The walk to and from school is an adventure in itself. When we chose our house we used a very rough estimate of the distance between the house and school to help guide our decision of where to live. It appears we were off. I thought we’d have a mile or so to walk each way, but after doing it the first three days (there and back in the morning, there and back in the afternoon) it occurred to me that there was no way it would take me as long as it did if it was only a mile. So I called my good friend Google Maps and was astounded to find that we were walking 2.5 miles each way–which if you do the math means I was walking 10 miles a day. A lot can happen in ten miles.
Our walk starts at the front door of our house. We cross the garden and let ourselves out of the red door that separates our house/garden/patio from the drive way. Once on the driveway, we walk about 100 yards to the gray gate that separates the driveway from the main road. All of these doors have locks and keys. By the time we have reached the street we’ve had the potential to use 4 different keys. You may think this portends extra special security, but I’m here to tell you that if we get locked out of any part of this process the kids can climb, jump, slither, and squeeze us into our safely locked away house.
Once at the main road we turn left and walk to the end of the block. We pass a llanteria where they can fix any and all tire issues, then we pass our two corner stores. They know us well in there because that is where we go to buy bread and eggs and most other basics. The owner of one of the shops told Carmen she’d never seen more beautiful eyes in her whole life. That is Carmen’s favorite shop. After the second shop we veer left, off the main road through Urubamba. Since Urubamba traffic is a little crazy, we prefer to walk along the back roads.
We are greeted along the way by so many stray dogs we’ve lost count. Carmen and Charlie have named many of them. First we pass Tupana and Wasi (named for the restaurant in front of which they sit), then flip-flop and tartar sauce. Along the dirt road we look for Roof Dog (pictured) and Salty. Once in the main plaza we see Waiki and MacGregor. On the home stretch to school we see Oregon Duck Dog, Salt-n-Pepper, and JJ. These are just the names I remember. Today, we passed a small pack having a bit of a stand-off. Move along kids. Move along. The one absolute rule is that they cannot pet the dogs. This takes an act of total concentration as each one is cuter than the next. But they can also be territorial. Not to mention hungry. Salty got his name because the kids saw him bite a dude in the ankle as he walked by. I’m pretty sure none of these dogs have had any vaccinations in their lifetimes. So for now we admire from afar. One day we had the sad experience of seeing a dog that had been hit by a car lying on the side of the road. At first we thought he was sleeping, but it became obvious that was not the case. We walked past him day after day, his little body getting more unrecognizable. Thankfully someone put rocks over him and now we just see a little mound on the side of the road. The kids are definitely learning about life in a different country.
But back to the walk. The dirt road is my favorite stretch of the walk to school. We walk right through the backs of houses and farms. You never know what you are going to see when you peek into a slightly open door. One day we saw a bull. But sometimes you see a store or a field or a smattering of flowers. Sometimes there is something for sale behind the door, other times it is a family kitchen, or just a view of the mountain.
Once the dirt road ends, there are a few ways you can walk. We’ve tried a lot of different routes, mostly trying to avoid the million moto-taxis, that refuse to stop and will run you over with glee.
A moto-taxi is a modified covered motorcycle with a seat in the back. These things are all over Urubamba and as Cooper said just this morning “I think there are more moto-taxis in Urubamba than people.” I tend to agree. So our route has changed based on where we can avoid getting run over by the moto-taxis. We walk by several schools where all the kids are in uniform and Cooper silently thanks me that we did not enroll him in a school that requires a uniform. We dodge a few more moto-taxis and then make it to the market. At first I thought we shouldn’t walk down market street because I thought the kids would get too distracted. But now it is just part of the routine. We walk past soccer balls, knock-off Nike shoes, watches, locks, women selling different colored juices, dead chickens, flowers, quails in cages, mounds of vegetables and all sorts of other stuff. But we trudge along without a second look now.
We make it through the market and arrive to the main square, the Plaza de Armas of Urubamba. Moto-taxis zoom around the perimeter while Policemen and women patrol the street. The town church is on one side and the municipal building on the other. We run past the shoe shiners and carts filled with juices to the small pedestrian street on the other side. The street is called Jr. Comercio which I mistakenly called Junior Comercio for the first week we were here, until corrected by Carmen who said, “Mom, the Jr. stands for jiron, not Junior.” Apparently jiron means street or avenue or something like that. Here I thought this was a “little” Comercio street and that the Sr. Comercio was somewhere else in town. Either way, I love this little street because you can walk right up the middle with no fear of being run down by a taxi.
The street is lined with barber shops, copy shops, pizza restaurants, bakeries, and other little hole in the wall places. The barber shops and hair salons all have outdated photos showing perfect potential hairstyles you might enjoy if only you’d stop in for a moment. My favorite is the large photo of Tom Cruise, circa Top Gun. He greets me every time I walk by. Hi Tom. One time I needed to print something, sign it and then scan it back to work. Along this street I printed from one, then went to the shop next door to scan. Each one has its specialty.
We make it through Jr. Comercio and arrive at a super busy intersection. Kids are crossing, police are blowing their whistles, dogs are running around, ladies are selling bread and juice, people dressed for work are briskly walking, stores are opening, lines are forming at the banks, and no one is watching where they are going. We navigate across and are on the home stretch for school. First we take Carmen and Charlie, then double back and drop off Cooper. The schools are within a few blocks of each other, thankfully.
Then I begin the walk home. Sometimes I meander down different streets just to see the shops and get a better lay of the land. I now know where to go to get shoes fixed, or a bike tire changed. I know where to go for fresh marmalade, the best cuts of meat, or farm fresh cream. I usually go back through the market and get a giant avocado or replenish our supply of mangos. I’ll stop to get extra clothesline, or another tupperware container. Sometimes I’ll stop for some fresh flowers. But mostly I just walk back home, taking in the scenery. Now that Jeff is here we mostly walk together, but today he is biking so I walked back alone. I love to amble with no restraint on my time. I take photographs along the way and say hello again to the stray dogs. One day I saw that a door was open to a field I hadn’t noticed before. I peeked in and saw the most beautiful pink flowers.
I love that I never know what I will see when we walk to school. We are often surprised by something, and I’m so grateful for the tiny surprises that find their way to me.
5 thoughts on “Letter: Walk to School”
Elizabeth, this is just wonderful. What an incredible experience. You’ve always been such a gifted writer. I’m so happy you are sharing your journey and we get a glimpse of it. Love you, friend!
Thanks Kelly. It is hard to find the right words to capture the magic of this place, but I’ll keep trying. Does the Davis family want to come for a visit?
I feel like I have walked to school with you and the kids Elizabeth! Thank you for the beautiful description!
Thanks for reading Pam! Hope to see you this summer upon our return:)