Monday, August 3, 2009

The Death March II

Just as Brice and I finished our lunch, a group of gringos we knew from the previous day’s roadblocks came into the same restaurant, so we sat down with them and thoroughly enjoyed the company of our fellow English-speakers. We told them how good the ‘mystical mountain fish’ tasted, and they told us about their own escapades.

A college-aged Austrian backpacker explained how, in Lima, he attempted to purchase marijuana, but the dealer turned out to be an undercover cop. The cop was going to arrest him (drug laws are positively draconian in Peru), but after a rather awkward moment the Austrian offered him a bribe. This is pretty much the norm, but unfortunately for our Austrian friend he didn’t have enough money to pay the man what he wanted. The officer started going through his things, taking the most valuable and setting them aside; ultimately, the cop took a very expensive camera in lieu of cash.

Our Austrian friend was getting good and angry at this point in the re-telling. “I mean seriously, man, what the f*ck? He take my camera instead of arrest me, and you know, I just don’t want go to jail. I do not want to go to jail. So fine, whatever. But he take my camera, and after all of that just he let me keep the weed. It really pissed me off.” And on top of all that, he later informed us that “it was really bad weed.”

After the group (8 or 9 of us, including Brice) finished eating, we decided to start walking again. And by ‘we,’ I mean Brice. I was all in favor of getting a hostel in the town and waiting out the roadblocks at this point. But he – and the rest of our companions – found dozens of witty-sounding reasons for why we should keep walking, so I stretched my sore legs, popped a pain killer or three, and shot Brice dirty looks for a good hour or so.

After passing through some very angry Quechuan protesters (seriously, if there was a point where we should have been scared, it was walking through the edge of that rallying mob) we started moving towards Cusco again. We saw some strange, ironic things on the road, let me tell you: a pair of boys with a bass drum and trombone between them, a sign that said “Do not place rocks in the road,” an angry woman shouting that we would die before we got to Cusco, a trucker who – I’m pretty sure – wanted to abduct us, and a woman who outdistanced us on several occasions throughout the day while wearing some rather daring high heels.

But, after losing my ability to keep time and losing my interest in the kilometer markers, we finally found a turn-around where taxis, combis, and anxious family members were waiting to pick up trekkers. The combis and taxis wanted to charge us a lot for a ride into a nearby town (where, presumably, we could find more overpriced taxis and combis to take us into Cusco), but we managed to negotiate with a family picking up their grandmother – yes, this old grandma walked the whole way too – to let us ride in the back of their truck. So, in went 8 or 9 gringos, 8 or 9 backpacks, and we all held on for dear life as that Toyota Hilux dodged boulders, trees, and people.

Just when we thought we would make it to Cusco without serious injury (well, we figured there was a decent chance someone would splatter out of the truck bed, but other than that…), we found the final roadblock. A pair of teenage Quechuan boys effectively choked the road with boulders, and were standing at the only passable point. They threatened to stone us if we didn’t get out of the truck – apparently part of the protesting included a ban on transporting internationals – but luck was finally on our side. The wife of our driver got out of the passenger’s seat and gave those two punks a tongue-lashing unlike any I have ever seen. We aren’t entirely sure what she said, but they looked a bit shell-shocked half way into it. On of them turned his attentions to us, and started talking about how this was our problem too, our fault even, and it should affect internationals as much as locals.

Naturally, our Austrian friend couldn’t keep is mouth shut, so – in broken Spanish – he said he was sorry, and that he really wasn’t involved at all. Well, the Quechuan quickly shot back something to the effect of “Toca agua? Toca agua? Es tu problema tambien.” (Note: they generally use ‘tocar’ – to touch, play an instrument, take… - instead of ‘bebir’ – to drink) I guess he thought the boy meant ‘tener’ – to have – because he held up his large bottle of purchased water and said, “yeah, I have water.” That really, really pissed off those kids. You would have thought someone was trying to convince them that Pizarro was the lost prophet of the Inca nation; they were completely flabbergasted.

At that point, we did get a rock chucked at us, but it bounced off the bumper as we were driving away. Ten to fifteen minutes later, we were in the heart of downtown Cusco celebrating the end of an incredibly long day. Brice and I fell into bed at 7 or 8 o’clock that night and we didn’t get up until 9 or 10 the next morning, but – save my blisters and sore legs – we were able to enjoy two days in the city, and had a very good adventure in the process.

First views of Cusco: