“And who was President before that?” I repeated.
It was a brilliantly sunny day but I was weak, hungover and slightly sad.
It was my last day in Cusco and I had spent the afternoon saying inwardly emotional goodbyes to this gorgeous city whilst lazing in the square with my book.
Except a dirty, skinny child had wanted to clean my shoes and I’d foolishly agreed, unaware he could list the President of any country I chose to mention.
“And… England?” I ventured.
He looked blank for a second before smiling.
“Tony Blair,” he said confidently.
“I’m going to give you that,” I laughed to myself in English.
“How old are you?”
“Eleven,” the child replied. He was desperately undernourished and looked seven.
“I will be 11 in three, no, four days.
“I would like a remote controlled car but…”
“How much does it cost?” I enquired politely.
“Maybe 20 soles,” he shrugged.
I did the maths. It was about a fiver. My last day in Cusco.
Stuff it, I thought. I have to get to Heaven somehow.
“Come with me and I will buy,” I told him. They always get you when you’re weak.
He grinned and we walked together out of the main square.
We’d been walking for five minutes, when a Peruvian I vaguely recognised from one of the bars, stopped me and invited me for coffee that afternoon.
I made several attempts, but was running out of polite excuses. Finally the child stepped forward and said something in rapid Spanish. The man left abruptly.
I looked at the boy and he stared at me without blinking.
“Sorry Mami,” he said, shaking his head and looking droll.
“But that man was insistent.”
I’ll admit it. That boy was just one of many street children in Cusco who had an effect on me.
Now I’m hoping to save enough money to return to the city this summer and volunteer to work with them.
But you know I’ve had my annoyances in Peru. There was the ‘£60’ meal in Lima, there was the Nazca debacle.
There was the unknown traveller who nicked £200 from my hostel locker during the briefest moment of inattention. What a bastard. I’m so glad I paid your bar bill.
But, amazingly, those grievances are nothing compared to some of the ‘Wow, wow, wow’ moments I’ve had here.
I’ve marvelled at Machu Picchu; gawped at the Colca Canyon; swooned over the cities and giggled and laughed with dozens and dozens of people.
If it’s not already, put Peru on your ‘to do’ list. It’s amazing.