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Monday, September 10, 2012

There is a star in the sky, guiding my way with its light...

Back to Cusco

Up, up the valley, the jungle and river out the tiny hired bus' windows, toward the mountains, a cheerful strawberry air freshener swinging back an forth from the rear-view mirror, fringes dancing happily from a skirted valance across the inside of the windshield, and a varied group of nine passengers swaying back and forth like cattle in a transport van. In the very back a mother had laid her little girl on the floor to sleep on a bright blanket. That made ten.

We weren't more than an hour out when the driver pulled over and parked by a roadside stand. He jumped out and opened the back, and here came uniformed men. Everyone seemed calm about this.


Ah. Policia.

Quite normal, Laura informed us. They were checking to make sure no one was trying to smuggle large amounts of coca leaves. For the manufacturing of cocaine.

I decided to keep my purse and camera with me, and Mike stayed near the bus. It wouldn't do to have to realise a hundred miles down the road that something we care about had gone missing.

The little stand sold water and dried fruits an candy bars and the like. I wondered if they gave a kickback to the policia for having the pull-over site at their business. It would make sense.

Away from the stand, papered with bright Fanta labels, was the baño. Well, papered on the outside, anyway. This was a rugged sort of outhouse, but any port in a storm. The man who reached it just before me opened one of the doors, looked in, made a disgusted noise and waved his hands in front of his face before turning his back and, like the other men, urinated on the ground a few feet away. 

I suppose it was nice that they all turned their backs. Ugh, the ground was wet and squishy. Best not to think about it.

Personally, I thought the inside of the latrines wasn't that bad. A few deep breaths and my nostrils were pretty numb to it, and fresh air was just out the door, after all. I'll bet in summertime it was another experience, but now there weren't even that many flies to bumble up against bare backsides at that most vulnerable moment.

I swear they do that on purpose. Bastardos.

The policia poked around in the luggage a little, obviously weren't all that worried about us, and sent us on our way again.

Laura had recovered from her flu, and continued to be the vivacious, informative guide we had quickly learned to adore. Between entertaining stories and local tidbits, she suggested we exchange emails so we could send each other photos. Great idea, right? So she wrote down the contact information for a Nora Kloppenberg.

Nora. Not Laura. Ach, sheiße! We'd been calling her by the wrong name this entire time.

So we felt like idiots. Not that that was anything new. I just keep hoping we'll get beyond that, grow out of it, or something like that. Then I spent a few miles wondering if our accents are so overwhelming that the difference between the N sound L sounds aren't even noticeable.

Nora didn't even seem to give it a second thought. Which was awfully nice of her.

The little bus continued its yawing winding ascent into the mountains, as trucks thundered down, generally on the other side of the road. The skies got bluer and the air thinner. It became apparent: gradually and mercilessly I wasn't feeling so good.

Headache, nausea, the shakes. Our old friend, altitude sickness. Not pleasant. Not pleasant at all.

We hadn't been able to maintain the doctor-recommended minimum intake of 100 ounces of water daily,  not with little bottles being the only source for safe water. Coffee and beer, well, they really counted against the total, now, didn't the? Should have loaded up on juice, I moaned quietly to myself and put my head between my knees. Felt like a wuss. A rather sick wuss.

Mike and Nora were looking at me with such concern that I waved them away, put on some earphones, cranked up my favorite tunes and concentrated on the music, breathing deeply and well,  going all Zen.

Hey, it worked during childbirth, and it worked here as well. The shaking went away, leaving me queasy and my eyes feeling like they were too big for my skull. This was an improvement.

Now the little bus was zipping along downhill, descending from the mountains, bit by bit. The city of Cusco is still at 10,800 feet, and the altitude ickies ended up staying with me until we flew back to Lima at sea level, but no one hurled this trip, including me.

...and the crowd goes wild.

Long hours later, we pulled up and disembarked into the nighttime of  Cusco. Mike and I had gone back and forth as to what would be an appropriate tip for Nora-formerly-known-as-Laura after taking such good care of us. Far beyond our expectations she continued to play tour guide, telling us stories and pointing out such things as a colony of basket weaver birds in a giant tree alongside the road -I know, I thought they were only in Africa and Asia too, but that turns out not to be true; we saw them with our own eyes.

Her best story was of catching a taxi in Cusco, and the driver, sizing her up, tried to charge her triple the usual amount when they reached her destination. "C'mon, man, " she had said to him in her local Spanish, "I'm no tourist, you know the rate is about such-and-such." Called out on his game, the driver became very angry, spitting insults and shaking his fist, finally getting out and locking her in his taxi. He refused to let her out until, terrified, she gave him all the money.

Nice. This girl, we fervently believe, deserves to be spoiled. So instead of trying to come up with some sort of dollar amount to thank her, we invited her out to dinner. And as she is the local, we asked her to choose someplace special. So, after dealing with a surly taxi driver for us, helping us find our hotel, and offering to pick us up in an hour, we eventually ended up at Cicciolina, a highly atmospheric, romantic sort of restaurant, packed with patrons, and after things like beautiful wine and creamy risotto and some truly impeccable service, we thought we'd still gotten the better part of the deal to be in Nora's lovely company.

Oh, and dessert and tiny cups of espresso. However would we go back to real life?
Nora even took us on a rather-needed after-dinner walk, giving us even more stories about the area, showing us the "mustn't miss" spots, marking up our map for us so we'd know where to find the best local crafts to take home for gifts. We decided that it might be best to adopt her.
Sadly, travel is full of good-byes, and this was simply another one of them. A little choked up, we went back to our hotel, feeling the elevation, our lungs working hard to pull in the dark air, the lights of Cusco below and the stars above, an alley cat streaking through the narrow passageway to our place, faint music from somewhere down in the streets. 

1 comment:

  1. Nora/Laura sounds like a gem! How lucky that you had her to guide you through these adventures! (Always an adventure with your travels, isn't there?) :) Thank you for the lovely birthday wishes!