Black and White


[2004] I arrived in Lima in an odd frame of mind, not having decided where I was going to go. I gave myself a day to think about it. I was divided. The Colca Canyons and Ariquipa? Cuzco, the Inca Trail, Machu Pichu? Or Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca?

Morning number two found me on a 13 hour bus to Huaraz, where I would hike the most beautiful and dramatic of the South American mountains. I liked the randomness of the decision. What did it even matter what I did?

This trip was in Spanish. Only Spanish. I probably spoke an hour of English the whole three week period. It was a vindication of sorts. I had essentially given up on my years-long quest as an adult to study Spanish and become really good at it. Language lessons in Seattle with sporadic trips to Latin American countries had me concluding that I was only frustrating myself, seeming to forget as fast as I learned.

But I realized: I do know how to speak Spanish! The trip proved it. I walked down the street in Huaraz, looked into the first trekking agency, and sat myself down across from the proprietor. 90 minutes of fits and starts as I struggled to bring the language back ended with me rushing back to my hotel to get my gear and hitch on to a quick 6 day trip with a French couple, a guide named Scheller (his father was a Peruvian Marxist who taught at the local university), a donkey man, and a donkey.

The French couple literally spoke 10 English words between them and the woman was about my speed at Spanish. Our guides could say yes and no in English. So Spanish it became.

The six days were sublime; so much so that I rehired Scheller for another six day trip which we immediately left on when we got back to Huaraz.