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  Field Notes From
Peru's Highway of Dreams

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Peru's Highway of Dreams On AssignmentArrows

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From Author

Ted Conover

Peru's Highway of Dreams On Assignment

View Field Notes
From Photographer
Maria Stenzel

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Margot Guralnick (top) and from Maria Stenzel.


Peru's Highway of Dreams

Field Notes From Author
Ted Conover
Best Worst Quirkiest
    I was waiting with a group of maybe a hundred other people on the side of the road, watching trucks that had gotten stuck in the mud ahead of us. The scene was a bit squalid: It was humid and raining lightly, everybody around was spattered in mud, and truck exhaust filled the air. I was sitting on an uncomfortable rock, wishing we could get moving again, when I noticed a Blue Morpho butterfly—deep iridescent blue and six to seven inches (15 to 18 centimeters) across—that kept landing on some vines right beside me. Finally it alighted on my knee. We have one of these butterflies mounted at home (a Christmas present for my seven-year-old son, Asa, who's a butterfly nut), but I had never expected to see a living one. I carefully took out my camera and snapped a shot for me and Asa.

    I'm from Colorado and have never had problems with altitude sickness. But Peru's Andes are much higher than Colorado's Rockies.
    I started one day at sea level, headed for Cusco in a semi-truck creeping along at about 15 miles (24 kilometers) an hour. I figured at that rate, it would take at least a couple of days before we reached the 15,000-foot (4,600-meter) altiplano. I had pills for altitude sickness, and since you have to start taking them a day in advance, I thought I might take some that night.
    But the driver kept going, and we made the altiplano that night. It was pitch black, snowdrifts piled up outside, and I felt sicker than I've ever been. It was as though I was leaking out of every pore, with a fever, shakes, runny nose, diarrhea, nausea. I thought I was going to die and kept thinking about how hard it would be to bury me since there was no topsoil. The driver looked scared to death by my condition, but when I begged him to turn around—I was worried about pulmonary edema—he said we'd descend just as fast as we had gone up. Many hours passed before I felt better.

    One day in the Andes, the driver pulled off the dirt road and a bunch of us passengers entered into this low dark restaurant. It was very smoky from a cooking fire; the only real light came from two small windows. Two middle-aged women with long braided pigtails served us, and as they moved across the floor I kept noticing a certain scuttling around their feet and over in the corner. I thought, What on Earth…?
    Finally one of the scuttlers passed through a square of sunlight on the floor. It was a guinea pig! Maybe 20 guinea pigs shared the dining room with us. They dashed out to nibble spilled food, then hid again in the dark corners. All, I'm afraid, were clearly destined for the stew pot.

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