“You shouldn’t be here, it’s very dangerous,” explains the woman turning greasy lumps of mystery meat on the roadside restaurant grill. It is 9am in the morning on the outskirts of Trujillo, a neighbourhood called Moche. Her words aren’t news. Everyone who we’ve told about our plans to hitch-hike to Huaraz from Trujillo have given us a reason to give up before we’ve started. Robbings, apathy of drivers, shootings and kidnapping have all been presented as barriers to our simple goal of starting our break with a spot of adventure.
It turns out that we don’t even have time to let the advice sink in. Standing beside the wide exit road waving at the traffic for ten minutes is enough to cause a shiny black Volkswagen hatchback to stop. The owner, Alberto, is the director of a transport company. He picked us up because he wanted to know why two crazy white people where standing by the side of the road with big bags. He’s going some of the way, to Chimbote, and over the course of the two-hour journey we bullshit while Miri cat-naps in the back seat, sprawled over our bags. We drive past endless fields of green asparagus plants and Alberto explains to me how agro-industry created the fields from the sandpit of the Northern coast, the vast plantations changing the climate of Trujillo nearby. “No-one in Peru even eats asparagus,” he concludes, “It all gets sent overseas.”
Alberto kindly leaves us in what he deems a good hitch-hiking spot on the far side of Chimbote. “It’s just my advice, but I think you should get the bus. No-one will pick you up,” he offers, before spinning a U-turn and heading back towards the rest of his life.
Ten minutes later, he’s proved wrong. I squeal with delight as a vast truck rolls to a stop fifteen feet down the road from our outstretched thumbs. The driver, Juan, has run freight up and down the coast for thirty years. His truck cab has a bed in it, and a huge dashboard of dials and switches that remind me of the Death Star. We ride up high above the traffic and Juan points out the sparse details of the desert road, all man-made, all foreign-owned. He tells me of his younger days and previous hitch-hikers, with whom he used to camp on hidden beaches by the roadside. Juan leaves us some one hundred and fifty kilometres south of our planned junction outside the industrial town of Pativilca, assuring us as he closes the door of a greater quantity of traffic and more possibility of a ride.
He’s right; by intention or no, there’s a police checkpoint there and by playing on their curiosity we enlist their help in flagging down every passing vehicle. Eventually we succeed with a station wagon full to the brim with a Peruvian family that somehow manage to rearrange themselves. They are a Peruvian middle-class nuclear unit from Lima and I discuss the finer points of Toto with father Henry while Miri plays with the children in the back to the relief of the mother, aunt and nanny who are sandwiched into the back seats. Occasionally I am asked to roll down the window and ask a passing pedestrian if we are still on the right road, as junctions are numerous and our path seems to be in a condition too appalling to constitute a main highway. Despite abundant natural resources, the state of Ancash doesn’t see fit to invest in its roads.
We grind gears through the advancing dusk, passing whole dead goats by the roadside and overtaking trucks on blind bends to the advice of jumping headlights and we bump over potholes. A ragged cheer rises from the car as, after four hours, we pass under the sign welcoming us to Huaraz. With bladders on the point of exploding, we exit the car in the central plaza. I indulge the opportunity to wander off a short distance and break wind profusely. The size of my stomach notably decreases. Bidding a fond farewell to our last ride, we wander into the grid of Huaraz with twelve hours of priceless free travel behind us.