Thursday 23 March 2017

It's a nun's world

During her travels in South America, this week’s winner, Ellie O’Neill, from Booterstown in Dublin, found that sisters are still sacred.

Ellie O'Neill

A simple trip to the post office in Peru took four hours. I tried to communicate through a mixture of broken Spanish and charades that I had a package to post to "Irlanda".

"Hollanda?" the women behind the counter replied with a slightly confused look. I was constantly being mistaken for Dutch and I knew it was because I couldn't yet roll the letter 'r' in the way that Spanish speakers do so effortlessly.

I tried again, horribly, and ended up sounding Russian. Eventually, I was motioned to join a long queue, which snaked for what appeared to be forever around the tightly packed post office, which was heaving with people all at least one head smaller than me.

I stood behind endless rows of Peruvians, chatting and laughing with one another, and realised that although I was doing it in Peru, I still hated queuing.

I spent hours standing in this seemingly endless line, tapping my foot as I watched the clock, conscious that I had a bus to catch. Finally, it was my turn. I approached a glass window, behind which was a solemn elderly man, hunched over and preening his nails.

Before I could reach this holy grail of the post office, my face was met with the palm of an excited security guard warning me to step back. He ushered two nuns, dressed in full old-fashioned habits, in front of me, allowing them to skip the queue.

The previously stone-faced man met them with a wide grin. The nuns had come from nowhere. They hadn't been queuing for hours as I had; in fact, they hadn't queued at all. "This wouldn't happen in Ireland," I thought, as I considered Peru the place to be a nun.

Later that night, I was on a crowded bus feeling tired from my ordeal at the post office. The bus rocked, pulsated and exhaled smoke as we jigged from side to side, the poor roads creating a roller-coaster-like experience. It was going to be a long and arduous 20-hour journey.

An ancient TV, which rested on a home-made wooden shelf at the front of the bus, was turned on. The movie was in Spanish, but I welcomed the distraction from the handle that was sticking into my back. The seats seemed designed by someone who excelled in punishing tall westerners as my knees got intimate with my chin and I wriggled to find comfort.

The light outside faded, night-time set in and I was just getting the grasp of a storyline when the sound was abruptly turned off.

"Is there a problem with the volume?" I asked the lady who had switched it off. "No" she replied, "The nuns are sleeping," and pointed to the two habited heads in the front row. "Nuns!" I laughed. "They have all the luck."

COULD YOU WRITE A WINNING TRAVEL STORY?

The ‘Irish Independent’ is looking for Ireland’s next top travel writer. So get to your keyboards and tell us all about your latest trip. You could see your story in print and win a pair of return flights courtesy of Aer Lingus to any of their destinations in Europe. We are unable to respond to individual entries.

TO APPLY:

Simply email your entry, in no more than 500 words (no attachments please), to goingplaces@independent.ie. For more terms and conditions, visit independent.ie/goingplaces

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