CHAPTER 16 – Welcome to Pariwana
The tall German gleamed at me, leaning in closely. “Are you into mustard and mayonnaise?” He asked with a sinister smile.
I hesitated. “I’m not quite sure if I understand the slang.”
The German pulled out two plastic packets, one of mustard, and one of mayonnaise.
That was probably the most interesting thing that happened to me at the Pariwana hostel, the German giving me his leftover condiments. I took them by the way, to go along with my morning buttered bread and cinnamon clove tea (two sugars).
I had left the House of No Ends, and moved to the Pariwana Hostel not three blocks from Mayra’s building in Miraflores. The hostel enjoys a central location perched with a view over the main roundabout. The Parque Kennedy is right outside. I suppose that’s nice.
Sticking to my mantra, I would not be spending any money at the hostel. I’d be working reception in exchange for my bed and half price on the kitchen and bar treats, which isn’t saying much. I worked alongside Stephanie or Sergio, depending on the day, from 9am to 2pm.
From the first floor entrance where guests have to get buzzed in, the wide spiraling granite staircase brings you to the reception hall, there to get your Pariwana bright orange wristband to give you that feeling of exclusivity. I think I perturbed Stephanie by telling guests just that every time I’d attach the thing around their wrists, “here you are; your own personal assurance of exclusivity.”
“Chael why do you say that?” she’d ask.
“Because in case the irony of an exclusive hostel is lost on them, I need to rub it in.”
Stephanie was a loyal worker, loyal to the core. She would even become passive aggressive when I suggested guests use the payphones outside instead of the hostel phones, which would save them a sol. She also didn’t particularly like when I denounced the in-house laundry service to a guest, saying that they charge twice that a regular laundry charges. After explaining that the hostel bar charges too much and that they can go around the block for cheaper eats, and after explaining to one guest about san pedro and ayahuasca, it seemed Stephanie was getting used to me; though, I doubt she would have liked it when I explained to a group of Colombians how to score some pot.
Camilo had remarked that the name of the hostel was marketing genius. Not only is Pariwana the Quechua name for a species of bird (offering that unique cultural take), but it also suggests “wanna party”, and it rhymes with marijuana. It makes the perfect backpacker scenario. Its location is unbeatable, and as far as the typical conventional hostel goes, it has everything.
From the reception area, halls snake in all directions to the various rooms and bathrooms. Guests, including me, get to enjoy scalding hot water in the mornings, sometimes. They put me in a 4 bed dorm that would normally cost around 32 sols. Julien and Ider were my roommates. I got the bunk above Ider.
Continuing up the spiral staircase to the third floor one would come to the terrace, which would really be something if only the sun ever came out, and if only the air wasn’t junk. At least there was a foosball table, at which I would eventually claim dominance in several bouts with other guests. The last time I’d shown off at foosball was in San Diego. That seems so long ago.
Off to the right from the terrace was the restaurant-bar, where ignorant travellers consider the prices cheap. Even my half-off price didn’t justify the quality. The pool table was a nice touch, but it was so full of oil and pot-marks that playing it was like playing catch in a tornado.
The door in the back of the bar led to the movie room, where a big shiny TV stuck out from the wall. Bean bags were piled everywhere, but if you sat in them you’d sweat. Of course, my biased approach to hostels probably engenders my critiques, but it seemed to me that the hostel was a lot of showiness without much delivery.
Later, one of the owners would ask me to handle setting up a system for renting out their hookah. His request came about after I was loudly suggesting ways the hostel could be better to Stephanie. The challenge put my mind into full swing, and I ran to “Casa del Fumador” to find out about bulk hookah supplies.
After setting up a detailed spreadsheet of costs, and after measuring the size of the hookah’s bowl, I figured a fair profit could be made by charging 5 sols per use. I told them the hookah wasn’t going to be a way to make money, but rather a way to make the bar atmosphere more enticing. They came up with an independent figure of 8 sols. 8 sols. As “easy-going” as these guys were, they were all about business. The price was far too much to ask for the size of the bowl. Unfortunately, they were smart enough to know that the travellers who came through weren’t going to quarrel over 3 measly sols. That was why I felt so out of place.
In the hostel I was surrounded by a precipitated plan of action. Every aspect of the hostel was built, packaged and sold to you. Even the happy faces painted on the wall were there as a marketing ploy. It was a crisp and calculated product, meant only to bring in cash, notoriety and expansion.
I watched the Matrix at Pariwana. I took the movie as the perfect metaphor for my being there. It was also clear to me that the brothers who came up with that story must have been on a mescaline trip when they did. In fact, in the very beginning of the film, when our Canadian actor asks the man with the white rabbit, “you ever get the feeling you’re in a dream and you can’t wake up?” The man responds: “Yea man, it’s called mescaline, you should try it sometime.” Later, Agent Smith rubs the stink from Morpheus’ head and describes the human race as a virus, always expanding. From that moment, I watched the film as if the machines were the protagonists.
Our expansionism probably comes from our unwitting selfish act of dual love. More love, more children, more love, more food, more things. Multiply that by a few billion, and the world is overrun with our virus of sentiment.
I stayed the whole month of September at the hostel, but only slept in my dorm room bed twice. Every night I walked the short distance to Mayra’s building, a big block edifice almost hovering over the green park in front of it.
I could probably starve to death with her, the both of us unwilling to spend the time to eat when we could be spending it tangled under the bed sheets staring at each other. She’s innocent, and gorgeous. She might be my elder by a few months but she tells me I have an old soul. “Maybe it’s because you’ve traveled so much,” she would say.
I would tell her that I could see her soul too, telling her that she had a goodness that was so rare to find. She listens not just to me but to everyone. She appreciates people and things to the point that you might think that they are novel to her. Her concern for others, her playfulness as an aunt to her younger sister’s child, and even her smile are refreshing. There is nothing superficial about her. There are no shows, no put-ons, just the lighthearted honesty of someone who does not have a hateful bone in her body.
The days at the hostel were incredibly austere, and they would pass by like a boring parade. When night came and I’d go to Mayra’s it all faded away into nothing. In the early morning I would kiss her goodbye. I’d return to the hostel for work at the reception desk, and we’d see each other again in the night.
A couple days after having arrived at the hostel, I returned to the House of No Ends to see off my friend Sammy. I went bearing a gift of hookah tobacco and an invitation to come visit me at the hostel for Camilo.
“New pants?” they asked.
“Yea. Man, it’s sad; the other ones literally fell apart like warm butter. I guess that’ll happen after 2 years of wearing just them. Look I bought almost the same ones, double zip off to make knickers or shorts!” I exclaimed.
I grabbed a few things more, hugged Dici the cat goodbye, and went back to Pariwana. Sammy would leave for the mountains, and Camilo would eventually leave for Holland. The House would fade away into memory, just like everything else.
Camilo did show up to the hostel one day.
“Man, this place. This place is relentless. Everything is for the guest,” he said. He pointed at a painting on a wall of trees and what appeared to be a shanty town of Lima. “Why do you think they painted that?”
“Cause it looks neat,” I offered.
“It’s the gringo experience.”
“I already miss the house man. It’s a fucking culture shock to be here. I can’t bring Mayra into my room despite the fact that I’m in a room with other guys working here, and they think it should be alright. I understand random guests, but man, I’m working here. It’s a rule for the sake of being a rule damnit.”
“No man the house is really a social experiment.”
“I preferred our standards. I mean, man the house makes everyone here look like hypochondriacs.”
“Man you have to get wasted here one night and write about it,” he said.
“I don’t think so dude. I spend all my time with Mayra.”
“That’s too bad. Anyway, man I’m here because I have a free ticket to Mistura. You wanna go?”
CHAPTER 17 – Mistura
A few weeks beforehand I had messed up my foot returning to the House. I fully twisted my ankle as I’d stumbled drunk from the cab. The following day I had had to use a broom as a crutch, unable to put even a bit a weight on it. When Camilo asked me about Mistura my foot was still hurting, but it wasn’t enough to keep me out of the most important food festival on the continent.
I instantly accepted the offer and before I knew it I was on a bus bound for the 3rd annual Mistura Food Festival with my buddy. The excitement was building. We were going to be trying dishes from some of the best restaurants in the gastronomic capital of South America. Over 300,000 people go to the 9 days of Mistura, buying entry tickets for 20 sols, and food portions for 6.
Camilo and I chatted and reminisced about recent times on the way there. I recalled that on the Super Pedro we had tuned the question “why are we here?” to “why is we?” and finally down to just “why?” We talked about Emma, about when Sammy had left. We talked about Franco, and Camilo’s upcoming move to Holland.
Mistura was immense. It encompasses the entire Parque de la Exposition, which had been built by the Japanese. In one corner there’s a giant market dedicated to goods from all over Peru. In another corner there is the pisco tent, where the best vendors compete for your sol. Another corner houses “Peru’s Bread” while in another corner you find “Peruvian Coffee and Chocolate”. The dripping chocolate fountains were remarkable, and staring too closely took me briefly into Willy Wonka’s world.
There was a section dedicated to Rustic Kitchens, where meats are prepared outdoors in racks over open fires or inside big black steaming barrels. Another section is dedicated the “Grand Bazar” where all sorts of kitchenware is sold. There are chairs and tables everywhere, and big stages for music or dance performances, and one for live cooking demonstrations by some of the best chefs, including world-renowned chef Gaston Acurio.
The restaurants line the entire perimeter, and throughout are kiosks selling sweets, emolientes (warm drinks), juices, sandwiches, sea food, tamales, anticuchos and antojitos.
I went with Camilo, Peruvian Andres and his girlfriend Joani. The highlight came at the end of the day, near 10:30pm, when we made friends with 5 drunken old men. They had drunk 52 glasses of pisco sour between them, and invited us to share in their merriness. Camilo and Andres participated in good old-fashioned Latino machismo, feeling the pain of the geysers who lamented that beating their children didn’t seem to solve the problem anymore.
I returned to Mistura with Mayra. The hostel had gotten their hands on some cheap boletos, two of which I had promptly procured in order to forego the otherwise 4 hour long wait in the ticket purchasing line. We spent the entire day together, wandering like vagrants through the scents.
From the restaurant Amor Amar we ate Pasta Negraa lo Macho, a black pasta with an orange mariscos sauce. Then we tried a Piqueo Marino from MiPropriedadPrivada. It was a seafood appetizer platter of a steamed shrimp, veggie wraps and something that tasted like a mini pizza.
Mayra and I were looking at one restaurant’s menu in front of the lady when Mayra asked, “what is pichito?” The lady said that’s how they call the female organ in the jungle.
“You eat that?” I asked, and they both looked at me.
“El Pichito means vagina,” Mayra told me.
I looked at the lady, “how do you eat that?”
They both stared at me emotionless. “Which is it I don’t see it here on the menu.” I said.
“Chael. It’s the name of the restaurant, not food; they don’t eat vagina!”
I reddened from embarrassment and the stern look of the lady faded when she realized I sincerely thought they were talking about a dish. We ordered tacutacu con cecina, a mashed rice and beans dish served with meats.
After walking around, people-watching, we stopped in at the restaurant Akipa to try their Rissoto de Seco, the meat cooked to a perfectly mouth-watering texture. We stopped briefly for an emoliente, which is considered a medicinal hot drink made from various fruits. At El Refugio de Santiago we tried a lucuma milkshake.
As evening fell, we decided on ceviche, the flagship dish of Peru. At Punta Sal we tried their cebiche, as Peruvians call it. Dos Piratas also had some of the best ceviche in the festival. Raw fish cooked in lemon is an easily acquired taste that sticks with you thereafter.
After one last portion from the Chinese restaurant, or chifa, San Joy Lao, the chi jaucuy (guinea pig fried rice), we decided it was time for desert. Mayra has a sweet tooth as strong as mine. We found the perfect delight at Charlotte’s… it was a piece of cake called pecado (sin) made from chocolate and lucuma.
Bellies full and hopelessly satisfied, we went back to her apartment and snored ourselves to sleep, as always trapped in embrace.
CHAPTER 18 – Farewell
They all had the emblematic Palestinian scarf wrapped around their necks and shoulders as they marched down the street. I noticed them as I went to itch my foot, sitting in my top bunk bed. They were shouting “Free Palestine!” and throwing their fists into the air.
I read the BBC’s webpage whenever I can. They’re simple stories. I like that they aren’t too opinionated. Apparently the UN General Assembly was happening. Palestine was going to submit their request for statehood, hence the marching.
I stared at their feet. Everyone has feet, I thought. This pro-Palestine march looked just as strange as a pro-Israel one. However grave everyone considers the conflict, I feel decidedly apathetic toward that part of the world.
In any case, the hostel tends to have around 10 Israeli guests at any one time. Interestingly, Pariwanahas a cap on Israelis; no more than 30 at once. Something about rudeness and cacophony. I haven’t formed an opinion about the rule. I had met Israelis before, everyone has seemed fine, except for that girl in Guatemala who called firing a machine gun beautiful.
Camilo came over with Huanchito and Huanchito’s hookah. We smoked and I supplied some half-priced beer.
“Huanchito feels uncomfortable here,” Camilo told me.
I looked at Huanchito. “I feel uncomfortable here.”
I told them about the hostel, about its banality. I told them the only thing I enjoyed was switching between speaking English, Spanish and French. I explained that I had to cover my tracks whenever I gave advice about the hostel to newcomers. I had to suffer myself; constantly I would here euphemisms pour out from between my lips.
The night ended with the two deciding to go to the House to drink the last of the Super Pedro. I didn’t know it then, so my farewell was lax, but it would be the last I’d see of Camilo before he left for Europe. So it goes.
CHATER 19 –The Ebb and Flow of My Investments
The days were simple. I’d work reception, then spend from 2pm to 7pm writing for freelancer.com employers. I wrote articles about Chile’s Atacama, about Spain’s Andalusia and 50 rewritten articles based on electronics.
Mayra never asked me to buy her anything, never obliged me to act like a boyfriend in any particular way. I’d wrap my arms around her and whisper pleasantries into her ears. Such soft earlobes.I wanted to collect experiences with her. We went to nice restaurants, or when we decided to cook chifaor chicken it was always savory. A man apart from his normality, I spent money like it was a sure thing.
Unfortunately an employer decided to not pay me after I completed a $200 dollar job. I had the website cancel his account and I constantly monitor the net to see if he sells my articles, in which case I will embrace my stubbornness and insist the buyer relinquish the article. Until now, nothing.
Frustration has a way of fading from memory, especially when you’re distracted by new developments or the strong presence of someone that makes you particularly happy. In my case it was both. First, they decided to take me off of reception to give me a more fitting job.
Alonso, one of the Pariwana bosses, was sitting in front of me. I spread some butter onto the crusty bread, flakes breaking off and falling to my plate, some to the floor.
“So, Chael, how many blog entries can you write for us a day?”
“Suppose I can write 3 or 4, depending. Word count?” I asked.
“300 to 400 words. You have to throw in keywords, I’ll give you the list—“
“—I know how this works. Search Engine Optimization. You need links and relevant keywords in the blog. Doesn’t matter if anyone reads it, just that the interconnectivity exists so you can appear higher on query lists.”
“Exactly,” Alonso confirmed.
So it was that I became Pariwana’s new blog writer. Ironically, I hate the internet search query system. At one time you got relevant material, but type in any place name, for example, and you’re bombarded with cheap hotels, air fare, discount luxury resorts, etc. It speaks greatly of our illusory inclinations that serve, really, just for capitalistic expansion. Alas, I am the hypocrite in that I aid the beast. I write the blog. I suppose it’s my sell-out investment to get the better of The Man.
One day, I was at the ATM of Scotia Bank, withdrawing the 300 dollars I’d made in September. I had a purpose.
I met Alain, Camilo’s friend and more and more my own friend, for one last hurrah. Having taken Patrick Haley’s advice, I decided to buy the little netbook Camilo had lent me. I bought the 400 dollar stock Asus 1015PE for one hundred bucks, which I gave to Alain to use to buy cat food for Dici, who he’d look after while Camilo was away. It would fit snuggly into my 40 liter pack, and would only tack on 2.5 extra pounds. Thanks Camilo, I’ll owe you one.
The Pariwana bosses decided to allow me to pay for my restaurant tab with a few extra articles for the blog. I’d been cheated out of $200 dollars, and they felt my pain. A few articles more and I covered my 30 dollar food tab. I also decided to invest in my own vocabulary.
Let me explain to you something about my vocabulary. Sometimes when on a roll, I use words whose meanings I do not fully understand. When I look them up to find out that I’d used them correctly, I’m left confused. I don’t want to have an affluent vocabulary subconsciously, damn it.
I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to explore the English language to exact a finer result. This does not mean flooding my writing with jargon, but rather it means inputting rarer words into obvious contexts.
It is frowned upon to use advanced vocabulary. However, there are some words that exist to describe things that would otherwise require whole sentences. For example, French has a word that means “someone who gets cold easily,” “frileux.” English has plenty of sharp words as well. I am someone who is interested in many subjects but rarely delves into a deep study of any one in particular. The word for people like me is dilettante. I never knew that before downloading a few lists of advanced vocab. The beauty of language is being lost due to the fear of appearing superficial, which causes people to adopt lax vocabularies. The only way to bring words back is by repeating them again, and again, and again. Tangent over.
CHAPTER 20 –Parque de las Aguas
Days continued to pass by, each one seemingly faster than the last. The end of September was approaching, and each day brought me closer to Mayra. Our candor was obvious in our preparations for the 30th; I was always going to leave and we spoke about it openly. Why leave? I don’t know… perhaps it’s because my road was always meant to be a lonely one.
It might have been my body trying to convince me to stay. Or it might have been her contracting kiss that made me sick. In either case, Mayra and I became engulfed in the flu.
Sore throats and weak noses would not see our passion abate. The 30th. That damned day. I looked at it, uneasy and unwilling for it to come. As it crawled ever closer my happiness with Mayra increased, almost exponentially. Damn it all.
With the last of the money I’d withdrawn, I bought her a camera. I had taken advantage of the technological review articles to read dozens of camera reviews and select the very best one: the Kodak Easyshot M580. My mother would be excited momentarily when I showed it to her over Skype, thinking that I’d finally joined the ranks of snap shooting travellers. I’m fine with my drawings.
Mayra’s eyes gleamed, and her smile melted me once more. She thanked me, and kissed me.
“I want to show you how to use it,” I told her. “Let’s go to the fountains.”
As Mayra grew ever more beautiful in my eyes, the city of Lima seemed to grow ever more disgusting. The last Pedro trip brought all the dirt into the spotlight, and I felt worse with every breath.
However, Lima hides a redeeming quality that brings wonder and delight to everyone: El Parque de las Aguas.
Walking the streets at night I grip her hand unwavering. A bus and a jaunt and we’re at the gates of the park. Inside we find beautiful displays of watery propulsion systems. The sky is a dark pallid orange, the effect of lights polluting the night of the second largest desert city in the world.
But our eyes are fixed on bizarre decorations of glowing sprouts and shoots of light. A rainbow mountain, ruby flowery squirts, a leafy teapot. We strode through the streams of a liquid pavilion, and down the long orange corridor tunnel of thick shoots. I lost myself in a semi-pedro onslaught of appreciation for the display.
All the while the two of us, coughing and spitting strolling through the park, played with Mayra’s new camera. I showed her the features. The night shots, the panoramic, the timed shot. I found her gorgeous, her smile magnanimous.
CHAPTER 21 – Transience
Those pink Crocs of hers fell to the floor as I pulled her over me. We had a bottle of wine, and the lights were out. We took swigs from the bottle.
“I’ve never drank wine like this before,” she said.
We rolled around in the silence. I listened to her bones cracking. It was Sunday, October 2nd. I had left the hostel to spend one last weekend at her place before departing that Monday.
“…I’m not good at goodbyes,” she said.
I choked on my own words, and only sought to keep her in my grasp. How could so much time pass by so quickly… I thought to myself. Four months in Lima. The House of No Ends in fact had the most incredible end of them all. And now it was culminating; I was about to break our hearts.
In the morning she cooked for me. I watched her cook. We watched each other. Then I shouldered my pack. She was in her professional garb that I loved so much.
Downstairs in front of the green park we stood together. The pigeons danced their dance of courtship, and we stood there, our embrace the only thing we had left.
She always knew I was a maverick, a transient passing through, a hedonistic rat, as far as I am concerned. Camilo had warned me that I would hurt this girl. I would hurt this girl. Mayra.
A tear fell from her thick lashes. I rubbed her eyes, and told her this would pass. She told me she was happy that I was following my dreams. Our unlikely final words to each other of adios drifted over the air, not wanting to find ears. And like everything, like everyone, she walked away, and into memory.
I left Lima. Every girl I saw looked back at me with Mayra’s milk chocolate eyes. Two truck rides brought me many hours south, where I made camp once more in the dry river bed of Nazca. Alone in the desert, alone with my mind, like being alone in the middle of the ocean. It’s such a horrible thing; a mind without a heart.