Peru seemed so far away. Any time I wanted to think about it or was asked about it–it seemed I had a million other things pressing. And then suddenly, it was the day of, and I was waking up at 6am on a Saturday to rearrange my pack and begin the segmented drive to Chicago. 22 hours later I was stumbling off the plane to a calm, rain-cleared, mountainous space. I felt the furthest away I had ever been in that moment.
When I thought of Peru, I thought mostly of llamas and mountains. It is cobblestone and limestone and heights, so high your breath wears thin as you mount the steps of the city. It is sprawling, pocketed, ancient. You see the dreams of people past built over by the dreams of people who came after and the people who are here now. There is quinoa and jugo and vendors all over. There are plazas and cool breezes and then moments of sun beating sweat. We have sunburns in our rain jackets. We speak Spanish even with those who are paid to speak muddy English to us. It is in these moments when I think of all the people I know who fancy themselves as something more and I think, why can’t you just be happy with who you are.
We stepped carefully up and down this city after te de coca and pan and quinoa sopa. We tucked into a balcony bar and grill at 7am and watched Cusco come alive on a cool Sunday morning. The sun came out and the clouds cooked off and the traffic wound up. We fed llamas and ate fuzzy bananas with seeds and drooled over every tiny dog we saw wandering the streets. I’m reminded of Guatemala and Costa Rica. I watch the Chinese boys walk by. I do what I have to do to acclimatize.
After breakfast, we wandered the plazas for open tourism offices to ask for advice. We left with a handful of maps and too many choices to make a choice. We sat in the park and read aloud from Modern Romance. We tried jugos at the street fair we found. We wandered into Sunday mass at an open cathedral dripping in opulence: crystal chandeliers and gold framed paintings of a medieval Jesus in a corner. We made our 1230 appointment at one of the plazas with the Free Walking Tour company (en ingles). We stared at gardens and took inventory at a market and ordered more jugo and Morgan stopped at every enticing street vendor we passed: empanadas, prickly pear fruit, said fuzzy banana, frozen yogurt, agua.
We did what we do in Wisconsin but in the company of the Peruvians and her friend Ricky. Who asks me nice questions like, do you have any siblings; what is your ethnicity; do you like outdoor adventures? I try not to let my answers fall flat and to make space to ask questions of him.
We ended our sleep-deprived ramblings at 330 from the vista of San Blas. We skipped the pisco sours to crawl back to our twin beds. We slept heavy for an hour before our growling stomachs and full bladders pulled us up. We found solace at Morena Peruvian Kitchen. We ordered plates and bowls and mugs: quinoa salad with avocado and beets and limon; pork belly with roasted potatoes and green leaf salad with black beans; pots of coca tea; pumpkin soup with hard bread; skewers of sweet potato with cubed queso fresco and asparagus in a curry sauce. We tried to balance the face stuffing with intelligent conversation until policia kicked us out before we had finished our meal or swiped a card. No one seemed too concerned. The fire next door at the hostel was too great a risk to let me finish my potatoes and soup and contemplate dessert. We commiserated with an Oz and a Uruguayan, set to climb Machu Picchu on Thursday. We tried to catch a glimpse of this building fire from outside. We strolled the streets in circles trying to find a suitable substitute for the dinner we had just lost. Morgan picked at a gyro (“I just want a pita stuffed with meat”) before our heavy eyes led us home again. To our hostel that faces the catedral. Morgan and Ricky went out to rumba. And My thumbs get slower and slower with each passing minute. I had never imagined myself here, but now I won’t be able to imagine myself without here.