I sold all but about 100 pounds of my things, rented out my house, quit my job and moved to Peru. That’s how this story starts. In Peru.
I fly into Lima on Wednesday, June 1, 2011. When I fill out the immigration forms I’m not sure how to mark my occupation. “Unemployed” doesn’t seem like an answer immigration would be pleased about. Since I’m not quite on the adventure trip circuit I don’t feel I can say “Tour guide.” After a few moments of deliberation I mark it as accurately and hopefully as I can and write “Writer.”
The customs officer looks my papers over. “Escritora?” he asks. And then he stamps my passport and okays me for up to 180 days in Peru.
The night before, I’d only been able to leave a message for Walter, owner of Casa Del Gringo, that I’d made my flight and was indeed coming. So in Lima, with my collected and declared luggage, I stand in the airport lobby trying to look as much like me as possible. Neither Walter nor I knew what the other looked like. Well, I had checked out his Facebook page, but when he approached me in the airport he is shorter than I’d thought he’d be. My first impression is that he looks like a much nicer version of Woody Allen. He’s got that type of build and wears large lensed glasses. “Amanda?” he asks.
And that’s that.
We drive through the craziness that is Lima. Imagine that all the cars on the highway are ants and someone just stepped on their hive. That’s the mayhem the roads are. There are lane markers but no one seems to follow them. The cars shift right into spaces that aren’t big enough to fit them, they shift left and by some incredible miracle no one hits anyone else. I don’t know how they don’t. I only press my foot into an imaginary brake twice.
We eat breakfast at a little café. I have a giant bowl of fruit, most of which I recognize.
Lima is dusty, the buildings are crunched in close together, people walk the streets like the cars drive; as if they’re the only ones there. We head towards Cieneguilla. As we near, the mountains come into view. Solid rock mountains that look dusty and barren. The roads are dusty and uneven and the dusty fields off the road are overtaken by squatters. Makeshift houses, lean tos, hovels, these are the homes for those who thought Lima had much to promise them and then were let down.
Cieneguilla is small and dusty and reminds me a lot of the towns I’d seen in Mexico. We turn a corner and stop in front of the gate to Casa Del Gringo.
Inside the walls it’s a paradise. Grass and trees and flowers, a large swimming pool, little bungalows, make an oasis.
After a much needed hour nap I tour the grounds, gaze at the trees, listen to the birds. Then I sit on the little swing next to the pool and listen to this world, squint against the sun. Walter walks by, waves, stops. “And?” he asks. “It’s paradise,” I reply. His lips lift up into a smile and he goes on. Overhead a flock of green parrots go squawking by.
Walter takes me with him to the welder’s. He’s had a few stands made so he can hang the flat screen TVs he’s purchased for the rooms on the walls and not worry about someone walking out with them.
When we get back, Walter says, “The welder asked me if you were my new girlfriend. I told him, ‘No.’ He asked me if I was going to try anything. I told him you had five championships titles in judo and I was too afraid to mess with you.” I false reputation like that might not be a bad thing, I think to myself.