WE WEREN’T sure what to think about the bag stashed under our legs when the cops boarded the bus. All we knew was we had to stuff it under the seat in front of us with our legs, fucking fast.
I met Anna, a pretty Dutch girl winding down the last two weeks of her three-month trip, at the bus station in Puno, on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. She ended up sitting next to me on our bus to Cuzco and the fact we were both traveling alone meant we were busy getting to know each other, thus perhaps not thinking straight when the little old lady approached us.
She was your typical Peruvian old duck – long black braided hair, warm knitted sweater (made of Alpaca fur most probably) and carrying a giant multi-coloured sheet thing by its corners, over her shoulder like a backpack. Innocent and mildly cuddly. But it was the faded maroon duffle bag she approached us with, that was to be the source of our troubles.
Basically her line was that she couldn’t fit her bag into the overhead compartment and because she already had several bags at her feet, she had nowhere else to put it. Could she put it by our feet instead, she asked? Anna and I glanced at each other, both of us thinking the bag looked a pretty standard size that would easily fit above her. We also found it strange that she’d walked several rows of seats back and picked a couple of gringos to ask, instead of one of the many locals, who occupied the front half of the bus (it was basically segregated US 1950s-style, don’t ask me why). We shrugged it off, thinking cute old little ladies are more into shit like knitting and bingo than drug-running and punching cops in the head. We were wrong.
Long story short, this bitch was hiding something. And someone was wise to it. About five hours into the trip, the bus was stopped and three cops got on board. One was obviously in charge, his get-up was all black, while his two minions were wearing army green. All three walked straight up to the old lady, one restraining her while the other two attempted to search her bags. She didn’t like this and neither did her two old lady friends. They started hitting the cops in the face and snatching back the bags, the po-po getting increasingly pissed off with the ladies’ lack of respect of their authority, which was being shat on in front of everyone on the now hot and claustrophobic bus.
The dude in charge copped a slap in the face, knocking his police cap off and he started yelling in one of the old lady’s faces and clenching his fist. A giant vein was bulging out of his neck. The locals were yelling at the cops to stop abusing the old ladies. I couldn’t work out whose side I was on – the cops were being cunts, but conversely you don’t slap cops in the face and snatch your bag off them if you’ve got nothing to hide. I deflected a man’s swinging elbow when he too was accused of hiding something and tried to dive over one of the cop’s shoulders as his bag was being searched. A quick search was done of the overhead compartment on both sides of the bus, then the boss-lady and diving man were taken outside, and into custody we assumed.
30 stinking minutes later and we’d only moved about 13 metres down the road. Each time the driver went to bail the bus was slapped by a bunch of unseen hands – making quite the racket – so he kept stopping and waiting. Eventually to everyone’s surprise, the lady – a bit shaken up and teary – but still cursing the cops, got back on the bus. So did the diving man. Obviously the cops didn’t find what they were looking for – which I’m assuming was probably a big bunch of drugs sitting in a faded maroon bag by mine and Anna’s feet. Lessons learnt: 1. Don’t hold on to anyone’s shit for them (see film Brokedown Palace for more on this). 2. Never trust an old lady because most are drug-smuggling dickheads. 3. Peruvian cops really suck balls at carrying out investigations and doing thorough searches.
Sidenote: we were catching the bus to Cuzco, the launching pad to Machu Picchu. Both places were pretty cool.