Whatcha Sniffing, Peru?

Gary had told me the story of Huaraz, the town buried under a mudslide in 1970. So having some time and a bit of money for a weekend getaway, we decided to fly there from Lima, Peru in 1972.

While his airline ticket said the flight was to leave at 8:00 a.m, mine said the very same flight was to leave at 7:30 a.m. Life before the internet meant trying to reach out and touch somebody by not-always functioning landline.

After repeated unsuccessful attempts to reach someone, anyone, at SATCO Airline, we debated if we should be at the airport at the just in case early bird time of 6:45 a.m. There we found the 4-prop airplane waiting to take us up into the mountains.

The prop airplane

The prop airplane

Readying to go without going, the doors were shut tight as we sat on the airplane for another 30 minutes. Flight attendants entertained us by passing out orange juice, candies and cotton balls. The first two items were said to help us to clear our ears--something we didn't need since we were still on the ground, but the activity did distract us from the ever overheating airplane.

But what were the cotton balls for?

Suddenly at 8:45 a.m. the props began to twirl as the airplane taxied into position--when without warning, it turned around to go back to the terminal. What had happened? No one ever said.

What I saw out of the window might have had something to do with it. On the left side of the airplane, I had seen the props spin merrily around; on the right side, the props were at a dead stop. Whoops.

Exiting the airplane we were told the wait would be about an hour. Sighs were heard all around, but what could we do? This was the one and only flight from Lima to Huaraz, so we waited. Some went for coffee, others for snacks, with the rest of us hunkered down to wait while keeping the airplane in sight.

After only 15 minutes, without warning we were hustled back on the flight where four whirring, functioning propellers spun merrily around.

Above each passenger was a tube with something coming out. To my puzzled face, Gary told me not to worry, which made me worry. He said the airplane wasn't pressurized and instructed me to sniff the air, which led to my hyperventilating. I'm panicking, I gasped to him. Trying to calm me down he focused my attention on the astounding view. To our left was the Pacific Ocean crashing angrily into the shore. Beneath us were the barren mountains, a landscape that looked like a bony giant's skeleton. Fluffy clouds surrounded the airplane as I calmed down.

What was I sniffing? What did I care as I calmly relished the extraordinarily welcomed sight of greenery. We were out of Lima, a city so rain-free that locals kept their car windshield wipers locked inside the glove compartment to prevent them from being stolen.

You don't need windshield wipers in a desert.




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    Candace Drimmer

    I was an accidental expatriate; love and marriage led me to it. One day I was a bandy-legged kid sitting atop my dogwood tree looking out of my small backyard world in 1950s New Jersey, wanting to move somewhere--anywhere, different. Next thing I knew my father had accepted a job in Houston TX. I was ecstatic, it was a foreign land in 1961 America. After high school graduation, my parents’ gave me a matched set of fawn-colored hardsided American Tourister luggage. Taking the hint, I went to college; well four colleges in five years--it was the 60s after all. Meeting a young hirsute anti-war, soon-to-be-Peace Corps volunteer, I fell in love. After finishing up college coursework for my degree, but before I even walking a graduation stage, I grabbed the paper airline ticket my boyfriend had sent me, my brand-new passport, and was off to the airport and Lima, Peru.

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