Pillars fo The Road: Pillar IIII

Pillar III: The Collateral Experience

Rum Diaries (A personal tale in Latin America)

Pillars 4
Photo: Tom Carey

Boarding the plane in Santiago, Chile, I haven't slept in 24 hours. I spent last night saying goodbye to my now-ex-girlfriend and packing up the last year of my life. Exhausted and heading home -- but not before a stop in Peru for some surf and a run to Machu Picchu. I melt into my aisle seat next to a kid who's already sleeping. This is the kid I'll spend the afternoon with, making the Peruvian news, getting robbed and airport drunk. I close my eyes. Within a few minutes, I'm out.

An hour later I wake up and learn the kid's name is Bosco. He's from Nicaragua but, like me, has been studying in Chile for the past year. He explains that he's en route to Lima for a night then going to Machu Picchu in the morning.

"How'd you come to learn English so well?" I ask. "Your accent is perfect."

"I went to an American school in Managua," he says.

Only American expats and extra-rico locals go to American schools. I'm curious: "What do your parents do?"

"My dad's the marketing director for Flor de Caña Rum, and my mom..."

The mention of Flor de Caña returns me to Nicaragua a few years back, to the fun that was fueled there by beachbreak barrels and Bosco's father's rum. Nicaragua was just becoming "the next Costa Rica" and by all means living up to the hype. The breeze from Lake Nicaragua made for perpetually offshore winds and wide-open barrels, the kind you stand in and don't much care if you emerge or get pinched because you're distracted with the view. And the nights in San Juan del Sur, that fishing town on the horseshoe bay, with the girls and the rum both 18 years old.

"I can't believe your dad works for Flor de Caña."

"Oh man," says Bosco, "I wish I had some on me. I usually do. But I left my bottles in Chile."

The flight ends and I'm off the plane with my new bestie, into a cab and to a friend's apartment in Lima. We stash our bags and hit the streets, wandering. Up the Jirón de la Unión to Plaza Mayor and eventually to a crowd in front of a courthouse; a political rally. The people wear hats that read "Fujimori." They carry signs that read "Fujimori."

I ask, "Who is Fujimori?"

"He was this gnarly dictator in the '90s," Bosco explains. "Known for restoring Peru's economic stability -- and for crimes against humanity."

Bosco shoulder-taps a girl in front of us and asks what this is all about.

"We're trying to bring him back to Peru," she says of the exiled leader.

We watch with ignorant enthusiasm, and soon the rally leaders approach us with Fujimori swag.

"Are you supporters of the movement?"

Of course we're supporters! And so they give us hats and shirts and arrange an interview for the national news.

"God, my communist teachers back in Chile would freak if they saw me on TV supporting this guy," I say to Bosco.

He laughs. The crowd surges. Someone's coming out! Push. Shove. Shove. The crowd is now a mob rolling down the street. "Watch my backpack," I yell to Bosco, who's a few paces behind. We're stuck in the middle. Don't trip. "Wait up!" Bosco shouts. Then as suddenly as it formed the mob disperses and my wallet is gone. So, so gone. But I've still got my hat and a shirt.

I call my credit card company and parents. Bosco calls his girlfriend in Chile, who's flying up to meet him tonight. I'm slightly distressed about the wallet but also spun out from sleep deprivation, so I cheer up when Bosco buys me dinner and a pisco sour. We drink, we eat. We fetch our bags and go to the airport. We continue drinking, still six hours from Bosco's morning flight. Ten hours from mine. Bottoms up.

Around 1 a.m., Bosco's girlfriend arrives. After standard pleasantries she looks at me and smiles. "Heard you had a rough day," she says and, reaching into her backpack, pulls out an extra-large bottle of Flor de Caña -- the finest, aged 18 years -- and hands it to me. Bosco had called in the order.

In plastic cups from McDonald's we pour a round of drinks and continue the party until the couple has to board their flight. Before they leave we trade information and make plans to rendezvous in Cusco that afternoon -- or if not today, surely tomorrow -- and they're off, flying, and I never see them again. --Taylor Paul