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Peru

Pan American Highway (Part 1)

This part of the Pan American highway was a pleasure to cycle. But on the back of a motorbike it is a different experience…

A sort of opposite experience has been revealed: the motorbike shows a very different content of the Peruvian coast than cycling. Perhaps our negative feel is due to the fact that we choose to drive beyond Camaná. When I cycled the costanera, I deliberately avoided the stretch between Lima and Camaná. However, Geo does not want to be in the Andes anymore and I reckon he will change his mind sooner or later, as the costanera will become ugly. To such an extend he will seek his escape into the Andes, and I just wait until that happens…

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First we catch our breath for a week in Tacna. Geo has booked a quiet, clean hostal near the center. We eat, walk a bit around and organize our impressions.

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In Tacna we are asked on a daily to buy new teeth and optimal eye measurment for new spectacles.

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Indulged into a new country we set off freshly. Kenton is finally released from its remaining salt crusts.

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Our cruising along the Pan-American highway starts off with quietness and cool. We found an excellent spot to camp, between dark outcrops of rock, here and there topped with white, bird poop. The soundless sliding by of pelicans. The low temperature is cool but still warm enough. The driving force of the ocean yet being so close to it keeps being impressive. The acoustic is as a cathedral so clear when birds pass by.

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Our quiet lonesome spot at the ocean makes us explore the sea life. While I make photos of the ocean, Geo as my watchman warns me against high waves. Until he slips out of his too small, cheap Bolivian slipper and comes to a bloody fall. A big wave has hit both of us. All I see in my minds eye is that big white wave dragging me along over the sharp edged shells, knocking my new Fujifilm camera out of my hands, into brokenness. And all I do is standing tall, grounding myself, arms high in the air, Fujifilm sticking out. I saved it!

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Coastal Peruvians are perhaps more enthusiast, more outspoken and definitely very creative. ‘Its a very big chicken’, says the waitress in Tacna when we ask which animal the liver is served from. We always need to verify what we get served, as to avoid pig meat. Or ‘it a special wine, somewhere in between dry and fruity,’ answers the waiter when Geo smilingly tells him the wine is sour, closer to vinegar. Or the lady who sells us bottles of water. We’d opted not for the 5 liter jar but for 3 liter bottle; when we mention it is 2.5 liter she replies: ‘No, see, it’s filled all the way to the top, it is near to 3 liters’. Creative indeed, coastal Peruvians are much but trash conscious.

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Though many plastic bottles in our camp spots are washed in from the ocean, this can not be applied to the desert.

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Far out of where people live is plastic to be seen. I don’t mind dirt along highway’s much. Where people are is dirt. A logic reaction. Though, after a while it starts to be annoying that there is so much plastic.

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When I was searching for a camp spot while cycle touring the world, I sometimes would put much effort into a nice spot, only to come upon a heap of rubbish. As Geo and I do now on a very regular basis.

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A sign to a beach is never a good indication yet we take the long, snakelike track down to the beach, Playa Platanales. We end up on a little patch of beach in between high walls of mountain, with the road far above us. A public beach, with several structures, with or without function, falling apart or already fallen apart. The usual diapers full of baby-poop, swirling toilet-paper, dog shit, pick-nick left overs, including plastic plates, plastic cutlery and the never ceasing plastic bottles and bags. The location is special, the driftwood and the little crabs running sideways over the sand are the only beautifying features though.

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The next rubbish spot doesn’t wait long for us to have Geo and me invited over. Its at Quilca, a small town. The thing is, overlooking the spot from a higher point, the diapers, tampons, poop, toiler-paper, bottles, plastic and general rubbish vanishes. Now it’s even worse because when we are about to enjoy our rest off the motorbike and intent to skinny dip, a pick-up truck arrives. Three people haul out a generator and start to pump water in a 1000 liter IBC tank. I part the scene to seek quieter ground, leaving Geo alone with a generator, three people, a truck and no washing off of tiredness.

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Coming back at dusk I hear this: ‘It’s very dangerous here! All the incidents we have are done by Venezuelans. You better move somewhere else. A little further is an abandoned restaurant. There, at least, is a roof to place your tent under.’

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I am not very at ease with camping in public spots and on my own I would not have stayed when people walk in my camp. Though, I am enchanted with the nature surrounding us. Its silky soft, fine powder sand is wondrous to the touch and looks like snow.

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A motorbike goes fast. A fall would be really painful. My jeans will not protect me much. The Pan-American highway is at certain places narrow and has a deep toppling to the ocean. Truck drivers do not always care about another and sometimes shave close by. Truck drivers do pass another while they can not see on comers, simply hoping for the best. Some pass another, barely making it back in time before we appear close. Sitting on the back, I always stay active, awake and watching, taking my role as co-pilot very serious.

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Our main problem and Geo’s biggest concern is the slow speed of the 150 cc Kenton. With our load we can not go faster than 80 km/per hour and even most rakish, undesirable trucks in Peru must pass us. We can not take over.

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As I said, the quiet part of the costanera is from Tacna to Camaná. I cycled this route and knew what it beheld. After that, I partly knew it would be unpleasant, rubbish, uninteresting, ugly and more busy. ‘Some things you need to find out yourself, I guess,’ is what Geo says after he concluded: ‘I could not image how awful it really was when you said that after Camaná the highway gets terrible.’

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Mollendo is an exception. It is a harbor town and extremely ugly on an otherwise relative pleasant route. As with all towns along the Peruvian ocean, it is literally littered with very small cubicle-shaped structures. Almost all are empty, made from reed mats, cheap stones or corrugated iron sheets. All have with big ugly letters ‘propiedad privado‘ painted on it. I guess the desert climate plays a big part here, but these huts are painful to the eye, falling apart as soon as they’re built and in no way possible to protect a family of one person against the elements.

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Some huts are sold as luxury apartments on the coast, while being 7 kilometers away from it. Pure lies, or creative advertisement on a high level?

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We have the oil and air filter cleaned.

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I hardly ask Geo to stop to make photo’s. I rather stay on the positive side, and ignore the dirt, ugliness and non-sense. With a bicycle I would stop more often and try to capture what I see to transform it to a beautiful composition.

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A positive note, the fruit in Peru is of such a luscious taste that the taste buds are at once reset to what fruit is supposed to taste like. We don’t even have to go into town to buy it, since fruit is offered along the highway, at spots where traffic is slowed down.

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The menu is often extensive and we pay around €2 to €4 for huge portions. When we stop to have lunch, by definition the food is good. The surrounding usually not. There is always a blaring television, without exception TV shows loud shrieks of voices, fighting females and men dressed up as women. Car alarms to who no one pays attention. Trucks passing by inches of the open front. Loud cellphone sounds. Broken exhausts. The piercing sound of mixers turning fruit into juice. The great liking of moto-taxi’s usage of their claxon. And a lot of ‘please sound horn’. Indeed, I am often reminded of being in India. Sometimes I am reminded of Africa too, especially when the ugliness and dirt reigns.

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What is ugliness?

Cindy: An unpleasing image to the eye. No order in chaos and no prettiness to balance out the ungraciousness. India and Yemen have this balance right.

Geo: man-made destructive alternation of nature. Mining and leaving a mess. Half destroyed and half built cabins never finished. Rubbish stuff.

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It seems to me that the Peruvians conversed too quickly from primitivism to ‘Westernism’. I don’t like this thought, as if I am better, which I am in no way. I am just a product from a north European country and shaped by my culture. Yet, my culture is so much more richer than here, where in Peru the focus seems to be on the North American example. The cheap-to-achive one that is.

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December 2019. Tacna, Pozo Redondo, Camana, playa Platanales, Ilo, Quilca and Atico. Next post: Nasca, Paracas, Pachacamac and Lima.

By Cindy Servranckx

Years of traveling brought me many different insights, philosophies and places I needed to be. I lived in Pakistan, went over 15 times to India and when I stopped cycling the world, that was after 50.000 kilometer through 45 countries, I met Geo. Together we now explore many facets of life, including those by foot, by truck, by motorbike and by kickbike. Being an artist who's chasing the simple life, I keep embroidering in the abundance nature offers me. The pouches I create are for sale on www.cindyneedleart.wordpress.com

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