Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Peruvian Tale of Friendship (Part One)

When traveling we occasionally come across interesting fellow adventurers who are not content with sitting at home but want to hit the high road and see what is on the other side of the mountain. That is how, we at J and L, feel people should spend their lives. Exploration is what makes humans so successful among their fellow creatures in an often challenging earthly environment.

With this in mind I would like to take the reader back with me to the sprawling mountain village of Cusco in the beautiful South American country of Peru. That famous capital of the mighty Incan empire before the Spanish arrived and chased the remaining native souls to the hinterlands and one of final hideaways in Machu Picchu (a topic we have covered previously).

It is in that very city, Cusco, that Laureen and I met a wonderfully interesting and educated man. But a man of great mystery as we learned some time later.

His name was Carlos and he was an officer in the Peruvian military. We will, at this time, not mention what he did in the military except to say he was in charge of an anti-terrorism special operations team which worked in the Amazon and other locales in this vast and varied countryside.

We were in Peru for the first time, to visit the ruins of Machu Picchu and then move on to Lake Titicaca (the highest navigable lake in the world) to visit the floating reed islands. Here we were going to tour Sun Island (which was actually in Bolivia), and take a drink from the fabled  fountain of youth and receiving a blessing from a local shaman. That meant we had to get from Cusco to Puno.

Of course, to get to Puno, the tiny Peruvian town on the coast of Lake Titicaca, we had to take a six hour bus ride from Cusco. Now, to put the trip into perspective, a six hour drive for a Southern Californian is nothing more than a long trip for a good meal.

That idea was short lived. The bus, 'First Class Transportation', from Cusco turned out to be a voyage from hell.

It was great fun!

We started early on a cool winter morning (it was summer were we lived in North America) leaving the magnificent city of the Incans for the semi-short drive to Puno when suddenly the route was blocked by construction. Large earth moving machines munched dirt like a starving person eats whatever is in their reach. Knowing no one on board the large transport bus, we sat and chatted between the two of us knowing we would probably fall asleep while the driver bore down the long dark asphalt vein that would end at our destination.

Sleep never came.

Our bus driver, a rather tall and skinny older fellow, decided that he had had enough at one of the detours on the highway and jumped out of the still running bus and began chasing two construction truck drivers swinging his fists and knocking one poor worker to the ground nearly unconscious. The people on our bus were in shock to witness such a show of animal brutality but Laureen and I sat and watched and made a financial bet to see who would finally win.

We were from the United States. Betting on violent spectator sports was in our blood.

Laureen won the bet as the driver, now sweaty, dirty and swearing climbed into the driver seat and lurched the bus backwards and then forwards toward a narrow but high cement curve. He was taking this bus full of passengers up and over this slight obstacle to the flat and even dirt road which the innocent construction workers he had just beat up were trying to pave.

This is where I would get my money back.

"He's going to high center this bus." I smiled at Laureen.

"No, he knows what he's doing."

The bus climbed a couple of feet, dropped less and was stuck teeter-tottering on that cement divider. I smiled knowing we were even with our bets - so far.

With what I believe was an attempt at a chagrined countenance the bus driver had us exit the bus so he might be able to un-wedge the vehicle from its perch.

"He won't be able to do it," I said.

Laureen did not take the bet.

He couldn't and we knew there would be at least forty-five minutes of head scratching, more swearing, and finally a solution in removing a five ton bus from a short concrete wall. Our fellow travelers stood around the bus for the next several minutes while the genius behind the wheel and nearly a dozen other men pondered the situation. Being the explorers we were, the idea of standing around watching the ruckus with the bus didn't sound like our cup of tea, so we walked off and found a small roadside shop for a cold beer and a Pepsi. After refreshing ourselves, we slowly made our way back to where the bus was still lodged off the ground. Trucks and men pulled and tugged on the bus until finally it was free. Our Ark had bested the wall  and we were finally on our way to Puno but without the benefit of an exhaust pipe. We were less than two miles from the bus station but it was just the beginning of a wonderfully funny and pathetic story.

Only 386 kilometers to go.

And we had not even met Carlos yet.

To be continued.

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