Machu Picchu and Machupicchu

Ollie, in the middle of the street, balanced on one leg for what must have been his twentieth selfie with a llama wearing a multicolored knitted cap.

Pen, at the bar, sipped her pisco sour and pondered levels of stupidity.

First, you have absentminded or merely dumb mistakes. Embarrassing, but understandable in the day-to-day rush. Next, you have the idiotic. Things that some people do and other people don’t. Things that over the long haul separate the wheat from the chaff.

Finally, you have truly unfathomable stupidity, blunders that justify testing for lead poisoning.

Ollie assuming that Pen had wanted to celebrate their anniversary by visiting Machupicchu (the town) not Machu Picchu (the world heritage sight built by the Inca in the 15th century) fell into the unfathomable category.

They weren’t even spelled the same, for Christ’s sake. And, of course, it was impossible to get into the ancient citadel on short notice at the height of tourist season.

Judging by the fact that Ollie was now wearing the llama’s cap and had one arm around the animal’s neck, Pen decided the mix-up wasn’t getting get un-fucked this year.

She finished her drink and set the glass on the bar. The bartender, Emilio, Emiliano, Pen couldn’t remember, looked at her, and she nodded. He set to gathering limes, eggs, a glass, the cocktail shaker.

When he stooped for the ice cubes, Pen gritted her teeth and spun around — a magnet depicting Machu Picchu (the most visited tourist destination in Peru) mocked her from the freezer door.

Ollie’s face, distorted by the unwashed window and Pen’s previous pisco sours, was talking and pointing toward the courtyard-slash-parking-lot next to bar, making up what he lacked in Spanish vocabulary with facial expressions, pantomime, and sheer goodwill.

Pen turned back around to find Epigmenio straining liquid salvation into a rocks glass. He reached for the garnish. Pen waived him off. Solemn as ever, he nodded and placed the glass on a fresh coaster.

By now Ollie, the llama handler — was llamero a word? — and a few other folks had found seats in the bar’s patio. Pen watched the llama fold its legs under its body and lower itself on top of them, a movement that was somehow both cute and robotic.

A waiter looking less than thrilled with the llama’s presence dropped off menus and a basket of bread. Ollie whipped out a giant jar of his famous kelp salsa — he was never without at least a jar or two — opened it, and set it in the middle of the table. He tore off a chunk of bread, topped it with salsa and offered it to the llama handler.

The old man looked uncertain.

Pen leaned forward. She knew courtesy demanded the llamero sample the snack. He put the snack in his mouth. Paused. Chewed. Paused. Swallowed.

Pen held her breath.

She nearly spit when a smile split the old man’s face.

She swore under her breath when he reached for the bread and salsa.

Ollie clapped his hands and pulled another jar out his pack. Soon, the entire group was tearing off hunks of bread and dousing them with kelp salsa.

Another old Peruvian man — this one looked old enough to have drawn up the plans for Machu Picchu (the ruins) produced a heavily re-used plastic water bottle from under his poncho — did they call them ponchos in Peru? — and poured a couple fingers the local firewater into little plastic cups. Someone else splashed Inca Kola on top.

The old man passed a glass to Ollie, who tossed back half of it in one go, smiled, and finished the job.

Pen turned away. She rated drinking Peruvian moonshine and cola on the low end of stupid. Not recommendable but certainly fathomable.

She started when she heard her name.

Ollie, once again wearing the llama’s cap, was standing at her side with a plastic cup in one hand and stray llama hairs sticking to his sweater.

“Try some?” He offered her the plastic cup.

Pen pointed up her rocks glass.

“Suit yourself,” Ollie said. “Plenty of time to try this later.”


“Once business gets going, we’ll hike all over this country. Santiago tells me they make this stuff everywhere.”

“Business? Tell me you’re not thinking of shipping jars of kelp salsa from Alaska to Peru?”

Ollie blinked twice. “Good Lord and butter, Pen! Of course not.”

“Then what?”

“I’m going to set up on the coast. Kelp grows like crazy down here. We’ll grow peppers just inland, batch it up, ship it all over. Before long, we’ll be exporting Ollie’s Salsa all over South America.”

Pen took a large sip of pisco. “Ollie, you’re not really going to just launch an entirely new — ”

“I’m definitely going to run the numbers.” He raised his cup. “Once this stuff wears off.”

Pen gulped the rest of her glass.

“You might want to lay off those.”

“And switch to rotgut and sugar water?”

“Santiago’s cousin wrangled us seats on tomorrow morning’s train.”

Pen gaped.

Ollie smiled. “You still want to see the ruins, right?”

Prompted by @antics_with_annie (magnet, kelp, macho picchu)

Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash

Leave me a prompt (a living thing, an inanimate object, and a location) and I will write a story and tag you when it’s published.

Jim’s Taco Fund

Buy me some llama feed. Or some Inca Kola. Or any kind of drink.