Day 7: Adios, Peru
Our last day in Peru arrived with mixed emotions. There had been some joy, adventure, and beauty, but there had also been fear, disaster, and misery. I was truly grateful for all of the wonderful moments, but more than ready to go home. All of us were also keen to get KP back to the safety of the U.S., where everything was familiar, the doctors spoke English, and her family would be able to take good care of her. And, of course, she could always find good pizza back home (Peru had been beyond disappointing in its execution of Italian food).
That morning in Cusco was beautiful, with bright blue skies and creamy white clouds, just like our first morning in that lovely city. Oh, Cusco, you never did us wrong! It was those treacherous mountains…or perhaps the Incan gods? Then again, PS had speculated that our bad luck may have been caused by the old ladies that cursed us that first full day in Cusco. I had assumed they were spewing bad words in Spanish…but could it have been bad spells they were brewing?
After packing up all of our belongings, PS, SK, RohZ, P2D2, and I ventured out into the streets in search of a brunch spot. We settled on a large, empty restaurant with signs warning us to keep an eye on our valuables, as the restaurant was not responsible for missing items. Comforting. Although we started to second-guess our decision, the food soon allayed our worries. I had a delicious egg sandwich with cheese and avocado on a French-toast style bread. When I saw a beautiful framed portrait of ice cream on the wall, I couldn’t resist…I added the chocolatey treat to my order. The ice cream however, ended up being quite upsetting. Though delightful to behold, it was icy, crunchy, and tasted of freezer burn.
After we finished eating, we wandered into an open-air market in a nearby courtyard to buy some last-minute souvenirs. Most of the merchant stalls were nearly identical and offered the standard fare – llama dolls, Alpaca-wool beanies and clothing, hand-carved knick-knacks, Machu Picchu artwork and magnets, wooden pan flutes, and handmade jewelry – although some stalls specialized in a particular keepsake. I haggled over a double-sided beanie, then went off in search of a magnet for my refrigerator.
I joined SK at another vendor stall, where the merchant tried to charge me an obscene price for a crappy magnet that looked like someone had glued a printed-out photo of Machu Picchu to a cheap magnetic strip. I shook my head. SK found a smaller but nicer-looking painted magnet for me. I offered my price.
“Please, m’lady,” the merchant said. “That is too much.”
I almost snorted with laughter. M’lady?? I had been called senorita and amiga in Peru, but never m’lady.
She countered with a slightly lower offer, and I responded with an even lower price.
“No, m’lady,” she said sorrowfully. I half expected her to curtsy. What was this, Downton Abbey?
As I attempted to walk away, the merchant followed after me in desperation. “M’lady! Ok, m’lady!” Not only did we settle on a decent price, but I felt like a countess to boot.
Meanwhile, another merchant was trying to sell SK a huge carved piece of wood that resembled…well…a certain “piece” of “wood” found on the male anatomy.
“No, no!” SK kept saying. “I don’t want it!”
Yet the lady thrust the piece of wood toward SK, saying, “You can use it as a coat hanger!”
SK looked horrified.
Finally, all of us left the market and headed to Plaza de Armas to say goodbye to the heart of the city. But, to our amazement, we found the statue had transformed.
Before, the Inca statue had stood on a faux-stone platform. Now, the platform had vanished, and the Inca statue stood instead atop a beautiful fountain. On the tier below the Incan, two stone geese held their wings in mid-flap, and stone flowers and creatures carved along the edge of the tier spouted water into the pool below. Within the pool were statues of mermen trumpeting some triumphant, silent song. Apparently, the faux platform had only been assembled for the Corpus Christi celebration.
My friends and I, minus the ill-fated yet good-natured KP, took a few traditional jumping pictures in front of this iconic fountain, which was so much more compelling than the boring old platform. Then SK left us to bring KP fresh clothes at the clinic before the ambulance ride to the airport, and PS went along with her (“I can’t let her take a cab alone in Peru!”).
RohZ, P2D2, and I enjoyed the plaza for just a little bit longer. It was such a gorgeous day. So temperate and full of color! I frolicked through the flowers as the boys documented my awkwardness, then we made our way back to the hostel to collect all of our luggage from storage.
We had our suitcases lined up in the hostel courtyard like a giant game of dominos. And before long, just as KP had promised, our own personal ambulance arrived to escort us all to the airport!
“KP hooked us up!” SK said jubilantly into PS’s camcorder. “Hashtag O2 network.”
Inside, the ambulance was dim and had an eerie reddish glow. I hoped this would be the first and last time I’d ever see the inside of one of these things…
Once at the airport, the boys had to help lift KP in and out of wheelchairs (there was a different wheelchair for the airport versus the airplane), and she pressed her eyes shut in silent pain throughout this process. As we were waiting in the terminal for our flight to Lima, we ran into Elsie, one of the NY girls from our trekking group.
“How are you feeling?” she asked KP. At this point, KP was lying on three terminal chairs, covered by a blanket (it hurt her tailbone area to sit for too long). Meanwhile, RohZ was sitting in her wheelchair just for kicks.
KP filled Elsie in on her situation.
“You should definitely sue,” Elsie said, shaking her head indignantly.
We said our goodbyes, but before she left, Elsie gave KP her leopard-print neck pillow to ease the pain and pressure when she sat on it. “Here. You need this more than I do.”
“I’m almost tearing up!” SK declared as Elsie walked away.
After that unexpected act of kindness from the tough New Yorker, we felt in better spirits. The pillow would definitely help KP through the flights.
Still, our flight to Lima was the easiest leg of the journey; KP managed to endure the short flight fairly well as we played the childhood-era MASH game to keep her thoughts off the pain. It was the international flights we were worried about…even a neck pillow would not be enough.
But first, we had an eight-hour layover in Lima before our 2:00 a.m. flight. Peru still had us in its clutches.
My itinerary had some ideas on what we could do in Lima:
Take a cab into Lima, eat dinner at a restaurant, explore the town (e.g. Museo Larco, Magic Water Circuit, Parque De La Reserva, Miraflores Boardwalk, San Pedro Church).
But that had been written in a different time, in a different world. After we set up camp in the airport, none of us felt struck by a violent urge to venture out again into the Peruvian night. KP, of course, would not be able to leave. And since the accident, there hadn’t been many opportunities for all six of us to hang out together. So we found a stretch of chairs for KP to lie down on and some of us to sit on, while the rest of us created a barrier of suitcases and sat on top of them across from the chairs.
And then the long wait began. We talked for a bit, reflecting on our strange trip. We bought dinner at a sandwich shop. Some of us set off through the airport in search of a pack of cards…but the shops were charging a ridiculously high price (about $10 U.S.). No bueno.
At one point, KP needed to use the restroom, but we didn’t have a wheelchair. Our airline counter wasn’t even open yet, so we tried asking other airlines if we could borrow a wheelchair. All of us had spread out in search of an airline that would help us. I couldn’t believe it – most of them refused! What happened to common decency?! The first time I came across American Airlines and asked to borrow a wheelchair for my friend, they refused as well. The wheelchairs were only for American Airline customers, they said. But when I realized that my other friends hadn’t had any luck finding a wheelchair either, I went back to American Airlines and started pleading dramatically in my best Spanish.
“Por favor! Mi amiga necesita usar el bano…pero no puede caminar! Y nuestra airline es no abierto…abierta? Abierto…”
The male employees just looked at me impassively (jerks!), but the only female employee started to show some concern.
“Ella no puede caminar?” she asked. I nodded. She said something to her coworkers and began unfolding a wheelchair.
When we arrived at our “camp,” SK had found another man from a sister airline, and was attempting to persuade him to lend us a wheelchair, with little success. But he did seem slightly shamefaced when he realized another airline was helping us out. The lady from American Airlines even took KP to a private handicapped bathroom so she wouldn’t have to brave the tiny crowded stalls of the main restrooms. And while KP was in the bathroom with her walker, the lady asked with genuine concern what had happened to KP. As our Spanish was limited, SK and I tried our best to express the horse incident, miming a fall and the motion of a horse when language failed us.
After KP was settled back at our camp, we all began playing charades. That kept us occupied for a while, and was particularly entertaining when we had to act out each other. We made another trip through the airport for snacks and desserts. Then PS played back some of the clips from our trip that he had captured on his camcorder.
We joked about how stressed out the cleaning crew must be; they kept throwing glances at our camp. The crew had been meticulous in their cleaning of all the airport floors, but our patch floor, within the circular boundaries of our chairs and suitcases, remained sullied for hours (in their eyes, at least…it still looked clean to us). We knew that as soon as we left, they would swoop in with brooms and mops to attack the floor like vultures eagerly devouring their prey.
Finally, the time came when we could at least make our way to the terminal. As we were trying to help KP up and into another wheelchair – KP clearly in pain at the effort – a strange lady with wild light eyes, who had been staring intensely at KP, walked over to her. We couldn’t understand what she was saying, but she invaded KP’s personal space and pressed her finger to a point on KP’s face, muttering something while the rest of us threw each other uneasy glances. I wondered if this was yet another Peruvian curse, but then we realized that the lady was trying to tell us that pressing this particular spot on her face would help ease the pain.
“Yes, thanks, I’ll try that,” KP said, taking over the spot on her face with her own finger. The lady gave us a knowing look, nodded mysteriously, and left. KP immediately removed her finger from her face.
We checked in with our airline and managed to secure three seats in a row for KP to lay on. By the time we made it to the terminal, I was dead tired. I fell asleep on my chair until boarding time. Once again, the boys helped KP out of her airport wheelchair and into the airplane wheelchair. Then they helped her lie down in her airplane seats and covered her with blankets.
Finally, it was time to leave Peru for real. The plane took off in a rough, guttural rumble, with me holding on to my armrests for dear life (takeoffs and landings scare me).
And then we were up in the dark night air, home free and homeward bound.
I glanced out the window and into the abyss for a moment before closing my eyes and succumbing to sleep. What a trip!
Adios, Peru. We came, we saw, we…fell…we got up, we dusted ourselves off, we managed. You tested us, you rewarded us, you mystified us. Our trip was at times an adventure, and at times a disaster. But one thing was for certain – it was unforgettable.