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Posts Tagged ‘Trujillo’

Over the course of the last couple of months, Peru has been gearing itself into a political frenzy in preparation for the national elections on the 3rd of October.  I haven’t seen a great deal of enthusiasm from the population, conversations limited to the occasional grumbling complaint about the general state of things or the corruption in politics.  Nope, the vast majority of the enthusiasm has been from the candidates.

Applying what seem to be near-identical “Shock And Awe” tactics, each candidate from the extensive range of political parties (27 at the last count) is painting walls and erecting huge billboards, attempting to achieve victory by the simple means of literally covering the greatest square meterage of Peru possible.

Each billboard displays an identikit picture of the gurning candidate, normally giving a cheery thumbs-up and festooned in a shirt with the top button casually undone to exemplify that they are, in one hard-hitting combination, a formal and effective politician whilst still being an easy, approachable man of the people.

In modern politics, it is necessary that your campaign influences an apathetic electorate blessed with attention-deficit disorder with your entire policy summarized in the space of 140 characters.  Thus slogans play an important part in the Peruvian politician’s campaign efforts.  Unfortunately, all candidates seem to have employed the same incredibly overworked campaign manager and everyone seems to be employing the same messages.  To make matters worse, the campaign manager seems to have focussed on promoting things that one instinctively expects from a political leader, occasionally degrading into a blatant brainwashing exercise (see number 5).  Here are some examples that I’ve seen replicated amongst the various different candidates:

1) A Trujillo For Everybody!

2)  A Team With An Ability To Lead!

3) Honest And Hardworking!

4) Against Corruption!

5) Mayor of Trujillo!

This has the effect of making one wonder why candidates have to make such a fierce point about honesty, equality, ability to perform one’s job, dedication and corruption; parallels rise in the mind of the dubious character that begins every sentence with the phrase, “To be honest…” which inspires the listener only to consider that honesty, when made explicit, is normally absent.  Continuing the theme, perhaps the campaign manager should also consider the following:

5) Can Tie His Own Shoelaces!

6) Is Pretty Good At Reading!

7) Has A Lovely Smile!  Look!

My personal favourite amongst the candidates, for no other reason than his billboard appearances (and realistically, there isn’t a great deal more to go on) is Fernando Bazan.  Screaming the same messages as everyone else, Fernando looks, for all intents and purposes, like he sheepishly wandered onto the billboard and promptly sat on a cucumber.  After analysis of his photo, I think this is due to the unfortunate presentation of his teeth.

Aside from the amusing circus, there’s a darker side to the proceedings.  “My husband was recently approached by the mayor,” one of my friends tells me, “And told that if he didn’t surrender his wall to be painted for the election, we’d start receiving very expensive water bills.”  Despite what the billboards and bricks tell you, corruption and abuses of power are very much alive and well in Peru.

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Self portrait at altitude

I exit the bathroom briskly to be confronted by a selection of expressions.  Two of them belong to police officers, the other pair to Peruvian truck drivers.  Luckily for me, the police officers look delighted.  The truck drivers, not so much.

“We have found you a ride!” exclaims one of the policemen, thus signalling the end of my four-hour wait at the police control point on the scutty outskirts of Huaraz.

I’m attempting a return hitch solo, Miri having left town some days previous to meet her brother in Lima.  My newfound lust for adventure ever-increasing, I’m attempting a more remote route back to Trujillo over the mountains to Casma.  Up until now it has been an abject failure, but things are looking up.

Giving grovelling thanks to the friendly fuzz, I follow the sour faced drivers out to their vehicle.  It’s a wooden sided camion, with a door set into the side that one of the drivers pops open and impatiently gestures through.  Tossing my bags inside I plant my foot on the tire for a boost and step up strongly through the tiny doorway, striking the top of my head on the frame with painful mis-judgement.

My vision swims and I hear a sharp intake of breath from somewhere inside the belly of the enclosed truck bed.  “Ooh, gringo, cuidado,” someone says.  Normal vision returns, and I realise there are already various occupants in my plank-lined cell.  The truck sets off with a shuddering grind of gears, and I slump on a sack of something, groping for a brace against the random bumps that test my balance.

My truck-mates begin tying blankets to various parts of the sides of the enclosure, creating makeshift sun-shades to protect against the beating sun.  They arrange themselves around the few full sacks dotted around the otherwise empty truck.  I realize I’m in for a toasting without sun cream, and pull out a tube.  “Ooh gingo, prestamelo”, whines one of the señoras; lend me some.  That proves to be the ice-breaker and within ten minutes I’ve set up my tent inside the truck-bed as a sunshade for some of the occupants and Sun Cream Lady has led me to the shelf above the drivers cabin at the front of the truck where I ride up high feeling like the king of the world as we climb out of the valley and over the Cordillera Negra.  It turns out all the occupants are in cahoots with the driver, everyone heading to Chimbote to sell the contents of the sacks and bring back a full truck of wood.

It isn’t long before the driver pulls to a halt to reprimand me for sitting above the cab.  “You could fall off the front,” he grumbles.  I retire sheepishly to the interior of the truck-bed once more, my romantic bubble well and truly burst.

The truck rolls to a stop once more.  “We’re getting out for lunch,” explains one of my fellow in-mates. “Afterwards you wait here while we fetch wood.  We can’t continue because the road is closed for work until five in the afternoon.”  I’m buggered if I’m waiting around for a few hours.  “I’ll come with you,” I cheerfully suggest, “I want to be useful.”  “Suit yourself,” he replies.  Thus I board the truck through the back door once more, this time with significantly more caution than the first attempt.  Leaving the women-folk behind, we rumble off into the hills.

A steady stream of men join us and after a meandering 45 minutes we reach a large pile of wood.   Everyone exits the truck to hurl helpful abuse at the driver, who attempts a multiple-point turn on a matchstick-thin path which crowns a cliff.  Eventually the truck and driver are facing back from whence we came and a chain gang is set up, hurling logs into the back at speed.  “Eeyy gringo, do they work this hard in Germany?” grins one of the log-chuckers.  “No, in my country everyone is fat and sits in-front of a computer all day,” I reply, deciding that it is easier to continue harbouring the illusion of my native origins.

Job done and full of splinters, we sit astride the vast pile of logs and sluggishly wobble back along the narrow track, certain death a couple of crumbling feet away.  Conversation swings between Quechua and Spanish so eventually I lose interest in keeping track of the dialogue.  At some point a four-wheel drive pickup pulls across our path ahead of the bus and the driver descends to converse with the occupants.  “What’s going on?” I ask my log-chum.  “They are angry because we don’t have a permit to remove wood from this zone,” he tells me, “And there will be a fine.”  Money changes hands and with the delay in crooked negotiations we arrive back into town as darkness is falling.  There’s no way I’m going to make it to Trujillo today.  “No problem, sleep on the floor of the market with us,” the driver suggests, shattering all my preconceptions of him being a bad-tempered bastard.  My internal adventure rating slips off the scale with a click.

“Where the fuck have you been?” the women chirp as they climb back into the truck laden with gigantic bundles that I try in vain to assist them with.  “We had to negotiate a bribe,” I explain.  They tut and roll their eyes.  Our vehicle rolls off into the setting sun along the winding mountain dust.

I’m sitting on a giant pile of wood in the back of a bumping truck as the stars pop out of the twilight that steadily consumes the burning sky of sunset.  In the gathering dusk, the women open their bundles, chattering to each other in the sing-song dialect of Quechua.  The thick fragrance of wild herbs fills the air and my soul swells to the point of exploding with the sheer ridiculous joy of my immediate present, right now.

They sort through the herbs and bunch them by moonlight, passing me bread from a large bag and following it up with a blanket.  With my head crooked at an angle that I know will make me suffer, I drift off to sleep.  Occasionally someone clambers on to the truck and steps on my face with a surprised, “Eeyy, gringo,” before I return to slumber.  Headlights fade in and out of my consciousness.  Road works, groups of floodlights cutting through the darkness, blotting out the stars, workmen, voices.

Voices, packages passed up, lowered, groups waiting patiently in the darkness by the side of the road, whole communities lined up.  Waiting for the truck.

2am.  As if cued for an exposition scene in a movie, I drift into a state of awareness as we pass under the sign for Casma.

The engine cuts.  “Gringo!  We get down now.”  I stumble from the truck with my neck jacked up hard to the left and my bags dangling from my arms.  They throw a blanket down on the floor under a canopy in the dark.  It smells worse than the one I slept under in the truck.  Sandwiched between the stinking warmth with my bag for a pillow I sink again as shadows move in the growing distance.

I awake with a start to the sight of an old man staring down over me.  “Buenos dias,” I offer groggily and he shakes his head, shuffling off.  Bloody gringos.  6.30am.  The movement and noise trickles down into my senses and I realize that I’m lying in the middle of a busy market.  I quickly sit up.  My bags lie a couple of feet from where I left them, untouched; I clock at this point that during my whole experience at the utter mercy of my travelling companions, I never once felt threatened or in danger.  I rise to my feet and stare stupidly at the new incarnation of my travellers; slick business-people selling the wares.  I blunder over to one of the guys.  “When did you get up?” I ask in the absence of anything else to say.  “I haven’t been to sleep,” he cheerfully replies before attending to a customer that seems to be interested in his beans.

My bloodshot eyes take in the scene.  I have absolutely no idea where I am, and I’m the only white chap in the entire market.  Shouldering my bags, as a paltry expression of thanks I offer a handshake to the guys and a peck on the cheeks of the girls that leaves the surrounding gentry clucking.  I’ve not made it all the way to Trujillo, but I know when I’ve had my fill of adventure.  Wandering via a filthy cup of instant coffee to the exit, I squeeze into the first taxi that I can flag down and submit to the luxury of a direct bus to Trujillo from the central Chimbote terminal.

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“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.”

Hitching to Huaraz

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.

Hitching to Huaraz

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.

Hitching to Huaraz

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.

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Monday was an important day for me. After trawling the internet for examples of good organizations in the hope of finding a project in Latin America with which to involve myself, I’d come across Fairmail, a non-profit that was based practically on my door step.  Needless to say, they’re a fantastic organization and I was delighted when an email to them to try and organize a meeting to discuss working together was replied to by the Peruvian country manager, Renato.  He set a meeting date for Monday at 10am, and I cheerfully agreed.

Monday arrived and I bounced from the spare bed at a friend’s house in Trujillo, ready to brush up my preparatory notes for the meeting and read some more of the inspiring book about social entrepreneurship that I had recently stumbled into on the bookshelf at my borrowed Huachaco pad.  My mate bid me farewell to go out to a job, leaving me home alone to read, prepare and become lost in my thoughts.  My head was buzzing with daydreams of social businesses by the time I slung my backpack on my back and strode out of the front door of the house in a fresh shirt with my laptop dangling purposefully by my side.  I closed the front door behind me, and as I turned I realized my fatal error.

Click.

The front door to my friend’s house has an outer metal gate, a foreboding twelve foot high black iron structure with spikes sticking out of it from all directions, bordered by smooth featureless concrete wall of equal height.  The Gate sends a strong message that the only way you will cross the threshold is by the permission of the person buzzing you through it.  The person pressing the door release button on the other side of the front door, inside the house.

I was trapped between the locked front door and the outer gate, and I knew from past experience that there was no way to scale the gate or walls to the outside world.  There was certainly no way back through the locked front door and I briefly marvelled at the architect’s talent in ensuring that anyone caught in my predicament without house keys would be stuck without mercy.

Hoping that one of the numerous house mates would be in, I tried hammering on the door, reaching a crooked arm through the gate to pound the buzzer and throwing pebbles at windows from within my temporary prison.  No response.  I tried to call my friend with my cell phone in the hope that they could return home to let me out, only to find that my battery was conveniently well and truly flat.  After twenty minutes, my cries turned more desperate, attracting the attention of a neighbour.  She approached the outer gate and eyed the trapped Gringo warily through the bars.  I felt like a zoo exhibit, tricked into captivity by my own stupidity.

“Que paso?” She asked.  In uptight burbling Spanish I flustered an explanation of my predicament.  “Tienes el numero del telefono de la casa?  Puedo llamar,” she offered.  No, I didn’t have the number for the house, and there was no-one inside anyway.

The time was slipping away; the ten o’clock meeting time was already passed, still a quarter hour bus ride across town.  The baleful stare of the neighbour upon me, I turned my attention to the lock of the gate, my nemesis.  It goaded me, the black metal easily relenting when encouraged by the jolt of electricity from the buzzer.  But there was no buzz to save me.

I bent down and examined the lock, reaching my fingers into the gap between the bolt casing and the housing on the gate in a last desperate attempt to see if there was space to slide a credit card up and force the bolt.  Something clunked, the bolt shot back and the gate cheekily swung open to afford me an unimpeded view of the neighbour’s incredulous face.  “Asegura la puerta cuando salgas,” she deadpanned.  Make sure the gate is secure when you leave.

Feeling my cheeks starting to burn, I grabbed my bags from the floor where I’d tossed them in a hissy fit half an hour ago.  Making sure the gate was firmly closed I accelerated away from the shaking head of the neighbour, already rehearsing the apology to Renato.

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Finally, a spot of culture
I’ve felt very proud of myself in the last couple of days having pro-actively gone to a local art exhibition at the Alianza Francesa in Trujillo. Not a grand show by any means, the gallery consisted of about twenty canvases spread over two rooms, but the event was a gem. I’m the first to admit that I have more chance of giving birth to twins than interpreting a piece of art without the help of an audio guide, but I had the benefit in this case of knowing one of the artists presenting his work.

Sidling up to him after a quick circuit of the gallery, I asked him to give me a bit of an explanation about the different elements of his composition. The answer was affecting, to say the least.

“Well,” he began, “The elements in these pictures represent my family.” I nodded encouragingly and he continued. “The bird that you see here,” he said, pointing out the clear shape, “Represents my father, who died when I was five. I’ve always had very respectful memories of him, which is why I choose to paint his form this way.”

“So, the reason the bird is always on the edge of the paintings, facing away from the rest of the picture is because…” I began.

“…yes, he’s gone.” My friend finished. “The bed in the centre of the painting here represents my mother; my brother and I used to share the bed with her when my father died, so this symbol for me strongly reminds me of her.”

I paused, wondering if I should continue. “And…what about the forms of the houses in the background?”

“Those two houses are my brother and I.” He explained. “My mother passed away when I was ten, and now we have to live our own independent lives.”

The details of the painting slowly unfolded as grass islands, smoky white clouds gliding across serene blue skies and leaning white doors standing crookedly alone were discussed, one by one. I didn’t know what to say; within five minutes, my friend had just laid bare for me a family history burdened with sorrow and loss that few of us could even imagine. I felt privileged to understand the interpretation behind the painting but, stronger than that, deeply impressed that he was able to talk with such ease about aspects of his life that had no doubt shaken him to his core. On reflection however, this made sense.

I’ve always held in the highest regard people able to express themselves through a creative medium, and that night that respect hopped up a notch as I realized how the parts of a life steeped in turbulence, sorrow and the greatest trials one could expect to face could be so candidly and fearlessly demonstrated through the canvas that hung spotlit on the wall in front of me.

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Continuing the theme that seems to be predominant for this month, the next couple of months promise to be pretty tight on the purse-strings. Luckily I’ve been offered the option of house-sitting for the lovely couple who run a beach-front surf hostel and house themselves elsewhere across town while they fly back to Finland for a while to show their Peruvian-born new babbie to the family. Aside from keeping the living overheads firmly down, it’s also a great house; a three-storey oddity that stretches from flower bushes skyward in a steadily increasing state of dilapidation. I can’t imagine what inhabits the 3rd floor at night, but I’m sure as hell not going to go upstairs to find out.

Life responsibilities, July

One other perk of the deal is the house dog that I’m currently charged with taking care of, Tomasa. She’s perfected the art of looking up at you in an ‘I didn’t do it’ way (especially after a nose hair-curling bout of flatulence) and is a great companion when I’m trotting about town or hanging out in the house. As far as experiences go, this is a very big tick in the box for owning a house by the sea that contains a dog at some point in my fairly grey future.

Life responsibilities, July

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Boooo, the swell arrived late…just as I started my teaching again!  No Chicama trip to gloat about; never mind, I’ll be here for a few months yet and I’m sure to get the opportunity another time.

In the meantime, bumped into this fairly impressive piece of graffiti in Trujillo.  Great photo courtesy of my Beligian friend Syl.  I’ve robbed a couple of her other ones which you can see on my Flickr photostream.

Flirting, Trujillo

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