Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Peru: Early impressions

In some ways Peru has one of those other-side-of-the-world effects: Far, far from home, at least in a psychic sense . . . though it's closer than other countries I've visited, like Russia, which felt like something lodged in my memory even before I got there.

It's strange not to be able to drink the water. Or eat a salad. Or scale a short flight of stairs without feeling out of breath from the altitude. It's strange to look out the window and see not tall buildings, but mountains, the very things that surely inspired Chicago's skyscrapers, yet seem almost primordial compared to all that glass, steel, and limestone.

But these very challenges are the things that give this place its sense of place, which for me, is the singular litmus test for a corner of the world worth visiting.

Parades spring up like dandelions here. We followed one down the cobbled streets in front of Cusco's Plaza de Armas this morning -- women in ornate skirts and tiny bowler hats that rested impossibly on top of their heads, men in flashy yellow costumes with epaulets and sequins, still others inexplicably in gorilla suits, and a full brass marching band bringing up the rear. They nearly collided with a second parade that prompted us to shift in the opposite direction. This one was a protest march with dozens of children, parents, and teachers chanting in Spanish about the right to an education without violence. Amazing.

Fireworks and roosters wake us up every morning at 5. That and the sound of barking street dogs. They rove in packs, looking for discarded food and making us fantasize about ditching the contents of our luggage to tote a couple home, cure them of their worms, and give them the homes they surely deserve -- the same homes they'd hate for the forced confinement and order.

And of course there are the ruins. The pre-Columbian, mortar-free masonry that's endured for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years. We've visited Lima's 4th-century Huaca Pucllana, with its vertical "bookshelf" brickwork, and Cusco's stunning Saqsaywaman (pronounced "sexy woman") at the highest point of what's purported to be the highest city of the world. Machu Picchu still remains a few days away. It'd be stupid for me to try to say something about these sites that hasn't been said before. Just trust me: Everything you've heard is true.

We've experienced the kindness of strangers on this trip. The wobble of mild altitude sickness, the vibrant color of uninhibited cities, the incessant solicitations of street vendors (who gently and kindly take no for an answer), the bumps and tugs of flying over the Andes, the pride of a Spanish word well-used, the fear of traffic with a different set of rules, the awe of other people's religion, the tummy trouble of an altered diet, and the tart pleasures of a Pisco sour.

We've also looked with surprise on the higher grade of American tourist this country seems to attract. Kind and reverent people. People with respect and curiosity. People who speak in a quiet voice. John said it best when he playfully cursed Peru for taking the best of us away from home, where we could collectively be doing some good.

As for us, we continue to amble along, eyes and ears wide open, awaiting the next adventure. This might take the form of a trek along the Inca Trail, or it might be as simple as understanding an overheard phrase in Spanish, or having my stomach steeled for alpaca. Regardless, it's an awfully nice way to celebrate ten years together. Happy anniversary, love. Thanks for seeing the world with me.


Lynn Stevens said...

Peru is tied for first place among countries I wish to visit. I imagine a good pisco sour would be mere decoration, though welcome decoration, to the wonders of Peru.

leslie said...

Sounds heavenly. Happy anniversary, you two! I can't believe it's been 10 years.

Rosemary said...

Aw. What a great way to spend your anniversary! Happy trails to you both, in Peru and beyond.

brian said...

Happy anniversary. Your head is so small compared to John's.

I hope the trip was everything it should have been and I'm looking forward to seeing the photos next time I'm in know how giant stacked rocks ring my bell.