Peru's Transoceanic Highway
Inside of truck on bumpy road
Peru's Transoceanic Highway
Peru's Transoceanic Highway
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
24 Jul 2000
- Near Cusco
- -13.525 -71.97222
- 1:02 - 15:49
- -13.68611 -71.62278
- 18:36 - 45:17
- Near Urcos
- -13.68611 -71.62278
- 54:42 - 1:09:22
- Hualla Hualla Pass
- -13.55694 -71.17556
- 1:20:46 - 1:27:04
- SONY TCD-D7
- Sennheiser MKH 50
- Sennheiser MKH 30
Stereo=1; Decoded MS stereo; Sennheiser MKH50 Hypercardioid Mid Mic and MKH30 Bidirectional Side Mic through Sonosax preamp into Sony TCDD7
NPR/NGS RADIO EXPEDITIONS
Log of DAT #: 1
Engineer: Leo del Aguila
Date: 24 July 2000
ng = not good
g = good
vg = very good
John Nielsen (JN)
Anton Seimon (AS)
Leo del Aguila (LD)
0:00-1 :00 AS talking in Spanish with driver Javier.
1 :02 AS: the Lechemayo, which is a river, on the Transoceanica, in its relatively brief bad stretch, that's a challenge to cross cuz there's no bridge and you have to ford the river and you need a high clearance vehicle. I've crossed it in the big volvo trucks before, and it's a big mud wallow on the other side. It's a combination of the mud wallowq and the t river crossing. One vehicle ...would be to travel to, the potential, one holds the other one. r think it would work. Now after we leave you guys we're planning to travel up the Transoceanic (TH) and we're gonna have to face that river, so ...
1 :59 LD: it is the 24th, Monday, we're in Cuzco, it's 9:20 AM, I'm putting absolute time on this, it's a digital recording, I'm using an MS pair, sennheiser mics, my figure of 8 is an mkh 30, and right now I'm into the positive lobe, and if I flip it over I'm in the negative lobe. My mid mic is an mkh 50 and I'm talking right into it. They are going into a sonnosax mic preamp and that is going to a D-7. Prior to this you heard a little of Anton, our driver and JN.
3:14 AS: I'm Anton Seimon (AS) eating cornflakes, grad student in geography at univ of col, 34 yrs old, single, eligible, looking for volunteers.
JN: this is Day 1. We're on the road. We're leaving Cuzco right now, we're in a small convoy of toyota land cruiser, loaded up with scientists, equipment, various medical supplies, food, com and potato chips, all the essentials. Where are we going?
AS: today's activity is basically the start of our road trip along the Transoceanic Highway (TH). There are 2 possible routes we can take. The TH itself is one, it's longer to get to, it'll take a day of ferrying to get there. The other one is a more direct route that will get us to the rain forest, but it's the so-called old road, been around for many years, but many consider it to be one of the worst roads in the world, and the state of the road changes from day to day. So what we have to do today is go and speak to the truckers who go and drive this road regularly, in Urcos, which is about an hour outside of Cuzco. There we'll speak to the truckers, ask for their opinion of the present state of the road, have them look at our vehicles and determine if we're going to get thru or not. As it is, we can count on there being various impasses along the route, mud wallows, bridges are out, we might have to pull one vehicle thru the mud, or the road might simply be blocked by a broken down truck and we'll all get out and dig. Or do whatever it takes to get our convoy moving again.
5:08 JN: so it's a journey that could take a few days or it could take more than a few days.
AS: yeah, basically to get to mazuko on the TH, it would would normally be 2 days of driving, daylight hrs only, in good condition. Many people tell you horror stories about 10 day trips and like that. This is the dry season, and given that we're leaving Cuzco in the rain this morning, it's somewhat ominous, but typically when it rains in the highland s it doesn't rain in the lowlands and vice versa. When we say it's the dry season we're talking about one of the wettest places on earth, so in the dry season they only get about 10 inches of rain a month, as opposed to 60 or 70. So its gonna be interesting.
6:02 JN: when you say that this is the worst road in the world, what do you mean? You've been on a lot of roads, what is it that wins the prize for this one?
AS: it's a vote from myself based on my limited personal experience, but many other veteran travelers who have travelled other rough notorious roads-the road in northern India, for example, that goes up to Leduc is a famous one-people who've driven that road and this one, always this road gets the vote. When I drove it in august 97 on the back of the volvo trucks just following a heavy rainstorm, it was abysmal an d terrifying and an absolute ordeal, but when we arrived in Puerto Maldonado, its probably safe to say that me an my buddy had a post traumatic shock disorder or something like that.
6:57 JN: So cliffs, snow, mud, various impediments here. Make a laundry list for me.
AS: OK. Again, this is the old road ... and one of the reasons I want us to take the old road is because its an incredible contrast to the TH, which is so much of a better road that's being built ... also seeing the old road will help explain why the old road hasn't been a viable trade route til this point. why it is that the Peruvian Amazon has been well preserved .. .its because its such an ordeal to get cargo up out of the. jungle and up over the andes to the pacific coast where a ship might be waiting. That the terrible state of the road has been the best preventive measure on environmental destruction. Still there's plenty of environmental destruction as we'll see. TH is gonna be something very dif. It's a major road that's being built with very well graded, two vehicles wide, can easily pass .. .it's a very good road that's being built out of the andes, and that's quite different. On our road today what we're going to see as far as challenges, we'll start off by leaving Cuzco on a paved road. That'll quickly go to a sort of bumpy stretch where we're going thru construction, and from urcos we'll climb. We'll drive about an hour and a half just to get above urcos. We'll climb about 4000 feet straight up above town to get over this relatively low pass which is about 14 thousand feet. Once we're over that we go over a beautiful stretch of high country where we stay close to 12-13 thousand feet with incredible view s of the snow capped Cordillera ** and Cordillera Hualla Hualla. Has peaks almost to 21 thou feet. As we leave that area we have to ascend the higher pass in the region of hualla hualla, that one's about 15 thou feet, often snow covered, ...some down to the road level. From there we begin an enormous descent on basically deteriorating roads. We'll start at 15 thou feet, we'll drop the first 5000 feet or so the first afternoon or evening, to marcapata. It's a gorgeous place. Going from the snows, we'll drive some very nerve-wracking precipices. But as far as Andean roads go these aren't particularly bad. Below marcapata tomorrow we'll drive into the forest. First its cloud forest beginning around marcapata and then real tropical rain forest, and the change is astonished cuz you go from the snows to the rain forest in a short period of
Continuing down we'll go thru a town called Quincemil, an old gold mining settlement. The gold rush has sort of moved downstream, the gold has sort of been tapped out now for a long time. Quincemil is one of the weirdest places on earth. They get 24-25 feet of rain a year. And beyond Quincemil the combination of rain, the remoteness, the very dif terrain, the rain forest, results in the worst stretch of road. Bridges that are missing, mud wallows, the roads are always one vehicle wide, so passing these trucks is always a challenge, sometimes very exciting, more exciting than I care to be. Eventually tired and wearied and a bit bloodied we hopefully we will stop in Mazuko, where you again are on a good wide road.
10:50 LD: keep in mind, try to talk to me and the mic a little bit.
(DISCUSSION ABOUT MIC PLACEMENT ETC, ANTON QUESTIONS ABOUT SPEAKING IN SOUND BITES)
12:42-15:49 AMB: INSIDE THE CAR, BUMPY ROAD
15:57 LD: wanta make a quick note. We're riding a land cruiser, Japanese made, red, accommodating 6 of us, plus gear.
AS: Car 2, come in. Do you notice all the snow up in the passes in front of us?
CAR 2 (over walky talky): No we didn't. Over.
AS: remember we'll climb to about 14 thousand feet and the snow level appears to be at about 13 thousand feet. This could be kind of fun.
CAR 2 (walky talky): looking forward to it. Over.
AS: good. Seriously, those peaks aren't usually snow covered. That snow just
came down this morning. Mostly it'll bum off. It could be kind of interesting. Even the first lower pass. The second pass will be very interesting if that's the case. So we'll see. JN: so the road that we're about to travel, which is under normal circumstances the worst in the world, will be especially horrifyingly bad today.
AS: well no it depends. The highland stretches actually aren't so bad. LD: hold on a second let me turn these down. Start again.
17:23 FX: HORN HONKING
17:30 JN: I do want to go after a couple of points just kinda concise thing. It seems to me one kof the things we wanta get at here is, we're on this road so that we can see, at least previously to the construction of the TH, why you didn't have a lot of trade. So tell me how bad it is, just nail it down as bluntly as you can. And then, when a road's that bad, they're no good for commerce. Explain to me the obvious in that sense. So how bad is road that we're gonna be on today?
AS: How bad is the road that we're gonna be on today? Generally not that bad. LD: INTERRUPTS JN: talk to me about the stretch between here and the TH. What is this road that
AS: right now we're on the main road, the highway that links Cuzco with the other cities of the southern Peruvian highlands of juliaca and puno. It's under construction which is why it's very bumpy. Usually it's a very good road. We'll turn off this after about an hour at Urcos and then we'll ascend up int60 the highlands. The first day today shouldn't be too bad provided the passes aren't thickly snowcapped. Tomorrow is when it gets very challenging as we descend into the rain forest. We'll have to see what the conditions are like. If its rained in the past few days in that stretch of the road it could be a mud wallow. If its been relatively dry it may not actually that bad. There's a team of workers who actually try to maintain the road and keep it open. But it's an extremely dif terrain. And its very notorious for being closed, blocked and being overall very unpleasant. Almost the only vehicles that drive the road are turbo charged diesel volvo trucks.
JN: which is not what we're in.
AS: which is not wheat we're in, much to my dismay. If we were doing this expedition differently, I would have just charter3ed one of these cisterno trucks that carry diesel down to the rain forest, and had the whole team sit on the back the way we usually travel this road.
20:04 JN: we were gonna point out why this ... when was this road built? This one was built in the 30s.
AS: into the rain forest it was built in the 1930s as far as the short distance around the village of quince mil. It was completed all the way to the town of puerto maldonado, which is the regional center of the madre de dios rain forest, in about 1965. So its been in existence at least 35 years. And probably at times in the past was in better shape than it is now. The road is driven by maybe 30 trucks a day. The trucks bring two essential liquids down tot he rain forest, diesel and beer, and they return relatively empty except for cargo of timber, tropical timber. They seem to be limited to a maximum limit of 10 tons of timber per truck, by the road itself, and at ten tons a shot, its net really that great of a threat to the rainforest yet. economically its hardly viable if its gonna take you a week to get from the lowlands to the highlands. However if you can have a much better road that will allow you to, transport goods in a matter of hours or a day or two, suddenly the economic potential changes dramatically and trade like the timber trade becomes extremely lucrative. This is what basically the TH is potentially gonna represent upon its completion.
21:37 JN: this part of the road was built in the 30s. what was the purpose, just to get
people to the next town?
JN: certainly there was a dif purpose than there is for this new road.
AS: there was a gold rush. There have been repeated gold rushes in this part of
the countr7y. amazonian lowlands. And gold rush really got under way in the 1930s around quince mil and you had to take a very dif mule trek to get there, so the govt found it in their best interests to create a road that sort of led to that area cuz there was economic justification for it. It also has been the dream for many decades of colonizing the amazon, turning th rainforest, this incredibly fertile area, into farmland. The only problem is that's sort of out of synch with reality. As soon as you remove the rainforest yiou also remove the fertility. That's something we've seen many times over in the amazon. I've seen documents from as early as the 1950s from missions in the amazon noting that as soon as you remove the rainforest you essentially remove the soil fertility and nutrition and that land will quickly lose its viability for agricultural purposes within just a few years. We seem to be having to learn that lesson again and again.
23:05 JN: so a road like this one with an end point hasn't ... there have been side effects, but they're not ...
AS: excellent point. What you have here is a road with a terminus. Basically it was a one way road and as a one way road it serves a variety of purposes but its very dif from a thru road, which is what the TH is. Its tru that right now you can drive from brazil, the transamazon highway network, up to the highlands on this old road and then drop down to the pacific coast. It's a many day, probably on the ordr of a week, and again that's not so commercially viable. The plan for the TH is that yiou'll be able to drive from the transamazon in brazil to the pacific coast in no more than 2 days. And perhaps from sao paolo in brazil, one of the great brazilian coastal cities, in 3 or 4 days. Its extrememly different cuz what we're talking about now is amazonian resources having easy access to asian markets or anywhere in the pacific basin. Right now if you want to get your timber or your soybeans or whatever out of the amazon otjapan taiwan or malaysia, you're gonna have to either go thru the panama canal or around cape horn, both of which are expensive and slow propositions.
JN: and why have you driven the worlds worst roads so many times? What are you doing here? Whats your study about here, what are the questions you are trying to answer.
AS: the question I'm trying to answer is what lies behind the road, what motivates it both historically and in the present tense and context, and what its potential impacts are likely to be. Bringing roads in rainforests is very well known as environmentally destructive activity. The road itself is not necessarly the problem. Its what happens once the road is in if you don't have a mangement plan that safeguards the environment and the livelihoods of people living and working in
these areas. TH case is very interesting to me cuz its hardly a public project. People are trying to pretend it doesnt exist and because of that theres almost deliberately no management plan and that makes it very scary. Particularly cuz the stretch of rainforest that his road cuts thru is recognized as being one of the worlds most biodiverse and perhaps best preserved as well. The madre de dios rainforest is quite incredible but its under huge threat, its already being destroyed in places and the roads are the agents that bring the change, that accelerate the change that happens.
So I got into this by accident by somebody seeing the road being built. I'm a geographer, I'm interested in things related to this and this was something that looked very interesting to me and I couldn't understand why I hadnt heard ofit before, I've been coming to peru for many years. There's a major road. being built, how ~01l1e this isnt common knowledge? The more I looked the more obscure I found the project to be.:, It was that much more striking cuz this is recognized as being such an important rain forest and so fragile. The Manu biosphere is very close to the TH, and people I know who have been coming to Manu for years and doing research there don't know about this road. So I'm trying to understand how's this possible? So that started me on the research and one of the ways to keep, to really understand what's going on, I found that studying it from a distance was alamost impossible I had to go down and see it myself. So in december of 1998 I travelled the length of the highway in peru, mapping the state of development and construction trying to understand who was building what stretches, how it was all being built, and talking to people trying to understand what they all thought about the road. Talk to someone holding a chainsaw chopping down trees, talk to a gold miner, talk to someone sitting in a bulldozer, and it was extremely revealing. One of the purposes I have now in going back and following the same route is to see in two years how much d4evelopment there has been. Try to project when things will be completed.
28:00 AS: in december of 98 construction had just begun on one of the critical missing bridges, a large 600 foot suspension bridge over the Inanbari river. Peruvian newspapers in june reported that bridge had just been completed last month in June.
29: 13 LD: hi there once again we are in Urcos, nothing has changed we are still recording the same way, same setup same tape, and we're right now at a bus station getting ready to ask questions and get some market sounds. Here we go, just sounds.
29:30-30:24 AMBI: MARKET SOUNDS, URCOS, ANTON TALKING IN SPANISH, PEPE SPEAKING
30:27 AS: here we have a strange situation of not having any trucks loadiong up right now, so we have to, I'd like to speak directly to the truckers rather than the police, who sort of take the papers from the truckers. Probably someone will come thru while we're here waiting for our other vehicle.
JN: well we can wait.
AS: we start up on the road, a truck comes from the the direction, we wave him down and say hey how's the road? That's basically what we'll have to do. Basically the news right now is very good.
LD: I'm gonna work my way into the market and just get a little of that.
31 :25-32:30 AMBI: MARKET, URCOS MANY VOICES, VEHICLES IN BKGND, MARCHING BAND-TYPE DRUMS IN BKGRND
32:46 LD: ok I'm in the market and I'm recording some more. I'm inside where the vegetables, meats, etc, upstairs there is a little dining area, so that's all I'm gonna record.
33:01-36:15 AMB: INSIDE THE MARKET, MANY VOICES, DRUMS IN BKGRND, OTHER RECORDED MUSIC OCCASIONALLY
34:10 FX: TRAYS HITTING EACH OTHER
36: 15 LD: so from inside I'm going to the outside, here we go.
36:25-39:50 AMB: OUTSIDE THE MARKET, MUSIC FROM RADIO, DRUMS IN BKGND
38:05 FX: MARCHING BAND SNARE DRUMS MORE PRESENT
38:52 FX: GATE CLANKING
39:52 LD: that marching sound is just the school marching band practicing during lunch hour. I'm still outside the market but stH outside the bus depot, so I'm gonna be recording some of that sound here in the middle of the street, trucks are coming and going. So here we go once again. I'm gonna go to black and turn back up.
40:23-41:55 AMB: OUT IN THE STREET
40:37 FX: TRUCK GOES BY
40:53 FX: TRUCK HORN
41:14 FX: TRUCK HORN
42:12 FX: TRUCK LEAVING ..
42:37 FX: TRUCK COMING CLOSE, IDLING
43:11 FX: TRUCK GOING BY
43:30 FX: TRUCK PASSES LEFT TO RIGHT
44:04 FX: TRUCK HORN
44:08 LD: wanta give a brief description of the plaza here?
JN: yeah. Day one. Our small caravan is getting to leave the small town of Urcos in the central highlands of Peru. This is a town that is rarely visited by tourists because all of the guidebooks say don't use the road. It's too ugly, it's impassable. We're waiting here t talk to some truckers, so they can tell us whether or not the road is in fact impassable today. We have 3 toyota landcruisers, they're all loaded with scient6ists and drivers and translaters and bags (HUGE TRUCK GOES BY). Anton Seimon, the geologist who's leading this expedition, seems to have located a trucker, he's gonna go over and talk to him a little bit now.
AS: the other vehicle's here. See these big articulated trucks, you don't get those on the east side of the andes, the roads are too twisty and they can't accommodate them. However I've seen on the lower reaches of the TH 18 wheelers which is something unknown on the east side of the andes, it's quite amazing.
There's one of those hats, something about the green one? (TRUCK GOING BY)
There's a classic truck. That's not a cisterna, but that's a a turbo charged volvo, with a big cargo bay. That big wooden crate on the back with the tarp over the top.? Under that top is god knows what, maybe potatoes, maybe a hundred passengers, who knows. But that's the typical type of truck that plies this road that we're about to take.
46:41 JN: and inside the cab is a driver who's gonna tell us if we're gonna be able to make it.
AS: I'm not sure if he's coming from that side, I'll go and ask him yeah. We can walk over. The other vehicle's here to, you might want to get ready to leave quickly. That little trucks going somewhere up there. The way that people are dressed, it looks like they're from ocongate, up in the highlands, where we hope to have lunch. It's a little bit late for lunch. That's typical, it's a small truck, a very small truck, its probably gona have 30-40 people on it. Normal capacity would be about 12.
47:17-47:30 AMB: WALKING
AS: this type of truck is about as big as any truck that can navigate these roads,¿ but its got 8 wheels of drive which is really desirable. It's a coveted truck to get on if you can. Let's see where he's gonna.
CONVERSATION IN SPANISH
AS: he's coming from the dry side of the mountain. In arequippa. The other side. Ok I think we should go.
48:15-49:00 AMB: WALKING
48:48 FX: CHURCHBELL
48:52-52:14 AMBI: AROUND THE TRUCKS, PEOPLE TALKING [URCOS SQUARE]
49:23 X: TRUCK DOOR OPENS (?)
50:35 FX: TRUCK APPROACHES QUIETLY
51:20 FX: MOTOR STARTING
51:58 FX: TRUCK HORN
52:10 FX: CHILD'S FOOTSTEPS RUNNING DOWN THE SIDEWALK
52: 14 LD: right outside the market was a truck that was loading up folks that are going to the next town over. And its amazing, sort of a ... has a bed in the back and there must be 35-40 of these natives.
5132-54:18 JN: We're standing at what passes for a bus stop in the town of Urcos in the central highlands of Peru. What bus stop means in this case is a whole bunch of people gather in the town square and they wait for a truck to come by. Then everybody jumps on the truck with their daughters and their dogs and whatever else they can carry and they head off to the next town. This is not one of the towns that you'll find in the tour guide. It's a old deteriorating central square; lot of people dressed in colorful traditional clothes (TRUCK GOES BY) We're here in three landcruisers waiting to find out if the roads are good enuf to go over the mountain. We were gonna ask some truckers but they're not here so we're just gonna go anyway. (TRUCK GOES BY)
54:26-AMB: ON THE ROAD
LD: tell us where we are before you do anything.
AS: ok. We're approaching the top of the initial ascent above Urcos. First climb of 4000 feet takes us to the first pass. There might have been snow here this morning but its' already burned or melted off. The roads generally good just a bit bumpy. We're making very good time right now.
JN: it's really arid. I guess that changes on the other side.
AS: I think the aridity is because we're getting a bit high for most vegetation, we're basically down to grasss and small bushes up here at about close to 13000 feet. Yeah we're above the tree line, you can see the forests all below us.
JN: and that little tiny town way down there is the one we were just in?
AS: yeah, the big bustling town of Urcos has become sort of a postage stamp below us now. More than half a vertical mile below us.
JN: what did you say the legend was about that lake?
AS: the legend I believe is that when the Spaniards arrived the Incas had an enormous gold chain and threw it in the lake to keep it from the Spaniards. People have been dredging the lake for years to find it and no one has yet dug it up.
JN: this clearly is a one lane road, it's very bumpy, it looks like any amount of rain would wreck it, although it doesn't look like there's much rain. And yet this is a main traffic route in terms of. ..
AS: this for 70 years has been the primary route that runs from the Peruvian highlands down into these Peruvian rainforests in southern part of the country. It was one lane wide back then it's still one lane.
56:33 JN: its funny that a lot of Americans when you tell em primary route they may be think of the 405 or interstate 40 or something with 4 lanes on both sides and a lot of big electronic signs to tell you what intersections to avoid.
AS: yeah one thing that's always amusing is when we talk about the TH, people go there expecting an interstate. It's a highway just because it's a a two lane road and that's just such a novel thing crossing the andes. Though parts of it actually can compare with any good main road back in the US.
We're definitely near the top of the pass. Soon we'll break thru to views of the other side, huge mountain range dominated by the peak of Azungate. That should be coming up quite soon. Ok we're now passing our 5th or 6th truck, I'm trying to keep count. Coming the other way. Counting the trucks you can get a sense of how much commerce takes place on this route on a daily basis, and perhaps interpolate that over a whole year, though the amount of truck traffic changes tremendously with the seasons. The wet season very few vehicles get thru, the dry season they get as many vehicles as they can on the road. Usually about 30 maybe 35 a day.
57:57 JN: this is just so vast up here and so I guess other worldly. But you were telling me that people have been living around here for a long time.
AS: yeah in the highlands of what is now modem Peru have been occupied for well over a thousand years. Some people think more than 10 thousand years. A very challenging environment, but (?) favorable to humanity as well. One of the great enigmas of the Inca empire is to understand how a great empire flourished at such a high altitude, basically the margin of human habitation. Theres basically nothing else in the world that compares with the Incan empire in dominating an environment like this at altitude.
JN: describe the farming, the terraces.
AS: from where we are, our perspective's very interesting because we can see the vertical transect from the valley bottom, which is intensely cultivated, lots of com is grown down there, vegetables, and as you sort of move up the slope you go thru (7) plantations, and then at the highest levels you've got potatoes being grown. Potatoes grow as high as about 14 thou feet and thereafter frosts occur on a nightly basis and even. potatoes are a challenge to grow up at those elevations. What you have then above that is whats called puna grassland where there's very extensive grazing., animals graze routinely up to 16 thou elevation in this part of the andes. Which is kind of amazing when you consider in the US the highest elevation is about 14 1/2 thousand feet above sea level in the lower 48 states.
59:52 JN: there's that town again. AS: no, that's around the comer. JN: Leo, any question you have? That was what I wanted. LD: just be quiet, we'll record some of this.
AS: the snow peaks are beginning to be visible, they're obscured mostly by clouds but that was the first glimpse of the cordillera vilcanolta, a giant mountain range we're gonna be spending the next few hours with. We don't actually drive thru the vilcanota we drive next to it, but it's a marvelous sight. Our expedition just spent about 10 days up in the higher reaches of the cordillera vilcanota doing some scientific research on animals and various other things. Team expedition members will give descriptions of the work they were doing up there, at a marvelous place. A huge lake up at 16 thousand feet called lake (?).
1:01:06 FX; HORN HONKS
1:01:08-1:04:20 AMB: DRIVING OVER THE BUMPY ROAD
1:03:23 FX: ACCELERATING THRU LOWER GEAR
1:04:21 AS: snow at the side of the road.
JN: little bits of snow on the side of the road.
AS: probably two inches or so and it melted quickly. Ground's warm...
JN: in the rainy season, this road's just a big mucky impassable nightmare.
AS: its semi-passable is the best way to describe it. You have to expect . Oh, there's a mountain caracara flying by-big bird of prey. The roads just very difficu t and extremely dangerous. This particular stretch, the biggest problem is just how slow slippery it gets cuzit gets very muddy, obviously with big drop offs. Further down it just becomes impossible cuz it's a mud wallow, you can see rots kon this road bigger than you can imagine, 3, 4 feet deep ruts and potholes 60 feet long. It changes your concept of what a pothole is, but basically the only way to get to to the other side is to go thru the middle of it and you just get bogged down.
JN: im' not sure that I want the answer to this question right now, but how often does one of these great big trucks just sail off one of these great a big cliffs and bounce down a hill in a ball of flames?
AS: Uhhhh, luckily diesel's not that explosive. But everything else happens frequently I think. Above marcapata the stretch of road we're going thru today, a big truck went over the edge, lost 8 people a few weeks ago, and apparently left the road in a bit of a mess at that spot. I think the road probably collapsed at that point, so we'll probably get to see that. Maybe there'll be people working there who can tell us a bit about what actually happened. First time I was on this road, holding on for dear life on the back of a truck, terrified out of my wits, there was another passenger holding on with me and I asked him are there accidents on this road? Fatalities? He looked at me like I was a raving lunatic and said of course, look at this thing.
If you look down there in the distance, you'll se Cuzco. Truck number 6 I think, passing us very close by. And out there in the distance in that valley is the city of Cuzco which we left a few hours ago. The bellybutton of the universe.
Pete, we have Cuzco in sight.
1:07:18 FX: HORN HONKS
PETER ZAHLER (CAR 2 WALKY TALKY): come again please.
AS: off to your left you'll see the beautiful city of Cuzco in a veil of smog.
OK we're approaching the top of the pass so we'll stop at the little chapel up there
and make an offering to yahweh or your favorite deity. PETER (OVER WALKY TALKY): that's yahweh the clown. Do you think they have internet there?
AS: I'm not sure, but they do have donkeys.
JN: that would be Dmail.
AS: oh dear. I'll be kind to you john I won't repeat it on the radio.
1 :08:25 LD: I'm still rolling, but I'm gonna suggest that once we get there you all stop and go out and I have that scene of everybody walking out. How far are we from that?
AS: within 5 minutes. See the ridge line up here, we're starting to cross it. Take a good look at the valley behind us, its so different from what we're about to drive into, its amazing. These are potato fields, they're still cultivating up at these great altitudes. Its very difficult you don't get a very good crop, many years it'll be wiped out by frost or drought or hail, there's so many, then there are pests, worms that get into potatoes.
People still live up here and try to cultivate.
1:09:21-1:10,:08 AMB: RIDING ON THE BUMPY ROAD, OCCASIONAL HORN HONKING
JN: what planet comes after mars? I cant remember.
AS: closer to the sun is venus.
JN: so if there was a planet between mars and earth and it was yellow it would look like this.
1:10:57 AS: that's the summit up there.
CONVERSATION WITH DRIVER IN SPANISH
1: 11 :22 PZ (WALKY TALKY) ever see the movie Duel?
CONVERSATION ABOUT THE MOVIE
1 :12:03 AS: ok we can stop and take a look around. That s not the real range its just the fringes. ...
1:12:03-1:12:44 AMB: TRUCK STOPPING, PEOPLE EXITING, SOME CONVERSATION
1:12:57 FX: CAR DOOR OPENS, SQUEAKS, CLOSES
1: 13: 17 LD: all right we just went thru the nastiest drive you could imagine and its
gonna get better. So we stop at the top of the summit, I'm going to record something outside so I'm stopping for now.
1: 13:37 LD: we're at the highest point we're gonna be right here on this pass about 15,200 feet above sea level and we're going to visit the little chapel, conduct an interview and see what happens. Nothing has changed, we're still running the M/S pair, so here we go.
1:14:00 IN THE CHAPEL: AS: well we're here on the summit of Hualla Hualla pass. Sure this isn't to powerful? Whatdya want me to say? JN: stop talking for a sec.
1:14:31 JN: 15,400 feet? AS: thereabouts. JN: we're in one of these little chapels. What are these little chapels?
AS: not being catholic myself I can't tell you the exact significance, but there's a lot of fear and trepidations about crossing the passes, there always has been. At the top of the bigger passes they, you'll often find chapels built here. People make offerings like candles, sometimes a little money a little alcohol, a little coca leaf... this includes both people who walk over the passes and people who drive over. Right now its snowing outside, we're at 15 1/2 thousand feet, you understand why people have fear and trepidation getting over these things.
JN: the snow's coming down hard. And in about 3 hours if we were to keep on this road we'd be ...
AS: we'd be in steaming forest.
JN: we'd be in the amazon.
AS: yeah. We've got 2 trucks coming up now who've probably done exactly that, it's probably taken them 6 hours though.
JN: does this chapel have a name?
AS: the pass is passa de haulla hualla. The chapel is probably named something appropriately to do with that. Two big volvos are crossing right now. Lets see if they stop.
1:15:59 FX: HORN HONKS OUTSIDE
1:16:04 FX: STEAM BRAKES RELEASE
1: 16:16 JN: ok we're at 15,500 feet a point higher than the highest point anywhere in north america ... AS: no no no. 48 contiguous states¿
JN: okay after several hours of driving up one of the windiest roads I've ever been on, we're at 15,500 feet at the pass that will take us down to the Amazon. It's higher than any point in the 48 states and we're in a chapel where people stop and pray that they make it essentially. People leave offerings, people light candles, people leave stones pyramids ...
AS: those are called apechuetas. Very traditional activity here in the andes. You can hear outside the truck is banging the wheels looking for flat tires (WE HEAR THIS IN THE BACKGROUND OF THE PREVIOUS GRAPH) and trying to dislodge stones that have gotten wedged in there. Lot of vehicle maintenance required.
JN: we did pass the corpse of one truck on the way up. And we were chased up by a snowstorm basically which has now caught us, looking out the front door. It's just bizarre thinking there's a snowstorm and we're 3 hours from Amazonia. Welcome to Peru I guess.
AS: yeah, it's very dramatic.
1:17:46 FX: COIN CLICKING
1:17:50-18:28 AMB: THE CHAPEL, VOICES OUTSIDE
1:18:29 FX: TRUCK STARTS UP, DRIVES OFF
1: 19:23 FX: CAR DOORS CLOSE, MOTOR IDLING IN BKGRND
1:19:47 END OF SCENE
1: 19:52 LD: ok we're still here, the trucks are running, so I'll just record it. We waiting for the 3rd truck (AND CONVERSATION ABOUT THAT AND AMBIENCE)
1 :20:33 LD: ok I'm outside the chapel, it's cold as I don't know what, a witches tit. I'm gonna record the trucks moving up a little bit, facing the chapel. They're gonna just move forward.
1:22:04-1:22:28 AMB: TRUCKS MOVING TOWARDS MIC AND PASSING
1:22:28 -1:24:48 AMB: TRUCK IDLING IN BKGRND, WIND BLOWING, SNOW
1 :23:32 LD: the truck is gonna be coming up, but by the way I'm behind the mic so you can hear. The sound that you hear is snow hitting the mic and myself.
1:24:46-1:25:19 AMB: TRUCK APPROACHING, PASSING LEFT TO RIGHT
1:25:20-1:26:58 AMB; SNOW HITTING LEO AND THE MIC, WIND BLOWING, TRUCK IDLING. SNOW GETS HEAVIER IN HERE (A LITTLE)
1 :26:59 LD: ok that's it. That was at the pass, you're hearing a lot of snow so there you have it. And I'm freezing.
1:27:04 END OF DAT