“…there will be rats, too…”: Another Peru Trip Update

“I recommend you get some mosquito netting,” says a veteran Peru-goer in our group. Eleven of us were sitting around the table in Engineering 407, pizza boxes lining the center of the table, calling to me to abandon Weight Watchers in favor of a slice… ah, but I digress.

“Yeh, mosquito nets are good,” pipes up another. “And, well, they can be helpful in other ways … because, … well, … there will be rats, too. The nets seem to help keep them at bay somewhat.”

I was glad that I took a pass on the pizza, as my stomach did a flip at the mention of rats crawling all over us at night. Then it got worse.

“Remember, PPPPPPP, and how he got eaten alive by fleas? Those fleas just seemed to LOVE him! None of us got bitten. Just him. There were less than a hundred-fifty bites, though. Ha, Ha.”

“Yeh, WWWWW also got bit all over her legs. They both had to get injections at the Posta, they were so swollen up with the bites. But what do you expect, walking through the plantation wearing shorts?”

The veteran speaker turned to me and looked me in the eye. “Wear only long sleeves and long pants. And a big hat.”

Next agenda item, the issue of money and how the project funds will be distributed among all of us so as to prevent us from being totally cleaned out if the project director is robbed.

“Has anyone BEEN robbed?” I squeak.

“Well, nooooo…. I mean … not while on project business. My wife and I were robbed once in Lima, but we were being touristas at the time.” The conversation continued, but I couldn’t help wondering what he meant by “robbed.” It could just mean stuff was stolen from their hotel room or something. Stupid me, I had to ask…

“By ‘robbed’ do you mean merely money was taken or you were ‘mugged’?”

“Pushed to the ground with a knife held to my stomach, patted down. They took all our money … oh, and my watch, which was only worth five dollars! But they didn’t take our passports.”

Conversation continues nonchalantly and discussion turns to our traveling in the rainy season. Turns out for this part of the Andes, “rainy season” means drizzle season. Sounds like San Francisco to me. Heck, I used to live in the City. No problem. Foggy drizzle doesn’t bug me. Then someone mentions how IF it really rains, we will be worrying more about surviving than keeping our gear dry. Thus commenced the story of how Yungay was completely wiped out in 1970 by flooding that swept through their valley, burying 18,000 people alive. I look on the list of where the small groups are going. Yungay (?) is listed on my group’s itinerary. We aren’t sure yet whether we will make a stop there.

But the good news is, I am told, such flooding hardly ever happens, and if there were a danger of a disaster, we’d know about it because there’d be an uncharacteristic amount of rain. “Yeh, and the locals always tell us whether to go up the mountain or not,” piped in the veteran Peru-goer’s wife (who herself has been to Peru even more than her spouse). “I remember so-and-so walked out of her house and looked up at the mountain and said, ‘yes, you can go to XXX today. It’s okay. But leave soon.’ She could tell just by looking at the sky that it was safe.”

I didn’t ask why those 18,000 people didn’t look at the sky.

Anyway, I’m still going to Peru.

The good news is that mosquito/rat netting is readily available. DEET bug spray and long-sleeved shirts and pants and readily available. Malaria and altitude sickness pills are readily available, as are Hepatitus B and Yellow Fever vaccines, a tetanus booster, Cipro, Immodium, and sunscreen. Water purification systems are also readily available, and I can eat nothing but cooked foods and Cliff bars for 16 days.

And here’s the kicker…I will have one heck of a good story to tell afterwards.

My Grandma’s memoir would not be such a fantastic story if it didn’t have so much adversity in it. The overcoming of obstacles is what makes both an intereating and enjoyable story and a well-lived life. I signed up to go on this trip to make a difference by donating my time and talent to help others. And I signed up also because I wanted to make sure that I did not settle too comfortably into the life that years of hard work have created for me and my family.

For so long the goal was to earn a degree — first a BA, then MA, then Ph.D. — and then the goal was to find a job practicing my profession (no easy task in a field with a glut of over-qualified candidates and only a fifth of the needed jobs). Once I found that job in academe, the goal was to earn tenure. After six years of proving myself, I did that. Two years later, I am now looking at my life and wondering what next? Yes, to do my job and do it well. That’s very important — make no mistake. But where is my career headed other than teaching (which I love but which is only one part of a teacher-scholar’s life)? What new challenge lies ahead? Is exploring my creative non-fiction writing going to be a new focal point for me? Will my experiences this year deepen my love of literature and the analysis of literature?

And what will I learn from Peru?

How to avoid having rats crawl on me? How not to mind that rats are crawling on me? How to write about rats crawling on me? How to offer a fresh interpretation of great works of literature about rats crawling on other people? We shall see.

Bring it on. Rats and all, I’m going to Peru.

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4 Responses

  1. You will surely have a story to tell. That sounds rough but at least you will be mentally prepared for it and not completely surprised.

    Somewhat related, when I was in college we rented a house and the people who lived there before us had pets because when we got there in the fall the place was infested with fleas. They loved me. I would sit there watching TV (ah, back in the days I had time for TV) and be eaten alive. Good times.

  2. Yeh, mosquitoes seem to flock to me. Nobody else would be getting bitten but there I am, smacking my legs and arms all the time! I’m definitely bringing bug spray.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Seems like you are already learning something from your Peru excursion–you didn’t ask why the villagers of Yungay didn’t look up into the sky. Valuable lesson, there.

    You might think of investing in some of that bug-repellent clothing. I wonder if they make any mosquito netting that can be electrified. Of course, if you were a sleepwalker that might not work so well. . . .

  4. 🙂

    Yeh, as a matter of fact, I have thought of the sleep-walking problem, seeing as I am one of THOSE, too. I keep thinking about how that the netting surrounding my sleeping bag will feel like a coffin lid. Maybe I should try sleeping with it at home before I leave, just to get used to it….

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