Life is a dream. A thread of experiences, woven in a veil, delicate and beautiful. I would not lift it from my eyes, nor could I.
Not three days ago, after ascending the fearful but glorious Incan granite that leads to the peak of Wayna Picchu, I arrive to the summit. A winded mess.
There, upon the highest stone, jutting with ignoble pride towards the heavens, stands a rather flummoxed and middle-aged Italian woman. She wears a horizontally striped shirt, thick black and white stripes. Her short blond hair, vexed by breeze and sweat, strands of it blow left and right like ragged anemones, or perhaps urchin spikes.
The Peruvian park ranger politely indicates to the lady, albeit with some degree of annoyance in his eyes, that she is taking too long. She’s been standing there waving her arms around, looking somewhat agitated for quite some time. 5 minutes. Eternity. One of those two.
I am waiting by the mountain’s capstone—that I may, upon it, taketh for the Internets, a selfie.
The woman objects. “2 more minutes,” she says.
“Enough pictures!” he says.
She ignores him, and with crusty hands, brushes the air away beside her, as though the motion will erase his face from the scene. Or perhaps his existence. She takes out some kind of tired-looking protein bar, and stares down this dude standing next to me who is, incidentally, wearing a goofy sun. He’s wielding a smartphone.
“Eat [ ]. It works harder, faster, longer than the other protein bars. It’s the best protein bar.”
It’s almost like she’s pleading with a 2-year old to eat his broccolini.
Her friend checks the recording…looks like it took. She dismounts. I clamber up fast as I can, and before I can even snap a few quickies, the other two men she’s with jostle up beside me and get inside my 6-ft safety bubble. Better snap quick.
My selfie skills do not do it justice, but I’m glad to stash a few pixels of the moment away for later. For ever.
Hours later, I am back to Niños Hotel in Cusco. The whole thing is surreal.
Twitter is blowing up because a pandemic is sweeping the world. It feels like a moment in history, utterly disorienting and powerful with fear. The conference, the big important conference, where I was going to present not one, but two(!) full papers, has been canceled. One of them even got an award!
Now, no more presentations. People are dying. Hospitals are brimming. All travel is banned to Europe, I learn, as of now.
I think about it for a few minutes. I’m supposed to spend the week writing my next paper in Lima. I’m supposed to have some time away from home, to be free of the banal distractions that hook the mind and stunt the creativity.
Instead, I book a new one-way ticket back home, immediately. I cannot get stuck here. I have to be where the people I love are. My fur babies need me.
Cusco → Lima. Lima → Ft. Lauderdale.
Sixteen-hour layover in Ft. Lauderdale.
Sixteen hours, I sit in that airport. Maybe 1 in 10 people is wearing a surgical mask. I can’t stop reading Twitter. Everything is insane. Everything is insane. I’m supposed to be working, writing that paper…but everything is insane.
Ft. Lauderdale → Minneapolis.
I am home now, moved to tears with the splendor of what I have seen. I trekked through the Andes for 4 beautiful days! Alpacas, horses, sheep! Porters, super chef, our enthusiastic trek guide, Roro! Julio, the farmer in Cancha Cancha—with a miniature herd of guinea pigs in his stone hut, a sweet mama cat with two mangy kittens, and a few unkempt dogs—he showed me how to plant potatoes in the mountains! Machu Picchu, Wayna Picchu, Maras Salt Mines!
Perhaps most importantly, somewhere on Instagram, there’s an Italian lady who has rigorously demonstrated the merits of the world’s superlative protein bar.
My veil, this beautiful veil, in a moment I can’t possibly forget.