Dr. Pepe and the Corona Perdida

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Dr. Pepe’s dentist office was more or less like any other. There was a framed print on the wall and a flat screen TV hung in one corner of the waiting room. What stood out, however, was that the framed print in question was a Norman Rockwell-esque painting of a white-clad dentist holding a dental tool of some kind, standing over a patient in a dentist’s chair. The other white-clad figure in the painting was Jesus, standing just to the left of the dentist while resting one holy hand on the dentist’s shoulder with the other gesturing toward the dental tool, as if providing divine guidance during the procedure. Also, the flat screen was playing a Latin Dance-Off competition and it was not a place I expected to find myself at 7:30 on a Wednesday evening in Ayachuco, Peru.

The day had started in a beach resort area just south of Pisco, popular with backpackers and tourists. When I arrived, the weather was clear, so I strolled the waterfront, tried some local ceviche and watched the beachgoers. Pisco is also near the famous Nazca Lines, huge designs in the sand made of stone and created by the ancient Nazca culture between 1500 to 2000 years ago. According to the folks at the Roswell UFO Museum, where I visited earlier on the trip, they were designed to send messages to their pyramid-building alien masters. Most archeologists, while still unsure of the exact significance of these lines, are pretty sure aliens had nothing to do with them.

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Despite the previous day’s pleasant weather, when I awoke, the town was shrouded in a damp and chilly mass of air that couldn’t decide whether to be fog or drizzle. I scrapped the visit to the Nazca lines and decided to begin the several day ride into the mountains toward Cusco and Machu Picchu.

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As the altitude increased, the coastal fog petered out and soon I was riding up a seemingly endless series of rises. As I’d crest one and round a bend, another would appear even higher on the horizon. The ride was breathtaking, quite literally. At the top of the last crest before the downward descent, only three and a half hours since leaving sea level, I checked the altitude reading on my GPS and it read 15,553 feet. I spotted some strange looking creatures galloping across the treeless plain and realized that they were the first llamas I’d seen in Peru that weren’t on scarves, postcards or tee shirts.

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The ride was unreal, but required complete concentration. I was reminded of this after rounding a blind right hand curve only to see a mass of fuzzy white bodies cascading down a gulley at a run toward the road and on a direct collision course with the bike. I braked hard enough to test the anti-lock brakes (they work), and waited for the flock of sheep to pass.

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After eight hours of riding through some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever encountered, I stopped in the town of Ayacucho, checked into a suitable (secure parking and functioning plumbing) hotel near the town square. After a shower and change of clothes, I headed out to find a bite to eat. I found a lovely restaurant on the square and settled down for a meal on their balcony. From where I sat, I counted eight churches as I dined on a steak, rice and fried plantains and sipped on a Pisco sour. The waiter delivered the check along with two after dinner toffees. The first presented no problem, but the second resulted in an unsettling crunch feeling in my jaw. As I spit the toffee into my hand, I noticed the crown from my upper left molar embedded firmly in the brown sticky goo. I paid the check and immediately headed to the bathroom, rinsed off the tooth and popped it back in place, where it fit satisfyingly snugly.

Snug as it felt, I knew the fix wouldn’t last. I wandered the streets around the square and found that none of the pharmacies carried temporary dental cement. Resigning myself to spending an extra day in Ayacucho in search of a dentist, I started back toward the hotel. Dr. Pepe’s sign hung in the alley directly next to the hotel front door. Even more auspiciously, his door was open and the lights were on.

I am always reticent about visiting dentists in foreign spots ever since a similar thing happened a few years ago in Vietnam (it was a filling and a Mentos in that case). That repair was done hurriedly by a dentist in Lao Cai. My dentist in Florida later reacted to the repair job with the same level of dismay that the Curator of the Louvre might display upon discovering that some deranged but well-meaning patron had attempted to restore “Virgin of the Rocks” using Brillo pads and nail polish remover.

Despite past experiences, I decided to give Dr. Pepe a shot, and I had few other options.

So, I found myself in a dentist’s chair in Ayacucho with Dr. Pepe carefully drilling off the old cement from both the crown and my tooth, preparing a mixture of dental cement and securing the wayward crown back in place.

“Listo!” he declared, “Ready!” and putting his hands up, announced his price of one hundred Soles, or about $30. As an added bonus, I had a short walk back to the hotel and woke in the morning with all my teeth firmly in place, and continued on toward Cusco.

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