Since today is Halloween, I suppose it would be fitting to tell a scary story. The macabre spirit has taken over in Peru as well as the States, judging by the fake spider webs and black and orange decorations draping the store fronts. Tomorrow is an even bigger holiday here: The Day of the Dead (or All Saint’s Day, as Sister Jackie likes to correct us). So dear readers, sit back, grab a bowl of candy corn, and enjoy the true (and truly terrifying) tale of how I narrowly escaped the grim reaper.
Two of my roommates, Romana and Mark, and I decided to take a break from the constant cloudiness of springtime in Lima. Our weekend trip to Punta Sal required a short flight from Lima to Tumbes, the northern most departamento of Peru, on the border with Ecuador. The plane was not alarmingly small. We boarded and taxied punctually. The three of us, all seated next to each other in a row, chatted and laughed and planned our next few days on the beach as the plane began to accelerate along the runway. We reached near-top speed, the kind that vibrates and deafens the plane with the sound of the engines. At about the time I expected the plane to lift off of the ground, the pilot suddenly slammed the breaks and we jolted forward in our seats. The plane screamed to a halt and veered slightly. The three of us, by this time, had gasped and grabbed each other with both hands, then sat paralyzed with fear. After a minute of stunned silence, the pilot said something apologetically over the loudspeaker about there being another plane on the runway that we had to swerve. Another plane. Sitting idly on the runway. In the dark. Why, Lima?
The fright ended there, for the most part (aside from a near collision in our taxi ride back to the airport Sunday night). The rest of the weekend in Punta Sal was full of beauty, relaxation, pisco, and laughter. Lucky for us, we visited in the off-season, meaning the beach was generally empty aside from a few other visitors (and the occasional bus full of locals and their children, who only seemed to stay for a few hours at a time). I spent a lot of time walking up and down the shore, digging my toes into the gold-flaked sand, scooping up hermit crabs and starfish, and watching the fishing boats bob on the water.
We stayed at a hostel on the beach owned by an incredibly sweet couple (and inhabited by two incredibly mischievous dogs). The balcony outside of our room looked over the ocean, and we fell asleep to the sounds of crashing waves every night. We ate fresh grilled fish, ceviche, chicken and beef kabobs, and fresh squeezed juice every day. I bathed in the sun for hours and listened to Chino y Nacho on my iPod without a care in the world… until I looked at the backs of my legs in the mirror later in the evening. I am now half-human, half-lobster. Trick or Treat?
Given their proximity to the equator and my concern for the well-being of fellow pale persons, I am considering contacting the hostel to recommend they post the following sign in the back patio:
ATTENTION GRINGOS: Have you applied your sunscreen? Yes, you have? Good. Now, turn around, march back to your room, and apply two more layers before you even think about approaching the beach.
All of the downtime and relative solitude (compared to a house full of volunteers and a school full of toddlers back in Lima) provided time to think, or not think, and just sit. I tried to reflect on my four weeks in Peru. I tried to come up with some theme or explanation to tie together the simultaneous and contradictory feelings I’ve been experiencing, but there was no magic answer. The only thing that kept reemerging in my mind was an unexpected nostalgia and longing for Boston and Harvard, in the oddest of all places. One night, I dreamed that I was talking to a young man who was entering his second year at Harvard. I begged him to take it slow, to take it all in, to explore everything, because it would all go by so quickly. I woke up nearly in tears wishing I could go back and fill in the blanks of my own college experience. Obviously, that’s impossible. I can’t go back, but I can follow my own dream’s advice and take this experience slowly.
So I’ll let the processing and the answers come on their own time. I’ll continue to laugh, explore, dance, pisco, and play. As for my Halloween costume, I’m torn between being a lobster or an Olsen twin. I’ll keep you posted.
More pictures of Punta Sal can be viewed here.