After all this time in South America it’s easy to become a little complacent in your expectations and you take a lot things in your stride. For example yesterday I saw a man crouched next to to a very wide and busy road having a poo in broad daylight. Didn’t bat an eyelid.
However a few days ago something happened that shocked even me. We were on the bus from Pucallpa to Huánuco, driving through some very beautiful scenery, mountains, gorges and rushing rivers. We were sat in the front row of the bus and as with most buses here there is a partition seperating the passengers from the driver so you can’t actually see out the front.
So it was a but of a shock when the door opened and a man dressed in unmarked fatigues carrying a very large shotgun appeared. The gun was slung nonchantly by his side as he made his way up the bus, the barrel knocking against people’s legs as he went.
Once he got to the middle of the bus he launched into a well-rehearsed spiel about how dangerous the road was, with lots of cars being stopped and the owners robbed (day and night), and his group of happy mercenaries were working with the police to make it safer. Except they weren’t getting paid, so if we could spare some loose change he would greatly appreciate it! And I won’t shoot you! OK, do he didn’t say that last bit but I can’t have been the only to think it.
So he collected his money and got off the bus, leaving us to the mercy of the bandits I was now imaging lining the road lying in wait for us.
About 4 hours later, just when I’d forgotten about the risks posed by these bandits, another man got on, carrying a very similarly sized shotgun and gave us the same speech. I spent the rest of the journey very unhappily clutching my valuables.
An interesting sidenote is that Laura told me this is how the Paramilitary groups in Colombia got started in the 1950’s – locals arming themselves to protect the rural population against bandits. Then they progressed to protecting small landowners rights and then it kinda went downhill from there..