Who’s the Old Bitch now?

A street in Cusco

We found a really nice little spot on the main square of Machu Picchu village. A small place, with tables outside. Ranj is in an uncharacteristically good mood. Very upbeat. Kicking the smoking habit has finally become easier, I think, and we’re both feeling quite good after a day’s exercise.

Wooden tables and chairs. Small little space, about the size of a small lounge, painted green inside, with the fragrant food appearing from behind a lacy curtain. Woven wicker lamps, dim, hanging low over the wooden tables covered with brightly coloured Peruvian cloth. Fairy lights strung in rows in the window above. Vinegar in glass bottles, in which whole bunches of grapes float, on each table.

A small, smiling, Spanish speaking waitress takes care of us, dilligent and careful to get the order just right, despite our broken communication.

Our food is delicious – proper vegetarian stew with lentils, potatoes and beans, a mound of rice, a side salad and a slice of lime, which I squeeze over everything on my plate. The lime aroma hits my nostrils, fills my head, and I’m filled with the smells of cool mountain air, food from various restaurants, the wine, the wood from the tables, the smells of Peru.

Our conversation is light and fun. The glass of wine is excellent. I’m feeling really good after the day’s hike, the things I’d seen, the quiet time I had had with my journal, the shower. And now, sitting here in the village square at night, so beautifully lit, everything taking on an orange hue against the dark night, music floating across the square from a small community centre at the far end, the whole world seems just perfect. Children are playing around the Inca statue in the middle of the square, and I remember what a treat it was to be playing outside after dark when I was a child. My face smiles without my permission.

I ask Ranj who the sweet girl is who had sent him the carved wooden heart that he carries around with him. His eyes light up. She’s a girl he had met in France. They had spoken only once in person. Since then they had been on Facebook and sms, Skype, webcam – wow! When I was dating we had the telephone. Or we had to wait for the week-end.

She had wanted him to come to Europe, he says, but he had already made arrangements to come to Peru with me. She was miffed. Put out. Not too fond of me, apparently. To appease her, he must have reassured her that we were just friends, that I’m married, that I’m ten years older – no, actually, fifteen – than he is. Which, in turn, inspired her to refer to me as the Old Bitch and, later, as the full name clearly took to much time to key in, the OB.

Whooph! Boy! There goes a perfectly good evening!

‘But … that’s horrible!’ I say, feeling quite smacked in the face, the stew doing a little squeaky twist in my stomach.

‘Yeah,’ he laughs. ‘It is a bit mean. But it’s quite funny!’

I’m not sure. I think I have a pretty good sense of humour but I’m battling to find the punchline here. I had thought that we were friends, and friends shouldn’t be hurtful, if they can help it. Okay. Reality check. This is about her, not about me. And, I suppose, if you’re only twenty five, then forty six is pretty ancient.

I’m not the bitch in the story, I decide somewhat later, as I burrow down under the hunter’s green tartan bedspread in our snug hotel. Up early tomorrow. Five o’clock. A veritable lie-in by this holiday’s standards!

That was two days ago, and I’ve been walking the early morning streets of Cuso since six o’clock. Ranj is still motionless, somewhere in dreamland. Spaced-out and light-headed from the altitude, I am walking around with my camera in Lending a hand to a fellow vendor in Cuscothe morning light. Few things could be better. Six-thirty in the morning, and the people of Cusco are busy. Very busy. They are sweeping the brown streets, opening shop doors and windows, putting up their hand-painted signs, carrying their stock outside. Old, small people, bent over under their load, are running across the road, dodging the anarchic traffic. I wonder if they manage to stand upright, ever, or if they bolt through life with their bodies tipped at ninety degree angles. They’re all heading into the market square, where they will unpack the huge sacks of produce they are carrying, unroll their cloths of food, and spread it wherever – on tables, on the floor.

Great big hunks of meat are being carried out onto the pavement and leant against the wall. Chickens, whole, plucked, with huge yellow claws tracing spiky patterns in the light, are stacked on top of one another, waiting to be bought.

Men standing quietly backlit at a juice vendor’s tricycle, steam rising from their icy cold cups of freshly squeezed juice. They see me approach, and I don’t have the heart to lift my camera and take a picture, invading their space and disturbing their peace. Now there’s a picture that got away!

Hunks of meant for sale at the indoor market in Cusco

And then we’re off. River rafting on the Urubamba. Grade five rapids, they tell me. Who’s the old bitch now? Kicked the young fella’s ass all the way down the river. He was gasping for breath, grateful for each stop, while I was manic, yelling ‘Why are we stopping’ each time the river guide called a halt.

‘Because you must rest,’ says Jimmy/Santiago.

‘I’ll rest when I’m dead,’ I say, exhilarated by the rush of water, feeling alive and vital. One of my favourite places in the world is paddling a down a river, speeding along a rapid, feeling the spray of cold water on my face, feeling my muscles wake up and serve me.

‘It can be arranged,’ wheezes Ranj through clenched teeth, leaning on his paddle, his body still aching from our walk up Machu Picchu.

Yeah.

Old. Old Bitch. I’m ready for more – where’s the next rapid, Jimmy/Santiago? Let’s go! There’s only one old bitch on this boat, and it’s not me! 

Fellow paddlers heading down the Urubamba

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~ by ReluctantRunner on May 17, 2008.

3 Responses to “Who’s the Old Bitch now?”

  1. I’m confused. What happened to pomegranets? Please come back and teach us on Tuesday. We didn’t mean to make you run half way across the globe. I promise I’ll remember ISO.

    Only kidding! Am enjoying your writing.

  2. Ah, if only I could be half-way around the world!

  3. Lyceum says : I absolutely agree with this !

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