SCRIPS AND SCRAPS FROM A BEACH BUM GAL
I’m having serious trouble in leaving Huanchaco, Peru. No, nobody’s holding me hostage here, it’s just so beautiful and so consistently 77 degrees after all that Andean chill. So, I am now chilling out and finding excuses to extend my $25 per night stay in the very comfortable Hostel Huanchaco, night after night. Yesterday, I tried to visit the exhibition of the famous Peruvian Paso horses, but I started too late to arrive by showtime, so I went to the beach and lazed on a beach chair under an umbrella. Today, I’m hoping to actually make it to the horse show. Then, perhaps I will be able to peel away from here, catch a bus-cama and show up in Lima just in time to be splashed with water during Carnival.
Over breakfast this morning, I had a long talk with Bruno, a retired French Canadian, who had traveled South America eleven times, finally settling down here as a part-time expat. After all, Canada can’t match these temperatures and this is a wonderful place to settle into. Everyone is so friendly and easy-going.
Well, now to scrips and scraps: First of all, I’m also keeping a handwritten journal, and I often write things there and then copy them here. I don’t think I’ve included these little points here, but forgive me, if so.
There were two stark clues of tragedy picked up from my tour of Chan Chan the other day. One was the story the guide told as we were standing on the funerary platform where the dead Ruler was dispatched to his Great Reward, accompanied by his principal wife (who got to lie with him in the center of it all) and surrounded by forty of his lesser wives. Beyond us were the graves of many servants and animals, all of which he was taking with him into the future life.
As we all know, these funerals were attended by most of the living-but-soon-to-be-dead individuals who were not going to have the luxury of a natural expiration date. Our guide spoke of the thirty-nine women who had apparently been resigned to this fate and who had been found in their graves with their faces looking upward, having died ceremonially in the proper way. Poison? Slit throat?
But, there was one skeleton found sprawled face down in an agonized, unsettled, position. The archaeological conclusion was that she had changed her mind when push came to shove and had fervently regretted becoming a member of the King’s harem, only to have him expire before she did. She must have tried to avoid the consequences at the last minute but found herself no match against the multitude of priests who were not inclined to let her have her cake and eat it too. Thousands of years later, her last moments could be reconstructed just in the fact that her final moments were not in conformity with those of her fellow royal wives. Until recently, wives in India, married to a certain class of man, were still suffering the same forced end to life, simply because a spouse died first. There are some definite advantages to being an old maid.
The other story gleaned at Chan Chan was about the sweet little Yoda-like Mexican Hairless Dogs, three of whom are there to meet the tourists. These were bigger than I had imagined and were about the size of a medium breed, but they sure were hairless, and had a sort of a deep purple/maroon color, or a reddish-pink, to their exposed and slightly wrinkly skin. They have big, expressive ears and very intelligent, knowing, eyes.
The normal body temperature of these dogs is quite high. Much higher than other dogs and thus, they have been used to soothe the pains of arthritis by cuddling up to a human sufferer. A natural heating pad, ready to be applied at an instant, and though these are way to big to be lap dogs, they seem to be very sweet and affectionate in temperament.
Well, they had been highly-valued as Temple Dogs in these pre-Incan, Chimu times. However, Pizzaro and his gang, the conquering Spaniards, jumped to the conclusion that they all must be suffering from some terrible disease (high fever, and fallen-out hair) and so the Spanish executed most of them. For centuries after that, the survivors of this breed had no acceptance among the population and they became the strays and scavengers in the country.
It’s been in relatively recent times, when the modern archaeologists found carvings and drawings of these very distinctive looking animals on the temple pottery and walls, that their lot improved markedly. Now, there are always several Mexican Hairless Dogs on duty at all archaeological museums and they have become accepted as household pets by the local population.
At least that’s the story that our guide told. Maybe the Kennel Society has a different story, but I’ll bet it’s not as heartrending as this one.
THE FINE, FRAGILE, BEGINNING BONDS OF COMMUNITY
Aside …. Guess who comes up first in a Google search of the relationship between a human spinal column and the Cordillera of the Andes??? Yep, yours truly! How´s that for instant expertise? If you are new to this blog, scroll down to read my claim to fame.
I´m in Huanchaca, Peru, the little beach community twelve kilometers from Trujillo. I´m glad I went to town first to get a sense of both atmospheres before coming to this lovely laid-back, but tourist-filled beach surfer´s hangout. It may have started as a fishing village and it is justly famous for its reed boats which have been used here for 2500 years. These pointy, round surfboard affairs are made up of bound reeds which grow nearby and the fishermen straddle or kneel upon them and navigate far beyond the breakers for fishing. Today, they also do a good business selling rides to tourists.
I booked a tour of the most famous nearby archaeological site, Chan Chan, of the Chimu, pre-Incan, culture, known as the Largest City of Clay in the World.¨ This is the main reason that I broke my trip to Lima. Here is a bit of philosophy which resulted from that experience….admittedly, more influenced by my reading of Time and Newsweek about Obama´s challenges ahead in forging a new community out of a shattered and bruised America. Here are some suggestions to the President:
Chan Chan is interesting, but at base, just an empty clay city ruins of a long-lost civilization. But, the people in my bus? That´s another story.
THE FINE, FRAGILE BEGINNING BONDS OF COMMUNITY
When you are out on the road, long-term, as I am, and particularly when you travel solo, as I do, it´s possible to observe microcosmic human tendencies which normally play only silently in the background of your consciousness. Today, I took a four-hour, guided tour offered through my Trujillo, Peru hostel, to see Chan Chan.
Two guides and eight tourists were crammed into a mini-van for the short ride out of town. Three of us spoke English and we had our own guide. The others, mostly Chileans, spoke only Spanish, so there was, essentially, no conversation between us. Our only point in common was that we were all part of the same little tour group and our faces became slightly recognizable to each other.
But, simply because of that tiny thread of commonality, we possessed a palpable feeling of belonging to each other when we joined the larger number of tourists, milling among the same museum exhibits, who were delivered to the venue by a number of different buses. Of course, we never needed to call upon this bonding, but if we had, there would have been recognition and assistance from the brotherhood we had formed merely by signing-on to poke about a strange place with a bunch of strangers.
Face recognition? Them and Us? Some sort of minimal Trust Wave existed within our party that didn’t, and couldn’t, extend to all of those strangers from the other buses. I am sure that this was enhanced because of the small size of our van and the fact that we had to cooperate to merely get in and out of the bus. We were seated close together and, for me anyway, there was the reality that a couple towards the front was having to prop up my large backpack brought because I was shifting over to the beach community for the night.
So, crowding and necessary mutual assistance matters hugely, even when language might form an insuperable barrier.
An American Peace Corp volunteer, a Japanese tourism official and myself formed the English-speaking contingent and naturally, we became somewhat acquainted through our conversation as we walked through the huge temple remains. I felt comfortable enough with the man from Tokyo to wake him from his nodding doze when we first came in view of the Pacific Ocean, and he appreciated the gesture.
My point is, that even though this is a very light and flimsy connection, it is still a connection and a possible beginning if carried to a time-extreme, which it will never actually realize under normal circumstances. Most of you have experienced similar temporary amalgamations, so you know a version of what I´m analyzing here. This thesis is, no doubt, caused by the fact that I am now devouring both a happily-discovered Time Magazine and a Newsweek filled with articles about Obama´s early days as President. Underlying every article is the question-wish-hope-puzzlement about how America, or any diverse collection of people, can switch from a ¨Me First¨polyglot to an organization of friends and neighbors who will work together, or at least, help each other a little bit.
I sensed the nascent community formed by our little busload of strangers. No tests were levied upon it and the moment of its existence is now over. But, a willingness to own each other simply because of face recognition was definitely there.
That, my friends, is a powerful human glue. Face recognition. It works on newborns. It works on neighbors. It works on fan clubs. How can we get that microcosmic stickiness to work on a larger scale? Perhaps the sudden attitude of ¨We´re all in this together,¨ which has newly begun to take root because of this sudden desperate money crisis, will put us in the same boat long enough to register faces and not just anonymous bodies.
Want to share mini-vans, anyone?