The north of Peru is quite poor and has a reputation as being fairly dangerous. The majority of the world’s population lives in poverty, but it’s the dangerous part that concerns me (although the poverty does too). Our guidebook and the travel boards are filled with warnings of attacks around the tourist sites, and some peace corp friends all have stories of being robbed. This information coupled with my overactive imagination made for an interesting afternoon of sightseeing.
At one point we asked for directions between two sites and were told the next site was nearby with a wave of the hand in the general direction. Normally I don’t mind this generality, but with all the hype about the dangers in the area it was aggravating to later learn the distance between the sites was almost 3K. As we walked through the DESERT with no sunblock on my lily white skin, a guy on a mountain bike advised us with the same general directions and told us there were several strangulation attacks in the area before pedaling away. To tell his buddies of fresh gringos in the area?
We made it safely to the next site, only to be offered a “taxi” ride by a guy who stepped out of an ordinary car and showed me his “taxi license” that looked like a ancient laminated menu excavated from one of the nearby tombs. I thanked him and walked away without getting into his “cab.”
At the end of the day, we hailed a regular licensed cab and agreed on a price to get back to the hotel. The driver seemed fine but started driving away from the city and the well traveled Pan American highway. Finally Dawn asked me where he was taking us as the neighborhood grew more ever more menacing looking outside the door. The driver heard her speaking English to me and shot a look into the rearview mirror. I realized we were nowhere near the route we took to get there. We passed a policeman sitting in an SUV and I tried to make some eye contact. At least he could report he was the last one to see us before we show up on the milk carton.
As we drove deeper into where the police officer would not even go, I fully expected a gang of 5 of the cabbie’s buddies to block the road, drag us out of the car, and beat us for the $15 in my wallet. What could we do at this point? jump out and run? where? I tried to take comfort in the fact they can’t take more than we are carrying so I’ll just give them what they want and take the beating.
Finally the dirt track spit us back onto the Pan American highway. The driver had simply taken a shortcut–however unorthodox. My heart rate returned slowly to normal and my shorts were still clean… mostly. Sometimes maybe it’s better not to know so much–damn my imagination.