Miriam Feder home


On the bus, South of Cusco, Trip Report 6

St.Francis gate


Miriam- A woman on the verge of 60 traveling alone in Peru and taking it upon herself to track down somewhat more obscure ruins of pre-Inca origin in the Cusco area by city bus. She is decidedly delinquent in foreign languages, despite an abiding desire to talk to everyone. She is willing to do most anything to communicate, even acting out words such as “tofu” and “disarming” with unsuccessful but memorable results.

Rosa—A Quichua woman who as it turns out is 6 months younger than Miriam. She has about half a dozen words of English and a powerful desire to communicate.

The Scene:

At rise, a partially occupied public bus bound for the southern reaches of the Cusco area. Miriam enters tenuously, sizing up the places to sit. She chooses a seat towards the front of the bus on the Right, next to Rosa, who has placed her purse on the aisle seat, as if to discourage someone from sitting there.

What ensues—I’ll save y’all from the dialogue because I know folks mostly hate to read that. This was one of those unforgettable human connections that happen sometimes when I travel alone and fills me with energy.

We start our conversation with “where am I going and where am I from”—the traveler’s stock in trade. Please keep in mind these questions come at me in Spanish, I reply in whatever little I can come up with that’s Spanish or Spanishy (that’s English or maybe bad high school French said with sort of a Spanish accent) accompanied by handwaving and the like.

“Estados Unidos” I say (I learned this in my unsuccessful attempts to buy a Machu Picchu ticket online. You have to really hunt for the good ol’USA when it’s not a USA website.)

“Estados Unidos es bonita!” says Rosa.

“Peru es bonita!” I reply.

She beams, and we’re on our way to making an hour bus ride short.

Rosa free forms all the best of traveler discussions. She wants to know of course if I am alone. And then of course if I am married. She was hoping there was a husband somewhere who might be waiting for me in Cusco. No. Well, that sort of ended that.

Then on to parents. She was very shocked and sad to learn that mine were both muerte. Not a word I thought of—although my mixed up tongue was ready with the German Todt. She has a Mama. I wanted to take us out of this tragic dimension and there were rather adorable children taking over parts of the bus, so I offered that I had a bambina and that she was big now. No telling how successful this was and I didn’t have the decency or facility to ask about her maternal life.

Introductions were made. I can say my name is Miriam in Spanish, thanks to Carol Fink, who wouldn’t stop saying “Me llamo Carol Fink” after our first day of foreign language class in 5th grade.


Like Mary, but Miriam (but of course Mary is a Miriam derivative.) I’d been pretty spoiled by introducing myself as Miriam in South America. I got it back with a trilled R and recognition, unlike the responses I get at home.

Then Rosa led us through a list of common foods and wanted to know the English for them. Since I firmly believe the most important words in any language relate to either the bathroom or food, this was welcome.


Then she wanted to know if we had potatoes in Estados Unitas. Potatoes are very important to Peruvians. After all, they gave them to the world I think and grow lots of them right here (many colors.) I agreed potatoes were very important and we grow lots of them in Oregon for the whole USA. This delighted her.

She asked about apples and I told her we grow apples and sell them to todos mundo. Rosa loves apples.

Somewhere during this time a young man entered the bus (which had become very full by now) and Rosa offered him a seat on the plastic bucket with a blanket on top that had come with her. He was fascinated that we were talking.

Am I a Catholic?


Evangelical (in many countries this describes all Protestants.)

No. I am a Jew, Juif, uh…

So I find the paper that has my destination written on it (Pikillacta, incidentally) and a working pen and draw a six pointed star and write JEW (six pointed stars are commonly used on maps and all sorts of designations but….)

Ah! Recognition.

Then she told me that Mary is Jesus Christ’s mother.

I know, but Miriam is Moses’ sister, a biblio premiero. Yes, this is a case of I see your New Testament and raise you one.

Now she lands hermanos, finally. She’d been trying that one out on me on and off in all of our conversations, receiving only dumb looks from yours truly. Now with me having said sister she says it again, with emphasis and I get it. We both have a huge laugh and thumbs up.

No sister, another tragedy, but we’re on a roll, so Rosa decides to teach me Quichua, which is the first language in this part of Peru.
The younger man is as fascinated as he’s ever been about anything in his life, I’m pretty sure. Sometimes Rosa has to stop and explain all that’s gone on between us—especially this not-a-Christian thing.

Do I know Orlando?

And showing remarkable restraint, (I didn’t burst into Book of Mormon, although I heard it loudly in my head) I responded: I haven’t been to Orlando. But I do know Disney–in California.

(BTW- you probably ought to know that for most Latin Americans, Florida is the Capital of the USA)

Rosa would like to go to Orlando. She either went to Spain this year or will go next February. It didn’t seem important which. I shared that I’ve never been to Spain but travel is good because of the people you meet.

Whereupon Rosa declared us Amigas.

I agreed.

She wanted a phone number and doesn’t do email.

I gave her a card, which was received with extreme appreciation. When I had to get off, we stood for a big hug and kiss, sad and happy protestations, and Pikillacta began as soon as I figured out how to cross the highway.

PikillactaIt was lovely to have these sort of haunting ruins from the Huerca people (before the Incas) almost to myself. The weather was fabulous although rain was expected. It came hours later after I was back in Cusco and in need of an excuse to choose a lunch spot. (Lunch was a Relleno—stuffed pepper but more interesting than the peppers we tend to get and stuffed with meat and yummy things, then fried in dough. What’s not to like.)

The coffee: I had a question from a reader about how can these people make such bad coffee. They don’t really drink it, not in Ecuador either. They grow it for export. I understand Columbia is a coffee obsessed nation but not Peru. Beer is also meh and wine is expensive and not so good. But Pisco … that’s another story.

Pikillacta 2But back to the ruins. After enjoying the solitude and ancient haunting beauty of Pikillacta I went back towards town on the bus to Tipon, an Inca site. From there I found a better bus back into the center of Cusco.
In the evening I went to a folkloric dance and music performance that is part of the Boleta Turistico tourists have to buy to enter the main ruin sites. I didn’t expect much but it was really well done—a big string and flute band and a huge corps of dancers. They changed their magnificent costumes for nearly every dance. Wow!dancers 2

Upon leaving the theatre (Cusco is a super safe place to wander around as a woman alone, even late into the evening—very unusual in South America—and much of the rest of the world) I crossed the street to Santo Domingo—a major church that I had seen from the other end, since it was built on an Inca holy site that the Spanish trashed to build their cathedral. (That was the Spanish MO) I let myself get swept into the Holy Thursday evening service. I can only describe entering the building and the celebrations that ensued as a Tsunami of Catholicism. Hundreds of people were there and still entering, women were weeping, both genders crossing and kneeling, priests were singing and playing guitar, all the statuary had been specially dressed for holy week (beautiful black costumes with heavy duty white, gold and silver stuff—very ongepatchkied but totally effective in this barely lit cathedral full of exquisite cedar carved alters and all those other things I don’t have names for.) The Peruvians use a lot of really bloody scary icons plus a few cherubic faces thrown in for good measure and the occasional effort to make Jesus et al. look a little more Latin.

Well it was an amazing day and night and such sensory overload that it was tough to get to sleep. Isn’t that the best problem to have?Pikillacta 4Tipon 2Tambomachay