Hostel stories from Barranco

There is an Australian from western Sydney, with short thick and tangled light brown or blonde hair, and she has travelled in Peru four months.

Next she goes to the dominican. I do not know much about her. She is a mystery, and I am happy to keep her as one of those mysterious characters.

She cracked up at the breakfast table when the Venezualan next to me held a knife in a scary pose and I drawled, “you call that a knife?” The Australian laughed harder after the Venezualan laughed before realising she did not get the reference. (Croc Dundee mate).

Tintin’s The Prisoners of the Sun was the first Tintin I ever read and was set in Peru. He was a huge inspiration in my life. This is the book set before Prisoners. A sign?

The Venezualan is a movie maker, and she writes her first movie. She wants it to be about World War 2 and to be filmed in France, but there is a unique twist or point of view to it that I find interesting. I won’t spoil it for her, for it is her story to tell, not mine.

With English words that challenge her we talk of life and teaching. She taught film to students and loved it. They miss her. She said we make a difference to our students’ lives.

“It is lonely sometimes, here,” I said. “I not speak Spanish well so it is great to talk to people with great English. It means a lot.

“So when I teach English to students I think that one day they will make a difference in the lives of the next strangers to visit Peru. They might save that person’s life. I am paying it forward.”

She frowned at the loneliness part and wanted me to clarify, and then acknowledged this…”you are here to find youself, she said.

“You are here to….oh, what is the word?” She turned to the man at the end of the table and asked him a question in Spanish.

“Recognise,” he said.

“Yes,” she faced me again and grinned. “You are here to recognise yourself.”

She asks how old I am and like everyone else seems so surprised I am 28. Everyone thinks i am younger. “How old do you think I am?” She asks.

A dangerous game to play with a woman who held a knife minutes before, but I guess 27. Then she asks the French Canadian next to us. He looks like he could be a professor, with his quiet mannerism and accent and round rim glasses, except for the tattoos on his arm.

“You paid the ticket, enjoy the ride,” his right arm tells me in grim cursive. His beard is surprisingly thick while being so short, and he guesses she is 24. But she is 30.

The French canadian is my age. We reflect on how everyone we travel with seems to be a lot younger than us. We met the night before when he came up excitedly to say, ‘I hear there is an Aussie here!”

He is planning to visit the country next year to do the harvest trails and picking cherries. He is going to Tasmania.

Boys don’t cry. But men do.

Then there is the couple who shared my room. He was born in South Africa and has brighter blue eyes than I do, but has spent his time in Holland, and was ranked as a captain in the military. She made her money from modelling but wanted to do something different, and to keep her money lasting ventured into pet sitting. She is beautiful and I can see someone that in the 20s might have owned a few catwalks or the cameras attention, but has over time gained softer features without losing her beauty.

There is an elegance to her in the hostel without it being over the top glamour. She wears a sun dress while the rest of us lounge about in jeans and v-necks.

They have travelled across South America for six months together on their motorbikes, but one of them was confiscated at the Bolivian border. They made a trailer for their second bike in Argentina to carry everything.

Life, they say, is a challenge together in the extreme conditions, having previously only seen each other on their weekends, but if they can make it together then they know they can last.

“We have seen everything,” she says, talking about their closeness. They leave for Los Angeles that night to hike more trails further in the north. “The trail we are walking was in a movie called Wild,” she explained.

Military helps him with the outdoors and sensing what does not feel right, but while life is at its most extreme for her right now, is efficient at organising and planning ahead.

“She is my Lietenant,” the captain said proudly, and they seem pleased when I call them the Guerillas.

“Goodbye,” I said to them, once dreaming to do what they could do but now knowing I just did not have the interest or the courage or the willingness to cut ties from certain comforts. “I am jealous of what you have been doing and what you are about to do.”

And there was a glow in their blue eyes, as if I had reminded them of something.

Getting drunk and talking crap

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Welcome to the place I live. This is Huanchaco. Photo: Adriaan Bornman.

I ASKED a friend from Indiana, America, if she could interview me while I was affected by a bottle of red wine. Michaela was happy to oblige so last night we talked about the differences between America and Australia, life in Peru, the housemates, and what it’s like being a journalist.

I’m quite ashamed about some parts. Warning: bullshit overload.

M: Okay. This would be a lot easier if the interviewer was drunk too.

I tell myself that every day when I’m at work.

M: Let’s talk about your job then. Why did you want to become a journalist?

There was a girl I liked in high school and we were English rivals trying to compete with each other. She became a journalist but that’s not really why I ended up becoming a journalist. It was a coincidence.

I don’t know.

In Year 6 my English teacher was a very irate Irishman where his manner of teaching was yelling at everyone. He was a substitute teacher. Our actual Year 6 teacher got cancer so she had to take the rest of the year off, so this Irishman took us.

And during his many rants he said ‘you guys should be a journalist because my son or cousin or whatever, he does journalism and he makes $100,000 Aus a year’, which is a lot of money, and very high up in the food chain, but it planted a seed.

With that girl ending up being a journalist, when I was floating and drifting in a Bachelor of Arts, journalism just seemed to fit me. And it took a couple of years of being a journalist before I went ‘yeah, this is me’.

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Interviewing famous Australian philanthropist Dick Smith, and radio presenter ‘Macca’, while they visit the remote Carpentaria Gulf island of Mornington Island. Photo: Brad Thompson. 

M: What do you like most about being a journalist, and what do you like least?

When I was living in a small town it stokes your ego a lot. It does. Because you’re living in a small town, a lot of people know your face and they need you to a point. You are a necessity in a way because you carry their message on to a lot of people. It does make a difference in people’s lives sometimes. When people in the community read stuff in the newspaper it becomes real to them. So ….it makes a difference in people’s lives. I don’t know if that makes sense.

But that’s the worst part as well because you’re that intermediate aspect, you’re the translator. Sometimes it’s good things but sometimes it’s bad things as well. You’re translating the emotions as well. And if you absorb emotion it can be a hellish thing.

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Photographing a former Minister of Industry, Ian Macfarlane. He became the Queensland Resources Council’s CEO. Photo: QRC. 

If it’s a good emotion, which it rarely is, that’s nice, but if the person you’re translating from to the whole community is feeling pain, misery, loss, especially loss from death, you’re absorbing that entire emotion and carrying it onto the rest of the community. If the community doesn’t understand that emotion, you didn’t absorb that either.

I love my job. Well, I loved the job  I used to have. It made me feel important. It made me feel good about what I did. But that’s another bad thing about the job, it didn’t leave much room for anything else.

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Taking pics at a street parade in Cloncurry. Photo: Julie Guteridge. 

M: Stereotypes now, if we wanted to switch to a lighter topic. I feel the majority of  Americans think Australians are arseholes.

Really?

M: Yeah.

Ha! Well, we kind of are.

M: We make fun of your accents.

Australians have this weird perception everyone in the world loves them. When you travel the world a bit you realise that’s bullshit. It’s funny though, because we think Americans are arseholes too, but lazy minded arseholes. I know that sounds disrespectful….

M: No, be honest. Go for it.

Well, this is me talking, not any other Australian. Donald Trump becoming President for instance. Donald Trump isn’t the problem. Donald Trump is the symptom of it, he is the specific typical American every Australian sees.

M: I literally never thought about it like that, but it makes sense.

It’s horrible to hear. But he’s the stereotype of Americans.

M: Like racist? Sort of full of themselves? Okay.

I shouldn’t nod, it doesn’t match the recording, but yes.

M: I can see that.

It’s not a nice thing though.

M: Not really, but I see it.

But bearing in mind I’ve never been to America in my life.

M: And I’ve never been to Australia, so.

We’re arseholes, why would you come to Australia?

M: Australia is beautiful.

So I’ve been told. And America is beautiful. So I’ve been told.

M: You were talking about Gossip Girl. I feel like Hollywood kind of makes a little bit of a fake image of America. Everything you see on TV, it’s not really that dramatic. I don’t know how to explain it.

Can I try to?

M: Yeah.

With something like Gossip Girl you have an hour segment to create as much drama as you can. The problem is the real world doesn’t work like that. You’re trying to condense everything into as much as you can, and the problem is with something like Gossip Girl you’re talking about the one per cent privileged, the children of the wealthy-wealthy which is everything I’d like to think Australians are dead set against. I’d like to think so. We like to pretty much give the finger to anyone in that one per cent. I’d like to think that.

M: Why do you think it’s like that.

We’ve got something called the tall poppy syndrome where anyone that is above everybody else is quickly pulled down back into line. It’s a bad thing, it’s a good thing to a degree, but it’s a bad thing. Anyone with ambition or aspires to anything is quickly pulled back down into line.

M: You all see people as equals?

I don’t know what it’s like in America, but if you’re the only one that takes a taxi , your instinct is to take the passenger seat in the front. Is that anything like in America? You wouldn’t take the back if you can help it if you’re on your own. And you try to have a conversation with them, ‘how is your day going?’ because that driver is as equal as you are.

M: Okay, I think that’s a bit different in the US. I feel people take the back seat because they don’t want the conversation.

Where in Australia I feel obligated to take the front seat so we can have a conversation.

M: Is it the thing again where Australians are more friendly, more outgoing maybe?

I don’t know if we’re outgoing as such. It’s just nobody is better than anybody else. I’d like to think that. This might be a journalist speaking, but I’d like to think I can step into a room with the Prime Minister (Malcolm Turnbull. And sober-Chris while editing this has to admit I’m full of shit.) and have a genuine, down to earth conversation with him. Could you say the same thing about President Trump?

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M: Absolutely not…So tell me about this legendary Australian animal, the Wazzaberry.

The Wazzabarry? I told a couple of South Africans about that ….I told them about the Wazzabarry because, I don’t know, I just wanted to brag about Australian bullshit.

 

M: If you told me a story about an animal like that I probably would believe you.

The Wazzabarry is essentially a creature of the desert that comes out when it rains. It’s kind of like the bilby. And it’s a very carnivorous beast. It’s one of nature’s miracles. Imagine it’s all foggy, misty, nighttime in the desert and there’s nobody around. It’s very beautiful. It’s like the great northern lights in its way, because the Wazzabarry has silk worms up its butt and it shines this bright light, it’s a mating call, and there’s a bunch of them that comes out every couple of years, and it’s beautiful, you know. I’ve seen it once.

It just makes you cry because of the lights that just shines out of its arsehole. It’s silkworms, or something. It’s like a mating call, like ‘take me,  I’m yours.’ You know? Very unknown creature.

M: Okay.

You Americans have to come to Australia some time to see something like that. It changes your life once you see it. Like, no going back.

M: Are there any other animals like that?

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Photo credit: Volker Janssen. 

We have the drop bear and that’s a well known creature.

Many Americans have died. It’s a travesty. We don’t really need to remind ourselves of that. It’s terrible.

M: Do they only attack Americans?

Yeah, they are pretty racist.

M: What do you think of Peru so far?

It’s brought out my demons.

M: Which demons?

Well, there’s Jasper. And Jeremy –

M: Oh no.

Ha ha ha. No. Fuck that.

There’s aspects of it that really tires and exhausts me, and I think I’m at the point where I’m trying to acclimatise and cling to the things that are Australian. I cling to Australian food and Australian experiences like certain shows on Netflix. And it exhausts me in a way. A week ago I really wanted to go back, and it’s the wrong feeling really.  I’m a writer so it makes sense to stick to the experiences here.

It’s the unexpected things that are great.  It’s the things you don’t anticipate. You walk down the street and see something like a traditional dance going on, and you walk down the street and it blows your mind, it’s amazing, you say ‘I’m in Peru’.

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Sometimes you go to a restaurant and get a really delicious meal for a cheap price, and you think ‘I’m in Peru.’ You walk down the street and for one moment you gaze at a girl on the street. She has the most beautiful eyes, she wears the most beautiful dress, and for one single moment you lock eyes with her and you both smile. You don’t know each other’s languages but you walk past each other. You’re in Peru.

The gender can translate there.

M: Are you happy with your housemates?

In terms of what do I think of Amy and Nicola and Adriaan and guest appearance Michaela? Um…they teach me a lot without having to do too much to do so. They have their own perspective having lived in their own countries, each own challenges me in their own way, while I still feel comfortable in my own place.

I hope I didn’t sound too much like an arsehole, but if I did it’s still me anyway.