When I was 25: The House in San Blas


Our lovely roommate, James, lived with us the first month at the house. 

There were 93 steps up to our house. That was one way to get there. The other way was the tourist route- through the Plaza de Armas, up the wide cobblestone steps, past the shops and the Cholitas with their Alpacas (“Peek-chur? You like a peek-chur?”). When I wanted a change of scenery, I took that way. In the evenings, I took a cab. Most days, though, I walked up the 93 steps. 93 steps at 11,000 feet- my legs were never stronger.

The house was in San Blas, a Bohemian barrio just off the plaza, home to narrow walkways with bars and coffee shops tucked into corners. San Blas had the best views in the city. When Cameron and I first checked out the house, we walked up a slim stairway, saw the view, and smiled. Then we saw the view from the small rooftop patio and we decided to take it. We knew other teachers staying in more modern apartments, but this house was like a cottage of dreams. The view was of the mountains, and specifically of Araway Qhata, a mountain overlooking the city with “Viva El Peru Glorioso” carved into its side. I could live in a more modern apartment with reliable plumbing and an entertainment center anywhere, but that cottage with that view up in the Andes? There was no passing it up.


We lived on the top level.

The small, steep wooden stairs from the kitchen up to the roof were always dusty. I still remember how the steps felt underfoot, while popping up to the roof for our afternoon lounge between shifts (sometimes with beers, always with music). The windows didn’t have screens and there were gaps in the window frames. I swept a lot. I had an exceptionally firm mattress. We didn’t have a couch, so we watched movies on my bed, computer resting on stacked pillows.

That goddamn house, though. If the knobs on the rooftop sink weren’t properly tightened the night before, the morning water pressure would start the sink up and overflow down the stairs and into the kitchen, flooding it. Cameron and I shared a bathroom and the toilet would frequently stop working. One time, I tried to fix the toilet and the trip lever ended up snapping off. Water sprayed everywhere. We had to shut of all the water in our half of the house and wait five days for our landlord to return from Lima. This was when I had parasites. (If you want to get real close with a person, get parasites with a broken toilet in the bathroom you’re sharing with them.)

Despite the plumbing issues, that house was still a prize. I got to wake up to that view every day and come home to that rooftop every afternoon. One day after class, Cam and I sat on the roof and listened to Phil Collins’ “Another Day in Paradise” (the 80’s are alive in South America). It was at the suggestion of a student, who told me it was his favorite song. Once the chorus kicked in, we laughed and nodded to each other, recognizing it. “Ohh yeah, this song! Yesss. I like this song!” That song is hardly about two girls sunning themselves on a rooftop in the Andes, but in the soundtrack of my life, it is.

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