Capuli, Peru is about 2,000 feet higher up than Otuzco. Otuzco is about 9,000 feet above Trujillo, which is pretty much at sea level. There’s close to a million people in the Trujillo metro area, it’s the second biggest city in Peru, next to Lima. Trujillo is the capital of La Libertad Region, it’s right on the pacific coast and it’s beautiful. All the buildings are painted the color of guava, of melon, the color of sweet. The sky is blue and the streets are full of brightly colored Volkswagen Beetles that have been running since the 1960s. The people are brown, mostly mestizo, and smiling and you can get pretty decent ceviche and an Inca Cola for like three U.S. Dollars.
Otuzco, a one-and-a-half-hour bus ride into the Andes from Trujillo, is the capital of the Otuzco Province. Only about 25,000 people live there, in a manner consistent with older traditions from their colorful handmade dress to their speech and mannerisms, though there is a definite modern influence visible in the community. They’ve just recently received full electric, cellular, and internet coverage. People don’t drive, though there are these little motorized rikshah things that are bedazzled and embroidered with different words and animals and the like. Otuzco’s painted mudbrick and cinderblock compounds are surrounded on all sides by the deep green draped goliath peaks of the Andes.
Just 2,000 miles higher, Capuli doesn’t show up on Google Maps. It isn’t a capital; it barely has 50 people living in it. There’s no conflict between old and new, tradition and change, outsiders rarely visit. Those who do are from the cathedral down the mountain in Otuzco, they try and get up there at least twice a year to restock the general store, a small room on the first floor of a mudbrick home where a 12-year-old boy named Elquin lives with his younger sister who helps him run the shop. The siblings, orphans, live in alone in one of the two buildings with electricity. The other is the schoolhouse/church where the men gather in the evenings to watch local favorite football team, Club Juan Aurich, on a 12-in. x 12-in. antennaed black and white TV that is regularly assaulted by thick white bars of static. The men always sit in silence on the dirt floor, the only light filling the cavern flickering simultaneously from the screen and a small candle, and smoke from pipes and cigarettes they rolled themselves. The people of Capuli, Peru don’t talk too much. The women look like babushka-wrapped owls, and the men wear dirty dungarees and have twinkling eyes set deep in their well-worn leathery faces. Capuli is at the top of the mountain, nothing sits above it but the stars at night and faint wispy clouds during the day.
If you went there, if you visited, if you took the flight from wherever, connected at Atlanta, flew seven hours south to Lima, took the eight hour bus ride to Trujillo, the hour and a half to Otuzco, then 45 minutes winding around the incredibly tight mountain passes up to Capuli with your bus hanging precariously over edges that seem to disregard how high up you really are and continue to drop for hundreds of thousands of miles, and you arrived, and you sat and waited until the sun fell away, you would see the entire dome of the universe enveloping you and everything around you, casting it in celestial blue, enclosing you inside a dark ball full of firefly light and old myths about the origins of humanity.
But on the other hand, they don’t have any plumbing or running water. You would have to shit in a hole. And after a day or two of avoiding this inevitability, and eating a lot of the local cuisine—which consists of an absurd amount of potatoes—your belly is going to distend and bloat. So by that point you have two choices: 1) Shit in the hole immediately. Or: 2) Allow yourself to become the most constipated you’ve ever become, because if you think you’re allowed to go to this town and live in their mudbrick home, and use their resources and then refuse any food they offer you, you’re an idiot. If and when you give up and empty your soul into the hole-in-the-ground inside the outhouse, you might find yourself craving a shower. Don’t do it. Don’t. Why would you? Why would you take a big bucket and drag it over to the one singular water pump and—in front of everyone in the town—fill it with clean, fresh, cold, refreshing, water? Why would you take all of that water (still clean, fresh, cold, and refreshing) and pour it all over your nasty dirty body and onto the ground, all over the pig, cow, and sheep shit your more than likely standing in. Why would you do that?
Why did you do it already? Why have you been doing it every single day? They can see you, even from so far away.
Capuli might not be a capital city, it might not have too many people living within its borders, it might have never been incorporated, it might have one place of commerce that’s run by a twelve-year-old kid, it might be damn near impossible to get to, live in, or even find on a map, but it is really high off the ground. Almost 12,000 feet.
How far can you see from that high? Far enough.
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