An electrifying saga based on true events, the following three short stories chronicle the compelling tale of a couple of young marrieds in the week following the completion of their trek to Machu Picchu, hypnotically transporting the reader to Peru and into a world of intrigue.
The Bus Ride
Once again, Kevin had an uneasy feeling in his stomach. While he had ridden similarly jarring buses before, never before had they been piloted so quickly and never before had the consequences for a missed turn been so severe. Thinking back to that morning's phone call with their intended hostel in Cabanaconde, he recalled the urging of the woman on the other end of the line for them to book this particular bus as soon as possible and the seemingly innocent suggestion that he and his wife try to sit on the right side for the best views of the Canyon. Looking out the window with an unobstructed view of the floor of the Canyon several thousand feet below, he felt certain that he would have enjoyed the scenery much better from the other side of the bus.
"You okay?" Kevin asked his wife this question with as much serenity as he could muster, trying to mask the fear growing inside of him.
"I'm fine," Kristin replied, equally unconvincingly.
Kevin smiled and patted Kristin on the leg. In an effort to distract himself from the events unfolding outside the window, he turned to his new book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It was a hopeless effort, as the shaking and rocking of the bus made focusing on the tiny print nearly impossible, but staring at the pages provided the temporary relief he was hoping for.
By some miracle, Kevin felt, and without any appreciation for how long the unpleasantness had lasted, the couple found that the bus had not careened into the abyss and that they were at long last being dropped off at the main square in the small town. Having found their hostel and dropped off their belongings in their room, Kristin and Kevin sidled up to the bar for a badly-needed drink.
"How was the bus ride?" came a voice that Kevin instantly recognized from the phone call earlier that morning. She slid a big beer across the bar to Kevin and poured a glass of wine for Kristin.
"Ugggggghhhh," Kristin replied, taking a sip of her Malbec. Kevin only made a face that indicated that he had been less than impressed by the experience. He pressed the bottle to his lips.
"Yeah," said the woman, nodding in agreement, "my husband won't let me take those buses. They're too dangerous." Kristin shifted uncomfortably in her chair. Kevin gripped his beer more tightly.
"Why? Have there been accidents on that road?" Kristin asked with heightening alarm.
"Yeah, a few recently. Which bus company did you take?"
"Andalucia," Kevin replied flatly, replete with the knowledge that the woman knew perfectly well which bus they had arrived on.
"Ooooh, they've had a lot of accidents lately, and actually had three in one week not too long ago. They were suspended by the government and just resumed operations."
Kevin closed his eyes and took a large swig of beer from his big bottle. In that moment, he was back on the bus and reliving every harrowing turn and bump from the journey. He knew what Kristin's next question would be likely even before she did.
"Three in one week! Did the people die?!?!"
"Not all of them," explained the woman, who then offered to book them a tourist bus for the ride out of the town, which she assured the lanky couple would be much safer. Kevin resisted the temptation to scold the lady for failing to inform them of the bus issues before they booked their tickets. He realized such an outburst would be pointless and that the small hostel couldn't advertise the accidents and risk scaring off prospective gringo customers.
"Another big beer," Kevin called out instead, as he put back the last of his first bottle. After the story he had just been told, he was sure that the next beer would taste even sweeter...
At last, Kevin could make out the top of the ridge above him. A bead of sweat slipped down his forehead as he made the final strides up the steep hill and out of the Canyon. When he finally reached flat ground, Kristin was already waiting for him. He shook his head in disbelief as he considered the hour of energy, water and the relative cool of the early morning they had wasted by choosing the incorrect starting point for the trek, as they always did. Their foray into the 3191 metre Colca Canyon - twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and famous for its resident Condors - had not started well. Having been in similar predicaments dozens of times before and knowing the pitfalls, each of them conscientiously avoided laying blame for the blunder.
“There’s the path,” Kristin exclaimed, pointing to a spot a couple of hundred metres away. She glanced at her watch. “It’s only nine o’clock and we still have plenty of time if we hurry.” With that, Kristin set off.
As he raced after her, Kevin thought back to the previous night and the reason he now found himself in such a hurry. The conversation with their hostel owner and former guide had started out harmlessly enough, with the finely-dressed man in his mid-20s providing them with possible route choices and approximate hiking times for what was to be their multi-day exploration of the valley below. However, when the gentleman had casually remarked that some hikers had dared to complete the classic circuit of the Canyon in a single day, Kevin shot a glance at Kristin and, from the look in her eyes, could tell instantly that they would be undertaking the entire three-day, two-night route in and out of the Canyon the following day. He sighed audibly.
Descending down the dusty path towards the bottom was thirsty work at the high altitude, where the intense sun felt like it was hanging just above their heads. Furthermore, Kevin’s spirits had not been lifted by the multiple locals who had laughed when the couple had explained their ambitious hiking plans for the day. As they finally reached the river marking the end of their descent, they came across the first in what would be a series of forks along the unmarked path. Determined not to lose their way again, Kristin and Kevin consulted the 4 x 6 inch map they had been handed before they set out that morning, which Kevin was convinced had likely been drawn by a pre-schooler. Frustrated at the lack of detail, he cursed loudly.
“One day, when I have money, I’m going to come back here and pay for some actual trail markers in this Canyon. They’ll probably build a monument in my honour,” he proclaimed.
Kristin thought briefly of responding that perhaps Kevin should focus on finding a job first, but she knew that it was best not to interrupt him during one of his self-indulgent moments.
The remainder of the hike was enjoyed by Kristin in relative silence, as Kevin’s laboured breathing told her that he would be very selective about when he chose to speak. After many ups and downs, they had successfully steered themselves to the “Oasis” – typically the second night’s accomodation on the classic circuit - for lunch and a dip in a pool around 1:30 in the afternoon.
Kristin knew that with the right combination of rest and food, she could coax Kevin up the 1100 metre series of switchbacks and back to the hostel they had spent the previous night. She mentioned to Kevin that, in her estimation, they could do the climb in roughly half the time their guide had suggested.
Rolling his eyes, Kevin made a mental note never to hike the Grand Canyon with his wife.
Peru’s second largest city certainly had a grip on him. He strolled through the streets of Arequipa with his wife, Kristin, on his arm and marveled at the beautiful white buildings which glistened in the sunlight from a once again cloudless sky. The white volcanic rock from which the buildings were constructed was called sillar, and its natural reflective properties on a church he was staring at in the distance brought back vague memories of Sacre-Coeur Basilica in Paris. Naturally, he often compared the cities he was visiting with those he had been to before, and at that moment he couldn’t help but think how Mount Vesuvius near Naples had nothing on the dominating presence and near perfect cone-shape of El Misti volcano looming in the background.
They passed by the Plaza de Armas, which was perpetually busy and an attraction in and of itself, on the way to their daily ritual. Walking with their arms interlocked, Kristin pressed herself tightly against the bulging muscles of Kevin’s right arm. He looked down to study to her smiling face and wondered whether it meant that she was similarly contented with the city or whether her thoughts had again returned to the happy hour drink special (3 Pisco Sours for 10 Soles ($3.50)) she had discovered earlier that day and made him swear they would return for later that night.
The afternoon ritual – a large slice of chocolate cake at one of the city’s many cafes - was as foreign to Kevin as many of the places he had been visiting. For one, he didn’t even like desserts. Secondly, he had been lactose intolerant since a nasty stomach bug attacked him years before while travelling in Eastern Europe. While he couldn’t explain his new craving, he was exceedingly happy that his intolerance to dairy seemingly retired from his body around the same time he retired from private practice.
As he watched with some amusement as Kristin scraped every last inch of chocolate icing off of her plate, he thought back to all of the amazing food they had sampled during their four-day stay in the city. He was convinced that he had never experienced better dining value in all his 29 years. He was also convinced that while Arequipa could never be home to him, it was probably the finest facsimile he had come across during his time South America.
“Don’t forget,” Kristin said, cutting off his train of thought, “you promised that we would go have Pisco Sours tonight.”
He broke out in a grin from ear-to-ear.
About the Author
Kevin Long is a devilishly handsome travel blogger from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has been married to his wife, Kristin, herself an occasional travel blogger, for over two years and the couple has no children (though, they are constantly asked by South Americans when they expect to be making some). Kevin’s current hobbies include eating, sleeping, drinking, trekking and riding buses. He dreams of one day again wearing a pair of jeans and a different pair of shoes.Illustrations
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