On Peru's Roads


"There is no 'there' there," Gertrude Stein famously said of her hometown Oakland. Of Peru it may be said "there is no 'there' anywhere". With the lone and brilliant exception of Cusco, the country's inland populations live in indistinct cinderblock cities where rebar rises from the tops of unfinished buildings in anticipation of a future that will never arrive. But the appeal of Peru is not the unmemorable "theres" but rather the immense spaces that separate them.  Spaces so vast and desolate they seem to exist beyond the measure of man: mountains so high you can see the curvature of the earth from their summits, deserts as dry and dead as the surface of the moon.


And flowing through this great sea of green and brown is an array of asphalt and dirt tracks that are as diverse and resolute as the land itself.  They zig-zag up mountain slopes and run low along river banks. They twist around white-capped peaks and cut straight through desert valleys. They pass through milky clouds and cross over bridges of wood, of steel, of concrete, of fired earth. They are bisected by streams and assembled Gordian-like in urban knots.  They are wide and they are narrow, but mostly they are narrow. They are wet, muddy, snowy, rocky, dusty, drowned, shoulderless and sand-filled.  They are seamless asphalt currents that rock you to sleep with a gentle rhythm of curves; they are punishing treadmills of rubble that toss you about like a skiff in a full Atlantic storm.  But they always inevitably lead to places so raw and beautiful you hope never to get "there".

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