The real problem though was that I had no shoes, because I left them in a sand dune in the middle of the desert, and it's really hard to find size 12 shoes in Peru. The little old lady was a local who cooked for us some times. She spoke no English, and I only knew how to say "necessito zapatos," but she actually came through for me. It took a lot of running half-bent over to duck low-hanging merchandise while keeping up with her in an open air market built for very small people, but she found me a pair of flip flops that were almost big enough for me, and that's what I spent the rest of the month working construction in.
The shoes I wore to Peru were buried in Huacechina, a beautiful little oasis town in the middle of the desert. About 30 of us from different countries had gone there for a weekend vacation from our service vacation in Pisco, where 80% of the city had been leveled by the 2007 earthquake. We loved disaster response, but we also needed to blow off some steam.
The tour guides drove us from the top of one sand dune to the next all day long so that we could sandboard down to the bottom on chewed up old boards with screws sticking out. It was a lot more like sledding-while-standing, but it was definitely cool, and the dune buggy ride felt like a roller coaster every time the driver took us up the side of one 200-foot dune and down the other. We even stopped on top of one of the tallest dunes to watch the sunset.
For dinner we took over the biggest restaurant in town. The owners loved us. They were bringing plates of weed and rolling papers at the table so we'd eat more, and we bought a dozen bottles of rum between us.
Thirty of us emptied out into streets after our feast, arm in arm, dancing, singing, and playing with a street monkey, and I think we were all at once taken back by how beautiful the sand dunes were against the starry sky. We froze in the street staring up at them for a long silent moment, and then we started running.
The unspoken consensus was that the dunes were beautiful, the sky was incredible, and we were hammered, so we needed to be on top of it all. When we hit the sand dune wall we were climbing fast, running uphill, laughing and shouting at each other. Halfway up the sand dune, not so much. We were on our hands on knees. Some people collapsed or gave up. The dune was as tall as a mountain, and it was so steep you sunk back in the stand with every step you took, but we made it.
We spent the night on top of the dune, under the stars. There was rum being passed one way, Peruvian coke going the other way, and it turned out that a surprising amount of my friends knew how to swing the poi fire balls someone brought up in their bag. I even tried them out myself and only hit myself in the face a couple times. It was one of the most incredible nights of my life, and then I woke up face first in the sand.
I was actually laying headfirst down the 45 degree slope of the dune. It was day time. It was scorching hot, and my cheek was packed with sand. I put my hands down and lifted my head up enough to spit out the wad of sand in my mouth, and felt the deep sunburn one the side of my face that wasn't against the sand. Mostly I just wanted water.
I fell down the slope a little bit before I managed to spin myself around and look up. There were only about 7 very tired looking volunteers still up there. They had been yelling to wake me up. They told me that sometime around dawn I just collapsed face first in the sand and slid down the hill. They checked to make sure I was breathing, and then they left me there to sleep it off. They were waking me up because it was finally over. This last group of people was about to go back down to our hostel at the bottom. They didn't have any water, so I chugged the beer they had, and decided that if I was going down the hill, there was no sense dragging it out. There was water at the bottom of the hill, so I was going to get there as fast as possible.
And this is how I lost my shoes. I started sliding down the sand dune. At first I thought I could make a quick, controlled descent, but then I realized I couldn't slow down. I was jogging, then I was running full speed, and finally I was sprinting faster than I'd ever run in my life straight down the hill, leaning more and more at an angle that was steadily shrinking.
It was inevitable. One of my feet tripped, and then I was bouncing, cartwheeling, flipping, rolling, skidding down the wall of sand with a small avalanche following close behind. I don't remember my shoes coming off, but that's how hard I was bouncing off of the sand.
When I finally stopped I was at the very bottom where it leveled out. I looked up and saw my friends, whom I'd been standing next to only a few minutes earlier. They looked like specks, hundreds of feet above me at the top of dune. I could sort of hear them shouting, probably to see if I was okay.
Three girls' faces appeared above me. They weren't with our group. They were three girls traveling through Peru on their own, and they just watched a guy bouncing for a hundred feet down a dune. They looked like they thought I was dead, and they asked me if I could move my feet. They helped me stand up and I realized I was in their hostel room's yard, at the same hostel where I rented a room that I never got the chance to sleep in.
I looked at my friends on top of hill, and then back at the girls. I told them, "I lost my shoes...". Then I turned and walked out of their room, down the hall to my room, and passed out on my bed. Later that same day I took the bus back to Pisco barefoot, and ran into that little old lady looking for shoes.
So that's a little bit about me.