The Peruvian Roadrunner

The year was 1990 and I was on my way to Machu Picchu, Peru, perceived by world explorers, dreamers and idealists as a sort of mystical fantasia or spiritual recluse. But I had no idea what lay ahead. Little did I know what trouble was coming my way. Alberto Fujimori assumed presidency of Peru in 1990, but not when I was there.

When I was there the previous government, which was more of a corrupt military dictatorship, had essentially collapsed. In Lima there was public looting, robber’s stealing stuff everywhere and riots in the street. I myself was pushed, shoved and attacked by a wild bunch of thugs.

So I went right to the airport and booked a flight to Cuzco, one of the highest inhabited cities in the world. Its elevation is 11,200 ft. That was the way to Machu Picchu, now considered a royal estate built by the Incas around 1450, but abandoned a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Machu Picchu was on my bucket list and now was the time. Time to get the hell out of Lima!

As soon as I got to Cuzco I got a bad headache. It’s called altitude sickness. I also felt nauseous. I heard a knock at my hotel room door. The room service waiter offered me a strong cup of coca leave tea, which cured me almost instantly of the headache and nausea. In Peru coca leaf tea is served everywhere and consumed by locals daily, just like how we drink coffee. It gives you a slight buzz, and it's as safe as mothers milk. It soon became my staple.

The next morning I woke up and began to explore Cuzco. I drank coca leaf tea all day. It was an ancient place founded in 1100 with a population of about 300,000 at the time I was there. Basically it was mind blowing and like going back in time. As capital to the Inca Empire, Cusco was an important agricultural region. It was a natural reserve for thousands of native Peruvian species, including around 3,000 varieties of potato cultivated by the people.

In 1911, explorer Hiram Bingham used Cuzco as a base for the expedition in which he rediscovered the ruins of Machu Picchu. And Cuzco was where you went to catch the train to Machu Picchu, but that’s another bizarre and memorable story.

I finally made it back from an incredible day of exploration through the city, back to the region close to where my hotel was located. Before retiring for the night, I ventured into a local eatery of some kind, a place that served you food and drink while sitting on the floor on a mat. It was very cool. The entertainment and music was outstanding and very unique.

The pan flute music entertainment of Peru is peaceful and hypnotizing. I listened to it constantly. Unchained Melody Panflute

There I sat, drinking a local beer called Cusquena and digging some indigenous grinds consisting of Causa (tuber) and barbecued Cuy (Guinea pig). Things were peachy. Then I felt this very strange and eerie sensation come over me. It felt like someone was watching me.

I looked up and over and there he was. This really sinister, creepy looking guy sitting at a table among what looked like a bunch of outlaws. He was just sitting there, nursing his drink, smoking a cigarette and starring at me. I felt extremely threatened.

I decided it was time to leave. I paid my bill, gathered my stuff and headed out the door. It was about 2 or 3 in the morning. As I headed toward my hotel down the street I heard the gang come out of the pub door and say something like, “Hey you, gringo, come here”.

I pretended not to notice them, but they started to move towards me with intention. I felt a surge of adrenaline. They were coming after me! In an instant I decided they were going to kill me. I could just feel it. I knew if they got close enough they would do me in, for who knows why.

So, like the Roadrunner in the Looney Tunes cartoon The Coyote, I burned rubber like no man before. It's amazing how fast a man can run when he's scared shitless and running for his life. Even Usain Bolt would've been impressed.

I took off like a rocket and ran as fast as I could down some really old stone tunnel. The ground was made of solid rock worn down to a smooth glass-like texture from a thousand years of human tread and erosion. I ran without turning back and kept running for what seemed like hours.

Eventually I slowed down from exhaustion and stopped to look back. There was no one in sight. The sun was just beginning to rise over the Andes. But where the hell was I?

No matter, I was alive and well, and what's more, I learned two great lessons free of charge.

  1. It’s better to be a live chicken than a dead lion.
  2. When you need to perform physically it’s great to have the capacity.

Thank goodness I was in shape and taking my leg muscle vitamins! Hasta la vista baby!

Photo by Jessica Devnani from Burst

Stay well and live free!