“Welcome to Peru! I am the professor of trees. Here, have a glass of purple corn drink”. As I examine the business card that has been handed to me, it states exactly that – “professor of trees”. My introduction to chicha morada is just as bizarre. It is a frothy bright pink juice made from purple corn. Hard to describe the flavour, dry yet sweet, corny but fruity. I am not sure I understand it but I like it.
After a lunch of fresh local fish we start heading toward the Northern Desert of Peru. This is the first border we have crossed to find the land looking instantly different. The colours are different, the geology is different, the first river crossing is different.
There is no bridge, just a river flowing across the road. Reason number 846,000 to buy an Ural. Our three wheels let us giggle through a slipping and sliding route across the river with no drama . . . until I look in the rearview mirror. Whump! Stefan is suddenly face-down in the river as his bike drops hard onto the rocks. We stop and run back to help. The river bottom is covered in a layer of slippery goop. Thankfully Stefan is fine, but green algae and scum cover his suit and we are reminded of ‘The Swamp Thing’. The ground is so slick that it takes all three of us to lift the bike. Tracey plants her feet at the downstream side of the tires to keep them from sliding away as Stefan and I lift. As Stefan removes the wet gear from his newly dented pannier to inspect the damage, we are watching a local bike approach. Suddenly, Zing! The bike heads towards us and executes a perfect pirouette, tossing a girl off the back to land standing up on dry ground with her school books still in hand. Her boyfriend practices the new ‘Stefan Shuffle’ to climb out from under his motorcycle and join our crowd. Once we help replace the chain on the young man’s bike, we continue on our way to the next town.
A man on the street recommends a hotel on the edge of town where we unload then hop in a tuk-tuk (otherwise known as a mototaxi) for a new form of adventure. We have seen these zipping around filled with what appears to be entire families but apparently these machines were not built to carry the three of us. As we make our way to the centre of town with the fenders scraping and smoke streaming from the tires, we are once again providing the evening’s entertainment. Our destination . . . Street Food! We find a market bustling with various bits and pieces. We decide to stick to the staple of fried chicken as it looks great and the woman in charge has decided that Stefan is to be her new boyfriend. It feels a bit voyeuristic to be watching her attempts to put the moves on him, but we are entertained none the less.
As we sit enjoying our meal, it is as if somebody has just changed the channel and a new show is on. An odd-looking man has arrived, wearing rubber boots, a long overcoat and talking to his friend. Doesn’t sound very interesting until you realize that his friend is actually a dead fish. Somewhere in the discussion the fish has angered him and the man proceeds to slap it a couple of times, then they make up and carry on the talk. This show must be a repeat as several shopkeepers begin throwing handfuls of water on the man and shooing him away. This particular show is now over.
While riding our tuk-tuk back to the hotel, we once again see the fish slapping man. He is sitting on the curb, still talking to his fish. Welcome to Peru.