Monday, October 25, 2010

Point of Departure

Airports, train stations and bus depots have always conjured up exotic images for me. Growing up in Milwaukee’s blue-collar south side was pretty much a stay at home experience. Travel was normally limited to family summer vacations to a destination not more than five or six hours away in the family car (the concept of a two-car family was still far in the future). Anytime anyone in the neighborhood ‘crossed the border’ into another state it became a topic of conversation over backyard fences for several weeks. We traveled vicariously. Maybe once per week we’d drive to the airport to watch planes take off and land. Many families did that. We’d bring popcorn or other snacks and Kool-Aid. It was tradition for us kids to shout “have a good trip” as the departing planes faded into the distance. One day the newspaper announced that for the first time a jet was going to land in Milwaukee. You couldn’t find a place to park within a half mile of the airport that day. I don’t remember if we saw the jet or not. Probably many people didn’t, but you had to say you did to have any status in the neighborhood.

The vast majority of Chiclayanos haven’t flown and never will. Older folks wouldn’t set foot into anything that leaves mother earth, and younger travelers who might take the risk can’t afford it. Which is why I sometimes find myself at Chiclayo’s Ormeño bus terminal located just off the Pan American highway. Sunday is normally the busiest night of the week, usually because Chiclayanos are returning to their lives/jobs in Lima or because they intend to buy or sell products there. The atmosphere outside is best described as semi-controlled bedlam. There is the blare of moto and taxi horns as vehicles and shouting people with luggage compete for space. Adding to the clamber is the shouts of vendors illegally offering their snacks and souvenirs. There are also men who are eager to help you with your luggage and packages as they unapologetically direct you to the bus line they represent. The big guy in the photo has a reputation for filling his company’s busses quickly.

Once inside the traveler is greeted with more bus line representatives, each of them looking for that inexperienced traveler while shouting, “lowest cost!” and “leaving immediately!” Show the slightest hesitancy and you will find yourself and your luggage being forcefully escorted to the ticket counter of Crisolito, Titanic, Valturs, Continental/Ormeño, Murga Serrano, ETTI, La Perla del Alto Mayo, Mori, Latino, or any of a half-dozen other companies. All it takes is a ‘look’ from a savvy traveler to get them to back off. Then all you have to contend with is the noise and crush of bodies.

Busses are generally scheduled to leave every hour on the hour but they won’t go until all available seating is sold, so there are usually busses leaving the terminal every 10 minutes or so. Rates range from a normal $7 - $11 to $18 - $36 on holidays. These busses make many scheduled and unscheduled stops en route to Lima, even stopping on a desolate section of the highway to pick up or drop off a solitary passenger. Total time from Chiclayo to Lima is normally 12 – 14 hours.

Watching people ‘seeing off’ friends and family is generally what you would expect. There is everything from playful slaps on the back accompanied with a smiling “Hasta pronto!” to tearful hugs and a whispered “Vaya con Dios.” I usually hark back to the days at the airport and think to myself, “Have a good trip.”


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chilean mine workers rescue

Thirteen Chilean mine workers have been rescued as of this writing. Evo Morales is on site, modestly downplaying Bolivia’s role in the rescue (?) while warning Chileans that the United States team who reached the trapped miners are actually spies and agitators intent on stealing Chile’s gold and copper. Toy manufacturers are still puzzled as to how King Hugo Châvez is able to manipulate the Morales puppet over such long distances.

Peru’s president Alan Garcia reacted angrily to Chavez’s comments on Venezuela’s national television in which he said,…”If the trapped miners had been in Peru, the Peruvian government would charge each of them 100 soles to ‘ride in the rescue capsule.’" He further commented…”it would have been a short-lived business because Peruvians would steal the rescue equipment.” Garcia did not deny the charges but said that Châvez “could have put a more positive spin on it.”

In a related matter, all but three representatives of the world’s nations have dutifully recited United Nations speech #812S which reads:

”Our thoughts and prayers go out to the (insert heart-rending condition here) and their families.”

The Chilean government has threatened reprisals against the three offending nations for breach of protocol.

Brought to you by chiclayogringo…your source for cynical news

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Election Day Hijinks

October 3rd is Election Day all across Peru for the offices of mayor and regional president. It will be a busy day because voting in Peru is mandatory. Not voting means a substantial fine when attempting a transaction at a bank or other governmental office. The ‘system’ knows who did not vote, and will flag the individual’s record. There are other interesting sidelights.

Would you buy a used car from this man? This is Roberto ‘Beto’ Torres, Chiclayo’s present and probably future mayor. The photo was taken as he was denying allegations of spending public money on his campaign commercials. Surely people understand that those videos were public service announcements about public works happening in Chiclayo. The fact that his reelection banners just happened to appear in them was purely coincidental.

His banners are everywhere, including at civic improvement sites…and recently there are lots of civic improvement sites. Moto and taxi drivers know how to navigate what passes for roads in Chiclayo without causing too much discomfort to their passengers. In the last 30 days things have gotten much easier for them. Almost overnight city crews were everywhere tearing up and replacing roads and sidewalks; always in the shadow of a Beto Torres banner proclaiming his tireless efforts to improve Chiclayo, all the while doing it with ‘clean hands’. People aren’t fooled. They know this is all about getting reelected. In 4 years come election time there will be another rash of civic improvements. It’s all part of the game.

People also know that television stations will be airing interviews of indignant passengers at bus stations all across Peru complaining about price gouging. See…you have to vote in the city listed on your National Identification Card, which means lots of Peruvians who haven’t bothered to change their address legally need to return to their home cities. The bus lines know this, so tickets normally costing 30 soles now sell for 90. That’s what happened during the last election, is happening now and will happen again in 4 years when television stations will again be airing interviews of indignant passengers at bus stations.

What’s also part of the election game is that the sale of alcohol is prohibited for 72 hours prior to election. Go ahead…try to get a Pisco sour or a glass of beer at a restaurant or bar. Ain’t gonna happen. And your favorite store will have their liquor section closed off. Just for the hell of it during the last election I tried to talk the bartender at the Gran Hotel’s Fantasy Club lounge into serving me a drink. He politely declined. It was the same at our local neighborhood store when I asked for a bottle of wine. The fines and potential loss of license are too severe to risk it. Al Capone, Chicago’s prohibition era bootlegger would have loved this situation.

So…if you like a glass of wine in the evening while watching “public service announcements” and coverage of irate bus passengers as I do, and you’ve forgotten to stock up as I did, there’s always Inca Cola. Cheers!