Once again in the absence of anything interesting from me I offer a slice of adventure from one of those places you don't think of very much. This is some quite terrific stuff. My buddy the Latin American correspondent should really get a blog of his own. I'm sure he'd have a big audience in no time.
Pedro is a 50 year old taxi driver who has two children in the U.S. He took me from my hotel to the center of town.
Pedro: Where are you from?
Pedro: Is it true that in New York intersections the traffic lights make you wait 5 minutes?
Andrew: I don't know. I don' t think so, that sounds a bit much.
Pedro: What if it was a really busy highway that crossed a dirt road?
Andrew: Well I suppose then it would be reasonable to have a 5 minute red light.
Pedro. I knew it. Those people in New York are crazy.
Peru's history is basically string of bad luck. Earthquakes, tidal waves, storms, mudslides, coup d'etats, auto coup d'etats (when the president shuts down his own Congress), wars, famine and fog (about seven months of it a year). When the Spaniards first arrived in Peru the Inca empire was about at its peak, stretching from central Chile all the way up to Colombia. As luck (bad) would have it the Inca emperor had just died and his two sons squabbled over the empire. Son#1 saw the Spaniards and said "Voila, a good opportunity to conquer my brother." The Spaniards said they would help if he filled a room to the ceiling with gold. Son#1 filled the room with gold and was killed. The Spaniards then went to Cusco, where they were greeted by Son#2 as heros for killing Son#1. The Spaniards then killed Son#2. And that's just about how it all got started. 150 Spaniards took over the biggest empire in the Amricas in a little less than a month.
Natalia is a tour guide at the old fort on the part of Lima that juts out into the Pacific ocean. It is still an active military base and I jumped on a local tour that left earlier.
Natalia: Behind me are cannons that were used in the Pacific war against Chile.
Andrew: Who won the war?
About 40 Peruvians glared at me with disdain.
Natalia: And on your left are cannons that were used in the 1940s in the war with Ecuador.
Andrew: And who won that war?
About 40 Peruvians glared at me with disdain. I stopped asking questions.
About midway through the tour we stopped for a bathroom break. The ladies bathroom was blocked by a soldier who was "on duty" but had decided there was no imminent invasion and it was best to take a quick nap in the shade of the doorway. A lady on our tour then thought of no better thing to do than jumpstart awake a sleeping soldier who had a machinegun in his lap by throwing an empty coke can on his head. Luckily his sleep was so deep he didn't startle and fire off a few rounds. The tour was quickly getting out of hand and boring so I made a quick break for the exit. On my way out the two honour guards on duty stopped me and said I should donate some spare change to them so they could buy a Coke. No wonder Peru lost so many wars.
From the fort I made my way to the fishing port, which is always an exciting place to be. I walked to the end of the pier and sat down by Paco, a half blind man in his thirties, and his sidekick Pancho, who was 60 and looked more like 120. Paco said because of his poor eyes he couldn't take my photo and he passed the camera to Pancho who had never ever taken a photo in his life. It only took 15 minutes to do. Paco was a music lover and he told me so.
Paco: Do you know this song. "Baby, you flu ting tao. And I wanna go bling bow. Nah, nah nah, nah , nah, and I wanna go bling bow. Peas Dun Go. Peas Dun Go!"
Andrew: I think it's a dance song from the 80s called "Please Don't Go. Please Don't Go"
Paco: What does that mean.
Andrew: The singer wants some girl to stay with not to go.
Paco: Wow. (And therein was my fatal error. Paco had a list of about 300 songs he wanted me to explain to him).
The next thing I knew Paco had whipped out the biggest air guitar I've ever seen in my life and started to lick a few chords of The Police off for me.
Paco: Do do do do, Da da da da, all I wan to go is you. Do do do do, da da da da, nah nah nah nah nah nah nah.
Andrew: That's really good.
Paco: What does it mean?
From the Pet Shop Boys to MC Hammer to Prince to The Doors to Iron Maiden and to Celine Dion we went. It was dizzying. Being an air guitar Paco's fingers never tired and sidekick Pancho seemed to enjoy the concert and bobbed his head. I on the other couldn't take much more and left in the middle of a very long Santana song.
Roast rat is a popular treat in Lima. I'm not sure it's a rat, it could be a big mouse or a guinea pig. The rodent is skinned and stuck on a skewer to roast over a plate of hot coals, where the fat runs off it and makes its glisten in the sun. You buy the rat and a bottle of Inca Cola (yes, it's gold in colour) and enjoy the treat as you walk down the street.
Leaving the port I flagged down another taxi to take me to the beach zone. Only after I haggled him down to 12 sols did I learn he was concerned the owner of the car would take it from him for failing to make a monthy payment and that his kids were in school but not for long if they took his car. Time to reverse haggle and give him more. Eduardo decided to try and boost his profit by taking a shortcut through a slum in the industrial zone.
Eduardo: I almost never come here because it's too dangerous.
Andrew: So turn around.
Eduardo: It's two sols cheaper.
Andrew: I'll give you 4.
Eduardo: Last week 10 guys pulled me over here, robbed me and even took my floor mats.
Andrew: I'll give you 8.
Eduardo: Then there was a time a few years ago they just took the whole car.
Andrew: Oh boy.
At this point a child flung himself in the dirt and lay in the ground, I was expecting the band of robbers to pounce and rob us blind when Eduardo stopped. Luckily Eduardo (AKA Schumacher) swerved and avoided the child and we rumbled on down the street. He got a nice tip.
As I walked back to my hotel (with no bathroom) a man walked up to me and began to speak. His name was Daniel and he was an unemployed English teacher. His English was really terrible, which likely explains why he was unemployed. But he wasn't an idiot.
Daniel: Can you do me a favor and tell people back home that the money the ONGs (NGOs) send doesn't get to us. The polticians take it all and put it in their bolsitas (pockets). I was stunned. I had gone from Paco the Air Guitar to Goethe. This guy was smart. He went on to explain to me how he had tried to get funds promised to him and they never came. What a sad story it was. Peru's history is really bad luck sometimes. Had Daniel been born in Quebec he would be me and I'd be banging chords of Aerosmith watching the tide roll away.
Andrew: Yes, I promise I'll tell everyone that you said that.
Daniel: Ok. Thanks. I want people to know. Have a good night.
Have a good night guys. I'm off to Lake Titicaca tomorrow. It's a 16 hour bus trip, but it's just such a cool name that I'd be silly to miss it. Plus nothing starts a good story like the words "Well when I was on the shores of Lake Titicaca I...."