Sunday, January 22, 2012

Stay Focused, Stay Alive

January 19, 2012

Most of the people I am close with in Ollantaytambo had either left or were going to leave soon for mini vacations. I also had huge days coming up next week . We have to move to ANOTHER dorm (long story, future post) and I am some sort of guest of honor in Soccma at a huge fiesta, so it seemed like a good time to shoot down to Chile to reset my visa.

I don’t have video games in Peru. Well, using a console I don’t. But driving a motorcycle in Peru is the best video game I have ever played. Let’s start with the trip to Arequipa, then move on to general game play.

The drive to Arequipa is 9 hours, some beautiful, some boring. The first 4 hours or so were pretty straight forward, in fact, driving into Juliaca has one of the only flat straight roads I have been on down here. Easy right? Apparently trucks and busses think that because a road is straight and flat you can pass whenever you want. I had to head over to the shoulder 3 times. My favorite was when I watched a truck pull halfway out to check to see if anyone was coming. It paused, pulled back a little, went back to halfway, thought for a minute, then decided, “heck, it’s only a motorcycle, I’m just going to pass and he can get out of my way”. Good stuff.

But the best part was the 14-15,000 foot pass through the national park. Yeah, I forgot it was rainy season, or at that altitude, snowy season. It got pretty bad. The sleet built up on my visor, my breath froze inside it. I couldn’t see anything. If I lifted up the visor, my face got pelted. There were trucks everywhere. It was probably the most dangerous riding I have done. But whatever, I just kept going and eventually made it out. It cracks me up how I had 2 hours in a nice, sunny valley, 4 hours on a flat plain, 2 hours in the mountains in treacherous conditions, then an hour in a gorgeous desert setting where I mostly dried out. Gotta love Peru.

Yeah, not too safe on a bike...

Am I back in Michigan?

Dropping into Arequipa later that day. Even the factories look like a video game. Isn't this a level on black ops?

Faster Than Speed: Peru Edition

Let’s review this exciting hot new game, soon to be released for the PS3 and Xbox 360.

You play as Johnny Danger, a young adventurer in search of ancient Incan Treasures. Your vehicle is a Suzuki DR650 dual-sport, a tank of a motorcycle that can go anywhere. You will need it.

Each level contains a variety of dangers and obstacles you must overcome to reach your goal.

Animals: You will face herds of sheep, goats, alpacas, llamas, and cows. They travel right in the middle of the road, usually around blind curves. There are also constant single animals darting in and out, like chickens, donkeys, and pigs. You will have no warning.

Dogs: They get their own category.

1. Strays: They are plentiful and wander where ever they want. They are dangerous because they lope along the side of the road and give no warning when they will just turn into the road itself.

2. Mountain Guardians: They live in the middle of nowhere at high altitudes. I have no idea how they eat. They are VERY passive, I have never seen them move. But they lay and watch right in the middle of the road. You must go around them.

3. Packs: These are easier to spot, but with a large group of dogs you must be wary of the one who wants to impress the rest and jump out in front of a vehicle. Or a motorcycle.

4. Chasers: These are the worst. They lay hidden until a motorcycle drives by. Then they jump out at full speed barking at the top of their lungs nipping at your heels. You must become immune to these dogs or you might turn into oncoming traffic (like I saw a Peruvian almost get killed once). Feel free to kick at them. Bonus points.

Vehicles: There are semis, medium sized trucks, small trucks, double-decker busses, mini-vans, taxis, 3-wheeled taxis, SUVs, combies, 3-wheeled bicycles, little motorcycles ,food carts, tourist busses, and pick-up trucks all weaving together at completely different speeds, stopping whenever they want, in both lanes (especially on curves), like some kind of messed up symphony. Most of these spew dark, thick, nasty smoke from the exhaust. Good luck.

Physical Hazards: You will be required to successfully navigate all sorts of immobile obstacles as well. There are speed bumps, speed troughs, pot holes, grates, landslides (often hidden around blind curves), train tracks, rivers, thick mud, loose gravel, missing sections of road, hairpin turns, rocks, hidden traffic lights, broken traffic lights, no way stops, cobblestones, bottles and trash thrown out of windows, deep concrete gutters, and standing water. Another favorite are all the one way streets. They are not marked. Do not turn down a road until you see another vehicle do it. Most cities have multiple one way streets in the same direction in a row. Do not assume they alternate. One of the greatest hazards is the scenery. You will constantly be wowed by indescribable valleys and mountains. They usually coincide with a hairpin turn right in front of you that you weren’t paying attention to. Have fun falling off the 1,000 foot drop.

Humans: People assume you will avoid them. This leads to interesting dodging techniques. It’s like when two people walk down a narrow hallway and kind of dance back and forth deciding which way to go, except one of those people is going 40 mph on a motorcycle and the other has a huge bundle of vegetables strapped to their back. But when you are stopped, they will extend to you a kindness you have never experienced and help you on your way.

Weather: Rain, hail, sleet, wind, snow, dense fog, sandstorms, sun, rainbows.

Construction: This is interesting. Peruvians are big fans of cutting trapezoids into the pavement then filling it in. That is all they do, all the time on every major road. While they are doing this, there are sign people at each end. The sign people get bored and like to have fun, stopping everyone, letting both sides go, only letting motorcycles through, not showing up to work that day…

In the end, the treasure is worth it. You will become a very skilled motorcyclist and experience an adventure like no other. Just remember to always wear your helmet, drive rested, and don’t drink anything weird.

1 comment:

Beepa said...

John-Thanks to the article that appeared in the February 5, 2012 "DeWitt-Bath Review" I learned about your effort and your blog. It appears you are capturing experiences that will be with you forever but most of all will mold you once more into that person you hope to become. Congratulations! Your commitment to service is a wonderful choice. I'll check your blog from time to time to learn more about your Peruvian experience. Perhaps the "DeWitt-Bath Review" will print some of your blog especially on slow news days. Thanks for sharing.