Sunday, May 25, 2008

Beaten but Unbowed, and Really Achey

One can't truly claim to be on an adventure until adversity strikes, and strike adversity did the other night in Lima, Peru. I had arrived there early on Thursday morning, having taken a 14-hour, 1,000-kilometer bus ride down the coast from Piura, a city in the extreme north of the country. I only had a half-hour nap that day, after sleeping very fitfully on the bus due to a screaming brat that kept everyone awake through at least half the trip (I've never fantasized so vividly about hurting a child; video below is from the bus ride, some audio of the kid is there from before his hours-long fit).

So perhaps I can claim that exhaustion dulled my facility for sensing danger later that night. Or perhaps the alcohol I had drank earlier, with an Irishman (of course) at a local pub, did the dulling.

Nevertheless, after stopping for a quick nibble at a chicken shack, I was walking toward the neighborhood of Barranca, what the Lonely Planet guidebook dubs the hip place to grab a cheap drink. Unfortunately, I've been relying on found guidebooks throughout my trip, being the cheapie that I am and not wanting to invest $30 in a new guide. Therefore I didn't have the handy map that comes with the book, as the previous owner had ripped it out for easy access without having to trundle around the entire 1,000-plus-page book. So I was navigating by word-of-mouth from passersby and traffic cops, which I have found to work perfectly well in the past. This night, however, I fatuously decided after 45 minutes of walking that I knew the city better than the kind folks who had so far pointed out the way, and I proceeded to chart a course through a residential area that I knew, with my infallible sense of direction, was the only thing that stood between me and a drinker's paradise of block after block of imbibing establishments created by God especially for me.

Well, what at first looked like a perfectly respectable neighborhood quickly devolved into a sinister array of single-story adobe shacks, brown and sloppy-looking under the few lampposts that cast more shadows on the unpaved streets than they lit anything up. The few businesses that operated there were in the process of closing; the proprietors were slamming their shutters down as I walked by, giving me a piteous look as if they were thinking, "This gringo shouldn't be here at this time." At the same time, as I noticed the increasing numbers of shifty young men milling around on the street, I voiced the exact same sentence in my head. I thought to myself that it would be a good time to turn around and walk directly back to the busy, well-lit thoroughfare that I had left behind about five blocks ago, but I didn't want any of the young men who were now studying me with such interest to perceive any weakness I might have. So, in a very casual manner, I crooked my neck to glance behind me, to study any possible avenue of escape if things turned sour.

Things were already sour. Instead of glancing up the street behind me, I instead found three young men in midair about to land squarely on top of me. In the kind of time distortion that only happens during car crashes (which I've witnessed) and battle (which I haven't), it seemed about 30 seconds passed by while the young men flew through the air on top of me. During this entire time, I was preoccupied with trying to switch my cigarette from my right hand to my left. It seemed important at the time. So much for my fight instincts. I should have just slammed it into the nearest guy's face. But the point was moot in the end, as when they finally landed on me--more or less all at the same time; it was beautifully choreographed--we all went crashing to the ground, me on bottom, them on top.

What happened next is a bit unclear, but I do remember thinking to myself that I had two options: I could give up, hand them my money, and hope they wouldn't hurt me. Or I could fight back, hope they had no weapons, and that none of the other young men gathered around would try to get in on the action. (Looking back, it seemed to be a bit similar to a Marlan Perkins Mutual of Omaha show, with Marlon intoning, "Looks like that wildebeest is fighting back! But oh no! Here come some other members of the lion pack .... One of them just ripped out the poor animal's hamstring--looks like the fight's over now!) I also remember thinking that I had both my passport and my ATM card on me. If they were to get either of them, I'd be seriously screwed.

So I did fight back, but not effectively as I might have. Instead of regaining my footing, where I would have a tremendous advantage, being 6-foot-2 in a land of relative pygmies, I grabbed as much of their clothing as I could and tried .... Well, I don't know what the hell I was trying. Maybe to smother them, to immobilize them, to hug them, make them feel embarrassed? Whatever it was, it must have worked, because although at one point one of them did manage to grasp my large black-leather notebook that was hanging out of my back pocket (it must have looked like a gigantic wallet, I think)--which I then knocked out of his hand and managed to reclaim, in another kind of stereotypical movie scene where the villain and the hero both see the gun at the same time and lunge for it, except this was a notebook, for Christ's sake, and a stupid, lost gringo and three teenage kids--once they realized that I was not going to give in, they tried to run off. Only at this point, I was hanging on to them, screaming maniacally at the top of my lungs in English, "Come on, motherfuckers! You want a piece of it?!" (I'm not making this up.) Finally, one of them extracted himself and ran away. Then, hanging on to the other two, I tried to clamber up on my feet, which turned into a summersault of sorts when I was yanked off balance by one of them, who also ran away. In mid-flop, I lost my grip on the third, and he, perhaps not wanted to look entirely like a coward, slowly strolled away. Slowly, that is, until I finally got to my feet and started running after him, all the time repeating my mantra, "Come on, motherfucker! You want a piece?!" (I kind of blanked on saying anything more insulting, or even anything in Spanish. I suppose the foreign-lunatic behavior helped as much as my (questionable) physical prowess.) He then melted into the crowd, and I realized I was still in the woods as far as this situation was concerned. I stood huffing and puffing and looked into as many eyes in the crowd as was possible, thinking that if they thought I was a mad dog they'd be less likely to attack me. Apparently that worked, because as I retraced my steps back to the busy thoroughfare, they parted like the waters before Moses, and I was soon back in a relatively safe area. I then decided that it might be smarter to follow the instructions that were given to me earlier as how to find the neighborhood I was looking for. After only about 10 minutes, I was in a packed nightclub district with police lining the streets, safe to one and all. There, I celebrated my victory (nothing was taken from me; I only lost a little change that flew out of of pocket when we went sprawling on the ground) with several rounds of beer and a couple of shots of rum to anesthetize my shoulder, which was progressively growing very sore.

I made it to the airport at 3 in the morning for a 5:30 a.m. flight to Cuzco, a little buzzed (OK, a lot), and feeling good. Checking into the hotel later that morning though, my body ached in every joint, and I couldn't use my left arm at all. Turns out that I'm getting a little old for such horseplay. It's now two days later and my back is seriously out of whack, I've stretched all the muscles in my arms and my legs to the point where I can barely walk, and I have bruises up and down my arms, in addition to a hyper-extended shoulder that is, for all intents and purposes, dead weight. (Although it is getting a little better now.) There was no pain when the melee was happening, but now I am debilitated. Maybe next time I'll just give them my money--it might be worth it.

(Turkey pictures are just for the hell of it.)


chris said...

damn ! oh boy I hope your mom doesn't read this.

stop having adventures ! just have fun !

Wendy said...

Holy cow! I'm glad you're all right, relatively speaking--I just stumbled upon your blog and have been looking forward to living vicariously through it further...but I'll skip this episode, mkay?

I love your labels.

Anonymous said...

Man, This was close, you had all the right instincts to protect yourself. Passive observation and reflection from now on, please stay safe. K

Anonymous said...

I wish, "Come on, motherfucker! You want a piece?!" was my fight-or-flight reaction.


Anonymous said...

How can it be that a mother wishes adventure/travel/health/happinesss for her offspring and yet frets uncontrollably for said offspring's safety? . . . as said, "not always easy, never fair and sometimes impossible." Dios está con usted, Matthew.

Anonymous said...

My throat felt sore... but the fingers feeling it didn't feel anything. They were a bunch of bananas that looked like fingers.

I wondered what I was shot full of. Something to keep me quiet or something to make me talk.

Maybe both.

Okay, Marlowe, I said to myself, you're a tough guy. You've been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun... shot in the arm until you're as crazy as a couple of waltzing mice.

Now let's see you do something really tough... like putting your pants on. Okay cuckoo, walk and talk.

What about? Anything. Everything.

Just talk and keep walking. You're getting out of here.

That's a beautiful bed. Stay off it!


I walked. I don't know how long. I didn't have a watch. They don't make that kind of time in watches, anyway.

I was ready to talk to somebody.

Help! Help!

That'll quiet your nerves, pally.

The buzzer won't buy you anything tonight, doc. I just gave nursey a sleeping tablet.

For three days, you've been a sick man, sir, a very sick man.

Anonymous said...

You might want to pick up a bullwhip and fedora in Cuzco, my friend.
Good Luck

Anonymous said...

Man, glad you are ok. Quite brave of you to fight back.
Latin America is quite the really sure Laos isn't an option?...just as cheap and the women may be even prettier..
Anyways, enjoy Peru, its a beautiful country if you go to the right places..take care..fy

t r a c e said...

Please don't let young ladrones take the cuaderno I gave you. Ten cuidado, Grasu.

Enjoy the chocolate. be wary of the cusqueno hippies(and the cusqueno beer). <3

(BTW, tengo celos).

Carlosqc Peruanista said...

I am Peruvian and I am very sorry you had to go through this horrible experience. Poverty and unemployment are the seed for violence, and in Barranca - a non touristic place by nature - a "gringo" is basically seeing as a source of money, and what a better way to get it than by just taking it.

You was lucky and brave, and I am glad you are Ok.