Sunday, February 23, 2014

Carcass City and the Elephant Graveyard.

We had heard of a town just south of Lima called Paracas. Apparently, there was a beach there and it was meant to be a great stop along the coast. Hmm..a lesson in travel..all recommendations are subjectiveJ Our view of Paracas differed slightly from some of our travel mates, in that we found it to be a bit on the dingy, dirty, dusty and less than appealing side of the tracks. Sooo, we kicked our resourcefulness into high gear and booked accommodations at the hostel for 11 US dollars/night and opted to spend our days relaxing in the poolside cabanas of the 5 star resort that we discovered a five minute walk down the road. Perfect. We might have only blended in as actual guests for about 5 hours (walk like you know what you are doing and where you are going, always) before we were found out and were asked to relocate. But, we had no complaints as our relocation spot was the massive and extravagant resort lobby, complete with a beachfront view lined with tikki torches (the pretty bit of the beach), comfy overstuffed furniture to kick our feet up on, and a cozy rock fireplace. Yeah, that’ll do. Edinho, if you are reading this..thanks for the constant supply of maize, nuts and drink refills. You rock.

We did get adventurous one day and found ourselves out on a bike ride through the desert sand dunes of the nearby national reserve. You would think we had learned our lesson from heeding the advice of others regarding the attractions of this region. Sadly, we had not. “When you get to this part of map, go here instead..ride by the beachside, much more pretty and will save time.” These were the words of our bike rental lady. And they could have easily been the last words we ever heard from the outside world. Ah, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but maybe it’s not. The first few hours of this adventure were actually alright as we pumped our pedals up and down the hills of the dunes, admiring the endless sea of sand surrounding us at every angle. It was as if time stood still as we rode through the middle of the earth’s hour glass. Another moment of feeling so small in this great big world of ours. Then the sun began to pound a little more violently on our gringa backs. And then..then came the infamous beach front bike ride.

I’m pretty certain we rode our bikes straight into the elephant graveyard of Peru. Simba, you got nothing on us buddy. As riding was no longer an option, due to the impossibly difficult and uneven mounds of sand, we dismounted and began the push onward by foot. A surprisingly treacherous feat. A few feet into our trek we were instantly overwhelmed with an unfortunate and terrible stench. I kept on moving forward with the thought of “who knew beaches could rot?” perplexing my mind. Another few feet and then..ope, there it was. Part of the reason behind the stench. I looked up just as Laura let out a little scream and I found her with her foot hovering mid-step, dramatically poised a few inches away from the carcass of a dead sea lion. At least that what my mind interpreted this bloated half of a creature lying before us to be. We squeamishly scooted around this poor fella and kept walking only to discover that the path in front of us was completely riddled with even more evidence of death. What the heck is in this water?? We spent the next 20 minutes carefully tip toeing around to avoid stepping on even more sea lion remains, countless fish skeletons, remnants of birds, and wait a that a human femur?? Wouldn’t have surprised me anyways. We finally made it to the other side and celebrated our survival with a priceless rendition of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise”. As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…

It only took another 10 minutes of riding in the blazing sun for us to realize that we could no longer handle this dust bowl which had filled our shoes with bone fragments and feathers and had successfully exfoliated our skin with all the finest dust particles the desert had to offer. We turned those rusty bikes around and quickly headed back for civilization. Well, maybe not quickly. We slowly trudged back toward town, while guzzling Powerades and munching on Oreos (the health nuts that we are). Fortunately, we must have looked pretty pitiful, because a truck filled with several hospitable Peruvian scientists approached us about 15 minutes into our journey and offered us a ride. What would have been a 2 hour miserable return trip via bicycle turned into a pleasant and relaxing 20 minute car ride. Nervous break downs and worsened sunburns successfully avoided. I have never met a group of scientists I have loved more.  Adios carcass city.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Limp Fish and the Language of Kindness

One of the most beautiful and yet as equally challenging aspects of travel to me is the communication piece. I am constantly amazed by my ever-expanding talents with charades and my ability, and often inability, to read facial expressions. I do wonder about their opinions of this goofy white girl rapidly flapping her arms and tossing out random gang symbol-esque hand can you not understand I am asking for directions to the nearest coffee shop?? We did learn from a few Peace Corp buddies we met along the way, that the preferred signal to hail a taxi in some locations is not with an out-turned hand, but with an outstretched floppy, flexed wrist (affectionately called the limp fish). Apparently, this is the less suggestive approach and veers away from any semblance of the "come hither" signal. Not sure if this is true, but I do know we have thus far escaped without any long lines of eager men behind us as we have traipsed across the country side. And let's take a minute to pay acknowledgement to the moment I found myself typing the sentence "Do we take off all our clothes?" into my translation app..haha, no worries, it was for our multiple one hour $9 massages we have discovered in Cuzco. Just keepin our Mamas' hearts at rest is all:) Yep, with the help of our handy Jibbigo app, we are making do with the basic commentary and I'm learning to keep my hands at my side, rolls those r's with minimal spitting and enunciate a little more each day.

 The underlying beauty manifests in those moments when all translation is completely lost across cultures and languages and yet the universal language of love and kindness prevails and a connection is made. Early on in our trip I found myself walking alongside a woman named Gladys, from the small village of Huaraz, Peru who spoke absolutely no English. We were nearing the end of our day trek to see the glacier and the backdrop of our conversation was a panoramic view of the Andes mountains. In 20 minutes I learned about several key pieces of her life story and shared a bit of mine with her, with both of us laughing at each other's attempts to decipher through our broken snippets of language. At the end of the trail, we hugged and exchanged a kiss on the cheek and I was immediately overwhelmed with the power of the human heart and an openness to connect with the world surrounding it. Just after this, I hopped aboard the bus to find Laura with her head in her lap still reeling from the effects of altitude sickness and several very concerned on-looking Peruvians. Our bus travel mates also spoke only Spanish but through eye contact, a few gestures and several smiles they each offered up their own personal remedies for the sickness they knew was present and we were gifted with some crackers, hard lemon candy, and a bottle of rubbing alcohol to soothe her symptoms as we began our trip home. There were some beautiful hearts on board that bus that day. After our trek to Machu Picchu (more on that later) we found ourselves grabbing a late night ride in a van packed with around 20 people to take us from the village of Olanta back to Cuzco. Laura bopped along in the very back of the van and I rode shotgun, both of us comfortably smooshed between locals from surrounding towns with babies and luggage in tow. Only a few of them spoke the tiniest bit of English but within the first 20 minutes of the ride we had persuaded them to teach us Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Happy Birthday in Spanish, each of us shouting our newly acquired tunes at each other from our respective spots in the bouncing van.

 I think every traveler would agree that this lifestyle is one that constantly pushes you outside of your comfort zone and asks you to challenge yourself in multiple creative ways almost daily. But it is in these moments that I feel I am growing..and learning..and living. It is in these moments, the ones where I am literally at a loss for words, that I am forced to rely on my intuition and to place trust in myself and another human being to tend to my soul and my experience. Memories formed from kindness, these are the memories that last...a hug from Gladys, a selfless gift from a passenger on a bus, and a sing-along with smiling families as we travel across a foreign land. There are many languages in this vast world, but the one I choose to keep close to my heart, is love.