Friday, July 15, 2011

In Which I Party Like a Bright Young Thing

Wednesday, July 6th – Lunching, climbing, riding, dancing

Carlos is fussing with his bags. He talks in a never-ending low voiced mumble. In this way he invites me to go with him to the Plaza de Armas to watch some of the preparations for the next day’s 100 Year Anniversary Celebration. Just then Juan Carlos’s friend Diego arrives. This trip to Cusco is his first time out of Colombia and he’s thrilled to be in Peru. They invite me to walk around with them. I’m only slightly ashamed to say that I weasel out of Carlos’s invitation and head out into the blue with my Colombians.

We walk to the Plaza de Armas and take pictures of the churches, of a vendor who tells us “For you a special price,” of the statue of the ninth Inca. We hand our cameras to a willing photographer and climb the steps to sit for a photo. The guard standing at the foot of the steps yells, “One of you must come down. Only two at a time.” We look at each other. Did we exceed some weight limitation? I didn’t think I was fat. “Am I too fat?” Juan Jose and I ask each other at the same time.

We watch a bunch of other tourists pose on the steps for pictures. “You’re a writer,” Juan Jose says to me, “tell us the story of that statue.”
“Once upon a time,” I start. Diego and Juan Jose laugh. And then I start in on a story about the Incans and their king and how the Spanish had to build a fortress in the square to try and deceive the Incans and then how eventually to save his own life Pachacuti turned into gold. Or maybe it’s Juan Jose’s continuation of the saga that tells of Pachacuti’s spectacular form and how he came to life at night and had a queen who was made out of silver. And then Diego takes the next plot thread and weaves it in as we encounter more statues, buildings, and people throughout the morning. I’m sure our history of Peru will become a bestseller one day.

Another man, tall and blond, gets yelled at for going too high up the steps. In the meantime Juan Jose turns to the guard and gets him to tell us some of the real history of the Incans. “She told us,” he tells the guide pointing back at me, “but she lies. She makes up stuff all the time.” Pachacuti stands above us all proud and golden as if he’s waiting to hear more about his past and his people.
We walk on. Through the city, taking pictures, telling stories, laughing.
Juan Jose and Diego
The boys start talking about gossip mongers and scandals. They ask me what the English word for “amarillista” is. Amarillista is a person who lives to write about or read about or live scandals and gossip. I come up blank and tell them I don’t know. “You don’t even know English,” they tease me. “You’re not American. Maybe you could call someone in the States and ask them what the word is.” So we decide I must be Brazilian. (Later, the closest I can come to that word is Scandalmonger. I do a google search right now and feel a little better when the initial page says No Results Found. Sensationalist is probably the closest to what amarillista really means.) Throughout the rest of the day I embrace my Brazilian heritage though I don’t think I know a word of Portuguese.
Before I left Lima I had emailed a lady who submits her stories about Peru to the Peru Writers Group I’ve been attending. She’d agreed it’d be fun to have lunch together and today is the day we’d scheduled to meet. I ask the boys if they want to come along to the San Blas Plaza and have lunch with Rinda, me, and Mei (my friend from the airport if you missed meeting her in a previous blog). They’re amiable to the idea so we take a taxi back to the Plaza de Armas and then head over walking to the Plaza San Blas.
The Meeting Place is a fun little spot, run by an America (I think) and staffed by English speaking students and/or adventurers. We get a table off in the back room and crowd in together. Rinda doesn’t seem fazed that I’ve brought an entourage of friends with me, and I’m relieved. We talk about all our life-paths; where we are, what we’re doing, some of what we’d like for the future. Rinda and I talk about writing and about Reiki healing which she does. Also we eat which is fantastic because we’re all hungry. One of Diego’s favorite lines in English is, “I’m hungry” and he’s been using it frequently in the last hour or so. When we reach the San Blas Plaza I turn to the boys and say, “Let me tell you a story.” They raise their eyebrows and wait for it. “I’m hungry,” I say.
When our lunch is over, Mei and Rinda take a taxi together back to their part of town and me and the boys head off for the ruins of Sacsayhuaman whose pronunciation sounds just like Sexy Woman. We stop off at The Flying Dog to verify the directions and set off on foot. “You’re the guide,” Juan Jose tells me, “don’t lie about the directions like you do about your stories.” Trust me, I think, I have an impeccable sense of direction.

Sacsayhuaman, Quenqo, Pucapucara, and Tambomachay are considered all part of The City Tour which costs 70 soles and can be embarked upon on foot. We get inside the gate of Sacsayhuaman and sit down to see if we want to pay to see it all or not. While we’re contemplating, a man comes over (for you a special price) and tells us that he gives specially priced horseback rides to people who speak Spanish. It’s one of those brother to brother moments, I’m sure. At least it’s a good sales pitch. We decide to buy a trail ride for 35 soles apiece. It’s supposed to include all four ruins, horses and a guide. We follow the salesman to the stables and mount up.
I'm blinking a lot in these pics
Our guide is a 14 or 15 year old boy named Rudy. He clutches the tail of my horse, Principe, and jogs behind us the whole way. Sunset isn’t too terribly far off and I’m not really sure how quickly we’ll go. After trotting along for a while we reach the Temple of the Moon. We dismount. Rudy watches the horses while we walk the ruins. At the top we’re resting for a moment when a group of Americans or Canadians comes up and sits on a rock tablet on the ground. A guide suddenly appears out of nowhere and tells the tourists to get off the rock because it’s a special ceremonial table. He’s not very kind with them and I get the impression immediately that he’s not keen on English speaking folks. Good thing I’m Brazilian.
Of course Juan Jose strikes up a conversation with him and through his agreeable charm wins the guide over from his churlishness. He then takes us on a tour of the rock-top.
He shows us the rock carvings the Incans had made and tells us that the condor represented the path to the next life and reincarnation, the puma represented the strength of this life, and the serpent represented death and the underworld. He shows us the severed heads of the carvings where the Spanish had defaced the Incans’ worship site. Then he leads us down into the taped off entrance of the Temple of the Moon. I’m overwhelmed. This is really the chance of a lifetime to go inside this sacred place and hear the stories, touch the stones, feel the air as it comes through the opening where the moon used to illuminate the whole cavern when the Incans came down to worship the moon, and be in this moment. If I’d come alone I wouldn’t have been favored with a tour. If I’d come with any other than these two friendly Colombians I doubt I’d have had this opportunity. The boys feel a sense of awe as well.
We trace our hands over the black serpent on the wall which the Spanish had been unable to decapitate because the rock was so strong. “For the Incans,” Alain the guide says, “the color black represented purity.” He tells us that the Incans placed a reflective plate on the flat table surface that caught the light of the moon and lit up the cave. He said they’d found llama bones buried all around the floor, that here the Incans had not sacrificed humans but the poor (my own addition) sacrificial llama. Juan Jose tells me that I’m to be the sacrificial llama. Oh joy.

When we come out once again into the daylight and go back to our horses, the boys take a few moments to play futbol with some of the other tourists and guides.
I think their team wins. They huff a little in the altitude and then we mount up again. Rudy tells us that the other sites are too dangerous to go to by horseback and at this hour and he heads us home. The horses are anxious to be back in the stable and they fight for the first spot in line, nipping at each other’s flanks, and being generally disagreeable with their ears plastered to their necks. I’m grateful that I’ve had some riding experience and make my horse stay at the back of the line. I have a laugh at myself when I think of how in America this ride would never have been made without some kind of liability waiver. Litigiousness is so engrained, but not here in Peru.

Juan Jose asks Rudy why we aren’t going to the other ruins as promised. A small scale scene occurs when we get back to the stable with the lady who helps lead our horses off. She tells Juan Jose to wait a minute and then she comes back to hear his complaint. He wants to speak to the salesman and straighten out the difference between what was promised and what was delivered. With us in tow the lady leads us down the mountain back toward the entrance to Sacsayhuaman. She’s dressed in the traditional colorful garb of Cusco and it amuses me when she reaches under her wrap to pull out a cell phone. The salesman doesn’t answer and after a bit more conversation, the boys decide there is nothing we can do and we walk on.
We stop for a moment at the White Christ and look down over the darkening world at Cusco. It’s beautiful. It’s also very cold. Before we freeze to death we find our path through the darkness down the mountain, down the hill, down the steps back to town.

Back at The Flying Dog the girl who helps run the place makes us Pisco Sours and we all trudge upstairs to watch the futbol game. This is the Copa America. It’s a big deal. This game is Colombia vs. Argentina. Juan Jose and Diego are rooting for Colombia of course. There’s another guy from Colombia there too, so it gets a little loud. Diego can’t sit for any of the game. He paces behind the couch and sometimes bites his fist. They all yell at near goals. Many of the other backpackers and travelers crowd the room and there is much cheering and booing as the game goes on.
I wander downstairs and talk with the Brazilian girls who are making dinner. When I remark on how good it smells they invited me to join them. I’m hungry again so I take them up on the offer and we talk English, Spanish, and Portuguese and eat vegetarian spaghetti.

After the game (It’s a tie) Juan Jose, Diego, and I head back out to the Plaza de Armas in search of food, music, drinks and dancing. We go to Mama Africa. I never knew I liked to dance until that moment. I’m partying like some bright young thing and I laugh at myself for this. I laugh again, internally, at the older guy who gives me his card and wants to dance with me. “Where are you from? Are you here alone?” I tell him the United States and No and move away. With drinks inside they’re all shameless and brave.
The place is packed out with people from all over the world
I dance too close
With some dude who’s a little too free with his hands
I look at the emergency exit sign that is translated into English as “Escape”
So I make mine and get away
I dance with Diego and Juan Jose
The music changes
They talk to some pretty girls and I dance with a tall guy
He leans in, asks my name and how old I am
Tells me his name is Javier and offers me a sip of his drink
I shout my name and age at him and shake a finger against the liquor
When the song ends I go sit next to Juan Jose
Next to Diego
I put my head on J.J’s shoulder
“Don’t fall asleep here,” he says. A few beats go by. The music rumbling through our shoes
“Estas feliz? (Are you happy?)” he asks me
“Si,” I reply, because I am
Out dancing in Cusco like I know how
Letting the music – feeling the music
In my blood

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