Friday, November 21, 2008

Beachside, baby...

I’ve been glad for sunglasses these past few days, as the sheen of my snowy skin would have driven me to blindness otherwise. I arrived on the north Peruvian coast from mountains on Tuesday, after braving three bus legs (with as many different companies) that lasted the better part of 24 hours. Mancora is billed as a place to see and be seen, and as the world spins ever-closer towards summer I can feel the crowds already brewing on the horizon, about to take this simple resort town by storm. The prime surf is already lined with hopefuls competing to catch the next set, and as the afternoon winds pick up, a new breed of wave riders emerge with larger-than-life kites attached to their torsos, and boards strapped under foot. Like innovators on the cusp of fame they harness the energy of an invisible airflow, and defy the tides. I saw one dude launch off a breakneck wave and achieve semi-flight to a glorious height that would be exaggerated here if said; but just know that it left me wanting wings.

I was lucky to arrive here when I did, as opposed to the tail end of my time in Peru, for the prices are less touristy, the fish just as fresh, and the influx of vacationers still mostly contained to the handfuls. I’ve noticed a scarcity of Americans, although varieties of other accents abound; and I have been surprised by the number of what I suppose to be “upper class” Peruvians on holiday from the bustle of Lima. And of course there are the permanent hippie types who find their fountain of youth in the sea. On one of my long beach walks I passed a group of tanned and hairy gringos happily encouraging a friend whose attempts at landing a back flip in the sand were falling just short. Ok, I will confess a bit of my own delight in the scene; for after all, who am I to judge a life of existential bemusement? But then, as the smell of illegal smoke wafted up, and I was met later that night by a French surfer kid’s search for “rolling papers” that I mistook from his accent to be a request for “writing paper” (I obliged him with a sheet from my journal), I decided that, despite the way flocks of seabirds and fishing boats fill all aspects of the horizon here at sunset, and even with the simple solitude of running mornings through sand, beyond sight of complimentary beach umbrellas, and then rinsing my sweat in the toss of incoming breakers, it is time to escape this escape; to return to a more real Peru.

p.s. Stay tuned for a few pictures, and the next blog installments; for before fresh-caught seafood and salty swims and chapters perused from the curve of a hammock, there were mountaintop ruins at Kuelop, and nearby indigenous towns; and before that still, before the first overnight bus ride that took me to elevation, there was the time in Chiclayo I found myself lost in a massive maze of outdoor markets, with such a plethora of sights and scents to experience that I can never hope to post an account of them all.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Business of Combis

On Wednesday I explored Central Lima, and its well-revered Plaza de Armas, with a Parisian fellow named Alex who I met at our shared ¨Flying Dog Backpackers¨ hostel. Once the heart of Lima (according to the irrefutable knowledge of "Lonely Planet: Peru"), this appropriately-statued square laps at the steps of La Catedral de Lima, and tickles the feet of several ceremonial guards (and two not-so-ceremonial, tank-like trucks) posted outside Peru´s Presidential residence. For me, it was as much an excuse for exploration as it was a desired destination. I had spent the previous day orienting myself by foot in the relatively comfortable current of a neighborhood called Miraflores. Recommended for its safer accommodations, and choice of clubs and cafes, I had roamed around with Lonely Planet´s Latin American Spanish phrasebook in hand, and down to the sea. Now, I was ready to push inland.

It cost us 2.5 Sol´s each (just shy of $1 USD per seat) to borrow taxi time for the 25 minute ride northwest, and we poked around the plaza and surrounding streets until reds were reflecting off everything, and lengthening shadows pointed towards home.

This time, however, the inevitable want for fresh experience took over, and we determined to board a Combi - local minibus - for our return trip. The roads were a-buzz with the rush of evening, and we posted ourselves on the sidewalk, unsure of protocol but unswayed by our ignorance. Dozens of desired shared rides sailed by, some flying the flag of our neighborhood; but none slowed for our signal. The fumes from what methinks were every third-world auto began to choke our resolve, and we wondered together about the possibility of designated stops. And as the hope of yet another ride was denied, we began to walk.

At the next block we saw people clumping. But as I stepped forward Alex called me back and onto a nearby Combi that had slowed, though it bore no signs of our destination. Whatever. Alex´s French-trained ear had caught the necessary syllables. We swung aboard to claim seats not designed for me, and with knees partially blocking the aisle we were off.

The stops and starts of this service extended our travel time; but this was just fine because I was soon focused on dissecting its operation. I could only assume private ownership; there were too many similar competitors to be publicly-run. But who were the owners? Could it be that the two operators - a driver and a fare collector, whose post was on the only steps and door in or out - be partners in this incredible enterprise? The driver was a constant for me, attending to the ever-changing scene beyond his windshield with stolid certainty; so my attention focused on the others´clues. There was the vigor of his calling out for customers, as if he cared to have one more on. I could not figure how his attention managed the fact that people did not pay upon entry. But there he was, at lights, knowingly collecting Sol's with a formula that seemed to be known by all but me. Several times he was caught in the back as we pulled up to another stop, and the way of his rush back to the door told me he must have incentive. But what was it? Did he and the driver split profits? Did they pay a set daily rate to a third party investor? Or was it simply fear of turning in too little each night that might end him in unemployment? I´m not sure. But the quality of this business, in all its circumstantial imperfection, was impressed on my mind. And its lingering questions help to incentivize my pursuit of fluency in this language, and this culture, and this country. And in the meantime, I paid 1 Sol for yet another lesson.

P.S. Check out Alex´s blog (in French, but with a few pics) at:

Friday, November 14, 2008


Mi amigos y amigas, bienvendia. Welcome. This is my first blog. For years I have been told that my name alone warrants a readership. Well friends, here you are. And thus we go...

On Sunday, the g-force of a roller coaster called ¨Hercules¨ nearly blacked me out for the first time ever. I was being hurled through space at a Six Flags near Los Angeles, but still 12 hours from flight.

On Monday I soared fully conscious over the Equator for the second time, en route to walking on a fifth new continent. (Birth was the trip to my first.) I landed just before midnight in Lima, Peru.

This city expands to the edge of beach and bluffs, and the Pacific Ocean fills west past a hazy horizon. Although I have only just arrived, it´s as if I can sense the openness of sea just beyond me at any moment; as I bob down crowded sidewalks with the bubbling, preemptive beeps of a traffic flow just under control; as I wander along streets each defined by a particular goods or service, like aisles of a city-wide superstore; or as I pause to sit and sip coke and studiously rehearse my espaƱol. Even when out of sight I can feel its nearby might. I sense the tidal ebb and flow, and consider the coincidence of 8.2 million people settled at the edge of such an abrupt and untamed expanse. For I know that beneath the surface of each lies a depth and majesty of life so full that most stories go untold.

So it is that here, submerged, I will seek them out. I care to know not so much the topography of this town as the people who traverse it. I wish to glimpse the moments of their exchange, and to involve myself when life becomes plural. I want to stumble while speaking but then find the meaning; to smile and be let in. I want to bask in the smells of a market and pay my way without help; or catch a ride with locals and feel stiff by the end. I am awake to this constant communion. But there are quieter scenes of singularity I search for as well; to notice the sigh of an elder or the sweat of a worker or the creativity of a child at play. And as I marvel at an ingenuity that can make more out of less, as I quietly pray for a stray, I realize in the quality of man such a goodness and beauty that I am compelled to take note, and to share.

And maybe, in the end, a story of my own will form, and reach air.