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Travel Diary: The Peruvian Meat-On-A-Stick Adventure

Last week, when The Frisky held its fancy party, one of the snacks was lamb served on a stick, which got me thinking about the last time I ate interestingly stabbed meat. It started with a bang the day I arrived in Peru — I passed out onto my face. I woke up on the hotel bathroom floor, surrounded by and smeared with blood. Then I was revived, mysteriously back in bed, and staring at the ceiling, which I thought was breathing. My adventure had begun.No drugs and no drinks. The face crash came merely from altitude, something I had no idea packed such a punch. I’d left Philadelphia, which has an altitude of zero (or even slightly lower if you walk downhill), and flown in with some friends to Cusco, which is a cloud city at 11,000 feet.

Meanwhile, the ceiling took an unpleasant bubbling effect, as though there were some bulbous slime creature burbling underneath the shiny tiles that wanted to ooze on down over me. Efforts to reach the bedside phone and call for help failed. I couldn’t lift my body, so I did a sort of sideways butt slide, to shift closer to the nightstand, until I could reach out just one arm and knock the headset over and dial Raven. She’d been a soldier. She was going to rescue me from the enigmatic face-bleeding.

She answered the phone with a “Nughahyah.”

“I think I have altitude sickness. I have a fever, and my head hurts.”

“Oh?”

“And my face hurts because I passed out onto the floor, and I think my nose is broken, and my face is wet, and I can’t move to get ice, and how do you tell if your nose is broken …”

She came, wobble-footed and kind, to patch up my busted-up nose and lip. I looked a little like a victim, or a losing prize fighter, when I went to dinner that night. As people swarmed, demanding to know what had happened and wanting to send me back safely to America, I made a choice: I was going onward with my smashed face and probably new concussion. I wanted to climb mountains and see llamas, and see where virgins were sacrificed while priests watched. I trooped onwards to Macchu Piccu.

The death-defying bus barely gripped the earth on treacherous switchback curves up the mountain from Agues Calientes, with sprawling large greenness on one side and empty nothingness on the other. We hurtled towards a forgotten city. I’d never before understood how an entire city could just be lost. And Macchu Picchu is enormous. Historically, it was supposed to have held a population of beautiful (celibate) virgins and (celibate) priests. The Incas somehow managed to keep dragging and splitting giant rocks to the mountain secretly. The Spanish didn’t know about it to come and knock it down. The plants know about it, though. Flowers pop up bright orange, scenically taunting photographers out over the edge of the cliff.

We were so close to the sun. The birds flew below us. I could hear the river flowing when I paid attention, but there was otherwise no noise except the tourists. The sound of my camera rewinding was offensively loud and intrusive. Every time I came to the end of a roll of film, my face turned red. And that was adventure.

Just outside the entrance to a market, there were two women selling meat on a stick. The smell was overwhelming, and I was drawn over to them, with about seven street dogs in tow. The woman tells me it’ll be 50 centimos as I wait. (That’s well under 50 cents, maybe about 20.) I didn’t know what animal I was eating, with the soft potato and green hot sauce smeared on top. Small children and hopeful salesmen followed me, repeating “Un Sol—Maybe later, Un Sol—maybe later.” The meat was delicious.

As much as I remember the feeling of height, how near it was to flight, surrounded by beauty and history, I also remember not being able to change my socks for days. And how my skin smelled of sunscreen, sweat, and dirt. Eating mystery meat sold on the street, and loving it. The constant pulse of pain traveling through my head. These other private adventures — small for sure — but they’re exactly what I remember when I’m served lamb on a stick.

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