This is part three of a five-part series of ways to experience a little of Peru when you cannot be here. Today we look at touch.
What does Peru feel like?
Put on your alpaca sweater, next to your skin if you dare. Close your eyes and take a moment to remember. To remember the cute alpacas you saw while trekking, to remember the jolly, but slightly pushy saleswoman who you bought your sweater from.
Perhaps it was Pisac market, perhaps at the ruins of Tambo Machay? Remember how you bargained over the price and got them down from fifty soles to forty. How they held your notes up to the sun to check them before stuffing them inside their hat. How you and your group went out to dinner that night, proudly sporting your new alpaca sweaters.
If you have been washing your hands as much as you should be, stop a moment. Run one hand over the back of your other hand. Remember that baby-soft skin you used to have? It’s long gone, you now have Andean hands.
Here above 10,000 feet (3000 meters), the air is dry. Within days you notice your hands and cheeks becoming drier, somewhat rougher. If you have trekked the Inca trail, you will remember shaking the hands of the porters in the final ceremony, abrasive hands, and slightly embarrassed handshakes.
Do you have a pet cactus plant in your house? You do? Great. Now stick your hand into it.
It is easy to ignore the diversity of cacti in the Peruvian landscape until you come too close to one. Each cactus has its own cruel way of leaving its mark on your skin.
Maybe you tried the bright red tuna fruits when you were here? Harvesting them is like extreme blackberry picking. Reaching to pluck one from the plant does not cause any immediate damage to your hand. Then you notice: your hand is full of hair-like spines, which you slowly extract one by one for the next half you.
Then there are the cacti that lie in wait alongside the path, waiting to catch you as you pass. You stop to pull it off, but you can’t. The little barbed hooks have you. Every action has a reaction. As you try to pull one spine out, another sinks further into your skin. The only way to free yourself from this criss-cross of spines is to cut them and remove them, one painful pull at a time. Perhaps you still have the scars.
What does Peru feel like to you?
If you want to read the rest of this short series, part one is here.0