What have I been doing for a week where most travelers spend just a day? My reason for staying in the desert lake of Huacachina was to find a couple to split the costs of the three day desert safari.
In the meantime, I’ve been sandboarding, which is a lot of fun but pretty tough to master. I’ve gone riding around in Dune buggies. I’ve wandered miles into the desert and climbed the highest dunes. As yet, I have not found any fossils, only a tiny bit of petrified wood.
My first few days, I was excited to meet people. I developed an inaccurate reputation as a ladies man among the locals for spending most of my time with attractive European women, which I discovered when the groups of middle aged men playing soccer and drinking at noon knew my name and invited me to join them. I hesitated to say that they could also spend time with such women if they didn’t spend their free time catcalling at them. I spent a fair amount of time hanging out with Alisa, the owner of my hostel. She’s a 27 year old Peruvian with a three year old son, Justin. Friendly, fun, and with pretty good English, I stayed in the slightly more expensive hostel ($7 a night rather than $5) in large because of the company of those who worked there.
As each new group of “traveler’s friends” I met stayed for lunch, or perhaps even dinner, then went off to new adventures, I stayed behind. There were the three English girls, the two Canadian scientists, the two Swiss bio-chem majors, the drunk German and the British teacher, Mike and friendly Canadian (he stayed a while too, actually,) the two German singer/musicians one of whom was named AnneMarie, and Lauren, the only American I met in Peru. It was Lauren who loaned me the phrase “Traveler’s Friends” to name the brief encounters with strangers who become “friends.”
It happens, we agreed, in part because the loneliness of travel and the distance from home tends to make people more outgoing. When a language barrier exists, they are often a bit mentally taxing, too. Yet those friends never stay long, and in most cases are never seen again. So after two days of busy mealtimes and fun trips, I withdrew within Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, sick of the same conversation ten times a day.
One morning, I took a trip to the Paracas Wildlife Preserve. A few miles offshore from the nearby fishing town of Paracas is a set of islands referred to locally as “The Poor Man’s Galapagos” for its close proximity to shore and rich diversity of wildlife. I took a tour to the island, finding birds of all sorts, including the rare and endangered Humboldt Penguin, the Black Cormorant, and the Pacific Sea Lion. What is impressive about these islands is not as much the type of wildlife as the incredible numbers of seabirds sailing and diving on ocean breezes and currents.
It was on this trip that I made one of my more useful discoveries. The Black Cormorant mates once for life, while the male Pacific Sea Lion has a harem of up to 40 females. As I watched a rock go by, I see a pair of cormorants preening each other. As we turn to the other side, a male Sea Lion and three females lounge. Then it hits me. I have been struggling these past years with the sense of monogamy I feel I want, and the sexual “diversity” that our society encourages young people today to embrace. I always felt pressure to do the latter, even though I always felt that the former was my forte.
Yet, there were the cormorant and the sea lion on the same rock exhibiting two entirely different ways of life, but both creations of nature. All this nonsense about it being “unnatural” for two people to spend their lives together flew out the window for me when I realized that nature leaves the choice up to each species. As Humans, we get to make that choice for ourselves. Some people really can’t spend their whole lives with one person, others can. This relatively obvious realization suddenly made me comfortable with all the values I hold, even those socially unpopular or taboo, which might have been one of the trip’s greatest accomplishments.
After returning to shore, I wandered in and out of the artisan shops. At the very end of a line of shacks was an artist intently focused on his latest project, fork jewelry. I watched him for a while, then realizing my group had left without me, figured I may as well ask him to teach me. Four hours later, I had learned the art of silver fork jewelry, made a new friend, and made a new bracelet.
On the way back, since my tour was gone, I figured I would try the Peruvian public transport system. For less than $5, I took a cramped 12 seat bus to nearby Pisco, a shared cab to the “Peru Bus” bus station, and a comfortable bus showing Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets back to Ica, an hour and a half away. While the experience was cheap and interesting, something happened truly worth noting.
While waiting in line for my bus ticket, I was the only tourist (gringo) around. Blue and white collar Peruvians flanked me, and a handicapped beggar wandered asking for soles. The first three gave him nothing, the fourth gave him a bit, and every single person in line after that (almost 40 people) also gave him at least a sol, often more. For all the talk about Peru lacking a national identity, I was really impressed that in a country where the customary tip for a waitress is 10% and a cabbie 0%, every Peruvian in line gave the beggar their spare change.