Once I got settled in my room, I called my pen pal Elsie. I was anxious to meet her. We’d talked about a lot of things, over the space of about two years. We’d exchanged pictures. I had no idea what to expect. Traveling to another country to meet someone I only knew by mail was certainly a new experience for me. I had called Elsie to tell her I was coming, and I recognized her voice when I called her house. She wanted to come meet me, so I waited for her. She was indeed pretty when she showed up, but taller and, well, larger than the pictures had led me to believe. I’m 5′ 8″ myself, and even my younger brothers are taller than me, but my sisters, and most women I’d gone to school with were a little shorter. Elsie was certainly happy to see me. We talked awhile and walked around Lima. I bought my first churro there, those long doughy pastries extruded through a star-shaped opening, and deep fried, then rolled in sugar and cinnamon. Really tasty. When we got back to my room, Elsie told me I should come stay at her parent’s house. I was surprised at that. I had really expected to visit her while I was in Peru, but not live together. Elsie said her parents had suggested it. I stayed the night where I was, and found her house in the morning. It is a three-story place in a suburb of Lima. There is grass on many lawns, but some have a car parked on concrete behind locked gates. Her house reminded me of the last place my parents had moved to, the place I’d left when I was 18. This one, however, has hardwood floors throughout, a beautiful dining-room table and chairs, fully modern kitchen, and many rooms throughout. There is even a small room on the first floor that had been turned into a bedroom for me. The family consisted of Elsie, her parents, her brother, who was actually a step-brother, and a sister and brother-in-law. They had two Indio servants who lived on the third floor; they washed laundry in deep sinks on the roof, and hung it to dry there too.
Everyone was very friendly and welcomed me into their home. I had taken a “conversational Spanish” course, and did my best to communicate with everyone in Spanish. Elsie knew some English, so she helped me out when I couldn’t find the right words. I didn’t talk much, because I knew very, very little Spanish.
My first hint that I was in a different country was when we all had coffee in the morning. There was a pot of coffee in the refrigerator. Small amounts were poured into a cup, and the cup was filled with hot water. I have since learned that such a drink is often called an Americano, but I never heard the term in Peru. Coffee there was brewed very strong in anticipation of being diluted in this manner. It was somehow much less bitter.
Lima is a grey city. A type of fish there gives off an oil that gets picked up with moisture from the ocean and often blankets the city, which seemed to always have a permanent cloud cover. Many of the old buildings appeared as gray as downtown East Coast city buildings in the US. Perhaps that is why so many arts and crafts in Lima are so brightly colorful. Elsie was free to spend time showing me around Lima, so we went out every day sightseeing, at markets, and plazas, and eating ceviche (pronounced “say-vee-chay”), a seafood cocktail. This differs somewhat from the Mexican version most people in the US are familiar with. I think they use that oily fish in it. That was an interesting experience. Soon after eating some I became sick with flu-like symptoms, and everyone understood – I was then cautioned not to eat the ceviche there. Too late. I felt as sick as a jungle dog, but I recovered very quickly.
I learned to convert my dollars into sols, and there were vendors everywhere selling lottery tickets and changing money. Turns out Elsie’s father worked for a bank, and recommended I only use banks, but sometimes the exchange rate was better on the street. Meanwhile, Elsie and I were spending every day, and into evening, with each other. We watched the movie Police Academy. It was subtitled in Spanish with the English soundtrack volume turned down, but loud enough I could make out most of it. We saw a new play, a funny and very popular musical comedy one evening. Elsie translated enough of it so I could understand it. It was about relationships, and very sexy, with some nudity. The music was great, and I was able to buy a 45 recording to take home with me. Elsie and I got around the city really well, day and night, in buses or colectivos, those ubiquitous taxi-cab like cars of all shapes and sizes. One day I bought a warm Coke in a small sidewalk store, but there was no ice to be had. No one kept sodas refrigerated either. Warm coke is OK, but odd. I learned to drink Inca Kola instead, a bright yellow carbonated Peruvian drink, made with Hierba Luisa, or Lemon Verbana. It reminded me of Juicyfruit gum. We went to a downtown nightclub and danced to US-style rock ‘n’ roll and pop tunes, sung in Spanish, although Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 was broadcast over every radio I heard on every city bus and colectivo I took while I was there. I had worn a jacket to the nightclub, and made the mistake of putting my passport in it and leaving it on my chair as we danced. I had to carry the passport with me, because the military was in control of the city, and could stop people anytime to see their ID. Without it, I could have been arrested. There were automatic-weapon-armed soldiers near every bank and major business. The Shining Path guerrillas often attacked banks in Lima. While I was there they knocked out power to the city one day. As it was, someone lifted my passport while Elsie and I danced one long set. I told the club manager, and we searched the area, and even the bathroom, just in case it had been dropped. No chance. That screwed up my plans to travel around Peru by train. I needed that passport, or I couldn’t leave the city. I applied at the embassy. I was allowed to bypass the long line that snaked around the entire block because I was a US citizen, but it was still going to take 4 or 5 days. Elsie and I found things to do. She took me to the central plaza in Lima, to the old cathedral there. All of the old clergy there had been buried in the catacombs below the main floor. There are rooms full of skulls and bones laid out in circles. Room after room was full of bones, some as full skeletons, but usually piles and piles of bones, some arraigned, some just piled up, from centuries of following this practice, from over 50,000 people. Of course, many of the wealthy also paid to be buried in the church. Elsie freaked the hell of of me when we left. As we were going home in a colectivo, she pulled out part of a rib bone! She had snatched it as a present for me, a souvenir to take home. I thanked her, but I really didn’t know what to do with it. Since we went right back to her house, and I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, I kept it. It worried me what might happen back in the US when Customs came across that!
Said good night to Elsie one late night when we got back. We weren’t doing anything on all these day trips, no romance, no kissing, holding hands or anything. I was just enjoying having her show me around. We were having a good time. Just as I was about to drop off to sleep I heard light footsteps on the spiral staircase outside my door. Elsie came in and got right into bed with me! I was a little freaked out, what with her parents and siblings right upstairs. She was kissing me, and we were naked really quick and one thing led to another and I was suddenly sticking my penis into her. However, it was unlike any sexual encounter I’d ever had. Elsie, apparently, was a virgin. She had one hell of a solid hymen. I pushed, but I couldn’t get in, especially as quiet as we were trying to be, and I had never encountered a hymen before. I thought I was doing something wrong; and I sure as hell didn’t want to hurt her. I oddly thought maybe some women’s vaginae must be arraigned differently, because I just couldn’t slip into her. As gently as I could, I sort of pushed alongside it and ejaculated without ever really being deep into her vagina at all. Had to be the weirdest sexual experience I ever had.
It wasn’t the last time we had sex. We were headed to Machu Picchu on our own.