Friday, April 26, 2013

Shit I'm used to....

And I say that respectfully.

Today while on my way to work I saw 6 men pushing a 50 year old diesel truck and trailer that had gone kaput backwards in the middle of the road which had the same amount of traffic as that of I-40 between Little Rock and Memphis.  They were yelling and waving at other traffic to stop and the other drivers were just slowing down and honking like mad with no expressions on their faces.  In front of the truck, a woman took advantage of the slowed traffic to push her baby and stroller across said highway.  One of the men had an AK-47 on his back.  I do declare, if this had actually happened between Little Rock and Memphis, it'd be on the news.

Not here.

And that got me to thinking about some of the stuff I have become accustomed to... stuff that perhaps may have caused a little more alarm or surprise in my system almost a year ago.  Such as....

Seeing a baby being carried by a blanket hanging off the back of a motorcycle on a busy road going 55 miles per hour.  This was shot at a red light.

The beauty and power in this...

Driving by Lake Titicaca at sunset

 Being in any restaurant just about anywhere and dogs just come and go.  
And pee on the doorway on their way out.  
(I'll save you a picture of the latter, but it exists.)

 The power and beauty in this.  If you know what it is, you win. 

Moments like this.  

This being a normal view while driving

People saying things like "This is 400 years old."  
For example, this key to a 400 year old church in the community of Marcapata, in the Cusco department of Peru.  There is nothing that old in the USA outside of things Native American.  This Catholic church is only maintained by locals.  They have service there once a week. The Spanish paintings, altar, sculptures, confessional, everything....are original.  It has been looted by thieves often and it's items sold for thousands because of their value.  Their sole security system is the 400 year old lock and key on the front door.

 Stuff like this...

And then of course, there are the things I've said.  All of these come from my travels in the field.  Like....

"Is that baby calf still in the outhouse?  Because I really need to go."
No one flinched. 

And all of the following have been said by me...EACH MORE THAN ONCE:  
"I don't have a tan line, I have a dirt line."

(Whispering)  "What am I eating?"

(Whispering)  "What am I drinking?"

ALL THE TIME:  "What are we doing?"

ALL THE TIME:  "Where are we going?"

"How is the bathroom?"  
This is such a loaded question.  You have no idea what some of the places where I have used the bathroom look like and I'll save you detailed descriptions.  Once I dropped a button off my jacket onto a bathroom floor and I swear it began being eaten by whatever the liquid was it fell in.  I did not pick it up.  Sometimes it is a hole in the ground.  Sometimes it is a toilet bowl with no seat.  Sometimes it is behind a tree.  And there are some examples that I just can't even share with you.

"Slow down, there are goats/sheep/cows/babies/llamas/donkeys/alpacas/ducks/chickens in the road."

"I'm sorry we were late, we ran into *see list above* on the road here."

"We're stopping here?  There is nothing here."

"Who has the toilet paper?"

"I need oxygen.  No, like for real.  Pass the canister."

"What is this stuff we're walking in?"

"Can you pull over?  I need to throw up." 

"Is there hot water for the showers?"
This is actually a really stupid question.  After the first two field visits, I knew better.  No, Jessica.  There is no hot water.  There will never be hot water.

"In my 'hotel' room, I'm going to sleep on top of the covers.  In my clothes, and shoes.  And put a t shirt over my pillow and then throw that shirt away." 

"Will someone please shoo the dogs out of here, this is City Hall."

"I'm pretty sure I was just insulted."

These represent just a handful of experiences.  Sometimes, in the moment of some of these experiences I was frustrated.  Sometimes I was so dizzy from being at 14,000 feet that I couldn't see.  (Literally.  Like one time my vision went blurry for three days and I couldn't even tell the time on my watch.)  Sometimes I was giddy with excitement.  Sometimes I was just tired. 

But always.  Always always always, I had the presence of mind to know that every bit of it was awesome.  Every bit.  Every moment.  Every question.  Every answer.  Even when frustrated.  Every ounce of air I was and am breathing feels sacred and precious.  Every shore of Piura, every Andean peak, every hill of Puno filled up my eyes and mind so full that there is no 4x6 that could ever describe the fullness felt in my heart and the sweeping gratitude of this experience.

Yep, I'm used to some crazy shit.  And I love it.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Part II of Johnny's Rocket

Part II of Johnny's adventure....

As the plane vectored for a landing I caught glimpses of Lima’s busy Pacific coastline, with ramshackle huts, cars in long-term parking lots completely covered in tan dirt, and fishing boats gearing up for the day.  Our aircraft dipped its wing and glided in for a safe touchdown, streaking L.A. grit in Lima at 7 a.m. local.  I rubbed mis ojos, and put on sunglasses.

Stepping off into another world was no real grand occasion, but there was an undercurrent of expectation; discoveries to be made, new foods to taste, different people to see.  There were no pan-flutists there to greet us, unfortunately, or dancing aliens wearing colorful chulos handing out barbecued guinea pigs.  But, while waiting to get off the plane an interesting little video played on the headrest screens.  It did have flute music, and showed colorful photographs of the famous Peruvian sites, with catchy buzzwords capturing the essence of this unique country.  I should have written them down, because it would’ve been good to use here.  They were golden strings of words indicative of an advanced society.

After advancing relatively smoothly through customs, and using my rough Spanglish to fill out a report for my lost duffel bag, I finally saw a familiar face in the airport.  Bryan --hereafter referred to simply as BC -- was there in shorts, and a yellow, Colombian soccer (or as they call it hear "futbol") jersey, with a grin and a friendly welcoming hug.  Good ol’ BC.  I hadn’t seen him in eight months or so.  I’m not sure how long he waited there for me; longer than expected due to my lost baggage.  It was 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 19.  I wanted a liter of water, and strong cup of coffee.  I would have to swallow my spit for another hour again.  BC introduced me to the driver.  I forgot his name, but he was a short older gentleman with dark skin, a white shirt, peppered hair, a strong frame, and deep lines of experience in his face.  “Mucho gusto senor,” and we jumped in the little car for my introduction to the world of Lima taxicab rides. 

There are no rules, other than the need to honk a lot, swerve and dodge cars and people jumping across the street, speed up as fast as you can and then slam on your breaks, and squeeze into tight spots between other little cars and jam-packed buses.  Why the government bothers in painting white lines on the road I don't know, because no one uses them.  I was ready for a beer by the time we got to la casa on Paul de BeauDiaz.  We were greeted by Luis, a sort of unofficial doorman in a floppy camo hat.  He seemed to always be there, in the shade doing something in a chair.  I never found out where he lived, but he was always there.  He grabbed my bags and carried them in.

No cervezas in la casa.  I would have to settle for water.  But not tap water.  That will kill you.  No beer due to a prohibition temporarily installed for a city council vote.  They call it ley seca, “dry law,” and there’s a S/.1800 fine (roughly $650) for breaking it. (S/. is the sign for sole, the national form of currency.)  When we got to the bank the exchange rate was 38 cents for 1 sole.  I was all of a sudden rich.  I cashed in $83 for S/. 200.  You can get a good meal for S/.7 here, but a beer costs almost the same, at about S/.5.50.  It didn’t matter.  We were in need.  But, the grocery store across the street still had signs up saying ley seca was in effect, and it wouldn’t be over until noon.  It was 11 a.m. Tuesday.  The girl at the counter wasn’t budging.  BC knew of a little place that would sell to us.  We went down there and got two Cusquenas (1 dark and 1 regular) and two Cristals.  The Cusquenas turned out to be too sweet.  It was a perfect opportunity to have my first try of hoya de coca, the bitter leaf of the coca plant, to offset this sweetness and wake my jet-lagged self up a little.  I’d had coca tea before, thanks to our other friend Bart when I visited him down in Jacksonville, Fla., a couple years ago.  The raw leaf definitely has more of an impact, but it seemed no different than taking a dose of what my friend Cheryl calls “hippy crack.”  BC Powders contain 65 mg of caffeine and 465 mg of aspirin.  After about 10 minutes of chewing hoya de coca, the mouth becomes numb.  I swallowed my spit again, and again, until I had extracted all of its juices.  The smell of this hoya de coca can be off-putting to some. It is a mild mix of tuna fish and cat piss. 

We had to stay sober, so beer consumption was limited to two each.  At 2:30 p.m. we would be walking down to pick up Davis from school, and the womenfolk were going to be back at 4:00.  Jessica and her friend Cindy, who was also visiting from Arkansas, were returning from Cusco and their epic adventure to Machu Picchu.  And BC was in a marathon debate with the Dell customer service over his computer’s microphone, as well as dealing with repairs of both the refrigerator and the clothes dryer.  Oddly enough, even though it is a very dry area, the clothes do not dry well on lines.  It takes a very long time, 24 hours or so, before the clothes were dry enough to wear after being washed.

There was also my lost baggage issue to attend to, and this was valiantly accomplished despite either of us having a working phone.  I forgot to sign up for the international plan before I left.  And BC had lost his phone in a taxicab.  However, just as BC was about to have the issue handled, using his iPad and internet Skype to talk to Lima LAN customer service, the connection was lost.  We were so close.  When he was able to get back online, another customer service rep, who spoke even less English, answered.  Regardless, he was able to work through it all in his Spanish accent.  It reminded me of the way he talks to his dog, Forest.  Friends know it as BC-talk.  It’s an amalgam of South Carolinian and something foreign where cutting off the back third of the word with a sound or a grunt is acceptable.  His voice goes up a half octave, and he slips into the vocal posture of an old tobacco-chewing-fiddle-playing hillbilly.  But, just imagine this with Spanish words coming out instead.  I could only imagine what it sounded like on the other end of the phone.  The next morning, BC checked the flights that came in from L.A. over the night and saw that three had arrived.  One of them contained my luggage.

I can’t remember what we had for dinner that evening, but it was hearty and good. I just recall passing out on the couch not long after Jessica and Cindy got back, and our after-dinner conversation involved a lot of bathroom humor.  I fell soundly asleep in Davis’ bed, as he graciously loaned it to me for the night.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Johnny Rockets

From March 1 until April 6 I had guests in my home.  I haven't blogged or Facebooked.  On April 7 I left for a two week Heifer gig in the depths of Puno, Cusco and Piura.  So there is my absence explained.

The guests were wonderful though.  Each and every one. I'm a lucky person to have so many dear friends to take the time to visit.  I'm even luckier to have one who is a great writer and has taken the time to write about his experience via the Clifton Bed & Breakfast.  His name is Johnny and he's about as good as it gets.  Here is Part I of a three part guest blog.  Enjoy....

On the afternoon flight from Dallas to Los Angeles, my thoughts were not in Peru or studying Spanish as they should have been.  For months now I have been researching a story out of Helena, Arkansas, during the Civil War.  As my flight raced toward the setting sun, high over the southwestern desert, I was still wondering what happened to West Bogan.  Had he gone north after he was freed from prison by two words from Lincoln?  Did he try to get back to South Carolina?  Did he see an omen that morning he killed his master Monroe with an axe?  What was he doing and learning when he went off the property without Monroe’s permission?  Did he think about joining the Colored Troops to fight the Rebels.  What would he have thought about this airplane zooming 500 mph, 30,000 feet up? 

I thought it was amazing, and I looked forward to seeing Peru in the morning, but I was still too caught up in my research to think much about it.  I recall thinking how modern Palm Springs looked, and I marked the town into my GPS.  As we flew into Los Angeles, Arlo Guthrie’s tune popped into my head, followed by The Doors.  I looked down over the green and orange lights of that megalopolis and thought of some friends I had somewhere down there.  They were probably having dinner about then, or starting to watch a movie.  I had eaten nothing since noon, and was about to live out a scene of my own.  

This was after I played a real-life version of Frogger, jumping across two lanes of heavy airport traffic to get to the new and detached Tom Bradley International Terminal. I found someone who spoke English and they directed me to it.  It was back the other way, across the traffic.  There were no signs.  It was 8 p.m. on a Monday.  There were people everywhere, from every corner of the globe.  It looked like they had everything they owned piled up on carts, in some sort of exodus.  I looked up at one of the huge departure and arrival boards and squinted to make it out.  They were in foreign languages; Chinese, Japanese, Polish, Swahili.  I just kept walking and acted like I knew where I was going.  A man passed me.  I was in a stream.  My wallet was in my front pocket.  I felt like Kramer.  I followed the stream until I saw a uniform. “How do you get to Gate 29?”  “Go the way you came, and take a left.”  This was of little help.  I got to high ground, in some sort of food court, to see if I could make out what was going on any better than down in the trenches. My mouth was dry.  I needed water.  I spotted a roped-off entry and a small sign that looked like it would be helpful.  That was my way.  I just had to pass through another security zone and wait for an hour.  I called my friend Amanda and wished her a happy birthday, then sat down to rest my eyes and dry mouth.  The vending machine with bottled water would only take crisp new bills.  I wasn’t going to risk sliding my debit card through it.  My bills seemed as worn out as I was, and they were curtly rejected.  In less than an hour I’ll be on the plane, I told myself, and I can get some water then.  I swallowed my spit and thought of West Bogan, in a sweltering Helena jail cell.  That would make things easier on me.  I slipped my Braves hat over my eyes and eased abajo en mi asiento.

The flight to South America began boarding on time.  It was a 763, jumbo jet.  I’m not sure if I’d been on one of these yet.  I found my seat, stowed my backpack, and settled in.  An elderly Japanese man sat next to me.  I said “hello,” and opened my little book to a story on Daniel Boone.  He was about to be captured by Shawnee Indians and taken across the Ohio River.  I only know how to count to 10 in Japanese, so communication was limited. He looked old enough to have been in World War II.  I wondered what my grandpa Chet would’ve said to him: “You guys shot up my friends, you crazy Jap!” could have been his first thought.  However, being the observant Catholic that he was he surely would’ve found peace with it by the time he hit his 90s. The Japanese man was with a tour group, and he’d become separated from the herd.  He was now sitting with a red-eyed Southerner who just wanted a beer.  Next to us, up a row, was a trio I thought to be archeologists, because of their sandals and professional air.  But then one of the women said, while laughing, “She keeps asking me all these questions. What is it with you psychologists?”

By 2 a.m. we were well south of the Baja de California, where Sammy Hagar grows blue agave.  I looked out the window and saw the lights of some Mexican city many miles away.  The air was smooth and we made good time at a maximum cruising altitude and the earth tilted at 23 ½ degrees.  I was moving into fall from spring.  At first light, around 4 a.m. at that height, I lifted my eyelids just enough to see a thin orange line rise up in the east surrounded by blackness.  I closed them again to rest as much as possible.  At 5 a.m., I heard the beautiful sound of “buenas dias” from the lips of a beautiful Peruvian woman, handing me a warm plate of breakfast.  They were possibly the best scrambled eggs I’d ever had.  I looked out the window again and took my first glimpse of Peru.  It was a massive snow-covered peak of the Andes, jutting through a thick layer of wavy clouds.  The only word that came to mind was “mysterious,” even though I knew what it was. It was a mountain.  But, it was a Peruvian mountain.  This made it inherently mysterious.  Tu sabes? Peru’s history holds some of oldest cultures in the Americas.  Why did it happen here?  Geology?  The oceans?  Climate?  How did they live without war for so long?  El Ninos?  There are many questions.  I was going to try and figure some of it out.

One thing I immediately understood was that LAN airlines is the nicest airline I had ever flown.  Aside from the individual headrest TV screens with handy remote controls and many options of movies and television programs, the in-flight food was delicioso and the flight attendants top-notch. 

Part II coming....