Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
Leaving Mancora put me in the northern Peru desert. Flat. Empty. Lots of roads that are long and straight. I'd been warned that this is where it gets rough, and I imagine some people kind of lose their minds here. Nothing but an endless road and no change whatsoever in the scenery, and no human establishments for 100 km or more.
But I like it. With the exception of the beach at Ismael's place outside of Mancora, this is one of the only places in Latin America that's been peaceful and quiet. Traffic lightened up until a car would only pass every five minutes or so, usually in clusters. The lighter traffic still doesn't keep anyone from honking at everything that moves (and even a few things that don't), but at least there's less of it.
I'm gonna go ahead and say it: I don't like Latin America. It is the noisiest, least considerate, most confrontational, and most dishonest society I've ever experienced.
That's not an indictment on the people here, because when you interact with them on a personal basis, they're just as kind as anyone you've ever met. Rather, I think that the culture here is collectively thoughtless. Never does anyone think, "Hey, maybe I shouldn't play this so loud; it could bother someone," or "I better get my dogs to stop barking before the neighbors complain," or "Even if I sell more goods this way, I don't know if people like it when I chase them down the street and/or shout as loud as I can," or "If they wanted to go faster, I bet they'd do it without me honking at them," or even "Maybe I shouldn't throw my trash wherever I want."
Just when I thought the honking couldn't get any worse...it's worse. I think I've already mentioned how some people use their car alarm in lieu of a horn, which is even more obnoxious. But here in Peru, a lot of people have had a special horn installed, one that honks in four different pitches and timbres in quick succession, BEEP-berp-BEP-buh-BEEP-berp-BEP-buh! It sounds like something you'd expect on a clown car. I had thought the car alarm would be hard to top, but this is worse. The sound itself is even more annoying, and people hold it down for longer so it'll go through at least a couple cycles. But it also sounds like now there's an attitude that goes with it: "LOOK AT ME! PAY ATTENTION TO ME! Don't you like this? Will someone please look at me? Isn't this funny and clever?!"
NO. It is not. Now SHUT THE HELL UP.
Probably the biggest thing keeping me going at this point is an "I've already made it this far" mentality. I still don't mind the riding. I just don't want to be here. In one month though, I move into a more remote part of South America, where wild camping will become the norm again, and the desert highways I've been on lately will seem like rush hour. Can't wait.
I stayed in a HI hostel in Piura, yet another one that was basically a hotel, not a hostel. I kind of wish they would make that clear on the website. I prefer hostels! I like meeting people from all over the world, having dinner together, hearing about everyone else's adventure, talking about something other than myself for once. It was a nice place though, I'll say that, and quiet despite being in a large town. But if you're going to serve "complimentary breakfast," and even go to the trouble of having waiters serve it, you could do better than two pieces of plain toast and a single cup of black coffee.
The desert managed to get even more remote after Piura, and the wind, my goodness, the wind! Hardly noticeable in the morning, a monster by the early afternoon. And in precisely the wrong direction for me. Since the landscape is completely flat, there are no trees around, and we're near the coast, there's nothing whatsoever to stop it. That means it's not gusty in the slightest; nothing breaks it up or causes irregular patterns. It's a predictable, steady, unrelenting force that makes the ride harder and harder as the day goes on.
Otherwise, the weather has been perfect. Clear, bright, sunny days, a little cool in the morning, a little warm in the afternoon. Dat wind tho...I'm gonna start getting going even earlier in the morning, not because it's hot, not because I need the extra hours of daylight, but only to avoid the wind.
I had planned on camping out in the desert one night, but it gradually became clear that there would be nothing to get behind and I'd be visible from the road no matter how far I walked off. And a couple construction workers told me that would be dangerous, showing me the newspaper they had, with a picture of a police funeral on the cover. He had died trying to stop a local from robbing a tourist. I pressed on to Chiclayo.
It was twilight when I made it to town, but quickly got dark before I got anywhere. I put on my lights and bright red jacket and kept searching for the local Casa de Ciclistas. I've stayed in two so far, both of which could be best described as a free hostel, exclusively for touring cyclists. I find them even better than hostels: not only do you meet people from all over the world, but they're all cyclists!
Halfway through town, another guy on a bike pulled up alongside me. His daughter was sitting on his top tube, just behind the handlebars. He asked a little about my trip and where I was trying to find right now. I mentioned the Casa de Ciclistas, but I don't think he fully understood what I was trying to describe. I think he thought it was a bike shop.
"It is probably closed. I can take you to the fire station."
"I have a friend there and I can sleep there. I have the address and a map..." I started to pull out my phone.
"No! Later. At the center of town. It is not safe here. There are more lights and police. Follow me."
Toribio was familiar with the street, but didn't know exactly where the address was, nor had he heard of Casa de Ciclistas. We wound up having to stop and ask directions a couple times to find the place, but thankfully, the Casa de Ciclistas was clearly labelled outside (most things aren't here, including street names).
Almost immediately after calling out, Cabrera found us at the door and let both of us in. Before leaving, Toribio took my number and said he'd call in the morning, because he and his friends were going for a group ride and wanted me to come along. They better be headed the right direction, and early!
Cabrera showed me where I could sleep, in an area next to a courtyard, basically an open-air concrete room with a roof. No need to pitch a tent! It was more like having a WarmShowers host though, compared to the other Casas de Ciclistas, which had a whole big setup and common rooms for everyone. Maybe I missed out on the grand tour because I arrived so late. There were no other touring cyclists around, and it was already late, so he left me to set up my sleeping bag. I did, and promptly went to bed.
I spent a lot of the night listening to the neighbor's barking dog, as well as what sounded kind of like a rooster, if it was confused about when dawn happens, and it was also being anally violated while watching his entirely family get tortured. I have hardly heard an animal make a more shrill, disturbing sound. It did not do this for a short period of time. The concrete room in which I was sleeping acted as an echo chamber; I couldn't even tell what direction the sound was coming from. It seemed to be everywhere.
Already awake, I let myself out and left early. I had barely spoken to Cabrera the night before and somehow didn't feel the need to go through any formalities.
In San Pedro de Lloc, I spent over an hour trying to find a place to stay, even though there are only three hotels in town and they're not even far away from each other. One was nearly impossible to find, looked just like a house and had a tiny sign above the door, recessed from the street. Two of them didn't have anyone answer when I rang the bell, and of course, the gate or front door was locked. What, make it easy to enter a place of business? Don't be ridiculous. One of those places finally noticed me at the gate after I stood there for 15 minutes. They had no vacancy.
At one point, looking for one of the hotels, someone told me there wasn't one nearby, even though, as it turned out, she lived across the street from the one I was looking for. Two other people on the same street echoed her sentiment.
After asking the police station a third time, they finally mentioned the one that was only a block away. What the hell? Since of the other two places, one was full and the other wouldn't answer, I headed there. It took all of two seconds before the owner noticed me outside and let me in. Guess who's getting my business?
As he explained, the electricity wouldn't be on until between 5:00 and 6:00 PM, and that went for the whole city. Well, actually, he said 5:00 PM, but if you hear "at 5:00" and expect it to happen at 5:00, you've never been to Latin America.
A minute or two later, I understood: if the whole city had no power, no wonder no one answered at the other hotels when I tried to ring the bell! So couldn't they have a sign or something, or a non-electronic notification of some kind?
The hotel I stayed at had a battery-powered clock in the lobby that played a jingle out-of-tune every hour. The owner watched the TV in the lobby, full blast, until all hours of the night. My room was connected to the lobby. Oh, Latin America, you slay me...
More desert, more wind, more of the same on the way to Trujillo. And in Trujillo, more honking. I was still 12 km from my destination by the time I was already tired of the town.
Just as I was approaching the Casa de Ciclistas, only a block or two away, a guy on the sidewalk waved at me.
"Hey!" I quickly glanced and kept pedaling. "Hey, ciclista!"
He was smiling, waving, attempting eye contact, and wasn't shouting at the top of his lungs. This was unusual behavior. Maybe I should stop and see what he wants?
Turns out Álvaro, from Spain, was another touring cyclist, also staying at the Casa de Ciclistas! He had just gone down the block to buy a few things from the market and was about to head back. We walked there together.
"The honking in Peru, it is a problem," he commented.
It was worse than usual in Trujillo. Still, I gave him a deadpan stare. "All of Latin America."
"Yeah, pretty much," he agreed.
So I'm not the only one! I'm not completely insane!
Álvaro was doing the whole Pan-American thing, similar to what I'm doing now, only he had started in 2013 in Anchorage, not Deadhorse. As is typical, he was taking a year and a half to finish, rather than my accelerated seven months (If I did it again, I think nine is the perfect number). He had spent a whopping six months in Mexico alone! It's entirely possible that from here on out, I'll meet some of the 18-month tourists every so often as I catch them from behind at the end of their journey.
Álvaro claimed his English was poor, so we stuck to Spanish. Every now and then, though, he used is English to explain something, and I get the idea that his English is better than he lets on, or else he thought my Spanish is better than it is.
The people that run the Casa de Ciclistas don't live there, as opposed to all the other ones I've visited. Álvaro had plans to stay somewhere else that night, so since it was only me, I was invited to stay with the family at their place. I think more than anything, they didn't want the hassle of checking on the Casa de Ciclistas the next day for only one guy. Worked fine for me, especially since I got to use a real washing machine!
Before Álvaro left, we exchanged contact information, and he invited me to stay with him in Basque when I travel through Spain next spring. That will be hard to turn down!
Feeling welcome in a home was a nice change that helped pick me up. Even a home that contained a child that Álvaro compared to Dennis the Menace (he wasn't far off).