Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Grandmothers, Part 3


Me: This one time on OkCupid a guy messaged me something stupid and his photo didn't have his face just his chest so I wrote back "What are you hiding?" And he wrote "I'm not hiding anything baby" and included a photo of his penis.
Grandmother: Oh that's nothing.
Me: Really?
Grandmother: Oh yeah. Right now we're reading Canterbury Tales in my literature class and there are penises all over. We talk about penises all the time now! It's a lot of fun.

Grandmother: DANIELLE. I wish you would just get married AND HAVE BABIES!!!
Me: It's not even 9 a.m. Can't we wait until afternoon?
Grandmother: Why are you sick?
Me: I don't know?

Grandmother: I was reading the paper and I found a letter to the editor from this guy I used to date, oh, 60 years ago.
Me: How nice!
Grandmother: Yes. It means he's still alive.
Me: Yes...that is a good sign.
Grandmother: I wonder if his wife is.
Me: You planning to make a move?
Grandmother: Eh. He lives in Virginia.
Me: I buy all of my groceries one item at a time now, every day, because I found a cute, nice cashier.
Grandmother: Oh is it that nice handsome one from Senegal?
Me: No he's a skinny white boy with a Justin Bieber haircut.
Grandmother: JESUS CHRIST.
Me: Do you even know who Justin Bieber is?
Grandmother: No. But it sounds awful

Grandmother: You're going out with this guy, but you don't know anything about him?
Me: He's a Jew.
Grandmother: SO?!
Me: Isn't that what you wanted?
Grandmother: No! There are dumb Jews! There are GANGSTER Jews!
Me: ....when was the last time you met a GANGSTER Jew??
Grandmother: There was that Bugsy fellow.
Me: I am moderately sure he's not a gangster. Happy?
Grandmother: Moderately.

Grandmother: I was doing some cleaning today and I found all these letters from 1948. 6 of them were love letters in French from a man named Natale. But I don't remember him at all! No clue where I picked him up. I also found letters from Ilya.
Me: Ilya? Who's that?
Grandmother: My Bulgarian boyfriend. And then in the next drawer, I found the letters from Amad.
Me: Who?
Grandmother: My Syrian boyfriend.
Me: How many boyfriends did you have exactly, in 1948?
Grandmother: Let me see...(begins counting)
Me: Good heavens.

"These days, all the girls, they stay over at these boy's apartments. That never occurred to me when I was dating your grandfather. I wish it had!"
"Yeah Grandma, you totally missed out during those three months before your marriage."
"I know!"

Grandmother: I preferred the crossing of the Atlantic, from New York to France. No one could get hold of me. No phones, no internet, no mail. No one could bother me, I was free, no stress. Also I had a fling with one of the ship's officers.
Grandmother: ::changed subject::

Grandmother: These days the boys say, "Come up to my place and watch a movie." In my day, it was, "Come up to my place and see my paintings." But it all means the same thing. Trouble.
Me: Did that line get you in any trouble Grandma?
Grandmother: Well you know your grandfather?
Me: Ah. I see.
Grandmother: Oh yes. But he did really have paintings.

Top of Form
First I had quality time with my grandmother: "Grandma, have you ever had your heart broken?" "No. I just break other people's hearts. Though there was that one Irishman..." "What happened there?" "Oh, you know, he was a bit unstable." Then I had quality time with my father and Sister: "See Dad, I told you Dani is useless." "You did tell me that. And you were right." Then quality time with just Sister: "...why is there a small monkey in our dirty laundry?"

"So how was the 'movie?'"
"There was a real movie, Grandma, with many other people. But it was a horror movie, so not my thing."
"A PORN movie?
"NO! Horror! Horror!"
"You and that damn Pittsburgh accent."

Grandmother: That's why I like the porn.
Mother: The porn?? WHAT?
Grandmother: The porn, the porn thing on the television.
Mother: ....you're watching PORN? Mother! What!
Me: I think she is trying to say "pawn." Like that Pawn Stars show.
Grandmother: Yes, exactly! The porn stars!

"Do you see any 80 year old men in these bar you go to?"
"Not so far..."
"Maybe I should look on the internet."
"For an 80 year old man?"
"For an 80 year old man who will go with me to these bars."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Grandmothers, Part 2


Grandmother: Tell your aunt to bring me A Dirty Old Man next time she comes.
Me: Are you sure that's a good idea in your condition?
Grandmother: It's the name of a BOOK, Danielle.

Grandmother's entire opinion of all ten billion pages of Anna Karenina: "She's a jerk."

"Did you finish that book? The author shares my views on only children."
"And what view is that?"
"That only children are selfish, egotistical, and insensitive."
"Grandma...you are an only child."
"I know!"

Me: Are you aware the movie you want us to see is the erotic tale of a young girl's lesbian awakening, cataloging her passionate sexual encounters?
Grandmother: So what?
Me: It's rated NC-17.
Grandmother: So what? It's a French movie.
Me: I'm just saying, there is so much graphic sex that they couldn't even rate it R.
Grandmother: Are you trying to tell me you don't want us to see this movie?
Me: I....all right. Fine. Just wanted you to be aware.
Grandmother: And you should be aware that this movie is 3 hours long.
Me: Oh. Hell no. That puts us home way past bed time. Pick another movie.
Grandmother: You are no fun.
Me: I'm sure I've heard that said.

"Danielle, something happened the other night after you went to bed."
"Uh oh."
"I turned the TV back on, and that channel you were watching came up. And DO YOU KNOW WHAT I SAW? A naked woman! Completely naked! With people behind her engaged in...SEXUAL ACTIVITIES."
"What was it? Did you watch it?"
"Well OF COURSE I watched it."

"...that movie, Girl With the Butterfly Tattoo."
"Could you possibly be talking about the Girl with the DRAGON Tattoo, Grandma?"
"Girl with a BUTTERFLY Tattoo would probably be a really different movie."

Grandmother: What was the name of that movie we saw last week?
Me: You mean that one with all the nudity?
Grandmother: Yes. Wait. Which of the ones with all the nudity?
Me: Ah yes, there have been a few haven't there.

"I don't like sad movies. I prefer murder and mayhem."
"But Grandma...isn't murder sad?"
"No, Danielle. It's just life."
And later... "...then he decides to jump into the volcano with the mafia's vials and dies."
"And you don't find this sad?!"
"Well, I was sorry. Because then they canceled the series."

I arrived home this evening and entered the house to hear a loud, deep, male voice saying, "He walked to her and took her in his arms. Her breasts pressed firmly against him. She was such an exotic, sensual creature..." I walked into to the TV room to find my grandmother and said "What are you WATCHING?" She just said, "You know, one of my shows." I really do not know what my grandmother gets up to when I am out.


Grandmother: So, Fifty Shades of Grey....
Me: Yes?
Grandmother: Have you read it?
Me: Yeah.
Grandmother: Should I read it?
Me: Eh. I don't recommend it especially highly. And you're a little late to the party.
Grandmother: I think I'll read it this summer.

Grandmother: Guess what I bought today!
Me: I have no clue.
Grandmother: Fifty Shades of Grey.
Me: Nope, would not have guessed that one.
Grandmother: I'm going to read it on the plane. It sounds crazy!

Grandmother: I finished 50 Shades of Grey. It was horrible! Repetitive...are the others better?
Me: Worse.
Grandmother: WORSE? HOW CAN IT GET ANY WORSE? What is this nonsense? Mishegas! I have a plan. I'm going to put it back on the library free books shelf and hide behind a bookshelf to see what crazy person takes it.
Me: ........someone exactly like you.
Grandmother: Oh. Right.

And because my mother is my grandmother’s daughter…

Mother: Do you have a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey I can borrow?
Me: Have you been talking to your mother?
Mother: What?
Me: Never mind. First of all, that is so 2012. Second of all, it's Twilight fanfiction based. You know how I feel about that.
Mother: I thought it was about sex. And women. And sex.
Me: Well what do you think Twilight is about?
Mother: Vampires?
Me: AND SEX. Besides, I left my copy at my ex-boyfriend's place. I could ask for it back, but I think at this point that would get awkward.
Mother: DAMN IT.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Grandmothers Part 1

For a long time, people have been telling me to collect all the conversations with my Grandmother I post on Facebook.  I finally decided to do it.  No, I'm not publishing a book.  But I'm collecting them in one place in several parts that I will post here over the next few days. Four years ago, when I moved in with her, my grandmother told me, "Stick with me kid, and interesting things will happen."

They sure did.


While watching television my grandmother said dead serious, "We should have annexed Canada long ago." When I asked why, she got annoyed and only said, "Because!"

Grandmother: So what does this new place of yours do?
Me: Oh you know, they're another hippie liberal non profit. Trying to save the world.
Grandmother: That's nice. But the world's a lost cause.
Me: That's depressing.
Grandmother: No. It's a fact.

Grandmother: Bill Clinton is looking FANTASTIC.
Me: Is that so? I think it may just be your crush giving you bias.
Grandmother: No, he looks amazing. But! He has become a VEGETARIAN. He eats...kin-wa. Oy vey.
Me: Quinoa? Maybe you should start eating it too.
Grandmother: Oh no. No no. Ugh. Does Todd like that weird stuff you cook?
Me: It is NOT WEIRD.
Grandmother: Oy vey.

Last night I walked in the door and the first thing my grandmother said to me from her armchair was, "I am waiting here for my boyfriend!" VERY confused, I asked her what on earth had been going on during the day and she shook her head and said, "I mean Bill Clinton. He'll be on TV soon. That man can leave his slippers under my bed any night." As far as I can tell, my grandmother has had three great loves: my grandfather, Bill Clinton, and Che Guevara. It makes me wonder about her. And my grandfather.


Me: Have you talked to them yet?
Grandmother: Yes, your aunt gets them on the Spike.
Me: The WHAT?
Grandmother: Spike. That's how she talks to them.
Me: Grandma, I think you mean SKYPE.
Grandmother: Whatever.

Grandmother: I've only ever gotten two viruses. Remember the pornography?
Me: That was not a virus. That was just you opening porn sent by strangers.
Grandmother: What's a virus do then?
Me: It depends. Bad ones can give hackers your passwords so they can get into all your online accounts.
Grandmother: No they can't. Even I don't know my passwords.
Me: I think they can still get them.
Grandmother: That's great! Then they can tell me what they are!
Me: I'm not sure it works like that.

Grandmother: You are never going to believe what I did last night.
Me: I cannot even imagine.
Grandmother: I think I made some progress on the printer. I pressed a lot of buttons, and then I started shouting HELP ME! HELP ME GET MY PRINTER ONLINE. And the voice activation whosiwhatsis heard me, and brought up a note that suggested I read the instruction manual!
Me: All this time.......and you never thought to read the instruction manual? I assumed that was the first thing you had done.
Grandmother: Of course not! Why should I have to read instructions?

Grandmother: You lose your phone ALL THE TIME.
Grandmother's friend: No! I never lose it! I MISPLACE it.
Grandmother: The last two times I called you, your phone was in the toilet.
Grandmother’s friend: Right, but I knew exactly where it was!

"SEE how many of these Viagra ads I get, Danielle? I don't need Viagra....but it's too bad I don't have a boyfriend." --My grandmother, who is displeased with her spam filter.

Yesterday afternoon while I was at work, the microwave stopped working. I arrived home to find Grandmother moping in her pajamas and yelling about microwaves and ultimate betrayal. She had clearly taken it quite personally. I walked over to the microwave and pressed the "on" button, and the microwave worked just fine. Now Grandmother is convinced her microwave has self-awareness and was playing an April Fool's Day joke on her. I suggested this seemed unlikely, but she was so gleeful, admiring her microwave's rascally nature, that I just let it be.

Monday, November 24, 2014


When I was four years old, I went to preschool at the local JCC. I wasn’t there all that long, it was my third preschool.  I still remember the classroom, could still point out where the blocks section was vs. the coloring area, and I remember that my favorite thing was to play in the little sandbox.  I don’t remember a whole lot that happened the few months I was there, or any of the teachers, but I do remember Drew.

Drew was my first bully.    As far as bullies go, she wasn’t exactly a subtle master of the craft.  Later in life, I would encounter far worse.  But at the time, it felt pretty bad.  If I drew a picture, she told me it was ugly.  If I was building with the blocks, she pushed them over.  If I was wearing clothing, (which thanks to my mother, was every day), she told me it looked terrible.  If I said something, she told me it was stupid.   She was relentless.  Every day, all day, a constant barrage of negativity and occasional mild physical violence.  Nothing to attract the attention of the teachers, but a quick shove, stepped on fingers, a poke in the gut. But the absolute worst thing she did to me was target my only friend, Emily, and somehow convince her to act as a kind of tiny flunky, witnessing and participating in my slow torture while simultaneously leaving me bereft of allies.

For whatever demented reason which I’m sure ought to have landed me in therapy, the nastier Drew got, the nicer I got to Drew.  I told her she drew amazingly beautiful pictures, that her clothes were great, that anything she said was the most intelligent thing I’d ever heard, and continually asked her if she wanted to build blocks with me, play a game, come over to my house.  I wanted desperately for her to be my friend.  She was the first person I ever encountered who didn’t like me, and it just made no sense.  I hadn’t DONE anything.  I had to prove to her that it was all a big misunderstanding, that I was loveable and if she would only just see, we could be great friends.

I told my parents about the abuse.  My mother wanted to call my teachers, my father told me to kick Drew in the stomach.  My mother decided this was a much better approach and agreed with this new proposed strategy.  I, however, refused.  Clearly deep down Drew was only reacting to her own deep rooted insecurities.  Maybe she had a sad home life.  Probably she had low self esteem.  All she really wanted was to be loved. I had to show her I loved her!

I gave her my favorite bracelet, a stretchy plastic rainbow beaded bracelet my grandmother had gotten me while spending Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  Let’s not stop to think about my grandmother getting an entire bathtub’s worth of beads thrown at her in New Orleans, and concentrate on the fact that I still remember exactly what this beloved bracelet looked like.  Drew told me it was ugly, but she kept it anyway and continued the abuse for the next few weeks.

One morning though, Emily helped Drew corner me in a part of the classroom shielded from the teachers by the building blocks and Lego table, and Drew stamped down on my foot hard enough to hurt and keep me in place. 

I said, “Drew, will you please get off my foot?”

Going through this memory is kind of making me want to punch myself in the face.  Who SAYS that in this situation?

“No,” said Drew. 

I said, “Please?”

She said, “No.”

So I used my other foot to kick her as hard as I could in the stomach. 

She doubled over even though I couldn’t possibly have hurt her that badly.  Anyone who knows me at 29 knows I still couldn’t hurt a four year old girl with all my strength, so just imagine me as a four year old girl myself.  She threw a FIT.  Screaming, crying, accusing, rolling on the floor, teachers rushed over to cuddle her, and over the general ruckus I was shouting, “I ASKED HER PLEASE. I SAID PLEASE. “

Not a single teacher ever so much as gave me a stern talking to.  This seems odd looking back, but I can only imagine that they all probably hated Drew too.  Teachers aren’t stupid.  I’m sure they sensed an evil in her.

She never bothered me again, not once. 

I learned a valuable lesson about life, love, the universe, and humanity that can never be unlearned. 

Some people are just assholes who need a good kick in the stomach.  

Monday, August 4, 2014

Machu Picchu: Chapter 6, The End

We woke up relatively late the following morning and found sunshine and rabbits in the courtyard.  J2 decided to be brave and come outside for part of the day, and we walked around in the almost but not quite warm weather looking at Scenery and Architecture and visiting the Quirikancha and Museo de los Incas.  We learned a lot of history, exactly all of which I have already forgotten.  In fact, I’ve forgotten nearly all of this day, as the physical and emotional weight of hike settled into my body and mind.  All I know for sure is that my butt hurt one heck of a lot. I couldn’t sit down properly and walking turned into a strange uncomfortable shuffling as the swelling only increased. 

By evening J2 was done, so she went to bed and the three of us fell asleep on some chicken at a chicken restaurant where I did not avail myself of the complimentary salad bar and contemplated the wilted spinach on my chicken sandwich before determining it probably was not properly cooked and ceased to eat anything.

J1 and M had one more day, but Jessica and I set our alarms for 5 a.m. and at 6a.m. a taxi arrived to take us to the airport.  We got our tickets and checked in just fine, and as we waited for our flight to Lima we saw two of our friends from our time living in the Lima airport, including the Turkish tour guide from Miami.  The other, the student at UNC, was trying to get from Peru to Costa Rica, and was told she couldn’t go without a Yellow Fever shot.  She was also told that she would need to get this shot at the airport in Lima or cancel her trip.  I did not feel confident about the idea of getting shots from needles in an airport in Peru, and was pleased that I was not the one facing this choice.  To make matters worse, our flight to Lima was getting further and further delayed, and the odds of her having the time to get the shot AND make her flight to Costa Rica were near zero by the time we boarded.

**IMPORTANT SIDENOTE: This girl was on line with us to board the plane.  I admit we weren’t paying a whole lot of attention to her once she got in line, but I DID see her get in the line several people ahead.  However, upon discussion with J1 back in the US, Julia swears that the girl was also on HER flight to Lima the following day.  MYSTERY!!!!**

The delay wasn’t good for anyone.  Our own flight out of Lima was becoming more of a hope than a certainty.  I had 20 soles in my pocket I had saved specifically to use in the Britt chocolate store in Lima and I realized with a sinking heart that while there was a vague possibility I might still make the plane, I’d never make it through a chocolate store AND on the plane. 

The flight itself was more or less fine other than the fact that J2 sunk closer and closer into the clutches of death and my bottom was made of pain and discomfort as I attempted to sit in the airplane seat.  I wondered sadly if I would ever enjoy sitting again.

When we arrived in Lima we discovered we had to leave the terminal, go outside, and back through security, which was multi-step.  Jessica convinced the people running the first line to let us skip ahead a bit, but the next person we talked to told us we had plenty of time, despite the fact that our flight was leaving in 20 minutes and we were nowhere in sight of the gate.  Also we had to stand in a long line to get our carry on bags searched as well as our persons.  Panic definitely set in during this process.  Eventually though, we made it onto our plane (without any Britt chocolate) where we were able to sit in some of the worst discomfort of our lives as J2 fought for her life and my butt continued to swell like a mylar party balloon.  In this way we traveled to Dulles in  Washington DC where we were met by our Male Protectors and carted away to be quarantined.  

It’s been a good two months now that we've been back, and I admit I have still not fully unpacked.  Unfortunately I'm leaving in four days for Germany and Denmark and I need that bag.  So now the real hard work begins.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Machu Picchu: Chapter 5, In Which We Reach the Promised Land

At 3 a.m. we were all awakened and NOT given tea, which was unpleasant in the extreme.  We were told the early hour was partly in order to make sure we reached the famous Sun Gate before dawn, and partly for the chaskeys. Aguas Calientes is a town made specifically for tourists a 25 minute bus ride down from Machu Picchu.  It's like base camp.  It has a train station that leads back into civilization, which is how people who don't want to hike get to Machu Picchu. It would seen that there is an expensive tourist train that runs periodically throughout the day, and a cheap local train which only leaves at 5:30 a.m. This means that in order for the chaskeys to arrive back at their place of employ in time they either need to be on that train, or, if they miss it, walk all the way back.  

We were rushed through our breakfast and our tents were dismantled around us, which was unfortunate for J2 who was continuing the descent through Dante's 9 circles of Hell.  We pulled on our headlamps and trekked off into the darkness. 

This day I was near the front of the pack.  Unusual, surprising even.  The way was “flat,” so it was easier to keep up the breakneck pace. 

The final obstacle was called The Monkey Steps, and was a short but steep and narrow series of stone ledges wide enough only for toes and fingers and necessitated crawling up with care.  Once at the top, you could look out below at the ruins of the Incan city of Machu Picchu still covered in shadow.  All 20 of us sat quietly with a few dozen other hikers and watched sunlight sweep inch by inch through the mountain tops and over the stones. 

Once the sun had completely illuminated the ancient city, we started descending.  It was farther than anticipated, and by the time we arrived I felt like maybe I would just never walk again. We shuffled around the ruins in the warm sun as our guide gave us a tour of the highlights.  Then it was time to split.  Everyone doing the Huayna Picchu hike except for my people went to do that.  Our tickets somehow were for the following morning.  At this point it seemed pretty improbable that I would ever move again, but I decided that somehow by the next morning magically I would be capable of hiking the steep and notoriously treacherous cliffs of Huayna Picchu.  The Chinese group vanished, and the others wandered off in different directions.  The plan was for everyone to meet at 1:00 at the SAS run hotel in Aguas Calientes for lunch and goodbyes.  We took many photos and pointed vigorously at a number of llamas before getting on a bus to take us down to into town. 

Once at the hotel, we stopped in our rooms to take our first shower in 4 or in some cases 5 days.  I happily stepped into the nice clean private shower IN OUR ROOM and immediately shrieked because there was no hot water.  I danced in the ice water for two minutes as I tried to wash my hair, but once I got out I discovered that I had only washed the shampoo out of the left side of my head.  I was faced with the choice of returning to the ice water or going another 3-days with dried shampoo in my hair. 

I returned to the US with that shampoo in my hair. 

We regrouped in the common space downstairs and enjoyed a lunch buffet, most of which I refused to eat because it contained uncooked vegetables and meat that looked suspiciously like llama.  After lunch, the Chinese group left, but the rest of us were staying the night in the hotel.  The others all left in the morning, and we were set to head back to Huayna Picchu.  The family of women went off to do things like shower and change, Two of our guides left to return to Cusco.  J2 had been kind enough to offer Guide1 a bottle of his favorite liquor which happened to be Jack Daniels whiskey, and starting at 2:00 p.m. 7 of us sat around the table and passed a shot glass around in a circle over and over.  You may be thinking, Danielle HATES whiskey.  Danielle HATES shots. Danielle is not the type of person who starts drinking liquor at 2:00 in the afternoon! But you have to remember the situation.  I had suffered some serious doubts about my ability to complete this trek alive.  I had taken that insurance policy out on myself with real concern. I had just completed the hardest physical challenge of my life and I WAS INVINCIBLE.

The whiskey was followed by wine to celebrate the Canadians’ engagement, which had occurred at dawn as the sun rose over Machu Picchu.  No one could refuse that. 

The wine was followed by pisco sours, because pisco is the THING to have in Peru.

By the time we finished the pisco sours, Guide1 had told us he knew THE place to get passion fruit sours, the best drink in the world.  We all agreed that this was the best course of action, so we grabbed a few others and left J2 to recover in a bed, and zigzagged our way through town to a bar that made us sit outside.  We ordered a round of passion fruit sours and sat around talking for what seemed like a very long time. Also drinking.  Admittedly things are a little blurred. At one point J1 and I went to the bathroom, and I got locked in.  This was unfortunate, as they were little individual bathrooms with strong, sturdy wood doors. 

“J1…” I called timidly, suspecting she had already long gone.
“Yes?” she answered from right outside the door.
“I’m locked in the bathroom.”
“Ah,” was all she said.
I waited for a bit.
“Should I do something about it?” she finally asked, as though the idea was outlandish.
“No,” I said. “But if anyone wonders what happened to me, you can explain that I got locked in this bathroom and can’t get out.”
“Okay,” she said. And left.

It is worth noting that J1 does not remember this happening at all.  It is even more worth noting she does not remember what happened later, which I will detail shortly.

Left alone in the bathroom, I tried clawing my way out with my nails, which was as ineffective as you are all thinking. I finally managed to scrape the lock free, though in doing so tore a gash across my finger, which I noticed later covered in blood.  I returned to the merriment at our table outside, where the two men with us were doing something called “leg wrestling” on the sidewalk.  This was a fascinating display of manliness that involved lying on their backs and hooking their legs in a strange imitation of arm wrestling. 

Finally, I turned to M. “Ohmygod we have to go to bed I’m dying what time is it like is it 2 a.m. we have to get up at 6 a.m. and hike this godforsaken extra mountain it’s like 2 in the morning we have to go what time is it.”    She showed me her watch. “Ohmygod it’s 7:55 it’s not even 8:00 why is this happening I have to go to bed right now you don’t even understand how is it not even 8:00 at night.

“We started drinking heavily at 2 in the afternoon,” she pointed out rationally.

“I’m going to bed right now,” I declared, and everyone else agreed it was time to go back.  We had a raucous walk back to the hotel where stopped outside to say goodbye when all of a sudden our Canadian shouted at me, “YOU’RE A FENCER?”

I have no idea how this came up.  It might have been a delayed reaction from the previous day. “Yeah,” I said. “I mean, I was. A long time ago. I WAS IN THE JUNIOR OLYMPICS.”

“Fence me now!”
“We don’t have swords.” He put up an arm with an open hand and got in fighting stance.  “This is a terrible idea,” I said, mirroring his position. “One of us is going to get very badly hurt.  I am going to get very badly hurt.”
“No,” he said.
“Oh,” I said.  “Okay then.” 

Remember the effects of altitude on your blood? Combined with alcohol?

I got him gracefully right on his sword arm as I had been trained.

“AGAIN!” He said.
“Don’t punch me in the stomach.”
“I will not punch you in the stomach.”

He got me real hard in the stomach and I doubled over. “AGAIN!” I shouted. “THIS TIME FOR MY HONOR.”

I have no idea who was paying attention and who wasn’t.  It would seem no one, because later no one else understood exactly how I came to be lying on the ground. 

We feinted back and forth for maybe three seconds, at which point I decided the best course of action was to full out charge in what could have been a beautiful fleche if I had a) been actually holding a sword, b) not been starting from such close range to begin with, and c) not been incredibly extraordinarily intoxicated. 

Instead of receiving stunning punch in the chest, our Canadian sidestepped, caught my arm in his and our inside legs tangled. My momentum kept me going, the leg tangle  spun me, and I pitched directly backwards down the sidewalk, which was on a sharp incline.  Because I was drunk, I did not put my arms back to stop my fall which means I did not break my arms or wrists. Because of the incline, my head came down last.  In fact, my head didn’t come down at all.  The entire force of the fall to the cement came down squarely on my butt.  Not my tailbone.  Just my butt.  I lay my head down gently on the pavement as everyone fluttered around yelling but I was too stunned to understand English anymore.  I didn’t even try to get up, just lay there on my back until exactly one thing registered.

“I DID NOT HIT MY HEAD!!” I yelled at everyone in the vicinity.

“ARE YOU OKAY?” they yelled back.


Sensing I was not planning to ever take further action other than to continue shouting this over and over, My opponent reached down and scooped me up new bride style and set me on my feet.  He was extremely contrite. I reassured him, “I DIDN’T HIT MY HEAD.”

Probably it sounded a lot like I had hit my head.  But it was true, my head had not even grazed the pavement until I laid it down, stunned, in a miracle of miracles.  My butt, on the other hand, felt like it had been removed and then sewed back on without anesthesia.

I reassured everyone that I was completely and totally fine, laughed it off, said goodbye to everyone, barely climbed the stairs to the room I was sharing with J2, and began to sob uncontrollably.

“Oh my god what is wrong?” asked J2.

“I DIDN’T EVEN HIT MY HEAD,” I explained to her.

Head spinning, butt pulsating, I went to bed.

At 6 a.m. I woke up feeling fantastic.  My head was steady, I felt no after effects of the alcohol at all.  My muscles all continued hurting from the hike, but the only thing left from the night before was the gash on my hand from the bathroom luck and my butt.

My butt had swelled.  I was unaware that butts could swell.  Mine had swelled so much that it affected my walking.  I could barely shuffle.  Hiking to the top of Huayna Picchu seemed less and less attainable.  I looked over at J2.  

J2, having managed half of our 35 miles through mountainous wilderness, STILL AT THE FRONT OF THE GROUP and STILL CARRYING A PACK, had decided that this, finally, was the moment to give up on life.  I like to think that had J2 been in any shape to continue onward,  I would have taken my swollen butt and crawled up the final mountain.  I was wide awake and feeling good at the 6 a.m. departure time, which was itself a true Christmas Miracle.  My legs were weak but my knees were stable, and I was pretty sure nothing on Earth was too much to conquer.  But as it was, I gave J2a once over and determined that it was neither kind nor prudent to leave her alone for 8 hours, because no one should have to die alone.

J1 and M headed back towards the mountains, and I got up and stared for a good while at the shower.  Deciding maybe I’d just never take a shower again, I sat around eating beef jerky until around 8 a.m. at which point I headed to a pharmacy to bring some important items back for J2.  I headed for the pharmacy, where people spoke less English than you might think in a town made for western tourists, retrieved the items and delivered them to the sick room.  I ate some more beef jerky, and took another walk through town. 

I passed the day this way, wandering in and out, making sure J2 didn't die without anyone noticing, wandering through the sunlit streets of town, passing in and out of the hostel common room. At some time in the afternoon J1 and M returned exhausted and we all had lunch and headed for the train station.  I was a little apprehensive, remembering the train I took through Bolivia from the Salar region back to Oruro, but this train was beautiful.  The were wide windows, the ceiling was glass which made for very nice views, everything was incredibly clean, the seats were comfortable, and we had attendants walking through at intervals with drinks and snacks and very expensive merchandise.  It was more luxurious than any train I've ever been on. 

It was several hours on the train back to Cusco, where we were picked up by an SAS van and taken back to our hostel.  This time we asked for a room on the back of the property, farther from the noise of the bar/club which we still did not have the energy to go to.  J1, M, and I barely had the strength to drag ourselves out in to the streets looking for dinner.  J2 stayed in bed.  A woman found us on the street and herded us into her restaurant which was not amazing but not terrible. 

It should be noted that by this point both M and J1 were now also suffering from certain common South American gastro issues thus making me THE ONLY PERSON ON THIS TRIP NOT TO GET SICK AT ALL.


We went back to the hostel where M took a shower and informed us of how cold the water was so I continued to not take a shower.  Then we went to bed, and I slept all through the night.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Machu Picchu: Chapter 4, In Which We Continue Ascending and then Descend

On the second morning we were awakened by chaskeys outside our tent with hot tea. We quickly packed our belongings back in our bags, and left everything in there for them to pick up and take up to our next camp site. Not a bad way to travel. 

Breakfast was quiet in the tent as we ate quinoa porridge with cinnamon.  It had milk in it, which I eyed thoughtfully, and then decided that since it was heated it might not carry disease.  Good thing, because it was the most amazing breakfast food I have ever been handed. 

Breakfast was over by dawn and we were off again on the trail, this time a straight uninterrupted ascent through Dead Woman's Pass.  The name Dead Woman's Pass gave certain among us a Terrible Feeling of Dread as we hiked, but I was constantly reassured that the pass got its name from the shape of the mountains forming it.  Again and again the head, waist, and breasts were pointed out to me, but I remain convinced that this was all bullshit made up on the spot to keep the more nervous of the tourists from suing for emotional damages. 

A few km into the day, a little boy ran past us with a backpack.  
"Where are you going?" asked the guide.
"School!" the boy called over his shoulder.
"Where is school?"
"Ollantaytambo!" the boy shouted back, before continuing down the mountain at a run. 

Please remember that this is the town we started in, the day before, 13 hours of hiking earlier.  

This is how chaskeys are made.

Much of the pathway was made of stone steps we climbed one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one.......forty million times.  I quickly fell behind my own friends and turned to another fellow hiker who became my 2nd Day Best Friend.  

After a good 8 hours of struggle and friend making, people started to reach the top.  My friends reached it long before I did, along with a few of the Chinese group.  My New Friend I were behind the of half of Chinese, and behind us were the rest of her family and then finally the two Canadians in the back.  The first guide was somewhere not too far ahead, The second guide was up at the top.  The third guide was midway between us and the summit, when a Chinese girl passed out and her eyes rolled back in her head.  Running up the mountain at 14,000 ft above sea level after throwing away half your water supply is widely looked down on, because what happens is you pass out and your eyes roll back in your head and things don't look so good for you. 

I was too far behind to see this actually happen. All we heard was the closest guide’s shouts up to the one midway: "OXIGENO!!! OXIGENO!!!"  The next guide then tried passing the shouts along up the mountain to third and farthest, who was the one carrying the oxygen tank, but unlike in 101 Dalmatians, this chain of communication did not work as quickly or effectively as the girl needed to continue not having brain damage. Guide2 had to race up the rest of the mountain at a run, a distance and pace which were not negligible.  We could see the top from our position, but that was because the mountain was steep, not because the summit was especially close.  I was effectively moving forward at approximate one step per 20 minutes, and there was probably a good 1.5 km left.  As Guide2 ran he shouted, "OXIGENO!!"  Soon the call was taken up and down the mountain as hikers started picking up on it, and eventually it reached Guide3 who started running down the mountain to meet Guide2 on his way up.  They passed off the tank and Guide2 took off right back down the slope. 

It was a pretty dramatic time. 

I would also like to take this moment out of the dramatic action to point out that I WAS NOT THE RECIPIENT OF THE OXYGEN. I reached the top of Dead Woman's Pass on the strength of my own legs and lungs. 

Back to the story. New Friend and I continued onwards, passing the unconscious girl in Guide1’s arms, with the oxygen mask over her face.  After brutal efforts, I summitted and lay down in the dirt and prayed for an easy death while everyone took photos and rejoiced as we waited for the others, who numbered about 6. 


Once everyone had reached the top, we were told we had to climb a nearby hill, at which point my soul died without fanfare or recognition. 

At the top of this hill, we piled up some stones, took out some coca leaves and blew on them, and made wishes.  I wished never to feel that way again, but the gods did not see fit to grant my wish because very soon we were on our way back down the mountain, which proved to be far, far worse. 

As you are mostly aware, I suffered some severe knee trauma last March which seems to have caused me permanent damage.  Many of you received the narrative involving the bloody massacre that was my trek down the Arenal volcano in Costa Rica.  This was not quite as intense, but it was much longer, and at only halfway my knees went from wobbly to completely dysfunctional and I could no longer put any weight on them at all.  They didn't hurt, exactly.  They just no longer supported me.  If I put a foot down, I just fell right over.  Luckily I had my hiking poles, which I used essentially as crutches, using them to hold all of my weight step by step. This was extremely slow going, and I soon found myself in the same predicament I did on that volcano in Costa Rica--total darkness.

Luckily, I had a fantastic and stylish headlamp right in my easily accessible bag unlike some other n00bs on the trail.  Also luckily, I was not alone.  M was with me the entire way, and J1 and J2 for large parts.

I won't go into full detail of the horror that was my body and mind by the time I reached the bottom of the mountain because my mother is reading this, but if you are not my mother, you should just try to imagine the Total Despair I faced as I dragged my dead legs along on my fake crutches, towards the dinner tent. If you are my mother, try imagining rainbows and friendly hippos instead. 

Dinner was a quiet and somber affair, as even people who were not me were utterly exhausted and/or suffering broken ankles.

After dinner most people stuck around for drinks and ghost stories, but I was having none of it. As dark had swept through the pass, a bitter cold descended.  We were high, high up now, even with the descent. I could not stop shaking, and it wasn't just from the weak knees. On my way to the “toilets,” I carefully crossed a wooden bridge over rushing water when my knees gave out, possibly from the shivering, and I pitched sideways towards the edge.  I yelped in terror, sure that this was it, but luckily whoever had constructed the bridge had accounted for tourists and also built little wood rails which prevented me from tumbling into the water below.  I made it to the most disgusting bathroom we had yet come across on the trip (still did not make my top 5 Worst Bathrooms list).  Also the first bathroom which had only holes rather than toilets.  Not ideal in the cold and the dark, but could have been worse.

Back in the tent I covered myself once again in Hot Hands but unfortunately even that could not stop the violent shivering. The last time I had suffered such cold was the Night of Impending Death in Bolivia so long ago.  I pulled out an emergency blanket Kate once gave me, but even that did nothing and also crinkled at high volume any time I breathed.  I lay awake once again all night until 5 a.m. when the chaskeys brought our morning tea and pulled us from our tents.  

I was standing around praying once again for an easy death that did not seem to be coming when I spotted A PILE OF OREOS.  I heard angels singing in my head.  A soft halo glow emanated from the pile.  I tried to move towards them but I was frozen.  Guide2 was handing them out to hikers, a 4 pack to each of us.  When he reached me I said, "I will save this until evening.  For as long as there is the possibility of Oreos in my future, I will not succumb to death."  He looked at me hard for a few seconds, trying to determine whether this was a joke or a decree.  He seemed disturbed by what he saw in my eyes so he went back to the pile, picked up four more packs, and hid them in my pockets. 

"PLEASE do not die on this trip," he said. I can't even imagine the paperwork and legal repercussions he might suffer in the event of my death. Probably a lot, because after thinking for another few seconds, he packed his own pockets with Oreos to save for later in case I seemed ready to give in. 

I was busy with my own suffering, but it must also be said that J2 woke up this morning in a state. Not EVERYONE had properly examined all of their food for Death Molecules the way I had! Despite the horrible illness that has cut down lesser women, J2 STILL MADE THE 16 KM TREK CARRYING A PACK. 

This day is blurry to me.  The fatigue, the cold, the lack of sleep, the knee swelling...it's hard to remember everything correctly.  But I'm sure I had a lot of fun. 

Seriously though, this whole time that I have been describing the depths of my pain and despair, everything around us was busy being the most beautiful sight mankind can behold.  Snow capped peaks, green and brown mountains, trees and flowers and vines, clouds hanging just over our heads.  The air was thin but clean and the surrounding forestry was untouched by trash or human markings. Every view was stunning. 

The main takeaway from Day 3 was 16 km of ascending and descending, J1, who had been at the head of the group most of the way, stayed behind with me at the end of the evening as I came in second to last in the dark to the final campsite, which was kind of difficult to find. 

J2 lay down to die in our tent, and instead of being a good friend and staying with her to deliver the last rites, I ran off nearly immediately with a group of die-hards at a near run into the brush, swollen knees ignored, lung pain dismissed as I struggled not to be left behind alone in the dark in the woods.  When I ran out into the clearing, the sun was nearly set. The last rays of light shone on an Incan stone structure at the top of a small mountain, directly in front of me.  Below, stretching far, far below, were terraces cut into the slope, one after the other reaching down like steps into another world.  The place was called Winay Wayna and if you look up photos you'll see what I mean, but it won't look as beautiful to you because there was something about being there just at the start of night after the day and looking straight down into the valley that was pretty magical.  

J2 continued to lay near death in the tent as the rest of us ate dinner.. Eventually we all survived dinner and headed to our tents where we lay for maybe 2 hours because we were all to be awakened at 3 a.m. to make the final 7 km push onwards towards Machu Picchu. 

Questions to ponder:

Do my knees recover or do I need to be carried into Machu Picchu?
Does J2 die?
What exactly IS Machu Picchu?

Answers to these questions and more will come in Chapter 5.