At Lex Luthor’s House we feel like we have an improvised family. There is Luis, the owner, who is here everyday. His wife Marlene is here sometimes and occasionally they have their grandson Tiago with them. Luis’s mother has been here a few times, and his cousin has stopped by as well. (This is the house that Luis grew up in.) Saturday night Leticia made spaghetti with a lentil sauce. We knew we had food to spare, so we fed ourselves, Luis, two spaniards, and Juri, a young german guy. Later that night we tasted Juri’s first attempt at causa (a potato dish with chicken in the middle). Sunday at lunch Luis’s mother made papas a la huancaina (potatos with a spicy cheese sauce, egg, and olive) for about 12 of us. Then there was music. Juri played guitar, Luis’s mother played and sang a few songs. It turns out Juri knows many of the same songs I do, as well as many I want to learn. Everyone sings along to La Bamba. Anna and Zeke draw, get tickled, and talk to various people. Gringa the cat looks for any lap she can find. It is not a bad life.
Monthly Archives: January 2012
The nature of this blog has changed a bit this week into being much more for people to know how we are doing. Hopefully it will gradually turn back to its original nature. Many will be happy to know that it felt like life began to normalize today. Anna, Zeke and I spent time in the park this morning at the playground and then made an attempt at restarting schoolwork. This afternoon Paul had an appointment with a neurosurgeon who was content that he is fine. Anna, Zeke and I went to the other park nearby and watched paragliding. Zeke and Anna made friends with a kindergartner from Wisconsin. There has also been good hanging out here at the hostal with the owners, their extended family, their very helpful friend Victor, and a couple fun Spaniards. Tomorrow will be our first day when nobody needs to go to the doctor and we happily anticipate it.
(Warning: This post does have a few disturbing moments. Having lived them, writing them here helps me deal with them and put them behind me. Please read them in that spirit, and know that things do come out alright.)
The road from Huancavelica to Lircay is beautiful. It is about 50 miles of winding dirt road that takes about two and a half hours to cover in a car. While it does have its vertiginous moments, it goes over fewer high passes with huge dropoffs than the road from Huancayo to Huancavelica. Happily for the kids, much of the grassy parts have llamas and alpacas grazing on them. The car we rode in was to take us the whole, way, but also did a bit of carting locals from one spot on the main road to the next.The road has plenty of blind corners, some high above the valley as the road hugs the side of a mountain, and some switchbacks as the road ascends or descends. The standard procedure is to honk the horn as you head around one of these so that anyone in the way know you are coming. The road is generally two lanes, but cars use all of it as they go around corners like this one. I remember later noting that the driver didn’t sound his horn this time, and I remember the big white ambulance appearing around the corner, but it seemed like there should be time to stop, but then there was a crunch and the sound of Anna crying and the feeling of dripping from the top of my head. Leticia was with Anna and told me Zeke was OK, so I went to the back door and got him out. I told him I was alright too, and he believed me, even though in the rearview mirror I had seen that I looked like something from a scary movie.
There followed a long time of waiting by the side of the road for the police to arrive. The people driving the ambulance gave Anna and me some treatment, though we both kept bleeding. Finally the police were there, and they took some information and borrowed my camera to take pictures of the scene and the skid marks. At this point I still thought we could continue on to Lircay (a small place), but when the doctor arrived it became clear that we would be returning to Huancavelica, a bit of a disappointment as Lircay was less then ten miles away, Huancavelica two hours away. Only later did we realize just how many teeth Anna had lost. The ride to the hospital was long, and then came about seven hours in two hospitals dealing with waiting for the right person to come in, dealing with the possibility that we should not pay money, for the driver’s insurance would cover it, and finally waiting for them to find a driver and a nurse for the ambulance to take us back to Lima. We were helped through this by Raquel, a nurse at our first hospital, and her friends Stacy and Nat, a north american couple living in Huancavelica who translated when we needed it, kept our bags in their apartment, ran for water and a copy of a necessary document, watched Zeke when we were both busy, and generally provided moral support.
The doctor apologized for the condition of the ambulance, a 20 or 30 year old Nissan with a plastic sheeting window, a sleeping pad on the floor, no working seat belts (like the car we crashed in), and an engine that backfired every time the driver let up on the gas, but said the first two options were out on other calls. The driver was a quiet guy in his 50s or 60s. We left at about 10pm for Lima over the same route described in earlier posts. This driver spent more time in the left hand lane and the right, and, riding up front with a sleeping Zeke on my lap, I noticed him heading for the left side of the road. I asked if he was ok, and soon after he stopped for some gum and Inka Cola. At a later point I said “a la derecha, por favor! (to the right, please!)” and, still later, “lo siento, esta dandome miedo (sorry, you are making me scared)” Each time he stopped and slept for 15 to 30 minutes. Zeke slept well on my lap and Anna slept well in the back. Leticia, lying beside Anna, had a more comfortable but no less stressful night. Two hours from Lima, Leticia and I switched with the idea of giving me a little sleep. By now, though, Anna was awake and we communicated with pen and paper (she still had a mouthful of gauze). Seeing that Anna was herself was much better than sleep would have been.
Between the condition of the ambulance and the condition of the driver, I remember thinking it would be a miracle if we made it to Lima in one piece. But we arrived after eleven hours or so, and spent the next six hours at the national children’s hospital, again in the labyrinth, but a much larger and less personal hospital. We left and headed for Lex Luthor’s house, where we had stayed two weeks before when we first arrived in Lima. There wasn’t room there, but we found very friendly accomodations at the hostal next door. I was the last one awake but fell asleep fully clothed at about 8pm.
The next two days have brought more hospital and clinic visits. Tomorrow I will see a neurosurgeon, and hopefully after that all we have are followup visits with a dentist for Anna. We have good news, that the driver’s insurance will pay for all or most of our medical costs, though that also involves navigating a maze of bureaucracy. Thankfully we have our friend Victor here to help us through that.
And so we have adjusted to the idea of being here in Lima for two weeks or a little more as Anna’s mouth heals. It is not our favorite place in Peru, but at least we are still in Peru and we still have nearly five months left to work with. Anna and Zeke have tired of the endless time in waiting rooms, but they have been great through this process. I often think Anna is dealing with this more ably than her parents are.
Monday we got up and enjoyed a last breakfast in Huancavelica and then walked much of town in search of the place cars gathered to be filled to go to towns within a few hours. (It happened that the Lircay stop was just outside our hotel, but the map had advised us otherwise…. I am learning we must ask ask ask and ask again and eventually we can circle in on good information.) We planned to spend one night in Lircay on our way to Ayacucho, and had heard Lircay was beautiful. We decided to take a car in order to gain several extra hours in Lircay instead of waiting for the bus which would leave later and be slower.
Driving out of Huancavelica we were quickly on high curvy roads with llamas everywhere much to Zeke and Anna’s delight. The views were vast and the dropoffs at some corners daunting. Our brakes sqeaked as we went around some corners and I tried to reassure myself that sometimes that is the normal state of vehicles here but I was definately oscillating between being in awe of where we were and wondering if the bus might have been a wiser safer choice. Coming around a curve most of the way to Lircay we crashed. I looked to find Zeke beside me fine but Anna had severely knocked her mouth. It turns out we collided with an ambulance that was headed to Huancavelica. That was the start of a long few days. First of waiitng to for the Lircay doctor to arrive and then for the police to allow us to leave the scene of the accident. There are whole long stories here but suffice it to say we eventually made it back to Huancavelica. In Huancavelica we were tremendously well looked after especially by Raquel our nurse at the first hospital we were taken to there, her friends Stacy and Nat, a north american Jehovah’s Witness missionary couple, and Petro, a Ukrainian Peruvian doctor at the second hospital we were at. Paul had several stiches put in his head but Anna is who we were worried about. She was stable the whole time and her usual calm stoic self but several teeth were knocked out and initially we were told her upper jaw was broken and may well need surgery (it is not that bad thankfullly…). After deciding that our best bet was to get an ambulance to Lima it took hours to get that to happen. The biggest roadblock seemed to be convincing officials that we would pay out of pocket and not wait for the car insurance guarantee to come through and that if it did not come through we would accept that expense. After several tries finally Paul was able to pay US $ 370 so that we could start down the mountains. (They gave us a discount of about one third since they were pretty sure the money was going to come through.) Eventually the ambulance arrived though one of the windows was only plastic sheeting. Raquel had come down to make sure we were getting good care after her shift ended at the other hospital and she was particularly upset by this. I believe it is her who really made sure we had enough wool blankets to swaddle a sports team before we headed down the mountain to Huancayo and then over the high pass before getting to Lima. The ambulance ride was about 11 1/2 hours long with Paul and Zeke in the front seat and Anna and I lying in the back with the nurse sitting beside Anna. The driver took several naps along the way which was both reassuring and disconcerting. The ambulance kept backfiring which made me wonder if the thing could even make it to Lima (and then later in the night I missed the backfiring fearing the driver would fall asleep without it).
We had long beaurocratic day at the childrens hospital in Lima before being released and coming back to the hostal we stayed at before and ending up well cared for in the neighboring hostal last night.
This morning we finally gor ourselves to a surgical dentist and felt like we were getting clearer answers about Anna’s care. He put her on an antibiotic and told us to let her heal for now and in a week or two we can work on making a bridge to give her teeth as she grows. Eventually she can have some kind of implant and really things will be quite normal for her.
So we are feeling relieved and planning to be in Lima for several weeks, which I am surprised to find myself excited about. (Admittedly avoiding Peruvian mountain roads for a bit sounds good.) We had a sweet walk at the parks above the ocean this evening and then a lovely time making mac and cheese and applesauce for supper (soft foods Anna was ready for). 24 hours after the gauze was removed from her mouth, Anna was finally ready to complain a little, but her biggest complaint seemed to be that if we made her laugh it hurt. We are relieved and doing well. We have also been amazed and tremendously comforted by the outpouring of support we have recieved as a result of the couple of e-mails I sent out last night. The feeling of being surrounded by kindness and love has been strong and important. (thank you).
Sorry this is so late in getting out to all of you waiting to hear how we are doing.
Sometimes we don´t have to wait long for a bus. We got up Monday morning, had breakfast, said our goodbyes and took a few photos, and got a taxi to the bus station. It was a little hard to leave La Casa de la Abuela – we felt very comfortable and well cared for there. (Gracias, Nilda!) A bus to Huancavelica cost 52 soles for the four of us, and we just had time to use the bathroom and put the big backpacks in the hold under the bus. Just as the bus left, a troop of women aged 12 to grandmother got on, all calling out their food and drink offerings – chicharrones, yucca, empanadas, gaseosas, gelatinas, chochlitas con queso. Zeke was suddenly hungry, so we got choclitas con queso – corn on the cob with a piece of cheese. I ate the cheese, and Zeke ate corn little by little. The kernels are much bigger and tougher than at home, but with good taste and texture. A
And so we were off, Zeke with me and Anna with Leticia. Zeke talked nonstop about everything he saw for the first hour, then got a bit tired of the bus. He seems to alternate between being hungry and having his belly hurt, which is a little concerning. After a while he wanted to go to the other side, where the good views were. More people got on, adnd I had Anna come over to my side to hold our seat. An older indigenous woman (somehow that doesn´t seem the right word, but it describes the majority of the people we see now) got on, Leticia put Zeke on her lap, and the woman sat down. Older women dress like you see in pictures of highland Peru – flat-brimmed hats, hair in two braids, always a skirt, usually with an apron, and a woven sling on their back carrying a baby, food, or a really heavy load.
The road went up, then down, down, and down, spaghettiing down and down. At one point I think we descended for half an hour, the bottom of one valley seeming to open up into the top of the next. This is what one could call a bus plunge highway, with nothing but a foot high concrete barrier between the bus and sheer dropoff, but that´s the bus driver´s job, not mine, so my normal fear of heights doesn´t kick in as heavily. The towns went by – Cullhuas, Imperial, Ñahuimpuquio, Cachapampa, Huantaro, Izcuchaca, where we crossed the river and another troop of women with food squeezed on, Huancapampa, Huando, Yanacollpa, Escalera, Cachi Altas, Nueva Acobambilla, Chapaquiña, and then I got distracted by the possibility of Zeke hurling, but he didn´t, Butacca, Pueblo Libre, Casablanca, Puccachaca, Sachapite, Anticcocha, and finally Huancavelica, 4 hours and 100 miles after we started.
Huancavelica is a town of about 40,000 people at an altitude of 11,800 feet. The books say it is one of the poorest in Peru. We took a room at the Hospedaje San Jose, with no breakfast, no wifi, no common room or courtyard, but a room with windows on three sides for 45 soles (about $17). The views are ridiculous – the building is a triangle, and this room is on the third flood of the pointy end, with windows on the sides and a panoramic window at the end. Huancavelica is surrounded by steep mountains, so you can´t look out without seeing them. We clearly stand out here, and people say ¨Look at the gringitos! Those eyes! How beautiful!¨ OK, they are mostly talking about the kids, and I should mention that gringo doesn´t carry the negative connotation here that it does in some places. There is a fiesta on these days, and there are marching bands parading the streets, often accompanied by negritos, black-masked people in white and blue silk clothes – part Mardi Gras and part Mummer to us, but celebrating the baby Jesus in some way we haven´t quite figured out. We had schooling interrupted one day by the parades going right under our window and dancing breaking out between the negritos and the spectators. Also under our windows are restaurants made of metal frames and tarp walls and ceilings that are erected every afternoon and taken down at 1 or 2 in the morning. We have made two hikes into the mountains so far – it truly is beautifu here. This is the rainy season, but it seems to rain once a day, at 5 or 6 in the afternoon. Photos will come.
I will close by saying that Zeke is finally off antibiotics, and his belly seems the better for it. We are still figuing out food, but things are on the upswing.
We have had a good week in Huancayo. Days have fallen into a rhythm; we spend either the morning or the afternoon on an adventure and the other part of the day home-schooling here at the hostal. (Side note: the hostal we stayed at in Lima was the very friendly Lex Luthor’s House, my favorite hostal name after the Hostal Friendly Volcano in Quito.) The adventures have often started with rides on the colectivo (mini-bus) to a nearby town or neighborhood. In Huancayo, taxis and colectivos far outnumber private cars. Taxis, if empty, honk at you as you walk on the street to see if you want a ride. A ride to the center of Huancayo costs 4 or 5 soles (about $1.50). For colectivos, you need to know a little about where you are going. The destinations are written on the side and there is usually someone hanging out the sliding door yelling out same. If you look interested, they will slow down and you can ask “Pasa por ….?” and if they say yes, they will bang on the side and hurry you on. These can get you to nearby towns for about 1 sol per person, though often when they get crowded we put Anna and Zeke on our laps and they only charge us for two people.
One of these trips was to Huariwilca, a temple built by the Huari people around sources of water. For most North Americans, knowledge of indigenous culture begins and ends with the Incas, so it is fascinating to learn about the Huancas, who were here 3000 years ago, and the Huari, who moved in around 700AD, and who developed a lot of the architecture the Incas are known for.
Most of our outings have been in the country, though. First was a visit to Torre Torre, a canyon of eroded sandstone pillars just outside of town. Then a walk out of Cochas on a little road, then a path that was about a foot wide, all going up into the mountains. Along the way a woman in the fields offered Leticia some coca leaves to chew (they are said to help with the altitude and give energy) and warned us of mean dogs ahead. I carried a big stick (her suggestion) after that and the dogs didn’t give us trouble. I imagine what we would think if we were out in the state game lands and ran into, say, Chinese tourists walking through. I hope we would be as friendly as people are to us. The last two days have been just out the front door, across the grounds of the UPLA (Universidad Peruana Los Andes), and up the mountainside. It is good training for going up the Banderita (for those of you who know the Banderita). The kids can start out grumpy and low on energy, but once we get into the mountains, they are magically transformed into good hikers, interested in everything around.
One last development to mention: the realization that we are a tourist attraction. It has happened a few times now that Peruvians in the market or in the plaza have asked to take pictures of their kids with ours. We oblige. Chris asked what we say when people ask what we are doing in Peru. “Paseando” is a good word, and people seem to appreciate that we want to see these less touristy parts of the country, that we are not hurrying through, and that our kids are with us.
We are in Huancayo, Peru. There are buns at this hotel almost every meal. We are having fun. This is my favorite hotel. I like it because there are two parrots here. One of them can say “hola”.
This is a quick post for those of you worried by the last post about Zeke. We went to a doctor today – a calm, friendly guy in his 60s who is exactly the family doctor you would expect in a latin american film. He thinks Zeke has a local, secondary infection. We now have medicine for that, but upon listening to and looking at Zeke he thinks things are in good shape.
We have been laying fairly low, adjusting to the altitude. A couple from England showed up here today and they, too, have been surprised by how they are affected. I have been this high in Colorado and in Ecuador before, so I was surprised too, but I think that long bus ride over the 15,000 foot mark takes its toll.
We are staying at La Casa de la Abuela (The House of the Grandma) on the outskirts of Huancayo. The Grandma is not here, but Nilda has cooked two meals a day for us, and the kids have been entertained by two parrots, one who says “Hola” and makes noises like a police siren, a crying baby, a person laughing, or (new today) a ridiculously loud car alarm, or (learned from Zeke, not wanting to do more home-schooling) “Noooooo!” There is also a dog who howled along with the guitar and harmonica last night. The house has a beautiful courtyard that gets warm during the day and a rooftop place to hang clothes that are drying. Huancayo is a town of 300 to 500 thousand people, depending where you read, and the center of town is loud and full of exhaust fumes. So it is lovely to be here in a quiet new neighborhood where none of the roads are paved and some are perhaps impassable, so there is hardly any vehicular traffic. Just a few hundred meters away, the mountains rise up steeply, calling us.