Not since K.C. and the Sunshine Band uttered the immortal words, “Baby, I want your lovin'” has anybody had such a clear sense of purpose as when I looked down from a 13,000 foot mountain this past weekend, atop the intrigue-laden peaks of ancient Marcahuasi.
But first, I’d like to tell you all about five truths I’ve learned during my first two weeks in Peru. I believe that having a working knowledge of these facts is essential to being able to understand my limited and presumptuous view of Peruvians and Peruvian culture.
1: Limes are very important. Limes can and should be put into and/or onto any thinkable food, drink or cleaning product available in the country.
2: Many Peruvians actually enjoy American football. In fact, they’re very knowledgeable about the sport. I would expect nothing less.
3: There is a difference between a taxi and a “collectivo”. The difference is that a “collectivo” is a sick land-pirate rip-off operated by the spawn of Satan whereas a taxicab operates at a pre-negotiated price and its driver could very well be quite the decent human being, like our honored amigo, Freddy.
4: Peruvians, in general, do not tip. But saying something kind is almost always appreciated.
5: Elderly Incan women are some of the finest climbers that you are ever likely to meet. I would consider myself oh-so-lucky to ever be able to imitate their breathtaking feats of perilous descent…….. that is all…
On Saturday morning, with about 3 hours of sleep under our belts, we set off at 7 a.m., squashed romantically in the back of Freddy’s cab, en route to Chosica, about an hour outside of Lima. From here, we five brilliant warriors of the night hopped a rickety old bus to the isolated mountain community of Casta. On the ride up, members of our collective became increasingly off-kilter as our motorized tin-can of a transport zipped around escalating mountain ranges on small dirt roads aside steep cliffs without even the slightest semblance of a guard rail. This is a four-hour trip. Luckily, your author has long since come to terms with his own mortality. Although, I must say. I did feel a slight bit curious when the bus stopped in its tracks atop a steep, angular mesa to have buckets of water poured on its engine. But this is all in good fun, I suppose.
At last, with bated breath, we arrive at the tiny post-Incan town of Casta. Even here, one can look out in amazement at the 11,000 feet of mother earth beneath them and breathe in the dusty air, riddled with the enchanting odor of dung and mules and nail-biting trepidation. It is from here that we venture into the clouds to meet our destiny… a grand and rocky canyon at the top of the earth.
The five of us set off at around two after a hearty lunch of lomo saltado and coca tea. We were privy to a royal caravan that included a donkey(which Sophie had no reservations about naming “Tony”), a stag, a pony and Juan Carlos, the animals’ caretaker. Through a two and a half hour trek through cactuses and dung, dirt and blue eucalyptus, nature and infinite possibility, we managed to just barely avoid the bitter cold that night would bring as we settled at last, in triumph atop oldest Marcahuasi. The site of this holy Mecca of mystery and stone is light years beyond the descriptive capacity of my admittedly overblown vocabulary. It’s very big and very good.
We settle as squatters into a doorless shack made of brick and linoleum; where countless researchers and backpackers before us have laid their heads to avoid the evening’s keen frost. Ignoring our shortness of breath and rodentine heart palpitations, we look around and take in the beauty of elephantine boulders in the shape of man, woman and beast. Up here, it is quiet and still. Silent, aside from the whirring breath of God and the soft flapping of angels’ wings. Julio, the proud boy scout that he is, starts a bold fire and the rest of us help prepare the evening’s soup. It is a night of good eating, quaffing cheap liquor and enjoying each other’s stories of ghosts and glory. Eventually, some of us fell ill. It can get pretty scary for all parties involved when malady rears its ugly head while help is so impossibly far away.
But, in the end, we all made it back down from the heavens; worn out but proud of having conquered that untamable bull, commonly referred to as “the great unknown”. What lies ahead for us fearless sentaurs of the plains? Enchanted valleys? Cock fights? Tune in next week for more shocking and limitless spectacle.
P.S.: Farewell Tim. It was great adventuring and volunteering with you. You’re a stylish cat and don’t you ever change. — Justin