Lima, Peru 14 Dec 05
Odometer 13,740 m 22,113 km

After a night on the beach, I made an early break across the vast wastes of the Sechura Desert from Huanchaco south to Lima. Following the Pacific coastline, the route is drier than a potato chip, so gusty you ride leaning 20 degrees towards the sea, and interminably long and lonely. Physically demanding and mentally taxing, you wouldn’t want to break down here.

Gearing down to negotiate a rapidly advancing sand dune, I crested the rise to find the first people I had seen in over an hour--strewn about like litter. Their vehicle, a flatbed truck carrying a fishing boat, appeared to have just overturned. There were bodies and blood everywhere, with those too broken to get up still writhing in place.

Stopping momentarily to survey the scene, it was immediately obvious that I needed to administer first-aid. That’s when all hell broke loose.
good cop
bad cop
I glanced to my left to see another group wearing black ski masks in the hundred-degree heat. They, along with those involved in the accident still capable of moving, began running towards me, screaming. A rare car approaching from the other direction lurched forward with a screech as two guys hung onto its doors getting dragged. In an instant I realized that if I didn’t get out of here--I’d need first-aid!

I gunned the engine and weaved amid the carnage. Panicked people came at me in all directions, their eyes bleeding terror. I couldn’t stop.

As I rounded the bend out of sight, I paused to catch my breath and try to figure out what was going on. Miraculously, a police truck approached from the south. I told them that there was an accident with fatalities and that somehow bad guys in masks were involved. They sped off towards the scene.

Still reeling from my day in the desert, Lima loomed ahead. I descended into the cacophony of horns and dense cloud of pollution to be immediately subsumed by gridlock. When the bowels of the city finally did move--I missed my turn. My goal--to be safely holed-up in a hotel before nightfall--was rapidly fading in my rearview mirror.

I took the next available exit. Almost immediately I was pulled over by the police--for the third time today! Like the others, they were looking for a bribe and I wasn’t paying. My only infraction was showing up, so after dutifully presenting my papers, I made it clear that they needed to find an easier mark. They responded by providing a “short-cut” back to my intended route.

I plunged into the maze of one-way streets convinced that the crooked cops knew I’d never climb out of this unsavory side of town. Within minutes I was hopelessly lost and pulled over. An old man perched in a colonial doorway with peeling paint was of little help; he had no teeth and rambled on in unintelligible Spanish as if he were mentally disturbed. Two gangs of young street toughs were approaching from both directions.

It was time to exercise the nuclear option.

Never before had I hired a taxi. Not in Guatemala or Panama Cities, Bogota or Quito. But now was no time to let my navigational pride stand in the way of survival. I turned and literally pointed my finger at a specific driver in a passing white car, waving him over as I remained on the bike.
Through his open window I pleaded, “Can I follow you out of here, I don’t know the city and need to get to this address--as I handed him a slip of paper?”

He briefly looked ahead and behind at the thugs hastening their pace towards us. As I began to hyperventilate he hesitantly agreed, “OK, but no matter what I do, stay right behind me.”

“GO,” I commanded!

Like any cabbie he paid no mind to the oncoming traffic, simply pulling out with a squeal. His maneuver immediately put me 4 cars behind. Never mind--at least we were moving. Traveling south on a 1-1/2 lane street, the rule seemed to be he who has the most bravado wins. I wasn’t about to lose.

We were going the wrong way up one-way streets, crossing intersections without regard to the color of the signal lights, using sidewalks and alleys when necessary, and blazing through produce markets like a chase scene in a James Bond flick. If he bobbed, I bobbed; if he weaved, I weaved. I was on his bumper like chewing gum under a school desk.

It then occurred to me that although his car was white, like all the other taxis, it oddly lacked a lit sign on top. Then, I noticed that his rear fenders were blank--where a taxi's identifying call numbers are customarily painted. Finally it clicked:
This guy is not a taxi driver!

“Look alive, guys, we’ve got a nice new Beemer inbound to the chop shop,” I imagined him telling his
compadres via cell phone, “and the idiot’s driving it there himself!”

It was getting really dark. Though my compass spun wildly during our circuitous route through the city, we seemed to be heading mostly south and west--the direction I wanted to go. I could peel off now, foiling his potential scam, or continue in the hope that it would only cost me the fare.

No time to decide. We arrived precisely at the correct address just as the sky went black.

The driver requested 15 Peruvian soles, or about 5 U.S. dollars. I thankfully paid him 20. A wry smile crept across his face as he quickly climbed back into his car. He was no
taxista, he volunteered--he was an off-duty cop.

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