Robbers FedUp- Spill the Beans.
Ric Polansky ©
Dateline: Aguas Caliente: PERU
Railroad station below Macchu Pichu
November 15, 1988
The train has stopped. It’s now been announced that we are to disembark and either stay at the hotel across the tracks or jump on a bus that will cart us up the winding road to Macchu Pichu to see the ruins. This is an unplanned respite. Apparently mechanical problems.
We are a good 40 miles away, that’s far in the high Andes. An air of disgruntlement pervades the mood. All of us had set our hearts on viewing the ruins and coming back in the same day late so as to not spend a night at the site. All travel plans are jolted. Those not getting back to Cuzco tonight will miss their connections on the shuttle to Lima and their flights back to normalcy.
I gaze out of the windows. There seems to be a myriad of kids darting about the passengers. Everyone seems to be rushing in crazy directions. Police are blowing their whistles
Dodging about amongst the passengers are small urchin children dragging fully loaded suitcases of the disembarking passengers and rushing towards forests. Meanwhile the carpet sales ladies and trinkets purveyors are pushing their wares into faces of the chasing tourists. Pandemonium. As wild as it all looks I sense it is contrived, like a well meaning attack.
I travel light, just one bag I sling over my shoulder and that I keep tied to my leg or foot should I doze off while mesmerized by the rhythmic beat of the tracks—so that it doesn’t go walkies. A change of underwear, a pistol (my trusted Smith and Wesson 38) pills for the altitude sickness, aspirin by the hundreds that I use to treat others, vitamin pills (for food and energy) and good maps. Always lighter than a good heavy weight tome but much lighter in case plans get converted and you got a long
unplanned trek. Besides, any explorer will tell you, rather than read a book they’d always rather stare at a map for hours and plan excursions and other adventures. I can also surmise where the Incas would have made other settlements by marking where there have been specific patterns which tend to unfurl if you’ve got the penchant for looking for lost cities and El Dorado’s.
While the disorder continues I tug on Pedro’s sleeve and pull him toward the railway café. Since we had to board before sunrise I could go for something to perk me up. You’ll learn when visiting Peru or any Indian South American country you can walk few steps without being accosted by children begging or selling trinkets. They stay clinging to my arm as I pull out a chair and plunk down.
“Senor buy this—Please”. “No, buy mine, my mother makes them. She sells copies” To stop the fight I have the three of them sit down and order breakfast (assuming they would gnaw on a donut or a piece of crusty bread). But they had other ideas, all order the same thing a mountain of rice, topped off with
beans, strips of pork, chicken and a fried egg, to be tucked away with a large wooden spoon. While the mayhem and screams played out in the background the food was flying and somehow those kids could get two or three spoonfuls down their necks and grab and eat hunks of bread simultaneously. It was a scene to be witnessed despite all the noise and turmoil.
Hot, thick soupy grounds of coffee take a few minutes to spoon up but before I had finished half the cup my new friends were done and yearning for something to drink. “Alright” I announced, “who wants some Vino Americano” I quipped. They laughed, willing to drink fire water to help wash down their meals. I order three cokes and some hot water to lighten up the coffee. One young man (they were all ages 8-12) reached out and took my hand. “Gracias señor”. I was very touched. But that magic moment was interrupted by new tourists arriving at the café shop bemoaning their fate; the urchins had run off with their suitcases, their personal holdings; “little bastards and the police did nothing to help. It’s a crime”. Before I could even comment a hush swept over them as a new group of children were emerging from the darkness of the green jungle pulling back into view suitcases, travel bags and all that had been robbed. Gasps and shrieks of excitement ensued again. Elderly folk rushed over to their gear to drop to their knees and clasped it like long lost relatives and newly found friends. Some even shedding tears.
Within moments these new children baring such fine gifts obviously rescued from other terrible pint sized train robbers were escorted to near-by tables and lavished with food and drink. All the hero’s were of various ages and sizes between small and very small wore bags of their own, albeit, empty, but soon to be replete with any smidgen of food presented and not instantaneously consumed.
“What’s going on?” I enquired of my captive troop. “Once a week we get fed this way. Those being fed now will take back all their extra food to those that took the luggage to begin with. “We’re too big and got to sell something to take home money for our parents. Fancy this small key chain?” he added. Some important truths can be revealed in strange places.
Even near the Inca trail or by a forgotten railway station up in the Andes.