As I sat “comfortably” in the adobe construction that my Peruvian parents in-law call “home,” I was probably tasting more of what it feels like to be in Peru than any tourist who has visited Machu Picchu can. I have never been to Machu Picchu and do not intend to do so. Part of the reason for staying put is that I do not know how my body will react to being rocketed to an altitude of over 5000 meters before my son has time to say, “high-five thousand meters.” I’ll let others enjoy the soothing holiday feeling associated with acute mountain sickness. Anyway, if the queues at Machu Picchu are anything like the ones on Mount Everest, my decision to avoid the place is absolutely justified.
I admit whole heartedly that holiday travel is not my cup of tea for the simple reason that being stressed from the moment you depart to the instant you arrive is not my idea of a holiday. The only reason I come to Peru is so that my wife can see her family and her parents can embrace their Dutch grandson. Other than that I would be quite happy to stay at home.
Don’t get me wrong, I love holidays because it means being away from work, recharging my batteries that I only notice are flat during the last few days before the summer break.
But travel I must. It all starts with the packing of the suitcases, remembering not to forget my night guard lest I be punished by three weeks of tooth grinding. The travel documents lie safely close to the front door so as not to be forgotten. I spent hours trying to upload a copy of all the travel documents to my mobile phone and making sure they can be accessed without an Internet connection. All this only to forget my mobile phone that was left stranded on a Peruvian rug after I had loaded the suitcases in the car. I don’t know how my brain suddenly thought about the phone as we passed the local pharmacy.
Airports are airports. Having managed to fall upon the only luggage drop-off that didn’t work (I wondered why it was free) we crawled our way to the gate in great anticipation of being squeezed into the economy class of a Boeing 727 jetting us to Lima in just under 27 hours, including a 8 hour wait at Dallas. Every seat was taken and I asked myself where in the hell were these people going to and why.
I got my answer from an elderly couple who were sitting next to us. They had been all over Europe, visiting half-a-dozen countries in 21 days. Had these American tourists got a taste of how the Europeans really live, or had they succeeded in ticking all their “must see,” boxes and taken just enough holiday selfies in front of important monuments to impress their friends back home?
My sincere condolences go to the local inhabitants who have the misfortune to live in a holiday hotspot.
When I visited Venice (yes, I do travel) I got a taste of what it really is like to be invaded by swarms of hungry tourists ready to lap up every last corner of foreign heritage. I felt sorry for the true Venetians whose Piazza san Marco comprises more tourists than pigeons and whose gondola’s are being dwarfed by gigantic cruise ships blocking the view.
What must it feel like for commuters who use the Venice water taxis on a daily basis to go to work? Worrying about the first client of the day, they find themselves sandwiched between a crying twelve-year-old who doesn’t appreciate the expensive package tour that his parents have taken out a second mortgage for, and the japanese tourist who carries with him more equipment than is available at Dixon’s. He is too busy taking photographs to be able to soak in the gentle Venetian breeze.
And then there are those who carry with them a dreadfully dangerous extension that can kill a man at four paces, with the single goal of taking a photograph of their over-inflated egos. Gone are the days when a mysterious brunette asks you to take a photograph leading to a cup of coffee in the Caffe Florian on the Piazza san Marco.
You may have gathered that I hate holiday crowds. My ideal destination is a piece of green land with just a few cows to remind me that I’m not alone on this planet of ours.
Where I was, near the Peruvian town of Pisco, is not a place for those seeking a crowded hotel swimming pool and a daily replenished minibar. The dust outside, conspicuous by its presence, finds its way into our improvised kitchen that has existed for decades, where the stove resembles the one my grandma had. The outside toilet that you have to flush with buckets of water is situated 70 meters from our bedrooms. Getting up at night to relieve yourself means getting dressed at night to relieve yourself. I just have to hope that the dreaded “tourista,” that turns your bowels into jelly, leaves me alone because toilet paper is not to be thrown in the primitive sewage system. The shower, also situated far away from our rooms, distributes luke warm water and is situated in a construction that is not yet completed.
I did manage to get a rather dubious internet connection using a Peruvian SIM card, allowing me to use the phone as a hotspot. But using the connection carries the risk of being disconnected without warning and is as slow as connections can be without totally disappearing.
But what the hell. As the holiday slowly went by, I lived with a feeling that there are more important things in life than internet connections, a minibar and outdoor swimming pools. One of them is the sight of a 93-year-old Peruvian, who has known nothing better his whole life, enchanted to see his grandson who lives in another world that is light years away from his own. My father-in-law needs nothing else than a few beans and sweet potatoes growing on his land. That and a banana tree growing next to the makeshift toilet that you have to flush with buckets of water. You don’t get a banana tree next to your loo in a Sheraton hotel and my father-in-law’s land with its pecan nut trees and avocado plants sure beats the Venetian Piazza hands down, doesn’t it.