Sometimes a tiny perfect moment presents itself when you find yourself at a low point. This was the case on the day I arrived in Cusco, Peru. My third country in as many weeks and I was preparing myself for the much vaunted trek to Machu Picchu. I had already decided I was going to do the 4-day Jungle Trek – chosen specifically because of all the exciting and daredevil activities it entailed – zip-wiring across hide-behind-your-hands high canyons, rollercoaster riding through angry white waters with only a soap dish and a stupid smile between you and certain death, many kilometres of breath-taking and precipitous paths – before the eventual (killer) climb to the Inca citadel in the sky.
Though this prospect undoubtedly filled me with glee and nervous excitement, there was a problem – I was physically exhausted. I had been going hard since I landed in Santiago some weeks before – I had cycled across the deserts of Chile, I had jeeped across the heights of Bolivia – those heights literally taking my breath away (a scary story in itself that I shall share at some future point). Overnight buses, with their lack of sleep and glued to the window views were taking their toll. I was once again alone in a new city, I had a chest infection, and I was all in.
The hostel I found myself was actually really rather lovely. A sleepy little place out of the centre, with a battered but charming courtyard filled with potted plants and breakfast tables. Having intentionally avoided the party pads on offer elsewhere in town, this was exactly what my bushed body required.
I had three days only: to explore the city; to arrange my trek and to get those tired legs walking. But right now, dragging myself into town to try and cobble together some semblance of an evening was as far ahead as I could contemplate.
It didn’t work. Though I found a lovely little restaurant – with an outdoor balcony, people giggling at the guinea pig shapes on their plates, and a good view of the passing populace – I just didn’t have the energy to do what was required to make food come (ideally not guinea pig). I bought one glass of red, a beautiful alpaca scarf for my mother from a cheery passing trader and, having tried my best to take it all in and enjoy the moment, had to concede that tonight just wasn’t going to work.
Feeling a bit flattened and subdued, I decided the only option was to return to my room and collapse. Such submission to my physical wreckage really frustrates me when travelling. Like the 24 hours I lost to sleep following a mechanical failure of the knees half way across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, physical exhaustion makes me crazy. Having been blessed to be able to visit these far away places, I hate to waste a single second and always do my damnedest to squeeze every last ounce of juice out of everywhere I go. This is my father’s doing. He doesn’t know when to stop either, until he drops and there is no choice. I get this from him.
Having not eaten, I would have to grab something from a store on the way back to my bed. But once facing shelves of unfamiliar everything, I didn’t even have the energy to consider what might make up a passable meal. It was beyond me. So I grabbed some bread, some wine, a handful of the nearest snacks, and then trudged my weary self back up the hill to my lodgings.
Once in my room, I threw my limbs and bags on the mattress. Wine opened (and good wine too – no matter how little I paid for wine in South America it was always good), I trawled the TV channels for something either subtitled or English I could let wash over me and fall asleep to. There was always The Big Bang Theory – a much relied upon staple I was introduced to whilst in South America (when all other channels were unavailable to my below par Spanish skills).
During the ad-break I prepared myself the sumptuous feast of a crisp sandwich. That was the limit of my capabilities. And then I did some more flicking. Flick, flick, flick – past the unfathomable music marathons, the news of this student protest and that political figure’s antics, the impassioned and slightly naughty soap operas, flick, flick, flick. And then … hold on a minute … I’m sure I recognise that voice I just flicked past?
Flicking back a few channels my auditory suspicions were confirmed. It’s only bloody Alan Rickman! There he was, with his unmistakable timbre, dark features and devilish eyes. Now this was an exciting turn of events. The film was ‘Rasputin – Dark Servant of Destiny’. I had never seen it – hadn’t even been aware of its existence – But Oh My! it looked well worth staying awake a little longer for. Snuggling under my blankets, with my guilty pleasure sandwich in one hand and a glass of red in the other, I settled down to enjoy the sultry, sinister shenanigans.
Sadly Mr Rickman is no longer with us, but the night we spent together in a small back-street hostel in Peru lives long in the memory. Though Rasputin’s healing powers did nothing good for those Russian royals back in the day – he was just what the doctor ordered when I was feeling at a low ebb and needed some comfort and distraction from what would otherwise have been a failed evening – a much needed pause before I embarked on some of the scariest and most exhilarating things I’ve ever done in my life.
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