Waiting in Nazca…

The ancient plastic chair groaned in protest as my dad plopped down next to me disturbing the thin layer of dust that seemed to settle on everything in town.  I was reclining in my own relic of a chair with my feet propped up on my dusty, overloaded backpack settling in for what we knew would be a long wait.  The sun was already getting low in the sky, stretching long shadows across the dirt lot beside the run-down metal and brick building that passed for a bus station in these parts.  The buses that traverse the Pan American Highway through South America were notorious for running on no schedule whatsoever.  Our intrepid bus was already an hour late and not a living soul could tell us when it might make an appearance, “Es coming….no problem.”  We didn’t care, it was all part of the adventure.

It was toward the end of our first week of a month long trip through southern Peru.  My dad and I had spent the last couple of days in the despairingly dry deserts around Nazca.  We’d made a friend the first day in town who served as our guide and chauffeur, happily driving us around town in his faded blue American-made muscle car that belched thick black smoke with every throaty rev of it’s powerful engine.  Like most people we met in Peru, he seemed genuinely happy to show us around “his” town and share his local knowledge.

Dad in the Deserts outside Nazca Peru

After a simple breakfast near the hostel our new friend had taken us out to the local air field where we took a small, private plane on a flight tour over the Nazca Lines.  Afterward, he offered to drive us out to one of the few hills that offered an elevated view of the lines from the ground.  Our driver patiently waited for us and even offered to climb up the hill and take our picture, the whole time telling us stories about the area.  When we cruised back in to town we grabbed a bite to eat and made our way to the bus station to check in and wait for our ride.  We’d had a long day and Dad and I were every bit as dusty and tired as the rest of this old desert town.

Dad and I near the Nazca Lines

A common thread in our travels through South America were locals enthusiastic about helping us with our Spanish.  My language skills were decent but my dad struggled with sentence structure and pronunciation to the great amusement of our hosts.  But no matter where we were, they would greet our halting, butchered attempts at conversation with a friendly smile and patience.  Settling in at the bus station was no different and as more people filtered in to wait for their ride we soon found ourselves attempting a clunky conversation in broken Spanish with a friendly local.

I had been studying Spanish in preparation for our trip, but this early in country I was still fumbling with the language.  Still, I was doing better than Dad, so as the conversation played out I tried to translate for him as best as I could.  Our guy was a local worker who commuted back and forth from the mountains to the lowlands.  He asked us the usual questions about where we were from and how we were related.  But soon I was in over my head and with the conversation in danger of a slow death a woman who was sitting nearby started to help translate.  It turned out she was a Canadian who had been in South America for the last two years teaching English on her way to the southern tip of Chile.  Soon, she had moved in to our circle and joined the conversation as we all introduced ourselves and told our stories.

With the Canadian helping the flow of conversation we learned that our Spanish speaking local was there with a friend, a local Quechua who only spoke his native language.  Not wanting to be left out from what was quickly turning into a very entertaining event, he joined the conversation telling jokes and laughing with us as his buddy translated for him.  It was now dark and the weak, flickering florescent lights cast their unnatural glow on us from overhead.  Our Quechua friend introduced a 2 liter bottle of Coca-Cola and took a big swig, topping it off with Rum before passing it around.  With every pass of the 2-liter we would drain a portion of the bottle and when it made it back to our Quechua friend he would top it off with Rum.

Street scene in Nazca Peru

Our laughter grew louder and our stories more animated as we became more comfortable with the conversation being translated from English to Spanish to Quechua and back again.  The Rum flowed as we all shared jokes and stories and laughed as if we were old friends.  The bus was over four hours late arriving at the bus station that night but we didn’t mind.  We shook hands and slapped each other on the back in farewell as we boarded and soon we were sleeping as the big bus rumbled it’s way through the night down the dark highway.

Many months later,  my dad and I were rehashing details about the trip when I realized that our last day in Nazca had been his birthday.  I suddenly felt guilty for letting it slip my mind and not wishing him a happy birthday, getting him a gift or doing something special.  As I apologized to him he began laughing at me, his big hearty laugh that was always so contagious and said, “Don’t be sorry, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  That night at the bus stop in Nazca was the best birthday I’ve ever had.”

A couple of years before he died, my dad told me how grateful he was that I had invited him to go to Peru with me, and many other adventures after that.  It meant a lot to him that I would want to share those trips with “my dad”.  I had to explain to him that it never really was about sharing the trip with “my dad”, it was more about inviting the best partner I could think of in any adventure.  I just happened to luck out that the best guy for the job happened to be my father.  I hope he understood how amazingly grateful I was that he made the time to travel with me.

He is missed, and every new adventure reminds me of him.  It’s not very often you can find someone who greets challenge and adversity with a hearty laugh and a smile and is game to try anything at least once.

Happy Father’s Day…

Dad in Peru overlooking the valley

The Infamous Tarantula Story…

Like all great stories, this tale has been told countless times and never the same way twice.  In true storyteller fashion, I wrote this as close as I could to how I would tell the story in person.

This story takes place in a bathroom…proceed with caution…

 

In September of 1998 my dad and I visited Peru.  After a couple weeks in South America, we managed to land a great room in a small, family owned bed-and-breakfast-style place in Cuzco.  It was one of the cleanest places we’d stayed in and the owners were the nicest people you could ever meet.

Our second day in Cuzco we took a bus out to one of the many spectacular Inca ruin sites surrounding the city and spent the day hiking, shopping in local markets and taking endless photographs.  We returned to the hotel tired and sunburned.

My dad retired to the porch to browse through our guidebook and scope out possibilities for dinner and I dropped my gear on the bed and went straight to the bathroom (it had been a long day of eating strange and unusual food).  I closed and locked the door behind me, walked across the bathroom, dropped my drawers and sat down.

I was not afforded more than a few seconds of peace before I caught movement out of the corner of my eye in the direction of the door.  My gaze shifted toward the movement and my pulse immediately doubled.  Any attempt at relaxation was now out of the question.

A gigantic, reddish-brown, hairy, 8-legged intruder was IN MY BATHROOM…and he was looking at me.  Now, for someone who can get a little stage fright when I know two eyes are watching me, this guy and his 8 beady little eyes made me crazy nervous.  I sat there frozen, pants around my ankles, with a spider larger than my fist fixated on me.

It really is amazing when in a situation like this, the brain starts working in over time.  I recalled all the information I had ever learned about tarantulas: they can jump distances up to six feet (about the length of an average bathroom!), the hairs that cover their bodies can have irritating toxins in them (nice little defense mechanism), the smaller brown ones are usually the more aggressive varieties (this, especially, I recalled), and they will usually leave you alone if you leave them alone.

This last one was important.  “You stay there, and I’ll stay here and finish my business and we don’t have to have a problem…”

THEN IT MOVED.

Tarantulas can move amazingly fast (especially the highly aggressive, brown, man-eating, attack tarantulas).  It was a slight movement, maybe a foot or so, but there were two very important and worrisome facts about its movement: it was unexpected, and it was in my direction.

This effectively ended any business I was attempting.  I was now focused on my 8-legged problem.

I considered calling out for help, briefly, but with the door locked and my dad out of earshot, that was a ridiculous and short-lived notion.  I still had distance on my side and held out hope that my visitor didn’t want to be any closer to me than I wanted to be to him (or her, more than likely).

IT MOVED AGAIN.

The creepiness of a spider’s movement is lost in observing smaller spiders.  When the spider is tiny and scurries across a rock, or up a tree it’s just a spider.  Watching the large spiders move, especially when they move fast, is unnerving.  It’s a very alien form of locomotion and, well, it creeps me out.  I’ve never really been afraid of spiders, but I’m not a big fan…especially of the super-aggressive, brown, poisonous, flying Peruvian spiders.

It’s really close.  If it moves again it will be within arms reach.  I’m now very concerned about my exit strategy.  I can’t get very far, very fast with my pants around my ankles and my foe is sitting (aggressively) between me and sweet freedom.  Maybe it’s not my foe?  Maybe it wants to be friends?  Maybe it just needs some attention, like a puppy?  I’m in a small, locked room with my pants down…I am not looking to make friends.

IT FUCKING MOVED AGAIN!

CODE RED.  I need a plan.  This clearly aggressive, deadly, man-eating beast is hell bent on killing me…I’m sure of it.  It’s now WELL within arms reach, which also means it’s close enough to leap at me at any second.  I can easily picture it’s eight gangly, hairy, outstretch legs as it is flying through the air, fangs dripping with paralyzing toxin.  I nervously look around the bathroom for a weapon, tools, a shield, an escape hatch, an eject button….anything.

On the sink, just outside of my reach is a glass.  SALVATION.  It’s not a large glass, it’s a typical bathroom glass you’d find in most any hotel bathroom.  I look at the glass with the same incredulity that David must have had when he looked at his pebble before slinging it at Goliath.  I can use the glass to trap the beast, I just have to put the glass over it.  As I grab the glass and hold it I think, “really?  That’s your plan?  What if it moves?  What if you miss?”

The next time it moved I didn’t even have a chance to see it.  I grabbed the glass and when I looked back down I almost jumped off the toilet.  This crazy bastard was inches from my crumpled pants and I swear I could hear it growling at me (I admit this might have been my imagination).

I had to act fast.

I positioned the ridiculously tiny glass over the massive spider.  I slowly and nervously lowered the glass until I was as close as I could get.  My guest was getting wise to my plan, he took an aggressive stance, feet up in the air, ready for the fight.

I slammed the glass down.

The insanely wild, spastic, explosion of energy that followed was enough to rattle the glass in my hand.  Once the wild dance was over, I was still reluctant to remove my hand from the glass…confident that the monster I had imprisoned would easily toss his glass cage aside and seek revenge.  I slid the glass as far away from me as possible to give me room to get up without risk of tipping the glass and unleashing an angry demon of a spider.

New problem.  Now that I have a spider-in-a-glass, what am I going to do with it?

I quickly found some postcards we had bought and decided I could slide the postcard under the glass and transport my prisoner to a more desirable location.  Sliding the postcard under the glass sparked another energetic frenzy from my reluctant inmate.

“Hey Dad, look what I found!”  My dad’s eyes grew wide once he realized what I had in my hands, followed by some selective swearing.  Out on the patio, several stories above a small garden, we decided the best course of action was to release the beast.  I positioned the glass beyond the rail and with one swift motion I flung the spider away.

Later that day, I had a conversation with the owner of the house about the incident.  Explaining, in my broken Spanish, the ordeal with the “Araña grande” using my open hand to express it’s size.  I was promptly, and urgently asked if I had killed it.  When I told the anxious proprietor I had not, I was definitively informed that I should have.

I got little sleep for the rest of my stay there waiting for my nemesis to hunt me down and exact it’s evil revenge.

tarantula