I arrived at the campsite at about six in the morning with a horde of other festival goers who had come in on the 11-hour bus ride from Lima. I was exhausted, having spent the night in that utterly useless state of not quite awake but not truly asleep, either.
Hannah had already put up my tent, so I slid in and wrapped myself in my sleeping bag. I figured a few hours of real sleep could probably be salvaged, so I closed my eyes for a nap in the jungle.
Oxapampa may be the “eyebrow of the jungle,” but to me, it looked like home. We were in an expansive green field strewn with trees, surrounded by plush mountains that rose into the sky with a comforting sort of strength. Behind barbed wire, cattle lowed. I artfully dodged a number of crusty cow pies, a talent I’d developed growing up in the countryside of southern Minnesota.
It soon became evident that sleep wasn’t going to happen– and besides, the sun coming up. I couldn’t resist the urge to watch the sunrise in Oxapampa.
I heard Hannah’s scratchy voice from the tent next to mine. “Rachel?” she croaked from inside the depths of her cave-like tent known fondly as “The Red Devil.”
Poor Hannah never knew what hit her. I sprang into Hannah’s tent and dragged my coworker/partner in crime into town for a hearty breakfast of eggs, bread, and the best cheese I’ve ever encountered.
I would continue to talk about the cheese for the rest of the day. Hannah repeatedly asked me to stop talking about the cheese. I never did.
Being in the country was like hitting the reset button on my winter-weary soul. Sun, grass, cows, a number of dogs who I was determined to make my lifelong canine buddies by bribing them with saltines– it was everything the noise and gray skies of Lima are not.
Night rolled in, and with it, music. I breathed in, exhaled, and began my walk towards the stage, secretly sad to leave my newfound bovine friends and my cozy little tent. But the festival was starting, and I was determined to soak in every minute.
The evening kicked off with a performance by Chilean group Rey Sargo, a high-energy band with a female vocalist and a distinctive sound– but eventually, as we heard more and more “unique” and “distinctive” bands, they all started to sound the same.
The next day, we visited El Wharapo, an aguardiente distillery near Oxapampa. This resulted in the consumption of a regrettable amount of aguardiente, a clear liquor made from sugar cane that will rot out your teeth and burn your brain to ashes at the same time. Giggly and giddy, we headed back to the festival in a crowded combi, loaded down with several bottles of El Wharapo hooch.
The evening’s concerts were even better than those from the night before. La Inedita, La Maria Cantu, Tourista– not a single disappointing performance among them.
We stayed up all night, sitting next to the fire. The combination of overpriced beer and sleeplessness turned us wistful. We cooked vegetable stew on the fire when the sun rose, and sipped it out of plastic cups.
At 1:00 in the afternoon, we boarded a bus to Lima. I sat in the upper deck, where I could feel the bus tip and sway as we rocketed around curves in the mountains.
Being a news writer gives you the bad habit of thinking of all disasters as potential headlines. “Breaking news:,” I thought, “Bus accident in Pasco leaves 32 festival attendees dead, including the entirety of the Peru this Week staff.”
Luckily, the bus stayed upright, in spite of my firm belief that we were about to overturn every time we took another hairpin curve. I buried my face in a novel about political intrigue in ancient Rome, and tried to forget my fears.
It was midnight by the time we reached Lima. We trudged home, and I fell into bed, glad to be sleeping on a mattress instead of the ground. I was sunburned, covered in mosquito bites, and dead tired.
The festival had been a success. A journey to Oxapampa and back, featuring sun, music, mosquitos, and a terrifying bus ride.