Getting back into the swing of things. This is the first Sunday Travel Tales for a month, sorry about the absence, but as the say “… makes the heart grow fonder.”

This week we’re back in Cusco. Having lived in Cusco for many months three times, I have a lot of stories from there.

A photo, not just any photo, this is a photo that tourists can’t take.

The alter of the St Francis Cathedral

When tourists enter the church they have to surrender their cameras, as all photography in the church is banned, whether that has anything to do with the fact that they sell plenty of postcards or not, I have no idea; I suspect so.

Hernan Hilario, 10

In an earlier post I told you how I met my guide to visit The Sexy Woman; well, this is a story of  another of the rascals that I knew in Cusco, Hernan Hilario.

Hernan was part of a group of rascals that preyed on tourists, begging, selling postcards, shining shoes, guiding, offering advice and generally learning about the outside world while they did so.

They were an unkempt lot, a fact that often belied their intentions; for they would no more have robbed a tourist than flown to the moon.

Some weeks afterward I was taken aback when Hernan suggested he could get a photo of the inside of the Cathedral of San Francisco; all I had to do was loan him my camera for maybe fifteen minutes. Now we are talking here about my old Nikon. It was old, it was battered, but it took shit hot photos when it could be coerced to do so. It wasn’t the most modern model, it was an FM, the last of the Nikons that you could operate without a battery, which I preferred. I much preferred ‘fly-by-wire’ photography as that was how I learned as a youngster with my first camera an Olympus PenS. Never the less, the camera and 80-200 Zoom lens was valued at around $500 and here was this street urchin suggesting I loan it to him. Can you just imagine the myriad of thoughts that were racing about my mind?

It took me about 10 seconds to think about it and a quick outline of the plan to return the camera to me. What Hernan suggested meant that where I waited for him I could observe the only entrance into and out of the cathedral, I figured that if that was the case and the plan was that my camera was to be ‘disappeared’ I would see him leaving the church.

I handed my camera over. I showed him roughly how to take a photo. We crossed the plaza together, my camera hidden in its supermarket bag swinging freely from Hernan’s grip. I always carried my camera in a supermarket bag, a black one inside the marked one, it was my security measure. Thieves steal a camera bag, they don’t steal a supermarket bag.

The tourists were lined up for the doors to open at 10am. Hernan just wandered to the front and entered as is the right of Peruvians, he didn’t need to get his Cusco Passport stamped or surrender his camera, because he was a street urchin and didn’t have one.

I took up my position under the veranda of Paddy Flaherty’s Irish Pub, which I later managed, but that is another story, and waited.

It wasn’t long, about ten minutes when all hell broke loose. I could hear the shouting and noise emanating from the cathedral, then running out of the door like the devil himself was chasing him burst a fleet footed Hernan, dodging and weaving among the tourists being chased by a less than fleet footed group of men. Hernan flew down the steps, tossed my plastic bag at me as he ran past and kept running without saying a word.

I tucked the bag under my arm nonchalantly watching him beat a retreat and disappearing into Calle Loretto. The men chasing him had been impeded by the tourists and lost track of him, they hadn’t seen him toss the bag to me. I leaned against the stone pillar as they shrugged their shoulders and stamped back up the cathedral steps in frustration.

I had my camera back, hopefully, I had a photo.

Later that afternoon, a smiling Hernan found me in the plaza. We laughed, and he told me how scared he was. We had dinner together that evening in the same chicken restaurant as I had been with William and Idália.

Life is an adventure, some times you have to take risks, sometimes you have to trust even the most unlikely, the result can be priceless.

Back again next week.