Nine p.m. reads my digital watch. Instead of asking any questions (after all, this just may be normal procedure) I sprawl across the nylon purple sleeping bag and sweat. Simon draws an invisible line down the center of the lumber.
“You stay on your side, I’ll stay on mine. Got that, Rat-face?”
“Got it,” I mumble before drifting off. I finally manage to relax, to place all my trust in these men—trust that what looks like their rudimentary mechanics will hold this truck together, that they intend to deposit us safely in Puno where the ungodly blue of Lake Titicaca awaits.
I am asleep when the truck finally rumbles to a start, the shouts of White Cap drifting into my dreams as the men load up in the seat down below. I drift off again, lulled by the rock of the truck over the rutted road, the dark South American sky over me like a blanket.
I wake up to the smell of smoke—wood and garbage. It is broad daylight, truck stopped, voices floating up from somewhere below. I can tell we have traveled considerably because the dirt of the road is redder, and a web of mist lingering over trees suggests we’ve risen in elevation. But only slightly. Simon’s not on the truck and behind me is a line of trucks just like ours, stopped, people milling about along the road. We are in a small settlement; I lean over the side of the truck and a group of children huddled around the worn-treads of the truck look up, they smile and run off, laughing. When they run red mud splashes up the backs of their calves, across the butts of their worn skirts and pants.
“Que pasa?” I call to First Matey, who is pacing slowly along the road. At some time during the previous evening Simon and I had picked up on his real name, Oscár. His eyes disappear into the folds of his cheeks, which may or may not mean he’s always smiling, but it looks like it, and we like him. White Cap seems to respect him a little, not like the way he treats The Gimp. “First Matey” is a good nickname; he’s reliable, the friendly go-between. He stands, cuffs of his faded jean jacket rolled to his elbows, stroking his mustache with thumb and forefinger.
“Anoche llovió.” He explains how there had been rain higher up in elevation, and the streams were swollen and running full bank to bank. One of the streams happened to cross the road in front of us, making an impassable five-foot current across a dip in the road. They allowed the water to flow right across because if they built diversions or culverts the yearly rains would likely wash them out again. “No ay passe,” First Matey says. No pass. No getting through, or something along those lines, a phrase I’ve heard many times throughout my travels in Latin America: a log truck upended across a highway; a landslide in Ecuador washing out the road ahead, forcing the bus to take a three-hour long detour; riots; severe weather—no passing. In Peru, people just shrug and turn their attention elsewhere, not up in arms pointing at their watches. What are you going to do about it? That’s the prevailing attitude. There’s no control when it comes to landslides, to unexpected rain filling the road, and patience was necessarily built-in to the culture. I have something to learn from this no-pass phrase. And really, if I can’t learn it, what business do I have traveling in the first place?