Travel Thursday Revisited: Very South America 2006

A roundup of some of the places I stepped on during this longer-than-expected trip. That was back in the days of film/not digital for me, so you can imagine how much extra equipment I had to lug around, especially in the Peruvian Andes. . .

Have you ever been amazed by the roar of a waterfall, just one? Imagine being surrounded by a horseshoe of them! This is Iguazu, in southern Brazil, famously shot in a few movies, including a Bond and an Oscar winner. Even with the hotel window closed, you can still hear the thunder.
And then you hear the loud squawk of a bird on your balcony. How loud does he have to screech to be heard over the waterfalls? Very distracting.
And it was a toucan, and who can see a toucan without wanting some Froot Loops? Not me. Unfortunately, the hotel was out of them. Well, at least they were smart enough to know what a Froot Loop was and usually have them around, but I know by the time I get back to Buenos Aires I’ll have gotten over the urge.
Damn, I can’t believe how humid it is here. I’m usta cold waterfalls. . .

Buenos Aires
Flying into Buenos Aires you’re stunned at how big the city is; it makes you think you’re in El Ay, it’s so spread out. The big difference is the two hugely wide streets, probably just as wide as the Champs-Elysees, or Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City. Anyone care to guess the name of the more important street? Avenue July Ninth! Why is this important? My birthday, of course. Claiming you didn’t know is no longer a valid excuse. And no clothes, even UCLA t-shirts! I already have a UCLA umbrella too.
After the tango show the dancers got people from the audience to try to teach them some moves. So of course one of the women, the prettiest I’m sure, came to my table and tried to persuade me to join in, and wouldn’t believe me when I told her I already knew how to dance tango, but I’m on the injured reserve list for life. Finally I stood up and did some arm movements while standing still to prove I knew the stuff. She smiled, gave me a kiss on the cheek, and waved bye-bye as she went looking for another target. And it wasn’t till I got back to the hotel that the desk clerk laughingly told me I had a huge lip mark on my cheek. . .
I hate that. . .
Oh, and a shoemaker/dancer tried to buy my boots because he loved them so much and wanted to make some just like it. That’s one thing I never expected to happen to me. . .
I actually spent only one day touring Buenos Aires, since it doesn’t have all that much going for it as far as tourist attractions, tango bars notwithstanding. It’s a place to BE more than to see. Well, there’s the obelisk, but once you’ve seen one Washington Monument you’ve seen them all. The second day I spent shooting models, some of which were tango dancers, though I couldn’t picture them with all that heavy makeup and attitude.
Before I left on this trip I was asked if I was going to Patagonia, which seems to have some sort of quasi-religious sentiment attached to the name. Nope, the company I’m shooting for doesn’t go there, and been there/done that. Although it would have been cool to revisit a certain tiny town. . .
Peaked your interest? Well, here’s the story:
Way back when I was in the Marine Corps, we parachuted at night after a 12-hour flight, not being told where the hell we were. In fact, the point was to figure out where in the world we were in as quick a time as possible, without being spotted by the locals. I was the intel guy, so it was my job to find out. I quickly figured out we were in the Southern Hemisphere, whereupon the team leader says, “That’s a big help!” all sarcastic-like. My reply was, “Hey, I just eliminated half the world!” Actually more, since that half of the world is more water than land, but why quibble. From there I found a small town and creeped up to the school–luckily it was the weekend–and saw a map through the window and figured out where we were and called it in. Record time, too.
From there we were picked up and sent to jungle training in the Amazon, of which the less said the better. Can’t use a rifle or knife on creepy-crawlies. . . well, some of them were big enough to use a knife on, but too fast. And I didn’t care if I flunked the course, there’s no way I was eating ’em!

Because of the time difference, I was having dinner in Santiago as I watched UCLA win their first basketball game of the tourney. Who woulda thunk there’d be a sports bar in Chile? Of course all the big screens were showing soccer, but I managed to grab a little table in the corner and persuaded a waitress to change one of the TVs to the game; I do seem to have awesome charm when it comes to non-romantic matters. Luckily I didn’t look at all out of place, considering everyone was screaming at the soccer games, except for the timing, so I was screaming alone, until a couple of Americans came in. Not UCLA fans, but I’m sure they were hoping I would buy them a beer if they cheered.(almost rhymed).
Didn’t have to go to Antarctica to freeze my giblets off, even if it’s summer here in the Lake District. (according to spell check, that’s how you spell giblets; I thought it would be a J. Actually, didn’t know I had giblets, but live and learn.) It’s really frustrating being out at ten at night with a full sun while wearing half a dozen layers. . . and having to take off the gloves to take photos. . . on a camera that hates cold. . . especially when you were in 70 degree sun the day before.
Schnitzel and Strudel in Frutillar, for that brief taste of old Germany, on St. Patrick’s Day, of all days. For a longer taste, or better yet a taste of Austria, I stayed at the Hotel Salzburg. And fresh juicy grapes the size of cockroaches on steroids: mmmmm. . .
Just for the heck of it, on my way back from the Lake District to Santiago, I spent the night in a town called Los Angeles; pretty much had to, right? The next morning some Germans–real ones, from the old country–and Czechs tried to cajole me into going white-water rafting with them. Me, who’s deadly afraid of water, possibly even more than heights! I figured I’d go along with the free ride and then chicken out at the last moment so I could take photos, but as it turned out their rental truck wouldn’t start and I didn’t have to go through any theatrics to stay dry.

Easter Island
Except for the statues, the less said about this place the better. Even the statues got old to this archaeology enthusiast after a day. Checkmark it on the “been there/done that” list. . . hope that didn’t come across as bitter, just disappointed.

Got back to my favorite South American city {Santiago} with two days to walkabout before catching a couple of tiny flights up to Lake Titicaca. Go ahead, laugh at the name, you know you wanna.
Not much I can tell ya about it. It’s a huge lake, and it’s really cold because it’s way up in the mountains. A couple of real islands, a few fake ones, and some very touristy cultural awareness. Oh well, it was a nice rest.
What rest? Did you hear my scream at 12:30 in the morning local time, 9:30 Pacific? The only TV in the hotel with cable was the one in the lobby, and the desk clerk was looking at me like I was crazy as UCLA played like shit and still beat Gonzaga at the end. That was exhausting! And yes, I know UCLA didn’t deserve it, but that’s why you play the full 40. . .

Someone at the home office in Seattle was smart enough to have a small plane ready for me in Puno, which is the town on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, to take me to Arequipa, but I convinced him to make a detour. First we circled the lake a few times–well, not really, we didn’t go into Bolivian airspace, but you know what I mean–so I could get some shots, then we headed for the coast so I could shoot the Nasca lines, then finally when we were almost there we flew over Colca Canyon. If the Peruvian Air Force asks you about unscheduled flight plans, we were having lunch together that day, right? (hummed to Cheryl B. Engelhardt’s Empty Alibi.)
In the town of Arequipa I stayed in a hotel called La Casa de Mi Abuela, which translates to “my grandmother’s house.” It was a cool place to crash, with bungalows and gardens and such, but I just had to mention it for the name. There was also a restaurant called Zig Zag–yes, in English, or whatever language that comes from–that served stone-grilled ostrich burgers. Make up your own joke.
In the Colca Canyon, I had another chance to go white watering, but this time found it much easier to say no, and that was before they told me they were rated VI (I hope the higher the number, the more difficult, otherwise I passed up the equivalent of a ride on a bathtub). I climbed a volcano instead. (Ha, sounds so easy when you write it. . .) From up there, better than from the plane, it was easy to see why this canyon is twice as deep as the Grand one in Arizona.
If you’ve ever seen a condor, California style, you know how huge those puppies are. The ones down here are even huger, if that’s a real word (according to spell check it is). Wingspans 10 feet long–that’s longer than some basketball players. So big they can’t just flap and start flying, but need a running start off a cliff; imagine doing that for the first time. They circle around below you and then, suddenly it seems, they’re above you. Ever been in one of those aquarium tunnels, where you see sharks swimming above you? That’s how it felt, only more so, because you weren’t protected by glass and one of the young birds might mistake you for lunch. Got some cool pictures, at least.
Was that UCLA-Memphis game not the ugliest ever? And that’s saying a lot, considering the past two. At least I won’t have to worry about finding cable TV for a few days. . .
Even though I’d been to Machu Picchu before, this time I not only spent a whole day going through the ruins, but also other sites in the valley, as well as having the time to actually speak with locals and make fast enough friends for them to take me to places the tourists never see.
These four days were, and it is rare for me to use this word, spiritual, even magical. It was truly amazing how many tourists I came across who were tearful, some because they finally got here, but mostly because it’s just so fucking beautiful. . .
One of the highlights–at least for this non-morning person–was getting up at five to join the workers at Machu Picchu on the trek up the mountain so I could shoot the dawn. And just for fun, I played Shannon Hurley’s Sunrise as I shot, followed by Lovers Electric’s Morning Sun. It really helps when an old UCLA buddy is now the regional director for archaeology and can do whatever the hell he wants despite any posted rules, and bring his friend along. {Hopefully you already read that story, called “Puttin’ the Machu in Picchu!” It features a German/Swedish blonde model, so. . . yeah.}
Turns out I inadvertently got one of the local guides in trouble. When I sign up for one of these trips, I’m given a list of things they want me to shoot. Usually it’s a short list, and I can improvise and add to it, as long as I get a usable shot of what they want. So it turns out one of the sites they wanted me to shoot is no longer open to the public, only their local guide “neglected” to tell them this; afraid of getting paid less, I guess. But if he was dumb enough to think no one would notice once they arrived, well, who am I to deprive him of reaping from his stupidity . . .

So. . .
According to my handy dandy pedometer, the best gift evah–although you have to consider I usually gets clothes as gifts, but still–I walked over 100 miles on this trip. No Fffffin’ way! When my feet and shins heard this news, they decided they should feel sore, even if they didn’t before. (did that rhyme?)


Travel Thursday Encore: Putting the Machu in Picchu part 3

That afternoon we were strolling by the railroad tracks, hand in hand, on the ten minute walk to the part of Aguas Calientes that contained the tourist amenities. Despite the hunger, she was in the mood to try something other than the hotel restaurant, possibly something local; she was as adventurous in her gastronomic exercises as I wasn’t.
Though still feeling the hunger pains, her brain managed to function better now, knowing the beast would be fed soon, so she was able to take in the town. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been somewhere so poor-looking, then realized it reminded her of a movie western set. It felt really out of place, then she remembered Butch and Sundance going down to Bolivia and giggled.
Maybe because her shopping hunger had no room for engagement, or more likely because none of the trinkets did anything for her, she didn’t stop to look at the souvenirs and artisan works lining the street as we approached the busy section of town, still holding hands. That would probably change later, she smirked; once her stomach was full, she figured she’d give in to the buying urge that was presently lying dormant inside her, like an alien monster.
The crowd was mostly made up of tour groups and smaller units of backpack-laden hikers, some of which crashed into each other as they gawked at her. Despite the natural blush, she was well used to it, and enjoyed it, as long as the attention was limited to sight; rarely did anyone say worthwhile words about her beauty. And she knew I didn’t mind the looks either, as long as they kept their distance as well.
“They’ve fixed the place up since I’ve been here,” I murmured, pointing to the little plaza that in most Latin pueblos signified the very down of downtown.
“I need to take a photo,” she decided. “You told me once that this was Peru’s version of Katmandu, so I want something for comparison when you take me there.”
“Most people only go to Katmandu on the way to climbing Everest.”
“Oh. Well, I don’t plan on doing that.”
“But I guess we can go on a walking tour for a few days after the next trip to the Taj Mahal. Either way, go ahead and take your photo.”
“Don’t suppose you’d go pose over there, in front of that. . . whatever that statue is.”
“If you want to catch the whole square, I’ll be too far for anyone to tell who it is, so just shoot.”
“Okay okay, stop being so bossy.” She quickly framed the shot and took it before I said anything else, then grinned and jumped over to kiss me, kicking up a heel like a cliché. “Okay, no more side trips. Me need food!”
“I too. Remember when we arrived that the train station platform has tables for dining? There’s probably a good restaurant there.”
“I was too tired to notice anything at that point. And trains kick up a lot of dust. And I don’t want to walk that far. What else ya got?”
“Let’s find out. Did you at least see the market stalls when we got off the train?”
“Hmmm, you’d think I would, but I didn’t. Why?”
“I was watching as we approached, and they actually had to move their little portable stores off the train tracks so the train could park.”
“Wow! They really have no other place to set up?”
“Not if they want to be right there to hit up the weary traveler as soon as they step off.”
“Yes, I can see their marketing strategy. By the by, I am not looking forward to the train back down. I got enough of the scenery on the way up.”
“I can scrounge up another way.”
“We are not taking a bus!”
Of course not. It’ll be faster and even more scenic.”
“What is it?”
“A surprise.”
She pouted, but only for a second. “Promise it’ll be good?”
“Then I’m forced to trust you.”
“There’s a pizza place.”
“I did not come all this way to eat pizza,” she said primly, no longer grinning.
“There. That place.”
She looked. “Yes.”
It being brunch time in a place that never heard of brunch, we were seated immediately, and the service wasn’t all that different than it would be, if not in the States, then at least in other places around the world used to tourists. The waitress even spoke some English, and just like that Katarina was snacking on the bread pieces while I waited for my corn on the cob order that I’d placed immediately before checking out the main menu.
“They serve trout all the way up here? Really?”
“It’s flown in, of course,” the waitress smiled as she dropped off the corn on the cob, then quickly scurried away.
Katarina looked at me blankly, but I simply smiled and said, “I like her,” as I dug into my appetizer. The corn looked a bit different here, but turned out to be just as tasty, to my relief.
“Good thing for you they grow it up here,” she laughed.
“Corn was the staple crop in this hemisphere before the Spaniards, but only with the Incas was it sacred.”
“No wonder you like them.”
“They saved the very best lands for it. It even became a symbol of power, more so than even coca, or potatoes.”
“Your other fave,” she laughed, seeing no need to point out which one. Attentive but still very hungry, she reached over to grab the hunk of cheese that came with the corn. “It looks weird, all white and puffy, and those kernels are huge. How does it taste? Like corn?”
“There’s a corny base taste, yeah, but it also tastes sweeter than usual, with a little milk thrown in. Not as good as the corn I had in Rotorua, New Zealand, but at least top five.”
She grinned as she remembered that old conversation, especially about the entry at #3, and the corn girl who’d served it–and herself–to me at a festival in the Midwest. Thinking of that luscious redhead. . . that quickly went away as the waitress came back to take our main order.
Having a backup ready in case the description turned her off, she asked the waitress about the Pachamanca.
The girl was efficient. “That’s a classic mountain dish that goes all the way to the Incas, it means ‘Mother Earth’ in Quechua. Several types of meat, potatoes, peppers, herbs and cheese are baked in a hole over hot stones, with banana leaves placed between the layers. It is cooked underground because the Incas worshipped the earth, and to eat directly from it was a way of honoring the Mother Goddess and giving thanks for her fertility.”
“That’s perfect!” she squealed. “I’ll have that.”
She waitress smiled and ticked a note on her pad. “What soup would you like?”
“Hmmm, what’s sopa a la criolla?”
I smiled at her perfect pronunciation, but she was too hungry to reply with anything more than a return smile, listening to the waitress instead.
“That is a basic soup, but you may find it different because it used quinua as its grain.” Going on before she could be asked, she explained, “The word means ‘moon’ in Quechua. It expands four times its original volume when cooked and thus has more protein than any other grain, so you can see why we like it so much.”
“Is there a moon god that’s in love with the Mother Goddess?” I grinned.
“I hope so!” the waitress giggled.
Playing along, Katarina said, “There is now. I’ll have that.”
“Great. And you, sir?”
Not having enjoyed alpaca meat the last time I was here, I went with the regular beef steak, not worrying about how long it would take, since the corn was fighting an efficient holding action on my hunger.
Katarina looked at the cob husk left on my plate and sighed, wondering if she should have ordered a quick appetizer too. “What’s six inches long and makes me happy?”
I considered, then went with, “Just about anything, Earth Goddess.”
We’d quickly grown to love the silences between them when we’d first met, but she didn’t want that right now. “So, is there other stuff to do here besides Machu? And orchids,” she quickly remembered.
“There are other sites, mostly harder to get to, but also nowhere near as dramatic as Machu. Any tourists going there would think them anticlimactic. Like someone looking at any other model after watching you.”
“I was with ya before you said that,” she assured him, biting her inner cheek to keep from laughing.
“There’s plenty of places to hike, that don’t take four days. There’s one that goes up to that other mountain over there, got some good shots of Machu once. And if I can remember where that other one starts, there’s a waterfall that’s just your style at the end of it.”
“So, you wanna tell me the story about walking the Inca trail now?” But before I could answer, she suddenly cursed.
“What’d you do now?”
“Do you remember that as soon as the gardener left, we were all alone up there? Or even before he got there, when it was still dark? Who else could say they fucked at Machu Picchu?”
I smiled. “I love a sexually adventurous girl.”
“Especially if she’s yours, right?”
“Wouldn’t be any fun if she was someone else’s.”
Her eyes danced at that, but she kept a straight face. She also kept quiet for a while, because she was too busy eating, until finally she shouted, “I want dessert! And no donuts this time!” While perusing the dessert menu, she came across something she thought was amusing, though as usual with me the jury would always be out. “Says here this restaurant also owns another one near the railroad tracks called Toto’s House.” She grinned. “I know how much you hate the Wizard of Oz, but. . . dinner?”
Holding up my fork, which contained a chunk of steak, I asked, “Aren’t you afraid of what kind of meat they’d serve at a place called Toto’s?”
I watched carefully as her face slowly turned green, and knew I’d blundered.
“Ya know,” she rapidly dropped the menu, “I think I’m full.”
“You are not! Watch, I’ll distract you, and in less than a minute you’ll have forgotten.”
Less than fifteen minutes later–tough walk uphill and a stop for a snack to tide her over–though she was definitely not counting–she was luxuriating in a private room, lying face down and naked. It had taken her a bit to decide just what kind of massage she wanted, though the last thing she needed right now was the Energizing one that topped the list. Of course she had no idea what an Inca Massage would be, but was leaning toward one called Altitude Problems, for good reason, when she was informed she could have a mix of all of the above. She was so tired and eager for some hand-healing that she simply agreed to that and flopped down on the bed, then moaned when she realized she forgotten to take her clothes off first.
If she had any doubts beforehand as to the usefulness of hanging out with a guy on an expense account–yes, me–they were certainly dissuaded now as she undid her boots and dragged her jeans down her legs, not exactly gently, leaving the white socks on because she knew they looked so cute. It was tougher working off the blouse and bra, and then she basically had to just drop her undies, but soon enough she was really zoned out and giving herself up to the bliss.
It seemed like only seconds later she was awakened by the soothing breeze of condor feathers being waved over her. After being told it was an Inca tradition, she wondered what I would think of that. . . then realized she hadn’t given me a moment’s thought since she’d undressed. For just a moment she was mortified, since I’d been so kind as to pay for the whole thing, then realized I’d probably gone off to have my own massage. Yeah, but he’s probably thinking of me, she sighed, vowing never to let me know she’d broken her own rule.
Getting off the table with an audible groan, she reached for her clothes, only to find they were nowhere in sight. Instead the masseuse held a fluffy-looking blue robe out to her with a smile as well as outstretched arms. Shrugging inwardly, she donned the offered uniform and followed the still-smiling lady through a short labyrinth to the outdoors, where she saw me slowly slipping into the pool, looking like I wasn’t wearing anything either.
Laughing, she barely took enough time to throw the robe off before diving in, almost scaring me. But she turned out to be the one frightened as she realized her skin was sizzling from the volcanic-like water.
“Remember when you asked me what the town name meant?” I grinned when she broke the surface and did a jitterbug that would make any synchronized swimmer envious.
“And you said you’d tell me later, so I’m gonna assume it means ‘hot water,’ right?”
“This is exactly why I defend you when people say you’re not smart!”
“Thanks for that!” No longer impersonating a blowfish, seemingly getting used to the heat, she turned to wrap her arms around my neck and kiss me hotly, though not as hotly as the water, she giggled to herself.
We looked into each other’s eyes for a moment, and then I took in the whole view. The water had darkened her fair hair, and it lay tight to her head and across the brow in flat honey-gold tendrils, as if it had been sculpted.
Suddenly, as usual thinking things well after the fact, she glanced around frantically, her hands moving to cross her chest and block the view. I laughed, then used my own body to cover hers, wet rubbery skin slicking against hers as I whispered, “Relax. I paid for them to turn away anyone else who wanted to dip in here.”
“I was wondering why we were alone. That makes me feel guilty, but I can live with it.”
“Don’t. There are other pools, just not with a view of the sugarloaf.”
She turned quickly, being half-mermaid, then gasped. “I hadn’t noticed! Tell me what it’s like to climb it,” she sighed.
Leaning into her back, I murmured, “Do you want to hear about the Sacred Rock?”
Somehow managing to giggle and moan at the same time, she managed to gasp, “Been there, done that.”
“Never stopped you before. . .”
“Um. . .”
“To the left of the Sacred Rock is a path that leads to the gateway to Huayna Picchu. Even though it looks steep, even those in pretty bad shape can climb it in an hour.”
“How fast can you climb it?”
“If I was racing, about fifteen minutes.” I noticed the way she was staring at the Old Mountain. “Get there early, avoid the sun and the climbers. Get better photos that way, too.”
“How many people can fit up there at once?”
“Not many. There’s a booth where they make you sign in, and if you don’t come back quickly enough they’ll send the next people up, telling them it’s okay to throw them off.”
“Well, not really.”
Seeing an inflatable rubber animal next to her, she scratched for it and placed it on the concrete ledge underneath her breasts, then leaned forward to stare at the view.
“Last climbers at one, and if you’re not down by three, they’ll come and getcha.”
“The view, the view,” she sighed, fighting to keep her eyes open and looking through the clouds at the top of the mountain.
“There’s a platform at the top, directly overlooking the ruins and the forested mountains. But most people don’t know there’s a tunnel that takes you to a rocky perch that has full-circle views. There’s even less room in there, and I for one could spend hours up there shooting, if the people waiting weren’t about to throw me off.”
“They wouldn’t dare,” she whimpered,
“But you don’t want to climb it when it’s rainy. Those stone steps are even more slippery than the ones at Blarney Castle. Remember I told you about that?”
“The girl who told the guy to kiss her ass!”
“That’s her. It’s so steep it’s frightening coming down, but there’s a turnoff that no one knows about, an hour’s walk to the Temple of the Moon. The trail dips down into the cloud forest and then climbs again, so you gotta ignore your groaning thighs.”
She did manage to giggle a little there, though she was close to being completely out of it.
“Right above the river, about halfway down the peak, there’s a mysterious group of caverns and niches with the most beautiful stone work you’ve ever seen–”
“Better than the Alhambra?”
“Apples and oranges, though there are a few thrones around the altar.”
“For me, the Moon Goddess!” she screeched, then promptly fell asleep.
{To be continued, with an orchid walk, a hike to a waterfall, and a pretty scary trip in a helicopter}


Travel Thursday Encore: Putting the Machu in Picchu, part 2

It felt kinda weird walking with your head down and your arm up, hand on your new buddy’s shoulder, but it was necessary, since it was still dark and she couldn’t bear the thought of tumbling down the mountain and forcing me to live without her (yes, she actually said that). I stopped often as I looked for the best place to shoot the sunrise, the grey sky definitely lightening the more I looked up.
She’d had a little smile as we’d passed the closed ticket booth, but after that had come the horrid though short climb in the dark up to what was called the Caretaker’s Hut. Having visited archaeological sites before, she knew a lot of ancient buildings had fanciful names that had nothing to do with reality–that Castle in Chichen Itza was like most other pyramids, after all–so she didn’t even bother with this, and certainly didn’t look through the gloom at Funerary Rock.
After what seemed like forever but turned out to be less than fifteen minutes, to her shock, I told her she could let go. Instead she pushed forward till she was hugging me from behind, kissing my neck and licking my ear. But of course as soon as I tried to turn around to return the favor, she stepped back and told me to get my shot already, and if I was a good boy she might let me take a shot of her topless with the sugarloaf in the background.
“And you’ll choose the exact moment it’ll start to rain,” I grinned.
Shrug and pout. “I don’t mind getting wet. You know that.”
In answer I handed her my backpack, which she set down at her feet, and climbed the rocks that made up a former wall. The top of the mound was only about fifteen feet high, but it still made her feel like I was up on Mount Olympus (she told me this too) and she was a mere mortal beseeching her god for. . .
Then she told me about this new fantasy she was working on, but admitted she’d need access to a wardrobe department. “But then, you’d never wear the costume I have in mind for you, so you’ll have to photograph me in the open flowing white robe I am now designing in my head. . . then set the camera on automatic as you ravish me. . .”
I let out a big fat yawn, which amused her. I let the camera dangle on its strap and then put on my headphones, having to make sure the wires didn’t get crossed up with said strap, as often happened, much to my neck’s pain.
“What song will you be playing?”
“‘Sunrise,’ of course.” I’d played the Shannon Hurley tune for her on the train.
“Of course,” she grinned, then sighed, “that song makes me all gooey inside.”
I refrained from asking “What doesn’t?” because it rarely turned out for the best, at least in my experience. Though I couldn’t resist adding, “Followed by ‘Morning Sun.’”
“Lovers Electric,” she sighed, remembering that song from the train as well.
Then she got the bright idea to shoot basically the same shot, though with less elevation, but that shouldn’t make much of a difference, right? She left my backpack there and wandered over till she was standing right below me, then tugged on the zipper of her purse to take out her own little digital camera.
Perhaps that was why she wasn’t paying attention as the gardener made his way toward us with a hose, spraying water on the already-dew-spangled grass. With the sun peeking over the horizon things were no longer shadows, and it seemed like suddenly rather than gradually the side of Huayna Picchu was suddenly glowing. I took my first shot, but since the sun was practically rising in my face, in the camera eye, I had to stop after each shot and recheck the exposure, making sure the coming brightness didn’t overwhelm the bulk of the picture and render it totally black. Point is, I was too busy to pay attention to anything else right now.
Katarina, not well versed in light and exposure, was also shooting away, a little part of her ego fooling her into thinking these shots would be just as good as mine. But since she didn’t have the camera to her eye like I did, holding it at arm’s length, she was able to see in her peripheral vision that the gardener was almost to her. He’d better not spray me, she smirked, then suddenly panicked as she remembered my backpack and all the photography gear, as well as my laptop and assorted papers.
She remembered dropping it off at the beginning of the slight rise, which couldn’t have been more than a dozen feet from her, but she couldn’t see it! Nobody could have possible stole it, and there was no way it tumbled down the hill, so–
It’s beige! It’s blending in against the wall! The gardener won’t see it!
And then she caught the ray of light glinting off the UCLA button, and she realized the water was only inches away. . .
“No. . .!” came the dopplering scream that startled the gardener, but not enough to make him switch his aim. The next thing he knew a woman–oh, the amazing blonde from the truck!–was hurtling in front of him, next to the wall, as if she thought it was a swimming pool she was diving into.
Now instinct took over, and even though his mind wondered why she wanted to get wet, his brain still made his hand move the hose so that it no longer pointed in her direction. Still watching carefully, and a little fearfully, hoping he wouldn’t get into trouble, he watched the woman stand up, dripping, glare at him, then turn around and lift a backpack he’d never seen before, checking to see if it was dry.
Apparently it was, for she sighed in relief, gave him a rueful smile, and went back to the spot where she’d been standing to shoot the sunrise.
But there was one more squeal left in her as I jumped down to join her. “You owe me so big for this,” she muttered, handing me the backpack because she was still dripping.
“Do you think this would have happened if you hadn’t said, just a few minutes ago, ‘I don’t mind getting wet?’”
She laughed at that, then glanced at the sky uncertainly, as if not wanting to tempt the gods anymore. A thought made her unzip her jacket, but no, her shirt was dry, so she wouldn’t be winning any damp blouse contests while she braved the high-altitude cold. She started to rip off the wet jacket, then thought better of it, because her hair was still dripping. The jeans were another matter, but luckily she was a cold-weather girl and she had someone who could warm her up if needed later.
Not that I could do much right now, other than grab a replacement t-shirt from my backpack and wipe her face and neck dry, as tenderly as I could. She closed her eyes and shivered, though she couldn’t tell ya if it was from the cold or something else, and then she opened her eyes and kissed me on the nose she almost broke on the way up as I ran the shirt through her hair.
I whispered, “Don’t forget to pick up that little camera you’re almost stepping on.”
As thanks for saving my equipment–or because she’d allowed it to be in danger in the first place–she was forced to don the backpack to keep it safe, as well as to make it easy for me to grab whatever I needed. It was heavier than she expected, but she resolved to take it, as long as she dried out quickly.
It was still too early for the tourists to be allowed in, so I took advantage of the empty space to shoot some more of the site. From this vantage point and with the sun up, we were able to see the site’s full layout, especially how clearly different the agricultural and urban zones were. It was the perfect spot from which to not only get a photographic overview but also to zoom in and get at least a hundred shots covering just about every inch of the place. The workers were still walking around, but most of them had started here and made their way down, in some faraway places already looking like ants. And there wasn’t much to shoot behind me, except for long shadows, because we were already on the edge of the site, with a steep canyon on the other side.
So, figuring I’d never see it this empty again, I decided to take as many shots as I could before getting bored.
“Hey,” she yelped, “what’s with the llamas?” She couldn’t imagine a historical site or museum anywhere else in the world where animals ran wild, but on the other hand, maybe someone could sell her a sweater to take the place of the wet jacket presently tied around her wet waist but below the dry backpack.
She looked both cute and sexy with the pack straps having to go around her breasts, so I took a shot, reminding myself to try it later with suspenders and sans shirt; she’d love it, no doubt.
Then she took off the backpack and set it down between her legs as she sat on a rock outcropping, sighing a little heavily. As for me, I’d finally stopped yawning, at least for now, but was also feeling a little tired. “Altitude,” I pondered aloud.
She smiled and nodded, then reached into the backpack for the book she’d spotted me putting in, the one that was kinda like a tour book but with much more non-touristy info that the famous guides didn’t include.
“The Cusco Valley and the Incas are synonymous in most people’s minds, but the area was populated well before they arrived on the scene and they simply built their empire on the toil and ingenuity of generations of previous cultures.” She wrinkled her nose. “So Neruda wasn’t kidding about slaves building this place. I thought he was stacking the deck to make me feel sorry for them.” She looked up to see what I was thinking about, but I was too busy taking a photo of her wrinkled nose, which she instantly ruined by smiling. Not wanting an annoyed photographer on her hands, she stuck out her tongue at me, now that the bite had finally stopped hurting, then went back to the book.
“Hiram Bingham coined the phrase ‘The Lost City of the Incas,’ which was the title of his first book. He never gave any credit to those who led him to Machu Picchu, mentioning only ‘local rumor’ as his guide.”
“That’s one of the reasons I don’t like him. Typical Ivy League crap. John Lloyd Stephens was never like that.”
She smiled, glad that I was warming up to the conversation even as I looked for more shots.
“There’s reports of plenty of people who were here before, some even carved their names in the rocks,” I continued. “Guess that makes him more like that Champollion asshole than anyone else.”
“Not lost, just deserted.”
I smiled at her, and she returned it brightly, another of those little moments we cherished. Remembering to look up that French-sounding name later, she kept on reading, looking for another juicy bit. “Bingham built strong relationships with top Peruvian officials, so he had little trouble obtaining permission to ‘borrow’ artifacts. Upon returning to Yale he had more than 5,000 such objects to be kept in the university’s care until such time as the Peruvian government requested their return.”
“Which happened not that long ago,” I mused, “and guess what? Yale refused. Shocker, huh?”
Not wanting to get into that right now, and not bothering with the hand gesture I’d taught her, she went to a more touristy section. “Some people claim the silhouette of the mountain range behind Machu Picchu was in the form of an Inca face looking up at the sky, with the largest peak, the sugarloaf known as Huayna Picchu, representing his pierced nose.” Wrinkling her own nose again, she looked up at the landscape in question.
Having heard that before, I had tried to photograph it on every trip, but it was pretty hard to do when you’ve never seen it, never got it, looked like just a bunch of peaks.
She’d asked me numerous times about what Machu Picchu meant, let alone Huayna Picchu, but I always warned her it was a big letdown. Which of course made her wonder all the harder, but so far she’d refrained. And next time I chided her about her lack of self-control, she had this card to play, so better to leave it for now.
Standing up to look at the edges of the site now, she remembered her earlier thought about falling off the mountain and wondered if there was any lookout from which she could glance down. I had told her it was close to 2000 feet pretty much straight down till you hit the Urubamba River, but then I’m afraid of heights, so she figured I wanted to scare her away from such a thing. I’d also told her that due to the deep precipice and the mountains, it had been an excellent natural fort, and even if the Spaniards had found it, they probably wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it.
“Like Masada,” she mused, having picked up on my penchant for military history, then wondered if the Incas had a failsafe back door if they needed to get the hell out. I’d mentioned something about a rope and/or trunk bridge, and she’d made it one of her goals to find the path down to it, though of course not go all the way down, mostly because she sure as hell wasn’t in the mood to come all the way back up before breakfast.
Scanning quickly through the book, she found what she’d just been thinking about. “The location of the city was a military secret because its deep precipices and mountains were an excellent natural defense. The rope bridge across the Urubamba River provided a secret entrance for the Inca army.”
“Do you have a plan for today or are you just going to wander?” she found herself asking.
I rightly took that to mean she was asking about up here on the mountain, not the rest of the day in town. “There’s some stuff I need to shoot, but no plan. I’ll hit them all eventually. If you feel the need to go off on your own, feel free. I’ll try not to miss you.”
She grinned and almost replied, but stopped herself before she could be accused of playing both sides of the argument, as she often did, because she found herself frowning at the wall in front of her, coincidentally glancing at the section between my legs. I saw the frown, smiled, and didn’t ask, nor did I photograph it, for I had plenty of confused shots from her. My amusement grew as I saw her flipping through the book.
“The unmortared stones fit so snugly they might as well have been grown together.”
I’d noticed that on a previous trip, and while it had seemed quite amazing then, it was old hat now, so all I told her was, “These walls have survived earthquakes that leveled entire towns.”
“Maybe that’s why,” she mused as she kept reading. “This says the junctions are so perfect you can’t fit a knife through them. . . one hundred and forty structures? Really?” She got up to gaze around again.
“And I’m shooting them all,” I sighed, knowing the sympathy ploy always worked.
Except this time she wasn’t paying attention. “One hundred flights of stairs. . . that I can believe. Hmmm, it says some are carved from a single piece of granite. I wanna see that.”
“So let’s go find it.” I started down the stairs in front of us, then waited for her to make sure she was paying attention to where she was stepping while she checked how many pieces the steps were made from.
“What’s this big puppy here?” She was pointing to a big structure next to us, and was apparently too lazy to check the book in her hand.
“Temple of the Sun.”
Shivering, she wondered, “Should I pray, or make a sacrifice? I’m still damp.”
I passed up the cheap joke and went for a closeup. Of the round tower, not her. “Here’s were the stones fit together without a seam.”
Instantly quelling her shivers, she rushed forward to look, though still asking, “Is there a reason why it’s called this, or are they being prosaic as usual?”
“Hey, you learned a new word.” Or maybe she was just throwing it out without knowing what it meant, I didn’t add. “If you were standing on that ledge during the June winter solstice, you’d see the window is perfectly–”
“What? Time out! June winter solstice? You’re as deranged as. . . Oh! Southern hemisphere! Never mind, carry on.”
“In my deranged way?”
She smiled and shrugged, knowing there was nothing she could say to get out of a punishment later. Instead she looked around, then grinned. “Hey, no one could see us if we wanted to slip by this cordon and go inside and grab a little souvenir pebble. . .”
I grinned at her, the grin that told her if I thought she was serious I’d be calling the cops. Her reply smile was to make me think she hadn’t been serious. Sighing, she reached for the book, and quickly found something much more fun. “Fountains! Lead me to ‘em, gotta photograph them! See if they make me think of the Alhambra.”
“You sure are a water baby, especially for a Teutonic gal.”
“I’m making up for my childhood deprivation,” she replied absently. “Are we gonna climb the sugarloaf?”
“Not today. I will, because the view is so different you think it’s another place, but I’ll save it for the next time we come.”
“You mean, in a few years?”
“No, silly. I’m gonna see other stuff the next few days, so maybe I’ll come back the morning I leave for Chile.”
“You’re not supposed to tell me your itinerary! You promised!”
“Then down ask!” Blonde.
She ended up disappointed with the fountains, expecting tall ones, but was mollified when I told her they’d been used for plumbing, not show. “No wonder there’s so many,” she mused, then gazed over my shoulder–she was certainly tall enough–as I studied an aerial photo of the site, which showed the waterways and some of the trails, one of which connected to the Urubamba river in the valley below.
“A-ha!” she thought as she remembered her earlier quest, then tried to figure out where it was without asking. Then decided she’d look for it the next time, maybe spot it from the sugarloaf. Since we were just standing there, she took the moment to sit down and rest, realizing the lesser oxygenized air up here was tiring her out quickly. Plus she could see tourists now entering the place, so that honeymoon was over.
Remembering the book in her hand, she quoted aloud again. “Machu Picchu is an official Historical Sanctuary of Peru. Sounds like a national park or something. This area, which is not limited to the ruins themselves, also includes the regional landscape with its flora and fauna, highlighting the abundance of orchids. Orchids? We have to go see that!” she squealed.
I gave her the look, and her face did that half-pouty/half “Oops” thing she did so well. She was already formulating plans to convince me how much I’d enjoy shooting the flowers when I said, “Don’t you think I already scheduled that? It was going to be a surprise, but as usual–”
Feeling bad about misjudging me, but not wanting to face what she knew she richly deserved, she leaped on me and kissed my mouth shut.
After kissing back roughly, I pouted, “That’s your answer for everything, airhead.”
Letting that roll off her back, for a change, and struggling to keep pace now that I was back on the move, she tried to pretend she had just read something else, when in actually she’d been saving it for such a moment. “Hey! According to this you can visit at night! Need special permission and a guide, but you think you can swing that?”
“Probably. Did you bring your cold-weather gear? It’ll be a lot more dangerous, as well as spooky. And since you didn’t seem to like walking in the dark an hour ago. . .”
“Hmmm. I’ll have to think about it.”
Which I knew was her way of changing her mind without admitting it. Instead of actually making the potentially fatal mistake of saying that out loud, I stopped at a particular structure and told her to pose, which of course she immediately did, spending a few moments being serious, channeling her modeling muse, before hamming it up as usual. “Why this one?” she asked perkily when she skipped back to me.
“For some reason this one was named ‘Sexy Woman’ by the Incas. What better model could I have?”
“Aw. . . wait, let me pose better.”
“Too late. And keep your clothes on.”
“Well, I am no longer cold. . . though I might be getting damp another way. . .”
I faked a sigh so well she wanted to take notes, but instead enjoyed the hell out of it as I said, “Don’t you ever think about anything but sex?”
“Butt sex? Is that what–Hi there!” she saluted the obviously American couple who’d already made their way this far into the ruins in such a short time. The couple looked really happy to be there, no doubt fulfilling a lifelong ambition, but seemed to be moving far too fast to enjoy it.
“Probably going to climb the sugarloaf first,” I figured as I yawned. “There are no more sexy women places to shoot, so if you wanna go wander on your own, come up with some new fantasies for when we get back to the hotel. . .”
Remembering she’d already come up with one, but would under no circumstances admit it, she asked if I was trying to get rid of her.
“Maybe I want to get some photos of you when you’re not looking.”
“That works! See ya, studly!”
Not burdened by my backpack anymore, not that she’d carried it around all that much, she let her body do anything it wanted to, provided it wouldn’t hurt and wasn’t dangerous, until she found herself all alone and wondering just how the hell she’d gotten here. Turning around, she couldn’t spot me, so she’d gone too far to be photographed. On the other hand, she hoped I got some good photos of her frolicking her way up here.
Suddenly feeling tired, the thin oxygen thing again, she sat and reached for. . . what was there to reach for? she suddenly realized. The water bottles were in my backpack. She was now becoming annoyed by the jacket around her waist as well, and it had gotten too hot to wear. On the plus side, her jeans were now dry, though she couldn’t help smirking at the joke she’d thought of just a few minutes ago, right before that couple showed up.
And speaking of, once again strangers startled her out of her sexual reverie, though this time she didn’t mind. A tour group was just coming up the hill, a big one by the looks of it. The guide smiled at her and didn’t shoo her away, so she decided to stay right there and listen, hopefully learn something, if it was in English.
The guide pointed to a large hunk of rock, luckily not the one she was sitting on, and said, “This is known as the Hitching Post of the Sun. Experts believe it to be a sundial, or at least an astronomical and agricultural calendar, to let them know when it was time to plant the crops. If you look at it from a certain angle, you can see it appears to have the same shape as Huayna Picchu.” Everyone turned to look at the sugarloaf. “The Incas built similar devices all throughout their empire, but thinking they were for pagan worship, the Spaniards destroyed most of them. This one survived without a scratch till 2001, when some idiot bureaucrat allowed a beer commercial to be filmed here, and the film crew snuck in a thousand-pound crane, which promptly fell over and chipped off the top section here.”
She wondered just how someone managed to sneak a thousand-pound crane, or a thousand-pound anything, up here without anyone noticing. Oh, someone probably did notice and was paid off. Hopefully that asshole got fired too. She’d have to ask. . .
No longer really listening, she saw someone in the group slathering on the sunscreen and turned on her famous puppy eyes. Luckily it was a guy, who grinned and tossed the bottle to her. It hadn’t occurred to her that she might burn her very fair skin up here, but then realized the thin air wouldn’t do much to stop harmful rays, at least compared to lower elevations. Unfortunately it was a stinky sunblock, but that was the breaks.
Giggling, she was about to toss it back when she saw the guy was taking a drink; immediately she was thirsty again. The guy rolled his eyes, but was grinning as they exchanged bottles and she took a long and loud gulp. Through the distortion of the plastic she could see the guy taking a photo of her; maybe he was hoping to see some drip on her shirt, or more likely recognized her, but either was okay with her, and if the shot turned up in some paparazzi mag, she’d write it down as the most expensive drink of water ever. Sure felt worth it right now, though, gulp gulp.
The crowd moved on, and she joined the tail end, where hopefully the guide wouldn’t see her, and the guy wouldn’t be able to keep shooting her. She could imagine me getting a shot of her tagging along behind the group like a little kid, and her giggles almost drew the attention of the stragglers, except that the group had stopped and the guide started talking again; she barely managed to keep from running her nose into someone’s back, and she certainly didn’t want anyone to have a picture of that.
Even though the topic was a sacred rock that many believed contained energy–the guide actually called it “The Force”–she found her attention gathered by the sugarloaf mountain again, or as she should really learn to call it, Huayna Picchu. It looked truly big from here, and she realized there was a line of people going down a path in front of her, heading for it. Okay, now she knew, but did she want to?
Nah, that looks fuckin’ steep. Good thing we’re not climbing it today, but I may still not want to when we come back either.
The crowd broke up, some to follow the path to climb the sugarloaf, others going down to the rest of the site, and suddenly she found herself alone with the guide, who was grinning at her. Maybe she wants payment, Katarina thought, then quickly turned and barreled down the stairs, forgoing a touch of the sacred rock.
It felt like she didn’t stop running till she met up with me, and then I held her in a long and hard kiss that left her even more breathless. A stray thought eddied through her brain: what a way to die. . .
(to be continued)


Travel Thursday: Putting the Machu in Picchu

A few days in the Inca fortress with a former model who would really wish I’d forget that part of her life. . . and before you ask how I knew what she was thinking, let’s just say she didn’t hide her journal nearly as well as she thought. . .

It’s hard enough getting up at five in the morning under any circumstances, but since it was four times zones away from my usual, I was basically getting up at one, an hour I might just be getting to bed. And it was highly recommended that I wake up, since it wouldn’t do to walk unconsciously in this place, with the thin air and uneven terrain. The dark didn’t help either.
On the other hand, I didn’t have to worry about where to step and gasping for oxygen during the first part, which was riding in the back of a truck up to the site. Speaking the local language–or as local as possible here, not knowing Quechua–helped in getting an invite to join the workers who opened up the site, so I could get some sunrise shots. Of course, it didn’t hurt having top-notch archaeology credentials, a letter from the country’s top government cultural official, and a friendly attitude, but, whatever.
I’d shown up in the back room of the hotel, where the workers who got the archaeological site ready for the tourists had their incredibly early breakfasts. A little schmoozing over hot chocolate and I’d earned myself a ride. If all worked out, I’d be meeting that German girl from the train for breakfast at opening time, once I’d gotten all the sunrise shots I could handle.
Not quite. Katarina showed up, perky for bright and early, just as everyone was loading into the truck.
“Three hours is too much apart after meeting you,” she informed me cutely, though I knew she was just being cruel.
I turned to the guys waiting in the truck, but even the driver was grinning as they gawked at her. She gave her trademark smile as she put a boot on the fender, and the truck almost overtipped from the rush of guys fighting to help her up. Her power of attraction was no matter of shame or embarrassment to her.
Making sure everyone, including her, knew what was up, I put my hands on her ass and pushed, making for a cute squeal as she flew into the crowd. Perhaps one–or possibly two, with her body–got an accidental feel, but she didn’t complain, because they behaved themselves and she was laughing too hard.
Now though, on the road through the darkness, she started pet peeving. “I could have afforded to stay at the hotel right next to the site,” she grumbled as her ass left the truck bed again. Of course that wasn’t the problem; it was the landing she didn’t like.
“It’s not a question of money,” I explained yet again (after asking if she wanted me to massage her tender area; she said she wouldn’t feel it through the denim). “Those assholes think they can charge whatever they want, and there’s no place in the world worth $900 a night, no matter where it is. Nor the $25 buffet either, but I will let them know I won’t be recommending them in my new book.”
“You’re writing a book?” She looked puzzled, then groaned and slapped her forehead. “Sheesh!”
One of the workers smiled and handed over a can of insect repellent, which made me laugh. But after that it got a little boring, since there was nothing to look at, the dawn not making an appearance yet, thankfully for my camera. It may have been only nine miles up to the site, but it was a zigzag nine miles up the mountain. I couldn’t write, more due to motion sickness than darkness, so while trying not to fall asleep, I decided to try memorizing the photography notes running through my head. But that didn’t work too well either.
“I always seem to forget in which word the extra C goes.”
She commiserated, “I know what you mean. I keep putting both words with double Cs, so I know I got at least one right.”
I was too smart to point out that she’d always get one wrong too, or would get the same effect by just having one C in each. No point in wasting time, or precious thin oxygen, on that. Besides, she was too busy smirking at me. I knew she was still being a Teutonic tease, so I pretended to ignore her. . .
Until she put her lips on mine.
At the exact moment the truck hit another bump, or pothole. And while she remarked that she was amazed she hadn’t chipped a tooth with the contact, she didn’t notice me checking my nose for breaks.
“You’re weird,” I sighed, a bit nasally.
She took that in stride. “That’s why you love me so much.”
“That doesn’t say much for either you or me.”
“Mmm-hmm. Now tell me a quote about love, right now.”
“Love is like flushing yourself down the toilet: a nice cool ride with a lot of crap at the end.”
“Oh, that’s fucking perfect!” Then she saw the guys around her grinning, and didn’t have to wonder which word they’d understood. She gave them a big fake grin, secure in the knowledge that she could handle any of them if they got difficult, or I could.
“I can sit and wait,” she told herself quietly. “I’m good at that.”
I grinned, but left it alone.
“The hard part is holding a thought, with all this bouncing.”
“I’ll skip the blonde joke, then.”
“Speaking of unusual restraint!”
I smiled and let her have that one, then jumped–not due to the truck this time–when she shrieked in his ear. “WHAT?”
“Did you see the unicorn?” she asked excitedly.
“Right there, by the side of the road!” She tried to look back, but it was too dark. “You didn’t see it?”
“Of course not,” I snorted. “And considering all the stories you told me about your one-night stands while traveling, neither should you.”
It took her a moment to catch my drift. “Ha-ha. You really didn’t see it?”
“Not even a horse or a llama.”
“Unicorns exist,” she said quietly. “I know this. . . it’s a certainty. As certain as. . . as certain as I am that you want me, that the moment we get back to the hotel. . .” She grinned, having teased me enough for the now.
I smiled, but didn’t say anything.
“You do want me, right?”
“Either you’re really insecure, have a truly horrible memory, or you’re begging for some kind of compliment. None suit you.”
She didn’t seem disappointed her game hadn’t worked. “I’ll stop wasting your time then,” she smirked, then suddenly flew off the seat. “I’d better shut up before I bite my tongue,” she giggled as she landed.
“That’s a switch, biting your own tongue.”
The blonde stuck said appendage out at him, but another jolt caused her to bite exactly that, making her grimace and me laugh.
The next few moments were spent quietly, with her no doubt checking her tongue for damage, but we both enjoyed the silence. . . well, at least I did. Not that it was a perfect silence, for despite it being under her breath and very noisy in the back of the truck, I could hear her, as if she were trying to memorize a script, repeating, “We came upon permanence, the rock that abides. . . the city upraised like a cup in our fingers.”
“Neruda, huh?”
“You’d better know that.” She looked smug.
“And did you know he wrote that about this very place?”
I checked my watch, but figured I’d wait to write down the time and place of the very first occurrence of the German babe being rendered completely speechless. I remembered reading the poem to her on the train, where after beautiful descriptions of the ruins Neruda–or rather the poem’s narrator–promised to give voice to those long-dead humble builders who’d been forced into slavery to make these amazing buildings in this austerely beautiful landscape. Before this, Neruda had been all about the examination of his private life, but with this poem he became a public voice for those who couldn’t speak for themselves.
Which of course made him a hero to easily impressionable romantic European girls, who’d already been to Italy to see where Shelly was cremated. . .

Tune in next week, where we finally get to the site and have photographic adventures!