Today, my niece Shauna called me from Peru… Do you know that I once lived there? In the early ‘70s, I taught English at an elementary school in the southern part of the country… my very first job! Shauna has just completed a 3 month research period in the Peruvian Amazon. I traveled there as well, and from her accounts, the character of the region has changed little in the elapsed 40 years.
I remember that the schedule said it would take 12 hours to make the distance from Lima to Pucalpa. All of my pictures of Peru have been lost, but these ones, lifted from Google Images look very much like the memories I have… vehicles lined up for miles because of washouts! We spent a total of 72 hours getting stuck, pushing the bus, and sliding off the road an uncountable number of times… the mud caked so thickly in the wheel wells that the tires could barely turn.
After a couple of days recuperating in the steamy river town, we got on board a barge that delivered us, five days later, to Iquitos. What a voyage! On that cramped deck there were travelers from about 20 different countries. We communicated with one another in what I called, a linguistic relay… For example, Martin, an English guy wanted to speak to the Czech girl; so he first talked to me in English… In Spanish, I asked the Argentinean guy to pass on the message to a German fellow who could speak Czech…
A memory that will stay with me till my grave is of my young self, eyes closed, toes dangling off the edge of the boat, muddy water from the Ucayali River spraying my body… Someone had a tape recorder and Cat Steven’s “Moon Shadow” was playing over and over again… That marked the first of many times that I felt immersed in something magical.
“In the end, I got all the information I needed, and much more valuable than data – an experience that has left an imprint on my soul forever. Like one of the PhD students here said – there’s just something about this place, that when you’re in the thick of it, you can’t wait to get out, but once you leave – you long to get back…”
Peru did that to me too… it imprinted Latin America indelibly on my soul. I read once that, “Travel is a pilgrimage – an inward as much as an outward journey.” That’s so very true, isn’t it Shauna?