Cusco, Peru: The Market

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There’s something to say about the senses as I write this with the nostalgia felt months ago in the Andean valley of Cusco. I still find myself dumbfounded by what I perceived in those moments, in the wake of sensory overload. I drift back into these experiences held in the many pockets of life outside my comfort cushion. I focus on my senses, dull from a lively kaleidoscopic path I over exacerbated by the times I garner the strength to reveal.

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In those times of nausea and short breath, Rose, Bella, and myself found ourselves sunbathing at high noon. I glanced at my wristwatch, dropping my arm in defeat as I remembered–I wore a broken watch.

Minutes ago we hiked to the rim of the city from the center of the Plaza Mayor, a five minute stroll for the locals, thirty minutes for Gringos. We were still unadjusted to the change of altitude. Each stairwell shortened our patience, but the stone alleys and high cliffs stimulated my eyes and gusto. This alone kept me more energized than any Coca leaf jabbed into the corners of my mouth.

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“I’m starving,” Bella said.  

“They say you need to eat before you’re hungry,” I said, staring up into pale blue horizon. “At least they said that on Kilimanjaro.”

“Well, we haven’t eaten a thing today,” Bella sighed.

“And it’s 1:20,” Rose added, snidely.

“It’s already that late?” I asked, picking myself off the ground to stretch.

“It’s been that late.”

“Alright,” I said, yawning, “I didn’t know. Reckon we can make our way back down now?”

“Back to the plaza,” Rose muttered.

“Yeah. Pick something up along the way, ya know?”

We headed back down the valley, distancing hunger with more scenery. It wasn’t hard to stay mesmerized by Cusco’s beauty. In the far reaches along the tight walkways stood colorful textile balconies of Moorish and Incan heritage. A prearranged marriage of indigenous glory toppled by colonial Spanish prosperity. I considered the historical significance of these structures, and marveled at the cultural duality.

But it was too quiet. I turned around and found myself alone among a dozen winding aisles of decorative flowers on the windowsills.

I dragged my feet along the slick stone as my fingertips and toes went numb with panic. My steps echoed. I raced up the previous way to find the girls, ignoring my faint breaths turning weaker as I pushed on. No one.

I breached the opening to an unfamiliar courtyard. Warm chatter oscillated into a tranquil square from the eastern paths, and I felt compelled to investigate.

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What is sensory overload? Is it the anxiousness built up in fly swarms around a decomposing, butchered horse? Is it a flinch in the midst of shouting and musk, or the slightest brush against a stranger’s arm?

I floated along the human current, grabbing ahold of the back of a hardwood pew, isolating myself in the whirlpool of produce peddlers, butchers, and fishmongers. I felt the energy of small children playing under the stand’s fabric covers along the vast sea of Peruvian food vendors. As people crashed against the structure’s facade, the spray of culinary fragrances ignited from the stovetops.

“Pretty wild, huh?” A sultry voice carried over the market’s white noise.

She sat in my peripheral, looking through the lens of a camera. To me, she was no more than a golden brown blur and an obscure black aparatus. I turned to look at her, and she met my offer with half-drooped eyes and a face full of wavy hair hanging daintily over her shoulders. The follicles kissed the ends of her eyelashes.

“People just come and go,” she said, pulling her hair from her face. We sat in front of a sandwich stand, near a juice bar. She waved her hand to catch the attention of a waitress.

“I read about these markets before,” I said, nervous. “I still can’t believe I’m inside one.”

“You seem lost.”

“Everything seems so fresh. I can’t make up my mind.”

“But are you lost?” She insisted.

A waitress arrived, and I pointed at the picture of a giant sandwich with avocado in it. She wrote down the amount I owed on a piece of paper, and I paid.

I gazed over to the woman beside me, and she tapped the top of a glass in front of her. The waitress filled it with coffee.

“Cusco is such a fine town. It’s easy to get lost,” She said.

“I found it… relieving? But I can’t stop feeling–”

“Scared?”

I jumped from a vibration in my pocket, “You don’t know anything about me.”

“Do you think find me attractive?” She asked, sly full lips dangled off her face.

“I’m accomplished, a college graduate, finishing a chapter of my life with adventure and–”

“Tell me if you think I’m attractive,” She insisted.

“Love,” I mutter, “I have a girlfriend. She’s probably waiting for me.”

“Then answer your phone,” she sipped her coffee, “Was that what vibrated?”

The waitress served me my sandwich. Sensations entered my nostrils, fulfilling a long awaited feast.

“You’re beautiful,” I confessed.

“I believe that,” she said, standing up to leave.

“You’re leaving?”

“I’m bored,” She said, placing a card next to me. “Stay in touch.”

The card read Julia Cohen Photography.  

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