People would ask me… was the elevation a problem? Did I notice the thinning air? I’d tell them “I don’t know, I mean I was breathing pretty heavily, but that could have been exertion…”
Anyhoo. Where was I.
Wet and Adequately Wild
Say you’ve just spent four days hiking through the mountains. And that each day involved at least an hour or so of exhausting uphill climb. And that you no longer have young person knees. You’re likely pretty sore, but only in your legs. You might ask yourself… is there anything I can do today to exhaust the rest of my body?
You, sir or madam or non-specific, should go white water rafting.
This was the second activity provided by my adrenaline package, the first having been the horseback riding the day before we left for the homestay. And this time, there would be no burly Australian men to giggle over how I’d handle the endless stairs to Dead Woman’s Pass (adequately, thank you very much).
Actually… there wouldn’t be anybody. Not only did none of my group mates join (perhaps they couldn’t find room for the trip in their budgets), as it turns out, I was the only person who booked that rafting tour. So it was just me and the guides.
I guess March is the off season for Peru? Because this happened a lot. There were only five of us on Peru on a Shoestring. Our dune buggy trip was just four of us and a pregnant woman who couldn’t even go to the dunes. There were two people horseback riding with me, and just me and the guides on the raft. Sure, there were other, usually larger groups scattered here and there, especially at the two largest attractions we visited (the condor-viewing portion of Colca Canyon and Machu Picchu… would have been three if I hadn’t skipped the Nazca Lines), but… either it was the slow season, or G-Adventures picks sketchy, unpopular vendors, and they seem to have their shit together way too much for that.
The tricky wicket was that unlike horseback riding or dune boarding, white water rafting is an activity that is easier with a lot of people. Because of the rowing, you see. There’s a lot of rowing. And it’s kind of important to aid in not hitting rocks and whatnot. And not having a large group meant that there were only two of us rowing.
This was initially troubling, as my arms were getting tired faster than I was comfortable with, but then I remembered how to row properly (use your whole upper body, not just your arms) and I was okay from there. Love a good rafting trip. Also there was lunch. Good morning, especially since I spent my afternoon trying to find a place to buy duct or packing tape to patch up my backpack. Which meant finding a Peruvian equivalent of K-Mart that looked like a department store you’d build after the rise of the machines.
One last time around the “special tip presentation” block… I mean, sure, yes, these tips were well earned, but I had not put aside enough currency (US or Peruvian) for all of this, so there were a few last minute trips to the ATM to cover me until the airport.
For our last dinner together, Ellard took us to a fancy restaurant across the small square from our hostel. He wasn’t paying for it or anything (I think he even got his meal comped, given that he keeps bringing his groups there), but everyone understood… this was a special occasion. It warranted a special place.
This was our last night as a group. And given how spread out we are, possibly (even probably) the last time some of us would see each other. It’s easy to succumb to melancholy at an event like that, but… I am in theatre. Multiple times a year I let go of a show, of a cast who had been a big part of my life for months, sometimes that meant the world. So after two decades of closing nights and cast parties, I’ve learned how to roll with these things. You savour. You savour every moment you can for as long as you can, and you forget about the goodbye until it’s staring you in the face. And when that comes, try to be too tired and/or drunk for it to sink in right away.
Once again, coy was on the menu, but the most expensive thing, so I saved money by getting a steak. Saved money by getting a steak. Alright, Peru, I know a scam when I see one, “Come to our country, oh, we have this delicacy, it’s an adorable pet in your country, spend all of your money to eat one,” I am on to you, Peru. I also considered buying a bottle of wine for the table, but… 90 US? Okay, I adored these people, but I was already over budget…
As soon as Ellard left the table, the discussion swiftly turned to how to give him his tip. After Brian’s heartfelt speech to Evert and company the previous night, the ladies felt that I should say a few words and present him with the tip. I reacted as I always do upon being asked to say something heartfelt on short notice… with a brief panic attack and a few cries of “What the shit, why me, why you even gotta do a thing,” and brief mental calculus as to whether saying “But Tayla’s his favourite” was going to open up a greater can of worms than I was prepared for (decision in the moment: yes, yes it was, even if I didn’t feel I was wrong). In the end, we all agreed to take turns thanking Ellard before we gave him his tip.
Okay, yes, fine, mine was the best, or so said the ladies, I didn’t say I couldn’t do it, it’s just Brian’s was really good so that was some pressure, and I’m not crazy about being volunteered…
After dinner, people were excited to get back to the club. I’d not gone dancing with the others yet, in at least one case for stupid, stupid reasons… (“I’m sleepy.” Jesus, old man, get it together…) but like I said. We’d been a family the past two weeks, even when Maria was on her own and the rest of us were part of a larger, more Puma-based family. And if this was the end, I was going to cherish every second I could. So, drinks and dancing it was.
Right up until the moment when my presence no longer seemed necessary. Or, rather… noticed. Everyone seemed to be busy elsewhere, I’m not one to force myself into a conversation… or dance… so I quietly took my leave.
People at home hate it when I do that. There have been threats. But they were all on other continent, so…
The final day was awkward in one way. All of us (expect Ellard, early flight back to Lima) were still in the same city, but none of us were hanging out. Well, okay, Kate and Amy were, but they’re travel buddies who still had a couple of weeks in South America, of course they were. Maria would fly out first, then me… Kate and Amy were waiting for their night bus to Bolivia, and Tayla still had a day or two of immigration hangups before heading the same way. I bumped into most of them over the course of the afternoon, helped Amy find the chocolate museum, hugged Amy and Maria farewell… next time I’m in New York (and I often feel a trip to New York is in order) I was told to let Maria know… but we’d already said our farewells over Whatsapp, so running into each other at the hostel or town square felt a little like in university when we’d all say goodbye for the day and then go to the same bus stop.
The real problem was that I had very, very little to do.
I slept in until check-out, found lunch, went to the chocolate museum, which wasn’t exactly… it’s kind of minimal. Though I did enjoy having a crepe and a beer in their cafe, and picked up some chocolate liqueur to take home, so, worth the stop.
And then I had a few hours to kill. And the good museum (the Inca museum) was closed. And the museum that was open (pre-Inca art) I’d already gone to the week before. And I was trying not to need more cash, which meant massages were out, last minute tours anywhere were out, not that I had time for one by this point anyway.
Maybe there was still an option other than “Find and outlet in the hostel lobby and borrow their WiFi/play Monopoly on my phone for two hours” but that is what I settled on. But I just needed to kill two or three hours and then my cab would take me to the airport.
So that my flight to Lima could be delayed by about an hour and a half.
That was a long, dull wait in a tiny, boring airport, wondering exactly where the plane was, given boarding was supposed to be underway.
There was a time I was slightly irked by how my flight from Lima to Dallas kept getting pushed back, extending my first layover. I was soon glad for it, since the delay meant that a lot of people on my flight were scrambling to make connections once we landed, got our bags, and were confronted with a slow-moving line to check back in.
You ever been in a long, slow-moving line? When you were, could you see the people at the counter? If so, you may have noticed how easily you begin to judge the people behind the counter. I’d noticed it once before in Vegas, when for a spell everyone who checked someone in suddenly went on break and didn’t come back. Like three or four in a row, what the hell was happening back there? So while I wasn’t as pressed for time as some others, I was getting surly. And anxious about check-in deadlines, since my initial check-in back is Cusco didn’t seem to count here. From how long they were taking to check people in, to leaving their station after doing so (There. Is. A. Long. Line. Where. Are. You. Going.), to my personal favourite, the attendant fighting a language barrier to try and ask a Japanese woman her occupation.
You are not immigration. This is not information you require.
All was fine, though. I was checked in with time to spare, even though my layover had been cut from fiveish hours to 3ish. I even had time to hit the food court before security, looking for something to order that would cost just enough to ditch my remaining coins. (Appies from Papa John’s.)
This flight was also delayed. More time sitting and reading by my gate, suddenly realizing this was not and had not been my gate, and then sitting and reading by my actual gate before boarding the plane and taking a couple of Gravol in an attempt to get any sleep between Lima and Dallas.
I did not feel that going through security again in Dallas was super necessary, but I guess it killed half an hour. Then breakfast at TGI Friday’s and onto the only flight, since leaving Calgary over two weeks earlier, to depart on time.
Managed to sleep on that one, too. Not on purpose, I was trying to watch Skyfall…
The worst part about coming home is how quickly it feels like you never left. If home felt like a barely-remembered dream by the time we reached Arequipa, being away from home feels that way after one night in your own bed.
I still miss my group sometimes. They were good, cool, and fun people. And now I fight the urge to turn all conversation topics into “things I learned on the Inca Trail,” because oh my god nobody likes that guy.
There’s still a lot of South America to see. Perhaps I’ll get back there sometime. For now… I feel the pull of the Motherland. The United Kingdom calls to me. Yes, I was “just there last year,” if that’s a thing we say now, but you must recall… I have never “just been” to London. I have only restarted my involuntary exile from my spiritual home.
So thus ends Danny in the Andes. Back soon with… something else?