Peru postcard

Drinking tradition: Everyone at the table, in this case six of us, one bottle of beer open at a time though many in ready reserve. Two glasses total, one stays at the center of the table, the other is passed from drinker to drinker counterclockwise. The drinker pours, saluts everyone, clinks the open bottle, drinks at her or his own pace, sure, chugging is okay but not expected, then dumps the backwash into the middle-of-the-table glass, which will ultimately be discarded. When we move the operation outside to the campfire, the on deck drinker holds the bottle of beer while the one cup is being consumed, the backwash is just flung into the grass.

***

Peru readily rockets up the list of favorite places. But, if the coffee improved to being merely terrible, I would be elated. If there is a television, it’s on and at near maximum volume, from the time one wakes until going to bed, unless you go to bed with it still on like a loud incoherent relative. Every single dessert and sweet looks heavenly; every single one is incompetent college first year dorm baking mediocrity. And the bread makes me chuckle; remember the bun on a McDonald’s filet-o’-fish from when we were kids? Yeah, artisanal breadmaking by local standards.

***

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When Pablo, 12, speeds off downhill on the Pugs at an alarming sprint, I’m pretty sure that he’s going to put it into the ditch. Damned if he can’t pilot the thing like he was born on it, all while sitting on the top tube. We head back to his parents’ restaurant, his older brothers take turns wrestling the big tires, I hang out with his father and his friends. Eventually they get their hands on the iPhone, listen to some music, swipe through my photos. Everyone gathers to watch twenty minutes of Inception, no subtitles. The daughter has DiCaprio’s photo in her wallet and at first she speculates that this is Titanic 2. What, on a new boat? Didn’t he die? I shake my head. “He looks fat and old,” she complains. They want me to explain it, but it comes out all garbled and they end up thinking that he’s stealing good dreams from bad people to sell in order to make money to get home to his children, a premise they find entirely sound.

***

Suspect I’m running a serious fever, achy weak, indignity of fierce mocking waves of belly pain and nausea and all the urgent measures consequently required. But I’m at Kuelap, one of the great ruins of an ancient culture, archeologically a rival in Peru to Machu Picchu, with few tourists and complete freedom of exploration. So I’m going to explore. I wander past a group, peripherally aware, I suppose, that it’s a school trip of some sort. A junior high kid is tugging my shoulder, “a picture?” “Sure,” holding out my hand for her camera. “No, me with you.” “Oh, um, yeah, okay.” Her friend snaps the shot. “I want a picture with the gringo!” My stomach moils, I try to smile. Several queue up, the idea catches on. As each stands next to me I’m cognizant of the high number of sweat/stink/sleep cycles I’ve been through without washing. Pride keeps me from doubling over in pain. Everyone, the whole class, then the three teachers, the teachers!, somehow need a photo with the gringo. My face twists into new visages of not happy when no one is looking. Then the multitude of BFF’s want photos with both of them and me, I’m periodically moments from puking or worse. We’re posing in this circular ruin with a deep stone lined fire pit in the center and I’m fighting back bile saying, “careful don’t step…” and she’s tumbling backwards shrieking, my grip on her upper arm in a panic lock, I whip her up out around. Nervous laughter, friends clap, I’m eyeing that hole wishing with all my guts it was an outhouse.

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