A thin shelf of shadow graced the side of the pavilion in the plaza’s center, across from a sixteenth century Catholic church. The rest of the plaza seemed almost empty, except for cascades of burning sunlight.
After walking half a mile in the intense shine from the highway where the bus from Cusco had dropped me, I walked around the plaza looking for a van or car that could take me the next seven kilometers to Pitumarca, the rural town where I planned to take some gifts to my godson. There was nothing and I debated walking the distance or waiting for a ride. But the intensity of the almost noontime sun filled me with dread. The sun can burn so fast at this altitude, raising blisters across the top of my bald pate, on my nose and ears and then days later the now dead skin would slough off in large sheets. I had lost my cap and worried about being out in the sun at noon.
So I gingerly crept into the narrow shadow to find a place wide enough to accommodate my bulk. I was surprised to almost step on a sixty something woman in white stove pipe hat, a blue shawl, and a wide, pleated skirt. I stepped back into the sun, walked past her and reentered the shadow.
In Quechua she said "It’s hot isn’t it." It’s winter here. We were both bundled up, the air was warm but not hot and the shadow was chilly. "Yes it is hot" I said thinking about the burning sun and wondering if I had already crisped my head in the half mile I had already walked. I remembered I had a tube of sun block. I pulled it from my bag and began to rub it over my head, face, neck, and nose. "What’s that, she said" "Sun block" "Can I have some." I squeezed an abundant amount into her outstretched hand and she imitated me in applying it to her face.
"Where are you going?" I asked. "To Pitumarka and you." "Me too. Do you think a vehicle will come soon to take us?" "Who knows. They say there should be one by one o’clock. Do you live in Pitumarka?"
"Who me, the gringo? …No I live in the US but am going to visit my godson. What about you, do you live in Pitumarka?"
"No I live in Cusco. But my mother is here from Lima and called telling me to come see her. So I am returning after almost ten years to see my mother. She left for Lima when I was a girl, because her husband was working for the municipal government there. So you have a godson in Pitumarka. Did you used to live there?"
No I work in the university in my country and we brought some students to Pitumarka two years running. I got to know a few people there and Exaltación Huaman asked me to be the godfather of his son. It was a real honor."
"Where did you baptize him?" "At a mass in the church in Pitumarka. I told the priest that I am not Catholic and he said it did not matter. So I held the two and a half year old boy, while the priest anointed him with holy water and holy oil. It was a wonderful experience.
"Where are you staying in Cusco?" I have eight grandchildren and two of them need baptizing? Can you be their godfather?"
"Wow that’s a lot of responsibility. Maybe if we knew each other better? Have you ever been to Lima?”
"Yes. I was there last year. I do not like Lima it is dirty and too agitated. You never see the sun. Is it from smoke or what?
"Wait I hear an approaching vehicle. I’m going to go see."
I ran from the shade to the street to impede the path of the oncoming vehicle. It was a maroon pickup with a man, under a broad brimmed hat, inside. "Are you going to Pitumarka?"
"No. I am just taking a spin around this town, Checcacupe."
I walked to a candy cart where two kids sat under a broad, cloth shade and bought two Peruvian chocolate bars.
Once in the shadow again I handed one to the woman and opened the other myself. We sat in silence, letting the savor of chocolate fill our senses.
"Are you staying the night in Pitumarka? You know they will be so happy to see you they will kill some guinea pigs and make you a special meal. What are you taking for you godson? Clothes?"
"I’m taking him some toys from the United States. I bought him a car with batteries that makes music and noise at the same time its wheels can make it move slowly. And I bought him a safari jeep." Do you think he will like them?"
"Yes, he will be very happy. Are you staying the night?"
"No ma’am. I can’t. This is just a quick trip. I have to be back in Cusco tonight."
"They will be disappointed. What is your name? Mine is Elena Qolqe. Where are you staying in Cusco.?" "My name is David Knowlton and I am in the Hostal La Prisma on Matará street." "How long are you going to be there? I will bring my grandchildren by to meet you." "I am leaving early Monday morning for Bolivia. I do not think there will be time." "When are you coming back?"
Our heads turned as the low roar of an approaching vehicle penetrated our consciousness. "I think that is the van," she said as we both stood up, shouldered our bags and walked towards the oncoming, white van, glaring in the sun.
"Nice to meet you Mrs. Elena." The van stopped and I stood back from the door to let her enter. Suddenly a hoard of people came from God knows where and blocked me from the door, as they all pushed forcefully inside as if they were ground meat thrust into a sausage casing. I did not feel like pushing and shoving.
Elena moved to the back of the van as I waited. But the van was full. There was no room left for me, unless I could fold my frame into a two foot square bag. "Damn! What am I going to do. Please make room for me." A military official hidden among the crowd pushed a girl off a seat and said "Here mister. Here is a seat for you."
I had a great visit with Exaltacion his wife and two kids. My godson, Lenin, loved the cars. He could not keep from running it all over the plaza in Pitumarka. Kids came running from everywhere to see what he had. Not long after I arrived they did brink a table into the small shop they had on Pitumarka’s square and brought out overfilled plates of chicken, mutton, and potatoes. It was way more than I could eat. But you have to try and have to eat all you can.
Lenin just turned four last June 22. They told me how a year ago he fell into a pot of boiling water and was severely burned. He is miraculously ok now and only has a little scarring, although he spent almost a month in the hospital in Cusco. The distance between Peru and the US sometimes in painful.