I used to hate Sundays in New York. The threat of the oncoming week loomed like a dark, menacing cloud. And then there was the hangover – oh god, those hangovers… Now, I love Sundays.
This Sunday in particular I woke up sore. My mouth hurt from the punch I received in yesterday’s amateur fight. I knew that I had to write a piece for the blog. People wanted to know how my fight went and I meant to tell them.
I walked down to Starbucks and got a green tea. I stared at the blank page. I didn’t know where to start and the words wouldn’t come. I got up and went to the bathroom and when I returned, my green tea was gone. They cleaned it up, thinking I had left. I tried talking to the people behind the counter but they didn’t understand.
“Yes, yes, green tea. You order?” They smiled and pretended to understand. I invented that move. I could always just order another one, but I didn’t want to on principle. I was pissed off and it killed my mojo. I tried writing again but the cycle of frustration was fueling itself rapidly. I wanted to walk, like I had the previous Sunday, but my ankle was still swollen. I sulked back home, dejected.
On the way home, I got an idea. I walked down to the beach and found a tent I had passed many times, and I rented a bike. It cost five soles an hour. It was an old silver mountain bike with gears, like the one I used to terrorize the neighborhood with. On the path along the crowded beach, I had to weave in and out of strollers and pedestrians, narrowly avoiding collisions on numerous occasions.
I passed the fish market I visited the previous week and took the ramp up the steep embankment behind it.
When I got to the top of the road, I reached a fork. Up to the left was a steep climb through a shanty town that possibly led to the top of the mountain with the cross. To the right, the road continued its meandering path around the corner of the mountainous peninsula. The path up the hill looked daunting and I didn’t even know if it would take me where I wanted to go.
I looped around the corner instead. It was exhilarating riding on a tiny sidewalk with a 100 foot drop to the ocean below on my right. There was a scenic vista with some cars parked and people looking out over the ocean. I walked my bike over to the edge. Down a steep and crumbling rocky slope, a natural jetty formed among the rocks. There were some fisherman way out at the end, and I badly wanted to go down there but I didn’t have a bike lock.
Further on, I approached a restaurant nestled on a rock formation that jutted out into the ocean. In big letters on the side was written EL Salto Del Friale (The Jump of the Friar). I had heard about this place before. Apparently hundreds of years ago, a Franciscan friar fell in love with a young lady. Because he couldn’t be with her, he leapt to his death at this very spot. Now every Sunday, a man commemorated this act by dressing in traditional friar’s garb and jumping off the rocky outcropping into the sea.
As I approached the restaurant, I had to navigate between people on the narrow sidewalk while minding the dizzying cliff on my right. Suddenly I was caught behind what I realized to be the friar himself. He walked slowly, and was dripping wet, leaving a trail of water in his wake. He was returning from his jump.
I continued past the restaurant and was now on the other side of the peninsula. I looked up the cliff toward the giant cross. Way off on the ridge, I could see two people on mountain bikes blazing a trail on a sandy, barren crest. I, of course, took this as a personal insult and I doubled back. This time, I took the fork.
I downshifted as I climbed up the steep road. It wasn’t long before I came upon a trail up the dusty slope on my right. The smooth stone path zig-zagged up the hill and had intermittent stairs. I tried to ride when I could, but wound up carrying the bike most of the way to the top.
When I got to the peak, I wiped the sweat from my brow and turned around with outstretched arms. From my hilltop, I looked down at the sardine-like beachgoers with pity.
Before I walked over to the cross, I noticed a shrine to the Virgin Mary. A few people sat on concentric benches in front praying.
Up close, the giant cross resembled a cell phone tower. It was much more beautiful from a distance actually. It was a bit anticlimactic.
Empty liquor bottles were littered everywhere around its base, like the old high school hangouts. I noticed a feral dog had made a bed out of trash. These dogs are everywhere in Peru and it depressed me seeing one like this.
I looked around and noticed there was a lot more than I thought. I took the road along the ridge and passed a planetarium.
Riding along the ridge was scary. Not the kind of place you would want to skid out or lose your breaks. It was completely barren and looked like a scene from an old Spaghetti Western. And the cliffs reminded me of the Road Runner cartoons.
Next, I came across an obelisk with a statue of a soldier. In the late 19th Century, there was a famous battle on this very hill, the Morro Solar, in their war with Chile. I assumed this was some sort of monument to that.
Lastly, I came upon an enormous statue of Jesus with outstretched arms. It looked like a smaller version of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio.
Nearby a group of people gathered on the edge of the mountain, the side facing Lima. I walked over and looked down, there was a soccer stadium and a game being played.
Eventually, I rode back and returned my bike.
I had been gone two hours and was charged ten soles. That is a little more than three dollars, but less than four. When I returned home to Ben and his family, I showed them the pictures. They nicknamed me Dora the Explorer.