Thursday, 14 August 2014

Public enemy number one

Lima 1992.  A winter´s evening, just a couple of weeks after our arrival. I hear fireworks popping outside in the street. The sound intensifies. Suddenly Mama Mery is running through the house screaming "abre la boca, abre la boca".  I have no idea what this means. My sister in law scoops my two year old from his grandma´s bed in the front bedroom where he is watching cartoons. I am bemused and befuddled on the stairs. And then an almighty bang rocks the windows.

detail from a Paracas textile held in the MNAA Lima
taken from : La cultura Paracas - treinta siglos de arte textil

This was the night Sendero terrorists killed the local university´s night watchman. He used to sit in a plastic chair, two doors down from our home on Las Nazarenas. We, along with the neighbours, took it in turn to offer him the occasional sandwich or hot drink to keep the cold at bay.

Turns out it wasn´t fireworks after all, it was automatic gunfire.

Then they threw a grenade at him.

Later I find out abre la boca means open your mouth; the local civil defence advice to avoid ear drums splitting in an explosion.

My brother in law had been tinkering with his old VW outside the house at the time of the attack, a bullet hole in the bodywork testament to a lucky escape. The family was anxious  for days afterwards, fearful that the killers would think he had seen their faces as they ran past. This was the Peru I first knew. A people stunted by fear and suspicion.

I was strung out and frustrated. The initial delight at living in a house with humming birds in the garden was wearing thin, but getting to know this beautiful country seemed next to impossible. Travel to the more remote regions was blighted by those twin goons terrorism and crime, and violence and murder was commonplace. So I took refuge in armchair travel and read Tio Hernan´s stories. They transported me to a gentler time.

But even back then bandits were a thorn in the side of our intrepid travelers. As this story shows. 

Public enemy number one (and two)
In which our explorers have a narrow escape and find that a pistol comes in handy  

A battalion of army engineers was working on the extension of a landing strip in one of the northern coastal towns where Tello was studying some tombs. He had gotten to know some of the commanders and one day,seeing one of them with several pistols stuck into his belt, the archaeologist smiled and said to him: "You're certainly well armed there Commander. Can you believe it, I've travelled all over Peru, many times alone, and I've never carried so much as a small penknife". 

It was true. I never knew him carry any weapons with him on his travels. He did, however, once tell me of a rather swashbuckling incident that had happened many years before.