Protected by remorseless origami hills in static heat, the remote border crossing into Peru is simple and friendly. At this midday hour — far from the scheduled bus arrivals, themselves infrequent — as quiet as I’ve ever encountered. A young man in badged polyester ocean blue short sleeves saying goodbye in Ecuador, his off-the-clock buddies insist on a round of beer, a bespectacled old man in need of a shave who would be at home in the academy shaking my hand, welcoming me and wishing a beautiful trip in Peru after insisting on a six month entry against my requested three, owing to my being on a bicycle and I should take my time to enjoy his country. A 70 meter bridge separates them, I wonder if they are friends, sometimes chatting over juice. A few lazy buildings, lunch, ice cream and some banter with mototaxi boys who trade rides on the Pugsley for my piloting their covered three-wheelers in a circle.
The theoretical knowledge that Peru is poorer potentially distorts the image, so I concentrate on really looking: sure, narrower road spec, the Toyota Hi-Lux taxi, ubiquitous in southern Ecuador, has been replaced by a smaller more efficient Corolla DX wagon, more pairs and trios than singletons on the motorbikes, that first minuscule town an unmitigated wreck of torn trenched dirt streets and ramshackle cinder block or adobe mated with wood scraps, none of which has the slightest bearing on the exuberant immanence on the front stairs or dirt lot chairs calling out to me (“hello, Gringo!” “Welcome, Gringo!”). Roosters, turkeys, pigs, donkeys, horses, ducks, children, unfettered in kaleidoscopic chaos already at a volume I rarely saw in Ecuador.
Three into four hours of grinding into cliffsides that could be Arizona or Jordan, I crest and am lifted from a trance by a town Sunday festival, a futbol match in the center, women playing volleyball (or its local variant) right next to it, music, motorcycles, smoking food tents, teenagers crisscrossing the mud main avenue with confections triumphantly aloft, the stray dogs and somnolent pigs unquestionably belonging, too. Spectators watching the game turn around, “can I ride it?”, “go for it,” and circling the pitch but mostly the thing is I’m standing there in descending light, envious but also swept slightway into the completely unpretentious buzz of these friends hanging out.
The comparative shyness of Ecuadorians has given way to an unapologetic, thoroughly confident presence in one another’s existence, your movement in everyone else’s attention and so to be observed, spontaneously, enthusiastically commented upon, as so it is for you to participate. The feeling is not one of being judged but of figuring in a story continuously publicly told out-loud that situates orients elevates, that highlight the humor or modest drama or plain ordinariness of events. I get playfully heckled by unretreating self-assured teenage girls, groups of cab drivers call me over, then call their friends over, to say hello, a family in their front yard wonders if I might demonstrate riding for their tiny wide eyed son, rifle slinging grinning soldiers in mirrored shades and boonie hats reveal shortcuts and tell me my bike is better than the others they’ve seen gringos riding. A pair of college students waiting for a ride under a tree insist on sharing their snacks.
There is the sense of shared emotional texture, where what people are feeling is naturally genuinely part of the open continuous public space. One can share objects, one can share words, this is yet another sharing, swept into delight or curiosity or calm through those around you.