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All Wit & Pedal Power

(Page 3 of 3)

No sooner than the policeman became our friend, did he once again become a threat. He took on a more serious tone and told us if we tried to get away without producing proof of ownership, our hands would be broken. Then he rambled on about how powerful PIP is and what a proud organization it is.

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Finally, the intruder left, but this gave us no peace of mind. Just how serious do we take all this? It is tough to brush aside, and we didn't feel any better when the hotel owner came in to warn us about PIP. They were drunk and getting drunker, he said, and we best be careful. We could only shut our door, lock it and hope for the best. Doug and I looked at each other in disbelief. When would it all stop?

We have decided to blaze out of here at first light tomorrow, hoping to slip out the door undetected by our neighbors. We feel more comfortable trying to make a getaway than trying to solve this dilemma by negotiating with drunken officials. Whatever the outcome, we don't expect to have a peaceful and well-needed night of shut eye. Right now, I almost wish we would have gone back to Bolivia. I'm scared.

Sept. 13, 1988 - Juliaca, Peru

Yesterday afternoon and last night I experienced some of the tensest moments in all my 25 years. I was full of anxiety and I think Doug was too. Neither of us could even eat dinner. We just wanted the night to end before it ever began.

At last there was a glimmer of light. The roosters weren't even up yet, but Doug and I stood ready for the ``escape.'' I noticed that my voice was trembling when I spoke to Doug. It sounded so loud, as did the door when Doug opened it.

Both Doug and I took a very deep breath, and I wheeled my bicycle quietly through the courtyard. Doug followed closely. In the room next to ours, I noticed one man sprawled out on a straw mattress, and heard another one mumble something. We were just waiting for the ``Oye!'' (Hey!), but it didn't happen. Once outside the pension's one-and-only wooden gate we didn't waste a second, mounting our bikes and speeding off like bats out of hell.

For the next few hours we pedaled like wildfire, with a constant eye in our mirrors and an occasional look over the shoulder. Initially every approaching vehicle brought a cringe. We felt as if we were running from the law, although we had done absolutely nothing wrong, at least as far as we were concerned. Only after being some 20 miles from Huancane did we feel comfortable enough to stop and rest.

We are currently holed up in another one of Peru's famous zero-star hotels. There is a possibility that we will venture out for a meal tonight, as Juliaca is a real city. I mean there are many hotels, restaurants, vehicles, people and even a bus terminal. It all makes us feel a little safer.

In all we progressed 36 miles today as the road went from terrible to bad. At least it's an improvement. From here Puno sits a mere 24 miles to the south, over a paved road. Seemingly, it is only a hop, skip, and a jump away.

Sept. 14, 1988 - Puno, Peru

Here at last! I have never been to heaven before, but it feels like I am mighty close. There are gringos here, and what a relief it is to shed some of that heavy conspicuousness. Not only can we blend in a bit more, but now it appears that we can turn our backs to the entire entrance-stamp problem, our confrontation with the military, and our close call with PIP. Today we went through a sizable checkpoint manned by the Guardia Civil, and to our surprise our documents weren't even checked.

Puno is a scaled-down version of Juliaca, but has a beautiful setting, being located in a basin along Lake Titicaca's edge. Social and political unrest grows daily, as Peru is in the midst of a profound economic crisis and the government continues to battle the insurgency led by the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path).

The tourist office here has informed Doug and me that some recent terrorist attacks have been taken out in the vicinity of Juliaca and Huancane. Maybe we should count our blessings.

The first phase of this trip is now over. We registered 247 miles in 12 days, with one full day of rest. This is by no means record time, but we aren't out to break records. Our only objective is to see a land and its people, and although I only have two weeks of cycling experience under my belt, I am already convinced that a bicycle facilitates this end. I wouldn't carry on without it.

Of course Doug and I had our fill of unpleasant encounters between La Paz and Puno. But often we would just succumb to the harmony that radiates from a beautiful land sparsely populated by humble and simple folk. The landscapes have made for some pressing images, and many of the people will be difficult to forget, especially those shining few who touched our hearts.