Thursday, November 21, 2013

Strange Tales From The Desert

"Give me food! Give me a blanket now! You're my friends," he screamed in slurred Spanish, his body hanging over the entry gate with both hands outstretched in rage. Up on the pink stucco hostel deck with our backs against the hulking entry door which stood between us and safety, I began to rummage through my pockets for any item that could be transformed into a spur-of-the-moment weapon.
Cell phone? No.
Wallet? No.
Lighter! Maybe. Who am I kidding? I'm not a fire-breather, by trade at least.
     Slamming on our wooden hostel door and furiously ringing the ivory bell to the right began to seem like a futile effort, as we nervously waited for any sign of life to crack open the dark paneled entrance. It was 3 in the morning; no one was awake.

     The previous afternoon, a few friends and I left the bustling city of Lima to spend some time in Ica—a Peruvian city located in the desert region, along the southern coast of Peru. We traveled there by way of bus, and the accompanying sights while on the five hour trek to Ica proved to be nothing short of spectacular. Massive waves crashed along sandy coastal shores, and as the sun began to set, the water became a palette of purples and oranges. Palm trees extended their branches with direction from the wind while lining themselves along the intersecting edge of the coast and the road on which we were traveling.
     We arrived in Ica at around seven-thirty that night and proceeded to flag down a taxi to take us to the village of Huacachina, where we were staying. Marvel met my eyes when we stepped foot into the tiny village, realizing that the entire place was situated in the middle of the desert with a giant oasis in the middle. Massive dunes enclosed the area like gargantuan sand mountains; the oasis was alive with green vegetation growing around it, and palm trees rising out like a mass of people putting their hands into the air. Rising up about five feet, and winding around the entirety of the water mass, was a massive stone walkway decorated with restaurants, bars, hostels, and small stores. Our hostel was situated among this stone ring, its tall pink exterior looking down on us, with a deck, littered with wooden tables and chairs, protruding from the front. After checking into the hostel, we went to our room, which, needless to say, was the epitome of simple—plain white walls, a high ceiling, no windows, and several wooden bunk beds. Up until this point, I had never been in a hostel; the thought of being surrounded by strangers while I slept sent a shiver up my spine. But, figuring I had to do it sometime, and with the price being unbeatable, I accepted the quarters for what they were.
     We immediately threw our bags on our beds and descended back onto the walkway to hunt for food and alcohol. While walking down the stone boulevard, glancing around for the appropriate mix of fun, food, and drink, we came upon a white building bearing a giant sign with "Huacafuckingchina" illuminated in massive blue neon letters and a man, dancing in utter exuberance and wearing a bright red soccer jersey—from England, strangely enough—out front. He greeted us in an excited fashion and convinced us to go up on the deck-bar to eat and drink. As the hours passed, it slowly began to erupt into a dance party, complete with a DJ and an open dance floor. Thinking back, I don't even remember how it all happened, but I guess it doesn't matter much; lunacy has a way of acting like a memory eraser. At one point in the evening, I decided to step down into the street and clear my head. While I sat against the stone railing across from the wild display going down at the bar, a man—who immediately gave off the notion of being a local, don't ask my why—walked up to where I was standing and began to chat. He had two tan dreadlocks hanging down from atop his head, and in one hand he held a skinny section of PVC pipe, and with the other, he put his pointer finger against his thumb and held it against his mouth—the universal marijuana sign. He spoke slang Spanish and already seemed to be inebriated, or high, or a combination of both, which just made our interaction all the more annoying and I quickly found myself wanting to shake this loon. Gradually, I backed away and lost the manic street dweller, slouching myself onto one of the white couches surrounding the party bar.
     Things at the bar began to wind down, and after exploring the village streets and checking out a few clubs, we decided to head back to our hostel. When we returned to the stone walkway, it was a completely different world than earlier in the evening. Only random pockets of people remained, half-heartedly trudging back to their lodgings; some stumbling, some holding onto another person as if they were an anchor—the typical scene that results from a night of pure, unadulterated hedonism. My room mate and I decided to stay out a bit longer and take in the lunar-illuminated night along the oasis. We sat there, talking about life and its many intricacies while taking in the immense beauty around us. The water was perfectly still, with the exception of random ripples formed from bouncing water bugs, and the occasional fish. The stars looked deeply into the oasis at their own reflection, and the moon watched over the entire scene, much like a happy father hunched in the doorway of his children's room. After some moments had passed, and we both found ourselves satisfied with the night, we began our short stroll back to our hostel. As we proceeded, much to my dismay, the same half-lucid street dweller from earlier spotted us, and began to approach. Quickly, we rose up the steps to our hostel and rang the bell, hoping to completely avoid the oncoming event. Things are never simple, nor easy, and of course, there wasn't the faintest sign of someone opening the door. Dammit, I thought to myself, as the wild derelict finally arrived.
"Give me food. Give me a blanket."
At that point—and in my influenced state, ignoring him seemed like the appropriate option, figuring he might have enough brain capacity to take a hint and leave. However, as it always is with people like this—that is, the annoyingly-exuberant transient type—a simple acceptance of defeat, accompanied by an early exit, rarely happens.
     Then, right as we were gearing ourselves up for what would have been a hilariously depressing skirmish—imagine two young, well built men wailing on a drug addled vagabond, as he screamed hollow threats—another man, who seemingly appeared from out of nowhere, went up to the drifter and demanded he leave us a lone. He was a younger guy, probably around the same age as us, and wore a white wife-beater, camo-shorts, and a black baseball cap with DC in bright orange stitching on the front. Over the course of the next several minutes, he continued trying to persuade the crazed wacko to leave, and, when it seemed that nothing could convince him, he began to scream at the guy.
Turning my back to the erupting scene and pounding my fist against the door before me, a very loud— and an English might I add, "Shut the FUCK UP!" rang out behind us, followed by some meaningless shoving. This continued for several minutes, when finally, someone came to the door. We burst through the door like half-starved orphans finding shelter for the first time in days, completely ignoring the person who answered the door, and darting straight for bed. 
     Being completely inebriated, while witnessing what could possibly have evolved into a massive fight involving all parties concerned, tends to leave one in a state of—I wouldn't say shock, because that isn't what I was feeling; it was straight-up, fucking awe. I proceeded into the room, with every bunk now inhabited by a sleeping traveler, and fell right onto the lone remaining bottom bunk, fully clothed and not even for the slightest second nurturing the notion of undressing. As I lay my head against the soft pillow and stared into the deep darkness of the windowless expanse, an unbearable desire to laugh came over me. Realizing that we had already caused enough ruckus, I held in my desire to exuberantly howl, and instead opted to just lay there, grinning to myself. Shit man, I thought to myself, I can scratch "being almost accosted by a substance-fueled maniac in the middle of the desert" off my bucket list

Monday, October 21, 2013

Thoughts About a Woman In a Restaurant

     A woman sits in a tan-stained wicker chair, her eyes fixated in a zombie-esque manner on the television set nestled up in a corner between two pale white walls. The Spanish TV soap on display has her full, undivided, attention, and no matter what happens to the world around her, only the small universe inside of the suspended box counts for something. As I sit patiently waiting for my food to be ready, I notice this strange spectacle in the corner of my eye. She is sitting alone. I begin to ponder her story; where did she come from; where has she been?
     Grassy green fields of daffodils and sunflowers atop hulking hills, like something out of The Sound of Music, manifest themselves in my mind, and, lying undisturbed in the middle, is a twenty-something year old woman with olive skin and long black hair caressing her face and ascending down to the ground parallel with her body. She is perched up on her side, with her long legs gently protruding outward from her luminously white dress as her elbow digs its way into the earth beneath, so as not to disrupt its continuing support of the hand that is holding her head. Between her thumb and index finger is a yellow sunflower that seems to be missing two or three petals, which upon further examination can be seen upon the ground directly beneath the hovering flower. Her somber gaze and wanting eyes make me wonder, has something made this woman sad? As I begin to approach her, the scene begins to melt away and I suddenly find myself standing in a decrepit doorway, its white exterior chipping off onto the weathered hardwood floor. Beyond the doorway is what seems to be an apartment, yet it would do better to classify it as a large closet containing a stovetop and a wash-sink. Only one lone yellow-lighted lamp is supplying the light for the room, but instead of a beaming light, it only achieves pools of ambient yellow that have become victims to the seemingly opaque shadows inhabiting the space. Within the confines of the brown adobe-style walls is a drab green love seat made of wool, complete with a shredded exterior that appears more to be a derivative of a night with a speed-crazy wilder beast than a lifetime of depressed environmental factors, and adorned with two pale pink pillows. On the couch sits a sobbing woman, wearing faded blue jeans and a dark black shirt, her head deep down into the palms of her hands, which are held up on top of her two legs. She looks to be in her mid thirties; her hair having lost its shimmer years before, and lines from a hard life displaying themselves gloomily upon her visible forehead. As her tears crash and explode against the bronze picture frame in her lap, her incessant sobbing pauses for a second and she asks herself in exasperation, "Why? Why? Why? I don't understand." I begin to walk forward, moving deeper into the dimly lit room. My eyes adjust to the lighting, or lack thereof, and the picture comes into focus. A family—son, daughter, husband, and a mother—their smiles radiating as they stand in front of a stone wall, which I assume to be from a vacation of some sort. I want to ask her what happened; I want to comfort her. Autonomously my arm extends, reaching for her shoulder, but the moment before I make contact, she freezes. In the same moment, as my hand lands upon her shoulder, she shatters like a porcelain statue. Pieces of her sullen face drop onto the couch and floor as a cloud of dust permeates the air. In complete horror, I begin to slowly back away, still facing the petrifying scene before me. The room seems darker, angrier, and the swirling air has become cold, despite the lack of windows within the apartment. I feel something rise against my heel as I back away, causing me to stumble. Like a rug pulled from under me, I begin to fall. Thoughts run back and forth through my head—what happened to this woman? What does it all mean?—then, as my skull cracks itself on the floor, darkness. 
"Señor? Señor? Aquí es su comida."
In an instant, I jolt back to life and apologize to the woman holding my food. She looks at me quizzically, then walks away muttering something to herself as she proceeds to pick up plates covered in half-eaten portions of rice and various vegetables. As I leave the restaurant, I notice that the same old woman is still sitting there, her eyes fixated on the television screen without compromise. I don't understand why she is there; why she saturates herself with a fake reality. Her longing stare imbues me with a sense of wonder, but I realize that for all the wondering I could ever do, I will not find my answer. I exit and continue down the cracked sidewalk, the air embracing me with mystique, watching as people interact and forge moments with one another, each more fleeting than the last. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Withdrawals of You are Starting to Settle In

Since I came here about a month or so ago, I have been exposing myself to a myriad of different artists, songs, and films. There has been no break in the overcast sky pattern that tends to plague Lima during its dim winter. The sun shows itself rarely, if ever, and when it does you begin to see a taste of what the summer is expected to bring—people become more social; they blast their car stereos with all four doors open and begin dancing on the sidewalks. It's a glorious depiction, and one I love to witness when the rare moment occurs. But, unfortunately, this occurrence is quite seldom during this time of year, bringing instead a more subdued version—people shuffling down the cracked sidewalks, keeping to themselves with their eyes focused on the ground. It's not that they are inhospitable, they're just in that old winter mode which tends to produce a rather somber time of reflection. No one really enjoys winter, whether it brings thunderous blizzards and power outages, or simple overcast skies and a sense of despondence. It can be a struggle not to let the clouds beat your motivation to a bloody pulp, so I have been remedying my situation with some Peruvian beers and a little dash of Santana I-III. That's right, good ole' "Santana", "Abraxas", and "III". It's extremely refreshing to say the least, and does its best to make up for the sun's rude malfeasance, albeit the lack of physical light. Searing guitar leads, furious bongos, ambient minor sevenths, and a healthy dose of swirling and whirling organs do enough to produce their own, immortal brightness, despite delivering the usually-optical sensation through a completely different sense. But, no matter how brilliant a luminescence the music achieves, it creates a longing in my heart for my own electric guitars and strange array of effects and amps left at home. My acoustic did join me for my trip down here, and for that I am beyond appreciative, but I do sorely miss the electricity running through each note, delivering a reverberated sense of sustain and feeling. The buzzing hums of the seemingly liquid tones being bathed in oceans of delay and phase, giving way to a crescendo of crisp, clean, and thick chords—I miss it; I want it; I crave it. There is no replacement for that feeling of being in a dark, dank, smoke-festering little room with other musicians, jamming out to a universal feeling that is as harmonious within ourselves as it is in the notes and beats we play. The syncopated effort, among a lingering stench of cigarettes and big dreams, is a beautiful euphony that delivers an unparalleled sense of unity and accord. Music is an art imbued with a beautiful sense of symmetry, allowing you to disrupt its ambiguous congruity with sonic prodding and aural assault until you achieve a balance of your own desire. Bottom line: I'm having electric guitar withdrawals!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Blast Off... It's Party Time

Since coming to Lima, I have only been involved in a handful of social outings, with most of them not even being genuine Peruvian adventures, but rather just fun times with my roommate and friends from the States. The first weekend I was here however, I had the unique opportunity to watch Peru compete in their final qualifying match for the World Cup at a local bar. It was quite exciting—patrons drank themselves into boisterous oblivion, roaring angrily during game lows, then bursting into celebratory song at each anticipated high. When I arrived at the bar, I was introduced to a young, well-dressed woman sporting mute, yet chic, colors and her equally stylish boyfriend in a red track jacket, both of whom welcomed us to sit with them. The experience itself was something I won’t soon forget and concluded with my friends and I being invited to a birthday party, weeks away, for the girl we had sat with. My friends had known her for the last six months or so, and seemed to be sincerely close with her. The aforementioned party took place this past weekend and was truly one of my first authentic Peruvian experiences—being that, over the last couple of weeks, the party transitioned from being a supposed “banger” at a rowdy nightclub to a more subdued intimate celebration at her aunt’s apartment for family and close friends. Whichever way it was to go down, I was slightly nervous in regards to the event, thanks to my lack of fluency in the Spanish language, as well as the fact that I knew none of the people that were to attend. But, with my nerves flying at high altitude and a little apprehension, I nonetheless decided to venture into the social wild and attend the celebration.
            Back home in the States, I would usually have a bunch of different outfit options, of which I did my best to bring here, however, my timing was unusually unfortunate and the party had found me at the cusp of a new laundry cycle. The only available articles of clean clothing in my closet were a gray flannel, a pair of maroon-ish jeans, and my black pullover. With my Frankensteined outfit assembled and a quick foray with the mirror—in an attempt at some sort of hairstyle; we sadly have no brush, I joined up with my two friends and begun the night. The party was taking place at an apartment only ten minutes or so from our own, so we took the opportunity to walk the streets of the Surquillo district and the beautiful Miraflores district. When we arrived at the apartment door belonging to the birthday girl’s aunt, we were welcomed in by her grandmother, who greeted us with a warm smile and a kiss on the cheek—the customary greeting for women down here. She was a hospitable woman, who exemplified the exact image and definition of “grandmother”, with her friendly conversation and charitable offerings of anything we might need. After entering the apartment, we walked down a short slender hallway, past an arched alcove on the left in which the kitchen was housed, and arrived at a wonderfully, and appropriately for the occasion, decorated room with two tan-skinned, raven-haired girls sitting on a beige loveseat. They greeted us with big grins and welcoming embraces as we sat down on the couch parallel to theirs. Both of my friends knew them, and after talking for a bit, I learned that they were the birthday girl’s two best friends. As one proceeded to apply eyeliner and foundation to the other, they broke down the itinerary of the night for us into karaoke, dancing, and other stuff, as well as supplying us with the notion that they wanted the party to be a surprise. We continued to talk about various things until the birthday girl arrived, in which time another friend, as well as the parents and the aunt joined us.
Upon notification of her arrival, my friends and I, in addition to the two girls and the newly arrived friend, hid in different spots around the living room, with me placing myself behind a table. Laughing to myself, I found joyous amusement in the fact that I hadn’t been part of a surprise party in many, many years, yet I reveled in the youthful sentiment that seeped from the idea itself. As we sprung up, yelling surprise in two different languages, the birthday girl’s mouth gaped open with shock and appreciation like I haven’t seen in a long time. Down here, family events such as birthday parties, reunions, and even simple dinners are treated with a sense of respect and gratitude—something that we, including myself, have trampled all over. As we all sat down, her parents produced a silver tray lined with glasses of fresh peach puree and rum, sending my taste buds into their own ecstasy that was to be followed by karaoke. Karaoke and I were never friends, but I was so swept up by the contagious excitement flying around the room, that I decided to attempt “Promiscuous” by Nelly Furtado. After the karaoke had subsided, and about 4 more rounds of peach rum drinks had gone around, they presented the birthday girl with her cake. Adorned with what I assume to be twenty-four—since this was her newly achieved age, sparkling trick candles and an edible picture of the birthday girl holding her dog, she hurriedly tried to blow out each sparkler after the birthday song concluded. After successfully extinguishing each stubborn sparkler, a cylindrical tube was placed at the top of the cake, which, when lit, burst into a stream of sparks like a Fourth of July firework and served as the precursor to a piñata, which literally looked like a pink papier-mâché ball covered in glossy birthday hats. With quite a bit of superfluous effort, the piñata was eventually ripped open, spilling its insides of candy and knick-knacks all over the hardwood floor beneath it. After the mad-dash to retrieve the candy and disperse colored ribbons about the room, EDM and dancing ensued. I did my best non-dancing dance moves—stand around, bop my head like “Night at the Roxbury”, and make a mockery of dance culture while mingling awkwardly to the groove. The night soon concluded itself around one in the morning, and after a few good-byes and closing beers, we initiated our journey back home. I can honestly say that I fully enjoyed every moment of the party and wouldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my Saturday night. Meeting new friends, forging fresh connections, and feeling the warmth of family that so permeates the culture down here was an extraordinary experience and I’m incredibly thankful I was able to be a part of it. 


Thursday, September 26, 2013

New Life With Old Friends

Street vendors, stray dogs, incessant horn honking, and the most preposterous driving you've ever seen...

Recently, I decided to make a seemingly random, yet well-planned, move down to a little city named Lima, down in the colorful country known as Peru. This decision was met with a lot of different feedback from my friends, as well as my family, but overall I heard nothing but supportive rhetoric. I felt this was something I needed to do; that it was where I needed to be at this point. It might sound crazy from where you’re sitting right now, especially if you are someone who either didn't know me, or was not aware of the decision I had made, but I didn't come down here to be alone. Rather, I came down here to spend time postulating and growing with one of my closest friends, who I respect and admire quite a bit. We had grown up together during our adolescence, but in recent years, our lives had spiraled in completely different directions, leaving us with barely any time to see each other. He had always been a positive influence in my life, so, with that mentality, I decided to move down here to switch things up and surround myself with a different, more positive vibe. Some of our interactions and discussions shed light on how differently we've grown in these last several years; sometimes it literally is a capitalist and a socialist embroiled in a debate, searching for cohesion in our tiny living room. But, he has always subconsciously inspired and driven me to be more proactive and positive about life. As an added bonus to the deal, his girlfriend, and my friend, also lives down here only several blocks away. She is truly a unique inspiration all on her own, and her life story intrigues me quite a bit. She has had a radically different upbringing than myself, and has turned all the tumultuous points throughout her life into positive factors that produce her radiating personality. Between the two of them, I have more inspiration and focus than I could ever want. They are so driven and positively motivated that I sometimes find it overwhelming to keep up with, especially due to my maniacal tendencies, but they both serve as amazing outlets to draw energy from. 

We live in a tiny apartment in a district of Lima called Surquillo, which, if you refer to Wikipedia, sounds like something out of City of God. However, the entire district doesn't serve as a haven for drug-dealers, prostitutes, and thieves; many parts embody their own distinctive charm. We live on a street that is lined with bodegas, in-home restaurants, and fruit carts. Yes, there are buildings in atrophy, a few groups of asshole little-shits (what I refer to some of the more seedy corrupt youth as), and times when you are convinced you just looked at someone the wrong way, but I've managed to make some unique and interesting connections with a few of the street denizens. Most mornings I'll step out of our baby-blue exterior apartment and start walking towards the tiny corner bakery about 3 blocks down. A few houses down from our apartment, right before the block ends, is an unequivocally friendly man who seems to build furniture in his little shop, or possibly house for all I know. I'm convinced he wears the same thin yellow polo and dark blue hat each day, but he always has a big smile when he sees one of us and, without hesitation, ecstatically extends a pleasant greeting every time.  The next place I walk by, which we appropriately call "our bodega", is where we usually get our survival kits each night. Said kits usually contain an assortment of beers, butters, waters, and various candies, which sometimes tends to be our only source of nutrition, thanks to our strange disdain for grocery shopping. I have become somewhat friendly with the family that runs it, yet there are times when I swear they think I'm literally crazy, for which I do not know the cause. Continuing my way down, I pass by other bodegas that don’t have as much familiarity, as well as small restaurants and a bigger bakery, which wafts a scent in my direction that I believe to be similar to, if not exactly like, Heaven. The cozy corner bakery I get bread from every other day has a larger bodega across the way, which is owned by one of the most pleasant families I've ever encountered. They are the only one near us that sells American candy, such as Skittles, Hershey bars (thankfully, they have Cookies and Cream!), and Mentos, which have all been unfortunately inflated economically since they are in fact, imported. If you continue down the street after the bakery, you reach this really interesting square, lined with little knick-knack stores and toy shops, that, every Sunday, becomes host to a bustling farmer's market/bazaar, in which you can find freshly-pressed oils, homemade breads, chocolates straight from the Amazon, and locally-grown vegetables. My Sunday tradition includes visiting this market, not for its commodities and goods, but rather the outdoor, cafeteria-like restaurant that is only open during this event. It is run by various chefs from around the area, and presents a myriad of interesting and different food choices from around Peru. One of the unique sandwiches I’ve come to love, called a Chicharrón, is at its best from here. It is braised, then double fried, chunks of pork laid on top of thinly-sliced baked sweet potatoes and topped with lemon and butter glazed diced onions, all compacted inside a fresh, French style bun. As I write this, I am scouring my mind for places that might be serving it right now... But, anyways, that is a little piece of my Sunday tradition, as well as a small taste of my life down here. There are many more experiences, facets, and details to write about, but I’ll save that for some other time.