There is nothing eloquent about the word ‘goodbye’. People say it pretending they are likely to see you in a month or two. There was nothing certain about my return to this town or country. The only justification would be to live and work here having obtained the relevant visa.
My presence in this place may have given false impression that I was financially well off. I had simply weighed my options to decide to come here a second time. The life choices which presented as satisfactory to many others, had not presented their appeal to me. I had walked a very different path with many cross-roads and confusing signposts. I was simply getting weary of the uphill climb and the amount of dragons I had encountered along the way.
Coming to Peru presented the opportunity to slay another of those fire-breathing beasts. This dragon had two heads. I understood initially that I had lost that fight but in hindsight it was the best outcome with an unexpected treasure attached to it.
It took some time, amidst many tears, to place my belongings into my luggage. When, eventually, I opened the door of my room, there was my friend Henry, standing with his sweeping brush. ‘Maybe’ he said. I smiled. This was his favourite English word to pronounce. This one word I used to tease him about, I will always associate with him.
It was time to say goodbye to the people of this town. As bravely as I could, I set off, calling into shops and homes. I will never forget it. I had gifts for each of them and they in turn gifted me something of theirs. I gave my oil pastels to little Nancy, the child I had sketched during my first week in Ollantaytambo. And I gave the ‘cocaine’ to Alex. It was, of course, only a detoxification tea. I also bought gifts for my family and friends back home.
When I returned to my lodgings to store the items in my bags, I was invited to lunch with my Casa Del Abuelo family. Henry had cooked a special meal of cow’s tongue. I tried my best not to disappoint my hosts but I could not get used to the texture of the meat. Eventually I had to admit defeat. When asked for seconds I opted instead for the sauce which was delicious. ‘What’s it made of?’ I asked. ‘Cows tongue!’ Catty replied. We all laughed at this.
Henry had the perfect plan for our last evening together. We went fishing down by the Inca bridge, four of us. On the way, Henry was curious about Irish tales he’d heard of. So as best I could, in Spanish language, I told him the story of Cū Cualainn and ‘The Salmon Of Knowledge’. He also amused me as he tried to understand the correct pronunciation of the word ‘beach’. ‘And a female dog?’ he asked next. He had me laughing. To him, both words sounded the same. ‘Bitch!’ I replied.
We didn’t catch any fish but it was good to be by the river. It reminded me a little of my trip to Santa Teresa. Throughout that journey, the Urubamba river flowed all along the canyon floor. During that trip I had been impacted by the immensity of this country and the extent of difference of this culture from that of my own background. So much I would never understand or know. Yet here I was with the water running past my feet, waiting for fish to bite. Right then, I felt like a tiny bit of me belonged to that river, like I had earned its respect or something.
Afterwards, I called to my first home in Quisiqoller. The family had gathered and Carlos was in the process of having an avocado facial treatment. I spoke to them only in Spanish. Carlos commended me on my improvement. I had lived with them for the first four weeks of my time here and had very limited conversation in the beginning.
Next I called to the Coffee Tree. This I was dreading. It was quiet that night. Only Alex and Roxanna there. Alex was busy with his computer while Roxanna studied her mobile phone. Alex made me a hot chocolate. We spoke very little which was not the way we usually were. ‘You are family,’ this Alex reminded me over and over in the final days.
Finally I got up to go. I hugged Roxanna and then turned to Alex. I saw him wipe a tear from his eye as he told me how he would miss me. I hugged him and headed as quickly as I could for the door. I rounded the corner in the direction of the Fortaleza and then the flood began. I was heartbroken.
Some of my friends met me as I arrived at Hooverts shop. They teased me, seeing my inability to control my emotions. Hoovert, was his usual upbeat self but he made no deception that he too was going to miss my presence. He presented me with a thoughtful gift. A book about Machu Picchu and a DVD with the cultural dances of Ollantaytambo, in which he also featured as a dancer. He made me promise to call in the morning to say a final goodbye as he would be opening his shop early at 7am.
By now it was dark and cold. Back in La Casa Del Abuelo some friends gathered to pass the time drinking a hot drink, which had a more than a drop of Pisco in it. Nobody spoke of my departure the next day.
©Caroline Cunningham Author Of Wild Star Landing (Blog)