11/3/19 – 11/11/19
“I have never used them, but to me they seem like they would be very nice.”
Wim, our host, had a soft and polite voice. He’d directed us to a dentist around the corner. All we needed was a cleaning.
We walked in together and promptly directed to a pair of 1950’s refurbished dental seats which I could tell had been enameled over at least a dozen times by the glossy pittings of old chips in the paint. Next to each chair was a young man, a “joven.” They appeared no more than sixteen years old and it was not inconceivable that dentistry was their after school job. I was relieved to see that the one closest to me had scrupulously tucked his shirt into his trousers whereas Soph’s attendant appeared as if he had been snorting the paste they use to fill cavities. I moved quickly to my seat before there could be any discussion.
I’d had my teeth cleaned in Mexico City. I didn’t feel that I’d received quite the same quality of care that I would in the states, but certainly felt as if I’d gotten my fifty dollars’ worth and could tell they’d plucked a few mango threads from my gums that I had not been able to reach. With this in mind, I wasn’t expecting that nice sheet of ice slick feeling when caressing the back of my teeth with my tongue that is part and parcel with a cleaning back home.
It quickly became apparent that my comfort was unfounded. The lad promptly began stabbing my gums with the dental pick. He was like a five year old with his first box of crayons trying to stay between the lines of a coloring book as he began to scrape the plaque from my gum lines. It was the first time I’d ever screamed in pain as he stabbed a nerve.
He seemed to be highly interested in what his associate was doing in Soph’s mouth. Suddenly, he swiftly turned in their direction and tore the dental pick across my upper lip. This would happen several times.
Soph was done in less than fifteen minutes. Not enough time to do a respectable job, but I was envious of her experience being finished. Mine went on for another twenty or so as the child curiously tapped my teeth with blunt metal objects and seemed to be scraping them in no particular order at all, making it impossible for him to know which ones still needed attention. I noticed blood on his glasses that I hadn’t seen before and assumed that it was mine.
The woman from the front desk brought him the polishing tool. He tightened something on it with a small screwdriver and then stuck it in my mouth. It felt like he was holding it upside down as I could only feel metal vibrations hammering on molars. Occasionally he would lean back and motion toward the sink on my left. I spit mouthfuls of blood into it and he gave me a little cup of water to rinse my mouth. The abuse cost me twenty five dollars. My teeth did not feel clean.
We were expecting more dirt roads with steeper inclines and had ordered some more appropriate tires which we were awaiting. They’d gotten held up at customs in Lima so we ended up taking over a week off. I began to fear that that somewhere there was a government official with a brand new set of mountain bike treads on his bike. Each morning I would check the tracking number for progress, each morning everything was still in Lima. In addition to the dental work, we visited several hot springs in the area and spent quite a bit of time deliberating the route ahead.
The rainy season had come early. We’d spent the last couple of weeks pulling still soaking wet underwear on each morning and climbing four thousand meter passes in downpours. It was only going to get worse.
“Sometimes it rain for two weeks,” Wim told me. “The roads will close for landslides and your socks they will never be dry.”
Eventually, with some internal struggle, we decided that it made sense to bus toward the Chilean border. This would get us ahead of the rains in Peru, circumvent fresh political protests in Bolivia, and put us in prime riding season in Chile and Argentina. Otherwise, we would get caught riding in autumn and winter further south, which would mean the next six months would be dominated by rain and snow. After Argentina, we could fly back to ride the sections we’d miss.
Our package finally arrived on November eighth. You never know when a Latin American is going to give a damn about the rules. One thing that is certain though, is that it will be far less often than your average North American. Even in the case of the woman who managed the post office, who fit the bill of a US postal worker quite well with her starched uniform, starched hair, starched makeup, carcinogenic levels of perfume, and smile that only appeared when telling somebody that their package appeared to be lost. I stood in the corner watching her dismiss several customers over the course of five minutes, carefully planning my sentences knowing that I had only one chance.
“Buenas tardes Señora, como estás?” I tried to position myself so the sunlight would reflect a youthful twinkle in my eye. My delivery was awkward, but well punctuated with “thank you” and “bless you” and all manners of manners I could muster. Remarkably, despite the package being in Wim’s name, I was able to persuade her to release it to me.
We took Wim to his favorite local restaurant to thank him for the hospitality. He ordered the heart of a cow for us all to share. This quickly put to rest any thoughts I had about ever committing fully to being a vegetarian. We then booked a bus to Arequipa for the following evening.
I woke up early to adjust the brakes and swap out the tires. After a short ride to see how they felt, I went to a local shop to use their air pump. In front, on the curb, sat a handful of greasy tramps with chain whips and rusty wrenches. It was ten in the morning. They immediately offered me a beer. I drank it, to be polite of course, and proceeded to inflate my tire. They gave me another. I answered questions about all the countries we’d been through and to their disappointment explained that the drinking fountains in the United States were not filled with Coca Cola. By eleven o’clock I was properly drunk and the shop owner was pouring malt liquor over the frame of my bike to demonstrate its anti-corrosive properties. I sat greasy handed on the curb and they taught me indiscriminate derogatory words and phrases which could be applied in various circumstances such as when a dog runs away, a piece of chicken drops on the ground, or when a spouse insists that you’ve gotten too “boracho” before church.. I wobbled my way back to the apartment and took a nap.
It was some eighteen hundred kilometers to Arequipa and would take us two fifteen hour bus rides with a break of about eight hours in Lima. The whole ordeal put us at least two months ahead. Soph fell in love with the young man ushering us into the double decker luxury travel machine for his turquoise contact lenses which perfectly matched his company provided tie and assumingly self-selected shoes. I fell in love with the chairs which fully reclined and converted into beds.
I awoke at midnight and noticed we’d made it to the coast and the Pan American Highway. It was a mess of traffic. At six we were on the outskirts of Lima. Covered in industry and fog. Piles of bricks. Filthy rivers. Creatively repurposed tire retaining walls kept terraced properties from sliding into the road off of mountains of mining debris upon which they’d been precariously built. Sidewalks lined with trash. Buildings under construction for so long they looked decades old before being finished.
The core of the city is beautiful and has over priced coffee and and substandard baked goods which one would expect in such a place. There is a small park filled with cats, and a large area of impressive ruins which was annexed from the homeless several years prior to create a valuable tourist attraction.
The bus food was surprisingly terrible for how nice everything else was. Golf ball of chicken. Half cup of rice. Deli meat size slice of carrot. Strange orange paste, and a plasmic dessert that tastes like clove but has the texture of mucus.
We passed through the Sechura Desert, which due to the upwelling of cold coastal waters and subtropical atmospheric subsidence, is one of the most arid on Earth. It was the driest place I’d ever seen. Ocean to our right. Thirsty dust towns. Occasional inexplicable oasis. Sandy colonies reminiscent of Tatooine from Star Wars. As a hellish sort of torture, rains comes in surges after long quenchless stretches. 1998 was particularly rainy and the runoff from the mountains temporarily resulted in the country's second largest lake.
I awoke at six in the morning to piss and stood with my forehead against the window watching it all roll by. A big part of me wanted to be riding it. Another part felt thankful that my tongue would not be shriveled and peeling from dehydration.
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