One fine day in Peru: Electric Quechua Blues and Interspecies FriendshipBuenos Aires, Spring 2009
I know, I know—I’ve been a highly negligent blogger. But I have an excuse: after finishing classes at IES and UMSA, I went to Peru and had adventures, most of which took me far from electricity and hot water, let alone the Internet. My friend Carina and I met up with her mom and sister in Cusco, then headed to the rainforest of Manu National Park for four days of things like bird-watching, rafting, hiking, and the most exciting, ziplining through the canopy. It was just mindblowingly beautiful and diverse. We rested in Cusco for a couple days, then packed back up and hiked for four days through the mountains to Macchu Picchu. Then we flew back to Buenos Aires to stay with friends for a couple days before finally returning to Houston.
I have so many stories from Peru that it’s hard to pick just one to tell here. But when I really think about it, the thing I learned most from that trip was the value of spontaneity. In a trip that was so carefully scheduled (all the credit goes to Carina’s mom and her savy travel skills), some of my favorite moments were those that weren’t part of the plan. One day in particular was full of surprises.
After finishing our hike in the morning, we had a few hours to kill in a little town called Ollantaytambo, from where we would take a train to Aguas Calientes (the jumping-off point for seeing Macchu Picchu). Spectacular Incan ruins overlook the town, but after days of mountain hiking we were sore, smelly, and sunburned, with no interest in climbing them. Instead, we agreed immediately that a leisurely afternoon in a café was in order.
For some reason we settled on one called “Quechua Blues Café,” a dark old building with some animal-pelt draped benches outside. It was just opening as we arrived, but the dazed-looking barman waved us in. He took our orders and began blasting blues on the stereo, first a classic red-hot electric riff, and then when the vocals came in we realized they actually were in Quechua (the indigenous language widely spoken in Peru). Some of the songs were covers of famous American blues, and it was fun to try to figure them out without the English lyrics.
Carina and I wanted to get a copy of the album for our college radio station, KTRU, because electric blues sung in an indigenous Peruvian language is exactly the sort of bizarre thing that belongs on college radio. The barman told us where we could buy a copy in Cusco, but we weren’t going to have time to look for it there. Was there any other way we could get the CD? He stood quiet for a moment, scratching his head, and blinking his oddly cloudy eyes. His movements were slow and languid, like he had either done a lot of drugs in the past or was simply a very calm person. Then he offered to run home and sell us his own personal copy. We felt hesitant about this—surely it was worth a lot to him?—but before we could respond he set off down the street, leaving us alone in the café as a Peruvian version of “House of the Rising Sun” blasted out onto the cobblestone street, attracting stares from passers-by, Peruvians and tourists alike. About twenty minutes later, he returned with a tattered case, and we bought it for 20 soles (about seven dollars).
We said goodbye to our blues cafe friend and walked around Ollantaytambo. In one street we came across a mixed group of people—tourists in expensive hiking clothes and Peruvian kids in shorts and t-shirts—staring at something open-mouthed. At first glance it appeared to be a shaggy mongrel dog, nothing special about it. Then we realized there was a tiny monkey riding the dog’s back, little fists clinging to his fur. It was incredibly cute. It turned out the monkey was the pet of a little girl whose parents owned a restaurant, and we ended up eating a tasty meal there (which cost, absurdly, less than $2 US a person) while watching the animals. The monkey would alternate between peacefully riding the dog and play-fighting with him, the two biting and swatting at each other in a flurry of jaws and tails. The little girl watched on in glee, shouting to the monkey, “Kill the dog! Kill the dog!” I chatted with her mother, who told me that since her husband got the monkey as a gift for his daughter, business in their restaurant has increased dramatically. The unlikely pair draws a crowd wherever they go, and more often than not that crowd follows them back to the restaurant for food and human companionship.
So that was a strange, wonderful day in Peru.
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