We’re going exotic this Sunday, taking an adventure to Peru with Columbkill Noonan, which I have to admit, I know nothing about (other than it being Paddington’s home, I think…). Over to you, Columbkill!
I was asked to stop by Jennifer’s blog today to talk about my travels and how they have inspired my new book, “Barnabas Tew and the Case of the Missing Scarab” (which launches July 26!). The book is a Victorian mystery, where the protagonist ends up (most unexpectedly!) in the afterlife of Ancient Egypt.
Therefore, I shall be talking about Peru, of course!
So, you may be wondering why on Earth I’d start jabbering on about Peru, when my book is set in London (which I’ve visited) and the Afterlife of Ancient Egypt (which I have not, at least not yet!). And the reason is…adventure.
Here I am, with my good friend (and some new friends, too!) in Lima.
My trip to Peru, you see, was hands-down the most adventuresome vacation I’d ever taken. For starters, whilst I do make an effort to learn at least a little of the local language whenever I visit another country, I must admit that my Spanish is abysmal. Usually my ability to communicate depends heavily on the fact that someone, somewhere will speak English, and be able to end my linguistic misery as I haltingly try to tell someone that I am going to “murder a horse on the beach” (yes, I actually said that, in Puerta Vallarta. In my defense, the word for “murder” and the word for “ride” are remarkably similar). In Peru, however, very few people (outside of the hotels, anyway) speak English. As my friend’s Spanish was no better than mine, we really had to put a lot of effort into communication. As you can see from the picture above, we did pretty well, and even managed to make a few new friends!
So how does that tie in with Barnabas, the slightly nervous and extremely particular detective from my book? Well, in the book, he, too, ended up in a very foreign place, and he didn’t always know what was going on around him. Still, he had to carry on and make do, and make the best of things. Like we did!
Now, from Lima, we flew straight to Cusco. Lima is on the coast. Cusco is very, very high up in the mountains. For some reason, neither of us thought, “Oh dear, perhaps we should be concerned about altitude sickness!” (For reference, I teach Physiology, and she is a Microbiologist. In other words, we should have known better!) Our punishment was swift, and brutal: we both immediately were struck with extreme dizziness the moment we stepped off the plane. It was a bit like being suddenly and unpleasantly drunk, and having that feeling last for three days straight.
Still, one can’t be stopped from experiencing a place as beautiful as Cusco by something so silly as a mere physical limitation, even if one is severely oxygen deprived, and ridiculously dizzy, and can barely walk half a block without gasping for air. And, the hotel sends up oxygen tanks with room service (I am not kidding, there are actually oxygen tanks all over Cusco, for tourists who were too silly to prepare for the thin air. Like us.) My friend and I took turns with the thing all night long.
So here we are in Cusco, with an adorable little girl and an adorable baby lamb (in an adorable hand-knit sweater!), and then there I am standing in the town square. You’d never know from these pictures that we were both close to fainting!
Barnabas, of course, would have approved, as he himself has been forced to persevere through more than a few unusual setbacks.
From Cusco we took a train halfway down the mountain to Machu Picchu (there is actual oxygen in the air there! Oh, how exciting it was to be able to breathe again!) And this…oh dear, what can I say about this? There are no words, really, to describe the magnificence of the place (and that’s not just the sudden rush of oxygen to my brain talking!) I mean, look at it. Just look at it.
How is this place even possible? How is it even real? The sheer magnificence of it is only made better by the fact that you have to work for it (through language barriers, oxygen deprivation, four hour train rides, and harrowing bus trips!)
What? Four hour train rides and harrowing bus trips? Did I forget to mention those?
You see, to get to Machu Picchu one must take a train from Cusco down to the town of Machu Picchu. This takes a long time (although it is delightful, and you see so much beautiful scenery on the way!) When you look at the countryside, you’ll see people dressed much as they did back in the heyday of the Incan Empire, and herding cows and llamas in much the same way that they did back then, too. It is glorious, really.
Once you’re in Machu Picchu, you need to get on a bus to get to the park itself. The old Incan city is perched on top of a mountain, and so the bus, of course, must go up that mountain. Using a narrow dirt road. With a steep cliff off to one side. With other buses coming down the other way.
There were times when it seemed that all of the wheels weren’t entirely on the road anymore, but were instead dangling in the air, some thousands of feet above the rocky ravine below. To give you an idea of just how terrifying it was, there was a little old lady from Canada sitting just in front of us, screaming her head off every time we rounded one of those hairpin turns. And what she was yelling was certainly more appropriate for an angry sailor than for a little old lady on a family vacation. To learn such a plethora of new curse words from Canadian Grandma was one of the best parts of the whole trip, to be honest!
So, of course we got a bit puckish, which resulted in this hilarious picture, with me photo-bombing my friend’s selfie, and her giving me some serious side-eye. When you read “Barnabas Tew and the Case of the Missing Scarab”, you might notice that he and Wilfred have this same way of interacting, where one or the other of them will get up to some type of shenanigan and the other will simply look askance at him.
Those are the highlights of the Peru trip, so now it’s time for me to tell you how Peru, and all the adventures I had there, led me to write a story about a Victorian British detective and Egyptian mythology.
The answer to that, of course, is not an easy one, and not one that I am entirely certain of myself. Before I went, I already knew that I wanted to write a Victorian mystery (and the character of Barnabas was already beginning to form in my head). And then, there I was in Peru, so far out of my comfort zone that I didn’t even remember what a “comfort zone” was anymore, immersed in all of these linguistic challenges, physical challenges, and, yes, emotional ones too (overcoming those hurdles, conquering those fears!)….well, let’s just say that it was so freeing, so insanely magical, that I knew that I had to send Barnabas somewhere so far out of his experience, so far out of this very world, so that he, too, could have that same spiritual awakening that I had, here, in Peru.
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