Farewell to the Highlands: Pisco Sour to the Rescue

by Angela Smith Kirkman

“Meet us at El Embrujo in 30 minutes,” the voice on the other end of the line says in Spanish.


“Yes, I’m here with Marlith. We’re sending a taxi to pick you guys up. It’s your last night in Peru—our last chance to boogie down.” [My translation.]

“Thanks for the invite, Gloria, but I’m sorry, we just can’t do it.” I say, glancing toward my husband, Jason, who’s busy making sure all of our passports are in order. “The kids are asleep, and we’ve already sent Jovanna home for the night.”

Jovanna, Gloria’s little sister, was over earlier babysitting so Jason and I could teach our final English class, then go on our last date in Cajamarca.

“How long ago did she leave?” Gloria asks.

“About ten or fifteen minutes.”

“Momento,” she says, then she hangs up.

I go back to the task of cleaning out the hamster cage. It would have been nice to have one last hoorah with the ladies, but it’s probably for the best. We’ve got a boatload of packing to do before we leave, and I still haven’t figured out what on earth we’re going to do with these furry little chubsters. Besides, it’s nearly midnight and we’ve already had a full evening.

After our class, we stopped by Chef Percy’s restaurant to say adios, and he insisted on treating us to one last palta salad. Then, we spent the evening strolling the plaza where, like most other nights, there was a religious procession underway. The priest was leading a solemn parade of the faithful toward the open doors of Santa Catalina Church while swinging incense to and fro. The slightly-less-faithful looked on, sipping pisco by the bandstand as they awaited the ranchero musicians who would come on stage just as soon as the priest had finished doing his thing.

The doorbell rings and Jason jumps up and opens the front door to find Jovanna standing there with a smirk on her face and a novel in her hand.

“Hola, Jovanna,” Jason says. “¿Qué pasa?”

“Your taxi’s waiting downstairs.”

Jason and I grab our jackets, thank Jovanna, and head out the door. Next stop: Cajamarca’s locally renowned discotheque, El Embrujo. 

I still haven’t quite figured out how to dance to Peruvian pop music, but I’m giving it my best shot. I’ve never had stellar moves on the dance floor, but back home it wasn’t really an issue since rather than top forty, we’ve always gravitated more toward jam bands and what Pa refers to as whacked-out, tree-hugging, dirt-worshipping hippie music. With hippie music, the fewer moves you have, the better. It shows that you just don’t care. In fact, depending on how good the mushrooms are, we sometimes even hold contests to see who’s most successful in staying off the beat, and who can pull out the most ridiculously awkward grooves to get the most laughs.

Here in Peru, though, making an ass of yourself on the dance floor would be scandalous. (Believe me. I asked Gloria if I could pull out my whirling dervish routine, and she forbade it.) All the twenty and thirty-somethings gyrating around us are dressed in their finest, and they pride themselves on their in-the-box dance moves, so I’m doing my best to stick to the beat. 

After a couple hours on the floor, I’m toast. I follow Marlith toward the bar where she’s ordering another round. When the bartender places our frothy concoctions in front of us, I’m overcome with a sense of dread. This could very well be my last pisco sour! I take a long swallow. It’s tart and creamy and delicious. I miss it already.

Marlith sniggers at Jason and Gloria, who are getting pulled into a train on the dance floor, and that’s when it happens. I’m unexpectedly struck with a brilliant idea. This doesn’t happen very often so I have to act quickly. I lean toward Marlith, cupping hands around my mouth in an attempt to block out the pounding base line. I shout into her ear asking whether maybe, just maybe, she might want to adopt our three little hamsters for her daughter, Eva. Eva had showed such a liking for them on Thanksgiving Day; why hadn’t I thought of it sooner?

“Sí, claro que sí!”

Great, wow, she said yes! That was easy. 

We clink our glasses together to seal the deal, and I decide that—along with the Magic 8 Ball, which has always held a prominent position on my desk back in Santa Fe—pisco will henceforth be an essential part of all future business negotiations. 

Sometime after three o’clock, Jason and I decide that it’s time to stumble home. Gloria and Marlith accompany us outside just long enough to berate us for going home so early, then they kiss us on the cheek and head back to the dance floor. 

This morning I find myself slightly hung over, scrambling to finish the packing I’ve put off to the last minute, and reluctantly saying goodbyes. Three months have given us just enough time to start feeling like we’re part of the community, and now we’re preparing to tear ourselves away from Peru. 

Cyrus and Bella are in the front room; I can hear them playing their scales. Carlos is giving them their last guitar lesson, and I’m next. Jason has just finished applying the final coat of new varnish on the dining room table to cover Cruz’s recent masterpieces. Maruja is insisting that he really didn’t need to go to all that trouble and that she won’t be at all pleased to have her house to herself again. Gloria, Marlith, and Eva will be here any minute for the hamsters.  

In a few short hours we board the overnight bus back to Lima, and by morning we’ll be on our way to the second country on our itinerary: Brazil. None of us is ready to be leaving.

Angela Smith Kirkman recently returned to Santa Fe, New Mexico from a two-year journey around the world with her husband and three young children. During the adventure, dubbed The Big Field Trip, her family hiked the Inca Trail, snuck into the dilapidated communist headquarters in Bulgaria, rode camelback through the Sahara, caught the swine flu in Istanbul, rode a dragon boat up the Perfume River, was chased out of the Great Mosque of Uqba in Tunisia, lived on a vineyard in Portugal, was robbed at gunpoint in Bahía, taught at a tribal school in Rajasthan, biked through floating markets near Bangkok, and communed with snow monkeys in the hot springs of Japan. Kirkman currently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she’s busy growing leeks and conjuring up the next voyage.

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