March 31, 2003 | Life on the camion
» Click here for more pictures of an Andean ramble through beautiful landscapes and diverse peoples. «
Being the non-conventional type and fresh air fiends, we decided we would rather hop on a camion, a truck, to travel back to the city rather than the bus. Just when it seemed we have missed the time that farm trucks go into town and would need to wait for the last scheduled bus, a loaded camion stopped, some distance in front of us, and we ran to climb on. Once I find my precarious balance on the back fender, holding on tight to a wooden bar against the bumps and curves of the road, I counted 12 adults including the two of us, and 10 kids, all tiny, age five or less. All are looking at us with great curiosity. Beneath the people are stacked sacks of produce, mostly 100 kilo bags of patatoes and corn.
The heavy truck bumps and grinds slowly from the village of Quinua towards the city of Ayacucho, along the central Andes valleys full of cactus, dry volcanic rock, haphazardly preserved ruins of the Wari culture, and riverbed oases. The mini buses would have taken about an hour; the camion took about two and a half. The people on the bus came from a further village, they would travel about six hours to reach the city to sell their produce. At first it seemed a miracle that non of the young kids would fall off the truck; though tiny and unruly, it was soon obvious that they've developed the instincts to hold on just so.
In front of us are a beautiful young mother with her kids, I think about four. She's nursing the youngest and with neighbors' help keeping an eye on the other three. One of the boys is very playful and kept bothering his young sister. There's a young father, unrelated, and his only daughter, a beautiful child, whose name is Jenny, pronounced "yenny" in Spanish. As the wind gets colder in the late afternoon, the father holds little Jenny close, inside his thin jacket, and once in a while whispers: "Tranquilo, Jenny... Tranquilo, mi hija."
The dryness of the landscape we're passing by contrasts with the young mother's breasts, the wrinkles that deepen around her eyes as she squints against the wind, the wiggling baby, the laughter and screams of the other kids. There's a warmth in the eyes of these adults and kids as they look at us, different than I've encountered in the cities, and I felt more welcomed into this caravan of life than most other places in the world. We chatted, though not very much, there's something about being open to the elements that makes conversation superfluous. Talks starts up again as some of the people and sacks gets unloaded in villages on the way, and people shift into better positions on the remaining produce. When we finally reach the city, the goodbyes were as warm as any, "hasta luego," "ciao Jenny," as if we'd casually pass by their village any day. I will always remember the families on the back of the camion.
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