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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Good day sunshine...

It's tempting to stop right here. Are you seeing this cappuccino?! This is a work of art.

Franco made it for me, that sweet boy.

Who is Franco? You ask. Well, it is all my husband's fault that I met charming Franco...and his beautiful coffees.

Mike, my beloved, had envisioned how I would spend my time in Peru the two days alone before he would join me from the States and the days when he would be at the job site and I would again be a woman alone; I would wander, take photographs, find a little cafe, drink coffee, write, and practice speaking Spanish.

You know you have it good when the one you married knows so well how to make you happy. Indulge my every whim and learn something to boot. Spot on.

Admittedly I was nervous about a second attempt to have any sort of conversation in Spanish, but the promise of coffee and pleasing one's spouse can make one bold.

I found a cafe with two tiny tables outside, one inside. At the counter there pastries beneath glass, a gleaming espresso machine, and a young man with a sweet smile.

"Un cappuccino, por favor," I requested. Si, si.

Then he asked the question that no matter how many times I heard it  I never understood what was being asked (and I heard it in every conversation I had with a Peruvian that went more than one exchange). "¿De dónde es usted?

Er...

Where are you from? He asked.

Ah! So then I tried to answer in Spanish and messed it all up. Hopeless.

Then he asked me how many days I was planning to stay in Lima.

"Diez dios" I replied. His face was a picture. I realised I'd answered ten gods, dios, instead of ten days, días.

So Franco and I made a pact. He would endure my Spanish attempts with good cheer and I would let him practice his English with me. So I asked Berlioz-worthy questions in English and learned all about him; school and work and family, how he had a cousin in the USA, and what he liked to do when he was not working, which was to listen to music and dance.

By this time I was both happy to be cheating by speaking in my own language and thoroughly in the thrall of the cappuccino, trying not to lick the remaining foam off the inside off the glass like some sort of porn star.

He had come closer to my table and we were trying to tell each other what kind of music we liked. Then "Dance, you, Natalie? You like the dance clubs, si?" and he did some sort of energetic yet fluid sensuous dance move to the 80's music escaping from the door of his cafe into the sunshine, his dark eyes never leaving my face.

Wait, was he flirting with me?  I wasn't sure. Not what my spousal unit had envisioned happening.

No, no dancing, no salsa. I said.

"Why?" he asked. Even closer.


Crap. What could be the word for shy in Spanish? How about clumsy? Gringa? I dance like a white girl? I was in a hole, here.

I'd carefully learned the phrase "¡Dejame en paz, soy casada!" -leave me in peace, I'm married! and a couple of uncomplimentary adjectives and a noun to be verbally hurled if the occasion called for it, but this occasion didn't call for it. I had all my clothes on and everything. Perfectly innocent.

"Your cousin in Houston!" I blurted. "Does he work at NASA?"

A line appeared between his eyebrows. He looked thoroughly and utterly confused.

"NASA. Space shuttle, astronauts? Er, Aeroplano por la estrella?" I continued slightly hysterically, making a gesture with my hand shooting off into space and making a jet sound suitable for playing with a 4-year-old.

"No, sorry, I am not knowing this..." he said.

"Trabajo!" I went on. "Franco trabajo cafe," I tried to explain, pointing, "your cousin trabajo? NASA? N-A-S-A? Space program? Cousin trabaja?" I insisted, mangling the Spanish that much further.

Had I been able to come up with the word "aeronautics" we might have gotten there. Successful communication is opposite to what one might originally think; going simpler is the wrong direction. The more scientific the word, the more likely it is based in Latin, and therefore probably recognisable by Latin Americans. (the word in Spanish is aeronáutica). But I am new to all of this and hadn't figured out this trick yet.

Poor Franco looked chagrined and very young, shaking his head, in total befuddlement,  a feeling which which I could identify only too well.

Oh dear. This was going sideways. De nada, de nada, I said, waving the gap in our communication away with both hands to show its meaninglessness.

He seemed to take this as a dismissal and bowed slightly, backing away several steps as one would from an altar before turning away and going back behind his spotless counter.

Best to gracefully exit before I did any more damage. At the counter, the bill was 4 Nuevos Soles, $1.52. I offered him 6.

He looked confused again, "no, no," he said, "6 is too much. Only 4 soles."

"Si, si," I told him, "claro. Dos soles por tu."

Once more, absolutely dreadful Spanish, but his face brightened with surprise and understanding. A gratuity, which is largely unexpected. Not only that, but this was a huge gratuity by Peruvian standards.

The usual from a generous person would have been 15%. Which would have been all of $0.20 USD. But no, I had gone over the top and given him nearly 76 cents! After spending an hour at his cafe and "helping" him with his Spanish?

Obviously I am quite a woman, even if I don't dance.

"¡Adios, Franco!" I waved a goodbye, smiled at his "¡hasta luego!" and went back out into the sunshine.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Friday I'm in Love...



Waking up alone in a foreign city. Sleep in? Well, maybe a little. Just a little. Delicious.

That done, rubbing my eyes, sore-legged from holding the coach plane position for hours and hours the day before, I gimped over to the floor-to-ceiling windows to look out where the Pacific, beyond the cliffs and far below, was obscured by a warm, playful mist. Only the distant rumble of surging waves promised that the mighty ocean was indeed there. The palms were vague forms in a sea of white fog; the only movement was that of joggers in bright outfits striding the pavement. Hello, Peru.

I made an executive decision: today, as a nod to jetlag, the fact that nobody but nobody was going to call me "Moooohm!!!" and no place I should be nor thing I should be doing, I was going to have a languid day of...absolutely nothing.

Sounds good, doesn't it?

Long shower, sunscreen, minimal makeup, and drifting out the front door to go find a coffee of some kind. I found one at a cafe where I could sit outside and watch pedestrians clopping past with the sunshine now breaking though the fog, revealing a beautiful day.

The coffee was beautiful too; a rich, perfectly bitter and foamy cappuccino, with nutmeg dusted over it. Later I discovered that nutmeg is a staple for cappuccinos, at least everywhere I went, and all the better thanks to it.

I also ordered a sandwich; egg, ham and cheese. Admittedly, I did so because I didn't have any food back at the apartment and knew how to ask for it in Spanish.


The sandwich came with a side order of....popcorn.



This had never happened to me before; I found it charming.

Popcorn. Hee.

Gazing out over the street, munching happily, writing in my journal and counting the tourists more rip-offable than myself. I found this last most reassuring; not a lot of street smarts out there. Flashy jewelry, strappy purses, fat wallets in back pockets.  Plus, I have Safety Purse, which you may remember from other adventures, with the wire cable through the shoulder strap, wire mesh throughout the body and lockable zipper on the main compartment. It was hard not to feel smug.

Police presence, however, probably reduced the vulnerability of the other, less paranoid tourists; Upscale Lima, at least, was obviously determined to keep their visitors safe and happy, reasonably hoping to ensure good reports on the internet travel review sites.

My smugness went out the proverbial window, however, when the only other diner, three tables over, with huge hair and colorful, exotic clothes, a deep tan and serious makeup asked me for directions. I least, that's what I thought she was doing; it was all in Spanish.

Fumbling, I tried to field her questions but tripped and stuttered over what I was trying to say, and as I hadn't a good grasp of exactly where I was, anyway, I admitted defeat quickly, confessing to what was already painfully obvious; no say, no hablo Espanol, disculpe.

Baby talk for "can't talk, sorry."

It got so much more fun when the woman switched to heavily accented but perfectly understandable English. Then I had to explain again, though comfortingly in my own language, that I didn't really know the name of the nearby cross street, nor how she could get where she was trying to go.

Then the kicker, "I'm from Sacramento," she confided with a deliberate toss of her head to make her earrings cavort and jingle.

Oh, for crying out loud. I could barely speak to an American?

Some Frenchmen sat down at another table for their breakfast, rendering me even less interesting; someone who was therefore left safely in peace.


Slightly ruffled peace.

My phone beeped from the depths of Safety Purse. Then it began to talk.

Actually it's my husband's Peru phone, which is mostly set up to be a jobsite walkie-talkie. As it isn't my phone I, well, kind of sort of didn't know how to use it.

Great. My communication skills were really up to par.

Using a combination of force of will, swearing under my breath in several languages and finally resorting to pushing a number of likely buttons, I finally got the thing to work. It was a call from my family, my expat family, folks I knew from Dubai, now on the Peru job.

In other words, real friends, for life. With one phone call my day of doing nothing beneath the now-streaming sunshine had become a day with a dynamic family of five.


A day with no obligations? Great! A day with no obligations and some friends to pal around with, who speak the language far bettter than I do and know where they're going?

Even better.

As I found my way through the colorful streets, beneath the festoons of bourgainvillea, scarlet or bright pink, walking toward the Church of la Virgen Milagrosa, I realised that my heart was full, absolutely brimming, with simple joy. An uncomplicated moment of sheer happiness.




Her name translates to the Virgin of Miracles; a beautiful landmark that I was surprised to read is less than a hundred years old, but then, Miraflores was burned by the Chileans in 1881 during the Battle of the Pacific. The Peruvians and the Chileans still passionately hate each other, though perhaps not when face to face, sort of like how I feel about the New York Yankees.

Good Friday, and in a heavily, devotedly Catholic country like Peru. I was curious to see how it was celebrated, not to mention with the first Latin American Pope in history now leading the church, Peru has reason to rejoice.

As it was Good Friday it was also a holiday for most Peruvians and the church was brimming with parishioners, bringing by their children to be blessed by the smiling, welcoming Padre. In fact, it seemed everyone was smiling.


Which is a good thing as I was grinning like an idiot.

I had wondered if Good Friday would be a somber affair, chest beating and rending of garments,but it seemed more like a family day, festive and also respectful, and I had a family to spend it with.



closer view of the priest's vestments
 
 
We went out to lunch, the three little girls, their tiny Japanese mother, Shuko, a firecracker of a gal, and that hulk of a Texan, former US Marine and friend with a heart of gold, John. He dwarfs ordinary men, and in Peru where at 5'4" I am tall, he is, well, particularly easy to spot.
 
The friendly waiter who served us at quiet streetside cafe stated with obvious conviction that John and I must be brother and sister, much to my delight. We oversized gringos with big noses and curly hair; we all look alike. The waiter was so sure he repeated it to us several times in different ways to make sure we knew what we were saying "no" to.
 
Then he took one of the kids back to the kitchen to give her extra treats and I shared the oldest girl's Lomo Saltado; a particularly popular Peruvian dish of stir fried beef tenderloin and local yellow peppers, onion, tomato, soy sauce, cillantro, and vinegar. Fusion cuisine at its best. Being a Peruvian dish it is serrved with rice and french fries...how they eat so much starch is beyond me, but it is nice to have choices when it would be a sin not to mop up savory juices.
 
John and Shuko and the girls walked me back to the block where I was staying and we spent the rest of the day lolling in the park just like everyone else, watching the paragliders, the cyclists and skateboarders, the surfing students far below, and, in my case, getting slowly but inevitably sunburned, despite sunscreen and sitting in the shade.



I also learned a valuable survival tip from my friends; when in Lima, you snack on the street. There is food everywhere but in particular, all along the Malecon Cisneros that runs atop the cliffs are little yellow carts being pedalled or pushed by yellow attired sellers of helado; ice cream.



Note how John is twice as tall as the ice cream man
 
 
My friends, determined that I should feel loved and taken care of, paicked me up for dinner in the evening a few hours later, and we went to a Mexican restaurant.
 
Yes, Mexican cuisine is very different from Peruvian. They're 3,000 miles apart, you know. And that's by plane.
 
But it was closed. So then we went looking for a beefsteak place. Which was also closed.
 
John pulled over the truck so we could watch a cross being erected in the darkness, and listen to churchbells ringing. In Arequipa, to the south, the faithful reinact Via Crucis, the way of the cross, and perhaps this is a Lima version of the same, reading aloud of the stations of the cross to followers.
 
 
 
We did eventually find dinner, but it was only later, when a Peruvian friend inquired as to how the evening had gone, that our tourist-y faux pas was made clear.
 
"You went looking for beefsteak?" she asked, her voice going up an octave and managing, but only just, not to roll her eyes at our obtuseness, "it's Good Friday. Steak places are closed. You eat fish on Good Friday."
 
"Oh," I stuttered. "I ate chicken...Aji de Gallina....?"

"That's probably fine," she reassured me.

I didn't mention the Lomo Saltado.

She probably prayed for me.

*****

Here's a link to a recipe for Lomo Saltado http://www.theyucadiaries.com/2010/12/12/lomo-saltado/
in case it's not Good Friday and you're trying to think of something easy and delicious to make for dinner. Take note: it's a kid pleaser!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

'cause I'm still in love with you, come back.

...and then I went back to Peru.



My husband has been bouncing like a pinball, pulled back and shot to ricochet between the North and South American continents for two years now, on and off. Our youngest assumed that whenever anyone left for vacation it was to go to "Peh-woo."

3 days before Easter, I met his expectations, using the few zillion air miles my spouse had accrued to do just that. Free tickets. Off to Lima.

2:20 am. The alarm begins to wind up but I'm already out of bed, silencing its call before it's above a whisper.

The house is dark and still, children and dog indistinct warm lumps on their beds, husband murmuring "have a good flight, see you in a few days..." before drifting back off to well-deserved sleep.

No sleep for me. The airport shuttle was coming.

It was perfectly on time, but it was no shared shuttle; instead, a purring black Town Car with buttery leather interior was sweeping up our driveway, tires crunching on the gravel. A nattily suited driver leapt jauntily out into the darkness, taking possession of my backpack and suitcase, opening the car door for me with easy courtesy and a cheerful hello.

Well, now, this was a good start.

The driver was a chatty sort, which kept me awake to enjoy the view as we swept past the lights of Seattle. He'd dropped off a VIP near our house, he explained, and it had made sense to pick me up on the way back to the airport. No extra charge.

Yes, a very good start.

At Sea-Tac my luxurious steed dropped me off to make my own way to the airline counter. Which was....closed. Actually, everything was closed. There were a few people queued up with their luggage, all wearing the blank stare of the early morning airline passenger. No one knew what time the counter opened, but all trusted that it would.

Suppressing the urge to moo like a cow, I joined the herd and stood, patient and stupid, in the hopes that someone with take my suitcase and send it on its way.

40 minutes later, the counter did open, no worries. I'd like  to say, as the airline requests their international passengers to present themselves 3 hours before departure it seems rather unsportsmanlike of them not to be there to welcome said travelers at that time.

But no matter. The  second TSA gate was just opening as well. A cursory glance at my passport, my face, and an "it's still you," comment from the officer. Reassuring.

A theme was becoming apparent; Seattle's Best Coffee wasn't open either. Fellow caffeine junkies and I stood there for several minutes before being shooed away ("we open in half an hour").

No coffee? In Seattle?

How uncivilized. I could have hit up the Starbucks before security, but then I would have had to gulp my coffee before going through, and that's not the right way at all.

Just before 6 am the plane was ready to go. I had found my seat between the aisle and an empty seat with a military guy on the other side of that. Good deal.

Were the seats getting smaller or had my legs grown six inches since the last time I flew? It was like origami to find a semi-comfortable position, and I'm average height for an American woman. With a long torso and short legs, no less.

There was a lot of military on this flight, a point made when the flight attendant asked my fellow passenger if he would switch with someone else. Yes'm, he said, jumping up, to be replaced by an air force soldier...and an Armed Forces dog. A large, slender German Shepherd. Both of them appeared combat ready.

Thank you ma'am, said the soldier to the flight attendant, I sure do appreciate the help, one seat just ain't gonna fit the two of us.

No kidding.

He was stocky young man with big arms and a syrup sweet Georgia accent. Now with more room, the dog wanted to sit on the seats but would have taken up all three.  His partner spoke few words in a tired but calm voice while the dog gazed up with obvious adoration. Without so much as a sigh the canine obeyed his orders, getting down onto the floor where he tucked himself in with obvious practice, head resting on paws, and sank out of view; no one would even have known he was there.

What a good dog. The nearby passengers, who had craned their necks to watch, grinned and turned back around.

I felt kind of special.

Five hours later, after giving up on my "entertainment" system that had sound that either worked sporadically or not at all, and wanted me to feed it credit card to watch anything good anyway, the soldier introduced himself and his dog. Billy and Arco. Yes, like the gas station. Neither of them had stirred in the 5 hours, except once when I dug a biscotti out of my back back on the floor to go with my little cup of airline coffee. Arco lifted his head three millimeters and moved forward an infinitesimal amount, toward the backpack. Billy redirected his dog with his boot, gently. He'd appeared fast asleep but perhaps he was a light sleeper. A useful trait for parents with dependents of all kids.



 
Once Billy started talking and found me a sympathetic and interested ear, I got to ask all sorts of questions about Arco. They had come from Afghanistan through Germany, then Seattle and now finally Atlanta.
 
How was Afghanistan? I asked.
"Cold. Windy. Really windy."
"Wow." I said. There was a pause. "What was Arco's job in Afghanistan?" I asked. 
Billy hesitated, so I quickly suggested "A little of everything?"
"Yeah," he agreed, "that's it. A little of everything."
 
Time to change the subject. "How can he ride on the plane so long without water, or going to the bathroom, or anything like that?"
"This is nothing," Billy said, "he's been on 10 hour flights; longer, even. He don't mind planes at all. Hates helicopters, though."
 
I could imagine; I don't think they make ear protectors for dogs, and helicopters are loud.
 
Billy told me about his personal dogs "back home," and the time he left Arco alone with a plate of gumbo on the coffee table. When Billy got back not only was the gumbo gone, but the paper plate and the plastic spoon had disappeared into Arco as well.
 
Arco heard his name one too many times and decided that it was time to sit up and take a visual survey of his surroundings. Billy let him, but kept a hand on Arco's harness at all times. I asked if I could take a photograph, afterwards Billy thanked me for not trying to pet Arco.
 
"Well, he's not my dog," I explained, "and, he's working."
 
"Y'all would not believe what some people do," he replied. He told me some hair-raising stories of parents encouraging their small kids to run up, uninvited, to touch Arco.
 
Sounded a bit like Darwinism to me, but I kept that comment to myself. Billy did not invite me to pet Arco, and I didn't ask, though I would have loved to stroke that beautiful, long-nosed dog; I'm a sucker for a canine in uniform.
 
Billy also mentioned how TSA had given him a hard time before letting him though with Arco. "Aggravatin', those guys.  Pissed me off. They never know what to do with us."
 
"Honestly?" I asked him. It seems to me that no one would voluntarily fly with a dog, especially a big dog like Arco, unless they had to. They're like kids; no matter how much you love them, it's just easier in so many ways to leave them at home. And who would give a hard time to a soldier, in uniform, with the proper identification? They deserve first class treatment stateside, if you ask me.
 
I suppose Arco sets off the metal detectors, what with his harness and all. It'd take a braver, or stupider, person than myself to ask Billy to take them off his dog, though.
 
I apologised for my city; I've found SeaTac's TSA employees to be friendly and competent, not something to complain about in the least, but then, I'm a regular sort of passenger, no one to get excited about.
 
The plane began its descent through the warm Georgia air, a rough, jouncy one. I started sweating and felt a bit nauseated from all the movement. Arco began to pant and made an urping sound. Billy entreated him, "don't puke on me, bud," stroking the silky ears. I followed Arco's lead and breathed in and out deeply. We all made it to the ground without anything unsanitary happening, and said out good-byes and good lucks.
 
Atlanta's airport is a pleasant one for a layover. A little light on healthy food selections, perhaps, but otherwise nice. Very cool displays, from copies of Gone With the Wind in several languages:
 
 
 
to an exhibit of MLK Jr's personal effects. I walked and walked and walked the different concourses, to kill time and be kind to my body, listening to the accents and enjoying the creative braids and colorful shades of the hair swirling over the heads of the women working there. Eventually I ended up at a massage place.
 
I know. Whoops, how did that happen?
 
Actually, I know how it happened; the crick in my neck led me there. And into the capable hands of a slender, hunched, soft-spoken and very pale fellow of Puerto Rican and Italian descent named Eccardo.
 
First I was invited to sit a aggressive massage chair which then pummelled the heck out of me, fixing any big problems I might have had and probably creating plenty of smaller ones.
 
The neck crick fled for the hills.
 
Eccardo wisped over to me and turned off the pummeller and began to work his magic, pressing my temples, stroking my hair and eyebrows, complimenting my "beautiful skin" and telling me how to cook Pollo Guisado "with arroz or pasta, depending on which of my genes are talking to me while I create," admonishing "you must always use Goya products when you cook this, without fail you understand?"
 
In a dreamlike state I assured him I would. I'd purchased 15 minutes of relaxation but he gave me 28, not including the thumping by the chair. I also got the impression that he prayed over me for a safe journey as he cradled my cranium in his hands.
 
morning mist, Lima, Peru  
 
Back on another plane, the entertainment system, though included with an international ticket, went the way of the first and didn't want to work terribly well. I gave up watching Les Miserables; feeling it was too good of a story to ruin with lousy reception. My book had no such issues, and I read or silently practiced Spanish to myself. My seat partner, Kim, currently from Tennessee, was a yoga instructor on her way to Cusco and Machu Picchu with a group of yoga devotees. I found myself babbling to her about what to expect in Peru, as though I were some sort of expert, and we talked family and kids and spiritualism until touchdown in Lima.
 
Through customs and baggage, carefully keeping my immigration slip that you must give back at the end of your trip, and the gauntlet of the red or green light. This is a funny thing: in the airport, just before the exit, when you can see freedom from the machinery that is international plane travel, you must press a button. If the light turns green you sweep out through the gates and out. But if the light turns red, your baggage in searched with accompanying questions. 
 
This system is supposedly random. I wouldn't know. Regardless, I've gotten green light every time, so I can't complain.
 
Out the doors to the throng of people waiting to welcome tired travelers, I see the sign with my name on it.
 
There are few things I like better than that. The holder of the sign is, surprisingly and gratifyingly, a woman. An attractive woman, the tallest person in the crowd, wearing slacks and a white sweater of some soft material, she smiles and begins to speak in rapid fire Spanish. I feel like I'm drowning in words, and hold up a hand to stop the flow and shake hers in greeting. "Despacio..." I murmur, slowly.
 
She flashes a smile of understanding and speaks, slowly, and clearly, and I don't catch a single word.
 
I think she's asked me to wait for a minute, but that's based solely on body language. Now we're outside, and she disappears into the darkness. I remain behind, nicely and repeatedly telling the taxi drivers who continue to ask, no gracias, I don't need a ride, no necessito.
 
It's well past midnight and the night is fragrant and dark, smelling of fuel and exhaust, and further on, impressions of cooking and something unknown and pungently sweet. Kipling once famously wrote "The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it," and it is always these, the odors and temperature, that make a lasting impression once the recycled, lifeless air of the plane is left behind. I would know, blindfolded and deaf, that I am in another country.
 
She returns, parking ticket validation in hand, and I follow her out to the parking lot, the suitcase obediently bumping along behind me. She has forgotten exactly where the car is parked, but de nada, I tell her, shrugging to convey my lack of displeasure and quickly running out of Spanish.
 
We find the car after she beeps her remote several times until we find it, and I hump my suitcase over the intervening concrete curb, causing her more embarrassment, which I try to turn into a "hey, sister, we're all just trying to get along" moment. It seems to work.
 
Out on the road, and my driver is surprisingly conservative for a Limeño, driving only 60 in a 40 kilometer zone. She has me put my backpack on the floor, rather than my lap, and now it is my turn to be embarrassed; what a rookie mistake, making us a target for smash and grab thieves. I cover by asking for the word for backpack, mochilla, which I forget along with her name.
 
She asks some questions and we get along; I learn that she has an 18 year old son, and I manage to share my parental shame that the next day is my son's 7th birthday and that I shall miss it; that he is with his abuella back in the States, in Seattle. She tells me she has a sister in Seattle, who is married and doesn't work. She can't visit her sister because she does work. Si, si, I nod vigorously, is claro.
 
The radio croons, mostly Latin American songs with the occasional Flashdance or Talking Heads track. The 80s still rule.
 
Mike, the thoughtful husband, has equipped me, not only with the address of the company apartment and instructions on how to get in, but also a full page color photo of the apartment building. We miss it the first time out and many of the streets are one way only, so we end up in each other's company longer than perhaps was planned, but my driver is extraordinarily patient, both with the streets and her tired passenger of nearly unintelligible Spanish. We make it, and I give her 10 soles for a tip. Her dark eyes open wide and she blossoms into the biggest smile I have seen yet; most in Lima don't expect a tip. She certainly didn't. This, all of $3.86 after an hour ride and perhaps 2 hours of waiting for me at the airport, is considered generous.
 
We are buzzed in and I get my key from the guard after confirming my name, stumble into an elevator that I learn later is in the running for the slowest in the Western Hemisphere, which takes me to the 13th floor. There I unlock the front door, flush with the elevator shaft, and my suitcase and I find our room. I want nothing more than to collapse into bed, but first I fight with my laptop to try and send a "made it" message back home.
 
The internet simply won't cooperate, so I collapse onto the bed. Then I recoil. The stench of the linens is, shall we say, off putting, in marked contrast to the crispness of what appears to be a freshly made bed. Redolent of cat urine and something else. Had I not been so tired I would have declined to sleep in such a stink, but I'm so worn out I decide I can deal with it in the morning and sink into grateful unconsciousness.
 
 
 
I made it. I would get to spend 11 days in warm, welcoming Peru. Without children, without responsibilities. A malodorous bed for one night? Small price to pay for such fantastic novelty, such opportunity to nourish my traveler's soul.

A good start.