January 28, 2012 – Sleeping with the CanadiansBy this time I want to take a vacation from Nan’s and my continuous passage from mode of transportation to other mode. Over the last 48 hours we have taken planes, trains, automobiles and hiked up a mountain. I need a moment to be still. I need a few moments to sit and enjoy where I am instead of planning the next excursion. I’m all for seeing as much as possible in a short amount of time, but I find myself craving some balance. I’m poised on the edge of exhaustion.
After we eat lunch, consult some tourist information consultants, and have a brief spat, Nan and I part ways. I head back to the hostal and she ducks into an Artisan fair.
I garner the room key from the front desk and start for the patio that leads to the stairs up to our room. At the glass table in the atrium sit two white guys with Styrofoam cups and a bottle of wine. In the three steps it takes me to come up to their table I hold an entire conference with myself. The conclusion supports my theory that a glass of wine would be just the thing to unwind.“Did you guys buy that here?” I ask them, pointing at the bottle. I’d heard them speaking English when Nan and I’d passed by them on the way out so I don’t feel I need to start out with the Do you Speak English line.
“Yes. Right here,” they reply.“At the hostal?”
“No, at a place like five doors down. It’s a good bottle of wine and was only like ten American dollars,” they say.Although I’ve been pinching pennies and stressing dimes this trip, that thirty soles suddenly does not seem like an extravagant expense. And yet, at the same time, it still does. I brainstorm aloud with them.
“I don’t need a whole bottle for myself.” I’m nearly talking myself out of a drink.“How long are you here?” the guy to the left asks.
“Until Monday.”“Well, there you go, you could have a glass a night.”
“True,” I say.
“We could help you with it,” the younger guy suggests.“That sounds even better.” I smile. “Let me go grab some money then I’ll get out and buy it. I’ll be back in a bit.” I trot up to the room to get a little bit of dinero.
“Hey,” the left side guy says as I head back by, “You want us to pitch in?”“Really? Oh! Yeah, that’d be awesome,” I say. They both hand me ten soles and I run the errand. In no time at all I’m back with a Cabernet Sauvignon. The younger guy takes it from me and goes to get it opened for us at the front desk.
“Peter,” the left side guy says, holding out his hand.“Amanda,” I reply, and we shake.
The younger guy, introduced as Phil, comes back with the opened bottle and another Styrofoam cup. “We do this in style,” he says. He pours us equal amounts.“Salud,” I say. We touch cups and sip.
Phil is a recent Vancouver University grad out traveling for a couple of months before going back to Canada to look for work. Peter is his first cousin once removed on his dad’s side and has come along on their family’s South America adventure just for the heck of it. I ask Peter what he does and he says, “It’s too boring to talk about.”Naturally, some “get to know you” questions are sprung from both sides. But it feels like I’ve just dropped in to visit friends and we’re all hanging out together, comfortable in each other’s company more than anything else. Phil tops our cups off just as a couple walks up to the table and stops.
“Hey guys,” the woman says. “How was your day?”At first I figure they’re other hostal guests passing friendly civilities, but turns out they’re Phil’s parents-- Phil the fourth and Jane. They don’t think a thing about having another addition to their party.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” Jane asks me.“I think my friend and I are going to the Sacred Valley.”
“That’s too bad. If you decide not to go you should join us. We’re going rock climbing and zip lining.”Zip lining! Who wants to see the Sacred Valley? “I wish I could!” I say with true regret. “That sounds really fun.”
“Well, if anything,” Phil IV says, “You should join us for dinner. Free food!”“Give us an hour or so to clean up,” Jane says, “and then we’ll come back down. You’ve got to feed me soon!”
The sun’s gone and the night air brings a chill in with it. I’m cozy and not really minding the light goosebumps making lines up my arms.“I’m going to run up and put on some warmer clothes before we head out,” Pete says.
Maybe it is a little chilly. I consider going to get my jacket. Laziness or inertia has set in. I’m not moving. This is perfect. Phil and I chat like old friends. Like new friends. I pour the last of the wine into our cups. When Peter returns he hands me a fleece. I’m touched by the consideration. I throw it over my head and smooth it out. Peter stands about six foot four or five inches tall and the fleece goes down to my thighs.“It’s like a dress on you,” Peter says.
It is, but it’s warm. “Thanks!” I reply. We lean back into our chairs and I enjoy the stillness. Minutes ease by. When her exploration of painted things is over, Nan returns. I see her coming through the door into the patio area.“Nan! How was your time?”
“It was nice,” she says.“This is Phil and Pete,” I tell her. “If you’re interested, they’ve invited us out for dinner. Would you want to come along?”
“No, that’s okay,” she doesn’t hesitate with her answer, “I think I’m going to rest for a while and then go out and get some dinner for myself later.”“Are you sure?” Her resting doesn’t seem to need my company, her plans don’t seem to include me, and I don’t feel any compunction about separating for a while. Maybe I should have. “If you don’t mind me going with these guys, I’ll catch up with you later.”
Soon Jane and Phil IV breeze back by, collect us up and we head to the Plaza de Armas to go to a restaurant they’d heard was good. It’s a nice place. Trendy and out of my normal price range. I feel like I’ve moved up in the world without acquiring the stereotypical snobbery. They’re down to earth people. I find a vegetarian option and get a glass of wine after hearing the guys order some Cuba Libres. I don’t want to rack up an out of proportion bill on their kindness.
They’re easy company. The kind of family who likes each other and can have fun together. With them I feel at home.After dinner we walk around the Plaza and then Jane and Phil IV decide to call it a night.
Pete looks my way and I shrug. “Sounds fun to me.”
Paddy’s is on the opposite side of the square. It’s one of the hot spots for tourists, calls itself the highest Irish Pub in the world and is packed with people from all places and backgrounds. We squeeze in and Phil orders us some drinks. He gets Peter and me Cusqueñas and orders himself an India Pale Ale.
Phil is a social creature and he works the room while Pete and I talk about life and dreams and work and travel. Making his circuit back our way, Phil brings along a couple guys who are doing volunteer work in the area. The taller one is from some small Canadian Province and the guys compare notes from home. His name is Thor, he pronounces it Tor, and he looks the part. He’s tall and blonde as all Thor’s should be. He entertains us with stories, many of which relate the instances he’s either been victim of or been in the vicinity of someone who’d been robbed. These stories all start with, “I was walking a girl home--” and end with the girl’s purse being snatched.Pete leans down and whispers, “He walks a lot of girls home.”
I laugh. “I’m not letting him walk me home ever,” I say. “I don’t want my purse taken.”
“There was this one time,” Thor starts.“Don’t tell me,” Pete says. “You were walking a girl home.”
Thor looks nonplussed. “No, not me, one of my buddies was.”The laughter hangs between Pete and me with a secret friendliness.
“How about tequila shots?” Phil asks.Thor’s dark headed friend looks unsure. “I’m buying,” Phil clarifies and goes to order us all shots.
I lean over in the semi-darkness to write some stolen words in my book.“What are you writing?” Pete asks. I show him.
“What you should write is, ‘It was Tequila,’ that way tomorrow you’ll know what happened.”So I write it down.
We call it quits soon after and walk back up the San Blas Road hill. We get our room keys from the front desk and I slide quietly into room 212. The lights are out and I hope that Nan is fast asleep and happy in her dreams in the bed upstairs. I grab my pajamas and realize I still have on Pete’s fleece. I strip it off and quickly go out. Pete and Phil share a room two doors down. I knock gently on the glass pane. Phil answers. “I forgot to give Pete his jacket back. Tell him thank you for me.”“Will do,” Phil says. “Goodnight.”
Back in my room, in the queen sized bed I’ve got all to myself, I fall into a happy and comfortable sleep.The next morning, Nan and I are both up but running on different breakfast times, so I go to the dining room alone. Pete and Phil are nearly done with their breakfast. They motion to the open chair at their table and I go over and join them.
“We’ll probably be done with our stuff around three,” Pete says. “What time are you guys getting back from the Sacred Valley?”“I’m not sure,” I say.
“Well, if you’re around later we should go out again,” Phil says.“Sounds great. I’ll catch you guys later, have fun!”
I pack up the extra bread I’d gotten with my breakfast and stuff it in my bag. Back in our room, Nan and I smear on sunscreen and tuck water bottles into our packs. Then we walk to the bus station. We buy our tickets and get on the bus that’ll drop us off at the road to Maras where we can get a taxi or walk to the sites of Moray and Salinas.The Sacred Valley is so beautiful it’s almost heartbreaking. I look past Nan’s shoulder out the window and appreciate the mountains, the sunshine, and the colorful displays of both crops and flowers along the way.
At Maras we get off the bus along with two other light skinned girls who are obviously gringas like us. One of the waiting taxi drivers crosses over to us and starts his sales pitch before any of the other drivers can get to us. The other girls, Annemarie and Laura, are from Holland. They’re in Cusco doing an internship as a part of the medical program they’re working through. They want to rent bikes and tour the area. The driver tells them there are no bikes but that he’d be glad to tour us for a very good price. They don’t believe him. The guidebook had said there were bike rental places in Maras. I’m not sure if he’s telling the truth either. So many of these drivers will say anything to get you to agree to ride with them and I can’t always read a lie. I want to believe people are honest and good. He takes us into Maras at a group rate of one sol apiece and agrees to wait for ten minutes while the girls check for bikes and Nan and I decide what we want to do.The bike rental shop is nonexistent and I retain my trust in the overall good of humanity.
After a long and multi-languaged discussion from all sides, the four of us agree to share the taxi for the day. The deal includes a ride to the amphitheaters of Moray and forty minutes to tour and then a ride to the salt pans of Salinas and another forty minutes to tour there before our taxista brings us back to the bus stop. “The waiting is free,” he says as a selling point.Our taxista is eighteen years old and named Elvis. He tells us facts about the sites as we pass them. Over the course of the day he warms up to me. I share part of my bread with him and later on some fruit.
“How old are you?” Annemarie or Laura asks him.“Eighteen,” Elvis replies.
“How old do you have to be to lead tours?”“Eighteen,” he says with a smile.
Moray holds an air of peace. I see a girl meditating alone in the center of one of the giant circles and I’m jealous. I find a moment or two to sit myself and close my eyes and breath in the majesty. The forty minutes is up too quickly. We pile into the heat-filled taxi and Elvis takes us on to the next place.
The salt pans of Salinas are extensive. Our guide pulls over to the side of the narrow rode at a spot high above the site so we can trundle out and take pictures. “In August,” Elvis tells us. “The salt is clean and as white as that,” he points to the back of the entry ticket I’m holding in my hand. The white of the paper is glossy and bright. Brilliant. The salt in August must be blinding to look at then. We all pause to imagine it. The recent rains have dirtied the salt and the people of Maras who own shares of the site come to clean it and process it over the course of the year. “Salinas provided salt to all of Peru,” Elvis tells us proudly.
At the site, we get to walk along the salt beds. We even dip our fingers in the water that trickles out of a hole in the side of the rock and taste the salt in it. Where does the salt come from? Who made the terraced salt pans? How often do people come and harvest the salt? How do they clean it? We get some answers to our questions, but not to all of them.I’m the first one back. I sit and wait with Elvis. We eat some fruit and talk about the area. When the other girls arrive we get back in and Elvis delivers us to the bus stop. A bus heading back to Cusco rolls up at the same instant and I flag it down while we pay Elvis and bid him a hasty goodbye.
Nan dozes on the trip back. I stare out the window and think about happiness and simplicity and life. I wonder if the Canadians had a good day and if they’ve gone on to have fun without me. It’s way after three o’clock when Nan and I return to our room. I take a much appreciated shower. When I get out Nan is upstairs taking it easy.I hear voices out on the balcony and open my door. Pete and Phil are just back and deciding who gets the shower first. Peter tells me all about their zip line adventure while Phil cleans up. I lean up against the balcony rail and stare out over the view we’ve got. When Pete heads inside to start his clean up, I go back into my room, leaving the door ajar. A few minutes later there’s a tap on the glass and Phil sticks his head in. “You should come check this,” he says, pointing out beyond him with the Cusqueña in his hand. I go stand next to him. There’s a thunderstorm gathering over the mountain. The clouds shift and change. From each end of the mountain dueling flashes of lightning compete for glory. Phil IV and Jane join us to watch the lightning show.
I put my head inside our room, “Nan, if you have a second you should come check out this storm. It’s amazing.” I don’t know if she hears me, but she must have since in a bit she comes and joins us. Everyone gets introduced and a passing couple visiting Peru from Denver, Colorado stops to join the impromptu party. When the conversation hits a lull, Nan goes back inside and the Coloradans leave shortly after.“If you and your friend want to join us for dinner,” Phil IV and Jane say, “We’re just going down around the corner to Jack’s Pub. It got great reviews in the guidebook and several other people have recommended it. We’ll leave in like twenty minutes?”
I go in and confer with Nan. She declines the invitation. “I think I’ll rest for a bit and then maybe go get dinner on my own,” she tells me. I’m a little disappointed. I’m enjoying the company of my new friends and want to share that with her too. We’d had a fun day together in the Sacred Valley, but there have been times in this trip where I felt she and I were traveling on different dimensional planes.“You don’t mind if I go, do you?” I ask.
She says she doesn’t and I believe her. “Okay, rest well. If you decide to go to sleep before I’m back just leave the key at the front that way I don’t have to bug you when I get in. Catch you later on.”The Canadians and I have a fun night at Jack’s Pub. The food tastes great and served in humongous portions. I get a veggie burger and eat every last bite. They regale me with the histories of past parties and fun times. “I remember the ping-pong table,” Pete says at one point of one story, “I remember Jeff coming in with the Russians.” There’s a world of stories in that one phrase so I stick my notebook under the table and write it down.
“Tequila shots, anyone?” Phil asks when we’re getting ready to leave. “Or at least an IPA. Who wants to go to Paddy’s?”Pete and Jane opt out. Phil, Phil and I go for it.
“What’ll you have?” Phil the younger asks when we’re inside and pressed up next to the bar “I’m buying.”“I’ll take an IPA if that’s what you’re getting,” I tell him.
“You’re my kind of girl,” he tells me.
“You should,” I say. Then I get passionate about the joys and sorrows of writing. I get carried away. But they listen to me carry on. “I love words. It’d be a dream come true to have my books published once I get them edited up.”“You’ll make it,” Phil the younger tells me. He squeezes out to go get us another beer.
“After this one I’m going to call it a night,” Phil the elder says.When those beers are gone, Phil IV bids us goodnight. Phil goes away once more and comes back with vodka and tonics. “I figured we could use something besides beer,” he says. We drink in companionable comfort. Talking about this or that and enjoying the night.
“Wanna bounce?” he asks when we’ve sipped the last.“Yeah.”
We bounce.The key isn’t at the front desk when I get back. So I have to knock on the door, waking Nan to get in. I feel bad about having had to wake her, and whisper an apology after her retreating back. I’ve had a good day and I fall into bed and look forward to sleeping in and having an easy next day.
The next morning, as a matter of the high altitude and some bad food Nan gets sick. I perform nurse duties badly, only meeting the external food and liquid needs and falling short on the comfort and care. Once I feel she’s okay enough on her own and might be able to sleep it off, I head out. But I stick close by, just going outside to sit on a bench in the patio below our balcony. The sun feels good and I alternate between the bench and a chair in the shade. I’ve got a fun book and a fantastic view. What more could I want except for Nan to feel better?
“Do you have sunscreen on?” Pete calls down to me from the balcony.“I’m just coming to put more on,” I assure him.
They’re heading out to run some errands and do some shopping. “You’re more than welcome to join in,” they tell me.
“I’m gonna stick around here, I think. Thanks for the invitation though.”When I go to put the sunscreen on, Nan is awake and feeling a bit better.
“It’s really nice outside if you feel up to moving,” I tell her.She comes out and we sit on opposite ends of the patio in together-solitude. It’s pleasant. Later, she’s feeling well enough so we go eat lunch at Jack’s Pub. It’s a slower paced day and I’m grateful for it. When we return from lunch Nan heads back to the room to rest up more and I go check my email. This easy day is just what I’ve been needing to recharge a bit. The Canadians--who I find myself thinking of as My Canadians--return from their day on the town. They pass me where I’m sitting at the computer in the common area. Phil and Pete have beers in hand. We catch up on the day and they head towards their room.
A bit later, Phil goes by. “We’re trying to decide what to do,” he says.“A bottle of wine?” I suggest. A quiet night at the hostal wouldn’t be bad.
“That’s a good idea,” Phil says and goes out to buy one. “If you want to join us in ten minutes, downstairs,” he tells me on his return trip, “we’re going to play cards.”In the allotted time I join all four of them. Phil pours me a Styrofoam cup of red wine and hands it to me. They teach me the rules of the game and then beat me soundly at it.
“I’m going to need dinner soon,” Jane tells them then turns to me. “Do you and your friend want to come?”“I’ll go find out,” I say. After a quick conference, I return to where they’re milling about on the balcony. “If we go to Jack’s again,” I tell them. “Nan says she’ll join us.”
They go for it and we all trudge slowly down the hill and around the corner once again to Jack’s Pub. This inclusion is what travel to Cusco is to me. It’s meeting new people and being able to call them Friends instantly. It’s feeling part of something bigger than my own, simple life. It’s seeing the world through other people’s eyes. It’s breaking out of my North American mindset to understand what another culture is about. It’s hearing stories and being included in these brand new stories that are in the making. I’m glad Nan is a part of this with me. It feels like we’re on the same page again.We pay for our dinners and go back to the hostal. Nan heads into the room just ahead of me.
The Canadians leave in the morning for their Inca Trail trek and they still have to pack up and prepare. They’ve also got to be up before five AM so they all plan on making it a little bit of an earlier night.“We’ve got to pack up now, but do you want to go out in a bit?” Phil and Pete ask me.
“Yeah, sure,” I say. They leave in the morning and Nan and I leave in the afternoon. I like the idea of one more night out before this Cusco time is over. We set a meet up and then go our separate ways.“Would you mind if I sleep on the downstairs bed tonight?” Nan asks me.
“No, that’s fine,” I tell her. “No problem. I’ll move my stuff upstairs. The guys are going out and I think I’ll go with them. You’re welcome to come.”She’s not up for it understandably.
“If it’s alright, I’ll leave the key at the front that way I won’t bug you when I come in.”
I move my stuff upstairs. When I’m halfway down the steps and getting ready to head out, she asks, “What time do you think you’ll get back?”“I’m not really sure, not too late,” I say, “They have to be up really early tomorrow. Why?”
“I'm a light sleeper and the last two nights you’ve woken me up when you came in. I was wondering if you’d stay in tonight.”I open my mouth and close it again. I hadn’t come in in any drunken stupor, but being a light sleeper myself I understand her frustration. “Okay. Sure. Let me just go out and tell these guys.”
I slip out and poke my head into Pete and Phil’s room. “Hey, I’m not going to go out with you guys tonight after all.”“What?” they ask. “Why not?”
I explain.“Really?” they ask.
“Yeah. I think it’s better if I stay in tonight unless you’ve got room for me here,” I say, joking.“Of course you can stay with us,” they say in all seriousness.
“Well, okay then.” I go let Nan know I’ll be going out after all and not coming back until the morning. “Maybe you’ll get a really great night’s sleep if I’m not around.”After I get my things together and leave them in front of their door, I go meet the gang, minus Jane, at the patio table downstairs. Between the lot of us, we finish off yet another bottle of wine and after a while Phil the elder leaves us to go catch some sleep.
“Anyone up for Paddy’s?” Phil asks, jokingly.“Sure,” Pete says.
“Seriously?” Phil asks. His eyebrows shoot up in an expressive mixture of hope and disbelief.“Sure,” Pete says again.
“I don’t have to be up at four thirty, so I’m game,” I tell them.So we go and get a drink. We don’t stay out too terribly late by partying standards, but it’s nearly midnight when we’ve finished our beers and are headed back to the room. We get ready for bed. Pete and I take distant sides on the queen sized mattress while Phil goes upstairs to crash in the smaller loft bed. I find it both strange and strangely comfortable to be sharing a bed with someone I’ve only known a few days. With our heads turned in toward each other, we chitchat like kids at a slumber party for a minute. Phil joins the conversation too, his voice drifting down the stairs. Then there’s that drowsy silence.
“We’ll leave the key at the front when we check out in the morning,” Pete says. “But feel free to sleep in as long as you’d like.”“Thanks,” I say. Goodnights hover in the darkness. I turn over on my side. The distance between Pete and me is like the border between the United States and Canada; separating, friendly, and safe. I sleep with the Canadians and when their alarms go off in the morning, I sit up to hug them goodbye and wish them happy travels. When the door clicks shut behind them and I’m left alone, I turn over, spread out and sleep the heck in.