Four Days in San Bartolo
(Transcribed two years later:)
Hiking the Inca Trail was one of the most inspiring and sacred experiences of my life. This post is not about that. This post is about the days that followed that mystical and exhausting trek.
We arrived back in Lima from Cusco; already upon landing, I could feel the change of atmosphere and climate, physically, socially and culturally. We piled in a bus and headed off to the coast where my uncle, his two high school buddies and his friend’s son could relive their youth in sand, surf and beer. Despite their winter season, we had hopes of mild coastal weather. In my mind, I planned to swim, run on the beach, relax, read, go to town for cerviche and take a surfing lesson or two in the days to come.
From the populated city with strange billboards, rogue dogs and tattered housing, we traveled to a sandy ghost town on the coast. The streets were practically deserted. Most of the restaurants and shops had closed. Locals kept a few businesses open, but nothing more than a few blocks were in operation.
We were met with colorful totem faces at the gates of the resort; sea green, bright blue and yellow extended a cheerful welcome, contrasting the grey skies and misty air. Stepping across the threshold, empty rooms awaited us. One of the owners met us there and escorted us to the unlocked room. Two were next to each other, close to the eating area and front gate; one was around the corner, closer to the workers’ area and the back gate to the beach. Each had two beds. Since I was the odd woman out, I inhabited the isolated room.
After setting our stuff down and getting acquainted with the perimeter, the owner explained that he would be absent from the premises most of the time. There were two workers that spoke very little English. The only other residents at the time were a couple, and they would be leaving shortly. Since the town was closed down for the season, we had only one restaurant from which to order food, and only one taxi driver that would deliver food and take us into town. The one and only day we ventured into town was to get cash, eat out at one of the open restaurants, catch up on email at a cyber café and to collect fruit, canned goods, and alcohol for our rooms. All other hours for those four days was spent at the resort with only each other, the rain, the wet beach, the gulls, rogue dogs and the limited contact with the workers who made us breakfast every morning and ordered our lunches and dinners.
The chilly air, drab sky and turbulent waves told me that I was not going to be swimming at all this trip. Since the owner that offered me surfing lessons over the phone was MIA the entire time, I knew I would not be surfing. I communed with the sand dunes and shells when it was nice enough to sit on the beach. I may have been fully clothed in a hoodie and long pants, but it was peaceful all the same. One of my wishes had come true: I had the beach almost entirely to myself. Listening to the water was such a pure and simple pleasure that if not for the chilliness, I probably wouldn’t have left the shoreline.
The days passed slowly. At nights we played cards and drank bland beer. We donned hats made from alpaca wool and blankets bought from the plazas at Cusco. With nothing of interest on TV, hardly any electronic entertainment and no way out of the resort, we were left to each other’s company, the beach and our internal landscapes. When the men were out surfing, my first inclination was to “busy” myself. So I read… until I wanted a change. I tried to write and draw, with little success at first. For some reason, it felt forced (probably because it was). There I was, unable to get wrapped up in a creative whirlwind when I had the space, the time, the peace and the quiet to do so. Of course, when I was at work just a few weeks prior, I longed for the R&R, and when it arrived, I didn’t know what to do with it.
The first day I felt unproductive despite the fact I had finished a book I had been meaning to read. That night was one of the most solitary that I can remember. The wind pounded against the glass doors as I lay in an unfamiliar bed on a deserted coast. In the morning I was greeted with grey skies and roaring waves again. It was difficult at first for me to give into the seeming “nothingness.” I paced and repeated old patterns of behavior to the best of my ability. As I begun to allow the time to fall over me as it would, I was graced with some slow inspiration; I let it creep into my sketchbook. It was of a different nature than which I had been accustomed. I spent more time sketching and reading in those few days than any other time in my life. Time was angled differently there, with strange and unpredictable periods of lengthening and shortening. Many things were different in that place. I noticed the difference in expectation, passage and association.
Dogs with no names came bounding through the center room as we played cards, perhaps looking for scraps or a temporary friend. Clouds rolled in a dance with the tides. The gulls called out messages as they landed on the shore. The night air was heavy with water and called us out for company.
Looking back, I should have taken some invitations from the Night to walk its beach. I am just thankful that I could drop out of the hectic world for a while to see another one. Without the people and the traffic of their on-season, I was able to really see that shore, able to experience it as it is. The isolation, once faced, was simple. The quiet, once appreciated, was comforting. The openness, embraced, was breath-taking. The grey, accepted, can be a gentle hand of inspiration.