April 18, 2012 – Nazca and I don’t like Peruvian Men
Before I leave Peru I am going to go see the Nazca Lines. I’d first heard about them at one of the Writers Readers Meeting I attended in Colorado Springs. The guest reader Juan, a poet from Pueblo, had written about them. He’d read us some poetry, laid out a brief foundation of the history and mystery of the Lines, and then moved on to other things. I’d been creatively sparked to write in my notebook “A memo left in the sands for the gods to read” and thought it would turn into a short story at some point in time. Then I’d forgotten about it. I’d forgotten about Nazca.At that time (a long winter in Colorado) Peru wasn’t even a glimmer in my mind. I had no idea I’d be living here less than half a year later. Weird how things happen. That suddenly, I’m living in Peru. Although I’m writing, and have even tried once or twice to force the memo/gods/sand story, it’s still unformed, unready, simmering in the back of my mind.
One day while I was thumbing through my Peru guide, I saw the Lines mentioned. “They’re here,” I said to myself. “Oh. Huh.” And then I decided they’d be a must see. A few weeks ago I mention this to Rodney and he says, “Well, let’s plan a trip and go together. I’ve already seen them but I’d like to go to the ruins in Huacachina. We could make a weekend of it.”We file the possibility away and go on our merry ways.
Several days later, my phone rings.“Can you meet me and Aaron Sunday morning at Café Z around 9:30 or 10:00?” Rodney asks.
Aaron is a Peruvian tour guide Rodney had meet (perhaps at Café Z) but has never used for his touring services. They’ve kept in touch via email and Rodney had sent him one asking about trips to Nazca so we could have an idea of how much money we’d have to set aside, and how much time.“Sure, see you then,” I say.
Easter Sunday morning I leave the house early. I don’t know if the buses will be running much today since all of Holy Week has been a big deal with many holiday days, so I give myself extra time. But I don’t have to wait long on the corner. I even get a seat.When I arrive in Miraflores I’m forty minutes early. I know Rodney will already be at Café Z. He’s always early. But I decide to give him his coveted alone time and go get some of my own. I scan Parque Kennedy and see an empty bench far enough away from other people that I won’t be able to eavesdrop on their conversations or hear their radio music. I put on my mean, “don’t bother me” face and pull my book out of my bag.
For twenty blessed minutes I’m undisturbed.
I’ve gotten looks. I can feel them. I’ve even gotten some muttered, attention-seeking comments. But I’m lucky this morning that ignoring those really does make them go away.
I turn a page. I read a sentence or two.In front of me I feel the presence of a man. I mentally hold my breath. “Keep going, move along,” I think. His shadow hits me. “Dang it,” I think. But I don’t look up. I don’t acknowledge him. He starts to move. I almost let out my mental breath. Too soon. He takes the open spot on the bench next to me. I shake my head (to myself). I know where this will lead. I don’t look up. I don’t look over. I pretend complete absorption in my book. What I don’t see, doesn’t exist.
“Hola,” the man says.Seriously. These freaking guys are incorrigible. If I were truly skilled, I’d be able to ignore even that. I’m not. I look up, but I don’t close my book. I give a fake smile and turn back to the pages.
“Hey,” he says, recognition etching his voice. “I know you. What’s your name again?”Alone time is over. I stare at him this time. He and I have met. We’ve talked. When I made the video for my dad he’d stopped me after eavesdropping on me and a bunch of Peruvian kids to ask me about helping him sell his maps. “You have really good Spanish,” he’d told me. “Can you teach me English?” I’d told him I was busy as all get out and that I wished I could, but my schedule wouldn’t allow it. Which was true. We’d shaken hands and parted ways.
I wonder if I should just go meet Rodney now. Save myself from a conversation I don’t really want to have. I’m still twenty minutes early. But heck.“Do you have a boyfriend?” the man asks me.
And we’re off. I should be used to this by now. He’s following the formula. It’s not like I don’t know the questions. But I’m annoyed. Normally I tell the truth. Most of the time I do. This time I just want to be left alone. So I lie.“Yes.”
“Is he here?”“He’s in the States,” I embellish.
“Do you have a Peruvian boyfriend?” he pries on.Now. I’d just told him I had a boyfriend and he’s got no qualms assuming that I can have more than one. Well I could. But I don’t lie that much.
“No,” I tell him. “My boyfriend is in the United States.” I created a picture of him in my mind. He’s hot. He’s nice. He’s got a great sense of humor. And he gets along with my family. What more could I want? I wonder what I’ll name this fictional character.Bench Man takes this information in. Then he nods. Then he gets a worried look on his face. “You don’t like Peruvian men?” he leans in as if to see the truth in my eyes, concerned.
The easiest answer to this question is No. Not for boyfriends (real or imagined), not for lovers (real or imagined), not for taking home to meet my parents, not for flirting with on park benches when I’ve got a book in hand, not for the comments they harass me with on the street, not for the whistles and honks, not for any of that.The other answer is Yes. For the fact that they’re human just like me with cares and wants and needs and a love for life.
I don’t say either. I hedge and wish I were silly enough to gasp, point behind him and say, “What in the world could that be?”“Well, uh, hmmm,” is what I manage. “How’s your map selling going?” I ask.
“It’s okay. I’m not selling them today.”I don’t know how we get from that to his family life. He pulls out his wallet and shows me the pictures of his three children. One of them is fourteen years old, for crying out loud. I admire them. “They’re precious,” I say. He tells me that his wife makes and sells jewelry and that between that and his work they get by. More or less.
“I’m helping my wife out a little bit today,” he says. “Do you like earrings?”“I don’t really.” This is true. I have two piercings in each earlobe, but I haven’t worn any earrings in over a year. This is probably just laziness on my part.
He withdraws a packet from his pocket and brings out some little gold loops. He puts a pair in my hand (The key to good salesmanship is getting the customer to connect with the product).“They’re very nice,” I tell him. And I hand them back (The key to not getting tricked in to buying something is in returning the product as quickly as possible).
“Only ten soles,” he says.“They’re very nice,” I tell him. I look the proper amount of wistful. “I’m sorry. I can’t buy anything today.”
He wraps them back up and holds the package for a minute. If I had it to give, I’d just give him ten soles, but I don’t. Or maybe I’m just not generous enough. I think about this. I evaluate myself. I look off into the trees, at the cat two women are taking pictures of, at the passing people. It’s a little bit of both, but more that I don’t have it to give. This makes me feel a tiny bit better.“Well,” I say, putting my book away and standing up. “It was good to see you again. I’ve got to go meet a friend.”
We shake hands and bid each other goodbye.I walk a little out of my way so he doesn’t see where I go. It’s only being slightly paranoid.
Rodney and Aaron are waiting. Though I’m still early we don’t waste any time. We get right down to business. Aaron spells out the details, gives us the lowdown and his recommendations. Lima to Nazca, Nazca to Ica, Ica to Haucachina, Huacachina to Paracas Island, Paracas back to Lima. I write the costs and suggested itinerary in my notebook. I calculate this against the ten soles for the earring. I’ve budgeted a set sum for this trip and I need to get a calculator and see if we’re within my limit. Once the details have been spelled out, he thanks us for our time, we thank him for his. Rodney and I let him know that we’re not going to actually go until sometime in May and then Aaron leaves.“What do you think?” Rodney asks now that we’re alone amid the bustle of Lima.
“I’ll have to go home and add things up and convert the soles to dollars and vice versa.”
“Me too,” he says.
But we both know we’re going. It’s just a matter of working out the minor points.We order fresh coffees. I get breakfast. We talk.
My fictional boyfriend loses shape and fades like a ghost from my mind. I push earring thoughts away. I set aside my money worries and the lingering stress about the future. I sit back in my chair and take a sip of coffee. Because soon I’m going to Nazca. A story is waiting there for me. And I have to go in person to retrieve it.