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Matt Norman

U Can’t Touch This

Posted from: Louisiana
Luis, our multitalented fixer-translator-local producer, has pre-warned us that we should do our utmost to arrive at our destination before dark. This is because the region we are heading for is the primary cocaine producing area of Peru and is pretty much lawless.

As we pass small shacks on the roadside the usual friendly smiles and waving disappears and instead we receive either hard stares of suspicion or unfriendly scowls.

Usually the only outsiders to visit here are either Columbian / Mexican drug smugglers or the American D.E.A. (Drugs Enforcement Agency) who fund the Peruvian military with the aim of seeking to bring down the cocaine industry. The cocaine industry, however, has the total backing of the communities as pretty much all of them are economically involved in it at some level and it’s this industry that keeps the communities afloat. It’s easy to figure that we most resemble D.E.A. and hence the harsh looks.

We finally reach San Francisco, the largest town in the area. You’d certainly be unlucky if you bought a plane ticket expecting to see the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a Wild West sort of town and we quickly meet Luis who arrived here several days earlier to sort things ahead of our arrival. Despite his vast experience in such areas he is still quite twitchy and explains that although there are a couple of nice hotels in town these are aimed at rich drug smugglers visiting the area and for our own safety we will be staying at a secure remote hacienda outside of town.

The lower Andes from a helicopter
The lower Andes from a helicopter

We resume our journey in a three-car convoy along a road that Luis explains is plagued by bandits and drug runners. We blare out Luis’ favourite 80s tape as we travel along the bumpy dark track. Various dodgy-looking cars pass us and we keep moving. In the distance, in the middle of nowhere, a car is pulled in at the side of the track. It has a vast array of full beam lights blasting our way and, as we approach, we can see that it is a pimped-up pickup truck with the shapes of three equally pimped-up and tough-looking men sat inside. When we get close, MC Hammer’s 'U Can’t Touch This' is playing at full volume and instead of speeding past these dodgy characters as fast as possible, Luis decides to pull to a complete stop alongside them and irately tell them off for dazzling him with their headlamps.

Looking like the top predators in the local food chain, they bemusedly smile and just laugh, unsure what to make of our nerve - or maybe they are not quite sure if we are the latest big buyers to hit town. Luckily Luis decides he’s had enough and moves on while we still can and before Starship’s 'We Built This City' comes on and ruins our street cred even further! Thirty minutes further down the track we reach the run-down hacienda and our ever-enthusiastic Peruvian camp helpers Edgar, Luis and Pedro break out the tents for the night.

An aerial shot of Louisiana hacienda, where the team stayed
An aerial shot of Louisiana hacienda, where the team stayed.

The hacienda is in the process of repair and several of the tents are set up next to an empty swimming pool. Bruce and I both opt to have ours set undercover in open side concrete rooms, it makes sense in case it rains but does look rather bizarre. Then again the whole set-up looks rather eccentric. We seem to constantly supply some sort of amusement to all of our fantastic Peruvian hosts as they are always smiling at us.


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