16 November 2010

Points South, Far South

COLUMBUS--I think we decided that Peru was our first destination as a couple (other than Chanute, Kansas to visit the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum) even before we got engaged. Kristina had been saving frequent flyer miles since she was in college and figured we had almost enough for South America. We had talked, of course, about Guatemala and Honduras but decided we might as well travel somewhere neither of us had been before. I suggested Ecuador, the South American country I had been longest fascinated by and she tossed back Peru.

We began buying Peru books and I realized I had read more about the country than I had thought. Besides holding the heartland of the Inca empire, Peru contains the remains of other, far more ancient civilizations. The country is twice the size of Texas and contains some of the highest mountains, driest desert and deepest jungle in the world.

The main attractions for tourists are in the southern part of the huge country and nearly everyone asks, when they hear where we are going, "So, off to Machu Picchu? Cuzco is a great city." And one of the places I have wanted to see ever since I was a map-obsessed kid is Lake Titicaca, the largest high-altitude lake in the world. And then, along the southern coast are the Nazca lines, enormous monkeys and jaguars and straight paths, miles long, etched in the desert in a land that receives almost no rainfall, ever.

However, perhaps perversely, we decided to go north, off the main gringo trail, to a series of locations that will include jungle and mountains, Inca and pre-Inca ruins and the northern coastal Sechura desert. I think the main reason we decided to go north is to stay in the city of Paita. Why Paita? Because that, dear reader, is where Bogart and Bacall end up at the end of the rather bizarre classic film, "Dark Passage." Yes, that's why. Of course it is the oldest Spanish port on the Pacific and a few other things but there is no other real reason. It's barely in the movie and I am sure what is shown as Paita at the end of "Dark Passage" is really California. But I suppose it the idea of Paita as a place at the end of the world that is the attraction, the idea of going somewhere simply because it is there, because there is nothing grand there.

Neither of us really know what to expect. We'll have to go to these places--Lima, Terapoto, Chachapoyas, Keulap, Paita and the rest to find out. We finished packing our bags last night, two black packs and two Domke bags now lie in the living room waiting to be picked up. We have new shots and vaccinations and the Larium (Mefloquone) is coursing through our veins to ward off the malaria. I've taken the milder Chloroquine many times before but the strains in Peru are Chloroquine resistant. I have heard many stories about Larium nightmares before. Multiple people told me about them and that they usually involve snakes and fire. Last night, after my third Monday Larium I had a nightmare. Mine involved an enraged moose chasing me through a cabin. Moose. Why'd it have to be moose...? At least it wasn't a fire-breathing moose.

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