I had not heard of Machu Picchu before coming to Peru. If I had read Shirley MacLaine’s 1983 book, Out On a Limb, popular at the time, I would have known that she was among many others who traveled to Peru hoping for a spiritual experience in Maccu Picchu. She even claimed to have encountered an alien presence there that was trying to persuade Earthlings of the need for spirituality. Very popular place. I wasn’t aware of any of that at the time, but Elsie’s sister asked me why I wasn’t going to Maccu Picchu. Well, to begin with, even after I found out about it, I didn’t have enough money. It turned out that train travel was severely restricted because of the fighting in Peru, and I wouldn’t be able to take the train, which I could have afforded. So, I called my companion from the flight down there. I told him I was ready to sell the gun. He showed up the same day and brought me a padlock. He said to put it on the gun to prevent it from being used. He told me he had a friend in P.I.P., the Peruvian Intelligence Police, who might buy it. A couple days later, he was back with $200. I gave him the gun. Somehow, I hadn’t imagined it ending up in the hands of some Peruvian-style FBI, but so it goes. I had just gotten double what I paid for the little RPG 0.38 from Florida.
Of course, to fly to, and feed and board two people at Machu Picchu, I needed more money than that. I had received a credit card not long before I left, and had only used it as a second form of ID for checks in the US. Driver’s licenses had been forged so much they were no longer enough of an ID at many places I tried to write checks. That is beside the point of course. Fact is, I had a credit card with enough of a line of credit to fly two people from Lima to Cuzco. I decided I had to take Elsie with me, after how nicely I was being treated by her family. My new plan was to take a bus to some towns near Cuzco while I was there. Unfortunately, I found the bus terminal in Cuzco also closed by the military. The town I most wanted to see, Paucartambo, with its exceptionally white houses and beautiful blue balconies, was too close to the fighting anyway.
First, however, Elsie and I needed a place to stay. There were fancy, high-priced tourist hotels, but I’d been advised to look for a penseon, a bed & breakfast in Peru. We indeed got a room with a single bed, and breakfast in the morning so we could eat before exploring. I did not have sex with Elsie. She wanted to know why. I told her I didn’t want to risk getting her pregnant. She said she would be willing to get a diaphragm, if I understood her correctly. Next morning, however, we boarded the train that would take us up the mountain to Machu Picchu. It took half the day. Elsie was very happy. She chatted with the other tourists, who were mostly Peruvians and Germans, and a few Japanese. We were served yerba mate, as a stimulant to brace us for the high altitude. People often pass out up there. There were many stops along the way, and, in fact, the train took a route created with many switchbacks, so it seemed we were forever just going back and forth. Indian women would rush aboard at every short stop, selling trinkets and odd meatless tamales, and then hop off again. An interesting character got on at one quick stop. He was dressed in a very colorful poncho, with the odd-looking, to me, wool hat, with the tassel-like thing on top. He stayed with us, and sang songs. Most of the people in our car joined in. I went along as much as I could fake it. Later, as the singing died down, I asked Elsie what the songs were about. She told me the the man was with the guerrillas, and the songs were about fighting and getting rid of the Peruvian government. It was so odd. The rich Peruvian tourists on board had been the most boisterous of anyone, and they had been smiling broadly while singing about revolution! Yet, all I had heard since arriving was how terrible the guerrillas were. A curious place, Peru. Ha! The President of the country was named Fernando Belaunde Terry. Names are given differently in Peru, because Terry was the last name of his mother, an Englishwoman. He was very pro-American, which was something the guerrillas hated. They were, after all, Maoist inspired. My name is Terry, so I often wondered about the looks I’d get from people whom Elsie introduced me to. Did they think I was related? Terry was otherwise not a common name in Peru, and since it was my middle name, I could see how people could suspect a connection. Perhaps that was fortunate, since I wore a blue Mao cap, popular then in the US, that I had oddly just bought and brought with me, and wore all over Peru, no one ever questioned me, not even the ubiquitous soldiers with their machine guns, but it was always a possibility. I’ve never been very bright.
Machu Picchu impressed the hell out of me. I had never known anything about it, so the huge stone blocks used in walls and bridges, cut so perfectly and laid without any mortar, were eye popping. I marveled at the shapes and “sacrificial altars” and the Solar Clock, and the Temple of the Three Windows, amid all the houses that still stood. I had lain block myself for a couple years, so I knew about the foundation requirements under the block walls, and the need for reinforcing bars (rebar) and perfectly mixed mortar for the climate. Yet, these people had built really impressive structures without any of that.
The views from the mountain top were breathtaking, really, notwithstanding the 8000 feet above sea level. I’m not sure why people thought it so high as to cause respiratory and heart problems, since I lived a mile high myself, and ridden my bicycle to the local mountaintop at 10,679 feet. But anyway, we had a great view of the river just below us. The train had stopped at the base of the peak, and we had then boarded vans that took us up the narrow path at frightening speed to the top. From there I could still see the pylons of the old Incan bridge that withstand the river’s current to this day, without anything holding the stones together. I was high though, like being stoned or drunk. I had heard of such wonders before, but not expected to see them. I was damn happy to be visiting such a place. I ran through the ruins of the old Incan village. One small building had been restored with wooden cross beams and a thatch roof, and it looked readily inhabitable. I wished I could have slept in it. Elsie seemed to enjoy herself too. That’s her among the ruins. Sadly, I was not able to stay the night. There is a hotel there, but reservations were made even then months in advance. The train had to leave around dinnertime, because it had to go all the way back down to Cusco, that excruciating four-hour trip to cover five miles. Well, traveling with Elsie made it all worthwhile; she was ever smiling and full of energy. I depended on her a lot. As we approached Cusco, the train slowed down to a crawl and I was able to look into all the shop windows of the big market along the tracks. In one room, all by themselves, stacked high on a single table, were huge clear plastic bags of white powder. I had heard that cocaine was a big money maker for the government there, but I never expected to see so much all at once, and so openly. Of course, I could be mistaken. It could have been some other sacks of white powder stacked on a table by themselves in a bare room, but who knows?
Elsie and I were tired by then and headed back to the penseon. The owner found us something to eat leftover from breakfast, but only because we had left so early for the train that we had missed breakfast. Those huge meatless corn tamales on the train were not very satisfying.
Next day, after a little touring around Cusco, Elsie and I went to the local clinic. She seemed enthusiastic about being able to have sex without getting pregnant, and I wasn’t going to insist we just use condoms, because that didn’t always work either, and like most men, I hated them. Very selfish of me, and really inconsiderate to allow my host to do such a thing in order to have sex with me. Really, I didn’t want to get too involved with her, so I had postponed the sex in this manner. At the clinic Elsie explained what she wanted and went into a room adjoining the waiting room with the smiling doctor. Later, he showed up at the door, and the first thing he did was stare at me. The look showed surprise and, I felt, censure. His smile was gone. It occurred to me that he had found her hymen intact and may have wondered how we had sex if Elsie had mentioned that, or why I hadn’t broken the hymen myself. I suddenly felt shamed. Elsie was in some pain when she came out, so we just slept together again, cuddled in our small bed. The next night however, was it. Elsie was not going to postpone this sex anymore, and we finally had real sexual intercourse, the kind with the penetration and ejaculation and all that moaning and heavy breathing. It was OK, but I didn’t want to do it again. It just didn’t feel right. Elsie was pretty upset when I didn’t want to do it again the next night, and that was understandable.
We continued our wanderings around Cusco. I noticed a pile of adobe bricks drying in the hazy sunlight, and then saw them used in a multi-story building, something rarely done in the Southwestern US where I lived.
I found a colectivo to take us to Pisac, and the driver drove us up a long and winding road where we could look down on some Inca ruins there. It was a long trip on a bumpy road, but I was glad to be able to see something else since we couldn’t travel in the region. Soon enough, it was time to return to Lima. I was out of money, and now in debt too. I needed to get back to the US, back to Albuquerque. Just before I had left for Peru, I’d met a really great woman, who I moved in with when I returned, and later married. I called her from Cusco. I told Elsie I needed to call home, but she listened in from what I thought was some distance away, and suspected it was a girlfriend. I told her, yes, there was someone I was seeing there. She wasn’t happy about that. However, at that moment, I knew I wanted to get back. I hadn’t known Irene very long, but I was anxious to see her again. This, of course, had a lot to do with my lack of interest in Elsie as more than a friend. The trip home was quiet. I wondered what she was going to tell her parents. I found out that, not only is Machu Picchu a popular tourist destination, but, in Peru, it’s a honeymoon spot, much like Niagara Falls is in the US.