South on the Pan American Highway

I haven’t written anything about our trip to Peru last summer, nor said much about it on my blog or elsewhere on social media. Since being in quarantine/covid isolation I’ve day dreamed of that trip despite its difficulties and disappointments. I keep coming back to several moments and several experiences that I’ll never forget. The experience that sticks out the most is the series of bus rides we took, along the Pan American Highway after we left Huaraz in the Andes, south to Paracas.

We left Huaraz due to severe AMS (acute mountain sickness) and had to cancel our planned backpack. It was disappointing, but there are worse problems to have. We were able to do two dayhikes, which rank amongst the coolest I’ve ever done. After briefly experiencing the beauty of the Andes and getting a glimpse of local Quechua life, we bought bus tickets to go back down the mountains, to the ocean, and back on the highway to Paracas.

Our bus careened down 13 thousand feet of switchbacks. Other trucks and buses passed us at high speeds down the mountain. My partner spent most of this 2 hour descent, in the bus bathroom vomiting, then dry heaving, and being tossed around until we finally reached the valley floor and linked up with the Pan American highway. This ride was, at the time, the most unsafe and scary transportation experience in any of the 20+ countries I’ve been to in my life, and if you’ve been to Peru you know what I’m talking about.

We made it back to the bus station in Lima to catch our next bus South to Paracas further South on the coast, where we planned to recoup. I caught some zzz’s after boarding and woke up to the most depressing landscape I’d ever seen.

After leaving Lima, going south on the Panamerican highway was the most bleak environment. Rubble and trash lined the side of the highway for miles upon miles, hour after hour. A sandy landscape devoid of plant life met the sea, enshrouded with fog and clouds. We passed a prison, a crudely built collection of concrete structures, surrounded by barbed wire, walls, guard towers. It was only after passing several prisons that I realized they were factories.

Sometimes a bleak landscape is melancholic. Sometimes a bleak, gray place is actually beautiful. The Panamerican Highway south of Lima was neither. It evoked a feeling of despair, pain, and suffering. It was ugly, shocking, and genuinely depressing in a way I haven’t experienced anywhere in Latin America or the rest of the world for that matter. I was relieved to arrive in Paracas.

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