Travel in Latin America

Off the Gringo Trail in Peru
By:Roger Theron

Tayne Ruddock is Traveling in South America and has this story from a Peruvian adventure.

So what happens when you randomly select a tiny town on a small road well off the gringo (tourist) trail on your 1 in 4 million map of South America, and then try to get there… No matter how many hurdles you have to leap on the way? I´ll tell you.

You end up in Macusani, a small town lying at roughly 5000m altitude where the nights and mornings are cold enough to freeze your piss, but you don’t care, because the backdrop of rugged snow-capped peaks is so absolutely breathtaking and you are enjoying a hot cup of coffee after paying about 2 dollars for a room.

How did you get there? I´ll tell you. From Pucara, a small town on the main road between Puno and Cuzco, you walked the 3 odd kilometers to the village of Choquehuanca. Even here the locals are giving you, "are you lost?" looks.

You arrive just in time to take a mini-bus taxi to the next town on your path, Azangaro. You beg the driver to let you sit on the roof rack with the luggage to enjoy the view, but she admonishes you like a strict school teacher, but nevertheless allows you to sit up front, squished between her and another passenger, so that every time she changes into 4rth, she bruises your thigh.

You arrive and set out to get info about how to get to the next town on your path, Asillo. The town is so outback that a white face causes quite a sensation. Everywhere you go, people are turning to stare. Suddenly, you get mobbed by a bunch of 12 year old school girls, who appear out of nowhere. After forcing you to write your name and phone number (!) in their homework books, they make you correct their English homework exercises. They disappear as quickly as they came.

You go on a frustrating mission to find out how to get to the next town. Some people say there is no road, other people say there are no cars. If a road exists, no one can tell you how to get onto it. Having just about given up hope, you check into “Hostel Nirvana,” then climb a hill to watch the sunset. From there you see a road leading in the direction of the town you want to go to. You ask a wise looking old man, also on the hill gazing at the sunset, if that is the road for Asillo.

"It is indeed!" he says.

This is good news! You climb back down to have a ridiculously cheap supper at a chicken restaurant, then go to celebrate with a beer. You enter a bar-thing where there are 2 excessively friendly Peruvians. You strike up small talk with them....no, not small talk, its tiny talk because your Spanish is still not very good, especially after you lost your dictionary and grammar book on a crazy party night in La Paz.

They sell beer in 633cm cubed bottles. They share their beer with you, you buy another one, then they buy another 3. At some point you mention that you like playing guitar. They insist that you all go to your hostel to fetch it. The three of you climb onto a small scooter, and drive in a wobbly way to your hostel, dodging a few humans and one pig on the way. You run inside, get your guitar, run back, jump on the scooter and wobble back to the bar thing. You play. There is singing, there is dancing. Soon there are 20 odd people crammed inside dancing and trying unsuccessfully to sing with your English words. They are so grateful for this novel form of entertainment, that they feed you beer all the time.

The bar-thing closes. You get a lift back to your hostel on the scooter, and the saint who looks after drunk people makes sure you get there in one piece.

You wake up early, surprisingly not hung over. You walk to the road you spotted from the hilltop, and you wait. Then you wait. And you wait. And then you wait again, followed by more waiting. A youth saunters up to you and tries to start a conversation. Evidently, he is not quite all there upstairs, and he has what looks like opthalmia in one of his eyes. You try to be nice and chat, but between your poor Spanish and his speech impediment, you get nowhere. He asks to play your guitar. You glance at his long, black talon-nails and dirty fingers, and say you need to get going ,"goodbye."

You walk off briskly. Just outside town, you hail a mini-bus taxi, and sardine yourself inside. You manage to get a ride all the way through Asillo, to San Anton. You have breakfast there. With brilliant timing, you finish your meal just in time to stop another mini-bus. You smoosh yourself and your rucksack inside, holding your guitar above your head. Some ladies in the car ask where you are going. You tell them. They tell you there are no cars. One says the road is closed. With typical good sense, you ignore everything they say.

Another hour or so drive to Rosario. The mountains are barren, but beautiful, so you walk out of town on the lonely road. After about 20 minutes or so, you stop a 4x4 bakkie. Lo and behold, they are going all the way to Macusani, and it’s a free ride!!! You jump on the back, and then the driver tries (and probably manages) to break the land speed record. You make it to Macusani much earlier than expected, with your heart trying to jump out of your chest and run away to hide somewhere safe.

Even at top speed though, the climb up the hills and mountains was beautiful, and this town where no tourists go has an incredible setting.

You marvel at the most spectacular of the mountains for a while. It has ridges and spikes, like the back of a dragon, and is all covered in snow. It looks like something out of Lord of the Rings.

You check into “hostel el Carmen,” and then go to see the old town church. By sheer coincidence, you have arrived just in time for a festival. You stand in front of the church, and watch school kids in a marching band, stepping in rhythm all around the plaza. A group of about 10 girls are leading the procession, carrying an altar with a sculpture of Jesus on it. Many people have turned out to watch. There are fireworks, and a festive atmosphere.

The kids march all around the plaza, then suddenly make a 90 degree right turn towards where you are standing. You suddenly realise that you were so caught up in the proceedings, that you didn’t notice the crowd forming an avenue to the entrance of the church. You are standing by yourself, like an idiot, right in the way. You shamefacedly scamper out of the way, while several people snigger at you and make all sorts of remarks. Oh well, no worries.

Later, you have a delicious beer (a stout, called cusqueña) on the hostel balcony which overlooks the plaza where there are still fireworks and festivities going on. So that’s what happens. It’s fun!

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