May 28, 2013 by jiejie768
A couple weeks ago, Meg and I welcomed our final American visitor to Peru in the form of my good friend Keegan Hamilton. Keegan and I met years ago playing youth baseball in Lewis County and became good friends while attending the University of Washington; we each served as best man at the other’s wedding.
Keegan is a professional journalist and was one only of two people to visit us in Peru who spoke Spanish at a near fluent level (Katie Collins being the other). At six days, Keegan also earned the distinction of being the visitor who spent the most time in Ayacucho while in Peru. Unfortunately Keegan’s wife, Jenny, was unable to come on the trip as she spent most of her vacation time this year wowing graduate schools across the country (finally accepting admittance to a program at Mount Sinai in New York City).
So it was that Keegan arrived alone, and a bit tired, at 6:30 a.m. on May 9. His trip from Seattle had started 19 hours earlier and included stops in Dallas and Lima (where he arrived at 1:30 a.m. and left at 5:30). Nonetheless, arriving in Huamanga seemed to energize him, and he managed to stay alert until about 11 before taking quick nap before school. Though we did have a few touristy activities lined up during his 11-day stay in Peru, Keegan was most interested in getting to know Ayacucho and the Kids at the Crossroads program.
On that first day, he accompanied us to school and got a first-hand look at what it is Meg and I do. Though he never did gather the courage to descend into the play area on his own (EDIT: Keegan informs he did head downstairs, but found watching us teach sign-language to Yohan more fun than Connect Four with the kids … my bad, Keegan), he did seem to have a pretty good time interacting with the handful of kids that Meg and I work with one-on-one in the kitchen. After school that day, we took Keegan to dinner at ViaVia, our go-to stop for a visitor’s first night in Ayacucho. The Belgian-Peruvian restaurant has great food and features a fantastic patio view of Ayacucho’s Plaza de Armas and main cathedral.
Those of you who know Keegan are probably well aware of his interest in the darker things in life, such as the Mexican drug trade (researching, not participating). So it came as no surprise to us that Keegan wanted to learn more about the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), the socialist terrorist organization that wreaked havoc on the Ayacucho region during the 1980s and 1990s. Meg and I had recently learned that Ayacucho’s Museo de Memoria was dedicated to the memory of the victims of this terrible organization and earmarked it as a key place to visit during Keegan’s visit.
With this in mind, we headed into town on Friday morning with a mind to check out the museum. It turned out to be a small, but very well done museum. The majority of the exhibits were dedicated to telling victims’ stories, but there was plenty of information about the group itself, a timeline of their reign of terror and some gruesome artistic depictions of the violence carried out during that horrifying era.
In addition to the damage wrought by the Shining Path itself — generally indiscriminate killings of civilians in the countryside — the Peruvian Army did some pretty awful things as well. Basically, the army arrived from Lima to “control” the situation and begin questioning and killing people in and around Ayacucho on even the vaguest suspicion that they were involved with the Shining Path.
All three of us were horrified by what we learned at the museum, but very, very impressed at the meticulous presentation and dedication to memorializing those who lost their lives or loved ones.
After our visit to the Museo de Memoria, we grabbed lunch downtown before splitting up for the afternoon. Keegan and I headed to school for Mother’s Day arts and crafts while Meg stayed at our apartment for a pair of job interviews (including one that would land her the Spanish teacher job at University Prep in Seattle).
It’s possible that Friday afternoon at KATC was the single easiest afternoon I’ve ever passed at the program. Keegan and I basically just sat in the shade and watched the fourth-sixth graders work on their projects. As the kids begin to finish up their baskets, especially the boys, they begin to gather around Keegan. The kids are always excited when new visitors come, but Keegan’s relative youth, ability to speak Spanish and ownership of an iPhone made him exceptionally popular.
After school we headed home and met up with Meg again. The plan was for the three of us to go get dinner and find a bar in Ayacucho. Meg, however, said she was pretty tired and wanted to rest up for the next day’s trip to Vilcashuaman, which would leave at 8 a.m. and take us deep into the countryside.
Unperturbed, Keegan and I headed out on the town. Our first stop was at a pollo a la brasa joint just down the hill from our apartment; I think the roast chicken we devoured there may have been Keegan’s favorite meal of his entire trip to Peru (Hard to go wrong with a spit-roasted quarter chicken and a pile of french fries). Then we set off for the bar.
Keegan was pretty appalled to learn that I had spent pretty much zero time in bars while in Ayacucho. I tried to explain to him that “bars” as we think of them at home don’t really exist in Ayacucho. There are a handful of discotecas (not my scene) and then there are corner stores where you can drink with aging Peruvian alcoholics. Refusing to take no for an answer, Keegan did some Internet research and found the Taberna Magica Negra (Black Magic Tavern). This was, according to the Internet, the only traditional bar in Ayacucho, but it did exist and we were going to check it out.
That was a wise, wise move on our part. The tavern was exactly what the doctor ordered. As far as Ayacucho goes, it was definitely the closest thing to a neighborhood pub that you’re likely to find, and it was awesome. The key to the whole experience was the owner/bartender, Bacho. He was a character and a half.
Upon our arrival, we sat at the bar (the only two patrons at the bar, everyone else in the place was at a dining table and focused on pizza, not drinks) and started to shoot the breeze. Keegan ordered us a couple shots of Cuervo with beer backs and the night was off and running.
Over the course of a few beers, and a second shot of tequila that Bacho insisted we needed (and poured on the house), we traded stories and spent a lot of time laughing. Bacho thoroughly enjoyed my tale of getting stuck in a river during our program’s trip to the campo to deliver Christmas presents. In return, he told us a tale of getting stranded in the desert outside of Pisco while on a research expedition (in addition to owning a bar, Bacho is an archaeologist).
He also spurred one of our favorite running jokes of Keegan’s visit when he responded to Keegan’s query about a mysterious jar atop the liquor shelf. I’m not sure what exactly was in the jar, but whatever it was, Bacho explained we didn’t want it by graphically miming that it would give us really bad diarrhea. Bacho also spent a good deal of time trying to convince me that I needed to buy land in the Ayacuchan countryside as it is muy, muy barato. It was a pretty excellent night on the town.
On Saturday, we woke early and shook off the cobwebs to set out to the countryside and the Incan ruins at Vilcashuaman about three hours from Ayacucho. That adventure merits a post of its own, so I’ll get to it tomorrow. Suffice it say, it was a long trip that left us wiped out.
On Sunday, the plan had been to eat puca picante in Carmen Alto and party it up Mother’s Day style in Ayacucho. I’m not joking, Mother’s Day is the second-biggest holiday of the year in Peru (Christmas being the first) and Ayacucho celebrates in the traditional Huamanguino fashion: with beer, parades and fireworks. Unfortunately, we were waylaid when Keegan came up lame Sunday morning.
At first we were afraid that Keegan had contracted a parasite (insert image of Bacho miming diarrhea), but thankfully that turned out not to be the case. Though he was under the weather most of the day, he rallied late, and we decided it was probably just a side-effect of the altitude and several consecutive days without much sleep. He was pretty much good as new by that evening.
I, on the other hand, was not. Though I did not suffer any stomach ailments, I sprained my ankle pretty badly during a Sunday afternoon run. It was extremely poor timing as it threatened my ability not only to play in Monday’s after-school soccer match with Keegan and my KATC co-workers, but also cast a doubt on my fitness to run in the next week’s Lima Marathon-10K for which Meg and I had been training (off and on) for about three months.
It hurt pretty badly, and swelled up something fierce, but there was nothing to be done but fight through it come Monday afternoon. I was not about to sit out the soccer match, and I got Meg’s blessing by promising to play goalie the whole time (that lasted about 20 seconds … EDIT by Meg: I knew it).
The game was a blast, as Keegan and I were joined on the basketball-court-sized pitch by my coworkers Percy, Wilber and Noe, all four of Noe’s brothers (Ruiz, age 21, Jesus, 12, Abrahan, 10, and Abel 7), Alejandro of big-yellow-bus fame and Yohan one of the kids that Meg and I work one-on-one with at school.
Keegan is a pretty big soccer fan (me, not so much) and I set the game up to give him a taste of what it was like to play the game at 10,000 feet above sea level. We were certainly winded by the end of it, but we both decided it’s hard to tell how much of that is altitude and how much is simply playing soccer. Keegan and I combined with the wizardry of Wilber (easily the best player on the pitch) managed to eke out a two goal victory in the back-and-forth affair.
While we were playing, Meg was being entertained by a pair of cousins whose mother’s work at the pollo a la brasa restaurant that also owns the field. The girls prevented her from getting any reading done, but proved to be pretty amusing. Meg also served as our photographer for the game; she did her best, but the late-evening made quality photography a difficult endeavor. As such, forgive the often grainy quality of the photos from our match.
Tuesday, May 14, marked Keegan’s last day in Ayacucho, and I wish I could tell you that we sent him off in style, taking him out on the town and tying one on. Unfortunately, it must have been a pretty boring day for him as Meg and I spent the entire day packing up all our stuff and moving out of our apartment.
The day before, just as we were leaving for school (at 2 p.m.) our landlords informed us that we’d need to be out of the apartment by that Friday. Since we were leaving for a trip early Wednesday morning and wouldn’t be home until Sunday, that meant we actually had to be out by Tuesday night. We were not pleased (I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say it was a rather underhanded and uncalled for move by our duplicitous landlords that did little to improve our already unsavory opinion of them).
Fortunately, Alejandro and Hilda, who own the house where GeGe and KATC reside, have a big spare room and bigger hearts. They graciously allowed us to move in for our last two-plus weeks, and made a difficult situation a lot easier. Nonetheless, I can’t imagine it was a blast for Keegan, though he did make good use of his time by researching Huraz (our destination for Thursday and Friday of that week) and planning out a handful of activities and finding dining recommendations.
As it was, we managed to get all of our stuff together (it wasn’t as much as we thought) and were ready to go. We set the alarm for 4 a.m. the next day and set our sights on Lima and Huaraz, the two destinations we were set to visit during the second half of Keegan’s visit.