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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How about a round of applause, yeah, standing ovation...?

So here's the story: we were in the great historical square of Cusco after dark. Mike went to an ATM to get some cash and I pulled out my camera to see if I could get a shot of the glowing white statue of Christ up on a hillside overlooking the city. It wasn't turning out terribly well, as you can see, too far away and too much interference from the city lights to get a suitable photo:

I gave up and put the camera back into the safety of an inside pocket in my borrowed jacket just as Mike returned, Peruvian soles secured.

We were crossing to the other side of the square, discussing what supplies to get for the next day when a man emerged from the darkness from behind, hailing us to stop. Instantly we were on alert.

Every guidebook says the same thing: If you are going to be robbed or conned in Peru, the most likely place for it to happen is in Cusco; be on your guard, vigilant, attentive...

The man hurried up, a young man, shoulder-length wavy hair, Peruvian accent. Do you have a camera? he queried.

Did he think we just fallen off the tamale truck? Please!

No, no, no, we said to him firmly, determined not to be victims, backing away as he got closer, his hands out. "Over there," he insisted, pointing, "you took a picture, yes? "

Behind him, we could see another person coming up to join, something metallic in one of his his hands, something else in the other.

We continued shaking our heads, saying NO.

Mind going a million miles an hour: yell, run, fight? Spanish for "help" was what, again?! I focused on the second man's hands. And everything went utterly sideways.

Oh, crap. He had my camera. I had missed my pocket and instead dropped it on the hard ground where it popped open. Even better, the batteries had fallen out, but our un-looked for savior had taken the time to find them on the ground, then followed his friend he'd sent to catch us.

My camera...with all our irreplaceable Machu Picchu photos on it.

I went from how are we getting out of this one?!  to I am SUCH an asshole in less than a second.

Ohmigod, I sputtered, my camera. These were no criminals. These were good Samaritans...and we'd just treated them like crap.

Gracias, gracias muy, no, muchas gracias! we both exclaimed in a rush, over and over as the nice young men gave back the camera and, flipping backward waves over their shoulders and de nadas,  disappeared back into the dark.

We stood there, stunned.

Then ashamed.

This was terrible. We'd been exactly what we hated most:

Ugly Americans abroad.


  1. Your thoughts got the best of you :-)
    Good story and good lesson.

    When these type of situations occur...the only way to handle is to be totally present. 100% in the NOW. Otheriwse worry (thoughts about the future) takes over and you are no longer in the moment. I learned this lesson once when a guy in NYC darted for me, threw up his left hand really fast towards my face and then said "you know what time it is?" Scared the crap out of me, but only because I started "worrying" as he approached. here and now...than again...if i was in cusco at night...

    Glad all is perfect :-)


    1. Of course you're right, Marc. I still wince when I think about it, though! Not to mention...what if they hadn't been there, or hadn't been men of good character? Good-bye camera. I am grateful for fate or karma or whatever it was that sent them there at that moment.

  2. Yes but you never know...and you were following the advice of the guidebooks. So glad they were decent and returned your camera to you. What an adventure you had!

  3. I know, I know, we told ourselves this a hundred times, and that the nice young men also knew full well that we weren't acting unreasonably---but we still feel bad about it. Thanks, Paula.