Dalton Charest



It’s never clear where many people might travel in the later years of their lives. You always dream of it, the essence of its truth never being contained. Even right now, for many who have that deep desire to travel, they’re wandering in the clouds of possibility, unsure of where they might go or where they might want to be. But as long as they keep wandering, they’ll find a destination such as the land of Cuzco, Peru, the very place I find myself now.

In South America, I think it may be the most unique continent in the world to travel. It’s a place where a simple 10 dollar bus ride could get you all the way from the realms of Cuzco, Peru and to La Paz, Bolivia within a day. It’s an unexpected destination for most travelers when comparing the crowd which ventures to locations throughout Europe. With the European landscapes being of such close proximity within one another, it’s easy to see why most dream travelers find themselves landing on that very terrain.

Contributed Photo: Charest holds a sloth in Tipon while studying in Peru.

Contributed Photo: Charest holds a sloth in Tipon while studying in Peru.

In South America, the tourism is of a different tone, but still strong in popularity. For instance, the rules are different here, simply but most importantly, there aren’t many guidelines that dictate these South American’s lives, at least the ones that are kept within the code of law. I’ve been here for precisely two months now, and from what I’ve seen, there’s a lot most of the world may never see. A good majority of things I’ll always remember that I’ve seen, are the things that I wish I never did, but the beauty in it all still remains the same.

The first week, as any study abroad experience for the modern-day college student, is filled with a honey-moon type essence you only ever dream about back home when confined inside the bed sheets of your warm and adequate room. It really is true to how I felt when first stepping foot on this land. I sat perched below the iconic statue of Cristo Blanco the very first day, looking upon a mid-afternoon Cuzco, and I couldn’t believe I was finally here. After over 24 hours of traveling, it felt good to have finally made it and with what I saw before me, it felt even greater than any type of good I had ever partaken in.

I started writing this stuffed in between 70 other Peruvians on a bus with nothing but room to breathe (hardly) but somehow I established enough to write this. Now, I find myself sitting below the doors of the Cuzco Cathedral with a clear view of the main square on a warm and kind day that is welcomed with witnessing my first horde of pig heads being stacked on top of one another in such a polite manner, each selling at the bargaining price of 10 soles a piece.

Now with this, I am in sight of such a beauty. Harping on what I first talked about, I sit here with my homemade Peruvian lunch, a pen and a pad in between my legs, and a further encompassing truth coming to my attention. What I am is both of beauty and of something dilute.

Architecture for thousands of years still stands where I sit now, but tourists of the new age roam the streets with their backpacks in front (whether pregnant or hiding their guts, I’m not sure, but they should stop being so damn self-conscious especially when they’re making themselves an even larger target than before). They think this and what they’re seeing as the real Cuzco but it’s not. Like any other tourist, I’m the same still, finding this all to be beautiful and romantic, but it’s nothing but a culture’s history. When you roam outside the city’s square, you may have to even roam for another mile or so before you discover that you’re not exactly where a tourist like you essentially should be. And that’s because you’re not. You’re where the real world lives, where Cuzco lives.

I wander in and out of city buses triumphing to my next location after another day without something successfully stolen by the hands of someone who just happens to not be a tourist. Every day I feel alone at the helm of these 33 minute bus rides. Whether it’s being the tallest person on the transit system (at a measly 5”10), the only gringo, or the only person who continues to read his book perched on top of an old Quechuan speaking woman’s head, I am alone.

But I don’t resent this, I truly welcome it. Though it pains me to accept that these words may be the only proof or translation I can present to you describing this none-the-less interesting debacle, it’s something I hope is confidently clear enough to paint yourself a picture. I stare back into these on-looking eyes as if I shouldn’t be there, as if I never should have gotten on that bus, as if I’m someone who must be lost. But I’m not. I never was. All this comes at an expense of unintentionally elbowing and kneeing men, women and children, no matter the size or weight.

At this point, after keeping a whimsical tally, I’m currently at 26 women elbowed in the head and 42 school children kneed in the face.

Following every single one of these physical interactions with one of these men, women or children, not once has one of these tough and ordained characters come to say something to me, or even make an acknowledgement. It simply is just part of their everyday lives and they live with it because they have to and because they must.

Though, you may come to believe this is a cry for help, it’s actually not. More than half the time I actually enjoy these bus rides as I get a great amount of my reading done in between the elbows, the knees and baby-making. Subsequently finishing “The Dharma Bums” by Jack Kerouac and “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, my mind is a great place still. In discussing my living situation for the first two months as I had continued to live out the dormancy of my stay with my recently widowed homestay family after my house father’s ill-fated death in the first two weeks of my time here, I’ll just break right down into it. To start, my running clean water does in fact shut off between the hours of 7 and 8 p.m. every night. Not until the morning light does it turn back on but not at the expense of allowing me a frigidly cold shower while the temperature outside is at a rising 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Still, I’m happy, even when I’m left in the late hours of night to brush my teeth with a bucket of water I’m presuming is clean but in truth I’m not sure at all.

Contributed Photo: A parrot sits atop Charest’s shoulder in Tipon, Peru.

Contributed Photo: A parrot sits atop Charest’s shoulder in Tipon, Peru.

But these people, the ones of Cusco, the people who live here and are from here and are born here, usually will live to die here. Just as in any city, the unfortunate economic circumstances of each individual is seen wherever you choose to squander. I just happen to see it more than most tourists who travel in and out of this place every day. It’s not that I want to see this, but I’m happy I am. Living in the outer banks of Hilario Mendivilli, most nights my taxi ride back is met at a 6 sole expense but a new friend in a taxi driver who I attempt to speak with in broken Spanish. Most of the time, the extent of my communication skills in South America will lead to cab driver talking to me about drinking and partying at a discoteca though I’m not so sure what he’s even saying to me. He could have even been asking me to take off my pants to perform a little dance for him but whether he is or not, I laugh as if I understand what he’s saying to me and I do no such thing. I just proceed in paying the man his due when back to sanctuary at 5 a.m., hope I don’t get mugged approaching my apartment complex, stagger my way up five stories of stairs, unlock the door to only enter a darkened abyss of emptiness that once held the life of a dead man and face plant onto my bed wondering what a wonderful life I live. I still always truly will realize how lucky I am to be found in this city these days, as according to the late writer Mark Twain, “broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all of one’s lifetime.” I’m learning more each day of what that statement means. I wonder though still if I’ll ever actually come to understand it.

The next time I’ll be writing about these experiences in Peru, it’ll be built with more of my current status and trips that these rickety buses have taken me in the last month. One of the trips being to Peurto Maldonado on the Madre de Dios which also just so happens to be a leg of the Amazon as I was attached to a seat for ten hours weaving in and out of Peruvian Andean highlands dipping straight into the trees of jungle territory. In other times a bus is not the being of my travel exploits but that of an ATV trip to the isolated lands of Moray. Maybe the description of my next exploits will be of trips I haven’t even taken yet, where Bolivia awaits in the next two weeks or in the next month set on top of the mountainous Machu Pichu. As for my current state, what I’ve been writing about were only the very first weeks of my time here in Peru. It’s been two months now and I just recently moved out of my home-stay family due to financial reasons and into the beds of a hostel I now work at as a bartender. It’s a place I’ve been at for a month working but just most recently moved into. The stories from this last month of my life are extremely different from the first, but both months are equal in their memories and fulfillments.

Contributed Photo: Charest snaps photographs of an Incan village called Ollyantambo.

Contributed Photo: Charest snaps photographs of an Incan village called Ollyantambo.

I look around where I am, and nothing that once mattered back home matters here, except the people and the things I love. Only has it truly solidified the fact in my mind that I do love these folks and when I ask if I could ever live without them, the answer is no. No more does the conflicting media industries back in the states matter here they hold no standard or significance. No more do the results of last night’s football game arise as a regular discussion where I am. Never have I been to a place, reside in a home, or wander through a land that differs so much from mine, where the people hold what is valuable most in such a different way. I see this more when I leave the city to the remarkably enraptured rural areas of the Peruvian land. Even the dogs offer a different perspective differing from the world around, though quite diverse is the city dog from the Peruvian rural dog (you’ve been warned). Just the simple site of seeing a pack of children play guns and robbers with their only means of props being that of a stick, will make you apprehend what you thought was important or real or even significant, never was truly reality. I believe we’ll all learn one way or the other, and soon enough, so will I.

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