Saturday, July 16, 2011

Down from Machu Picchu and Much Festivity

Friday, July 8th – Down from Machu Picchu and Much Festivity

I run up the steps
to the Casita where Diego and Juan Jose are supposed to be waiting for me. I pause often to catch my breath and let the burning in my thighs subside. My good luck doesn’t let me down. The boys are there.

It feels like being with family to be with them. We take a lot of pictures and make our way slowly back around Machu Picchu. They tell me of their climb up Huayna Picchu early early that morning and how they’d told the guards that some Portuguese girls (who we’d met at The Flying Dog) who’d just walked through the gate were their wives so they could get in too. Huayna Picchu is the peak across from Machu Picchu and only 300 trekkers per day are allowed to climb it. If you don’t arrive to stand in line at the gate by 3:30 AM chances are good you won’t be allowed to go up the trail. They’d been in the numbered few of the lucky to get past with the help of their newly acquired brides. 
 I show the Colombians the points of interest that Darwin had told my group about and assure them that what I’m telling them is real stories, real stuff, not my own fiction, not my made up tales of the Incans.

We’re pausing at a spot to gaze at some llamas when some silly American girls walk by. “Why are there so many llamas?” one asks the other.
“You nitwit,” I want to say, “because it’s effing Peru.” I only cut her a little bit of slack when she continues on that there hadn’t been so many llamas when they’d passed the same way earlier. But only a little. I’m glad at this moment that I’m still Brazilian.

Another group of people pass by and one of the girls stops. She looks at me then points at her head. She’s wearing the same style hat I am. I smile at her. She probably speaks English, but I’ve forgotten the words for a moment and we have our twin moment in sign language. My brother-friend Juan Jose doesn’t skip a beat. “You have the same hat,” he teases me as he clarifies, in case I’d not seen, “but she’s prettier than you.” I laugh at him, but don’t disagree.

The last bus down from Machu Picchu leaves at 5:00. A little before that, the boys buy their tickets down, I show my ticket to the Cobrador and the three of us step into a bus and take our spot together on the back bench. There’s a girl in the corner seat, alone, staring out the window. Juan Jose, naturally enough, strikes up a conversation with her. Her name is Erika and she’s Canadian. She’s about to head to Belize and learn to scuba dive, among other things. She becomes part of our pack in no time.

The final passengers climb on the bus. There’s a seat next to Erika and one in front of her. A mother and child come aboard and head our way. Juan Jose talks the American tow-headed boy into joining us on the back seat. His mom sits in front. We all talk to him and he amuses us with his five year old wisdom. Half way down the mountain, Juan Jose offers him a Colombian toffee. “Can I have this candy, mom?” little Cody asks, leaning over the seat to see his mom’s face. She tells him no.
“I had a bunch of starbursts earlier,” Cody tells us very excitedly. He’s not at all upset that he can’t have more treats.  

“This is much better than starburst,” Juan Jose says, holding out the toffee.
“I think starbursts are tasty,” Cody says.

We all laugh. Erika and I exchange amused glances over the top of the boys’ heads. I write down Cody’s words in my journal.
A switchback or two later we talk about the difficulty involved in getting visas to different countries. They tell me I have it easy. And I do. The Colombians say it’s nearly impossible to get a visa to the States. “Come to Canada,” Erika says. “We let anyone in.” Suddenly from his posture of repose, Cody pops up, “You know another country you don’t need a visa to get in?” His child’s voice enunciates the words with a scholar’s precision.

We all shake our heads.
“Costa Rica.” And then he puts his head back down against his forearm and that’s that.

As our bus pulls into the Pueblo de Machu Picchu we make arrangements to meet in the little town plaza in twenty minutes. Erika has to go arrange a train ticket back to Cusco and I have to go check in at the tour place so they know I made it down the mountain.
Less than twenty minutes later I’m back with the boys. In the plaza we meet up with Florencia and Luis who’d met the Colombians somewhere earlier that day—I think it might have been when Juan Jose and Diego were cutting in line to join their Portuguese wives on the Huayna Picchu trail. There’s a soccer game pending and once Erika rejoins us we all head up to a restaurant/bar to drink some beers and watch the game.

Florencia--Argentinian born--and Luis--a Peruvian--met in school in Los Angeles and are on holiday in South America visiting their respective families. They’d made a side trip to Machu Picchu because you should when you’re near. We trade stories of who we are and what we’re doing. They’re interested in my writing and talk of a book of Latin poetry and stories they’d recently published at their school.
I take notes in my journal throughout the night of funny bits of conversation, of things I remember from the day that I don’t want to forget, of ideas, of thoughts, of feelings. Usually I try to be surreptitious about this habit, but they catch me at it.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I can’t help it.”
They shrug my apology off with a laugh. They’re delighted. “We’re used to it. We have a writer friend named Ed who does the exact same thing. You know what? I think he’s in Lima this weekend. Too bad you aren’t there to meet him.” Florencia turns to Luis. “Can you imagine those two together? If they went out to dinner they’d both be writing the entire conversation down.” I’m afraid that’s probably true.

About half way through the game, two girls from Lima arrive and sit at the end of our table. You know that Juan Jose and Diego had met them at some point during the day and that’s why they’re there with us now. Colombians know how to make family wherever they go. The girls (whose names I never quite get, though I think one of them is called Jackie) are at first reluctant to take the beer offered them, but whatever teetotaler reasons they have they soon forego. A glass or two later, one of the girls gets up and brings a flask around, giving us each a capful of something that tastes mouth-twistingly like cough syrup. I feel I’m becoming quite the lush.

I can’t remember who wins the soccer game. And it’s not because I’ve had several Pilsners (Desde 1863 Calidad y Tradicion) by now. It’s because the talk and entertainment at the table supersedes anything on the television. Diego pulls out his accordion and Juan Jose his guacharaca (a percussion instrument) and they sing. There are two Colombians at the table across from us and they sing along to the traditional Colombian songs while we all clap in time to the music.

Erika leans across the table and shouts at me, “I wish I knew the words!”

I wish I knew them too, but I clap along and all but dance in my chair.
The whole restaurant seems infected by our fun. They clap at the end of each song and then a guy from another table jumps up and leaves only to return moments later with a guitar.

In the restaurant
My own
My very own
Traveling entertainment
I want to keep these boys

Turns out that all of us at our table are on the same train back to Cusco. I glance at my phone to check the time and realize we need to pay our bill and get moving or we won’t make it. In a surprisingly efficient manner we settle our account and pack our things and leave. Someone runs off and buys a bottle of Pisco to bring on the train. While we’re waiting on the train station platform they uncap it and we all take shots.

Juan Jose puts his arm across my shoulders.
Con las estrellas (with the stars)
Con la luna (with the moon)
Con ti (with you)
Que romantico (how romantic)

He and I say together, sharing a joke from two nights before when we’d stood side by side underneath the White Christ in the freezing cold overlooking all of Cusco and said the same thing in jest.

The train comes and we get on. Diego, Juan Jose and I are in the same car. The others are all together in another one. We share a seating area with a German girl. Juan Jose shares a Colombian toffee with her. I settle back against the chair and close my eyes as the conversation swirls around me.

Erika had told us earlier that she’d overheard a guide say, “It’s not how you enter Machu Picchu, It’s how you leave it.”

We leave it happy, slightly drunk on beer, beauty, music and friendship.  

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