Wednesday, February 23, 2011


People sometimes ask me what made me become an archaeologist. I tell them "I'd love to answer that question, but I am too busy frolicking with gypsies." 


Last summer I spent an extended period of time in Ayacucho, Peru. For those of you have been there, you know it is a pretty quiet place. The restaurants can be hit-or-miss, and the nightlife certainly could pump it up a notch. But occasionally something amazing will happen there. Some would even say that magical things occur.

For instance, one morning on our way to work we that noticed a group of multi-colored tents had sprung up in a field near our house. With their Alladin-turned-hipster vibe, the tents were certainly out of the oridinary for Ayacucho. The next morning we spotted even more tents - like a colony of happy mushrooms popping up in the night. We were intrigued, but at first did not manage to see who was putting up these tents. Finally, we saw a blond child running around the field

Now, if there is something you don't see in Peru, it is blond children. Most foreigners in Peru are college-age backpackers without children, and Ayacucho is an out of the way destination even for most backpackers. It appeared unlikely that this kid was some wayward tourist's small child. Who the hell were these people?

We began to investigate. Or, we began to stalk. We walked slowly by the field, observing. We tried to casually watch the group when they were in the market. We were creepers, and all of our creeping soon pointed us to one irrefutable conclusion -- these were gypsies. Real life gypsies with bangles and scarves and tents stuffed with pillows and rugs. They were awesome and living right by our house!

I wanted to meet them. Badly- really, really badly. Our whole team was interested in the gypsies, but I think my fascination went well beyond what was healthy. I HAD to meet them. I talked about nothing but the gypsies for days. Whenever we passed the camp of tents, I would wistfully whisper "gypsies...", as if I were calling to them. Calling to join them, calling to learn their gypsy secrets. In my mind they were not gypsies, they were THE gypsies. The obsession grew and grew until a real danger existed that I would start having fits if I did not meet a gypsy. 

So one night a couple of us ventured to the field. It was dark and bonfires were burning in the field, as were candles inside the tents -- all of which gave the scene a magical feel. This sense of mystery only fed my hysteria. As we walked up a woman appeared, called to us, and offered to read our fortune. Like sheep (llamas might actually be more appropriate here) we followed her voice. Before we realized what had happened the gypsy wind had us! 

You might be thinking that following strange gypsy women into a field of tents in the middle of the night is not be the best idea.  Yea, well, I don't like the best ideas. 

We followed her into the dark gypsy labyrinth, and soon find out that they are actually Yugoslavian! I am not sure how they came from Yugoslavia to Peru, because I am positive that riding in airplanes is not allowed in the gypsy codes. Perhaps they came by boat? Or maybe some of those tents also acted as hot air balloons? No idea; I'm afraid it will always remain a mystery. But one thing was clear - these were obviously the most legitimate of gypsies. 
The woman wanted us to go into her tent to have our fortune read. I ,of course, go first because I am overly excited. I'm about to go into the magical gypsy tent and learn their secrets and this is the best day ever!!

Sadly, in my excitement I didn't see her step over the tent's rope. I trip and fall HARD face-first into the field. I actually don't remember falling; all I remember is feeling the cold ground on my face and wondering why my arm hurt. After realizing I was on the ground, I just laid there awhile and tried to figure out if all my limbs were reasonably functioning. But the longer I stayed on the ground the more my body started to throb. The only thing that hurt more than my body? My ego. 
Bu am I the type of person who will let throbbing arms and tattered pride keep my from enjoying gypsy secrets? Hell no! 

I collected myself, got reasonably brushed off, and was finally able to continue into the tent to sit on the floor by the woman. She had me pull out some playing cards, and she began to read my fortune. One look at my cards and she goes, " are the wild one." She cackled while looking me straight in the face - oh crap she CAN see into my soul.

She then proceeded to tell me a fortune filled with deceit, vindictive friends, and heartbreak. But you know, she totally glossed over the death-by-tent possibility. She offered to help me change the future, if I pay her even more money. 

Meh, I decided I'd take my chances. The future can't be any worse than her damn tent. 

This story will be continued in the future, in a piece entitled: "How I went to a Peruvian hospital because I thought my arm was broken"

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