Literature

There Were No Pumas Up There, A Taxi Tale

Boarding a Taxi (David Knowlton)

Few cars were on the street when I shut my door this morning and stepped out. I crossed, sure I would have to walk to the main avenue to catch a taxi. Just as I reached the other side a white car pulled up and tapped his horn, a sign he was an unmarked taxi looking for a fair. I immediately signaled him and hurried across to get in, just barely before another car cut off my space.

At first glance, I thought the driver was Arab. He had a perfect aquiline nose and features that would not be out of place in the Arabian Peninsula or North Africa. His accent, local and rural, made me pause and gave me a bit of cognitive dissonance.

We began to talk. He told me he was from Anta and asked if I knew where that was. Of course, I did, it is the valley above Cusco, a beautiful rural space of fields and pastures under snow-clad peaks that is slowly seeing suburbs spring up.

He had come to the city as a young teenager to work, although he went to school nights, in Ciencias, one of the important public schools in the city. What did he do? Anything he could, anything that would make him money.

He worked as a charger on the public buses for a good while and said he could not believe how foolish he was. He thought the 10/S a day they paid him was good money, although even then it was a meager wage. Now, he reports, the boys and girls who work on the buses make 40/S a day, but prices have risen and so it still will not buy much.

He much prefers working as a taxi driver, now that he is older, though every job has its challenges. He has to worry about thieves and even more, the other drivers. Traffic frequently thickens and drivers cut each other off. It was not easy for him, he narrates, to learn to stay calm and not let it all affect him. “So what if someone cuts me off. I do not have to get mad.”

He asked me if I knew Huarocondo, the town famous for its lechón, roast pork. When I said I did, he told me that when he was maybe ten he and his mother walked for five hours to get to Huarocondo, but he had never tasted the lechón. They did not eat it then and he has never been able to get back.

“When I was a boy, I used to herd my sheep up in the forest on the hillsides above Zurite. Have you been there? It is where there are large, Inca andenes (terraces) that are still farmed. I used to take my family’s sheep up behind the terraces to graze. Usually, I would join my herd with that of other kids and we would go up there.

“It is really beautiful there in the forest. There are big and strangely shaped rocks as well as canyons.

“We had to watch out carefully. If we did not pay attention a fox would attack our young sheep. They would separate them from the herd or wait until they were laying down and then they would strike.The foxes would hide in the woods and wait till we were not looking. 

“Fortunately, we did not have any pumas up there, just foxes.They stink, almost as bad as skunks.

“Onetime I got sprayed by a skunk. It mostly got on my coat which I quickly junked. But for a year I still stank. I could not stand it.

“Have you ever eaten skunk? If you carefully cut out their bladder and glands the meat does not stink, and it is good. My father and his friends often got together to drink. One day, after we had killed a skunk, they ate all the meat. 

“Skunks have a lot of fat. It would just melt off the pelt there in the sun and drip to the ground. The pelts are beautiful and soft.”

Just then we turned the corner and arrived at my destination. Reluctantly, I got out and paid him even though I would have liked to continue and learned more.

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