Among the living and the dead

cover picA minute after taking this photo from these ruins, a group of drunken men lounging behind a house greeted me. Two of them walked up to speak to me, and they were slurring their speech. To be fair, their English and my Spanish were terrible, so it’s hard to tell they were slurring, but for the unfocused eyes and the alcohol breath.

They taught me an extension of the local handshake. First your hands slightly touch as if you almost shake hands, then you fist bump, and then the addition: bend your arm to connect to the other’s elbow.

They asked me for money, I think, and I pretended I had no idea what they were saying, and I said goodbye to my day drinking amigos, and returned to the city. And I found myself in lost laneways for a while.

In these lost laneways a little girl in a red jacket cautiously opened a gate and entered the laneway on her own. She walked in front and kept staring at me cautiously. Finally I said ‘Hola!’ to be polite, but she said nothing.


It was like she was a little Quechua red riding hood on her way to her grandma’s house round the corner – who may have been warned to beware of the wolf.

And I was the wolf to her. The stranger. The danger. The tall brown haired man in a dark shirt. As she gazed at me a moment before knocking on another doorway, I gained the feeling I did not belong here. I didn’t. I was not a part of this world, but that’s okay – I never expected to be. That’s how I knew I had come to the right place.

I was supposed to be on a day trip to the mountains and had paid money for it. But I woke up this morning and my legs were sore from my last gym session with a personal trainer. And my phone was flat. And I wanted to find a padlock to buy to protect my stuff (there’s a long list of stuff I forgot to bring that would have saved me money and time). A volunteer at the hostel said “oh yeah, I know where to buy a lock. Go up the stairs down the lane and keep walking up until you pass a bridge and there’s a lady who sells them on the street.”


So it all came down to instructions I had listened to, to track down a lady. I didn’t find her. And everyone I asked were helpful but kept pointing me different directions. Everything was for sale! There was even a shop dedicated to fire extinguishers. But no padlocks. Honestly it would have been easier to track down a Charizard on Pokemon GO. But finally a store owner pointed me in a direction and said “cinco” so I guessed that’s how many blocks I had to walk.

He was precise. I found myself in a crowded street of products being sold, from fruits to corn to recently harvested crops still on the plant. And I found my padlock eventually.

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I went to the museum  Arqueologico de Ancash. All the exhibits were explained in Spanish so most of the time I had no idea what I was looking at so I think I’m just going to have to show you some photos.

I can’t show you photos of the exhibits of the top floor – of a mummy and skulls that look like they had been trepanned. Mostly I get to just show you the basic pottery.

But this was the Peru I imagined seeing, having loved the Herge comics Tintin.

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But there was a garden out the back with the statues and chairs to sit down on. And I sat and it was honestly the nicest and most relaxing place I have been since I arrived in this mountain city.

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I could see the snow of the mountains and it was too bright for my eyes. I couldn’t stare for long. I felt a little dizzy too. Outside the fence locals passed on by and it occurred to me that I was in the middle of a balance – witnessing two Perus. I was seeing the living and the world around me and even the archaeologists of the future wouldn’t be able to say for sure what this feels like. And then I was there too, among the relics of the past. And no matter what I would never understand them for the contexts of why they were made, and how the people experienced their lives, and most importantly; how they saw themselves.