hola de peru
13 , 2003
y cuzco, peru
taken over a week to get out of my insulated and fearful first world consciousness
and into enough trouble and adventure to make it worth writing (and reading?)
first off. ay caramba! hay mucho, mucho frio aqui. it’s fucking
collllld here. as in - winter. as in - summer, north america; winter, south.
and sure, we came with turtle necks and down vests, but damn, we’re
no peruvians. how do they live without central heating? in fact con nada
heating? evolution? adaptation? must be. but it’s something young wati
from sweltering indonesia and her gringo husband from balmy LA just can’t
handle. yesterday, at the tiny “hotel california” in international
cuzco, i was in bed all day with inca's revenge and a 102 fever from some
combo dysentery-cold thing. lying under the covers as close to the hotel’s
even tinier califacion (electric heater) as possible. shaking. feverish.
a one week casualty of third world culture shock. of over-reaching. and un-heeding.
on my part. today, con un pocito cipro y ibuprofen, mucho mejor.
but to begin
with.... we had a surprisingly gentle and friendly arrival/reception in peru.
thanks to felipe, our dedicated local servas coordinator here in
lima. you’ve heard me talk about “servas” before. the organization
of open doors and open hearts that allows travelers to stay in the homes of
local hosts for several days, making their stay full of both friendship and
insight into a place that would otherwise be so foreign and anonymous. i had
been so paranoid about crime and theft in big bad lima, that staying in toney
chorillos by the pacifico ocean, in our own little casita
for three days and being ferried about by felipe and our hosts, mery
and enrique, that as usual, my fears turned out to be just an endemic and
useless waste of time.
in lima is - instantaneous culture shock. so grim. and run down. sort of a
dusty brown, third world haze enveloping the former so-called jewel of south
america. simply put -- poor. churches, apartment buildings, fruit stands,
strip malls, phone shops, traffic jams, motels, mcdonalds, roadside vendors,
religious processions, taxi cabs, rainbow-colored busses, social protests,
kids, parents, markets, chifos (chinese restaurants) – all
packed in along the broad and peopled streets, emitting a generally noxious
exhaust from perhaps, too much effort on too little money. everybody and everything
scraping to get by. long past restoration, dignity, or glory. the downtown
sprawling with union strikers, ordinary people, protesting the eternally bleak
economics, the rotating turnstiles of political leaders, the cycle of hunger,
poverty, resignation, and despair. a “national emergency” declared
by president toledo in an attempt to give the military and police
the power to unblock the roads, make arrests, intimidate and enforce. and
amidst and amongst it all… everyday – life.
the best time for gringo tourists perhaps. yet i’m left wondering how
much my own country’s clandestine and political alliances, tariffs,
trade quotas, CIA, and corporate investments have to do with the whole country’s
tawdry history and state of mind. marginalized indigenous people. western
chain restaurants. sweat shops. unemployment. three hundred years of colonialism
and exploitation. the great and powerful US of A, the new spain. the rich
richer, the poor poorer. a passive catholicism and impotency underlying the
smiling faces and de-valued currency.
yet at the same
time, lima offers us stubborn touristos the local delicacy of cerviche
(the biggest and most deliciosa raw fish i’ve ever had), a
new roja hair coloring for wati, local bar and cafe hopping in greenwich
village-like and romantic barranco, upscale and stylish shopping
in san isidro and miraflores, beautiful portico-ed and balconied
spanish colonial architecture everywhere you turn, and chilling nights under
layers of alpaca blankets in toney chorillos. information-brimming
and enthusiastic felipe takes us to “la puenta de los suspiros”,
the bridge of whispering sighs, in barranco, the place where local young lovers
could, under the stern control of their catholic parents, catch the glance
of their amor, just in passing of course, and release the sigh of unrequited
love into the aromatic air. and to la plaza mayor, the central plaza
in downtown lima (at nightfall of course, after the protestors have gone home),
lit so beautifully with its spanish cathedral from the 16th century, it’s
palacio gobierno on an adjacent side, displaying the typical layout
of every city in peru. of course, here in the capital, it is the most grandioso
and magnifico. but no matter how tiny the town or village, it’s
first church, followed by el municipalidad.
church and state,
the spanish heritage to peru. along with small pox and the rape of its culture,
women, and gold. no matter. tout ca change, tout ca reste. such is
the history of civilization. cortez´s building his cathedral over the
aztecs’ sacred place of worship in mexico city, pizarro building his
over the most important inca palace here in lima, alexander in egypt and afghanistan,
peter in the caucasas, the chinese all over southeast asia, the japanese,
germans, the americans in iraq? oil being the modern day gold, s’il
vous plait. at least, the modern day peruvians had their revisionist
history revenge on the spanish by tearing down the horse-rearing statue of
francisco pizarro, mighty contiquistador and founder of the city
of lima, from the plaza mayor. apparently, i just missed him by a month or
two. now, only a gaping hole in his place. lo siento, senor pizarro.
go the way of christopher columbus......
on to cusco,
capital of the incan civilization. largest empire in pre-columbian america.
by 45 minute plane, of course. replacing the winding 12 hour bus ascent, and
who knows the how many months approach by the conquering spanish in the 1530s.
one can only imagine the grueling trek and the wild-eyed greed leading the
spanish arsenals of horses, armor, treachery, and plunder. over unpaved roads.
through insect-laden, steep mountain jungles. through unpredictable rains
and torrential weather. through death, disease, sacrifice, and submission.
all in the name of god, church, the crown, wealth, and glory.
we get off the
plane and are greeted by our sign-bearing hotel driver. "erick trullers",
the sign says. ok, that's us. no problema. except -- young wati from
sweltering indonesia immediately gets an acute bout of "soroche",
altitude sickness. even with our prescribed dosage of preventative diamox.
headache, body aches, shortness of breath, overall tiredness, it’s still
not too bad though. at least, not compared to the four servas travelers from
israel, who we hear recently arrived with only three, one succumbing to an
immediate high altitude heart attack right at the airport. wati sleeps - for
about eight hours straight. i comfort her and while she’s asleep, i
sneak a look around in the late afternoon. it's a wonderful, steep-hilled,
cobble-stoned historic city full of back packers and tourists from all over
the planet. all here to see the incan ruins of machu pichu. one of the great
tourist meccas on the planet, yet one that has somehow, un-capitalistically,
preserved its sense of integrity, naturalness, and dignity.
by night time,
wati mostly recovered, we manage a walk around the gorgeously lit central
plaza, a multi-cultural mix of guitar-strumming, peruvian-dressed international
backpackers and local, peruvian-dressed with nike t-shirts groups of indigenous
banda members, practicing for an upcoming religious festival. once again,
the ubiquitous mix of sacred and profane. next we hop into a taxi to make
our way up the steep cobblestones to bohemian san blas, where we get some
delicious home made and restorative cream of broccoli soup in un pocito
restuarante overlooking the plaza. we’ve been warned by our guidebooks
not to walk the streets after dark, but the streets are so quiet and the few
local people we see either so friendly or so indifferent to us, that we brave
the “odds” and meander through the midnight stillness of cuzco,
soaking up its centuries of history and moonlit beauty. caught between our
inherent role as tourists, and our desire to see the actual city unadorned
with busloads of tour guides and tourists, we learn to pick our moments of
individuality, exchanging occasional risk for the purity of experience. back
at the hostal, the electric heater keeps us from stiffening altogether, as
it gets down to near freezing here 11,000 feet in the peruvian andes.
the next day
we take the city tour, see the central colonial cathedral with its gold leaf
and solid silver altars, along with the ancient quechuan temple of the suns,
moon, rainbow and flash (lightning). as we've been told, it's remarkably built
- without cement - another architectural phenomenon of an ancient, pre-western
civilization. comparable to the pyramids in egypt and mexico. huge blocks
of stone transported by massive amounts of human labor and sacrifice. engineering
of the pre-intercontinental railroad variety. the millennial earthquakes have
destroyed much of the plastered-over spanish colonial architecture, but not
the implacable, original quechuan stone masonry. we learn that the quechuans
were - the people, the culture of the pre-columbian andes; the incas
- only the kings, humans in the form of the divine. later we are bused out
of the city - to the nearby incan ruins of puka pukara and tambomachay,
and to the most impressive, we're told, besides machu pichu, to sacsayhuaman
(sounds like "sexy woman"). wati's a bit worn down and stays on
the bus, but as i’m culture climbing the site, a big group from good
ol’ mississippi decide they recognize me from tv and the movies. i tell
them they're probably quite wrong - unless they saw an obscure, rarely seen
documentary film about a poet and his criminal uncle- but they insist - and
i am coerced into signing a few autographs – here at sacsayhuaman
- in cusco, péru. ah, the power of american media, don’t you
know. even when only imagined....
i've been directed
to la valle sagrado de los incas, the sacred valley of the incas
- for a visit with the children of our lima servas hosts, the bustamantes
- to a little village called lamay. one's a ceramicist, the other
a traditional peruvian musician. wati's still not quite up for the trip. no
electric heater, no beds. no… needless to say, she’s just a first
world kinda gal by now. but me, how can i resist? “la gente”.
the people. the mountains. the friggin’ sacred valley of the incas!
so - being the totally modern couple we are, wati moves to another hotel the
next day, and i board the local bus to lamay. of course, i have my
concerns about her safety, and all my fatherly, husbandly, worrisome horns
go up, but in the end, she sends me off, assuring me that she survived in
bali in a tourist town for more than a year. "so go and have a good time,"
she says. and i do.
bus winds up over the crest of the andes and down into the sacred valley.
through the artisany town of pisac and into lamay. i get
off the bus and start asking in my pitiful espanol, "conese la familia
bustamante? donde vivvir?" i don't have directions to the house,
but everyone is supposed to know one another in this tiny hamlet. and sure
enough, after walking past the central plaza (the same style as in lima and
cuzco, but pocito), onto a dirt road full of brown adobe, hand-made
homes, i find la familia bustamante. i can tell, they have the only
carro in sight, a beat up red volkswagen bug.
the next two
days are full of music, improvisation, caring for a 6 month old baby, and
exploring the sacred valley de coca cola. i mean, de los incas. i
just wonder how there got to be so many big red coca cola signs here. the
invasion of the gringos, no? carlin, a multi-talented, native musician from
trujillo, his wife maris, a liman ceramicist who’s given up her urban
life to home school in the valley, the baby, and nango, a full bearded, 23
year old fellow trujillan musician, and i -- all pile into the bug, and we
head up into the hills towards los banos de manchacancha, the hot
springs of manchacancha. it's awesomely beautiful. climbing the dirt roads,
seeing the natives in their crimson & green clothing, sporting colorful
pointed peruvian alpaca hats with ear flaps - farming, gathering grasses,
raising families, simply living "la vida". brown skins. smiling.
waving and chasing the rare car to come their way. just like in other third
world countries. cambodia. laos. finland. (just playin’ wid you, finland).
while at the same time, the innocent, open smiles are disturbing. knowing
these free-roaming indigenous people, just like in other third world countries
i’ve seen – vietnam for example – are being rounded up by
the government, being re-settled and educated in the name of modernization
and progress. being tempted and coerced into trading grass roofs for tin,
while being herded into de-humanizing reservations, much like our own government
did with our own native americans during our own shameful history of the “taming”
of the west.
the waters of
los banos are not so caliente, and once i get in, i'm afraid
to get out into the cold mountain air. i have five layers of clothes - and
i'm still freezing. i mean, i've been through new york and chicago winters,
but this is completely different. there's NO place to get warm. no ski lodge.
no restaurant, no bar, cafe, home, nada. and i'm starting to get sick. typical
gringo, si? as wati would say, "pity i am."
the musicians, play everywhere. they live, breathe, & sleep the music.
wooden flutes and pipes (saponos), guitaros of every shape
& size, and drums, drums, drums. we stop at restaurants to play, to collect
dinero. they play in the car, before and after dinner, and especially
late at night. i buy the chilean wine, and they drink and play. there are
lots of friends of jose and his amigos, but i don't quite
have the peruvian stamina. you know, all the bandas of the andes,
that you see in all the european and american cities? well now i am amongst
them. i am shaking the maracas and taking digi photos, and one night, i even
do my cock tale monologue from borneo. the one i did in a theater in LA for
about 6 months. about the black magic shaman who puts a curse on an adulterer
by putting his dick on his forehead. of course i do it 99% in english, but
with my mimetic flair, and clown's desire to please, i think they get the
gist. i am one of la banda.
the cold, the late nights, the floor sleeping, and the water - especially
the water - get the better of me. damn, i should have used the bottled water
for brushing my teeth! all the books say it. damn, stubborn and stupid gringo!
so after making it to the sunday market in pisac (see photos) and buying all
my bag can carry, and then to the annual catholica but really pagan
festival in urubamba (see photos), with another servas host, architects
yoyo from peru and laurence from bretange, france, i make it back to lamay
two days later - with a excellent combination of the afore-mentioned flu and
inca's revenge. but i've seen a slice of local peruvian life that only getting
off the beaten path and living with locals can offer. si, i've paid
the price. but now instead of worrying about it, i'm just doing it. sounds
like progress to me.
wati and i will
be off to machu pichu tomorrow. i think we've waited long enough. we've gotten
a little taste of the andean air. and water. a little soroche, flu,
and dysentery. and we've had a warm reunion at the hotel california in cuzco.
but it's still fucking colllllllllllllllllllllddddddd.
la vista, babies,
you're all toasty warm,
enrique, el gringo