I’m an innocent most things. A true child. A Naivete on legs.
We spent this morning at the British Museum at the Peru, a journey in time exhibition. There was a lot on the various civilisations who have peopled the western edge of the Andes over the last 5000 years. Amazing if some times a bit grim. Fr’instnace this is a funerary shroud form some 2000 years ago where each human figure carries a severed head. As you do because it symbolises how to keep life and nature in balance. Today we obsess about the right amount of fibre. It’s fair to say I’m happy living now.
That apart, Peru is extraordinary and I was lucky enough to visit in 1987. Up to that point the Textiliste and I had limited ourselves to Europe. It was a bit of a departure and whetted the appetite for wider travel.
We were warned about the altitude; at points we would be above 14,000 feet which was a step up from the 472 feet above sea level at which we lived in London (and that included the fact we rented a second floor flat). However, the trip was carefully planned so we would start low in Lima and gradually work our way up.
Only that was rubbish. On our second day and still adjusting to a time zone that was last experienced in Lost In Space! we were offered an optional trip to the Colca Canyon to view the Inca farming shelves and, if we were lucky see a Condor fly.
We set out after breakfast though in truth it could have been after a temporary lobotomy given how I felt in a minibus driven by a taciturn Peruvian with a cheery guide. If you’d asked me who was likely to make my day, I’d not have given you big odds on the driver.
It all went pretty well as we followed one of those snaky roads up the side of a mountain, with the trees then the grass and finally the air being left somewhere behind.
After a couple of hours we were offered a chance to stretch our legs.
They should have said our lungs. I walked to the edge of a rather scrabby lake and wondered why the in-out movement of my lungs had no affect. It was devoid of oxygen. At some point I’d dozed off and we were in the Sea of Tranquillity, Moonside.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really given oxygen much thought. It was just there. Like gas bills. It turned up unannounced. But unlike the utility bills, I doubt I’d miss them if they skipped a quarter. Oxygen, on the other hand would be much missed.
In no time I went from feeling middling to distinctly mortal. It was horrid, sucking madly at nothing and wondering where the bloody gas was hiding because the others all seemed to be managing.
I felt dreadful. Seriously discombobulated. We set off again, with me hoarding every little bit of O2 that I could find. At some point we stopped and saw a Condor. I have a vague memory of this but at the time I was more anxious that it didn’t see me as an easy buffet lunch.
The guide made some inappropriate jokes at my expense but the driver was a better man. We made an unscheduled tea stop at the sort of roadside shacks that feature in kidnap movies and not in a good way.
Who was I to disagree? A cuppa had to be bit of a pick me up.
Pick me up? This stuff was the soft porn of beverages. Talk about a stimulant.
‘What on earth…?’
Everyone else seemed to know except me. ‘Coca tea.’
They recommended we didn’t buy a box of tea bags to take home as a souvenir. Something about sniffer dogs and class A drugs
The effect didn’t last, but for the short period we shared a small intestine it was bliss and it got me back to sea level. It didn’t stop the tooth ache which the altitude also bequeathed me, but that’s another story.
So, today, when I saw a 1550 year old pouch with dried coca leaves on display it took me back to that driver and that shack. My Peruvian hero alongside Paddington bear.
Sadly the shop only sold books and pottery. If you ask me, they missed a bit of a trick.