Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ruins, Llamas, and Me

June 14, 2011 – Pachacamac
I put a hair tie around my right pants leg to keep my pants from catching in the chain, pack snacks, water, camera and notebook and take off down the road. Walter drew me a map. It went something like this: Go down the road. When you come to the green bridge, don’t take it just keep going. When you come to the red bridge, turn right and go over the bridge.

Pass through many small towns. When you come to the light in Pachacamac you’re probably still 5 kilometers away. You’ll see the ruins to your left.
It more or less went that way.
The roads between Cieneguilla and Pachacamac are rocky, sometimes paved, sometimes not, sometimes a mixture of paved and unpaved. The road is frequented by buses taking tourists and locals all around, by big cement type trucks, trike taxis, cars, people, dogs, cyclists. And everyone on the road just assumes the whole road is theirs.

I’m trying to stay out of the way as much as possible. I keep my ears tuned for vehicles coming up behind me and watch the ones that come straight on at me. Almost every car that passes honks. Sometimes this is just the usual Peruvian mania about honking, the rest of the time it’s because I’m a gringa.

One car wants to try and scare me, I think. I’m on the right hand side of the road and he’s coming opposite. So he should be driving on the left. But he doesn’t. He comes directly at me. The only thing I can think is the line from Hunt For Red October where the American Submarine Captain says, “The hard part about playing chicken is knowing when to flinch.” Fortunately, I don’t get run over. I don’t flinch either.
The way is pretty.

Most of the time. The mountains are on both sides. The little towns are sparked with daily life; small bodegas, little tiendas, car repair places, the usual indications of this current humanity. Some spots aren’t as pretty with piles of trash, the smell of cow and garbage. Along one mountain wall are crude shanties. I guess we live wherever we can. I like the breeze in my face. I like the easy rumble of the road underneath my wheels. What I don’t like are the dogs that run right up next to my knees and bark at me as I ride by. I don’t think they’ll bite, but it’s still a little daunting. I try to just ride on by. Geraldine told me that when she walks home she carries a rock because one dog always comes up behind her when she doesn’t have one and nips her ankles. When I step off the bike to walk, I reach down for a couple rocks, just in case.

Thirty minutes into my day long trip, I’m already mud splattered and sweaty. This doesn’t stop the local Peruvian dudes from whistling as I go by. Only one yells after me, “I love you.” Right. Another one passes me slowly on his motorcycle. He turns when he gets in front and looks me dead in my sweat-drenched eyes and asks if I want a ride. Boy please.
The girls I pass give me shy suspicious glances or just suspicious ones. I’m not sure how long it’d take to make friends. Maybe it’d be as easy as asking directions. They seem reserved. I think it’s more reservation than unfriendliness.

When the big trucks go by I’m caught in a swirl of dust, dirt and exhaust. I’m caked in a thickening veneer of grime. What an adventure! I’m caught up in it.
I ride through what looks like a tourist town. The El Alamo is off to my left,

 a fancy looking place painted a bright yellow. There’s a hotel/restaurant off to my left. In front of it are tied a sheep, another sheep, and a real live llama. I stop to tell him hi and take his picture. I must really be in Peru.

I’ve left early enough to make the two and a half hour bike ride, see the ruins, and get back before dark. This is my plan. I do well on time. I ride through a busier town and finally see the ruins off to my left.

I’m not sure how to get to them. So I stop and ask directions from a little boy at a kiosk. He tells me to go to some door and ask the lady and pay her and she’ll let me in. He points me back in the direction I came from. I get to a place I’d passed on my way down that says, Museo del Sitio. I’d thought that maybe that would be the entrance to the ruins, but not being sure I had passed it by.

I’m almost back to the entrance to the Museo when I yell across the road to a walking man, “Excuse me, is this the way into the ruins?” The man tells me no. I have to go back down to where I had just been and find the door and pay and then go all the way around the world to get to the ruins themselves.
So back I go.
Across the street from where the boy’s kiosk is, I ask a parking lot attendant where the entrance to the ruins is. He pulls his earbuds out of his ears and tells me that the old man was talking crazy talk and that the entrance to the ruins is through the Museo. I repeat everything he’s told me just to make sure. “Really?” I ask. He assures me it’s so.
For the last time I head up the hill. Sure enough, under the Museo’s sign and down the hill, there’s a ticket booth. I buy a ticket for 7 soles and have to leave my bike there at the entrance. “It’ll be safe here?” I ask the attendant. “Of course,” she says. I have a slight twinge of worry. Dear Incan Gods, please don’t let anyone steal this bike. My track record is already bad, I don’t want to make it worse.
Shedding my worry and bolstering my trust in the human race I leave the bike behind and head down the road leading to the ruins.

The ruined buildings themselves are cordoned off and have signs that tell you that Passing is Prohibited. I got spoiled at the Cieneguilla ruins where I could climb where I wanted to climb. But for preservation (of ruins, no less) I think they’re doing a fine thing.
I ask a girl to take my picture in front of the ruins with a ramp (that’s pretty much what the information sign in front of it said) and she does.
A few twists and turns later, I spot an American. I guess we do stick out like those oft stuck out sore thumbs. I hate to peg him as a total whitey, but I still ask him in English if he wouldn’t mind taking my photo. He’s very to himself. He takes the picture but doesn’t make any small talk, so I let him be. I let him be, but I still turn and take his photo just for the heck of it when I see he’s once again absorbed in his Peruvian Ruin Guide.

Over the ruins a group of buzzards circle. I stop to watch them.
The buzzards circle the ruined temple’s peak
As if they remember sacrifices
Of long ago
There’s nine of them that I count
Waiting, circling, circling and waiting
Perhaps they’re just waiting for more of us to die.

 It’s not really as morbid as all that. I just like to ponder. I ponder my way back around to the front, glancing at my watch and knowing I’m still doing okay on time. I buy some Chifles and some water from the little kiosk at the visitor’s center cafeteria. I eat one bag of Chifles (remember these are fried platanos. Not raw, but they have salt and I need to replenish and rehydrate), three bananas I bought from a lady on the side of the road in the town just before the ruins, and two apples. I swing my bag back in place over my back, collect my bike and get back on the road.

The whole way home is uphill. I kid you not. I’m not sure I’ve ever done a 16.8 mile ride in my life. My legs are a little spent and I thank my obsessive workout habits and my history of spins (stationary bike workouts that I wrote that are killer) for aiding me in the trip back. But I still walk a lot of the way.

I try to remember to stop and look around as I’m wiping sweat on the shoulder of my shirt. These things I’ve already seen and I’m grateful I was paying attention on my ride in. This helps with me taking the right way back to Cieneguilla; back through the busy town, left at the roundabout, on forever until I reach the red bridge, take a right, on and on, past town after town, up hills, past barking dogs, by the funny rock walls, past the whistling Peruvian guys, until I finally see the green bridge. The green bridge is the last leg. I’ve never loved a bridge like I love that one. I press on.

When I see the sign that says Cieneguilla 4 KM. I think, “Cake walk” and walk the rest of the way back home.

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