I landed at the airport in Lima, Peru, and wandered through the busy streets to the bus station. The people rushed about like New Yorkers. They wore jeans and T-shirts or business suits; they carried backpacks or suit cases. It almost felt like any city in the United States until I turned a corner and found a dancing group parading down the street.
I loved the ocean--the smell of the salt water, the breeze ruffling my hair, the sounds of the waves. No wonder CJ visited here. It is a beautiful place.
A happy contentedness settled over me, and by the time I made my way to the bus station, I had meandered all over town, soaking it all up. I stopped for tasty treats at various restaurants, wandered in and out of shops, and even bought myself a poncho and hat. I snapped lots of pictures. Hey, you never know when a picture will give you a clue. And I was trying to blend in like any tourist.
The bus took me out of the city and up into the mountains. From there, I walked to the donkey farm. I had a map with the route marked carefully, but I still got lost three times and finally had to ask for directions. I'm female so I had no problems asking for help, even with my hesitant Spanish.
I finally found the place where the infamous CJ had rented a donkey. The farmer wasn't anything like I expected. She wore jeans and a T-shirt, but she covered her shirt with a poncho. And her dark hair was clipped short and dyed red. Other than the poncho, she didn't look like a traditional Peruvian.
She gave me a tour of the barn. The donkeys stared at me with big eyes; their tails flicked angrily as if to say, "Don't interrupt our dinner."
"So um, what do your donkeys eat for breakfast?" I asked. Not a very useful question for finding CJ, but maybe it will break the ice.
"My donkeys eat mostly grass. In the morning, they like to eat some pink polenta." She scratched the neck of the closest donkey who thumped his foot happily.
Pink polenta? For donkeys? "I used to eat polenta with taco meat and cheese, but it was never pink. What kind of donuts do you eat?"
"We are too poor for donuts. We just chew sugar cane." She handed me a piece as she popped one into her own mouth. I looked at it and then gingerly placed it in my mouth and chewed. It tasted sweet, but not like I was used to. The hardest thing about it was that it felt like stringy wood in my mouth--crunchy and leathery. It would take a long time to get used to this.
"I wanted to ask you about your guest CJ. Did he leave anything behind?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. I think he dropped his hat. Does this look like his hat?"
Inside, I find a piece of paper with his symbol and the word Rosita. Hmm, a woman. "Yes, I think it is his. Did CJ have his harem with him? How many hearts has he broken here?"
"No, there were no girls, though you should probably visit La Casa de la Noche. The chiquitas there could tell you more."
"Did he say anything to give a clue to where he was going next?"
"No, he just yelled 'Wheeeeeeee' as he ran away. I thought he was just some gringo gone loco in the mountains. They do that, the mountains. They make people loco. Especially gringos."
I leaned against the barn post in between stalls. It shifted under my weight, and a secret door opened in the floor. "Wow, where does this go to?"
"No one knows. People who go in never come out." Her eyes grow big, and she chews on her lip. I'm certain she's frightened. But what could be down there to frighten her?
"So he rented one of your donkeys and went up into the mountains. What did he search for up in the mountains?"
"Well, there is a local legend that one of the temples has a golden statue inside of which there is a key. But that is loco. All the gold was stolen many years ago."
If I know anything about CJ, it wasn't gold he wanted. I bet that temple held some secret device he could use to take over the world.
"Do you put your socks on the right foot first, or left foot first?" Hey, it might sound like a silly question, but it's important to establish if the person I am talking to is a pathological liar.
"I don't wear socks. I don't wear shoes. See? The donkeys ate all the shoes." She raised one dirty, naked foot.
"What is your favorite song to sing to your donkeys?"
"El Patito Chiquito. It's a song about a little duck."
"Well, gracias. I need to go now. A lot of clues to follow, you know."
"Bueno. I have to go feed the donkey's now."
I heard her muttering Gringos locos! as she shuffled away.
"Oh, I forgot. Have you seen the infamous Rico Suave hanging around here?" I called back.
"The who? I don't think so. Though a man in a red velvet suit met him at the local airstrip."
I mentally ticked off the clues in my head: a secret passage, a temple in the mountains, a woman named Rosita, a man in a red velvet suit. Which one do I check out first? I only have three days before I'm due back in the U.S.
This is a fictional story, brought to you by Webb Press. The part of the Donkey Farm was played by S. M. Carrière, writer, blogger, and friend. Thanks, Sonia, for your sense of humor and for being willing to play along.
If you are interested in taking on a role, I'm looking for someone to play the role of Rosita or the role of the mountain guide. Contact me by email: rita [at] ritajwebb [dot] com