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2003-01-02 - 10:01 p.m.

Christmas in Cuzco

I called home on Christmas Eve. I called home on Christmas Eve because we were leaving for Machu Picchu at 5 am the next morning, and I was pretty sure there were no pay phones on the Inca Trail. I called my mom first, with my prepaid Wal-Mart AT&T calling card (a going away gift from my coworkers), but had trouble getting through. Finally, I was connected to an AT&T operator, who got all my information, and then asked if I was an American.
"Yes, ma'am," I replied (she was Southern, I could tell, and my innate Southernness always comes out when I'm talking with older Southerners).
"Why are you in Peru?"
"Well, um, you know, seeing other cultures, other cities...Tomorrow morning, I go to Machu Picchu."
"What's that?"
"It's these old Inca ruins, and you walk four days to get there."
"You walk four days to see ruins?"
Nothing like a complete stranger to put things into perspective for you. We wished each other Merry Christmas, and just as I was being connected, I could hear her voice faintly in the background: "You should be home with your family!"

Maybe she was right. Maybe I should have been home with my family. It's easy to feel homesick in a foreign country during Christmas (the last time I missed Christmas was five years ago, when I was in London). I spent the afternoon with my English friend Jim, who was feeling as sentimental and homesick as I was. So I devised a plan for the afternoon: go shopping in the huge Christmas Eve market in Plaza de Armas, take pictures with my digital camera and send them home to friends and family, and go to a bar to drink beer and play Scrabble (because nothing says holiday to me like board games and alcohol!).

The market was amazing - people and stalls everywhere - kind of like the Peruvian equivalent of going to the mall the Saturday before Christmas.

Before we knew it, Jim and I were buying things. We couldn't help it.

We bought ourselves Christmas gifts, and took pictures of each other with our respective gifts, to send home. Here I am wearing the green scarf I bought for myself (the woman selling it said that it matched my eyes):

I won the Scrabble game.

I tried to download my pictures and send them home, but in the end, I think I accidentally emailed two pictures of llamas and one picture of Jim to every member of my family. I gave up, and we went to dinner, to a sushi restaurant with Melchior and Francis. Francis is Swiss as well, but from the Italian part. His parents are Spanish, and he's fluent in Italian, Spanish, French, and German. Unfortunately, he's just as unsentimental as Melchior regarding Christmas. Luckily, Jim was there to reminisce about Christmas memories and Christmas traditions with me. Before we knew it, we were sharing our favorite Christmas carols and movies. It still didn't feel like Christmas, but in some small way, I felt like I was with family. Or the closest thing I have here, anyway.

[Coming up: Machu Picchu!]

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