Yesterday I reached the banks of the River Crisnejas, one of the great Peruvian tributaries which join to form the Amazon, and walked into the first seriously dangerous moment of my trip.
I had been coming down steeply from mountains to the north, following an Inca path still used from time to time by herders leading their sheep and cattle to market. Seeing bad weather approaching I decided to camp in a grassy saddle overlooking the river. It had been a long day and I was in an exhausted sleep when, towards midnight, a great commotion started up in the darkness beside my tent.
Men were shouting, a torch flashed, then rocks hit the canvas and the tent collapsed. I scrambled out just in time. Eight rough-looking men tightened their grip on rifles and machetes and formed a circle around me. They were a vigilante patrol from a village being threatened by one of the last remnants of Shining Path, the mountain-based group which terrorised Peru in the late 1980s. Assuming me to be one of these extremists, the villagers were ready to shoot until I hurriedly explained that I was just following the Inca road to Cusco. It seemed a flimsy excuse for a gringo to be camping on their mountainside, but eventually they were satisfied and, to my relief, melted away into the night.
It was a heart-stopping incident. I was
extremely lucky that these quick-witted men grasped who I was
and accepted that I meant them no harm. Next morning I called
at their village, La Grama, and over glasses of aguardiente
we exchanged embarrassed apologies. Terrorism in Peru is limited
nowadays to just a few pockets in the Andean provinces, but I
had blundered into one of these and must make sure I reach Cusco
without doing so again.