I started by leaving the house. When I left the house I noticed there was a security guard at the gate, so I talked to him for a bit.
“Good evening,” I said, “My name is Mark Wetzler, first of his name, and I’ll be staying here for a week.”
He didn’t understand “Mark” but when I spelled it for him he said, “Marcos,” confirmed I’d be staying a week, and said, “OK.” I then exited the community and turned left on Paseo de la Cultura. My final destination: A mall called Aventura Plaza.
After a few minutes of walking I passed a park in a different gated community where I’d done exercise earlier. I did pull-ups. I’ve been doing pull-ups for over a week now, and have the pecs to prove it. My lower back is firm and it’s now more comfortable for me to sit with good posture than to slouch. I didn’t think doing pull-ups could change my life in so many ways, but it has. My IQ has also gone up.
I then walked down a long alleyway. This is a secret road taxis use to avoid traffic and construction. It’s also a non-secret road used by walkers to not have to walk as far. Then came the main road, which was under construction. It was dirt. The cars were traveling slow and you could see the dust kicked up by the cars in the headlights. There were quite a few people out, strolling about, heading home. I wondered if any of them were heading to the Adventure Plaza. Could it be? Were we all on our way to some kind of adventure? I was eager to find out.
I got a bit lost trying to take a shortcut. I saw what looked like a park and thought, God, I love parks. I’m going to go to it. But then when I got there the streets were significantly darker, so I asked some passersby if I could get to the Adventure Plaza through here. They looked at me like I was daft. “The Adventure Plaza,” I said, “I want to have an adventure. I want to buy some churros.”
“Ahhh,” they said. “No, you have to go back to the main road.”
Within five minute I had the entrance to the Adventure Plaza in my sights. The glow from the stairs illuminated the parking lot and leaked out onto the main road. So many people were walking towards the mall. So many people on their way to have an adventure. I was one of many.
When I got close to the mall I noticed people carrying Starbucks cups. Wow, a Starbucks, I thought. This is a fancy mall. There was the department store Falabella looming in the distance. There was the Entel store. And there was a stand selling churros.
My particular adventure began with entering Tottus, the massive grocery store that’s like a nicer version of Wal-Mart. I walked by the computers first, allowing myself to be swept-up by the space age technology. The flat screens. The curved screens. The TV screens. Bigger and bigger and bigger. And then I got to the bakery and there was freshly baked bread and throngs of people scrambling to get their hands on it. I joined the river of humanity and when the opportunity arose lunged at a pair of ciabattas, put them in a bag, and brought them over to be weighed. Then I looked at eggs. Free-range, close range, on the range. There was a buffet that had soups and purees and cured meats. There was a produce section with mangos and papayas and carrots the size of my index finger. There were apples — oh, the variety of apples — and I stood looking at them, not daring to move lest I wake up from the dream that was having so many apples in front of me.
Finally I decided on my various wares. I had eggs, bread, butter, a carrot, an onion, and some sunflower seed oil. I walked around the store a little more, not wanting the adventure to end. There were some girls giving out wine samples. There was a girl giving out sausage samples, and I ran after her to try one. “Can I try your sausages?” I said, out of breath.
“Welcome to Adventure Plaza,” she said, and handed me a pair.
Then it was time to check out, and I was sad. The adventure was coming to an end. I put a chocolate bar on the moving belt in front of the cashier, and she rang me up.
“You look sad,” she said.
“The adventure is over,” I said.
“Was it everything you wanted?”
“It was…” I gasped. “It was so beautiful.”
She handed me my receipt and my bag of goods and said have a nice night and when she said this it was as if a spell had been broken. The adventure truly was over. I was just in a mall in some random city in Peru. I’d just bought groceries and now I had to walk home along a dirt road.
On my way out I passed some people on the way to the Adventure Plaza. They had a glint in their eyes. They didn’t seem to be present. They were excited.
If only they knew, I thought. But they will.
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I’m in Arequipa. I survived the 18 hour bus ride, which actually turned out to be 16 hours. And I say “survived” because there were a few times last night where we took some turns and I thought, This bus is going to tip over. This is bus is going to tip over and we’re going to go careening down a 500 foot embankment, and I’m going to be OK because I’ve got my seatbelt on. Because I did have my seatbelt on. I was probably the only one, lying there completely flat, as we careened around these turns, with my seatbelt on.
I slept about eight hours which meant I was only conscious for eight hours of the bus trip. And for the first two hours I was completely absorbed in the novelty of being on one of Peru’s nicest buses, the Cruz del Sur Confort Suites, a bus dedicated entirely to first-class, VIP bus seats. These seats lie down completely flat. You get two meals. And granted, the breakfast this morning was probably the closest I’ll ever come to being in prison, but it was food.
For hours two through five I was absorbed in my dinner, cold chicken and rice, and also the movie Thank You For Your Service. I also watched the movie Paris Can Wait, and tried to extract from it what women really want out of a relationship, and came to the following conclusions: They want impromptu picnics by the river with Frenchmen, dining out, being ushered around the French countryside, and chocolate.
Then this morning about about 10:30am we rolled into Arequipa, and I had a distinct thought: I want to keep going to Chile. But of course I can’t, because I’ve already booked an Airbnb for the week, and I have classes to teach, and the real reason I want to go to Chile is because I feel comfortable there and I keep going back to Chile and I’ll probably always keep going back to Chile until one day I marry a Chilena and we live in the woods. Her name will be Josefina or Penelope and we’ll keep sheep and goats and chickens and tend to the land and make 15 babies and forget about modern society, especially things like Instagram and assault weapons. Why does her name have to be Josefina or Penelope? Well, it doesn’t have to Josefina, but it definitely has to be one of the two.
The Airbnb where I’m staying in Arequipa is far from the center and only rents out one room, which means I’m the only one here, which means I’m chilling in the cavernous living room in the semi-darkness, typing away on my laptop, not thinking about what I’m going to do tomorrow. Not even thinking about what I’m going to do tonight, or what I’m going to do in the next 15 minutes, or 10 minutes, or five minutes. Not thinking about what I’m doing right now. Just breathing and sipping tea.
But mostly thinking a ton.
And the street is called Jirón Arica. The address is 131. I’m on the couch. I’m about to drink black tea mixed with a small amount of sugar.
Look at this f#@king vicuña (alpaca???). Look at the way it extracts sumptuous morsels of biomatter from an otherwise barren landscape. Look at Misti in the background, in all of her nearly 6,000 meters of glory. Look at this alpaca’s (vicuña’s????) fur and imagine yourself wearing a shawl made from it. Imagine yourself naked in said shawl. Imagine yourself itching.
Seventeen and a half hours. That’s how long the bus is supposed to take. Of course, I’m hoping the driver has a bit of lead in his soles and we make it there in 17 hours and 20 minutes.
Also on this map you can see: My proposed route for after Arequipa, going up to Puno, by Lake Titicaca, into Bolivia, and then down into Northern Argentina (aka “The Inland Route”). You can also see the ALTERNATE ROUTE, which would take me directly into the heart of darkness, aka Paraguay (aka “The Alternate Route”). You can also see some black lines I drew on Chile, just because it looks kinda cool, and some pink polka dots on Brazil, for the same reason.
So that’s the plan. If the bus has WiFi I will try to post a blog from the bus, since that would be novel. I’m also going to try to read a novel.
Look, I know money is tight, we’re all struggling, and diapers are expensive, but with just $1 a month you can literally make my dream of becoming a full-time blogger/traveler come true. That’s about $0.03 a day. Once the penny gets phased out it will be like $0.00 a day. So think about it:
I will have it in my clutches. Maybe not in the next hour, maybe not in the next two hours, but sometime within the next three hours I’ll have an almond croissant from El Pan de la Chola, Lima’s most pituco cafe, in my grime-covered hands.
Though at first I won’t even hold it in my hands. I’ll just let it sit on the plate — which isn’t even a plate but a rustic wooden baker’s tray since plates would be lame — and observe it much like you might observe a baby bird being born. Hatching. You watch as it first nudges its way through the shell and think, Wow, I’ve never seen a baby bird being born. And then, This is exactly like Jurassic Park, and for a moment you wonder if it is exactly like Jurassic Park and if in the next year this baby bird will grow into a velociraptor and devour you and your family.
But it’s not a velociraptor. It’s a pastry.
After observing the almond croissant I’ll take a fork and knife and cut into its succulent skin. I’ll carve off the perfect, chewy chunk and let it linger on my fork before putting it into my mouth. I’ll savor the moment. It will be over all too soon, of course. And while I’m chewing the first bite I’ll be trying to focus on the texture, the taste, the glory, but what I’ll really be doing is thinking about the next bite. Because you see I’m never satisfied. And even though I’m actively chewing a piece of the the best almond croissant in Lima, Peru — the best almond croissant in South America — I’ll be thinking more about the next bite than the bite that’s in my mouth. And this isn’t very Zen. But when you’re eating an almond croissant, it’s hard to be zen.
After the the first bite it will all be over. My heart rate will dip into the 30’s and if this was an Olympic sport I’d be accused of doping. I’ll have the heart rate of a blue whale. My eyelids will flutter closed and I’ll sit writhing on my chair, groaning, as if Lucifer himself had taken up residence in my sternum. One bites, two bites, three bites, four. My hands ferry pastry back and forth between the tray and my mouth. And then, inexplicably, it’s gone. My eyes open wide now, my pupils dilate. Where once was a croissant are now ashes, almond flecks and powdered sugar. The almond croissant will be gone, and I won’t know what to do. Get another one? Weep? I’ll look over at the waitress and flash a look as if to say, “See what I just did to that croissant? Now imagine how good I am at bowling.” And she’ll smile back as if to say, “I bet you pick up spares all the time.” And then I’ll exit the bakery into the chaos of the non-almond flaked world outside.
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Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, girls and girls, girls and older men, older men and boys, boys and boys, welcome to the phantom guide. This is for credit card that doesn’t exist. Because it doesn’t exist, it can never be destroyed, stolen, mutilated, coveted, or prized away from you on some kind of filthy subway system, or lifted, or jacked, or thieved, or any other such malice that could cause it to no longer be in your possession. Thus it will be the most important card you ever (don’t) own. It will be immortal in that it will exist forever, or at least as long as the expiration date. Formless and beautiful.
If you read yesterday’s blog entry, you’ll remember that yesterday I found out some slimy thieves in Florida (though actually they’re probably not in Florida) tried to use my debit card, which means now my debit card is blocked, which means I have to use my backup card, from Homestreet Bank on Bainbridge Island, which is actually not a half-bad backup card at that. This is the first time I’ve traveled with two debit cards. I’ve always traveled with a debit card and a credit card. And actually I’m sort of traveling with a credit card, though not the actual physical card. I’m traveling with the phantom card.
Imagine the following happens to you: You’re walking along the street in Paris, smoking a cigarette and thinking about what charming jazz club you’ll frequent that night, when a man steps out of the shadows and hits you over the head with an oven mitt full of quarters, takes your wallet, and then runs off back into the shadows. You wake, confused, and smoke a cigarette to calm down. You have 20 euros back at the hotel you put in your backpack because you didn’t deem it necessary to be walking around with so much cash. But other than that you now have no plastic. Your debit and credit card were in that wallet. You have no back up.
Or do you (not)?
You then remember you’re a cunning weasel, almost as cunning as the brute that just kissed the side of your head with an article of clothing filled with monies, and that everything should (and quite possibly could) be OK. In fact, in today’s electronic, peer2peer economy, you might not even a difference.
You call Charles Schwab and they agree to send you a replacement card on the double (see: triple). In the meantime you figure you can do the following: Because you have all the information from your phantom card — number, expiration date, security code — squirreled away on a sheet of paper or maybe just in your brain (the actual code is in a safe location far way), you can still make Airbnb reservations and thus have a place to stay. You can also take Ubers because your phantom card information is already in the Uber app. You can even eat, because with all the food delivery services you can just order food via an app and have it delivered right to your Airbnb door, while you stand out front talking to the Uber driver. Everything is peer2peer. We’re all sharing. We’re all in this together. In the year 2050 you’ll get in your car to drive your kids to school and someone will hop in the back seat and say, “Mets Stadium, please,” and even though you’ll have no idea what he’s talking about, you’ll think, Ahhh, I must be an Uber driver now. Or something. Peer2peer everything. Individuality is dead. You will then drive to your nearest bakery, take a picture of an almond croissant to show everyone what you ate, upload it to Instagram, and throw it in the garbage.
The point is that to be a successful traveler in today’s dog sniff dog world you must have a card in your repertoire that’s not actually in your repertoire; in other words, a card whose number and expiration date and security code you have so that you can use it to buy things online and on your phone in the case of an emergency or even non-emergencies.
I recommend the Chase Freedom card, because it has no interest for the first 15 months, which means you can rack up all the debt your little heart desires — your “phantom debt” — until, one day, it becomes all too real, at which point you’ll experience phantom sadness, phantom anxiety, and possibly even phantom trouble with the law, or at least a collections agency. But why dwell on something that may never happen? Didn’t Montaigne say, “I lived many a great tragedy in my life, most of which never happened?” Yes, of course he did. In other words: out of sight, out of mind. Just like your new card.
Now, most people would call it in an inconvenience, having your card used for attempted fraud in Florida, but I call it in an invitation to adventure. For one, it simplifies my life greatly. I now have to go somewhere and stay there at least a week until my card gets there. I cannot continue traveling without that card. Do you know what it’s like to not have to pay foreign transaction fees? Actually, you probably do, because lots of cards offer no foreign transaction fees. But I’m not talking about no foreign transaction fees. I’m talking about something completely different. I’m talking about…..freedom.
That would’ve been a sweet segue to talk about my new Chase Freedom credit card, but the card in question is actually my Charles Schwab (RIP) debit card. What happened was the following: I went to the grocery store to buy some stuff and my card got denied. Naturally when the grocery store employee told me my card had been denied I called her all sorts of filthy names.
“Do you know who I am?” I asked her.
“No,” she said. “Who are you?”
“Mark,” I said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m kind of new here and it’s always nice to make a new friend.”
And then today when I was trying to buy a pecan roll the same thing happened, my card got denied, so I had to call my bank. I talked to Matthew in Indianapolis.
“Matthew,” I said, “I’m in deep shit. No one will take my card. I’m in Peru, Matthew in Indianapolis, Peru.”
Matthew assured me everything would be ok and then told me someone in Florida tried to use my card to take out 600 bucks.
“Matthew, I don’t have 600 bucks. Do you understand?
“Then they tried to take out 300,” he said. “They must’ve been trying to get around the limit.”
I wondered what kind of slimeball was doing this. For a brief second I wondered if Matthew was actually the slimeball, if he was in on the whole thing, and if I could trust him.
“Can I have your social security number?” he said.
“How about you give me your social security number, Matthew?”
Matthew told me the following: my card had been compromised and they needed to send me a new one. And for that I’d need to stay in one place for at least a week.
Matthew, I said, I have a blog called Ordinary Nomad. This demands that I be transient.
I asked him if he wanted me to lose readership.
Of course Matthew doesn’t want me to lose readers, and he said as much.
“Here’s what I can do,” Matthew said. “If you stay on the phone with me I can lift the block just long enough for you to go to an ATM and get some cash out.”
This of course didn’t help much because I don’t have a Peruvian simcard and have to use wifi to make calls, and there was no ATM in the cafe where I was.
But I had a better idea.
“Matthew, what about this. Can you lift the block long enough so I can buy my pecan roll, and then put it back on? I know it’s a bit ridiculous, but could you do that? I was hoping to hang out in this cafe for a bit.”
“Sure, no problem.”
So I ordered my pecan roll while Matthew figuratively stood beside me on the phone, providing moral support from many thousands of miles away.
And I don’t know what the moral of this story is. Staying cool when things go wrong abroad? The amazing benefits of the Charles Schwab debit card and their customer service agents? Or the beauty of the pecan roll, and how if you have to decide between one last ATM transaction and getting a pecan roll, well, it’s not really a choice.
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Ahhhh, the first sip is like battery acid, but the good kind of battery acid. The kind of battery acid where you walk into the garage, take the little caps off the knob things on the top of the battery to expose the liquid inside, grab the battery in both hands, tilt your head back, and…
The good kind of battery acid.
I’m talking about instant coffee, of course. I’ve just made myself a cup, though this is one of my last since I’ve resolved the following: After this jar of instant coffee and one more americano from each of my favorite cafes in Lima, I will no longer buy coffee. I’ll still drink it if someone offers, but I’ll no longer buy it. Because my adrenal glands are shot. I woke up this morning and stared at the wall for 15 minutes. I’d still be staring at the wall, trying to think of ideas for a blog post, if I hadn’t started drinking instant coffee. So praise instant coffee. Am I really going to give it up?
Shit, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’m all talk.
I just took another sip and before taking the sip I looked down into the instant coffee. It was black. It was like looking into a barrel of crude oil. Instant coffee is all the rage in Chile, where I don’t think people realize anything else exists. And it’s not that instant coffee is bad. OK, compared to regular coffee it’s terrible, but you can’t compare it to regular coffee. It would be like comparing wine to tequila. Neither of them are bad, they’re just different.
My particular brand of instant coffee is called Altomayo and I bought the “gourmet” kind, which Cristina, the Venezuelan woman also staying at my Airbnb, commented on.
“That stuff’s supposed to be better,” she said. “Is it?”
“No,” I said, “At least I can’t tell a difference.”
Now I’m nearing the end of the instant coffee, which means the usual question arises: Should I have another cup? I’m inclined to say no. I’m inclined to publish this post, get ready to go out, and then walk to Puku Puku where I’ll spend several hours sipping an americano and reading The New Yorker. But at the same time, when you add a couple teaspoons of sugar, it’s pretty damn good. Maybe I should have another cup. Maybe I….
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Monday afternoon in Lima and I’ve just done my pull-ups and now I’m drinking instant coffee in the kitchen preparing to walk to Plaza Salaverry to buy boxers. I need boxers. If I buy boxers, I can delay doing laundry a few more days.
I just sat in bed listening to Vivaldi and looking for a cheap bus to Tacna. And by cheap, I of course mean as expensive as possible. This is because I want a lie flat bed if I go to Tacna. Anything else would be a wretched disappointment. 160 degrees? No. The bed must recline 180 degrees. It must lie flat. For this I’m willing to pay top dollar.
My friend Jenny sent me a song called “Hallucinating” but I don’t like it. There are some rice puddings on the middle of the table and I’m wondering if one of them’s destined for me. I’m pretty sure one of them has my name on it, despite not actually having my name on it. Last night the Spanish guy came back from being out of town a few days. It’s still not clear what he does or where he gets his money. Today I said, “Hey, what’d you do the six months you were in Asuncion.”
He looked uncomfortable. “We, like, barbecued and stuff,” he said.
“Cool, man, barbecues are cool.”
I didn’t mean to make him think he had to explain himself to me. He can only barbecue from now until the day he dies as far as I’m concerned, and I wouldn’t think less of him. I’m sure he’d get good at barbecuing. I’m sure he’d develop coronary disease.
The real question, of course, becomes whether or not to have a second cup of coffee after I finish this one. And the answer is of course yes. The answer is mind-numbingly yes. I’ll have another one, and then I’ll walk to Miraflores, and do pull-ups and think about my English classes for tomorrow. Today’s, with Elena, was wonderful. We practiced the prepositions in, at, and on for awhile, and then we learned bedroom vocabulary. Since the activity was from the British Council, some of the words were words I wouldn’t use. Like “chest of drawers” instead of “dresser.” The word “drawers” was particularly hard for her to pronounce. Drawers. Drawers. I said just think of it like “drors,” and then she got better.
A plane flies overhead. We’re close to the airport. When planes fly overhead during my classes I mute my microphone and hope I don’t have to talk. Sometimes I just type. I don’t think my students have noticed yet. But it’s hard to tell.
I have a new girlfriend. Her name’s Camila. We met in the kitchen last night. She’s approximately 25 centimeters tall. She doesn’t have a body.
Camila likes the following things: Getting her hair cut, getting her hair styled, people playing with her hair, people complimenting her hair, people talking about her hair. She has a lazy eye. She’s not jealous. She rarely talks.
Camila and I don’t talk much. We usually just sit and enjoy each other’s presence. She rarely blinks. Her lips are red. When we kiss she’s always the first to pull away. She has commitment issues. She wants to get married. She says she needs me and then doesn’t talk to me for several days.
Camila is from Northern Peru, where her family still lives. She’s never left the country. As of yesterday she didn’t know Chile was on the Pacific and Argentina on the Atlantic. She has no desire to travel. She doesn’t read. She doesn’t listen to classical music. She thinks chess is for nerds.
Camila likes instant coffee. She likes papayas. She doesn’t have a digestive system. She wants to be a hair stylist one day but lacks hands. She lacks ambition. She lacks a central nervous system. She lacks a sense of humor. I spend the majority of every day trying to get Camila to laugh, and she hasn’t even blinked. She rarely looks me in the eye. She says it makes her uncomfortable.
Camila and I are good for each other. Opposites attract. Camila and I will be together forever, or at least the rest of this week. She lives in the closet in Clara’s room. Her hair gets shorter everyday, unlike ours, which gets longer. Camila has perfect skin. She doesn’t have to shower. She smells like hairstyling products and plastic. Camila is a my girlfriend.
As of today I’ve been in Lima for five days. I got here on Tuesday, April 10th, 2018. I plan to stay at least until next Saturday, at which point I might go north to Trujillo to surf the legendary left-point Chicama, or head to the sierra, or head south to Chile.
The thing I’ve liked about Lima so far is there’s almost always been someone to hang out with, whether it be Clara, the Airbnb hostess, her cousin Gabriela, or Cristina, one of the other guests. This is something I didn’t have in Mexico. In Mexico I spent most of my time by myself, watching videos on YouTube or walking around between various cafes, consuming, consuming, consuming. Not that I don’t consume here. Right now, for example, I’m consuming an instant coffee. I like instant coffee. I like being able to appreciate ultra-premium, fresh-roasted, 0.5 origin coffee, but I also like being able to appreciate coffee crystals that come from a jar you mix with hot water and a little bit of sugar. You have to mix instant coffee with sugar. Otherwise it tastes like battery acid.
Yesterday Cristina and I made arepas, by which I mean she made arepas, and I mostly watched. We didn’t have the right flour. To make arepas you need a kind of flour called harina pan, and we bought regular cornflour, which meant the arepas were considerably harder and denser than they should’ve been. It was a bit like biting into a two by six, albeit smothered with butter and cheese. In other words, not that bad.
Yesterday I tried a new cafe called Puka Puka, located in the San Isidro neighborhood. I didn’t like it at first. It was hot and stuffy inside. I took my americano outside, began to bake in the sun, and then when I went inside they’d turned the air conditioning on. It was mildly life-changing. I grabbed an edition of The New Yorker they had hanging from the magazine rack. I nourished my brain. And I thought, I could stay here for several days. But then eventually I got bored and left.
One thing I like about Lima, specifically about the San Isidro and Miraflores neighborhoods, are the parks. The parks are definitely neighborhood parks, in that the apartment buildings go up to the very edge of the park, and the parks are gated and only open during the day. They’re little oases in the midst of residential and urban(e) sprawl. Though Miraflores and San Isidro is tranquil urban sprawl. They’re gorgeous neighborhoods, but I don’t know if I prefer them to Magdalena del Mar, where I’m staying. Magdelena del Mar at least feels like Peru. San Isidro feels like Walnut Creek, California, which in some ways is wonderful, and in some ways boring.
I’ve decided to stop thinking of Sundays as “Sundays,” or as a day of rest. Why should they be any different? In the past I’ve used Sundays as a way to shirk responsibilities, and as a way to justify doing whatever I please. I’ve used them to justify sloth, gluttony. But there’s no reason Sundays should be any different. There’s no reason I shouldn’t write on Sundays. In fact, I should write even more. Sunup to sundown. With breaks only for instant coffee.
And now I should probably leave the house. I need to do my pull-ups. I’m almost up to five. I was looking at pictures of me in Costa Rica from 2012 and almost didn’t recognize myself. I had muscles. And now I’ve withered away, almost to nothing. Which means I must go out and do pull-ups. And seize the beautiful Lima afternoon.
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Is there anything worse than a soft mattress? I mean, sure, I know there are worse things. I know getting bamboo shoots shoved under your fingernails is probably worse, but the more I think about it….is it?
Yesterday I went to La Punta with Clara and Cristina. Clara is my host, and Cristina is one of the other guests here, from Venezuela. And La Punta is a neighborhood, as the name suggests, on a peninsula jutting out into the Pacific Ocean, as if saying to the rest of Lima, “I want to get away from you.” It’s also next to Callao, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Lima, possibly another reason for its fleeing geography.
As we were approaching Clara said, “Watch how the houses change.”
And indeed they did (change).
Once dilapidated houses with exposed bricks became multi-level condos with cream-colored sides, terraces lush with plants, soundproof sliding glass doors. The houses here were from yesteryear and I immediately felt like I was back in the Caribbean, in Cartagena or La Habana, exploring the malecón, looking for Gabriel García Márquez, gazing upon peaceful inner courtyards, denizens sipping lemonade and wondering, “Should I take a dip now? No, maybe later…”
Apparently La Punta is a zoo in the summer. Not an actual zoo, of course, but it FEELS like a zoo because of the quantity of people on the beach, the full buses, the yachts buzzing in and out of the harbor, the vendors hawking wares left, right, and even center. When we got there and began strolling the waterfront, palm trees towering above us, elegant houses to our left, Clara said, “That’s my yacht right there.”
“Oh, cool,” I said. “It’s not as big as my yacht, though.”
Then we talked about how great it would be to have a yacht, to be eating ceviche on its stern, gazing into the blue water.
Then we came to la punta de la punta, or, the end of the point, and I saw waves, their tops clipped by an offshore breeze, an island visible in the distance obscured by a wispy marine layer fog, and I thought, I must go swimming. I must go swimming now. I took a quick detour to change into my swimsuit and then I was plunging into the water, cold at first, gliding underneath the waves, the preoccupations of life on shore receding behind.
After this we walked around the point a bit more, and then made our way back to the other beach, where there were less waves. We walked slowly. We talked. It felt like we’d traveled back in time and that everything was simpler. At the other beach I went swimming again, and Clara dipped her feet, wobbling on the smooth, cobblestone rocks. Cristina also dipped her feet. A group of Americans approached the water and inexplicably did not go in, opting instead to stand on the shore and observe. Meanwhile I tested the upper reaches of my lungs, imagining myself to be like Kevin Costner from Waterworld, gills behind my ears, clad in tattered leather. I imagined myself to be like Kevin Costner from Field of Dreams, traipsing through a corn field, building a baseball field, talking to Terence Mann. I imagined myself to be like Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves, befriending a lone wolf on the frontier, becoming accepted by a group of Indians, marrying a squaw. And then I stopped imagining what it was like to be Kevin Costner and imagined what it would be like to be back on the beach, though this wasn’t something I didn’t have to imagine. I could do it. And that’s what I did. I lay on the beach, roasting in the sun, feeling the hot rocks beneath me, listening to Clara and Cristina talk.
Eventually, unfortunately, it was time to leave. We walked by the yellow house I’d decided was my favorite on the way in, and Clara took a picture. “I wish I could freeze this moment,” I said, and I did, I wished I could freeze that moment. It felt like one of those summer afternoons when you’re 12 years old and the sun is warm and you don’t realize you won’t live forever. I didn’t realize it was still possible to have moments like these in your thirties, and now that I know it’s possible I want to have more. Yesterday, at La Punta, with Clara and Cristina, was a good start.
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