During my first day in Peru last August, my mushy brain and I kept stumbling over simple questions. I had started at sea level 20 hours before, endured a cheap-flight marathon through five airports, and crashed in a hotel room at Cuzco’s oxygen-starved 11,000 feet. Altitude sickness mixed with jet lag: the greatest sleep aid known to man.
After resting most of the day, though, I felt up to a short stroll around the block to keep alive my streak of getting 10,000 steps a day.
I’m not known for my navigational abilities, and I joked to my husband before I stepped out on my own that if I take four lefts, I couldn’t possibly get lost, right?
First street, left. Second street, left. On the third street, a little half-street didn’t seem quite right, so I walked on before turning. After my final turn, nothing looked familiar, so I walked in the other direction.
I’m not known for my Spanish abilities either, but before I got hopelessly lost I decided to ask for directions.
I summoned up the courage to ask a street vendor, “¿Dónde está el Hotel Prisma?”
She scrunched up her face in confusion. My accent must have been way off.
“¿Dónde está el Hotel Prisma?” I repeated, louder.
She still looked confused. “¿Hotel Prisma?”
“Sí,” I said. Look at me, having a whole conversation in Spanish.
She pointed to the building behind me. She must want me to ask in there, I figured.
“Gracias,” I said and turned.
I crossed the threshold before I realized I was entering my own hotel.
It must have been the altitude.
Although exhausted, I waited until 6 p.m. before going to bed for the night. I set the hotel alarm for 8:30 and sunk into oblivion.
The alarm sounded, and I complained to my husband that it felt like I had hardly slept, that I could sleep on for hours.
“Ya think?” he said. His teasing-me smirk was all over his face, but I still didn’t get it. He pointed to the pitch-black night outside the window.
Ah, it was 8:30 p.m., not 8:30 a.m.
Like I said, the altitude.
I sank back into sleep with 12 hours stretched out before me. The hotel’s thin walls shared every conversation, barking dog, and slamming door. Still, I slept on, waking frequently and falling back to sleep.
When a shrieking woman woke me at 1 a.m., though, enough was enough. Was she fighting? Did she just get engaged? I couldn’t tell through the cobwebs of sleep.
I cracked the door open. “Miss,” I said into the darkness, “could you please try to keep it down?”
A man replied, “There’s a rat in our room.”
“Can I help?” I said.
“We called reception.”
I got back into bed and listened to the drama unfold for the next hour.
The woman occasionally let out more shrieks, followed by “Sorry, sorry.” I heard violent bangs and pictured the night clerk bashing at the rat with a broom handle.
Eventually, I drifted back to sleep, still interrupted by barking dogs and now the probably imagined scurrying of a terrified rat that had taken refuge in my room.
I slept on, dreaming of a place without rats, where four lefts are always right.
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