We don’t stop our fun after we get back to Cusco. For one second, when the boys drop their luggage off at The Flying Dog I consider staying there and going to bed. I really have no idea what time it is, but I can tell from the buzzing in my blood that if I stand still for long enough I’ll fall asleep or fall over. “I think I’m going to stay,” I tell Juan Jose in Spanish. He looks at me like I’ve turned into gold like the Ninth Inca Pachacuti we’d made up stories about. “No you’re not. Let’s go.” So we go. Back to the Plaza where we meet back up once again with our gang.
The festivities for the 100 Year Celebration have not ended even a day later. A live band plays in the square. The crowd sings along to the song that blares out through the loudspeakers. It’s riotous and joyful. It’s cold. I can see my breath in the air. I pull the hat my sister knitted for me down over my ears and button my jacket up all the way to my chin. We dance to stay warm. There’s an energy in the atmosphere; an International camaraderie that feels both familiar and strange. After several songs Florencia and Luis leave. Erika had left right after arriving back in Cusco. The girls from Lima are still with us, so we take them and go over to Mama Africa again. Inside it’s warmer. They get beers and I go on a drinking strike. The music isn’t as good as it had been the other night, the local riff-raff is a little more touchy-feely and at one point one of the Limeñas tries to pawn off one of her admirers on me. Not cool, amiga, but I feel your pain. Even with these slight detractors, I’m enjoying myself. One by one we wind down like Tick-Tock in the Wizard of Oz books and take a seat on the bench that lines the club walls. It’s so late, or rather so early that we talk about breakfast. Nothing is open yet and it’s too chilly to linger in the open air, so the boys and I kiss the girls goodbye. We walk back to the hostel and they collect their things. We’ve partied the night away and they have no need of a place sleep. I glance up at the clock in the lobby. It’s 5:30. A few hours of sleep might be just the ticket.The Colombians have to catch a bus to go to Puno, their next stop. They shoulder their packs and the inevitable goodbyes hover like ghosts around us.
“Nos vemos en Colombia (we’ll see each other again in Colombia),” I say.
“Pronto (soon),” Juan Jose replies.“Cuidate (take care),” Diego says.
When the door closes behind them I climb the stairs and as quietly as I can fall onto my bed and sleep the sleep of the guileless.Three hours later I awake. Somehow I’m not completely ruined. Must be that altitude, that clean mountain air that works like an elixir of life for me. Or I’ll crash and burn later. I take a shower, get a strong cup of coffee and go sit in the sun on the steps of The Flying Dog while my hair dries.
The guys who work there tease me that I’m like a guard dog with bared teeth watching the front door.I jot notes in my omnipresent journal. My time in Cusco is nearly over. I still have so many things that I haven’t seen. The Flying Dog Guy Juan Jose tells me about some hot springs in a place near Cusco called Lares. I’ve yet to explore the Sacred Valley. I’ve only seen one of the City Tour ruins, and I’ve managed to avoid going into any of the museums. I’ve lived a lifetime in a week and yet I’ve done nothing, seen nothing. Nearly. I ponder this paradox while Juan Jose tells me some Incan myths and we soak up the late morning sun.
We’re talking places and I realize I have the whole day ahead of me and I can certainly still make it to Pisaq, a town in the Sacred Valley known for its great market.
The Flying Dog Guy Wilson tells me about the peaceful mountain behind the market where I could sit and enjoy the peace and quiet. This sounds like just what I need after all my adventures. My introvert side is pleading for some quality time and I decide to listen.I get directions and walk about one million blocks to where the taxies leave for Pisaq. I have to ask directions about five times. Eventually I find the combi-car that goes to Pisaq and settle in the back seat. The car fills up and we take off. We drive out of Cusco and squeeze through some strange cement blockers that a tour bus ahead of us can’t get through and head around the curving road. It’s so amazingly beautiful I almost can’t find words to describe it. It truly is a Sacred Valley. I’m partial to mountains anyways, but this is incredible. Spectacular. Or, as they say in Spanish, Espectacular! I want to tell the cabbie to pull over so I can get out and walk. Just walk away into the mountains, into the peace that glows over the valley like a ray of sunshine
Pisaq is a delightful little town. I stop at a shop that advertises Kombucha (a fermented Chinese tea that is supposedly great for health and which I’m rather fond of and haven’t had for at least a month and a half) and get a glass. When I’m finished aiding my immune system I walk a few aisles of the market. I’m not a big consumer. Usually I don’t buy a lot of stuff besides food. But I think I might get one of the ubiquitous chullo hats because I know August will be cold in Cieneguilla.
I stop at several booths and get the idea of what price most of the hats go for. Everyone wants me to buy now. Touch this one. Feel this one. Look at these beautiful colors. It’s reversible. Made from real alpaca wool. Handmade. Machine made. Miss. Señorita. Por favor. Which one do you want?
Out of the corner of my eye I see a stairway that leads up the mountain. Ah, peace. I hear my name softly called by the wind. Pulled by the forces of nature I leave the wares behind and go upward.
I find a nice rock and sit there soaking the sun just like a lizard.
An ass braying
Soft voices – other languages
I sit on a rock
With the sun in my face
Feeling the warmth
Soaking up the peace I never took a moment
To find yesterday
I sit here on this rock
Feeling the rhythm
Of the day
Which I haven’t had in days
A group of French hikers pass me by. One is nice enough to take my picture for me. We exchange the barest of kind civilities and they march on. I hear panpipes and think of Pan and of his part in the story The Wind and the Willows when Rat and Mole have their supernatural experience. I think of The Chronicles of Narnia and the Faun Pan who played his pipes for Lucy. I think of the world of myths and of me being here on this mountain in this moment.And while I’m thinking these things Pan himself comes around the bend. His lips pressed to the straws of his pipes. Pan is here.
He stops playing when he sees me sitting cross legged on my rock. “What’s your name?”I tell him and ask his.
“I am Amarú. When I finish my work I can come back up here and play you a song for your meditation,” he tells me. I don’t have the soles to tell him he’d already played for me. “I have to leave soon,” I say, “but thanks a lot.” I turn my face back to the sun and mark these words in my journal:
It sounded as if Pan were right hereComing closer
Calling with the lilt
Of his pipes
For me to get up and follow
But instead is was Amarú
Coming down the mountain
With his pipes to his lips
Telling me he’d play me a song
For my meditation
Amaru follows two women who’ve just descended the trail behind me and plays happy birthday to them on his panpipes. I’m sure they think that’s as weird as I do.More people pass by me and I begin to realize there must be ruins at the top of this mountain. I catch on real quick. Obviously I’ve done my research on this place. Of course I know where I am. I glance at the descending sun, evaluate the heights and wonder if I can make it up and back down before dark. Nothing adventured, nothing gained, I say and jump off my rock.
Some of the hikers I pass tell me I’ve got about a good thirty minutes of uphill hiking to do to reach the ruins at the top. With this in mind I quicken my pace. The altitude here works me hard. My legs are jellying, from the hikes of the days before and lack of sleep and all the rest. But I’m a battle-scarred athlete; pain is what I live for. I tell myself that after I take a thirty second breather and massage my protesting thighs.At a plateau I encounter a young local. “Do you think I can make it to the top and back before dark?” I ask him mostly to give myself some time to breathe. I take a bite of the apple I’ve been munching on. He shrugs and gives a nearly imperceptible nod. “Do you want me to take you up to the top?”
“Okay,” I say. “I bet you can run up and down this path like it’s nothing, right?”
He gives another nod and doesn’t even crack a smile. He might be all of ten years old. Tops. Probably more like eight or nine. “You want an apple?” I ask him.
He nods.“What’s your name?”
“Elisban,” he says.“I’m Amanda,” I tell him. I hand him the apple and have him write his name in my journal so I won’t forget.
He pauses pen in hand and looks at me. “You want me to write the whole thing?” he asks.“Yeah, sure.”
So he does.
He bends over the book and writes in even print his full name: Elisban Puma Mamani. Puma-- the Incan symbol for the strength of life. A strong and agile mountain puma. A good name for a good guide. I feel a little bit better about myself when he gets winded as we make our hurried way up the slope. And even better when I see the soft glistening of sweat on his sun touched, darkened skin. I may be more of a domesticated cat rather than a puma, but heck, at least I’m something.Elisban is not really talkative. After several attempts at creative conversation I decide to save my inspiration for climbing. When he gets me up to the top he does open up enough to tell me that the waterways there were used by the inhabitants for baths. I ask him about the Inti Huatana (remember my new obsession is sun dials?) that’s there and all he tells me is that, “Yes, it is a sun dial.”
He leaves off his guide role to assume his photographer role and takes a few pictures of me sweaty and winded at the Pisaq ruins.
When we get ready to descend he says, “My house is not far from here. If you follow that path you’ll get down okay.” I reach into my bag and pull out only about 70 centimos. It’s all the change I have on me. I wish I had at least a sole. So I rummage around and find the bag of raisins I’d bought for my trip to Machu Picchu and not eaten. He seems satisfied with the payment and trots on home. I make my return trip alone.I beat the sun down. When I reach the market the venders are packing their things up for the day. I’ve suddenly got a desire to buy that chullo I was thinking about earlier and perhaps an alpaca sweater to wear during the upcoming harsh wintery month of August.
I stop at a booth. The lady has only just started to pack her wares. I finger a pretty green chullo. “How much?”“Ten soles,” she says. That’s the going rate of a chullo. I’d asked at least four other venders before I headed up the hill.
“Seven?” I try.“Eight,” she counters.
It’s pretty. It’s reversible. She tells me the green is a good color for me.I see a jacket that looks both soft and warm. “How much for that?” I ask her.
“Thirty-five soles,” she says.I’ve got thirty soles on me and the fare for my trip home will be at least six. “It’s nice,” I tell her. “But I’ve only got thirty soles on me.”
“Thirty-two,” she bargains.“No, seriously. All the cash I have is thirty soles. And if I pay you that, then I won’t have any money to get back to Cusco.”
I’m sure she hears all sorts of bargaining lies every day, but this is a no joke truth.“Do they have an ATM around here?” I ask her. I’m sure they must. This is a pretty vibrant market and tourists always need access to their cash money. I hope she’s not wily enough to tell me to go get some cash and come right back.
“Yes, on the corner they do.”I think over my money situation with this new information and try again. “Thirty soles for the hat and the jacket?”
She looks sad, “Thirty-two.”I show her my thirty soles. She looks like she’s wavering. Maybe. A flash of brilliance strikes me. I dig through my bag and pull out a bag of chifles, yet another snack I’d not eaten the day before. “These are worth two soles ninety,” I tell her. “Thirty soles and a bag of chifles?”
She looks at the fried bananas. She looks at me. She glances at the chullo and the jacket. “Okay.”Score.
She packs my loot in a bag for me and I thank her and go get moneyed up at the ATM that’s at the Blue Llama on the corner just like she’d said.
When I’ve finished raiding my bank account I go back out and look for a ride back to Cusco. There’s van waiting. The driver calls out, “Cusco, Cusco.” I climb on board and lean against the window while I wait for the van to fill up to his satisfaction.
The ride back is as beautiful as the ride in had been. I trace the constellations that appear against the black backdrop of night. The cost of the ride back is only 3.50. Even less than what I’d paid my way in, less than what I’d expected. I feel like I’ve wheeled and dealed and we all came out happy in the end.
Mountains are my favorite.