The morning dawned right smack on time – 6 am. Sunrises and sunsets are like clockwork here – rises at 6am, sets at 6pm, every day, all year round. This morning, we were able to ignore the sun for a little while, but by 7, we were both awake and out of bed.
We set out on our motorcycle a little before 8am. Here on campus, the students were still in morning chapel. The vans and suburbans were loaded and ready to go for Compartiendo. The morning was nice and peaceful as we headed out onto the main road. We live in the countryside in a mostly farming, somewhat touristic area. On our side road, we pass two farms –a cow farm, and a guinea pig farm. Guess which one smells worse. There’s also a Catholic orphanage and one wealthy family.
Our tiny village is called Picapiedra and this morning, it was dead. Our town comes alive at night, but during the day, it looks like a ghost town. We drove through Picapiedra (which takes all of about a minute and a half) and headed towards the coast city of Lurin to do some shopping.
Pretty much the only people moving at 8am here are the farmers. Men and women are busy working in the fields at sun-up. Their backs are bowed and their hats are pulled low. Women are normally dressed in typical mountain garb – short, layered skirts, long, braided hair, and a cowboy style hat, normally with a baby strapped to their back in a brightly colored blanket. Some farmers are seen walking behind a plow pulled by a scrawny horse. Fields consist mostly of aji peppers (a crucial staple in this area of Peru).
This early in the morning, the only others on the road are dumptrucks and mototaxis (motorcycles with carts attached to the back, used as taxis). We heard a comedian once that was complaining about log trucks going one direction passing other log trucks going back the other way. “Hey, you takin’ logs back there? I just came from there! … You got logs? I got logs, too!” That’s how we feel with the giant loads of sand on the dumptrucks. “Hey, you got sand? I got sand, too! I just came from there! If I knew we needed sand there, I wouldn’t be taking it somewhere else!”
On the way to Lurin, we pass through another small town called Pachacamac. The town is filled with mototaxis, people waiting for buses, and taxis looking for passengers. The side shops are mostly closed, with a few open for breakfast and a handful just beginning their preparations for the day. The local “Polleria” where we buy our favorite “Pollo a la Brasa” (roasted chicken, sold with homemade French fries and salad – a Peruvian specialty) is just opening; you can smell the beginnings of the roasted chicken.
A few more kilometers and we start getting into the outskirts of Lurin. More taxis and buses are joining the route by now. Taxis are notorious for stopping often and without warning to pick up as many passengers as possible. Most taxis in the outer districts of Lima act like glorified buses; they pick up as many people as possible going one direction. Buses as well stop without a whole lot of warning. A good many of them also do not have brake lights, making the trip extra interesting.
There is one major intersection we have to pass through to get to Lurin. There are no stop lights, stop signs, yield signs, or police officers directing traffic. Everyone just kind of siphons into the turn and you go when you get a chance. Normally, the line-up is three to four cars/buses across and two to three deep. You have to cross both lanes of traffic in order to turn left. There is no easy merge lane here. Amidst the confusion of hundreds of cars, you also have the pedestrians and dogs to look out for. Let’s just say, I’m glad I’m not driving when we go through there.
As we pull onto the main road into Lurin, we’re joined by those hundreds of cars that were trying to merge as well as the traffic already en route. On the motorcycle, we have the ability to pass traffic (cautiously, of course J ) on the right. This allows us to miss speed bumps (there are random speed bumps even on main roads) and traffic jams. This morning, it allowed us to pass some buses only to get stuck behind more. Exhaust fumes will be the death of us, I’m sure.
Our local market is right at the entrance of Lurin itself. You pull into the big parking lot and the entire market is situated under one roof. It has about 10 different aisles and many tiny, privately owned shops. They’re semi-organized with toys on the left, appliances in the middle, clothes on the right, hairdressers on the far right, food in the middle heading towards the back, and restaurants in the far back. You can buy any assortment of food there. We’ve found beautiful cakes, amazing empanadas, and wonderful “arroz con leche” (rice pudding). If we’re there in the afternoon, we normally stop for an empanada and some Inca Kola. But, being morning today, there wasn’t much offered in the way of food. Peruvians eat mostly bread, some juice, and fruit for breakfast, not much else. Breakfast tiendas are not very popular.
Our shopping was over within the hour and we headed home. By then, the streets were much fuller, pretty much every shop was open, and even more people were lining the streets waiting for public transportation. Children are everywhere. In a country where over half the population is under 18, the amount of children really shouldn’t surprise you.
The sides of the road are speckled with the occasional street cleaner. Peru is trying to come out of being a Third World country. So, they have come up with a giant assortment of jobs, including street cleaner. They wear colorful jumpsuits and face masks. Their job is to walk up and down the sidewalks, sides of the road, and occasional roads themselves, and sweep and pick up trash. Not a glorious job, but it pays and that’s really all that matters. They gather the trash either into bags or occasionally, they put them into piles and light them on fire. So, along the sides of the road are little fires going as well. You can see in the distance more smoke from other trash fires being lit around the countryside by individuals and towns.
Others are finally out working as well. Men are mixing cement on the sides of the road by hand. From the ground, they use pulleys and levers to get it up onto rooftops. The place where we gassed up was being added onto; the men were finishing up the concrete work on the second floor.
Restaurant workers are starting to come out on the street with their signs and offers. They yell and whistle and try to “entice” potential customers to eat at their particular establishment. Police are making their appearance. An entire truckload of military men passed us; not sure where they were going, but they were in full riot gear. Since it’s Christmastime, the amount of policemen has gone up substantially as well. They pull people over, but most of the time it’s for a bribe so they can pay for Christmas presents. During the rest of the year, the police show up in force around mealtimes and the bribes are to pay for that particular meal. Thankfully, we rarely get stopped and we don’t pay bribes.
The river near our campus is flowing since it’s finally spring. The sun is up and warm so families have gathered in the river to wash clothes.
Our town is still relatively quiet, but the restaurants and tiendas are finally open. We enter our side road and the peace and quiet surround us.
The flowers outside our house are blooming and the sun has warmed my laundry hanging up. Trips like this to areas with lots of traffic and people make us thankful for where we live. We’re close enough to experience it all, yet far enough away that we can leave it all behind when we come home.