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first impressions of peru

The immigration official hails me from a restaurant on the other side of the road, where he is watching television. Making his way to the small shack – inconveniently placed on an embankment high above the road – that is the immigration post, he gets me to fill out a form, enters information in his computer and then sends me to the police station at the other end of the tiny town where a police officer checks to see if I might just be an internationally wanted criminal of some sort. Given the all clear, I return to immigration.

“How long will you be in Peru?”

“Well, sir, I am travelling by bike and Peru is a big country… If you would be so kind, I would like as much time as you can give me.”

The man hands me back my passport with a generous 180 days in which to explore. Another border crossed; I’m an old hand now. I wonder what Peru will bring me.

The general store in the border town of Las Balsas stocks it all - 44 gallon drums of poison sit next to sacks of rice and the cleaning goods.

Export only! This pesticide, so casually stored in the shop next to foodstuff, with jugs and funnels on top of the drums for decanting into smaller receptacles - old plastic drink bottles, no doubt - is not for sale in other parts due to its "acute" toxicity. Shame no-one thought to translate that pertinent piece of information into Spanish, along with all the warnings about environment hazards. This no doubt is the stuff you see people in the fields spraying about with gay abandon with only piece a cloth over their face, ...if that, even.

I always thought that all that horn honking was a mechanical form of Tourette Syndrome but it turns out that people are just being good law abiding drivers.

Back in coffee country - beans spread to dry around the village square.

I'm reading "Uncommon Grounds" at the moment, an account of the checkered history of the international coffee trade.

More road side processing - this is how the beans come off the tree.

Road works seem like they might be going to be a continuing theme here in Peru, too.

Street treats - fried dough, liberally doused in sugar syrup, works pretty well for me on a wet afternoon.

How many spokes do you really need?

I was reminded by fellow cyclists, Sarah and James (of Big Sur), that Paddington Bear, an old childhood acquaintance*, originally hailed from Peru. I think that this may be a rare image from his delinquent youth. Perhaps it was his problem with coffee that caused his aunt to pack him off to London, where he was found wandering the platforms of Paddington Station, suffering from acute caffeine withdrawal. (Like Michael Jackson, he appears to have been blacker as a youngster, too.)

I'm not giving up coffee, myself, any time soon but, despite the prevalence of the raw product, it's not that easy to find a good cup of coffee in rural Peru. Sadly, instant powder largely prevails.

From the border its a long slow descent into a valley lush with rice paddies.


Coconuts complement the tropical feel...

... and are a welcome roadside treat. Drink!...

... and then, eat! Excellent, on both counts.

I'm making a concerted effort to eat more fresh food. It is definitely available but not always at convenient times and places. This roadside break involved guacamole, plantain chips, and loads of fruit. Can't complain about that.

The alternative is cheap enough and provides requisite calories but doesn't always inspire the imagination or the taste buds.



... rice...

... all the way to the Rio Marañón, where I am soon ferried to the other side...

...which is strikingly arid by comparison. I could be back in the Mojave Desert...

...with its legion...

...of strange and spiky plants.

This man, taking advantage of the arid heat, has bought his coffee down from the mountains to dry spread out beside the desert highway. He packs it up each night, with a guard posted to protect it from thieves. Tomorrow it will be ready, he says, to transport to Lima where he will sell it for $2/kilo.

The road works its way along a gorge...

... with a rushing river...

.... and dramatic rock walls.

Epiphytes abound.

*My first job, from the tender age of ten or so, was dressing Paddington Bears. No, I’m not kidding! My step-mother had a toy importing business and I was her chief assistant for a number of years until the enterprise foundered and various other things went haywire. We worked pretty damn hard, too.

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