Monday, August 17, 2009

Post Script

It has been a week since I have been home, and I thought I would wrap up my journal from Peru with a piece of self-reflection. The day I got home I wrote my friend Matt who had been on the trip with me, "I just got home today and Im depressed. I want to go back to Peru. Even when it wasnt fun it was fun. Like, all the colors and sounds and smells and the thick human harmony in every street; the chickens and the dogs and the dust (so much dust, but such great boogers)... The US just feels so sterile and proper that I feel homesick for a place that is clearly not my home."

Matt sends back a quote from 'Men of Salt' about the country of Mali, saying, "I think it describes well the feelings we have for a place like Peru. The author says this upon his arrival after discussing how Mali is the 4th poorest country in the world and 25% of children die before age 5: 'But I also quickly realized that it's the type of country in which I like best to travel: one in which much of daily life takes place outside; where things function with no concern for liability lawsuits; where the local version of order closely resembles the Western notion of chaos; and where poverty does not equal shame, partly because so many people are poor, partly because riches don't increase one's status in the eyes of Allah.
The cacophonous, colorful markets; the sense of solidarity that forms among passengers crammed together in the back of a battered pickup truck that sputters like a wounded turtle along rutted roads; the groups of men arranging prayer mats on the sidewalks at sunset, kneeling and casting long shadows before them as the calls of the muezzins roll from minarets; even the littered streets and putrid gutters that are a regular feature of towns in the developing world—all these reminded me of other places I'd been, other places I'd loved. I felt an instant fondness for the country, a sense of homecoming, though I'd never been there before.' [Rachel, ] It sounds like you could have said those words, no?" I couldnt have said it better myself.


So what happened to me in Peru? I suspect that will take years to find out. I feel something changed in me, the way you feel a little difference, a tiny special space inside carved out for the one you love. But I am not sure what is in that space quite yet.

What did I do there – I learned a new language. I met people whose entire lives were completely different than mine; and I loved them. I saw mountain deserts, jungle, dances and costumes and traditions and dresses, and lots of different hats. I took some quiet time to think about myself, about what is important to me, about medicine and my future in it.

I think that is one thing about living in a country so poor; it sets in contrast the richness, in a sparkling clarity, and you turn those lenses on your own life. Here, family is number one, and friends and community are considered like family. Children are born without planning or worry about schedules or work or money, and welcomed with celebration. They are celebrated with parks to play in, colorfully painted, with attention and care to their education in music, art, tradition, as well as trying to prepare them for the future with English and Spanish. This value is in contrast to the orphanages in nearly every town – most children in there places have parents still but who cannot support them. But it does make the worry that we upper and middle class Americans (myself included) spend on how to fit a child into our schedules and budgets seem somewhat silly.

Kids here are adorable. Not because of their wind-chapped cheeks or dark inquiring eyes, but because of their fearlessness, their joy at simple things, their interest in the world around them. Cared for by mom, sister, friends, and occasionally dad or brothers, children grow up with no separation anxiety, no fear of strangers. The fact that parents work long hours and are gone often is an accepted reality, and that space is filled with friends, loving community members, grandparents. Many never really get to see themselves in a mirror and move with that total lack of self-conciousness that children in the US now lose so quickly. Its somewhat heartbreaking though to see such beautiful bright children with no future – for the poor mountain children, the odds are that they will be plowing fields, selling trinkets on the side of the road, weaving, and dreaming of a better life from now through old age. Given the opportunity, these children could change their situations, their country, their world. (As a side-note, I was saying to Avi the other day, the US does not have the monopoly on happiness, or health, or family life, but it sure does on opportunity. If you want to do something, make something of yourself, improve your life or the life of others, this is your platform. If you have other priorities, there are other countries which can better foster those aspirations; in fact, its difficult to have simpler priorities in America – Ill come back to this).

Ill tell you what I havent seen very much value for: ambition, titles, the professional climb. Of course it exists in modern cities, but very little in the countryside where I have been living. Its just so far down the list of important things, after the people you love, working hard to earn your keep, respect and knowledge of your traditions and culture, living well with good food, good drink, beautiful places. Probably Peru could use a little more ambition, maybe, to pull up the standard of living, but with most ambitious people acting corruptly in the political positions, you can understand the distrust of that sentiment. More than ever it makes me want to get off the wheel of climbing from better to better position, and just do what I want to do with time to appreciate all the things that are more important than work. On the other hand, Ive never seen any people work as hard as the Peurvians, much of it incredibly physical manual labor, and it reminds me how important is this value.

I think some of this different value system I wove into myself. I find myself hurrying less, and spending more time appreciating people. In the lab where I have started work, the slow pace of mixing reagents and running gels – something that has driven me to distraction of frustration in the past – is now a pleasure. It gives me time to talk to the people around me, smell the acrid chemicals, watch the stream formations rise off the liquid nitrogen, just be and wait. I dont look at the clock as much, since Im trying not to rush anywhere, but rather to just be present where I am. Checking off career boxes is less important to me now; I dont care much if I publish or accomplish or what will look best on my resume. Id rather read, learn whatever is being offered, and enjoy the experience.

Not that this is all a sudden change because of three months abroad, rather, I have been looking to get off the wheel, but didnt know how to mentally do so. My friends in Peru showed me how; they modeled for me what a life would look like without ascent and achievement as central pillars. As it turns out, its not empty or lazy at all, but filled with a labor of love for family and community. A slower, more mundane, and less recognized labor to be sure, but one that is filled with quiet personal meaning.

Will it last? Hard to say if this is the kind of change you can't take back, or if it will fade to a memory as I step back on the wheel and am enticed by the glittering opportunities that only the great USA could offer. It is tough even now for me to decide if, being born with such privilege, it is my obligation to trade in some of my happiness for the service of humanity (excuse the haute terminology, but that is what it is), or whether stepping back and just being present day to day, dancing at friends weddings and crying at their funerals, connecting with people and trying to do what I can at little junctions to help them out, maybe this is enough. I guess this is in the end what Peru offered; another way of life, another outlook and mindset. Not knowing how this will play out in the rest of my life, I have to leave this ending open-ended; I for one have little more healthy uncertainty – the kind that turns philosophies from black and white to shades of grey to – in the case of Peru – an explosion of color.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Last Day in Peru

We took a cab all the way back down to Huaraz, and boarded the little plane back to Lima (both of those adventures in their own right). We were the only people on the plane, along with a very important-looking gentleman with the key to some city and a security detail. Dad was curious and so struck up a conversation with the guy. He was the Israeli embassador to Peru, of course. He is also Druze, which is interesting, and rose up to be a Colonel in the Israeli military and then embassador to a number of different South American countries. So anyone who says Arabs in Israel dont have the same opportunities... But Im not wandering into politics here.

Our day in Lima was so much fun. We walked through the spooky 17th century San Franciscan monastery and the catacombs beneath. Then we shopped for last minute gifts and caught a cab to Miraflores. There we walked through the park along the high bluffs overlooking the sea, and we watched the parasailors take off and land there -- the same as Lony and I had done 2.5mo before. I showed Dad everything we had done in our first days in Peru, our apt and school and all the activities we did and the places we got food. We had some dinner and then walked through the art exhibit in the park. It was night by then and we cabbed it back to the airport where we started the long trip home. For me, it was a day of plane from Huaraz to Lima, cab around the city, jet Lima to Fort Lauderdale overnight, jet FLL to Washington DC where Trudy picked me up and whisked me home. I ate, showered, said quick hellos, and then got in my car and drove through periodic severe thundershowers and torrential rains 5.5hrs to Ohio where my cats and house were waiting for me in perfect condition and harmony, as if I just left.

I felt like Max, from Where the Wild Things Are, when he comes back from his dream to reality:
"and he sailed back over a year, in and out of weeks, and through a day ... and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him... and it was still hot."

Sunday, August 9, 2009


So with Mom and Hanna gone, Dad and I continued onto Northern Peru; maybe the most beautiful place Ive ever seen. The mountains are 20,000+ feet and tower over beaucolic farms and fertile valleys. First day we saw emerald lakes. Second day I took Dad bouldering. It was so much fun. We had no gear but a crash pad and climbed in our sneakers but we went as high at 25-30 feet. Apparent bouldering is just 3-7 meters off the ground and after that (what we were doing) is "free climbing" ie just climbing without gear, or "high balling" as its called in climbers slang (thanks google article). The rocks here were left by the glacial retreat and they are really just ridiculous large relics of another time. When you get to the top of one you are on this platform surrounded by valleys and mountains, and you feel like youre on top of the world. Dad loved it. Hed get to the top and go Woah What a Rush! I got a sunburn and one single black fly bite (there are a lot here but theyre really slow so I generally have been killing them before they get me), but it was such a great morning, I didnt even mind.

Then we came back, rested, ate lunch, and went out on horseback together with this guy Kirk. Kirk was everything. A dental student, had enlisted and done 4 years in the marines, a mountain guide and EMT, trained in search and rescue, ski patrol, a surfer, boarder, climber, and when I asked him why everyone in the world loved the Princess Bride so much, he said something has to fill the space when youre not watching the Neverending Story. Right on.

The ride was amazing. The horses were spunky but listened well and we galloped underneath the mountains and walked quietly through eucalyptus groves for hours. It is so silent here, the way it is at the beach where the water swallows up the sound. Occasionally we would come across people thrashing wheat with a stick or a little mule braying at the tall horses enviously, but often there was no sound at all, or just the wind. We came home just before sunset, and prepped quickly for shabbos. We were in bed asleep by 9:30pm.

This morning I was sick. Actually Ive been sick for the past 4 days with what I can only assume is post-street-vendor diarrhea (my first in my time here!), but have chosen to ignore it in favor of having fun and eating whatever delicious food came my way. But last night it brought with it some slight fever and chills, and imodium-worthy cramps, and this morning, I was out of commission. Couldn't eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner, but I did have some matzah that we have with us. Took some cipro and shivered in bed. Slept all day. But what better place to be sick – I watched the clouds move and the rain fall through the skylight. Out the front window I watched the country people chop their wood and the horses play and graze in the field. I slept through some hail and snow and cold rain, and by the time I emerged after shabbos was over, the sky had mostly cleared and the city lights blinked off in the distance and everything was peaceful.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


It finally happened. Hannah who was sick with swine flu for 5 days or so and then not eating or drinking anything since then, was vomiting this morning when we were getting ready to go from Arequipa to Lima and collapsed upon boarding the plane. There was of course a huge hullabaloo, the doctor was called on, and though they diagnosed her only with dehydration (no more flu), they wouldnt let her fly. So off we went, and into a very personal experience with the Peruvian medical system.

Overwhelming to tell the whole story, but after 1.5L we got her to Lima, much perked up I might add, and she and Mom departed just now (early) for Boston. Dad and I are staying on one more weekend. Updates to come. New pictures should be up on Picasa of our Arequipa trip.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Urubamba, Arequipa

To catch everyone up!

From the Jungle, we went to Machu Picchu, which was obviously magnificent beyond words and photos. It was a time warp into a different place, era, sensibility, and spirituality. Then to Edwin's in Urubamba. It was like going home. I must have kissed every staff member twice. We saw his farm, his medicinal gardens, his rock and artifact collection. He is a refined gentleman and a self-made man and a little boy in one – like all truly good men. It was a magical shabbat, punctuated by bleating goats, rooster crows, the Andean music carried on the wind from the adjacent farm. I cried when we left.

We flew to Arequipa, a very cosmopolitan city, and used it as our base for a trip to Colca canyon. The culture here, while still Incan/Andean, is notably different, even on a superficial level in the way people dress. We passed through beautiful mountain towns and the canyon itself -- deepest in the worlds (more than the grand canyon even) -- was quite beautiful. Condors, ancient vulture-like birds with wingspans up to 10 feet, use the thermal currents in the canyon to drift up and up. The rose like peaceful demons our of the depth, and soared over our heads, resting lightly on the wind.

Tomorrow, up north of Lima to the trekking mecca of peru, Huaraz. Sorry its such a short post, but I hope the new pictures speak for themselves:

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Three days in the Amazon

Day #1 – I'm writing now from within the ghostly protection of my mosquito net, by the light of a candle. It is dusk. We're in the Amazon. Monkey roars, bird twitters, frog chirps; the occasional shriek of a macaw. There is something so other-worldly about being in the rainforest – even on merely a tourist expedition – a certain untamed wildness about these places that commands respect and caution.

A long story to get here, briefly to catch you up, my parents came on Friday, I showed them around Cusco, and we went to chabad. Expect for Hanna who wasnt feeling well. By the time we got back on Friday night, there was vomit on the coverlet and Hanna was burning up. Shabbos day we went to chabad, walked around, came home and rested and stayed in debating what to do about Hanna. She was still vomiting large quantities of fluids and couldnt keep anything down. We were all slated to go to Manu, the wildest part of the Amazon that is reachable in a few days, but with Hanna sick as she was, we werent going anywhere. Instead we put off the trip one day and waited her out. In the meantime we horseback rode in the Andean hills, over the cloudline, through golden grasses, eucalyptus groves, ancient Incan ruins, and mysterious tunnels and caves. A lovely day, but when we came home, the TV wasnt on, Hanna wasnt complaining about there being no food in the house, she was still pretty sick. What to do. After a lengthy debate, I sent Mom and Dad to Manu – someone should see it, and I felt resourceful and familiar enough with the area to entertain us for a few days while they were gone. So 5am Monday they left. I spent the day organizing our own trip to Puerto Maldonado, the more accessible (fly in fly out) part of the Amazon. That I did it was a feat of luck and persistence in itself, but by this morning when we were supposed to leave, Hanna was still not feeling well. Then the tough call, is she just in post-illness fatigue, or is she really still sick in which case this was serious and we couldnt go. I was ready to resign myself, but in a surprise move Hanna wanted to try – the idea of warm humid weather and getting out of her hotel room was enticing – so we went.

The flight itself was amazing. In only 35minutes we flew over the colossal Ausangate range (which if youve been following the blog, you know all about), and witnessed an impossible terrain change. Until the Ausangate range, it is dry dry arid foothills for miles and miles. After the range, it is instantaneously lush and tropical. The classic mountains-block-the-rain-from-passing weather phenomenon, but to the extreme, with the Amazon on one side and high altitude deserts on the other.

We deplaned onto the airfield, hit with a wall of heat and humidity. It is only 80 degrees here right now (winter) but the powerful sun and 100% humidity make an instant sweat. It was really interesting, a very true and not so touristy rainforest experience. See, people actually live here. A rainforest community. And so it is not pristine or beautiful at first. It is thatch-roof shacks, rickshaws, barefoot kids, and stray dogs. It is chickens running in the streets and papaya plantations. Everything looks about ready to fall down, and certainly not water-tight which makes me wonder about the rainy season here. Once we passes a car in the river. I thought the guy had been trying to drive it through and gotten stuck, but the I realized he had just stopped the car there to give it a bit of a wash. There is so much dust here; the condensation on my waterbottle ran brown. We drove along a dusty dirt road for an hour.As we rattled along, little brown monkeys dived off the side of the road to escape the bus, the rainforest looked disorganized, scarred in places, with vines growing up and down and every which way, such that youre not sure which direction the forest is growing. Weeds, vines, groves of fine feathery bamboo punctuated with giant flat ovals of banana leaves. There are trees here that look like Dr Suess came up with them; thin white perfect branches with no leaves at all, just tipped with bright red poofs at the ends.

After an hour on the dirt road, a boat was next. This is the accessible part of the Amazon, I remind you. Stepping on the boat, you go through a snow-globe of tropical butterflies. Attracted to the banks of the river by salt deposits, literally hundreds or thousands of butterflies create a cloud of flickering florescent colors and patterns. Theyre like pests here – people waving the butterflies off their faces, wincing as their covered in them – which is funny because had we seen any single one of them in the park at home, we would run for the camera. My favorites were little white ones with intricate black spirals on the outside of their wings, like dizzy zebras, and then when open, a luminescent tropical blue band set against black tips.

The boat ride was relaxing, an hour and a half up river, stopping to see a herd of caybata, he large rodent in the world, munching happily on the banks. They look like a cross between a hippo and a guinea pig. It was interesting they paid no attention to our boat, but when one of the tikitiki motorized canoes passed, they bolted. They know who hunts them and who leaves them alone. We saw big white birds with blue faces and lots of egrets, logs of sleeping long-nose turtles and one big caiman (crocodile family). Local gone miners on sluicing rafts waved as we went by. But the boat transporting Amazonian wood did not – the guide pointed it out to me, and said it was illegal, but with poor law enforcement, nobody cared – such is life here. Poaching anacondas for their good-luck heads, crocodiles for their delicacy meat and skin, turtle eggs for soup, nevermind the PBS drives to protect the endangered animals, the reality is here, with now law enforcement people do what they want.

We got to the lodge by 4pm, drank our very welcome starfruit juice. And I promptly took a cold shower (running water here from the river, but clearly no warm water). Hanna is doing really well. Sleeping when she can on the airplane, bus, boat, and now in the room. She is feeling pretty good and recuperating, and actually has a pretty good attitude about the whole trip, "thats a huge guinea pig. These mosquito net canopies are kind of cool." We're going out caiman-watching tonight, and we'll see what tomorrow has in store.

Day #2 – Last night we cruised up and down the river in the boat, listened to the night sounds of the jungle and saw lots of tiny caimans. This morning, 4:55am wake-up call for the hike. Breakfast was 5:30 and we were on the trail by six. This was really the Amazon, how do I know? Because it was uncomfortable. Alive and uncomfortable. First, Ive never seen such diversity of mosquito. Usually they all look the same, you know? But here there were big ones, small one, black ones, white ones, striped ones, and medium-sized polka-dotted ones, to names a few. And they were everywhere. We were like the pied pipers of mosquitos, bringing along a bouncing joyful trail of them as we walked. I could see the rainforest only through a cloud. They hovered, alighted, and sucked when possible. However, I had a wicked good protection strategy: 1. Cover up with clothes that cant be bitten through (no cotton or thin materials). I wore a gortex jacket with the collar flipped up to protect my upper body and back of my neck, and nylon rain pants that traveled into knee-high rubber boots. 2. Hat with a brim. Ive noticed that mosquitos always hover around the top of my head and face, so wearing a hat with a brim has them hovering around that instead, off my face. 3. DEET. Sure its carcinogenic, but so is barbequed food , and you dont see me saying no to a BBQed burger, do you. All over my clothes and hat and jacket, apply liberally (but not yet to skin). Key places to get are edges – hat brim, jacket collar, sleeve cuffs, waistband if exposed. 4. Baby oil for the skin. Good old Johnson&Johnson baby oil over neck and face and hands if you think they might peek out. All this for the excellent result of trudging 6 hours through the rainforest without a bite.

We didnt see much wildlife except the constantly spectacular tropical butterflies and their spiky neon predecessor catepillars, but the flora and fauna was incredible. By 9 we had reached a jungle lake, were they served juice and crackers (just want to note, a juicebox! What a joke! As if that was going to be enough fluids. They had told us to bring water but some people didnt). There was a platform over the water, and we could peer through the cracks to see little pirahnas feeding on the sardines underneath. We took out canoes and watched the birdlife on the water, rainforest chickens with blue faces and 4ft wingspans, colorful tanagers and circling vultures.

The truth is, just walking though the jungle is like being in a fairyland; with the calls of the birds, and the smell of hot earth and living greens. The floor is periodically littered with impossibly purple or red or pink flowers. They nearly glow, and with every step hundreds of iridescent butterflies take flight, as if they were the flower pedals come alive. Giant glowing powder-blue, and tiny transparent outlined wings which allow you to see the jungle through them, they look more like fairies than insects. Then there is the steam that rises from the earth creating a mist around the fauna. When a beam of sunlight penetrates the canopy, you can see the rising droplets and the falling nectar. Its like being on another planet. Every few steps we would walk by a tree or a plant which gave birth to a branch of modern medicine. The salicylic acid tree (aspirin), the quinine tree (anti-malaria), and when the guide offered me a medicinal stick to chew (but not swallow), I took it happily asking what is this for? In a few seconds my tongue started tingling, went numb, and the numbness spread throughout my mouth rapidly; anesthesia, she laughed.

Then it was time to head back. We took a different trail home and it was tough going. First, my mosquito strategy started backfiring as the temperature climbed. Black gortex-nylon-rubber is not the best choices for keeping cool, and drops of sweat ran down my back, but Id rather be hot than open my jacket to the hungry mob waiting just outside. I ran out of water. Of course, because I had brought only 1.5L (Im sure Avi is so annoyed), and I drew out the last drops over the final hours. Then, there was the mud. So much mud. It was, in some place, feet deep and made of heavy clay and as the day heated up, it steamed furiously as we slogged through it. As if alive as well, it grabbed my boots and determinedly clung to them as I tried to pull them back onto my foot. It was tough going, hot and mosquitoy and fighting the jungle that tried to hard to suck us in and eat us. The best feeling ever was when we saw the man-made steps out of the jungle to the lodge, and got a tall cold glass of passionfruit juice.

Hanna slept through all of this: The night activity and all through the morning hike (good thing, Im not sure she wouldve enjoyed), got up briefly to pick at lunch and went back to sleep within 5 minutes. So she hasnt seen much, but shes here, and shes not complaining, so its a start. Tonight, night hike (not sure about that after todays), and then tomorrow, home. This has been great but a little lonely with no one to share it with, and quite so authentic that Im ready for a break from the hot humidity and the cold water – how nice to think of cool mountain air and a warm shower.

Now its siesta time, the heat of the afternoon, though some of the staff are out playing soccer. There are moneys in the trees overhead and a macaw on our window sill. Otherwise, the steady hum of the cicadas indicates the heat, and I am just going to sit for the next few hours and watch the jungle baste.

Day #3 – So Hanna couldnt handle the night hike, so I arranged to redo the caiman watching she had missed the night before. But she didnt have energy for even that. So she went to bed, and I went again on the tour. It was really fun – I hadnt realized how much I enjoyed it the first night. The air on the boat in cool and wet with no bugs at all. The stars are brilliant and both Jupiter and Mars are visible in the sky, along with the famous Southern cross. The night calls are incredible, and there is a 10 minute meditation where they turn off the motor and you just drift along the river silently listening to the voice of the night. The caiman spotting itself is cute. Someone stands in the front of the skiff with a bright flashlight (hooked up to a handheld generator for power) and scans the shores for the two red caiman eyes to flash back. Then we sort of sneak up on them, as much as 10 people in a motorized craft can sneak, and inevitably they look at us for two minutes and then scuttle into the water. They are surprisingly fast when they decide its time to go.

I went to bed at 8pm as always here, to the perfect sound of the million cricket choir, and was awoken this morning at the standard jungle wake-up time of 5am, to nearby throaty roars in the jungle. After Costa Rica, I know enough to not think these are jaguars, but rather, huge Howler Monkeys, which to me is about as scary. By seven we were back on the boat, speeding home towards Infierno port and then the bus and then the plane. As far as Im concerned, the water is the only place to be in the jungle. As the sun rose, it gave color to the black forest changing it back into its iridescent green. The clouds began to dissipate and the furious blue charged out. I could have stayed on that boat forever, skimming the flat water between walls of Amazon.

Back in Puerto Maldonado was the reality of being a person trying to live in the jungle. The chickens and the poverty and the little motorscooters and the lazy shacks; an ugly city of the edge of such pristine beauty. It is interesting, the people here are somehow different from the Peruvians I have met so far. There seems much less joy here. First, everyone who worked at the lodge seemed sort of beaten down, doing it for work and not for pleasure, which while the reality most places, was not my impression of Peru in general. Like the taxi driver who took us up to the ruins in Cusco; he stopped off to show us his favorite spot with the best view of the city. That could have been another fare he was missing, but he enjoyed talking to people and showing them his city; things like this have been my experience here. In Puerto Maldonado, people seemed to have problems, they work 7 days a week, all year, including Christmas, and though they get one month vacation, the tourism business is just too much, and theyre burnt out. This is what they said to me. It reminded me of medicine, and I thought how everyone needs a break, no matter where they are or what theyre working in, people are only made to work so hard before they start missing the things that make life fun and meaningful. Another example is our guide who was 24 and had a 7 year old son. She had tried going to school in Puerto Maldonado, but the classes were poorly taught and the teachers always on strike, plus she needed money, so back to work she went. She is a woman of the jungle, and left only for 1 years before she couldnt stand being away from it anymore. This is how it is, the jungle is in their blood, and yet in a way, a dead-end. She dreams of studying environmental law, but previously there was no law school in the jungle. A new one opened so maybe she'll try it, seem how it is, a possible new path.

Today is a fast day and a travel day, since there is not much I can do besides sit in a boat-bus-plane-van-train which without exaggeration is the plan for today. Tomorrow, we'll be positioned for a different cloud forest and a different tempo; Machu Picchu.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ancient deep tissue wisdom

My parents are here! And the hotel offers very cheap massages on the day of arrival. So at 3pm we all filed downstairs into the high-end spa for our massages. We were given the option of Relaxing or Deep Tissue. I should have known by the fact that Deep Tissue was in a whole separate classification -- set in opposition to Relaxing -- that this was not going to be fun. I have a vague idea that it would be painful, but clearly not enough to stop me from trying it.

The problem with deep tissue massages, for me, is that without a lot of meat or fat on me, the only thing deep to my tissue is bone. Wincing the whole first thirty minutes, I kept thinking, I cant survive this. Certainly not without crying out. It was a bone-crushing rub. The masseuse actually got up on the table so that she could throw her whole weight behind her elbow which was being pressed again and again over my scapular ridge. I wasnt a believer then; mumbling mentally about this being a pseudoscience. I thought my back and body might go easier than my neck and shoulders, the muscles being bigger there, but turned out that my muscles were just pinged against my ribs like a xylophone. And there was no love in it either. This wasnt a Bethany massage. It was borderline angry, just shy of sadism (not so shy actually, but I want you to keep thinking that Im a pretty normal person).

Then around minute 40, a transition happened. I started to enjoy it. I cant tell if my body had just warmed up, or if the masseuse was getting tired and so pressing less hard, but whatever it was, I started to really relax into it. By the last 10 minutes I was actually smiling instead of gritting my teeth, and when I got up, I was a new woman. A lot like the stretchy mother in The Incredibles, and very happy. Crazy but true, in one hour, I went from skeptical to sold on the ancient wisdom of deep tissue massage.