Outside Of Our Home Context

Written on September 11, 2016

Nine-eleven.  Sometimes it takes a huge event to show us what is truly important.  Yesterday morning Jalene’s bike wouldn’t idle, and the erratic behavior of the electronic tachometer told me to look for a ground fault somewhere.  I began by pulling out my little Craftsman multimeter, but found no life in it. I forged ahead anyway, and quickly found the issue in a poor connection at the negative terminal of battery, always the place to begin.  Problem solved, but the importance of the multimeter was suddenly very clear to me.  Without it, I had no good (i.e. rapid, convenient, reliable) way to test connectors and circuits out here in Bolivia.  I had simply tucked it down where it would fit, not thinking about protecting it.  A plastic bottle of fuel cleaner had leaked, and soaked everything, multimeter included.  This morning I sprayed it out with contact cleaner, dried it out, and put a new battery into it.  This got the voltmeter part working, but the ohmmeter function is still dead.  Without this tool, finding a broken wire out in the desert somewhere would prove much more difficult.  As such, we spent a morning in La Paz roaming the electronics shops until I found a good replacement.  I will revise my tool-packing strategies to protect things that are important.

I doubt Craftsman will replace the multimeter, but I am carrying two broken sockets all the way back to the USA so I can walk in and get new ones.

I believe I left you outside the tunnel high in the Cordillera Blanca, after having escaped the ice-jam inside, an experience that still scares me whenever I think about it.  But I was able to ride away, and came back down to warm Huaraz.  Jalene and I relaxed for another day before we took off for Cañon del Pato to the north of us, and the warmth of the coast.  The day did not start off well, as Jalene had a dead battery and we had to jump it from my bike.  Once we got going, her bike’s voltmeter kept climbing and she finally reported 14 volts.  So we forged our way north, with the faith that her battery would at least get us to Lima where it could be replaced if need be.  After a stretch of lovely pavement following the Rio Santa, we rolled through Yungay, which made headlines in 1970 when an earthquake rocked the region, and a mudslide originating high on Nevado Huascarán, Peru’s highest peak, wiped out the town, killing 20,000 and leaving only 92 survivors, ironically who were in the cemetery or stadium, located above the level of the city.  The danger had been predicted in 1962, but the two American scientists involved were forced to either retract or face prison time, and fled the country.  The government suppressed the prediction, but Huascáran didn’t seem to respect this.  There is a large flat area where you can see the ruins of the cathedral and the old Plaza, and it is an eerie place to be.  Some of our photos of the vendors along the road look up into the area of the destroyed town site with the volcano beyond.  Having grown up under the Cascade volcanoes and their similar tendencies, I didn’t hang around too long.  There is a fascinating preliminary report put out by the USGS in 1970 that you can see here.

We slowly descended all morning, and the land began to dry out as the broad agricultural valley gradually changed into a deeper gorge.  We found lunch in a small village called Yuracmarca, where once again a little girl wanted to check out Jalene and her shiny, well-traveled moto.  After almuerzo, we headed northwest and now descended much more sharply down between dry rock slopes and walls.  Cañon del Pato is traversed by a one-lane paved road with 35 tunnels bored into the canyon walls.  Most are short and straight, but one must be careful of the dirt and sand that builds up in the center of the road in some of the longer tunnels.  We learned to take off our sunglasses to let us see better, and listen for horns.  Although we found the road empty and easy, there are long, long drop-offs and no guardrails or barriers.  Be careful to stay alert, and enjoy the views from a standstill.  In many places the cliff walls narrowed to a slot just wide enough for the river, and we hung above it many hundreds of meters on our little ledge of a road.  Don’t be scared off, this is an incredible road to explore, and we enjoyed every bit of it.  It’s parched country, and the rocks are totally exposed to view, with amazing colors everywhere.  The geology of earth with the appearance of the moon, not a plant to be seen anywhere.  The temperature soared in the canyon as we continued to descend, and we were so glad to have started with full Camelbacks of water.  We dropped over 3,000 meters this day from Huaraz to the coast, and after two hours working our way down the canyon, the land opened out onto irrigated fields along the river as we approached the coast.

I knew that at some point we would begin seeing vineyards, and sure enough, along the river were trellises with grapevines.  What I thought were railroad grades above us were actually irrigation canals running along the hillside, where water had been diverted from the river above.  This fed water to the agriculture along the river, and also carried water out to the cities on the coast below.  We followed the river all the way to Santa, a small town lying just inland of the bigger city of Chimbote.  We were hot, dusty, and tired by this time late in the afternoon.  Neither of us had any desire to go through locating a hostal in busy Chimbote, and so we checked into a corner hotel in Santa that proved to be comfortable and cheap.  Around the block from us was a market area, where we found a good polleria.  These are restaurants that specialize in chicken (pollo), and are usually good fallbacks when you don’t know where to find decent food.  Deep-frying is a good sign of reasonably sterile fare that won’t get you sick.  The church across the street was having choir practice, and there were familiar hymns wafting out the open doors that sounded pretty good after the constant noisiness everywhere.

It’s so funny that a car alarm should go off, blaring in the street outside while I wrote that last sentence – in Latin America, noise is abundant and constant, and no one seems to think it’s annoying but us gringos.  Different, yes.  “Better” or “worse” can’t be applied out of my home context, because I don’t have the knowledge of “why” down here.  To survive, I’ve learned to just accept so much here.  It is the most difficult skill I’ve ever managed, and like so many, I’ll have to practice it daily, hourly, continuously if I expect to keep it.  The other morning I remembered all the damned dogs barking constantly after the sun went down, and then realized I had fallen right asleep anyway.  I hope I can preserve these abilities of acceptance once I’m back home, even if Jalene says that my grumpy old man image will suffer for it.  I sure am happier this way.

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There are more photos in our Gallery and, Jalene's made a video about what failure and extraordinary have in common.