Friday in San Pedro

Trip Start Feb 14, 2006
Trip End Aug 2006

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Friday, July 7, 2006

Friday, 7/7/2006

With Monday, and my flight back to Santiago, still three days away, I began to take notice of how much money I'd spent in San Pedro-on tours, on hotels, on food-and how much I still expected to spend (on gifts). Luckily, most of my friends had reached the same point and, for the first time this trip, we decided to do something together (well, half of us). So, we rented bikes.

After searching around for the cheapest rental, and realizing that the whole town is really just a series of cartels collaborating to maximize tourist exploitation, we headed north of town on new Trek mountain bikes, to a series of ruins called Quitor. Only 3 km out of town, it was built in the 1100s by the San Pedro people to fight off an Aymara invasion from the Altiplano. Its web of mud-bricks climbs up a softly sloping valley wall, near the most fertile land for a hundred miles.

Mark and his sister, my companions for the day, had already come to the site and I had decided to save myself for the ruins of Peru, so we walked up to what the historical site's owners (the tribe) called the Plaza Quitor, a viewpoint atop a neighboring hill.

Probably built only a decade ago, the viewpoint was marked by, what else, a series of giant stone crosses-4, in fact, facing one antother in a square formation, each side engraved with "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?," in a different language (English, Spanish, Portuguese and Quechua). It seemed strange to me to place such an image of suffering in such a relaxing, scenic location.

The Mirador waited at the end of only a 30 minute hike from the base, up a well-laid trail that wound through a few smaller plazas. From the viewpoint, I came to realize that Tomás' tour could have cut off a stop, as the "dinosaur backs" and "death valley" were actually the same set of hills.

To the north was a fertile river valley, where more ruins laid waiting ("Catarpe")-sadly, though, some girls we passed on the road over said that construction was blocking the route. The Plaza Quitor, crowning one of the areas taller hills, was probably the best viewpoint of the area yet, with views of the salt lake, death valley, the dunes, the Andes and San Pedro all in one.

We took some pictures, sat around for a while and raced back down the hill and back into town to say goodbye to Katie, whose bus back south was going to leave in only half an hour, realizing we'd lost track of time in the plaza. We caught her, getting an old tour guide's e-mail address (it was Emilio, but more on him later). Lunch, and then back on the road.

Having rented the bikes for a full day, Mark, Laura and I headed up the highway toward Moon Valley, and cut east across a dirt road toward the old ruins of Tulor, and an "ayllu" of the same name (the word means "family" in quechua, but is also used as a geographical a political division. Strangely, none of the locals spoke quechua). Reaching an intermediate Ayllu called Coyo, Laura and Mark, tired of the hot, dry sun, turned back.

I continued up the road five minutes further, passing a dirt soccer field, its lines drawn in chalk, its goals made of wood. There were probably a total of 40 people in both Ayllus added together (on a good day) but game's everywhere here. The gates to the Ruins of Tulor were only a few yards futher, and after paying a lonesome ranger $2, I rode down to the park. Wandering across a wooden catwalk, to look at what once was a family's mud brick home, now only a few lines in the dirt, as the roofs caved in and the walls disappeared under the shifting sands. I looked back up the road for a moment and saw that the ranger was riding his bike down. A number of questions ran through my head, mostly centering on "what the hell's he doing?" and "what'd I do?" But the guide had simply come down to answer my questions, and he did so for about 20 minutes. I'd already guessed most of the answers, but he was a captive audience and the conversation was decent. Pictures, goodbyes and back on the bike.

I raced back to town, stopping to try and take some pictures of myself in the scenery with the camera's timer. I needed a shower, before heading taking yet another tour I'd arranged, this time to observe the southern sky at night.

The sun setting over my shoulder, got back in time to take a shower, and to realize that, once again, I'd lost my debit card. I asked around at shops, to see if it had fallen out, and made my way back to the bank. The ATM was open, the bank closed. At the tourism office next door, I asked when it would be open, and if that was how I'd get my card back, should the machine have eaten it. The man there nodded an affirmative and told me "Thursday afternoon." My flight out was on Monday morning.

I went to an internet cafe, found USAA's toll-free number in Chile online, and then called it from a payphone. The card cancelled, I headed back to the hotel. I wasn't totally moneyless in the middle of the desert, because I'd planned on just such an idiocy and packed a back-up credit card in a separate bag. Either way, the loss lent even more symmetry to the trip: I'd first lost the card two days into Chile, and then lost it again with only a few to go.

I bought an empanada and ran to the tour's office. The bus pulled up as I finished my empanada, giving a few crumbs to the street dogs licking my feet. The bus, 100% english speakers, drove south of town, to our guide's house. I'd reserved my spot the day before, with the pop of the mom and pop establishment. The "pop" was a frenchman, Alain, and told me to come bundled up in "3s of everything: socks, hats, shirts." Looking out into the night, dressed in pairs of everything, I saw four telescopes in his front yard and, glancing up, watched as he trundled out of his front door in a one piece, baby-blue ski suit and a grey wool ski mask-visor and tassle included.

Easily the best part of the trip was his reparté with a French Canadian, who refused to put on warm clothes and feebly attempted to make sarcastic jokes during the introductory lecture:

-Ass we all know to-day, ze world is not flat ...
-What?!?! are you serious ...
-... well, ah hem, perhaps, ze world is still flat in "ke-bec" ...

Wandering outside, we took digital photos of the moon through one of his telescopes and saw a few faint nebulae and some star clusters. The moon was practically full, and high in the sky, so the light of the stars was a little overwhelmed. Put simply, the view not as clear as it would have been during a new moon. Cold (-5 degrees Celsius), and getting bored-except when he would flash his laser pointer through the sky or jog from one telescope to the next in his clown suit-we went inside to the best part of the tour: homemade hot chocolate with a hint of cinnamon and rich with milk. After his final lecture (on the incomprehensible size of the universe),and the requisite applause, we headed back to town, to bed, to sleep.

That night, before everyone passed out, I exectued a plan that, I'd hoped, might allow me to fall asleep before the other two males in the room began to snore. I brought up my kidnapping story, and told it in agonizing detail with the lights turned off. Problem was, Fitz was so tired he fell asleep and began snoring before I'd even been tied up. You try telling that story with snoring in the background.

To his credit, Fitz had woken up that morning at 4 for the geyser tour, and had ridden a bicycle for two or three hours late that afternoon. If he was beat, it wasn't by accident. It was kind of like on Chiloé, when Ben, Josh and I hauled him twenty miles across beach and into the mountains, and paid for it with poor sleep in the tent that night (Ben says he heard me murmuring that night: "Jeeesus, Fitz, I'm gonna have to strangle you").

The conversation afterward shifted to how I'd quitely woken Mark up the night before to get him to stop snoring. I'd walked to his bedside, touched him on the shoulder and whispered at him to roll over. He didn't remember it, and the message had worked almost subliminally. I tried similar things to Fitz then, but he was out, and nothing would work. Sarah remarked that, had I done that to her in the middle of the night, she'd have probably screamed.

Being who I am, I quitely snuck over to her bedside five minutes later, as we continued to talk. And, making a decision that will probably haunt me with bad karma for months, I touched her on the leg. She screamed, and like a falling domino, Fitz jumped up and huskily murmured, "oh, shit, what's going on?" I laughed, and thought I'd finally assured myself a good night's sleep, now that their hearts were racing.

Five minutes later, Fitz was snoring.
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