Pooped in Peru: A Tale of Kindness
This is a story of community, kindness and sharting.
I arrived around midday at a little surf town in the north of Peru called Lobitos: a place where the desert meets the sea. In the wintertime, it’s a buzzing oasis for surfers from around the world as they gather to ride the long barrelling left-hand point breaks – or so I’m told. I was not there in the winter; I was there in the dead of summer. And in the summertime, Lobitos is hot and barren, and the ocean is flat.
I was just stopping by for a couple of days before continuing further north. My taxi driver dropped me off in front of a three-metre high concrete wall.
“In there,” he pointed.
I stepped out of the car and stood for a moment. Staring at the wall perplexed. I soon discovered a gate just as tall and shut by a metal bar which, as much as I pulled, I could not for the life of me open. My phone had no reception, so I was left with no choice but to spiderman my way in.
I took off my backpack and with all my might hoicked it up and over the wall. Next was my turn. The heat was burning. With sweat dripping down my forehead, I placed my foot on a pipe halfway up and sprung myself onto it. Against all odds, I managed to grab the top of the wall and tumble my way over. In all my ninja warrior glory, I made it in and immediately laid on the floor, hypnotised by the heat waves that emanated from the dirt.
“Hola?” A small man was looking down at me with furrowed brows.
“Hola, sorry, sí, I’m fine, I’ve booked a room.”
The man laughed and showed me to my hut. His name was Javier; he was a friend of the owner.
The hostel by all appearances was nothing special. There were four little huts lined up next to each other. The doors didn’t lock, the lights didn’t turn on, the showers didn’t run. There were only three guests: my two German next-door neighbours and myself — plus the hostel owner’s two bull terriers, Killa and Luna, who loved to get into late-night playfights and barking matches. But despite all of that, as the courtyard grew orange with the setting sun, there was an air of calmness about the place.
There are few important things to know about Lobitos – it is very dry, there are lots of mosquitos and you absolutely cannot drink the water. I knew all of this before going, so I really had no excuses for my lack of preparation, yet as nighttime rolled around I was thirsty and being eaten alive by mozzies.
That first night, I had a knock on my door. Ricardo, the hostel owner, brought me a citronella coil to ward off the mosquitos, which was a godsend. Ricardo was relaxed and sweaty, like everyone there. He asked if I’d like to join him and Javier to smoke weed in his garage. I politely declined. He told me not to drink the water and where to go for dinner, then he wished me a good night.
Soon after, I embarked on my journey to find this restaurant Ricardo had told me about.
“Go down the dirt road, take a right and you’ll see it.”
He was right: there was one building wedged between two half-built houses and nothing else. I took a seat next to a Bob Marley poster and watched the chefs dance to reggae music as they cooked. I ordered pasta and a pineapple juice. I hadn’t drunk anything all day and had sweated out just about all the water I had in me. I was practically shrivelled up.
Next came my juice. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life. The sweet golden liquid looked holy as the lady placed it on my table.
Then my heart dropped. I looked down into the glass and saw two little ice cubes bobbing up and down in my precious drink. The thing about ice cubes is, here’s some ground-breaking information for you, they are made of water. And although I had been warned by every single person I had encountered that day, the taxi drivers, the German guys, Javier, Ricardo, I’m pretty sure even the dogs barked something along the lines of don’t drink the water… I was thirsty. And I could not resist that sweet, sweet juice. It had been a long day and my sub-par Spanish could not come together in my brain to form a coherent sentence and ask for a new one.
So I drank the goddamned juice, and I enjoyed every moment of it. No regrets.
(Well that’s not entirely true, but I did have no regrets for a few hours there.)
In the middle of the night, I was awoken by a grumbling. At first I thought it was the dogs, but I soon realised it was coming from within me. A bit of gas perhaps? Perhaps not.
I let out what I thought would be a humble fart but it was, indeed, not so innocent. As I felt my pants dampen, I was immediately taken back to the last time this had happened. I felt those tears of eight-year-old me being laughed at by my brothers for an accidental shart which circumvented my loose pyjama shorts and landed smack-bang on the floor. I felt her pain. I was alone 13,000 kilometres from home. I couldn’t turn the lights on to assess the damage. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both.
My self-pity was soon overrun by what ensued for the rest of that night. Without getting too graphic, imagine water spurting out of a whale’s blowhole… it was a similar situation, except not a blowhole and not water.
Anyways, morning came and I was running on empty. Ricardo came by my room to see if I wanted to go to the beach, but was taken aback by the sight and probably smell of me.
“You’re sick?” he asked.
He offered to get me help. I assumed he meant going to a doctor, and followed him to his motorbike. I soon realised I didn’t remember seeing any sort of doctor on my drive in, but I didn’t have the energy to keep thinking as he turned on the engine. With butt cheeks clenched, I held onto his waist for dear life as we sped down the pothole-ridden road.
We soon arrived at a lone house, its tin roof full of holes and wooden door chipped. I stood behind Ricardo as he knocked on the door. A little old lady opened it with a huge toothless grin.
“Ah Ricardo!” was all I understood as they exchanged words in Spanish, catching up on old times I assume.
She invited us in and I sat down on her couch. Ricardo began to translate, explaining very little about who this woman was, only that she was so happy to have me in her home. We exchanged smiles and she giggled as I sunk further into the couch. I never got her name.
The lady disappeared for a while as Ricardo tried to engage me in conversation, asking where I’d been and where I was going. But at that moment, my past two months of travelling were a blur. All I could think of was the moment I was in. The way this woman lived alone in a rickety house in what was essentially a ghost town with a warm smile and unparalleled energy. Her desire to help me, a stranger who couldn’t even speak her language, was so foreign to me and the world I had come from. This sense of community is something I have continually experienced as I’ve travelled to smaller towns that seem to operate on kindness and helping one another. I thought back to the chefs dancing as they worked and the citronella coil Ricardo brought me when he introduced himself, and I couldn’t help but grin through my stomach pains.
The lady re-emerged with a bottle of pink liquid and a lunch box packed to the brim with individual pills. She fished around for a moment until she found one green and one white pill, then handed me the goods. As my stomach continued to grumble, I had no choice but to trust her. I gulped down the pills with the fluorescent drink.
I spent three days in Lobitos, most of which I was stuck in bed or cuddling the dogs on the couch. But I have never experienced a nicer sense of community before or since. I saw so few people when I was there, yet in almost every interaction someone was offering me help or advice. I felt welcomed with open arms. Despite the devastation of having to leave my new pants behind and the embarrassment of asking for new sheets after the very first night, I will always treasure those few days I spent experiencing what it’s like to be a part of such a tiny and beautiful community.
Cover by Mick Haupt