As a backpacker, I always travel on a tight budget. Therefore, as a general rule, I have tried to be an independent traveler without the assistance of any travel agency as much as I could. And, above all, I have usually looked for cheap accommodation and restaurants. That does not mean, on the other hand, that I have neglected my own safety and health. Unfortunately, it has happened, though.
Overnight in the Doves´ Hut:
As a matter of fact, it was Pachía´s jail, and its wooden floor was full of doves´pooh. I made a couple of mistakes that evening in that countryside town in the department of Tacna situated a few kilometers from a Peruvian Army facility and from the Chilean border.
First of all, I only carried the photocopy of my ID, and that was very naive and suspicious in times when Perú was deeply involved in domestic terrorism. Secondly, I decided stubbornly to stay that night over there despite the lack of accommodation (i.e. no hostels, no inns, nothing). Thirdly, I came over the church and asked whether I could sleep inside, but they just shut the door in my face telling me I should go to the police station next block. No, thank you! Fourthly, and the worst, I thought it would be safe to lie down in the courtyard of a restaurant which seemed to be deserted.
But it was not. Around midnight, two watchmen pointed out their flashlights toward me on the floor. I was struggling against the cold night wrapped in a woolen blanket (before buying sleeping bag and tent I always carried a blanket). Soon, two policemen stood by my side asking me a lot of questions. I was puzzled when one of them suggested that I could be a Chilean spy. The policemen checked everything, even my travel log; and, finally, they were sure that I was not a suspect. Nonetheless, they decided it would be better for all if I stayed that night in jail. I agreed without a doubt!
The jail was a small, empty, and dark room with a thatched roof made of straw. Doves should live there, I thought. While I was lying on the dirty floor, one policeman opened the door and gave me an old foam. Excellent, a mattress! In the darkness after the door was locked, I could not help thinking of my mother and a few tears fell down through my cheeks!
When you are in your twenties, you trust everything will be ok even if you are alone. Honestly, I feel safer in the countryside than in my own hometown, Lima. Early in the morning, the same policeman who gave me the foam let me go, and I took a bus to the town of Calientes to enjoy the hot springs.
Soaking Wet but I Ate Chicken and Rice:
It is very likely that I would have never stopped in that village whose houses were built with sticks. That afternoon, however, El Niño ordered otherwise.
Some stretches of road had collapsed, so dozens of people including me had to walk to the next place where we could get a bus in order to continue to Piura. During this trip along the Peruvian northern coast I had already waded across some rivers, so I did not care much about walking a few kilometers despite the burning sun. After all, I only carried my small rucksack and my camera. On the other hand, there were many people who carried heavy luggage full of food and other commodities for their relatives who were enduring one of the worst El Niño ever.
I was looking the horizon, which was a dense forest even though it had always been a barren desert, when suddenly and without notice it began raining. It was pouring; actually, it was a shower. We all run without knowing where to go exactly. Some people stood under trees; others, underneath cars. Most of us reached a group of dark huts which had a small porch, so to speak. These huts had orchards and there were also goats and mules. We were all soaking wet, but fortunately the weather was hot. At night, the hut´s owner where I stood along with other people prepared chicken and rice for 6 soles which now means less than US$3. Even today I can buy two set menus (soup, main dish and tea) with that amount of money. Anyway, we were all starved, and it was delicious indeed.
It rained all night long, so we were all stranded there until next morning. Excuse me, what is the village´s name, please? Ñaupe. Thank you! I told the woman before catching a bus to Piura.
“Puerto Chico, Infierno Grande” (Small Port, Big Hell):
When we came back, the bus had already departed. Those were the most expensive candies and snacks in my entire life. Even though we took a taxi to the next bus station, it was too late. We had lost our bus to Toquepala, a mine town which also has caves with ancient paintings. I was very sad because I had wanted to go there since I was in high school. Manuel, a friend of mine, suggested Why don´t we go to Ilo, it is just a couple of hours from here!
Ilo is a port in the department of Moquegua southwest of the city of the same name. From here, all the minerals extracted from the mines of Cuajone and Toquepala go abroad. I replied What the heck! We took about two hours to reach it by bus and the same amount of time to walk around the whole port on foot. This is an expensive place since most of its inhabitants are foreigners. As we walked around, we found many seafood restaurants. It was impossible to resist the temptation to try ceviche, one of my favorite dish, and as a matter of fact, Ilo is one of the best places to taste it. During that day, we ate at three different restaurants. The outcome: we got out of money. So, we ended up sleeping on the main square. Well, I could sleep, but my friend acted as a guardian all night.
In the middle of the night, a fight on a corner woke me up. I continued sleeping. That was all the Hell I knew that night. However, the ceviches let me touch Heaven!
In the Capital of Spring:
In Trujillo I also slept on the main square (on my way to ChanChan, Sican and Sipan, and I did it for the sake of fun, I recognize. Not only one but two non-consecutive nights being aware that this city was safe. Ironically, in the middle of the second night I opened my eyes to find a vagabond trying to reach my rucksack which was in the back of my head as a pillow. As soon as I opened my eyes, he turned around and just went away. As his eyes could tell me, he was more scared than me.
In all cases, I did not mean to be brave. It just happened.
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