Six years ago, I was wandering through the streets of Okayama City, rural southern Japan, when my eye was caught by a flash of neon light – it split the night – it was a pair of obscenely bright yellow crocs attached to a South African who was crouched on the sidewalk lighting a cigarette. That night we ran into each other again, at a seedy gaijin dive bar called – sorry, Australians – the Aussie Bar. Nice crocs, I had to say. She looked up and gave me the brightest smile I’d seen since I got to Japan. Maybe ever. I sat down, we started talking, and haven’t stopped since.
Six years later, I’m sitting in Jorge Chavez International and the South African, who has graduated from crocs to Bolivian-made sneakers, is taking the bus back to Lima after a shared morning coffee in the airport. Mostly international goodbyes involve tears and hugging. Ours involve plans. As we kicked back by the entrance to the line of no return, people filing past us clutching passports, we said our goodbyes: “So – Tibet?” “For sure. There’s also India.” “How’s Spain?” “Still there, last I checked.” And with that trademark grin that I know so well, Marilu drawled, “Todo es posible.” After six years of meeting up in Okayama, Osaka, Thailand and now Peru, anywhere is a very possible place.
Goodbye, Peru. Goodbye Marilu. 会う日まで.
Games we play in Peru:
- Is that driver going to go off the road, or does he just LOOK like he’s going to go off the road?
(local variation: is that bus going to go off the road, or….?)
- Can I throw this piece of chocolate (fruit, ceviche, etc) into Marilu’s mouth, or will it just bounce off her face? (Any game that involves the laws of physics cannot be classified as uncivilized.)
- Is the guy in Nikes & an oversize t-shirt American? (This isn’t really a fun game, since the answer is always yes.)
- When the bus attendant starts asking me for kisses, can I distract him (“look, there’s a pelican!”) just long enough to get on the bus before he turns back around?
- What happens if you eat raw fish and granadillas every day for every meal for 10 days? (Jury is still out, but during those 10 days, everybody around us got sick but we didn’t. So. If 10 days makes you strong, 20 makes you superman!)
In some countries, you can adopt stray cats, small children, or parts of the highway. In Peru, we stumbled onto the Adopt-Your-Own-Israeli program. (Sponsored by the two Israeli guys who wandered into our hostel room a week ago, and never really left.) As a side-benefit of the program, I’m building a stunningly useful Hebrew vocabulary comprised of words like “dinosaurs” and “tuberculosis.” Below: what we do with our spare time.
The faces of successful Israeli adoption:
This used to be my favorite street sign. After a month of wandering at will and at whim, this is the updated version:
We leave tomorrow for Lima. In this case, it isn’t escape so much as expulsion from Para(ca)dise. We walked down to the dock tonight to catch the sunset and showed up too late for the sun but just in time for an inexplicable but enthusiastic brass band.
When we first got to Paracas, we didn’t know to get off the bus. It didn’t look like a town – just an expanse of desert stretching out around a few buildings – and in the distance, the half-moon curve of the sea. The bus didn’t announce it either, so we were ten minutes past Paracas and on our way to Lima when we realized that what we’d just passed through might have been our destination. The bus driver was far from delighted when the two gringo girls asked him, “Hey, was that a town?”
Having been here for five beautiful days, and seemingly unable to leave, we’re enjoying Paracas’ understated charm. We know all the stray dogs by name and defining characteristics, we’ve eaten in every restaurant on the dock (multiple times), and when sprawling in the sun is too much work – we wrangle jellyfish.
The coolest mother-son duo I’ve met in a long time: Lainie and Miro
Meet Lainie and Miro, who are traveling around the world together until he’s 18. Once again, chalk one up for the homeschoolers/ unschoolers.
After a 20 hour stumble out of the mountains, through the night, on every hairpin-turn road that the Sacred Valley could cough up, I find myself:
- No longer at an elevation roughly equivalent to Mt Fuji, and therefore able to breathe
- No longer crawling into bed dressed in every jacket I own, and falling asleep to the lullaby of my teeth chattering
- surrounded by sweet blue ocean, fishing boats, and pelicans
- eating my body weight in ceviche for every meal.
When Marilu and I first got to Paracas, we were like the survivors of some arctic expedition gone wrong. We limped off the bus and into the sunlight, pale, blinking, coughing, underfed. We may or may not have had peg-legs and scurvy. Three days into the oasis of tranquility and hope that is Paracas, we are big and bold and full of life. We sit in the sun and feed the flea-bitten cats and sing songs to the pelicans, who are always bustling about trying to bully the fishermen into feeding them. Last night when the electricity went out – as it does around here – for 3 hours, we lit candles, sat out under the stars, and wrote The Pulgoso Song, then played it for all our furry fleabag friends. Also for the hostel full of Israelis, French, and Brits who may or may not also have pulgas – that’s their business, not ours. These days, you won’t catch me without a 24-7 smile across my face, and a handful of granadillas (see below.) I’m pretending to myself that time has stopped. And every time the electricity goes out, the rest of the world falls just a little farther away, and the illusion that I’ll be here forever gets just a little stronger…
Have you ever walked home late at night and felt a strange sensation? Like you’re being watched? Like something or someone – with very sharp teeth and slavering jaws – is standing just over your shoulder? Or just above you? Looking down, hungrily, from the rooftops? Well congrats, YOU’RE PROBABLY RIGHT. But don’t worry, it’s just a posse of antlered tigerwolf roof-demons.
Do you need a hug? Lizard-Face is more than happy to provide that service.
I was too busy wandering around slack-jawed staring at things, but Marilu actually managed to take pictures of the chaos that was Paucartambo. All photos are hers.
In the aftermath of The Mayan Plague Diet, I have started a new diet. It’s called Eat Whatever Godforsaken Calorific Thing Wanders Into Your Field Of Vision And Won’t Poison You. For example: Chocolate. Cake. Particularly chubby babies. So far it’s going great.
Yesterday the intrepid Marilu got to take a break from 5 days of bringing me water, scraping me off surfaces I’d collapsed on, and putting me back in bed. As a change in pace, we journeyed deep into the mountains to Paucartambo, to see the festival of the Virgin Carmen. We thought there was a whole new virgin waiting for us in the mountains, but it turned out it was still Virgin Mary, with a whole new dress and title. She paraded through the streets and defeated demons on the rooftops, which is a pretty good day’s work, all told. Part of the festival was all about gorgeously decorative beaded costumes. Part of it was about masked teenage boys shoving guinea-pig fetuses in the audience’s faces. The participant who worked hardest was a bejeweled llama who was standing on a tower – and then fell off it. The audience caught him, thank god. Trust-fall llama!
photo by Marilu Snyders
For my fellow travelers, a list of must-dos:
1) The local drink: pisco sour
2) The local dish: the aforementioned tomato-hatted guinea pig
3) The local diet regime: THE MAYAN PLAGUE
What is the Mayan plague, you may ask? Perhaps you remember the whole thing about the world ending in 2012. Well, all of that is actually true. The only error in calculation is that this will not take place in December, as rumored. Rather, it will take place right now. In Cuzco. In my bed. For 4 days.
The minute you are a weakened wildebeest, the savannah comes alive with expat Californians bearing crystals, herbal remedies, beet root extract, a weird leaf in the shape of the Virgin Mary and if you just rub it on your left breast and circle the room counterclockwise… Or if you don’t like that, there’s always the helpful medical advice of our landlord: “Sit in sun, kill germs.”
When I first showed up here, I was a moral relativist with the best of them. Hey, your reality is great. It may not be my reality, but it’s great! Isn’t a world in which multiple realities coexist great? After experiencing the Mayan Plague, I have no more patience for relativity. Exuding vileness and anguish from every pore, I have become the person whose response to your ancient Incan remedy is FUCK THE ANCIENT INCANS (sorry, ancient Incans!) LET’S HAVE SOME DRUGS.