I walk through the tiny town. Posters of various Presidential candidates are plastered across cinder block walls. They are swollen and faded, corners curling in the humidity. It is a hot race, the country facing the second round of elections in about two weeks from now. It is between Alan García, who’d already been president from 1985 to 1990, a period marked by severe economic crisis, and Ollanta Humala, a former army officer who lead the uprising that finally accused President Fujimoro of corruption scandals, and who also had been accused of human rights violations while an officer. In the jungle, when I asked Peruvians who they would vote for they usually threw their hands up in the air. Someone I met said he’d vote for García because his name was Alan, too. Many of the guides who worked leading tourists at the ecolodges wouldn’t bother to travel back to Lima, where most were from, to vote (Peru requires its citizens to return to their city or town of birth in order to vote). It was too expensive, they said.
I find Simon seated in an open-air eatery, run by one woman and a small boy. The whiteboard propped on a chair outside serves as a menu. Almuerzo: Puerco. Lunch: Pork. Simon sits with his elbows propped on the flimsy plastic table, steam rising from a mug in front of him. “What I wouldn’t give for a good cup of tea,” he says. I pull out a plastic chair and sit.
“Do you think we’ll really get to Puno by tomorrow?” I ask him.
“Who knows?” he says. “I tried to get Matey to show us where we are on a map, but he wasn’t sure.” He shakes his head. “But I’m supposed to be in Bolivia in five days.” It was sort of a joke, as though the ride couldn’t possibly take that long, but there was a hint of doubt in his voice. I know it is useless to ask the men when they think we will arrive. They will say mañana, which, as I’ve come to learn, could mean tomorrow, the day after that, or sometime next week.
The smell of cooking meat wafts over, trumping the exhaust from idling trucks and the smokiness that woke me.
“Almuerzo?” I ask, even though it’s still morning. Simon nods, downing the last of his tepid tea with a grimace. We order from the boy, who is wiping down a nearby table. The boy nods and relays our order to his mother, and Simon and I watch as the woman turns on a tiny portable burner to heat the rice. She gives instructions to the boy, who unwinds the cord from a blender and plugs it into a converter attached to an old car battery beneath the table where she works. As the rice steams she stuffs mint into the blender, pours a little water in, then proceeds to crush a dozen packets of Saltine crackers, tapping the contents of each onto the mint concoction. Simon and I exchange glances, but say nothing, and when she sees us watching her she smiles broadly and pushes the button, green goop splattering around inside the blender.