When your intestines are giving you crap, just be thankful for flush toilets. #sorrynotsorry #thirdworldproblems #photobycharles
Last weekend I climbed a mountain.
It was a planned expedition—as much as you can plan anything in Peru. We had a destination (sort of), and a map (kind of), and an idea of when we’d get there (vaguely).
This lack of concrete scheduling is very counterintuitive to my detail-oriented personality. But after stress eating for the first three weeks I was in-country, I realized I’d either have to go with the flow or risk diabetes.
So the patiperros in my life got together and hailed a sleek car service outside an old theater in Lima. We drove for three hours through the capital’s Friday night traffic. Unlike NYC (or D.C. or SF or…) cab rides here are incredibly inexpensive. I plunked down 9 soles—the equivalent of about $3—at the end of the trip.
Upon arrival at our destination I was immediately ejected from the vehicle and sucked into the swirl of lightssoundssmells that consumes Chosica every weekend. Chosica is a tourist town, a place Limeños go when the doom and gloom of the capital gets on their nerves. With this influx of out-of-towners, everything is pretty big and bright for a mountain town.
There was a fair in the main square, and blinking, raucus rides flung screaming children in all directions. Along the park, vendors sold anticuchos de corazon (skewered cow hearts) dripping with oil, pollo y papas (chicken and potatoes) and Turrón de Doña Pepa (a pastry topped with candies).
For the first hour, we veered away from one commotion only to throw ourselves at another. Along the way, the patiperros picked up fresh cheese, avocado, anticuchos, two bottles of pisco too many and a $1 chicken sandwich. Satisfied, and praying to The God of Food Poisoning for mercy, we made our way to Chosica’s bus “terminal”—a shed just a few blocks from the park.
That night, we had to take a 2-hour bus ride to a much smaller town called San Mateo. The plan was to grab a hotel room and sleep for a bit before our crack-of-dawn jaunt into the wilderness. Reaching San Mateo before bed would also give us a few, precious hours to pay our respects to The God of Altitude. Acclimating to the new, much higher, elevation is important. Altitude sickness is a thing—and it’s a bitch.
So when we made it to the terminal, we were ready to get on the road. But there was no bus. I mean, there might be a bus, we were told. About 30-something people were waiting in line, convinced this bus would appear. They’d been waiting for more than an hour for their chosen mode of transportation to materialize.
Since the patiperros and I weren’t on good terms with The God of Late Transporation (there must be one, right??), we had to slightly alter The Plan.
Now, when I’m having a one-on-one conversation, I can understand Spanish. I won’t profess to know everysinglelittledetail, but I get the gist of the conversation. Add hunger, lights, loud noises and sleep deprivation to the mix, and I don’t even try anymore. At that point, my brain barely responds to English.
So I stood on the side of the road in a city whose name I kept forgetting and dodged cars and foot traffic while waiting for the patiperros—who were chattering away in a mixture of Spanish and Polish—to come to a decision about where/when/if we’d be sleeping.
People generally panic when everything is out of their control. Their cortisol levels rise to an uncomfortable level, their palms get sweaty, and their stomachs churn. But this is Peru. Maybe Plan ABCDEFG didn’t work out, but there’s always Plan H. The same “flexibility” that spirited away our bus also provides plenty of other workarounds.
We ended up bunking with a friend of a friend for the night and heading off early in the morning for San Mateo. In San Mateo we bought mountain bread (it’s a thing!) and water and found a cab willing to drop us off in the middle of nowhere.
There were sheep and cows and women tending to a shrine. After realizing no one in our group had cell phone reception, the cab pulled away, and I climbed a freaking mountain.
It actually wouldn’t be so impressive if it wasn’t for the fact that this mountain was almost 15,000 feet (4,500 meters) above sea level at the base. This means there were very few oxygen molecules getting to my li’l cranium. The mountain danced around a LOT during our five-hour trek (less mamba, more waltzy).
There was wind and rain and hail. I not-so-melodramatically thought I was going to die on several occasions, or at least dizzily stumble off said mountain and break a few bones.
The patiperros were hunting for a lake at the top of the mountain, said to have gorgeous vistas. At hour three we figured we were getting close. Halfway through hour four, we knew it was just over the next ridge. By hour five, the sun was beginning to set, and we called it. We’d conquer just ONE more ridge, and then we’d start the two-hour hike down.
In case you were keeping track, we’re now on Plan Q.
We never found the lake, but I climbed to the very top of that mountain, and despite the lack of oxygen (or maybe because of it) felt oh-so alive.
I wrote this headline and blog post (below) last year and thought they were clever and funny. But they’re neither of those things. They’re just sad and ignorant.
I’m leaving them both as-is to remind myself how easy I have it. As a member of the majority, I can make these kinds of “jokes,” and I have the privilege to think they’re funny. Because when a cop pulls me over, I don’t have to be afraid. The authority figure with the gun is my friend.
For so, so many others, that’s not the case. Living in my little bubble of privilege, I cannot begin to imagine what a life living with discrimination is like. So I’m listening and reading and learning, and you should do the same. I won’t take my misinformed blog post down, but I wouldn’t recommend reading it. Instead, check these out:
Police officers are always picking me up.
When I lived in NYC (and wasn’t reporting a story—that’s an important distinction), I was driven from the Morningside Heights precinct all the way up to the east side of 125th by two very nice gentlemen who also gave me tips on what to order at Sylvia’s.
As a Washingtonian, cops literally pulled me off the streets once a week. I was driven to a soccer game, a metro station and, once, to my house. (Aside: It was WAY better than Uber.)
Perhaps I walk around with a sign on my back that says, “EASILY ROBBED. SAVE HER. FILLING OUT A POLICE REPORT WITH THIS ONE WILL BE A NIGHTMARE.”
It was really only a matter of time before the local authorities here picked up on my trail. I was walking around San Isidro, a neighborhood about an hour north of my house. And FINE, I was admittedly lost, but just a little bit! I was only three blocks off. I would’ve found it eventually.
Anyhow, the Serenazgo—Lima’s version of police officers—found me and walked me to my destination.
I finally feel like this is home!
I’m really looking forward to the night when I’m tipsy from a couple glasses of wine (OK, who are we kidding, one glass of wine), and I’ll elbow Greg and say, ‘HEY, HEY, remember that timeee when we rented that apartment in Peru? Yeah, yeah, and we didn’t know it had that MOLD INFESTATION! Ohmygod, that was a riot! Let’s never do THAT again!’
And then I’ll laugh hysterically because I think I’m really funny when I’m tipsy (OK, who are we kidding, I’m not funny, I’m hilarious).
At first, I was fascinated by this mold, which I affectionately dubbed “The Blob” because it was covering a huge wall in our bedroom (and then later not-so-affectionately re-dubbed it “THAT *!$$@*”). As a science journalist, I think fungus of all kinds is incredibly interesting. And as a health reporter, mold is always a great story. Mold, depending on the type, has a habit of releasing spores almost constantly. And, again, depending on the type, those spores can be incredibly toxic.
Toxic, as in, they can KEEL you.
Not wanting to sneeze myself to death, I decided The Blob had to go, and it had to go ASAP. ASAP turned out to be a Friday night at the end of a long week. *sigh
So far we’ve tried bleach, vinegar, boric acid and—after reading a crunchy blog—tea tree oil. With bandanas to cover our noses and long-sleeve shirts and pants to keep the spores off our bodies, the significant other and I looked like two bandits who missed “Weapons 101” day at Bad-Guy School. Wielding cleaning supplies to do battle with a carpet of fuzz clinging to the walls, kitchen table, hallway table, shoes, jackets, electronics, desk, closets, drawers, cupboards, and drapes isn’t going to make it into a Marvel Comic anytime soon.
The Blob Strikes Again
Lima has seen a huge construction boom over the past few years. Our building is relatively new, which is why we liked it—and also probably why we have mold. These buildings are constructed quickly, which means corners are cut, and ventilation is practically nonexistant. Couple that with Lima’s normal humidity and the fact that I live a mere five blocks from the coast means that we may have conquered The Blob now.
But it’s waiting.
And it’s going to strike again. Dun DUn DUN.
I go to the gym every day.
No kidding, I go every, single, darn day. OK, except yesterday. I didn’t go because I wasn’t feeling well, and I had a big pimple on my chin, and I didn’t want people to judge me. The lady at the front desk looks kind of judgey.
So, you may be thinking, ‘She goes to the gym every day? I mean, she looks pretty buff, but not like super, crazy buff.’ To you people, A) Thank you! *air high five* B) I’m working on it, but super, crazy buff is hard to achieve without testosterone or, you know, ‘roids.
I go to the gym every day, not to work out, but for the showers. God, I could write love songs about those showers. They’re clean and comfy and warm and smell like fancy smells that you can only get at a fancy gym except I pay $35 a month. It’s spectacular, you guys. I’m pretty sure heaven is one, long, consistently warm shower at the Fiesta Casino gym.
The shower in my apartment generally toggles between scalding hot and freezing cold. I’ve learned to appreciate scalding because its presence is so fleeting—about 8 minutes or so. Then the freezing sets in, usually when I’m about 2 minutes away from getting my long hair soap-free, and I can’t say I’m a fan of that sudden jolt of awfulness.
Yesterday, big pimple, sore throat day, I didn’t go to the gym and missed out on this glorious, daily ritual. I’d also forgotten that because we go to the gym so often (did I mention I go ERRY DAY, you guys?!) the significant other and I had turned off our water heater, which is really just this tiny tank in the laundry room. So the shower water was cold—really cold.
Fun fact: A watched water heater doesn’t heat.
Quick question: Should I use a #thirdworldproblems or #firstworldproblems hashtag for this post?
So this evening I was washing dishes and managed, by some miracle, to hit the sweet spot between scalding and freezing, and I had the sudden urge to get naked and crawl into the sink. But then I realized that our neighbor’s bedroom looks straight into our window. And then I didn’t care because when someone doesn’t speak your first language, you develop a certain ambivalence. For example, Greg and I often have loud, obnoxious English conversations in Starbucks, and I’m pretty sure everyone speaks my native tongue, BUT there’s plausible deniability.
SPOILER ALERT: Never have I ever sink showered… yet.
Welp, today’s a new day, and I’m off to the gym. It’s shower time! Oh, and maybe I’ll exercise.
Don’t fall asleep on the ride back from Machu Picchu.
It’s more challenging than it sounds. You’ve spent hours absorbing memories, trying to hold onto everysinglelittle wisp of cloud, crumbling cornerstone and curious llama. At day’s end you sink into the hollow of your seat, like a soggy cookie plunging toward the bottom of a tea cup. It’s easy to succumb to the lull of train travel.
With my family curled up under the last rays of sun, lulled by Andean musak on the loudspeakers, I forced myself awake. awake. AWAKE.