My Wife and I Were Fired Upon by Peruvian Military–Kinda (Maybe) Like Bill O’Reilly

The recent news story about Bill O’Reilly reportedly embellishing a story about the danger he faced covering the Falkland Islands was from Buenos Aires got me thinking about–of all thing–my honeymoon.  In October 1990, I married Jennifer. While we were considering where to go for our honeymoon, American Airlines announced a big sale on fares to Latin America. Jennifer and I were both interested in visiting Latin America, and we both speak some Spanish (she’d laugh at me for saying this: she’s fluent, I spoke it very poorly even then, having forgotten what I learned in an immersion program in Mexico a decade before). Anyway, we decided to honeymoon in Peru (against the advice of most of our friends and family. Typical conversation: “Where are you taking your honeymoon?” Us (before final decision): “Hawaii or Peru”. Them: “Hawaii’s very nice.”).

In 1990, Peru was suffering from massive hyperinflation. Their currency, the Inti (Quechua for “sun”), which had replaced the devalued Sol (Spanish for “sun”), had itself become devalued to the point that the exchange rate was 550,000 Intis to the dollar at the time of our arrival in Peru. Peruvians immediately exchanged their pay for dollars on the black market to protect against the hyperinflation. They had just elected Fujimori, the leftist son of Japanese immigrants, who had immediately instituted drastic austerity measures known as “Fujishock” . Think modern-day Greece but without the support of the Eurozone countries.

To make matters worse, Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, was actively fighting a guerilla war to try to bring down the government and lead to a Maoist revolution. So was the MRTA— Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru (most known for its deadly attack on the Japanese Embassy in Lima some years later). Before going to Peru, we listened to the State Department’s 20-minute recorded warning about the dangers of travelling within Peru. (“On the road to ______, guerillas stopped a bus, had the Americans taken off, and executed them” and so on and so forth).

None of this deterred us.

Peru was, and for all I know remains, a great country to visit. We thoroughly enjoyed Arequippa, Cuzco, Machu Picchu, and Pisac. We loved the Incan ruins, the Andean music and dances, and the third world vibe. The travel was uneventful, the hotels comfortable and affordable, we had great guides, we drank excellent coffee and “café de mate”—coca tea (tastes like chamomile), and for the most part we enjoyed the food, including the omnipresent “chifas”—Peruvian-Chinese restaurants.

What does any of this have to do with Bill O’Reilly, you wonder. I am getting to that.

We spent a few days at the beginning and end of the trip in Lima, the capital city. That same year, a literary magazine to which I subscribed began an article about Lima like this: ”I arrived in Lima, having forgotten what a vile city it is. . . . That night I counted 17 explosions – not from police but from guerrillas. The next evening the restaurant around the corner was machine gunned and then blown up with dynamite.”

Lima was run down and dirty, but worth visiting. We saw churches and museums (including the Larca Museum of Pre-Columbian Erotic Pottery—I kid you not).

We didn’t encounter the explosions or machine gun fire referenced by the magazine writer, but we were fired upon by water cannons and tear-gassed by the military. We were in Lima on our way to the Museum of the Inquisition. (Yeah, the Spanish brought the Inquisition to Peru. Don’t tell me you didn’t expect this.) Throngs of people were moving in the same direction, passing out leaflets that announced HUELGA! —English translation: STRIKE. When we were just across a main thoroughfare from the museum, we were blocked by military or military police in tank-like vehicles. Some of the vehicles were water cannons, which they turned on the crowd. There was nowhere to go to get away. We were in front of a bank (impossible to enter it) pressed against the wall to keep from getting knocked down by the high pressure spray. Just as the water cannon was about to get us, it was shut down and it passed by without spraying us (probably because we were recognizable as tourists, and not strikers, our height and dress giving us away—essentially, our presence saved Peruvians around us from getting hosed).

We still couldn’t cross the street to get to the museum, so we resolved to go the long way, around the block. That meant walking through a street closed to traffic that was used as an open air market, which was packed with people. As we walked, we heard people yell “Bombas!”—in English, “bombs”. Then people coming our way were holding handkerchiefs over their mouths. Then our eyes started to sting. The military had tear-gassed the crowded market to disperse the strikers, and now we were walking into it.

We turned around. After a bit we felt fine, and we did not need medical care. We were not attacked again on our honeymoon. And we get a great story to tell everyone. “How was your honeymoon?” “Great. We loved the Incan ruins. And we got tear-gassed and water-cannoned!”

Getting back to Bill O’Reilly, who am I to question whether he wasn’t in just as much danger in Buenos Aires as I faced in Lima?


Icy Ride – no problem on the Hakkapeliittas

Today I road on an icy path, but that wasn’t always the case. When I started bike commuting on June 1, 1994, I was a fair weather commuter. Yup, I am embarrassed to admit it, but I didn’t want to get wet on my then 9.5 mile ride to work in warm weather.

Well, that changed quickly. On days when I bused and metroed to work in the morning due to rain, I would be disappointed when I left work in the afternoon and couldn’t bike home. So I started to ride if it was wet. No problem.

That first commuting summer turned to fall, and I continued to commute by bike as the temps fell. I got lights so that I could commute as the days got shorter and daylight savings time ended. I bundled up in the winter. No problem.

One thing I couldn’t do—ride on ice, or in snow. When winter weather hit, I was back on the bus and metro. This proved somewhat problematic, in that when the weather was bad, so was metro and bus service. Plus I missed commuting by bike.

One winter day, as I was commuting home on my road bike when it was 33 degrees and raining, I went down on ice. I thought the W&OD was wet, but no, it was icy. I managed to finish the ride home, but was hurt so bad I was then off the bike for a week.

That’s when I decided to get a cross bike and studded tires for winter commuting in bad weather. And that’s just what I did that summer, when I bought my first cross bike on eBay—a steel Bianchi, with crowned fork, in celeste, that came with a set of studded tires—Nokian Hakkapeliitta W106, the 35C size—and a set of both cross and road tires. All for just $700.

The cross bike and studded tires did just what I wanted. They enabled me to commute on days I when I couldn’t on the road bike. And on sketchy days—those days when I could commute on road tires, but probably shouldn’t—they allowed me to commute safely. I have had some incredible commutes over the past 10+ years in snow and freezing rain, including some where, really, I probably shouldn’t have been doing it. I do it because I can’t do anything about the weather, or commuting conditions; I can only decide how I am going to get to work. If it’s bad on a bike, think how bad it would be driving, or walking ½ mile to the bus stop, waiting for the bus to go to the metro, etc. (Metro above ground on snowy days is shaky.) Plus, I feel for once like I really do deserve some credit for what is normally a pretty easy 12 mile bike commute. (We cyclists have all had that awkward conversation in the elevator at the office, when someone says, you ride your bike to work? You say, yes. They say, how far, you say, 12 miles. They say, TWELVE MILES! You smile sheepishly.)

I wore through the steel Bianchi (note: I now have frame-saver in my steel road bike) and those tires years ago. In the winter I now ride a C’dale cross bike (with Campy Record shifters and derailleurs! Overkill for my winter/dirt road bike), with a new set of Hakkapeliitta W106’s[1], purchased from Peter White in New Hampshire. He has a great selection of studded tires, and equally good descriptions of same: Among his sage advice: “Don’t be a dummy riding on ice. Take it easy. These tires are for getting you back and forth to work, not racing.”

That brings me to today’s ride. The weather during the night called for a “wintry mix.” My driveway wasn’t icy, but the steps were, so I assumed the W&OD would have icy parts, and I took the cross bike. I was glad I did. Not only were the bridges frozen, but much of the W&OD was icy, especially in Falls Church. Even with the studs I skidded a bit at one point. I also got a scare when a pedestrian was just about to step on the path in front of me without looking where there was sheer ice (studded tires are good, but they can’t stop on a dime), but she stopped when I yelled. Amazingly, a couple of guys on road bikes passed me a little further on, where the ice wasn’t so bad, but another guy on a road bike stopped on a bridge yelled he’d fallen twice. (I smiled and said nothing about the studded tires.)

[1] According to Wikipedia, “Hakkapeliitta (Finnish pl. hakkapeliitat) is a historiographical term used for a Finnish light cavalryman in the service of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden during the Thirty Years’ War (1618 to 1648).”

Springtime temperature means a playground ride

Sunday was unseasonably warm.  Temps in the morning were in the low 40s, and they were expected to climb to 60.  This meant a bike ride for sure, but what sort of ride?  I hadn’t done a weekend ride in weeks, due to weather, work, minor physical ailments, you name it.  So I would have loved to do maybe 50 miles solo.  But if I did that in the middle of the day, it would have ruled out any riding with Nolan, my 12-year old stoker who hasn’t been on a ride at all since before Christmas, maybe November.  So I decided we’d do a tandem ride.

I asked Nolan whether he wanted to go.  He said yes.  Then no.  Then yes.  It went on like this.  Sometimes he refuses to do things he really likes doing.  Since he is intellectually disabled, he can’t really communicate why he is objecting and you can’t really have a reasoned discussion.  I was already dressed for a ride and considered doing my solo ride, but kept at him until he consented, knowing he’d come around eventually. He did, and I got him dressed in cycling clothes and we left.  A 12 year old doing a short ride doesn’t really need cycling clothes, I know, but we have them (mostly hand me downs from his big brothers) and he loves wearing them.

Riding through McLean, he said he wanted waffles, so we stopped at McLean Family Restaurant, but not before checking out the pet supply store next store to visit their guard cat, Rambo.  The store is closed on Sunday, but Rambo is usually there, sitting in the window. He wasn’t there yesterday though.

At MFR, numerous staff greeted Nolan warmly by name. He got his waffles, and I got a veggie omelette. As usual, Nolan wanted a picture of himself:

selfy at MFR

He looks pretty serious, but he was actually in a good mood.  From there we rode to Clemyjontri.  It was packed.  I love pulling in on the tandem when cars are waiting for parking spaces!

Nolan loves the swing, and when it’s not packed he’ll have me push him for 30 minutes plus.  When it’s packed, I have to make him stop after a few minutes to let other kids ride it.  He’s never happy when I make him stop, though I have to say he handled it well when I stopped him for maybe the 5th or 6th and final time yesterday.  When he wasn’t riding the swing, he did several other things at the park, more than usual.  Here he is at the fire truck, looking like a serious cyclist:

Nolan at Clemy

When we left we went to Star Nut Gourmet in McLean for drinks.  On Chain Bridge Road, while waiting for a light, a woman crossing in the crosswalk recognized us and said “You do a lot of riding around here” or something to that effect.  We are pretty recognizable on our Green Gear Family Tandem.  At Star Nut, I had an excellent cup of coffee – Mexican Mayan Mocha- essentially, a mocha with other spices.  Think coffee mixed with Mexican hot chocolate.  Nolan had a mango smoothie.

The ride home was fun.  We hit a few bumps, which Nolan likes.  He shouted in excitement as we went down one hill pretty fast.  We got in around 5:30, just as it was getting dark.  We’d left at around 11:30.  Six hours for 14 miles total, plus lunch, playground, and coffee.  A pretty good day.