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Independence Day in Huanchaco, Peru

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Smash a mirror into a million insignificant pieces, and then quickly glue the fragments back together. The mirror looks different than before: less iridescent, cracked, but still polished glass. Such is my life after two months in Huanchaco, Peru, breaking and rebuilding my body, sex and mind, like a sculptor crushing and remolding her clay.

In one moment I’m lying in the grassy quad at my ultra-liberal, suburban university, letting the summer sun drench my pale features, and in the next I’m scaling the Andes foothills, vomiting into a rocky trench with such force that I search for my large intestine in the rice-and-avocado excrement. Wiping my dehydrated, pink lips and looking out from the sharp crag, I see sugar cane fields smoldering with black smoke and abandonment, withering like me, and I wonder: how did I get here?

Up to my ankles in mire, digging for ancient Moche ruins but finding more temperamental scorpions than significant artifacts, I am far removed from my natural collegiate element, a Sheppard without her serene pasture.

What the hell was I thinking, signing up for an excavation? I blame cinema, and my immature, naïve self, for painting a glamorous and sexy picture of the stiffness and grime that is archaeology. Here I am, in my Indiana Jones shorts, wielding a mason’s trowel and flimsy Ace Hardware paintbrush, thinking this will be the most influential summer of my life. Maybe I’d find a fully-intact human skeleton or a ritual burial site full of golden beads.

No.

The real influence comes from crouching in a ditch with piss streaming down the back of my legs, from roaming the frigid beach at 2 AM to find a dead seal washed ashore and eaten, from hearing a man’s sorrowful croon as he’s stabbed on a nearby street, from stooping down on the soiled pavement just to look a wild dog in its eyes.

And I am cracking like the 12,000-year-old floor we found buried in the primeval ashes.

Without warning, the excavation is ending; the July 4th sky looms over the celebratory campfire that we primitively lit on the sullen beach. Sprawled in the gray sand, hair wild and unwashed, I try unsuccessfully to grip reality despite my wine-induced intoxication. Stacked reed boats in the distance appear like monsters as the sea spins in my ears. My personal Independence Day in Huanchaco culminates in a hostel’s dark bedroom, watching fellow drunken excavators have sex in the streets.

Normalcy is relative, and I no longer know its definition. University life now seems so pedestrian, so bland. After smashing my sense of how life is supposed to be, Peru remolded me from the shattered pieces. I now desire to again sprint through the back alleyways of Huanchaco at midnight, to once more wander through the mango-selling markets in my bare feet. I would give all the money in my jean pockets to be back, sitting on the curb with a man selling tamales, feeding a stray dog from the palm of my hands.

At least in Peru, life is interesting.




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