Storms Never Last
Copyright© 2010 by Jake Rivers
As the plane slid down towards the airport in Lima, all we could see of Perú was a vast bank of clouds along the coast. This garúa blanketed the ground up to a couple hundred feet—above that was brilliant sunshine. The Andes rise to around twenty thousand feet just a few miles from the coast. This caused heavy rains to the east, making that area east of the mountains of Perú a major part of the Amazon basin. The coast is extremely dry, with Lima averaging two inches a year, most of this being condensation from the fog—which can blanket the city for most of May through November.
This I got from the taxi driver, explaining to me why he had his wipers on while driving us to the Crillón, where we were staying for a couple of days. Lima is a large city, unfortunately not the lovely place it had been in the past. The food and music, along with the beer, are world class, and having sampled them we quickly moved on to Cuzco.
Cuzco is a lovely and fascinating city, built on the ruins of the ancient Incan buildings. The important thing to know about this colonial city is that it's at eleven thousand feet, and surrounded by mountains three to four thousand feet higher. This gave us two quick adventures; the swooping down over the mountains to quickly land was enough to make us reconsider whether flying really made sense.
The second adventure was equally compelling: we discovered the wonderful world of soroche after climbing two flights of stairs at the hotel. The staff of the hotel knew full well the effects of altitude sickness and how to deal with it. Room service sent up some coca leaves in a pitcher of hot water. While the leaves are the raw ingredient for cocaine, it was frequently used to make a tea that was mildly narcotic, and was surprisingly effective in alleviating our symptoms.
Taking the strongly suggested nap we awoke, feeling wonderfully refreshed. We wandered out of the hotel to immerse ourselves in the bustle of this wonderful city. We wound up at the cathedral listening to a group of musicians playing the traditional harps and pan pipes. When they played El Condor Pasa, Annie started crying at the sadly melancholic notes of the song. The lyrics of Paul Simon's version came to mind:
"Away, I'd rather sail away,
Like a swan that's here and gone.
A man gets tied up to the ground,
He gives the world
Its saddest sound,
Its saddest sound."
Funny that I'd never really listened to the message of the song, and hugging Annie tightly, I had some mistiness in my eyes too. It seemed this total change of locale would be good for her to regain the equilibrium of the girl I'd grown up with.
I told her not to give coins to the street urchins, but she of course ignored me, laughing every time they gathered around. Sometimes I felt like we were at the head of a parade. I was getting hungry, so to get away from the kids I pulled her into a restaurant, where I quickly found that the local beer, Cuzcueña, was as good as anything from Europe. I asked the waiter to recommend something for dinner and had him order cuy for both of us. Annie wasn't impressed when he served us two orders of Guinea Pig. I think Annie would have been game, but when she saw the tiny feet, still with the cutest little claws protruding, she turned a bit green. I actually liked it. It had a taste similar to rabbit, or maybe the dark meat of chicken.
After dinner we sat in the lobby of the hotel, still fighting off the soroche by drinking a cup of coca tea. I asked her how her dinner was.
"Terry! How could you eat that poor little thing? It looked like it had been someone's pet."
Teasing her, I replied, "Well yeah, it probably was."
She hit my arm, and laughed. "It was nice to sit and relax, with absolutely nothing to do." With a dreamy look, she continued, "The people are so nice—so friendly. It's nothing like I expected, but at the same time it's exactly what I wanted. I love the food—except for the pets," she smirked. "The music has such a haunting quality. It calls to something in me that I can't express. It's hard to put it into words, but maybe like a part of my soul was missing and now is complete."
With a frustrated look on her face from her inability to say it exactly the way she wanted to, she added, "It's not exactly what I feel, but in a way it's like coming home."
I leaned over and gave her a quick kiss, which earned me that special smile of hers that told me to expect some fun in bed later.
From Cuzco, we took the train to Machu Picchu. It was a lovely ride. The train climbed an interminable number of switchbacks to climb straight up the side of the mountain and then gradually downhill to Aguas Calientes. We had a room at the top of the mountain, which turned out to be very relaxing. It was an incredible experience to sit outside early in the crisp, cold morning and view the haunting apparition of the Lost City of the Incas rising ghost-like above the ground fog. No words can describe the incredible experience of visiting this world treasure; it simply has to be experienced.
We climbed up the hill on the part of the ruins away from Hauyna Picchu and sat on a large rock. Annie's face was damp from the straggling fog, but we had climbed high enough to get above what remained of the mist. The steep peak of Hauyna Picchu rose splendidly out of the fog, brilliantly lit with the bright morning sun. Most of the ruins were still covered by the thinning fog, but a few of the ones on higher ground jutted up, giving a mysterious air to the scene.
I wrapped my arm around my love and pulled her close. It was one of those epochal moments that happen occasionally in a life spent together that marks it as a point of life before then and of life after.
"Oh Terry, it's just so incredibly beautiful. I wish time could stop right now. This moment, right now is our life and it should last forever."