Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Hosts vs. Fellow Travelers

Allow me to level out for a moment: I really struggled to figure out how I would write about my South American travels.  I mean, I was gone for a bit more than a month.  Surely, you can imagine I have plenty – really plenty – of stories.  Yet, being a considerate writer, as I think of my readers' attention span (you’re welcome) and keeping readership, I decided I would break up my stories into several entries.  Let’s hope I stay committed to those few, and they don’t get compromised once work and grad school start up again.  My fingers are crossed and I’ll say my dutiful nightly prayers at night that I stay faithful to the pursuit of these vagabond chronicles.  This first entry I decided to tell share two stories: one from Lima, and one late (very late) night in Cusco!  Proceeding these two logs further stories will come in no particular order; like flashbacks and flash forwards if you will.  Enjoy!

"Landed and not in Kansas (well Cali) anymore"
Captain's Log:  July 12th 2016
“Barrbarra???”  In a foreign airport as I scan my surroundings, and my travelers backpack is strapped on, just after passing through customs and saying goodbye to my Peruvian airplane neighbor, in that exact moment my Lima host had somehow picked me out of a crowd of other travelers.  As I turn completely around I catch the sight of a six foot tall man –  very tall for Peruvian standards – with olive complexion and slightly shaggy dark brown hair, I say very cautiously: 
“Hi, what’s your name?” 
“It’s me, Massimo; you know from Couchsurfing."  
“Okay, I just wanted to make sure.”
He continues by taking my large backpackers backpack off my back, so I just had to tend to my school bag – or my carry on if you will.  As we proceed outside it hits me that it’s late.  The time is about half past midnight and it’s chilly outside as everyone I see are sporting leather jackets or something comparable paired well with scarfs.  It is Peru's winter after all!  Massimo pays for parking at a counter stall and the first thing I notice is the Spanish that is exchanged between him and the teller.  Now I’m by no means fluent in Spanish, but I know enough to notice the difference in dialect and accent.  It almost sounded like Italian – so smooth and fluid.  We proceed out of the parking lot in his Subaru and I notice the stream of police cars parked in spaced intervals down the rather bare looking boulevard before we hit the freeway.  
“What’s with all the police cars?”  
“Well, you remember how I messaged you that the area around the airport is very dangerous?” “Yes.” 
“Well, I wasn’t kidding, it’s dangerous around the Lima airport.” 
“Huh, well thank you again for picking me up!” 
The rest of the ride to Massimo’s apartment is a bit of a blur.  After an eight and a half hour flight from LA International to the southern hemisphere I can recall how the exhaustion started to hit.  As we pulled into the garage of his complex and took the elevator to the 5th floor before entering his apartment I kept thinking: I’m really here; I’m in Lima Peru!

Massimo getting an ice cream fix.  Notice how tall he is! 
As my first time Couchsurfing, I could not rave about Massimo more as my first international host.  He had an extra room AND an extra bathroom for me with linens and towels ready; he smuggled the coffee maker from his work office (which I unintentionally broke – I blame the complicated machine) to his place for me; gave me a key to his apartment; he went grocery shopping for me and even let me use one of his work phones to call him while I was in Lima if I needed anything (as my phone was pretty useless besides picture taking if not connected to wifi).  I even spent the next day with Massimo as he showed me around the Barraco district (arts neighborhood) and Miraflores (trend neighborhood for young professional that sits on a cliff that overlooks the Pacific Ocean).  The guy was so hospitable that he had me over for lunch with his folks, sister and twin nephews.  And in good Peruvian fashion they prepared a delicious Italian meal for my arrival that afternoon; complete with fancy cheese, artisan bread and red wine at their nicely set dining room table – not the kitchen table (where they normally break bread together).  I should probably mention Massimo’s father is Italian – which would explain his height, and the Italian meal.  

As a solo female traveler, Massimo could not have been more respectful – never showed any sign of any alternative motive.  Believe me when I say I was well aware of this risk I was running, and how much more vulnerable I was.   And believe me when I say there was a moment or more in my travels where my safety was compromised (another story) but never while with my Lima host – never!  Goes to show you that sometimes you can put your trust in strangers - maybe just sometimes.   

"International Travelers Hit the Imperial City Streets"
Captain's Log: June 25th 2016 
...“So I’m here, but you have to come get me at the front desk; they won’t let me pass otherwise.” This was the Facebook message I sent a new British friend I met and made on the road to Cusco at his hostel.  As I’m standing at the front desk awkwardly, waiting for my new London friend (Jason) to come fetch me, and as I’m bumming off the wifi, conversation was struck towards me by another lonely sap – also waiting for a new friend to let them in.  What can I say, solo travelers make friends fast!  After 30 minutes of the waiting game and sending another persistent message to Jason (“pssst!!!” clever I know), my fellow sap and me convinced the front desk receptionist to let us upstairs to look for our point people.  We pass through an outdoor courtyard  - which I can assume during the day is quite nice to lay out in the hammocks they had spread out – up to the second floor I nearly collided with Jason as he’s walking and looking at his phone.
(Insert British accent here) “Ah, there ya are; I just got your message and was heading downstairs to grab ya.” 
As we meet, he looked like he had just woke up from a nap, as he’s standing in something that resembled pajamas, a night robe and slippers.  Gotta love the life of a traveler! As I chuckled and made fun of him a bit, he explains he’s gonna change, brush up a bit and grab his friends that I had yet to meet at this point.  My front desk sap and I proceed to the party room which was filled with other young travelers, load American music, colored strobe lights and a bar at the end of course.  After a short time Jason returns with three other men: Sven and Harun from Germany, and Tyson from Canada.  Well wasn’t I quite the lucky gal that night?!  Kidding!  Jokes aside, I did feel safe going out till God knew when with four men by my side.  To be honest, I am not much of a night owl, and this particular night, I didn’t plan to stay out late – like midnight at the latest.  So...I stayed out with these dudes till 4:30 the next morning!  When this teacher doesn’t have a bedtime and the night is good and when in Cusco – do like other travelers do!  Starting with limbo and face painting at location numero uno I met them at and moving to tres mas clubs and bars left me feeling like I was in college again; except the hilly streets of San Francisco where replaced with narrow cobble stoned streets!  

One of the last stops we spent some time at is infamous in Cusco – the Wild Rover!  Lemme tell ya – it was indeed wild; wild being the operative word in this case.   By the time we stepped on the scene there I think it was around midnight and it was already packed!  As we trailed ourselves in through the crowds it was as if I was walking into an old gentleman’s basement of a smoke cloud of weed and cigarette smoke mixed with the scent of booze!  Take a deep breath in Barbara; feel that?  Yea, I probably inhaled at least two cigarettes through second hand alone.  At least the aroma of liquor provided a nice chaser.  My senses were drenched!  We positioned ourselves close to the bar and soon and over about an hour the bar had no spare counter space as more than a dozen drunk travelers raised the roof, hands and their heals as they danced on the bar till the lights went out at 2am.  I’ll admit, I think the dense fog of smoke, alcohol aroma and heard of people packed in left me feeling: I’m too old for this.  Then after maybe 10 minutes in there with my international fellas, I thought: why the hell not?!  
“Hey, you gonna finish that,” I asked pointing to a quarter of a cigarette in Tyson’s hand.  As he looks at me surprised, he says... 
“Finish it!” 
With our glasses of poison in hand and cigarettes in the other we cheered and grooved to the beat of the music that left us unable to converse.  Lights went on at 2am, and a unison groan over swept the bar of travelers.  Moments later, as we stood outside with our hands in our pockets with the cold night air of Cusco hitting our skin that had just been inside a room filthy with body heat, not ready for the night to end yet, Jason found a promoter of another club and we stood in a circle waiting for a wrist band to our next stop for the night.  After flagging down a cab, the five of us piled into a taxi to the next stop of the night; and by piling in, I mean to say Jason, Sven, Harun and Tyson had seats while I literally lay on top of them in the back seat, trying not to get caught by any potential law enforcement.  As we climbed out of the cab at some place I can’t remember the name of (it was late and I might have been intoxicated at this point – maybe) I remember thinking how I thought I would bow out at midnight.  Ha!  The streets of Cusco were alive with young travelers who were walking in all kinds of directions towards a hand full of different music selections calling their names with their drinks waiting for them; and the night air sparkled with the old dim lights and stars that lit the cobble stone under our ready feet!  The five of us - international posy if you will – strutted our cool walk up to the bouncer and after casually flashing our wrist bands, we were waved into a base bumping packed club!  After drink number…who am I kidding it doesn’t matter; unimportant detail!  Besides I’m half Irish – I can hold my liquor thank you very much!  Jokes aside – we danced in that packed filled club drinks in hands and hands in the air till about 4 in the morning.  Well I bowed out with one of the four gents who I think thought he’d get lucky with this half Irish lady.  Out of respect for him, he did flag down a cab for me and rode with me back to my hostel to make sure I got in safe.  Gentlemanly for sure!  Sadly for him, I think he expected more – not about that kind of after party if you get my drift; because I am a lady and my mama raised me right!  So I left a sad, disappointed man outside my hostel.  But a very fun, carefree and eventful night, that is for sure! 


  1. Really really nice article! You remember a lot of details ... while reading i get flashes and can remember too ;) Was a great night with you in cusco.

    1. Thanks for the writing complements Sven, and for taking the time to read my blog! I have been told I have a scary good memory - haha. Gets me in trouble sometimes, but makes for great writing inspiration. That night in Cusco was indeed a fun night with you and the other fellas!