Rural Peru, false positive and the Van! The Coronavirus Chronicles

When we last left you we were on our way to Panama; executing a plan to make useful time of our ever-changing options while waiting for Chile to open. If you think that’s a mouthful, so was the process.

We spent two weeks in the jungle with the Geoversity group I had mentioned in my previous blog. Nice people and just getting started again after the COVID shutdown. We spent time in the garden, being Uncle Bob and Aunt Camila to the five kids there and trying to sample all the venoms of the various stinging insects that inhabit el bosque.

Nearly every appendage of mine seemed to have been stung or bitten at some point; spiders giving the worst reaction. With no electricity in the cabanas, we had to rely on mosquito nets instead of a fan; useless against no-see-ums. Lots of itching.

Hurricane ITA barely missed us. We got rain and wind, but just 150 miles north got about 10 times more than us. And sadly Nicaragua and Guatemala bore the brunt. Give money there to help if you can.

My 57th, yes 57th, bday was spent watching election returns and stuck in the jungle due to a flooding river. The ass whooping for Trump I had hoped for was not as large as needed for his juvenile brain to admit defeat, but enough to get him the hell out of our lives soon. But not soon enough. As I predicted in August, we won’t see him at the inauguration. This small man will likely resign to get pardoned. And he’s not big enough to contribute to the peaceful transfer of power the US is so well known for. You voted for him? Fine. But can we just move on? Just leave and shut up dude.

Back in Panama City, we had beers with my friend Myrna, and opted for a few days at the beach with A/C and fans so we could have a real sleep and a little more predictable schedule. And settle into our 4-6 day horizon for decision making. My van had arrived in Chile and the port was starting to charge me for storage. To discourage leaving things at the port, they double the price every week. Ouch. Please open soon Chile!

We spent a few days at a deserted surf town then made our way back to arrange for the obligatory COVID test for our next step.

With our negative test results, we flew to Peru to break up the seven hour flight from Panama to Chile. We arrived in Lima and tried to have a normal type trip while waiting.

After two days of Air BNB in the not so Peruvian Miraflores (and news that Chile was opening Nov 23rd) we opted to rent a car and explore a bit. A few days near the stunning desert landscape of Paracas allowed us to catch our breath.

We then decided to visit the Andes. The road didn’t look bad so, as usual, we were winging it when we stopped for a break at 3 PM. We realized we didn’t want to stay there that night and opted to push on to the next town that was nearly four hours away.

A crucial error/s at that point made the next four hours a tad nerve wracking.

As we climbed out of the valley and into the high Andes, I had neither filled up the gas, nor got a feel for the altitude we would be at. No matter how we searched for places to stay, there wasn’t much out there in rural Peru.

So as we got up to close to 16000 feet in elevation, I thought we would get over the pass and move down. With no cell service, we were not able to confirm the elevation of Ayacucho; our destination.

After about an hour at high elevation, i started to become concerned. With no downward trend in site, my head starting hurting. And we were low on gas.

Camila has spent most of her life at 9000 feet so she would have no issues. But if we ran out of gas and/or Ayacucho was at 12000 or above, I was in for a rough night since we had left from sea level that day.

As the sun was setting and we drove through a stunning landscape of high mountains, llamas, alpaca, cows, sheep and traditional Peruvian lifestyle, I had what I now know as a visual migraine. I’ve had them before, but didn’t know what they were.

Essentially, you get a rainbow or foggy vision in one or both eyes and feel a little shitty. And you can’t really see. Not good. They last 20-30 min or more but I didn’t know what was going on. Basically blinded, I pulled over and had Camila drive. And while she can drive, it’s not something she does daily; certainly not in the high Andes.

With the sun down and having re-established cell connection, we realized Ayacucho was at 9000 feet and we started going down. Once we passed the 12000 foot barrier my mind eased and hey, we can coast if we run out of gas right?

Well, as super dark night came quickly as only you can experience in the tropics, 35 miles from Ayacucho, the unthinkable for me occurred. We started going up again. How is that possible?

The grade increased and we rolled along these twisting, climbing mountains roads. The roads were narrow and they had these six foot drop offs to the right for rain runoff. If we run out of gas now, it could be dangerous. Nowhere to pull off. Would have to walk or hitch and get gas. Couldn’t turn around and even then? Just the stopping could be tragic. Rookie mistake.

Fortunately, after what seemed like an eternity, the grade changed to down again, the lights of Ayacucho became visible and there was a lonely gas station 20 miles outside of town. Crisis. Averted.

After a few nights in Ayacucho, we only really had one option back to Lima. Continue the rural slog on a now shittier 12 hours of road and rural communities. Over two days, this stunning drive along a river valley had us observe a traditional indigenous wedding, go for a swim in the river and get destroyed by sand fleas.

As we barreled down the mountain, before our last night outside of Lima, we crossed a railroad track and felt rental car tires hit the tracks. Hard.

I knew immediately what had happened. We had instantly blew not one but both right tires. I stopped. And of course there was a tire fixer dude right there. Camila joked with him if the railroad tracks were part of his business model as he jacked the car and did his work.

Once back at the airport the next day to drop the car, we were party to the scam that is rental car insurance in Peru (and likely other countries).

When I rented the car, I purchased insurance. The woman was adamant that I call if there was an accident and that I get a police report. Of course!

Last time I checked, hitting a pothole didn’t constitute a reportable accident. Upon return I was shaken down for cash. Lesson learned.

Back in Lima we prepared for our flight to Chile with the frantic task of timing our COVID test and filling out the appropriate Chilean documents.

We had everything prepared for our flight the next day to Santiago. We were just waiting to get our negative PCR tests back from the clinic and upload them! Easy right?

We got our emails from the clinic and Camila opened them. “Don’t freak out” she said with no emotion. “Ha ha. Don’t joke with me” I replied. “I’m not”, she replied.

With the intensity of waiting for a pregnancy test result, I said “positive? She didn’t blink. “Both of us?” then I said “me?” thinking I had had a slightly greater chance of exposure than Camila as she was more fastidious with her type of mask, hand washing and perhaps dog petting?

“Me” she says. “What?!!” I say incredulously? You’re joking.

The next 24 hours turned into getting flights changed, scrambling for a follow-up test to hopefully show the results that were provided by the “in-hotel” tests were wrong, and telling the port handlers in Chile our months long debacle in getting my van would continue.

The next day we went to a clinic, got retested, both were negative (but had to wait til night for resultados) and went on our way to re arrange everything and arrive in Santiago late Friday night; knowing our movements would be checked and scrutinized as the country had just opened for tourists and rules were changing daily.

Hotel near my buddy Chris’ house, checking in with the Chilean govt on our movements, and preparing to take the local bus two hours to the port (plus ANOTHER COVID test to allow for movement ) kept us busy. Monday morning brought the moment of truth. Picking up the van.

As will filled out the paperwork, the gal was telling us we weren’t getting it that day. Really? We only gave you like a months notice? Blah blah. The local guy made some moves for us and his father (a perfect English speaking septuagenarian) kept us entertained with conversation.

Since I had sandals and shorts on (no bueno inside the port) he said he would get the van and drive it out; accompanied by the office gal who seemed to know how to get shit done.

As Camila and i waited for what seemed an eternity, they come out and said “it’s dead. Won’t start.” I’m like “that happened two years ago and they jumped me. What’s the deal?”

COVID, gringo, blah blah. Okay. I’m going in.

Placing oversized boots on my sock less feet, helmet and yellow vest, Paula and I marched into the port; flashing credentials and passports as if we owned the place.

There in a lonely corner of the port lot, amongst large containers and no other vehicles, sat the van. It looked like a giant animal had taken a dump on it. All dusty and gross. As I opened the back door, it was obvious my luck of it being untouched the last time I shipped it did not continue.

Mattress and blankets strewn everywhere inside the dusty and dirty interior, I quickly took stock of what was there and what was gone. Okay. Blankets and pillows dirty but alive. Fridge. Good. They had messed with the seat/bed in the van below; likely trying to get at the fridge.

They stole my beer!!! Not having room for an extra six pack of Bellingham local Heliotrope IPA, I had stuck it under blankets on the side. Gone.

If you haven’t seen the van, I have a roof bed that cranks up to sleep. In a stroke of genius (it only took me three years to figure this out) I realized that I could fit a ton of things up there (basically laying things six to eight inches thick like solar panels and camping chairs and sleeping bags and tent etc) as it couldn’t be stolen without a massive amount of destruction (and knowledge it was there). I also installed a secret storage place where the spare tire was below the back seat that when taped down and covered by the camping fridge, was large enough to conceal a wild animal. Or in our case, an extra foldable guitar, a Vitamix, some freeze dried camping food, fishing gear And yes, another six pack of Heliotrope!

I grabbed my jumper cables, carefully attached them to my spare battery I use for the fridge and éxito!!! She started right up. I must have a short somewhere.

Armed with all the shit I didn’t have two years ago, we continued the govt process of monitored movements and, with our final negative Covid test in hand, spent five days with my friend Chris and his family in Santiago. Buying food, cleaning and preparing for the journey south. Packed efficiently, the van fits a lot of shit.

And so, after overcoming nearly every obstacle to be together and to be in central Chile for the total solar eclipse on Camilas bday Dec 14th. Six months of planning and waiting. God knows how many flights and COVID tests. One speed bump after another. We seem to have made it. She hasn’t wanted to kill me just yet. We navigated highly stressful times that didn’t seem super stressful as we seem to feed each other energetically. But cumulatively, it certainly was.

Unfortunately (and ironically), it’s supposed to rain for the eclipse. If the land borders weren’t closed, we would go to Argentina. But, they are, so we are not. We hope the storm moves thru and we get to see it. If not, we are pretty stoked and feel lucky to experience a beautiful place together in peace.

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