The Wild West of Lima - part 1

The Wild West of Lima

By Johnny Parsons

The Wild West of Lima Part 1: Urban exploration in Peru's capital.

Location: Puente Santa Anita, Lima, Peru. Friday, 6:40am on an already sweltering summer morning.

“Documentos, documentos” barked the giant Policeman.Armed for Guerilla Warfare and with no evident sense of humour, this was not a chap that one would wish to upset!

I’d left the house early, I’d got to the bus stop on time, the traffic was the usual unpredictable chaos, so now I was teetering on the edge of being late. I filed down the slow moving line of people, head down, hoping that I wouldn’t get picked out in this random ID check (it would be a random ID check in my case too!) Head down and hoping that despite being at least a foot taller than the average Peruvian, I wouldn’t stand out too much and the Policia would let me slip past. No such luck!

The problem was that I’d (foolishly/naively) didn’t have any ID. All I had was my UK Driving License and my BFH. Sadly, corruption is present (rife) in the law, and although there may have been a chance that I could have “bought” my way out of this tricky situation with only 50 Centavos in my pocket (10p in old money), it wasn’t a pantomime that I was thinking of entering. Carrying ID is mandatory and I wasn’t carrying any.

“Documentos, documentos” he shouted at me. I presented my driving license. This angered him somewhat “What is THIS”

I made up an excuse that my ID had been stolen, just the night before. Lying has never been a forte of mine and with the sun rising, my nose growing and sweating like a proverbial pig. I was under pressure.

“What are you doing here?”

With no ID on me, legally, I shouldn’t have been working, so I lied again. “Tourism”, I said, with my intonation in all the wrong places, sounding like I was asking a question.

“Tourism? Here?” Santa Anita was not a place where tourists go, as there is nothing touristic to see. A long way from the leafy cosmopolitan parks and avenues of Miraflores and a zillion miles from Machu Picchu, or on the moon.

In fact if I’d said I was an astronaut on my way to the moon it may have been more believable! Why would a tourist be wearing a shirt and tie, carrying a briefcase full of text books here? (He’d already checked my bag and sky rockets).

Lady luck was shining down on me, as just then a scuffle broke out. Somebody else had forgotten their ID, but they weren’t taking too kindly to the fact that they were being delayed to work. My Policeman gave me the hard word “Never, EVER forget your ID again” and he went off to assist his colleague (to rough up a punter!)

I ran the remaining 6 blocks to work and spent my class daydreaming about “Operation Escape from Lima!”

(At this point I should explain that both my wife and mother-in-law are both called Lina, so if I mistype Lima as Lina at any point, and if my eyes/spell-check does not pick up on it, it is purely unintentional and not a Freudian slip!)

I’d been back in Lima for 3 months; the city had changed since I last lived here 10 years ago. Bigger, badder, busier and booming! Whilst most of the World is in a recession, Peru had been steadily growing over the last 5 years and as a result, credit is more freely available. Which means more cars and more Taxistas! Taxis make up around half of the traffic on the roads, creating a snarled-up vicious circle. More traffic = more time to get anywhere = more people taking a taxi = more traffic!

The scene had been set. I work until 7pm on Saturday and due to being so close to the Equator/Ecuador, by this time it is pitch black, in summer and winter. I’m not a good enough rider to head off-road at night, so I had to wait. The opportunity arose, but I was called in to work for a meeting, so it was off. I have a bike-riding friend who had done it in a day, but he rides a big 990cc KTM, which packs a bit more punch than my wee machine. I thought I’d try it in a day, what’s the worst that could happen…

Up at 5am and away by 6 (I am an intolerable faffer on a morning). Lima, in winter, is generally cloaked in a thick grey mist. A proper pea-souper. My goggles were a river of dirty rain droplets as I passed the row-upon row of optimistic roadside traders, selling everything from “Taxi” stickers to giant papaya to fluorescent kites. With a roaring tailwind I made good progress.

10km out of town, the mist evaporated and the sun beat down. By 7am I was sweating and my smile was growing. The first 50km were on road. However, the road conditions could be compared to off-road, with huge potholes, crumbling tarmac and some tricky railway tracks to traverse. Crossing them straight on is no problem; these had been laid to crisscross the snaking road and were almost parallel. It was best to cross them at a wider angle, but with impatient drivers up my backside, this wasn’t always possible. They almost gave me a tarmac breakfast, so I was glad to get off-road, onto the thin trail I’d seen. Scale is a tricky thing to judge at times, and as always, I’d underestimated just how long it would take.

Hairpins sweeping skywards brought an amazing panorama. Lima to the east, drowned in a sea of grey cloud seemed a long way away.

An old lady stopped me and quizzed me. A lady of “la Sierra” (Highlands) dressed in traditional clothing, with ponytails and a big, big hat.

1) Where are you from?
2) Where are you going?
3) Where were my friends?
4) What would I do if my bike exploded/I got lost/died/worse…

Then a younger lady (with no teeth) stopped me and asked me the same 4 questions.

She was much more doom-and-gloom. She only knew of one person who had ever ventured down that road and they had died a gruesome death!

“Turn back, go back to Lima, a grim end awaits you…”

I glanced at my watch and saw that I’d been going for an hour and hadn’t made much progress at all. Best get a wriggle-on!

It’s always tricky getting a balance between cracking-on and stopping for breaks/photos/brew-stops. This place was amazing and there was nobody here at all. After 2 hours I made the top of the pass, to be greeted by a young burrito quietly waiting in line for the Municipalidad (Town Hall offices), a tiny cubicle/kiosk. Glad to have a bit of downhill as my bike was playing up a bit, but I didn’t give it much thought at the time.

I’d told myself that I needed a turn-around time. I had no idea of the conditions of the track. The first village told me that I was at 4200m above sea level. Maybe that’s why the bike was struggling; it had spent most of its life chugging around sea-level Lima. I didn’t see a single soul in the first village and only one old lad in the next little hamlet. The road was blocked by an ancient truck parked up, I couldn’t squeeze past, so I had to backtrack and weave through the labyrinth of passageways, made trickier by a drainage ditch in the middle of the path.

A splendid day out in yonder montañas... from Roger Irrelevant on Vimeo.

Downhill was no problem for the ailing Honda and apart from a near miss with a train of donkeys parked on a blind bend (their owner was washing his clothes in the river and obviously wasn’t expecting anybody else to be on the trail), it was an uneventful ride back down to the road and onwards to Lima.

Until I got about an hour from home and hit a wall of traffic! Nothing was moving. I spotted a Combi dart left on a dirt track, so I followed. The delay was due to a fire burning on the railway track and a small protest.

The Police were doing their best to delay everyone, by blocking the road both ways. Thick black smoke and the fact that at 6pm, there is a sudden and instant transition from day to night here in Peru. No lingering dusk.

The sun switches from on to off.

(Literally) blindly following the combi (who had no lights, nor were there any streetlights) down a rutted track running parallel to the parked traffic rounded off an excellent days adventure.

I’d ridden into the unknown and although it was a major fail (this time), I’d be back!

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