Planet Hiker
2004-11-30 Just another bus ride to Huaraz, Peru


It was going to be another loooong bus ride, so instead of wasting a whole day for transport, I took a night bus and prepared myself for another Van Dame movie. Not sure what it is about that guy but he seems to be a national hero in both Central and South Americas... All I could say is that the dubbed over Spanish does not seem to make much of a difference on his acting. As usual, I forgot to take a pillow with me, but I made myself comfortable in the seat the best I could and tried getting some sleep while monitoring what's happening in the movie with one ear - I did not want to miss the fighting scenes.

By about 5am one of the passengers wakes me up, telling me that I just missed my stop. "Huhh??... Oh,.. right, my stop... Let me see here... I should tell the driver." Wobbling from side to side I make my way towards the buss driver's cabin and demand that he lets me off. Shortly after a cool mountain air hits my lungs as I find myself on the side of the road with nothing but farm fields as far as an eye could see. "The backpack is with me, that's good". After about 20 minutes I catch one of those motor-taxies (a motorcycle cut in half, extended, with an addition of a third wheel for extra room) and get a ride back to town. I am let off on a street with no indication of any kind that busses may be passing here in the near future.

It's still early, just past 5, but there is life all round me. An Indian woman, wearing a traditional colorful outfit toped with a large hat, is selling pastries from straw baskets. As I approach, she promptly removes the towels that were covering the baskets and reveals a treasure of various breads, cookies and candies that leave me dazzled with excitement. I randomly pick something, ask how much it is, hand her a few pennies and proceed to devour my prize hungrily.

Just next to me is a stand with what looks like a large bucket of tea being brewed. The steam, gently rising from the bucket, is condensing on the collection of glass cups that are laid on a towel to dry, as well as these wine bottles on the side, that clearly contain something other than wine. I am tempted to get a cup of tea as well, but decide to hang back for a minute.

A customer comes up to the stand. He is an old man, dressed in worn shoes and dusty clothes. Yet the expression of his face radiates self-respect and prominence. The man makes a hand gesture without spilling a word and the stand owner springs into action. He picks up a glass with the left hand, while with the right, simultaneously selects one of the bottles with a strangely colored liquid in it. He pores some into the glass, then selects another bottle with a liquid of even stranger coloration and adds some of that into the mixture as well. For a few more times he proceeds to adding in more and more flavors, till finally the glass is 90% full. Then, he ceremoniously uncovers the bucket where the tea is brewing and adds a bit of that as well. To make sure that the "tea" is not too hot, he pores the glass out into a metal cup and then back again, raising one container high above the other and finally, slowly hands the brew to the customer. The customer is pleased.

A door opens behind me and a young man in his twenties rolls out a heavy shoe-polish stool with metal footrests. He has a neat haircut, his clothes are clean and it does not seem like his profession is leaving him hungry. He quickly glances at all the passing feet and only makes eye contact with their owners if the shows need to be polished. I am wearing sandals, so to him I may as well be transparent. In another minute a good-looking woman casually crosses the street, not paying too much attention to the light traffic, and climbs on top of the stool. Her navy blue business suit is professional, but it isn't of the quality that a bank employee would wear for example. Never the less, it's spotless and ironed out. Her hair is tied in the back and she has just enough makeup to say that she took the time to pretty herself, but did not over did it.

The young man carefully rolls up her pants by no more than two inches, making sure not to accidentally touch her, and starts individually brushing each shoe, never raising his eyes off of them. Next, he applies some color paste to a piece of cloth and with fast but perfectly controlled movements proceeds to polish the shows. Soon they are shining but he takes out the brush again and begins brushing. He goes thorough the same sequence of first brushing the front, then the sides and then finally the back ends, switches to the cloth with the paste and polishes for some more. Just when the shoes couldn't possibly shine any brighter, he forks out some other professional instruments to take care of the heals and the soles.

By now, the woman is getting slightly anxious. She is waving to her friend across the street, looks around, shifts in her seat, but doesn't actually check with what's happening in the current stage of the shoe treatment process. It's not that she is too important to look down. But the young man is giving her a special treatment and she is not to unbalance the equation that rendered her the center of his universe.

There comes my bus. This time it's a really cheapie one, so no Van Dame movie. But the ride to Huaraz (elevation 3091m) should be interesting enough, taking me through Cordillera Blanca - the heartland of Peru's climbing, trekking and mountaineering.