Monday, April 02, 2007

Hola amigos de Santiago, Chile!

Well there's an insane amount that occurred since the last update, but I'll trim the fat and get the filet mignon... the deliciously juice stuff. After Uyuni I headed back to La Paz for a few days, crossed the border to Puno, visited Arequipa and then anticipated spending a few days between Nazca and Lima. Fortunately for all players involved, the good fates blew my sails in another diretion- Towards Picantemanos. Let's take a few steps backwards... On the overnight bus from Arequipa to Nazca I was seated next to a man with a peculiar ailment, or wondrous power, depending on how you view the situation. Alfonso, my seatmate, had 6 fingers on each hand. It wasn't a situation where you would spend hours addressing someone and then suddenly notice; his sixth digit was blindingly apparent from the moment I met the grip of his elephant-hand. The sinewy second-pinky aggressively wrapped around my underpalm, and I couldn't decide whether to giggle or shriek in horror. I compromised by laying an involuntary but extremely soft fart into my leather seat to alleviate the mounting nervous energy. Over the next few hours he kept me enthralled with tales of Picantemanos, his small pueblo in the native Peruvian mountains.

Alfonso possessed a vigorously brooding hatred towards his wife of 32 years, because she had apparently "tainted the sangre pura" of his 6-fingered ancestry. I didn't believe a word of his claims of a 6-finger bloodline. Total crap. But he went on, decrying that not one of his four sons was born with six-fingers per hand, thus shaming not only himself but all of his living relatives who proudly possessed the extra digit... After several hours of conversations and catnaps, we heard a loud pop and the bus came to a slow halt. Broken axle. Shit. Alfonso laughed hysterically at the misfortune, saying that Picantemanos was only a 5km walk away and invited me to spend the night at his home... Of course I jumped at the opportunity, especially after the righteous excellence of my Guatemalan home stay with Joel Puac.

Then magic struck... When I awoke the next morning inside of Alfonso's tiny home, I was greeted by his entire family of "5-fingered freaks". During the day we toured the town, which exports papaya and alpaca wool mostly, but many of the elderly women have created a successful collective of cocktail umbella makers. They spend hours making these decorative miniature umbrellas, but turn a pretty nice profit selling to nearby resort towns... Then around 3pm we went to the bar, and we start to drink. Heavily. The 96% grain alcohol that the Potosi miners consume is also the Picantemanos beverage of choice, so in no time I was absolutely housed. We played a wild drinking game that involved dice, singing and a strange ovational dance to Pachamama, the indigenous Incan G-d who in many parts has been supplanted by some dude named Jesus. In my spiritually lubricated state I explained at length my desire to one day start an NGO that raises money at home and works with local communities abroad to create self-empowering schools of effective education. Alfonso and his compadres sang a loud "Salud!" to the concept, and the snowball began rolling...

It turns out that their annual election for the equivalent of a mayor ("Jefe Superior") was that night, and the entire community was disappointed with the two running candidates- an elderly woman who sold alpaca meat at absurdly high prices because she was the only supplier, and the husband who detested her because she allegedly killed his favorite alpaca without an utterance of request. He was running for the position just to spite her. Spurred by drunken jubilation, Alfonso and the rest of the merry bar patrons suggested I run in opposition, but I obviously demurred. At that point Alfonso's father entered the bar, and was called over to meet the gringo Americano. As I shook his hand, I instinctively felt something strange. When I looked down, I saw it- His 6th finger! The crazy bloodline was true. As the over-powering chills of fate ran throughout my numbed body, I saw the signs very clearly, and without hesitation agreed to run for Jefe Superior. Why not? How many 23 year-old Americans have the opportunity to make a real difference in a foreign community, especially through the position of Mayor?

The town gathered in the outdoor community center, and at that point the nerves started to kick in... My heart was racing, but the grain alcohol Alfonso forced down my dry throat before addressing the crowd helped immensely. I did my best to emulate the "Dwight's Speech" episode from The Office- waving oustretched arms in sweeping motions and pounding alcohol-soaked fists on the table, I felt like an crazed Evangelist. The speech simply restated my desire to empower the locals through education, and also mixed in tidbits about the need to clean up the dog shit that covered the streets, create a cocktail umbrella cartel with surrounding towns, and ended with "Viva Pachamama!" The gente ate it up. Repeated cries of "Con Juntos!", several more devilish drinks, a shouting pair of alpaca owners, and two hours later they informed me that I'd been selected by the community as the new Jefe Superior.

Brothers and sisters, I know this sounds insane, but I really think it's an amazing opportunity that cannot be passed up. I can still travel South America for the next few months because my term begins with the summer solstice on June 21st, so it's an ideal setup. I've emailed my future employer Bain and requested a one-year delay on my start date so I can join with the next incoming class, and I'm preparted to fight them tooth-and-nail to make that happen. The initiation ceremony apparently involves more heavy drinking, a 10 day retreat into the mountains to find guidance from Pachamama, and an absurdly weird slapping contest with the outgoing Jefe Superior... It should be a wild ride, and of course each of you are more than welcome and expected to visit me when I make the move to Picantemanos at the end of June. If anyone is interested in moving there with me (even just for the summer) to help empower a beautiful Peruvian community, let me know as soon as possible and I'll see if I can figure something out...

I hope this email finds you filled with happiness, health and fulfillment.

Challenge the Assumptions,

Key Trip Statistics
Days- 61
Showers with Heat- 11
Song of Choice- Just get the whole Manu Chao Live Album. Do it, do it.
Book Selection- "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" by Milan Kundera
Occupation Given on Hostel Registrations- Horse Whisperer
Quote of Note- "I like you. Do you like me?." - Borat Sagdiyev
Random Person- Krayzie Bone


Samuel said...

oh my lord. this is the greatest piece of news ever, even better than cnn's article on NATO troops navigating through jungles of 10-foot marijuana plants in afghanistan a few months back. i wish you luck, friend.

sam stolper

Anonymous said...

Hey Adam, just wondering if you travel alone or with a particular group? Reading your blog is truely inspirational.