The day of departure I felt an enormous pressure, as if I was under the deep ocean. I checked, and double checked my packing, a third of what I have brought are electronics and computerizations of various sorts: a miniature speaker cube 1.5” per side, my Macbook Pro, noise canceling Bose earbuds, my iPad for watching Netflix, iPhone 6s, a charging brick with 2 USB ports. At the last minute I bought a warmer jacket – a waterproof soft-shell a tad warmer than the shell I bought earlier – as soft as the one I loved so much the zippers no longer zipped, and estimate it will make my trip 10% more comfortable.
I weighed the decision on whether or not to bring my white ExOfficio shirt, or the one that had a khaki pattern and was less likely to show stains. There’s a reason English expeditions went with Khaki.
But I liked the white shirt!
I weighed its heft in my hand, and muttered ‘fuckit’ – brought both at the waning hour.
And still I am sliced thin. A forgotten bag, and coat mistakenly left behind would not spell absolute disaster, but ordinary disaster can be failure enough.
They are my oxygen masks.
At least that’s what the melodramatic side of me calls them. But this I know: because of the additional weight, any of the above could be assigned as an asset or a liability.
I am kitted to do some tech work, some web work for farmer’s in Chile, to build an ERP system for them. I know nothing of Chilean localization and formatting, but I am keen to be a quick learn.
A curious thing happened though: once I boarded the plane my anxiety dropped away. All my preparation caught up with me, and sailed me through Ft, Lauderdale to Lima, Peru, and next: to Santiago & Frutillar, Chile. And while I haven’t set foot in a hostel for a couple decades, I knew now, slash proof backpack and combination lock in hand, I was fully prepared to take that fateful step.
The Peruvian server at the Pachakama Restaurant on the Hollywood Beach boardwalk in Ft, Lauderdale very kindly disabused me of the thought that I might be at all fluent in her native tongue. She herself flawlessly shifted from speaking slowly in Espanol to me, catching me in Ingles when I faltered, then shifted to francesa for the French couple at the table next door.
After looking up traditional Peruvian dishes online, I settled on Lomo Saltado – a traditional beef dish of tender chunks of beef marinated in soy sauce and vinegar – like the marinated chicken I ate as a kid. This dish emerged from the Chinese influence in Peru, and melded into something with a Latin American twist. It even had the molded Chinese white rice, but also a slightly spicy green sauce as a side that didn’t appear remotely Chinois to me – but I admit I haven’t tried everything Oriental.
The beef also had sautéed onions, and not-chinese fries as a side. All washed down with a Peruvian lager. I asked which was her mad favorite postre (dessert) , and she said “Lucuma”, which was very sweet, and tasted somewhat of Dulce de leche custard, but she said it actually came from the fruit by the same name. She told me to find it once I got to Peru.
As a passing gift she wrote on a lined yellow piece of paper
- LUCUMA IS A FRUIT
- TUMBES IS A CITY TO VISIT – FRONTIER WITH ECUADOR
- BARRANCO IS A GOOD PLACE TO VISIT IN LIMA
- (EL PUENTE DE LOS SUSPIROS)
She also told me to be careful in Lima – it’s a big city with big city dangers.
The kindness of absolute strangers staggers me.
I see what I am doing as if outside my body. I question what the hell I am doing, but paradoxically have no doubt about what I am doing. I hope to limp with my palsied Spanish till I can walk, with possible visions of running. I hope to rock climb, and know that I am destined to do so, even though it is not clear as yet. I figure providence will hold me aloft to push me towards the right place at the right time.
I carry a letter from a person I have known for 3 decades and refused to talk to in the past 2 years. One page, typed, packed with as much sorrow as a page could hold. I carried it for 2 months, burning like something radioactive in my bag. I responded with a 4”x6” postcard I got from a tourist shop on the Hollywood beach walkway with a happy “Hollywood Beach” sign, and folks strolling along the beach.
The 4”x6” space conveyed less than I would have liked, but all that I could really express. I failed to fill the last inch, so I drew a picture of what was in front of me: a couple on a park bench on the right – palm trees to the left. It was dropped in a cloth shopping bag marked “MAIL,” the cashier taking a longer glance than I would have liked at the contents, stopped when she saw me watching her scan the lines of what I had writ. I paid for a 2nd postcard to write to a happy friendship to wash the sad taste from my mouth.
A line from my fateful 1st postcard sticks with me: ‘I am leaving the states. Do not write to me at my old address because I am no longer there…’