Luciano’s Goose Egg

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Photo: Killian, Luciano and I debriefing the morning after the “bang”

“AAAAGGHHHHHH FUCK!!!”

I quickly turn in horror to see our quirky tour guide, Luciano, grab at his head with both hands and drop to the ground just under the overhanging rock formations.

“Shit, he is being attacked by a bat” is the first thought to cross my mind.

It is past 11pm, pitch black, and Luciano and I are exploring the grounds of the hot springs park near Lares town in search of a store to purchase some water and snacks.

After reaching the top grass terrace of the park, overlooking the hot spring pools below, we had just realized we would not be finding any store tonight, thus deciding to turn back to our makeshift campsite in defeat.

This is when Luciano, with his plentiful wavy hair, was attacked by a ferocious Peruvian bat.

Or so I thought.

“No, not a bat… it… just like someone with a bat… BOOM… on my head… the sound… the fucking rock… this is not good…” Luciano rambles incomprehensibly.

After some mental effort on my part, I finally decipher Luciano’s rambling: he wasn’t attacked by a bat, but rather walked into the overhanging rocks.

Apparently this is not the first time he has sustained a similar head injury.

“I can’t believe this happened again; I’m so angry! These fucking rocks!”

I check his head, and find a patch of his skull bleeding ever so slightly. His excessive rambling, wide open eyes, and colour drained face imply more damage than suggested by the mild superficial bleeding.

“I’ll be right back” I tell Luciano as I run down to our campsite and collect Marina, Killian, and our trek guide, Gladice along with a medical kit.

After some consultation between the 4 of us, Luciano takes a 400mg dose of Ibuprofen from Gladice’s medical kit.

A few minutes later, Killian and I carry Luciano down to the campsite and lay him down in his tent.

There are no nearby medical facilities, we have no vehicle, nor cell phone reception. The nearest village is approximately 40 minutes away on foot – in total darkness, traversing a winding dirt road with a hair-raising cliff side.

It is decided that Killian will sleep in the tent with Luciano, waking up at regular intervals throughout the night to check on his progress.

But none of this was supposed to happen.

Although we were all embarking on our 3 day trek through the Peruvian Andes the following day, tonight we were scheduled to sleep in a nice hotel in Ollantaytambo.

Unfortunately, a suspected workers strike and civilian road blocks in the area threatened our ability to get to our trek on the scheduled day – a situation which required an alternate plan: getting to our trek start point the night before and camping.

The most frightening three hour ride in a van with a mad driver through winding, cliff side “roads” was a part of this alternate plan.

As was setting up tents of unclear design and poor function in complete darkness.

Despite our complaining during the night in question, it appears it was all worth the hassle: a number of groups never made it to their trek after being blocked (if not stoned) by the protesters.

The following morning, after an oft-interrupted sleep in our poorly constructed tents, Luciano, despite feeling better, decided to hitch a ride back to Cusco and get checked out by a proper physician (given the strikes, this turned out to be a full day adventure for our clumsy Argentinean friend).

After bidding Luciano adieu with a round of hugs, Marina, Killian and I, along with our trek guide and a few others in our group, departed on our 3 day hike and camp through the difficult and yet stunning terrain of the Lares trail leading towards Machu Picchu.

“We’re actually doing this”, acknowledges Killian as we begin our ascent into the rocky landscape.

Peter

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On life perspective: Arequipa’s reality check

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“Stopping the cocaine trade in Peru is equivalent to economic suicide,” calmly explains our guide, Miguel.

We all listen intently, while sitting in a white Mercedez van which has stopped at an overlook of one of Peru’s many shanty towns.

“12% of the Peruvian economy, in one way or another, depends on cocaine.”

Marina and I exchange glances, eyes wide open in amazement.

“I’m sorry to say but cocaine is good for Peru. Every time some young person in your country starts to use cocaine, some starving Peruvian gets a job.”

That is a harsh reality.

If you’ve ever vacationed in Cuba, Mexico, Dominican Republic, or any other developing country, you may have been surprised on your initial visit by the dramatic divide between all the amenities at your waterfront resort and the complete lack thereof for most of the inland inhabitants.

Often times, the tourism industry, much as the country’s government, hides the unfortunate reality facing the majority of its population while it shuttles the tourists from one isolated spot to another.

Today, we took a tour which exposed this reality in Peru.

After being a typical tour guide in Arequipa (the Rome of America) and often being asked questions by tourists regarding the welfare of the local inhabitants, Miguel decided to offer an alternative to the usual scenic and historic tours in the area.

Thus was born the “Peru Reality Tour.”

While it was not on our itinerary, it may have been the most personally impactful afternoon of our trip.

At one of the first stops, we visited a nearby quarry, which is worked by some of the poorest of Arequipia’s inhabitants.

“They make one sole for an unfinished stone brick, but if they clean it up and polish it, they can earn 1.5 soles,” informs Miguel.

Behind him, a father and son team chip away at the silica rich stone using a blunt mallet and other improvised tools such as a steel pick which originally functioned as car wheel axle. The father, wearing sandals which he made using pieces of old tires, performs the blunt work with the mallet while the son perfects each brick with the steel pick.

They work like this for 12hrs each day, 7 days per week, 365 days of the year.

At 10 soles a day, assuming no days off, these men will make approximately 300 soles ($100) each per month.

Unfortunately, the bare minimum cost of living in Peru is about 750 soles per month.

They can take no vacations, they have no ability to save their earnings towards making some future purchase; there’s simply no light at the end of their tunnel.

They carve the brick today, so they can afford to eat tomorrow.

That’s it.

In addition to a devastatingly poor wage, the work of the quarrymen is extremely dangerous.

As they work away at the brittle stone, neither the father nor the son is wearing a face mask.

The result: high probability of developing silicosis, a lung disease developed by the chronic inhalation of silica dust from the stone.

While the son is wearing sunglasses, his father works with his eyes exposed to the blinding reflection of the sun off the white stone.

The result: an increased risk of cataracts.

Each year, approximately 3-5 people die while working the stone at the quarry. They have no employment insurance.

As I stood there, listening to Miguel, watching these men work the stone from a few meters away, an intense sense of guilt had struck me; tears welling up in my eyes hidden behind my sunglasses.

How embarrassingly spoiled was I to live in Canada, have access to abundant and varied food, potable water, heating, medical care, clothing, safe shelter, television, internet, etc.

And yet, I’ve been complaining.

I’ve previously spoken about my disillusionment with academia and my need to explore alternatives for potential career paths – this complaint was the major instigator of this summer’s hiatus.

What a fucking joke!

At least I HAVE options.

My parents, who grew up in communist Poland, had far fewer options. Their situation was much closer to that of the quarry workers I was now observing, that to my own, back in Canada. They took a phenomenal risk and escaped from their home country with me in tow (I was 6 years old).

Their main goal?

To give me the opportunities they were robbed of.

To give me options they never had.

And here I am with plentiful options, and what do I do?

Complain about how tough I have it.

I could not have been more naïve.

Tonight I sleep ashamed.

Peter

(If you are ever in Arequipa and want a different tourism experience, contact Miguel and ask about the Peru Reality Tour)

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