Alberto Fujimori had only been in power for 18 months and had already been credited with crushing the terrorist threat of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and restoring the countries’ economy, but outside of Lima, Peru was still a pretty lawless place.
We were staying with a local shaper Rodrigo in what was, back then, a small fishing village called San Bartolo. There was no mains water and electricity was sporadic. The times that the power was supposed to be on were printed in the weekly paper but the print rarely matched the fact.
Rodrigo’s Mum’s place was one of only two houses in the village with televisions and whenever the street light at the jetty came on everyone would pile into one or the other’s house to get there their fix of the goggle box. The exception would be Rodrigo who would be in his shed taking advantage of the ability to use his electric planer. The waves in the bay were great for kids and families and you could jump off the jetty straight into the line-up. The waves on the headland were a different matter. There was a challenging deep water right where wide sets were unforgiving, and tucked around the headland was a long barrelling left favoured by the resident pod of dolphins. We’d been there a month and were really smoothing into the village rhythms.
One afternoon while the village siesta’d we were hanging out on the bench under the tree in the square. We’d had a couple of cold beers and a smoke and were setting the world to rights when an army truck rolls into the square. Odd, we hadn’t seen an army truck here before. The tarp on the side rolled up to reveal two guys sat behind a fucking massive machine gun on a tripod with a chain of ammunition hanging out the side of it. Fire came out of it followed a fraction of a second later by the sound.
The noise was phenomenal. When I opened my eyes we were both under the bench on our belly’s with our hands over our ears. They had opened fire on the village hall and shit was flying everywhere. Like a bad hold down it seemed to go on a whole lot longer than it probably did and by the time the dust had settled the truck had already roared out of the square. As the locals began emerging from their homes we gingerly crept out from under the bench.
With an air of resignation everyone disappeared, only to return shortly after with ladders, render and timber and began patching up the hall. Rodrigo’s Mum explained to us that last year they had elected a mayor who was a very important man from Lima and had a vacation house in San Bartolo. He had promised, as part of his election campaign, to get mains water and 24hr electricity to the village. Since adding ‘mayor’ to his resume they had not seen hide nor hair of him and he’d not responded to any letters they had written. So, shortly before we’d arrived they had new elections and voted in one of the local elders as the new mayor. They wrote to the very important man in Lima and told him. The army truck was his response.
We stayed another month and I kid you not it only got weirder.