by Brian Kerstetter
Chasing llamas at Machu Picchu
The illustrious Inca Empire, say the history books, encompassed a population with charcoal hair and caramel skin, measuring five feet tall. I, for my part, stand six feet and five inches, with red hair, green eyes, and pasty skin. So it was logical, O. thought, to make a pilgrimage to Machu Picchu to dress me up as a modern-day Inca for his movie HOME.
Machu Picchu has the most tourist shops per square foot in all South America, making it a piece of cake for O. to outfit me as an Inca, or at least his warped vision of one: rubber sandals, Chinese socks, a scratchy loincloth, mustard tunic (with matching belt), gold earrings, some plastic brooches, and a hollow wooden bull’s head. I modeled the ensemble in the souvenir shop. All the vendors agreed: I was the “very incarnation of a twenty-first century Inca.”
The following morning, we took the first tourist bus up the mountain to the grassy summit of Machu Picchu, where llamas and alpacas grazed amid the ruins.
“Culture tourists,” O. grumbled, already in a bad mood, having spotted a European couple posing for pictures beside a relic.
“Do they realize that stone, the one she’s holding, was probably
the toilet where the Incas took a dump every morning?” He muttered, adjusting his camera.
Behind an obelisk, I slipped into my Inca outfit. O. wanted to film the scene before the landscape turned into a museum for tourists and boy scouts. As I adjusted my loincloth, two bored llamas trundled over. Clearly they had never set eyes on a true Inca before.
I let them ogle me, figuring these pathetic creatures must be fed up with the constant stream of bearded backpackers from Bavaria. These two glorified goats did not budge. Instead they chewed their cud and stared while I adjusted my bull’s head. They could not get enough of my Inca-ness.
“Action!” O. called out.
I started chasing these two beasts counter clockwise around a crumbling sundial, which really confused them—and me, for that matter. O. scampered behind in his Birkenstocks, filming and barking orders.
“Over this wall! Under that arch!”
I pursued the llamas this way and that: over walls, under arches, up and down steps.
“Talk to ‘em,” O. shouted. “We need dialogue! Chemistry! We need chemistry!”
“Chemistry?” I shouted back, still chasing the llamas this way and that. “What do you mean chemistry? They’re llamas!”
I galloped up beside one of them and, lacking inspiration, inquired about his family, about recent weather trends, and where to find a lush patch of grass.
“Bo-ring! Bo-ring!” O. bellowed from behind the camera.
Suddenly I recalled the dialogue from the Brazilian tele-novella I had watched in the hotel the previous night. I shouted a few depraved questions about their sex life. You know, preferred positions, French maid outfits, handcuffs, websites etc. Just as I screamed “handcuffs,” we ran head first into a sea of Peruvian school kids, mouths ajar, blinking. They were joined by a BBC film crew who happened to be on site producing a documentary on the effects of eco-tourism entitled Are Humans The Problem?
O. had not noticed the crowd from behind the camera and continued calling out orders. “Threesomes! Ask ‘em about threesomes!”
I threw myself on all fours like a bull and galloped after the llamas, hoping to nudge the slower one in the butt cheeks. But this was not to be. My knee crashed down on a protruding relic, leaving me curled in the fetal position and sucking my thumb in agony. I spewed a string of expletives that, to this day, due to the kids, I regret.
Unable to believe his luck, the BBC filmmaker frantically recorded the scene, narrating, “In the crown jewel of the Inca Empire, this represents a new low, this appalling display of … of … eco-hooliganism!”
But O. was not finished.
“Charge the kids!” He called out. “Ha ha, they love it! Charge the kids!”
Holding my knee with one hand, I hopped into the mass of kids with my bull’s head on. Groups of boys mimicked the bull and matador routine with their sweaters, hooting and hollering, generating a circus atmosphere.
“You getting this, Nigel? You getting this!” Exclaimed the BBC director, nearly wetting himself.
It took over an hour for the pandemonium to finally die down. I limped over to the llama whose rear end I had head-butted. I lowered my face in front of his until I could smell his grassy breath.
“You’re gonna be a movie star,” I told him. “A movie star.”
“Inca freaks!” A voice suddenly cried out from a group of tourists, dismayed by what they had witnessed. “Inca freaks! Go home!”
O. just shook his head and gently patted the llama, cupping his hands around its hairy llama ear.
“See,” he whispered, “see how humans treat each other in the name of C-U-L-T-U-R-E?”