electricity and homes made of concrete. Sometimes the older “invasions” had running water and sewage lines if they were lucky. Paved streets maybe in the next lifetime.

    These neighborhoods were called “cimas” and “invasions”. As explained earlier, “cima” means high place in Spanish. They were also called “invasions”, because poor desperate people from the countryside take over some parcel of unused land in or near the city. These “invasions” often occur in the middle of the night, and when the city wakes up there’s suddenly a neighborhood of poor people in their midst.

    At first these “invasions” are extremely primitive. The houses are made of thatch – or any pieces of metal, wood, and just about anything else the people encounter.

    Often, the government sends soldiers with machine guns to throw the people out of their new homes. The troops often kill some of the people to motivate the others to leave. Then the bulldozers come and knock it all down. That way, some land speculator gets his private property back, though he now has the inconvenience of cleaning up the blood.

    But other times the government doesn’t bother sending in the troops. Gradually, the people save up their money and buy bricks – and they build themselves a simple little house where their shack made of garbage used to stand. Eventually, the people get electricity and sometimes even phone service.

    Big third world cities seethe with poverty and desperation. Old ladies, little children, big pregnant mommies with babies on their breasts – all come to you begging one after another. So many little children and old ladies begging. So many young little boys shining shoes, and young little girls selling gum and knickknacks. Of course, they should be in school. They should be playing. But instead you see these little kids picking through the garbage.
    The sheer magnitude of begging, poverty, and human misery is astounding.

    Anyway, in Lima I talked to lots of people.
    On one “bus” there was a pretty senorita and her friend. I started talking to them. They were all smiles and giggles, particularly the pretty one.

    The pretty one got off the bus with me, and we sat down somewhere and started talking.
    Then she pulled out the Bible.
    “What’s that for?” I asked.
    “This is the Bible, the message of God,” she said embarrassed.
    I told her to put the Bible away, and she smiled a big happy smile.

    I was immediately turned on. The idea of luring a pretty born-again Christian into my hotel room and “seducing” her seemed like fun.
    But after an hour of talk, talk, talk she had to go. We agreed to get together as soon as possible, so I could “seduce” her. She wanted to be “seduced”, I could tell.

    Then there were these two sisters I met. They were both pretty, but they didn’t look anything alike. Mama’s babies – but the same daddy? Hmmnnn…
    They were mostly smiles and laughter. They showed me a neighborhood called Miraflores.

    The neighborhood of Miraflores is right on the ocean. Big steep cliffs rise up out of the ocean there. The views are tremendous! The parks on the cliffs overlooking the oceans are filled with flowers and lots of other pretty things too – including many that have two legs and walk around.

    The two sisters competed for my affections. Of course, I wanted to take them both to bed with me. I said as much (but in a nicer more flowery way of course). They giggled and told me I’d have to choose. But if I choose one, the feelings of the other would be hurt.

    Then one morning I woke up and decided to go to Bolivia or Chile that day.
    Bolivia or Chile? I wasn’t sure. Both were south. So I packed my stuff and went off to the bus station and bought a ticket for Southern Peru.

    Once the bus was driving through the outskirts of Lima that’s when I saw more “invasions”. Some of these “invasions” were groupings of very small “homes” built of thatch. No electricity. No plumbing. There weren’t even dirt roads or streets, let alone pavement. Just groupings of itty-bitty homes of thatch under the hot sun surrounded by endless desert.

    It was all part of the endless deluge of poor desperate humanity leaving the countryside for the city looking for opportunity.
    Opportunity? If shining shoes and selling bubble gum on the city’s streets was better than what they had before, than you can only wonder about the miserable life of the poor in the countryside.

    As the bus rolled down the highway I watched the desert and the towns and cities and ocean and mountains pass by as I tried to decide – Chile or Bolivia?

    At a bus station in the south of Peru I ran into another gringo.
    “Hello!” I said.
    “Hi!” he said.
    “Hey, I’m trying to decide whether to go to Chile or Bolivia. What do you think?” I asked.
    “Man, I just came from Chile. It’s great!” he said.
    “Thanx!” I said.

    He started walking away when I stopped him. “HEY, WHAT’S THE FIRST CITY IN CHILE?” I asked him.
    “Arica,” he said.
    “Know any cheap clean hotels there?” I asked.
    “Try the --------,” he said. “It’s about 5 dollars a night – and it’s clean,” he said.

    Tacna – the southernmost city of Peru – is like a big crowded tornado of urban imagery clamoring and erupting all around you as you walk down the street. After Tacna I jumped in a share-a-taxi to the border town of Arica, Chile.

    Copyright 2005 by Wolf Larsen

  2. #2
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Not bad Wolf. At least it didn't gross me out. Only one question, which of the sisters dd you choose? You don't say.

    "Love follows knowledge." – St. Catherine of Siena

    My literature blog:

  3. #3
    The Wolf of Larsen WolfLarsen's Avatar
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    Hello Virgil

    Honestly, I wanted them both - and at the same time too - why not? How could I choose?

    The other problem is that I didn't what to hurt either one's feelings.

    The third problem was that I was only there for five days. Later - over ten years later - I returned to Lima and lived there for a year.

    Latin women are wonderful. Latin culture is wonderful. Latin music is wonderful.

    But the poverty - an endless sea of poverty...


    Wolf Larsen

  4. #4
    malkavian manolia's Avatar
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    Wow. You are talented. You just got yourself a fan.

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