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To Huánuco, Receipt of Blessings
The laundry across the street was still hanging in the early morning.
Given the moist air and abundance of rain in the jungle area, it looks like perhaps people leave their laundry hanging for days until it finally dries.
A view down the street from our hotel balcony in Tocache:
A view in the other direction:
For breakfast, we returned to the bakery where I had tried manjar last night. We got some coffee, bread and yogurt. However, before I could take a sip of coffee, my stomach started doing somersaults. While I didn’t get “sick,” I passed on breakfast and returned early to the hotel to finish packing up.
A few motos were parked across the street.
As I was getting ready this morning, I noticed some young women on the balcony across from our hotel. They were attending a “pre-university” school and were getting ready for classes to start. We exchanged a few waves now and then.
I walked down the street and got my bike from a locked storage area. (Ben pushed his bike into the street, as he didn’t want to incite any of the wasps that had built a big nest on the wall next to our bikes.) When I pulled up in front of the hotel, I noticed that the group of students had gotten larger. We exchanged more waves and smiles:
As I was strapping my luggage on the bike, an older woman came up to me. The top of her head barely reached my chest, and her face was covered in layers of wrinkles. Her eyes were sparkling above a wide smile that revealed only a few remaining teeth. She asked me (in Spanish) where I was going and where I had been. Her name was Jackie. We talked for a few minutes, making each other laugh. Then she placed her dry soft palm against my forehead, looked me in the eyes with a serious expression, and said, “Vaya con dios” (Go with God). I nodded and thanked her, our eyes communicating more than our words. I carried a piece of Jackie with me today, feeling as if I had been endowed with a protective armor.
Leaving the town of Tocache, we crossed over the Rio Huallaga on a suspension bridge.
The main plaza in Tocache has an exhibit with a miniature suspension bridge and a plaque that commemorated the building of the real bridge in 1975 (I think that is the correct year). The bridge had been vital to the economic growth of the city, as it allowed easier access for transporting goods and providing services to other communities.
Our route today would wind south through the jungle to the town of Tingo Maria. We had originally planned to stay there overnight. However, when we discovered that the road was a mix of paved and dirt, instead of all dirt, we knew that we would be able to cover a lot more miles. We decided to extend out route further south, out of the Amazon basin and back into the Andes Mountains, to the city of Huánuco.
The asphalt road was fairly smooth as it gently meandered through the thick tropical vegetation.
This store had a small home attached:
We passed a sign that let us know we were entering the Cordillera Azul (Blue Mountain) National Park, which was designated a protected area in 2001 to preserve unique species, biological communities, and geological formations, and to help distribute the land’s national resources in a fair and equitable manner.
Some more homes:
We crossed over another suspension bridge:
We saw a number of local bikes parked on the side of the road, in front of houses.
This man was filling a plastic bucket with water from an outdoor pipe:
Someone had cleared most of the big trees from this section:
The pavement ended, and a dirt/rock road began.
Here is a moto-trike towing another one:
We waited at many road construction sites throughout today—a major effort to pave the roads seemed to be happening in this area of the jungle.
A road-side lumber mill:
The hills were covered with a wide variety of plants:
A home with bamboo walls:
Some more houses:
Continuing road construction:
Some children were playing soccer in a nearby field:
Portions of the road were peppered with potholes. There is a tiny bunch in the photo below:
The tops of these hills had tall trees:
We rode for miles along the river, Rio Huallaga. One small valley had bright green rice fields stretched out beside the road.
This small stand had beer, juice, ice cream and gasoline:
Many of the vehicles on the road were older models, such as this truck that was broken down.
Another small lumber-mill:
We stopped for a short break in the town of Aucayacu.
Ben, in front of some homes:
I bought some water from the nearby market and filled our camelbacks. While I was busy, a man came walking up with his two small girls. He didn’t say anything; he just stood off to one side watching. I said hello and waved at his girls. He continued standing silently. I asked if I could take a photo, and he nodded.
I had some water left over and didn’t want to waste it. I thought of offering it to the man, but I didn’t want to offend him. Guy said to go ahead and make the offer, so I did. The man smiled and took the water bottle.
We continued riding and soon entered a wide valley:
Some more houses and buildings that we passed:
These boys were on bicycles—a transportation mode that wasn’t as common as we had anticipated.
Essentially all of the children that we saw attending school throughout Peru were wearing uniforms:
We stopped briefly at a small village, which was in the process of receiving fresh asphalt on its handful of streets. Here is a home in the village, with a carport out front for the family’s big truck.
About 10 miles from Tingo Maria, we encountered a series of inspection points, with long lines of trucks and cars waiting. The area around Tingo Maria sits on the border of the Amazon basin, with many trucks carrying goods in and out of the jungle. The multiple inspection points attempt to minimize the trafficking of illegal goods, such as drugs.
The guard in the green T-shirt, below, is inspecting one of the big trucks.
Ben and I were riding separately from Guy during this section—he was somewhere behind us. We got a kick out of passing through the checkpoints without his assistance. Most of the time the guards would wave us through, but sometimes they would stop us and ask us what town we had just come from—we enjoyed the brief verbal exchanges.
Entering Tingo Maria:
We found Tingo Maria to be a beautiful and welcoming town, with fresh air and a lively energy. There were a lot of motorcycles and three-wheeled vehicles that were much quieter than the moto-trikes that we had experienced in Tarapoto. Instead of having a motorcycle front end, the vehicle had a bench seat and resembled a three-wheeled car. Here I am in downtown Tingo Maria, with a blue 3-wheeler behind me.
The traffic lanes down the main street were separated by a long grassy area with palm trees.
We found a promising restaurant along the main plaza area:
I was craving fresh fruit, and thoroughly enjoyed the large plate of fresh pineapple, bananas, papaya and mango that was placed before me. Yum. I also was served some pork and a humongous portion of what looked like squashed corn, but turned out to be a type of potato.
While we were eating, two women and a small child rode up on a scooter:
This talented street musician provided entertainment near the end of our lunch:
In the next section of our journey, we transitioned from the moist jungle area into the drier, less fertile edges of the Andes Mountains.
We climbed a squiggly mountain road, enjoying our last views of the tropical vegetation.
The school day was ending, and students were walking home carrying their backpacks and other items.
We passed many small cinder-block homes with tin roofs.
This one had an attached garage:
Some of the villages had hung colorful streamers across the road:
We wound our way up and up.
The road was a major transportation route for the big trucks.
We often had to creep along behind one or more trucks, which were lumbering slowly up the mountain. We usually had to wait a while to make a safe pass—looking for that elusive short straight-away with nothing coming in the opposite lane. Then we would round the next corner to find another big truck, and the patient passing process would begin again.
As I rode close to those big wheels, my mind was thinking of Tyler--a motorcyclist friend who recently had been caught up and dragged under the wheels of a big rig, and who is still recovering from her extensive surgeries.
This boy startled us when he popped out of the shrubbery with a soccer ball:
A view at the road behind us:
As we rose higher and higher, the vegetation became more sparse, and the houses seemed to reflect a greater level of poverty.
These five children were playing outside of one home:
Then came “the” tunnel. The entrance was a black hole that revealed nothing about what was beyond. My eyes needed some adjustment time to transition from the bright daylight to utter blackness. When I could finally focus on something again, my heart quickened at the sight of two headlights in the distance. The tunnel road had two narrow lanes, and I held my breath, hoping that the truck would just stay on its side. I exhaled with relief as it passed me safely. However, I was then thrown back into complete darkness, as my eyes recovered from the blinding glare of the truck headlights. I blinked rapidly, and then stretched my eyelids open as far as I could. But I still couldn’t see ANYthing. And I didn’t know if there was a deep cement gutter along the right side that I might slip into if I got too close to the edge. (Ben told me later that the gutter was indeed there.) I stopped, trying to remain calm. I might as well have been floating in outer space, given the utter lack of visual clues I had around me. After a few seconds, I could make out a milky grayness in front of me, but no details. I found out later that my front light was caked in dirt and mud and thus was not giving off much light. I knew that I was never going to get out of that tunnel unless I moved forward. So I did, rolling forward ever so slowly—not knowing if the next inch would plummet my front tire off the road. I just kept going, trying to bore into the darkness in front of me, both visually and physically. Finally, I could see a small dot of light off to my diagonal front-left; it was the tunnel exit! I turned the bike and concentrated on that small dot like it was my life-line, pulling me safely out of the tunnel. It was good to emerge into the sunshine!
On the other side, the steep slopes had been terraced for plants.
The air on this side of the tunnel was markedly cooler. I stopped to put on my enduro jacket across the street from this market, below a terraced field of what appeared to be cotton plants.
The dry landscape let us know that we had left the Amazon basin.
Indeed, we had re-entered the world of the “chocolate mountains.”
I pulled over to take a closer look at this statue of an angel—he was looking away from the road and pointing toward what looked a narrow overgrown path cut along the next mountain.
The road dropped into a long valley and tracked along a river until we reached the city of Huánico.
The route into town appeared to be a favorite spot for people to dump their garbage. Not only was the ground covered in lots of different types of waste, but the bushes were loaded with colorful, plastic bags (like a form of bizarre fruit) flapping in the wind.
Huánico was a fairly big city, but it was not in my guidebook and seemed far off the “tourist trail.” We zig-zagged our way through the streets to the central plaza. Guy asked two motorcycle police officers where the best hotel was, and they pointed to the one directly in front of us.
While Guy and Ben went inside to check out the rooms, I waited across the street, next to the two officers who were hard at work flirting with two young women.
The central area of the hotel had a large angel sculpture:
Our room overlooked the plaza:
Ben and I sat on the outdoor patio for a while, watching all of the people go by. In front of us, on the other side of a short glass panel, were a woman and six or seven men who each had a two to three-inch stack of United States money and Peruvian soles. We saw one of the men drawing on a U.S. $100 bill in pencil.
Every so often, a car would pull up, one of the men would walk over, and money would change hands. As we sat watching these exchanges, one of the men pulled out a gun that had been tucked into the back of his pants. He laughingly showed the gun to another man, who took it and looked it over carefully. In the process, the barrel was inadvertently pointed at me for a few seconds—Yikes! Then the first man took the gun back and stuck it back in his pants. All of this was happening out in the open, in front of the “nicest” hotel in the city. Surely it was legal . . . but it just seemed like there was something suspect happening.
Ben and I decided to explore the city and find a good restaurant for dinner.
Here is Ben in front of the main plaza:
There was a modern-looking church on the corner:
Several blocks away was an older church on a quiet plaza:
This family was feeding the pigeons in front of the church doors:
Next to the church was a school:
The traffic around the city was thick.
However, the vehicle noise was minimal. The 3-wheeled vehicles were the quiet “car” types, not the moto-trikes. Here is a 3-wheeler with a batman logo on the side:
We walked for a long time and ended up back at the main plaza. We didn’t see any other obvious tourists. On one side of the plaza, we found these men dressed in masks and colorful clothing.
They were advertising a communication service called “movitalk”. A man was standing in front of them, telling them what to do. He looked at me and asked if I wanted to stand beside the men for a photo, but I declined. The fact that the men were dressed up to sell a product seemed a bit "cheesy" to me, especially when contrasted to the costumed people that I had seen in Cajamarca--who had been genuinely celebrating a local festival.
We watched the moon rise over a nearby hill:
We didn’t find any appealing restaurants and ended up at a chifa that served us our first really bad meal in Peru—extremely greasy and bland rice with bits of chicken and unidentifiable vegetables. On a positive note, the portion was huge; if we had been seeking quantity over quality, this would have been a great place!
I woke at 2:30 a.m. to the booming sounds of Don Henley singing “Hotel California” from a nearby disco. At first I thought I was dreaming. I had loved the Eagles as a teenager—they were the first group I had seen live in concert. I hadn’t expected to hear their voices in Peru. I drifted off again . . . “Welcome to the Hotel California . . . you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”
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