There are definitely some days I find it easier to open my eyes than others. Like this morning for example. I awoke, eyes closed, resisting the urge to face the day and my new morning routine. My routine lately consists of something resembling the following: I shower, wash my hair, and body. I generally awake excruciatingly itchy from a combination of eczema and a fatal attack of mosquito bites. Showering immediately, is critical. When I am done I put hair vitamins in my hair which is thinning more than ever (likely due to the ravaging that months of malaria medicine has done to my body). I then pull my hair back so that I can cover both ears in Neosporin because they are so sunburned that they look like Van Gogh took his hacks at both sides. Alter this I cover my body in both steroid cream for the eczema and regular lotion to avoid further outbreaks elsewhere. My legs are carefully doused in copious amounts of clear Caladryl to prevent me scratching them to bleed over the course of the morning. I am using about a bottle of Caladryl every 2 days. I take a giant tylenol and another pain killer for the tendinitis in my knees as well as covering my knee with pain relief gel for joints. I take my malaria medicine. Occasionally, I take something for my abnormal level of anxiety. Then, I dress.
Sometimes people (and I myself) make comments about my “vacation”. This is not vacation. This morning after my ritualistic preparation, I still found the energy to fight with Paul all morning and he still found the energy to make me a delicious cup of PG Tips tea to calm me down. By the time I felt up to face the outside world, I stumbled out of the door of our room in Lima onto the outdoor, rooftop patio of this gorgeous old converted mansion hotel to see what Paul was up to. Two turtles were cruising around on the cement below and I watched the slow, prehistoric movements, feeling inspired and restless because of them. Behind us a German girl asks an Israeli guy if he has visited Cusco yet (the biggest gringo city south of San Diego). “I was two months in Cusco, man,” he replies. “Really?” the German is surprised, “What were you doing?” He stares vacantly, “Drugs, man. Trance parties every night. Lots of drugs. I went to Machu Picchu, too.” This guy is on vacation.
When we returned to Cusco from Choquequirao I was hurting all over, proud, dirty, and feeling so accomplished. But I couldn’t wait to get out of Cusco, to stop hearing about Machu Picchu, to feel like I was on the way home again so we booked tickets for the night bus to Lima from where we could quickly get on our way to Ecuador. Ecuador was beginning to sound like the promised land: much smaller and cheaper than Peru, slightly less traversed, farther north still, mountains, jungles, beaches. It was all set.
Our last day in Cusco was brutal. It was census day which literally means that the entire population of the town has to stay home and be counted individually. There are a few businesses that stay open but only those run from people’s homes. This is a big break from the normal, gringo, sports bar, trance party madness. Everything is closed and this is our second trip to Cusco. We wander around all morning through the deserted streets but by the afternoon, waiting for our night-bus, we are tired and cranky, and bored as all hell and have resorted to sniping at each other and multiple trips to the internet. It’s bad.
Finally, it’s time for the bus and we jump in a cab to the terminal. As we pull up I nearly die of happiness, as there is an open pharmacy next door. I jump out of the cab, limp into the pharmacy and beg for some help with my flare up of tendinitis. I walk out armed and ready for the 18-20 ride to Lima with my bum knee, jubilant until I realize I have left my camera on the backseat of the taxi.
Nah. It can’t be. I keep it with my wallet and I have my wallet in my pocket. But it is. It must have fallen out when I pulled my wallet out to pay for the taxi. It can’t be. I ALWAYS check the backseat when I get out of a taxi. Not this time. I was too preoccupied about my knee. Too excited to see an open pharmacy. A million things flash through my head: my camera is gone, cameras like that cost hundreds of dollars more here, I am the world’s biggest idiot, I just finished writing a story for a magazine in Buenos Aires about how not to get yourself. I got myself. Fuck the camera. Fuck those things. In that camera is just one week of pictures – from our trek to Choquequirao. I would throw myself in front of a bus to get just one week of photos back, and I can’t.
Paul goes to check our luggage on to the bus and I stand, tears streaming down my cheeks, on tiptoes, checking every taxi outside the terminal. Maybe someone will find it. Maybe he will come back with it. Hoping, just hoping, that I have not lost my proudest art from this trip. It’s no use. What did the taxi driver look like? Stocky with a black jacket. All the cabs looks the same. All the driver’s are stocky with black jackets. My most beautiful art is gone. I stand alone outside the terminal in Cusco with taxi drivers screaming at me to get in their cabs, searching with empty eyes, desperately hoping, and totally resigned, and crying my eyes out in disbelief.
Paul half-heartedly hugs me. He knows it’s my fault. He also knows that nothing he can do can make me feel better. He reminds me of times in his life when he has lost art that is very important to him. He reminds me of Pico Iyer, my greatest literary hero and the first chapter of a book that absolutely changed my life and perspective. In The Global Soul, the first chapter (I believe it’s called ‘The Burning House’), Iyer recounts losing a lifetime of notes in the famous Santa Barbara Painted Cave Fire. It is one of the most heartbreaking and wonderfully hopeful recollections I have ever read. Reminded of this I take a deep breath, turn my back on Cusco, my camera, my photos and art and physical recollections of Choquequirao, and make the decision to take the trip with me in my heart and mind. I shouldn’t have to be reminded but I have to cry to say goodbye to these things. Yes. Llorona.
In the morning, after a restless night of sleep on the bus, I awake and eventually find it in myself to open my eyes. I see the Pacific Ocean for the first time in ten months. There it is stretched out before me, waves rolling in just like I remember, expansive and chilling. It looks, as ever, like home. And despite the difficulties and the ups and downs and the sometime resistance to open my eyes in the morning, to steal from one of my favorite authors, as we rode into Lima “All was well.”.