I’m off to the zoo. My friends Victoria and Juan Carlos invited me. It’s raining pretty hard by Lima standards. There are actual raindrop crying lines down the glass patio door. But before I leave Katrina’s house to walk to the bus stop, the emphatic drops stop and the usual light drizzle resumes.
We’re going to meet at the bus stop in front of the Metro (Metro is a grocery store) at La Marina. I’ve never been to this specific stop before and miss the actual bus stop. When we pass the Metro I think, “Oh crap,” and tell the Cobrador that I’m getting off at the next corner. I have to walk about a block and half back, but I get there right on time. The bus stop is not directly in front of the Metro. It’s across the street. After I scan the parking lot and the side roads to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood that we were to meet right in front of the store, I take my life in my hands and cross the street. They have my cell number but I don’t have theirs which makes it a little trickier for a sure-thing meet up. I kind of like how for me living in Peru is so much like flying by the seat of your pants. Que será será.
I scan the waiting people on the corner for my friends. Fortunately Victoria is easy to spot by her stylish blonde hair. “Thank you for being on time,” she says, as we kiss cheek to cheek hello. “We are still waiting for Colin.” Colin is an Irish traveler they met over the weekend in Huaraz and for whom they’d arranged this excursion.There’s always the thought in the back of my mind when a happily married couple invites me along with some (as far I know) single fellow to an outing that they’re hoping to play Matchmaker. It happens pretty frequently. I just roll with it. Sometimes I get a good friend out of the encounter, sometimes I get a fun afternoon, and every now and then I get a really awkward situation that will (hopefully) make for good writing fodder later in life. I have no idea what today will bring.
We’re watching for the Number 19 bus. That’s the one they’d told Colin to take. Juan Carlos says that the 19 goes everywhere. “It wouldn’t surprise me if you saw it in Texas,” he tells me with a twinkle in his eye. Colin’s got about an hour or so bus trip from his starting point in Mira Flores and with traffic on Javier Prado it’s kind of a crap shoot on how long the trip will actually take. Since we have no idea what time he started or if he even caught the bus there’s no way to gauge his progress.We wait for a while. One Number 19 bus goes by. No Colin. “Maybe he got off down the street like I did and he’s waiting in front of the Metro,” I hazard.
Juan Carlos agrees to go look. “What did we do before cell phones?” he asks. Exactly this, I think. The two more easily spotted gringa girls stay behind to peer in at buses for Colin.It kills me how taxi drivers always drive by and slow way down when I’m waiting for a bus. If I wanted a taxi, I’d flag one down, I think. They honk their horns, blink their lights. This one even stops and leans over to speak in English to Victoria and me through the open window. “Where are you going?” he asks. “I will take you. I won’t talk much.”
“We’re waiting for someone,” I tell him in Spanish. He looks sad and drives off in search of another fare.Another 19 drives past. No Colin. He doesn’t have a cell phone and I’m not sure he has a calling card that he could use to call either Juan Carlos or Victoria if he needed to. And of course, if he’s stuck in a bus there’d be no way to call. I wonder in these situations at what point do you give up? After an hour? After two? Never? With my lunch meeting with Matt in Cusco we’d finally touched base after an hour and forty five minutes. Good things come to them that wait after all.
Like the healing of the ten lepers, Juan Carlos returns. He has a big smile on his face and Colin in tow. Success!Introductions are made. Like so many American girls I’m a sucker for a guy with an across the pond accent and pretty eyes. I like to collect them like trinkets. No, not really. Well, maybe. But I act cool. I’m cool. Colin doesn’t seem to take to me right away. I’m okay with that. Remember, I’m cool. Then again, I tell myself, he’s just survived a bus ride through Lima and that’ll wear on a man for sure.
We all take our lives into our hands and cross the street. We go buy some snacks at the Metro and then walk the few blocks over to the Zoo.The rain has stopped for now. I’m keeping my hair under control from the humidity with a strategically placed hat.
Juan Carlos and Victoria are fairly frequent visitors to the zoo. They discuss where to start. Colin and I stand at the ready, we’re game for anything. The zoo is set apart in zones; mountain, jungle, and plains (I think). We start with the jungle. We take several curves and come to the entrance. It’s blocked off by some You Shall Not Pass tape. The kind of tape found at crime scenes. Juan Carlos asks a zoo employee if we can go in.“Sure,” he says, “It’s just blocked off because of the mud.”
THE MUD.This is starting to feel like the beginning to an Indiana Jones movie. I wish I had a whip.
We duck under the barrier and enter the mud zone. There are macaws and parrots, and, inside a climate controlled glass cage; the National bird.
The macaws are loud. They’re like screaming, out-of-control two years olds you can’t discipline. I know this for a fact because my family had a pet green-winged macaw named Micah for several years. She’d bonded with my older sister and used to walk through the house, her nails clicking against the hardwood floors, looking for my sib and calling out in her screechy bird voice, “Jessica!”
“I know your kind,” I say shaking my finger at the macaws. I wish for their sakes they were free to fly.
The mud is slick. And it sticks to the bottom of our shoes. I walk with care because I can just see myself biting it and ending up looking like a mud-wrestling champ. I prefer to stay more or less mudless.I’m staring at some birds when Colin says in his delightful Irish accent, “With the mud on your shoes you probably feel good.” I’m trying to put this together and he continues. “To be a little taller.”
I smile. Yeah, I do feel good.
We talk out the usual what are you doing here and what of your past and how about your future. Once that’s done we settle into an easy camaraderie which is full of jokes and wit. I like him. He’s fun.
He even takes the time to communicate with an R.O.U.S.
We emerge successfully from the mud of the jungle. As we come out, a herd of school children are heading in. We get a lot of looks and “Hello”s because, but for Juan Carlos, we’re all extranjeros. We’re about as popular to stare at as the primates and probably as entertaining. Some high school girls are clumped together in a giggling group near me and I smile at them while I’m trying to dislodge some of my newly acquired height from my shoes. “Are you married?” one of the girls asks, looking from me to Colin.
“No,” I tell her.“You make a nice couple,” she says.
“What did she say?” Colin asks me. He doesn’t speak much Spanish. I tell him she’d asked if we were married.“Yes,” he tells her with a grin. “She’s my wife.
I translate that for them and the girls giggle.“Tell them I want to marry a Peruvian girl,” he tells me.
I do. Without hesitation the group’s speaker says, “Here I am!”I get serious. “Can you cook? Do you clean?” I turn to Colin. “I’ll arrange this for you.”
All the girls get serious. “Peruvian girls are very hard workers.”
Juan Carlos and Victoria take our picture because they know the conversation will end up here. How well they know me.
We bid the girls chau and head completely out of the jungle zone.There’s still mud here. There’s mud everywhere. I take a few sliding steps. “It’s like mud-skating,” I say.
“This is the real zoo experience,” Colin says. “The heart of it.”It really is.
Victoria and Juan Carlos are good guides. They tell us of all the improvements the zoo has made in the recent years for enlarging habitat areas and for caring for the animals. They’re excited to show us around. “Just want until you see the wild cats,” they say.
We pass a sloth. It’s in a tree. It’s slothing, in its completely motionless slothfulness. “I saw sloths in the Amazon,” Colin says. “They’re completely boring. You see a sloth in the Amazon and you want to yell at them, ‘Could you spice up your love life at least?’”
This one doesn’t even pretend like he’s heard Colin. Sloths apparently don’t get embarrassed or offended. After trying to see if it’s at least not-sloth enough to be breathing, I follow the others.“Where are we going next?” Colin asks Victoria and Juan Carlos.
“To the mountains,” they say.He turns to me. “Are you ready? Let’s do this!”
I’m ready. We head up the hills to the mountain zone.We see bears and lions and I’m just slightly disappointed we don’t see any tigers. We see zebras and hippos and giraffes. Sheep, vicuñas, llamas, deer. Galapagos turtles, vultures, peregrine falcons, warthogs and monkeys. We watch a water buffalo take the longest bathroom break of all time. It is an epic piss. Epic. I’d feel bad about invading the WB’s privacy except he seems so very proud of himself.
Somewhere in here we take a moment to sit in the park and eat our picnic lunch. I think we’re all having a really nice time. Easy. Friendly. Fun.There’s a stuffed llama on the pathway and at Juan Carlos and Victoria’s urging I take my picture with it. “It’s you and your llama!” Sure enough.
I take pictures of the buzzards hanging out on the ruins behind us. I take pictures of the three of them. I take a picture of me and Colin with our snack bananas in hand. “A colt 45,” he says, holding it like a pistol, “don’t forget it. You’ll be shaking in yer boots.”
I’d told them I had to leave at 2:00 in order to get back to Katrina’s to gather up my luggage from my Cusco trip and catch a bus back to Cieneguilla before Katrina has to leave her house at 3:10.I check the time. “I have to leave in about ten minutes,” I tell them.
“Before you go, we have to go to the cat sanctuary,” Victoria says.
And thus begins the Great Search for the Feline Sanctuary.It’s a long search. Through winding, occasionally muddy paths. Over hills and under bridges. Past the zebras once. Past them twice. Juan Carlos asks directions five different times. “Just around that corner.” “Just over the hill.” “Right there.”
There are even signs with arrows directing us to the cats. These arrows lead us on a wild goose chase. My time is out. “I’ve got to go.”“You can’t leave without seeing the cats.”
The Great Search for the Feline Sanctuary continues.Until, Finally! Around a bend, we come to the entrance to the cat sanctuary. It really is great. Well worth the time we spent to find it. Cats are majestic. The panther lolls in the tree and I snap a picture while I say, “Bagheera, the panther,” in my best Mowgli voice.
Satisfied with our zoo experience we head out into the wild world of Lima. Colin and I get on a Number 19 bus together and we wave goodbye to Juan Carlos and Victoria. “Thank you, this was fun,” I say as we part ways.I ask the Cobrador to please tell Colin where he gets to the Ovalo in Mira Flores. I’m so concerned with getting him off at the right place that I don’t think to ask the Cobrador to tell me when I’ve gotten to my stop. I’ve got a scant portion of my attention focused on looking for landmarks while I’m conversing with Colin. We talk about family, economics, travel, cages, and people we may or may not have left behind when we set off for our adventures. He’s still got many places to go before he heads back to Ireland in November (or maybe October?). People do such interesting things.
It seems like we’ve gone farther than we should have. Suddenly I don’t recognize anything. I have no idea where I am. I get up and ask the Cobrador how far from my stop we are. “We passed that a long time ago,” he tells me. “You’ll have to get off here and go back.”Shoot. Seriously. “Will you please tell him,” I point at Colin, “when you get to the Ovalo?” The Cobrador assures me he will. I rush back to Colin. “I’ve got to get off here. Best of luck. It was nice to meet you.” I kiss him cheek to cheek and jump off the bus.
The story of how I finally get back to Katrina’s and how late I was and how I horrible I felt for making her late to her English class is material for another day.For now, as I’m haggling with a taxi driver, I hope Colin has a safe ride home and a grand adventure in both his travels and his life, and send out a thank you to Victoria and Juan Carlos for inviting me along for a Day at the Zoo.