I. I slept behind the gas station but I came here on serious business
II. Getting to her
I. I slept behind the gas station but I came here on serious business
After rallying through the desert in the wee hours of the morning, I rolled into Arica, Chile, somewhere between 2 and 3 AM. I stopped at the first gas station in town to fill up and ask for a recommended campsite, and the panel of judges concluded that I shouldn't ride around the city at all at this hour. They recommended I set up my tent behind the convenience store. The panel included the man who pumped the gas as well as a homeless man whose perch I later realized was the benches on the other side of the gas station. Nevertheless, they knew better than I did, so I picked out a nice patch of alley for myself and settled in for the night.
In the morning I was up early and ready to cross the border by lunchtime. After running around the Chilean customs looking for the magic form that was somehow never requested the three previous times I had exited Chile by motorcycle, I was allowed to pass to the Peruvian office. Things got tricky when the Peruvian customs agents decided they did not like the documents I had for the bike, and were particularly dismissive of the document I had from the notary in Punta Arenas stating that the previous owner was transferring ownership to me and that I had authorization to ride the bike out of the country. This was signed by both of us and notarized in Chile, but Peruvian customs decided that a legal document from Chile had no efficacy in their great country. One agent suggested that I leave the bike in Chile and continue into Perú myself, an option that I was none too impressed with. Despite crossing from Chile to Argentina and back again with no problems, the Peruvians refused to budge, and told me to seek an exception with the consulate's office; a half-an hour away back in Arica.
The search for the consulate's office included nearly an hour working my way through the clogged streets of downtown Arica in mid-afternoon heat as well as a lengthy talking-to from a carabinero who chastised me for stopping short at a red light. After arriving at the address given to me by the customs office I found an empty building. Another hour of frustrated riding followed as I searched for the Peruvian consulate's new office. My luck was running so dry in Arica that when I finally found the new office all the staff was out, still taking their siesta.
Eventually the staff trickled back in to the office. I explained my predicament and an older man with a tie got right on the phone to see what options I had for getting to Perú. He seemed much more motivated than the untucked-shirt, baseball-cap wearing dudes working at Pervuan customs, and I was thankful for finally catching a break.
After a few back-office calls, he regretfully told me that there was nothing I could do. I asked whom he had spoken with, and he happily advised that he had been on the phone with the customs agents at the border, the same folks who had sent me to the consulate's office in the first place. I had to bite my tongue for a few moments until I could think of a non-vitriolic way of explaining that I had already been to see the customs agents. He ruffled his brow, and the top of his head, with a few wispy hairs combed over it, shined in the glare of the afternoon light. Finally he passed me a piece of paper with a name scribbled on it, and told me that this was the man at the border I wanted to talk to.
I raced out into the desert one more time in order to make it to the border by five. The Chilean customs agent glanced at my passport in confusion while I explained how it was possible to end up with three Chilean stamps in the same day. He eventually waved me on. At the Peruvian office I rounded up the customs agents and dropped the name that the old man at the consulate's office had gave me. I saw their eyes shift toward one man, a clear indication of who was really in charge, but the name patch on his shirt didn't match the name I had in my hand. He hesitated, asserting that there was nobody else I could speak with.
I walked away and sat down on the curb by the bike, oscillating between desperate brainstorming and utter despair. I had crossed half of South America in eleven days, overcoming distance, weather, and a broken motorcycle on the way to see Her. Despite all of this it seemed that a piece of paper was going to stop me. Then I remembered something.
On my first pass through the customs office that morning I had caught the eye of one of the lady agents in the line to stamp passports. I'm not sure if it was the blue eyes or the motorcycle gear I was wearing, but she was so excited that she hopped out from the behind the glass-shielded desk and forced a coworker to take a few pictures while she posed with me, stopping down the whole line for a few minutes.
Shameless as it was, it was my only option. I wandered back into the passport office and looked for my fan, whose face lit up when she saw me again. She was confused to see me at the office so many hours later, and after I explained my impasse with customs she got on the phone with the mystery man whose name was on the piece of paper that I still clutched in my hand. She walked me upstairs, passing a few security checkpoints until finally she couldn't go with me any further. One more flight of steps took me to the top floor of the building, and I was escorted into an office with two desks. At the nearest desk sat a man whose polo shirt, clean-shaven face, and perfectly-combed hair gave him the look of a Peruvian Rick Perry, and sitting on his desk (seriously) was a beautiful young lady. She had on the standard SUNAT t-shirt and black cargo pants like any other customs agent, except her uniform was exceptionally tight-fitting to her admittedly well-preportioned body. It looked like I had found the real man in charge.
As I entered, the change on the man's face told me I had interrupted their banter, and I was equally disappointed to see the young woman walking out the door. I began to explain the situation to Peruvian Rick Perry, but he stopped me and pointed to desk on the other side of the office. The distraction of Peruvian Rick Perry's desk ornament had made me completely unaware of the man sitting behind the piles of paperwork on the far side of the office, but I noticed the nameplate on this desk matched what was written on the slip of paper in my hand. From behind the desk a man stood up and asked me to take a seat. He looked quite frazzled, and his military-like shirt, despite being covered with pins and patches denoting his high rank, hung loose around his very thin neck and arms. I thanked him for seeing me, and started to tell my tale again. By this time I'd had a lot of practice, and so I was able to add in the emotional appeal of a girl waiting on me in Perú. The frazzled look on the thin man's face didn't fade, but now a distinct element of concern was evident in his demeanor.
Within a few moments he was leading me down the stairs at a hurried pace, issuing orders to folks as he went along. We arrived outside where he told me to stay put, and I watched him walk in and out of a few different offices in the complex, unsure exactly what to expect next. Finally he led me to the customs office once again, issued a few quick commands to the agents, shook my hand, and abruptly walked out of the office. I turned just as a customs agent begrudgingly handed me a freshly-printed temporary import permit for the bike.
I bolted out the door, hopped on the bike, and tore into Perú like I'd just stolen something.
II. Getting to her
Argentina, Chile, and Perú. Halfway across South America in less than two weeks, and she was on my mind the entire way. Now she was within a day's ride.
Gauging distance in Argentina and Chile does not work the same way as Perú. Once you get into the mountains the miles are just as much vertical as they are horizontal. By noon I had climbed to fifteen-thousand feet for the first time on the trip, grabbed a quick lunch in Puno on the shores of Lago Titicaca, and turned the bike north toward Cusco.
The sun gave way to afternoon rain, but I kept going. I had met up with a couple of Argentine riders in Puno, Axel and Alan, on their CBX250's but after I told them about what was waiting on me in Cusco they understodd why I had to leave them behind when we reached the open road.
Nearer to the city, the occasional passes through villages became more and more frequent. Peruvian villages always have two things: huge speed bumps and animals in the road. I passed trucks around blind curves, filtered through lanes at every red light, and blared the horn indiscriminately. The sun went down but I pressed on into the endless stoplights of downtown Cusco. I wound through the old stone streets, whose names changed on every block. After nearly three hours of wandering Cusco I arrived at the hostel where she was.
The guys working reception knew exactly who I was when I got there, and let me pull the bike inside. They told me about the girl who had spent all day waiting for me, but I didn't see anyone in the lobby now. I parked the bike in the back of the building and thought I heard quiet footsteps behind me. Just as I turned around, she jumped into my arms.
Even without seeing her face, I knew it was my girlfriend, Mehreen. I held her tight for what seemed like years. After months on the road I was finally able to hold her familiar body, smell her familiar hair, kiss her familiar lips, and gaze into her familiar brown eyes. She was waiting for me. Now I had her.