“I’m sorry. I marry an old man for money, but, it’s better I marry a young man?”
I slowly repeated my schoolgirl Spanish as I craned forward and stared intently at the cards fanned across the pavement.
“No. Listen one more time,” Julio replied impatiently.
“You marry an old man. But he doesn’t function in the bed.”
“Oh,” I gasped in horror. You are kidding me, I thought, this is because I bargained the fee down to half price, isn’t it?
“You have any more questions?” the oracle smirked.
“Erm, how many children I have?” I spluttered, trying to appear calm.
Julio rolled his eyes.
“Listen. No function in the bed. You understand?”
All too clearly. I paid Julio his bloody five soles (£1.13) and held my horrified laughter inside until I turned the next corner.
The guide book warns you not to display scepticism at the mystic practices in this part of northern Peru, but it doesn’t tell you erectile dysfunction will, er, come up.
I’d arrived in Chiclayo the previous afternoon, just as this coastal desert city was enjoying its last few rays of sunshine.
It quickly became obvious I’d strayed from the traditional tourist trail – there were no hostels and I’ve yet to see another obvious foreigner.
Still the dimly-lit guesthouse (Hostal Victoria) was comfortable, even though my bathroom hosted several ants and a phantom dog howled mournfully upstairs.
I survived until morning when I managed to locate a minibus (combi) to take me to the nearby town of Lambayeque, home to the ‘world class’ Museo Tumbas that is said to “showcase the dazzling finds of the Royal Tombs of Sipan”.
I was helpfully directed to the museum and found the exhibits – including a grotesque mummy and several ornate stone jugs – interesting, but hardly dazzling.
It was also odd to be alone in a “world class” museum at 11am on a Saturday.
(It was only later I discovered I’d accidentally visited the wrong place – I went to the Bruning Museum, Tumbas’ older and vastly inferior brother. Oops.)
Still, there was no mistaking the Mercado Modelo, Chiclayo’s awesome outdoor market with clothes, cats, shoes, puppies, exotic birds, raw meat, cosmetics and vegetables thrown together in the way only South America can.
I was hunting for the witch doctor stalls and managed to find them after an hour of gleeful browsing.
The first one was manned by a fat Peruvian, wearing a Homer Simpson t-shirt and drinking a beer. Not exactly Harry Potter.
“You need love? You need money?” he grinned amiably, gesturing at several packets of potions nestled among the objects on his stall.
“No,” I giggled, but I was obviously interested.
“Is that a voodoo doll?”
“Noooo,” he cried, grabbing the little black body and waving it against his leg.
“You use it to clean yourself. Look. Not voodoo.”
The other explanations must have been equally brilliant, but my Spanish wasn’t good enough so I waited patiently until he finished.
Then I inexplicably bought a painted wooden rattle. (It may ward away evil spirits. Equally, it may just be a mass produced children’s toy. Who knows?)
Still, I loved that market and I was there a long time before deciding I should probably go back to the guest house and prepare my bags for the bus.
I was walking swiftly when a man approached me and asked where I was from.
“England, but I live in Colombia,” I replied automatically.
“My name is Julio,” he grinned, opening his palm to reveal a worn deck of tarot cards.
“You want me to tell you about Colombian men?”