Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Máncora, Peru: Worst Place EVER

Worse even than Portugal, and I do not say that lightly.

I came here on the cusp of the new moon, and a very dark and desperate moon it's shaping up to be.  I took the bus down from Cuenca, across the Andes which was daunting and surreal, like something out of a Sci-Fi Spaghetti Western.  Lots of cacti and chasms and winding green rivers at the bottom of vast ravines.  At the side of the road I saw a woman roasting a whole pig on a spit with a blowtorch.

Reason #1 Máncora is awful, and this was my very first experience of the place: I catch a tuk-tuk, of which there are hundreds, to my hostel, which is located on the beach at the end of a barren, desolate road.  The driver asks me out multiple times, because apparently when a girl doesn't have a boyfriend to defer to, "No" is not an acceptable answer.  When he realized I was not in fact going to date him, the little creep charged me 20 soles for the one-minute ride from town, ten times more than I should have paid.  I'm still seething about that, to the point that if I actually do find him again (I keep looking for a tuk-tuk driver with a yellow hat,) I'm liable to do something properly ridiculous, like slash his tires or kick him in the knees.  In which case he would then get all his jerk tuk-tuk buddies together and probably come murder me, because...

Reason #2 Máncora is awful: It is a post-apocalyptic dystopian wasteland terrorized by gangs of rogue tuk-tuks, hemmed in by desolate Mad Max cliffs.  (Credit to the Mad Max comparison goes to Darragh, who demands royalties.  Also, in the heat of my kvetching about Máncora I forgot to mention that I've met up with Lisa and Darragh again, which is awesome.)  Claudia from Leipzig, my roommate in Cuenca, is also here with us, and we've met a great crowd of wandering Europeans to hang out with.  Our hostel, also, is lovely - a line of bungalows inside the confines of a beach fortress that we can watch the sunset from.

Pictures courtesy of Lisa, on account of my camera got ruined by sand AGAIN.  (Reason #2 1/2 Máncora is awful.)  But everything outside of our hostel and its small plot of beach is just malicious tuk-tuks and one dead, bloated sea lion getting slowly sunburned and devoured by crabs.

Reason #3 Máncora is awful: A girl staying in the green bungalow got mugged in broad daylight, surrounded by onlookers, on the road outside the hostel.  Someone just ran up on her from behind, pushed her down, grabbed her bag, and jumped into his getaway tuk-tuk.  NEVER TRUST A TUK-TUK, SERIOUSLY.  And then, just to get that last dig in, the guy (who got her iPod,) went on her Facebook account and set her status as, "Soy gay."  NOT EVEN CLEVER.

Reason #4 Máncora is awful: There seems to be some strange plague working its way around the hostel, from bungalow to bungalow.  It started off in the yellow one, leveled everyone in it, and then started spreading to the rest of us, a harrowing 24-hour bout of vomiting, diarrhea, and general wretchedness.  Being one of the few people who hasn't caught it, I feel like I'm living in Bubonic Plague times - eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you die, End of Days, Seventh Seal, Danse Macabre, the whole shebang.  

Reason #5 Máncora is awful: Another foreigner got mugged on the same road, a woman from Indiana who a few nights ago was complaining about how there is no concept of men and women being friends to guys in Máncora; she too has had problems turning down various romantic offers from men incapable of comprehending the fact that they would ever get turned down.  So she was walking down the road when a 15-year-old kid in a tuk-tuk (NEVER TRUST A TUK-TUK) drives up to her, pulls out a gun, and demands her bag.  Her reaction: "NO!" and she backhands him across the face, runs for it, then chases down a police van to get him arrested.  BADASS.  Maybe not the wisest decision, but I'm getting to the point where I'm so pissed off with everything about this town that in a knee-jerk situation, I might actually do the same.

Reason #6 Máncora is awful: This may be more my own personal grumpiness than anything - they say you hit a wall after traveling or living abroad for around 4 months where you just hate everything, and I guess I would be at that point about now - but it seems to me that the people here are very fawning when they want something out of you, i.e. your money, and then they'll be snide and disparaging when they think you can't understand them.  And yes, nobody likes tourists, and Máncora probably gets the most obnoxious kinds: rich (comparatively) young people looking to party.  But even in the poorer areas I've traveled around Russia and the Ukraine, I've never had any of the locals go out of their way to be deliberately nasty. 

Anyway, I've had my rant and now feel better.  Lisa, Darragh, and I are heading south to Trujillo tomorrow night, and then onward, them to Lima and me elsewhere, hopefully to reconvene in Cuzco for my birthday in November.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Short Look At the Cuenca Art Scene

I've gotten to know Ecuadorian art in three different ways in the two or so months I've spent here.  One is through street art, which I have to say I find mostly terrifying and off-putting.  The street art in Bogota was colorful and exciting and imaginative; the street art I've seen in Quito, Baños, and Cuenca looks like one of your creepier acid trips: paranoia tinged with apathy and despair.

Also, I have an age-old phobia of octopuses, or giant red bugs that look like octopuses (octopi?)  This is actually one of the less harrowing street murals.  It's painted on one of the walls overlooking El Barranco, the cobblestone walkway along the prettiest river I've seen since I came to South America.  Seriously, who wants to look at a demented, red octopus when you can look at this?

Anyway, the other day while exploring some of the cathedrals and plazas in the downtown areas, I came across a Museum of Modern Art and decided I'd take a look.  This was, in fact, a terrible idea, because what that museum actually held was nightmare fodder for the next four months or so of my vacation.

It reminded me of this Soviet Czech film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland I saw once, where Wonderland was basically someone's neverending tool shed filled with rusty protractors and dusty workbenches, and the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter were these moth-eaten, demented wind-up tinker toys.  This was quite possibly the most horrific art museum I've ever been to.

And then last weekend I was invited by Lino, a guy sleeping in my hostel room, to come and see his art exhibition.  His work, while still pretty dark, was much more interesting than the stuff at the museum.  It was fascinating seeing how his style evolved over the past three years.  My favorites were his earlier works, which were done in a very illustrative style, and had a lot of color and energy to them.

And then, mysteriously, the works from 2013 became much less friendly and more, to my mind, misogynistic.  There were a series of digital paintings of the top halves of women's faces where their eyes had been so doctored and stylized that they looked like dolls, and then a series of naked, shimmering female torsos.  It was especially interesting because Lino, from the talking with him that I did, is very cool and thoughtful and not at all your stereotypical macho Latino.

At any rate, afterwards we headed out into the city with a bunch of his artist friends and ended up at a bar overlooking El Barranco, drinking beers and a big pitcher of this hot cocktail from sugarcane liquor and naranjilla juice called canelazo.  The stuff basically tastes like warm Sunny Delight, and I downed most of the pitcher without realizing it.  And, as it's essentially all sugar, I woke up with the worst headache of my life.  But it was altogether a great show and a great night, and a good send-off from Ecuador.