Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Peru Journal from 1987 (first post)

In the summer of 1987, I went to Peru to work on an archeology dig for 9 weeks. I kept a journal. It's sketchy, and I plan to publish it as a book later this year.

For now, enjoy this as I wrote it when I was twenty years old. I'll post a bit each day.

20 June 1987 -- Saturday
  The director of the Reagan Scholarship (the scholarship that paid for the trip), his family, and I went from their home in Virginia to Washington DC. Stayed at the Holiday Inn in Balston. Phil is heading to New York tomorrow to meet with another Reagan scholar, and I'm leaving for Peru from Washington National Airport.
   I caught the subway to American University and walked the campus in search of my bosom buddies, Mark and Phil S. Both were shocked to see me because they had already lit a candle in a Catholic Church for me the day before. They assumed I was already in Peru.
   To be honest, I was beginning to get nervous about this Peruvian experience. What if I couldn't find beer anywhere? What if there weren't any cigarettes? These important matters weighed heavily.
   And if I had known what was to come, I wouldn't have been a bit nervous. I would've been scared shitless. And that, folks, is the God's truth.

21 June -- Sunday
   Got up with one hell of a hangover at 5:00 AM. Took a really long shower and said goodbye to Phil. Caught a cab to Washington National and flew to Miami.
   On the plane I sat next to a sixty-five year old woman who looked like she was trying to act like her granddaughter. She looked like a wrinkled Brook Shields. She merely grunted to my good morning and ordered a bloody Mary. After three drinks, she was the friendliest lady in the world. in fact, she told me not only her life story, but also her husband's and three kids'. Good practice for a writer...but boring as hell.
  In Miami at the AreoPeru line, I met a nice American woman. She was born in Peru but had married and became a U.S. citizen. She was shocked that I was going down there for so long and didn't speak a word of Spanish. Before we caught the plane, she offered me a ride to the hotel once we landed in Lima. Met some of the Earthwatch people (the volunteers for Earthwatch I would work with in Peru) before boarding the plane.
   In Lima, the woman I mentioned before did indeed give me a ride to the hotel, but that turned out to be an exciting experience, and a hell of an intro to Peru.
   She didn't mention the number of people who would turn out to meet her at the airport. She had two large suitcases and I had my rather large backpack. There was five people. We piled into a rusty, broken old VW bug. It was like a circus act.
   At the gate out of the parking lot, Jorge, our driver, lost the parking ticket. We all had to pile out of the little car and look for it. By the time we found it, there was about fifty cars and taxis behind us, honking their horns. I smiled big and gave them a little wave.
   The adventure was beginning.
   Once we got through the gate I made the mistake of twisting my neck enough to look out the window. There were twin machine gun nests near the ate and sandbags were piled high. Swell.
   Jorge said the traffic lights were ill and zipped through them whether they were red or green, without braking. At one point we heard gunshots fired behind us, and Jorge pulled to a screeching stop--nearly planting his wife on the gearshift nob--and whoever had fired the shots approached the car.
   I repeated my mistake of looking out the window and found myself staring down the business end of a machine gun. Jorge had me pretend I was drunk and told the cop he was fleecing a gringo. A bribe was offered, accepted, and we moved on.
   Got to the hotel only to find out that I had to pay $100 for the room. It's a seven star hotel. I would have left and tried to find a different place, but it was only fifteen minutes to curfew and the cops like to play "let's shoot the people on the street" immediately after curfew.

22 June -- Monday
   Flew to Cuzco. The elevation didn't bother me and I was pretty disappointed when my Camel cigarettes didn't give me any more satisfaction up there than at sea level. However, the elevation did give me a giddy, gee-isn't-this-wonderful-feeling that lasted all nine weeks.
   There was a festival in Cuzco and the streets by the hotel were closed, so we had to carry our packs the last few blocks up a crowded street.
   Checked into the Hotel Imperio. My roommate is Al, and he's quite the mashuganer. Took him fifteen minutes to take his money belt off. Met several of the people (British--the dig was sponsored by Oxford University) from the project.
   After lunch, the people at the hotel gave us coca tea. It's a tea made of the leaves from the coca bush and tastes like someone's front lawn. (That's the leaf they make cocaine from. Coca tea is common in Peru). I drank another cup before bed and didn't even blink all night, let alone sleep.

23 June -- Tuesday
   We (the 12 Earthwatch volunteers) went to breakfast with Dawn and Debbie. There were a lot of soldiers with machine guns in the main square, called the Plasa De Armas. We watched them parade.  Thank God for an actor's concentration, 'cause those boys made me want to giggle. Half of them began on the wrong foot when they marched and a few put their machine guns on the wrong shoulders when they were at attention. If we ever get into a war with Peru, let's send in a couple of patrols of Boy Scouts. Make the odds a bit more even.
   One of the officers got out of a truck near me. He had his medals, his weapons, his grimace, his bodyguards. This guy looked sharp...except his pants were undone and his (how do you put it politely?)...pecker...was flapping in the Peruvian breeze. I don't know how, but I kept a straight face.
   Then Deanna and I went to the market. She'd been carrying her passport, cash, traveler's checks, and airline tickets in her knee pocket. It was slashed open and she lost everything. We walked back to the hotel and she left with one of the Brits to see what she could do to stop the checks, etc.
   I decided that since I had lots of time until we caught the 12:00 train, I would wander around a bit and change some money. I took my money belt off (another friend had his jacket and shirt cut open and his money belt slashed and picked without feeling a thing.) I was going to be smart and wear my leather jacket. I shoved about three hundred dollars and the few receipts I managed to get in the inside pockets and outside zippered pockets of the jacket.
   Got on the train at noon, happy to be in Peru.

24 June -- Wednesday
   Took a walking tour of the sites. Archeology looks like crappy job after crappy job, but it seems to toughen you up. Ann, the director of the project, cracks me up. She talks like a BBC announcer. She's so aloof I think her only friends live on Mars. As we walked to the sites, she would not only explain the site, but also any turds on the ground on the way up. I guess the woman thought I was something of a smartass (accurately). At one point she passed a dried pile and bent down to look at it.
   "I think it's human," she said.
   I tried to act interested. "How can you tell?" Ever the perfect student, I am! Ahem.
   "After twenty years here," she explained, "you learn to identify biological waste."
   I considered. "You really know your shit, don't you?"
   Not even a smile. She didn't appreciate the humor. She really is British.

More tomorrow...

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