A desert oasis

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Andean Adventure

A desert oasis
December 26, 1997

Christmas. Hanging ornaments and the cold chill of winter's breath. A tall Scotch fir tree exuding its piney perfume. Reunions with family and friends. Warm laughter inviting the year to a close. The holiday season has always been a special time among family.

Last year we were aboard a ship tracing a meandering course through the coastal island labyrinth of southern Chile. Pisco Sours in hand, we toasted the new year with the international party aboard. Next year, we thought, we'll be back in the States.

So what we were doing camped among the sand dunes of the Peruvian coast? The early morning air always burned sharply through the haze. We skipped breakfast and hurriedly stuffed the panniers. Today we would reach the desert oasis of Trujillo.

The fertile valley of Trujillo has always been an oasis in the desert, but for us the city represented more than a break in the sandy monotony. Trujillo was also home to Lucho D'Angelo.

The D'Angelos are part of an informal network of families who welcome touring cyclists. Some are former cyclists, others travelers. Some just enjoy the international circus that passes through their door. Luckily for us, Lucho also happened to be a professional bike mechanic with the most extensive tool cabinet in South America.

Ragged from 10,000 kilometers of dusty abuse, our bikes received the special attention like an aching body yearning for a massage. The overhauls were the best Christmas present we could imagine. My bike looked so good I wanted to wrap a ribbon around the frame and place it under a tree.

Our second gift came in the unexpected arrival of Marco. A cyclist from France, Marco had set out from Ushuaia, Argentina only three days before us. After a year on the road and countless near-meetings, we were finally in the same spot at the same time. We spent the night laughing over wine and shared stories.

But the best was yet to come. As Christmas Eve drew near, the house began to fill with friends of the family. Lucho played master DJ as we salsa-ed and drank Jose's homemade wine. At three in the morning, with stocks running low, I set off on the bikes with Walter. An electrical wire of personality, Walter raced through the streets with reckless abandon. We returned an hour and two flats later. Something to be said for drunken driving.

Aided by boxed wine and an unstoppable beat, the party rolled on. At 5 a.m. Nan and I are dancing in the streets to greet the Christmas dawn. Snowy landscapes and pine-scented memories are a world away, but our Peruvian Christmas ranks with the best of them.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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