Published in Journal of Hispanic Philology, 14 (1989), 1-4.

The Editor's Column:

Cuzco to Lima

by Daniel Eisenberg


     From Cuzco my route led over the continental divide to Nazca, on the coastal plateau. Aside from flying, which is not that reliable in the Andes anyway, it was bus or backtrack by train to Arequipa. So bus it was, a 36-hour trip. The company with a departure the day I wanted was Morales Moralitos, which the South American Handbook recommended against. Yet it seemed wiser to leave on any transportation than to stay in Cuzco, with the second general strike in two weeks scheduled for the day after, and students demonstrating in the streets. The demonstrations were not particularly serious, streets blocked until the police arrived to shoo the demonstrators away. Yet when added to the general Peruvian unrest they were unnerving. The strange issue producing the demonstrations was the students' demand for half-price bus transportation, a medio pasaje. The bus owners said that many of the students were better off than they were, or would soon be. Outside funding for a discount was so out of the question it was not even pursued.
     Morales Moralitos buses left from its dreary and dirty garage, where we waited six hours for mechanics to reassemble the engine. A short-wave radio maintained communication with other Morales outposts. An incoming bus, we overheard, had left without cash to buy gas (credit cards were not used for that purpose), so the driver had to take up a collection from the passengers. Gasoline in Perú is "petróleo," another reflection of former English influence.
     The pavement ended as we left Cuzco. The road went through rugged and desolate territory, small river-bank settlements in the midst of deep, shaded valleys, separated by hours of climbing and descending. Wrecked vehicles added touches of color. We went as high as I've ever traveled by road, well over 10,000 feet. In one of the highest stretches it snowed for hours, and in the snow, in a national park, I caught my one and only sight of the rare guanucos. The only sign of human life was a settlement of what seemed to be road workers. A young fellow we dropped off there paid with a cheese.
     This route is today unsafe because of sendero activity. It wasn't that safe even then; we had to get out of the bus at one point to lighten it as it crept around a washed-out section. A broken valve spring caused brake failure, fortunately on a flat section. Driver and assistant got out a big tool box, removed the engine and valve covers and replaced the spring. It seemed spare valve springs were something one carried in Perú. While they made this repair we all sat in our seats, someone got out a battery-powered cassette recorder and whatever cassettes anyone had got played. I had one of music of the Bolivian charango, the treble guitar, a relative of the small four-stringed guitar known in Columbia as the cuatro, in Brazil as the cavaquinho, and in the United States as the ukelele, a name of Portuguese origin.

     Coastal Perú is desert, with sand dunes menacing the small city of Ica. Because there is so little moisture archeological evidence has been well preserved, and it is yet to be fully exploited. There is a great deal of prehistoric pottery, far more than tourists care to see.
     Nazca is a minor tourist destination because of figures outlined in stone on the barren plateau north of the town. The Pan-American highway runs through some of the figures, as they are invisible from the ground, and the lines of small stones went unnoticed. Why prehistoric people made shapes only visible from the air, and thus only recently discovered, is a mystery. In a climax of silly archeology, some of the irregular, overlapping shapes are said to be landing strips for spaceships.
     Small planes take the curious over the figures for $25, a large sum by local standards. Later that day an enterprising taxi driver rounded up a carload of tourists and took us to an archeological site a few miles away, an unprotected burial ground with bones and pieces of fabric scattered everywhere. Looting was actively taking place. The driver had antiquities for sale, among them a queipo, the Incan knotted record-keeping skein. None of us bought anything.
     The good wine Perú was reputed to produce had so far escaped my efforts to locate it, and Chincha, Perú's wine center, came between Nazca and Lima. Just outside the city there is a village of wineries, of which I visited two. This was a very unusual thing to do. It seemed I was the only foreigner anyone had seen there in a very long time, certainly the only one in Chincha that day. At the first winery I learned about the problems of the Peruvian wine industry. Landless peasants do not want land used for such an upper-class product as wine grapes. The wine was very good. The second and more popular winery had earthen retorts, which looked vaguely like outdoor brick ovens. A toothless, mute man, naked save for shorts, gleefully clambered over the retorts, extracting samples with a pipette, while a relative provided commentary. Perhaps he thought I was an American wine dealer.
     The quality of movies shown in small-town South American movie theaters can be excruciatingly bad. The explanation, of course, is poverty.

     Lima, like all of coastal Perú, is shabby. It is its sister city Seville gone to seed, with miles of faded mansions surrounded by even more miles of shantytowns. Inhabitants of the latter must purchase water from vendors with unsanitary tank trucks. Poor infants suffer from dehydration. So that illiterates can recognize them, buses are painted in two-tone colors by route: purple and green, pink and white, red and brown. Retired American buses, which can be dated by their small windows, are exported to Latin America. A fleet of what were Greyhounds of the 1940's is based in Lima. In Lima was my first of several encounters with aggressive marijuana salesmen, who confront you on the street and argue about why you should buy their product. It was the hardest sell I've ever heard in Latin America.
     I had two small tasks to do in Lima. The first was to visit a newspaperman who had not responded to an invitation to a local (Florida State) conference on human rights, and assure him that he could participate anonymously. The second was to visit the national library, to see an item in a defunct Peruvian periodical (Castilian Romances of Chivalry in the Sixteenth Century, item Bd103). The disparity between the holdings of the library and the quantity of users was striking.
     From Lima I remember two movies. The first was Bob Guccione's Caligula, uncut, which one could not see in the U.S. at the time. It seemed a strange movie for Perú. The other was the premiere of a modern Fuenteovejuna, El caso de Huayanay.1 It is the true story of a town of quechua-speaking Indians, who played themselves in the film. They revolted against and killed the local Hispanic administrator who, among other things, had abused their women. The legal case, unresolved as of the time the movie was made, had ended up in a superior court in Lima, and the movie showed the Indians making their first trip to the capital. This movie produced indignation among the audience: "¡Arriba Perú, carajo!" was heard. It was preceded by a newsreel on Perú's championship women's volleyball team. There seems to be more tension in Perú between Indian and European men than between the women. Perhaps this explains Perú's poor showing in soccer, and excellence in a women's sport.


     1 It Happened in Huayanay, reviewed in Variety, July 29, 1981 (Variety Film Reviews, 1981-82 [New York: Garland, 1986], under the date of the review).