2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

This Just Happened in Cusco

His first question wasn’t “Do you have any drugs?” but rather, “where are the drugs?”

Body cavity search. These three words haunt me like a festering sore everywhere I turn. I’ve been detained at the Mexican border, threatened with a hair follicle test in Vietnam, and stuffed in a box at the Argentina-Chile crossing, with three nice fellows on hand to help me undress. The latest incident went down just now, here in the Cusco airport, where upon settling into line at the Peruvian Airline counter, I was immediately plucked from my position by an undercover policia. This was no random inspection; this was a gringo shakedown.

How do I know this? Because his first question wasn’t “Do you have any drugs?” but rather, “where are the drugs?” With this friendly welcome he proceeded to tear my suitcase, my computer bag, then finally me apart. I’m generally nervous around these types, but that feeling was exacerbated by the fact that on the very top of my suitcase sat a huge bag of coca leaves—the only thing that keeps a guy like me ticking at 12,000 feet. The cop didn’t think twice about the coca (after all, it’s perfectly legal in these parts). What bothered him were the chocolate bars, the large box of Roads and Kingdoms business cards (“Que es Roads y Kingdoms Señor Goulding?”), and, above all, the set of kitchen tongs I tend to travel with. No Officer Gomez, it’s not a giant roach clip; I just like to cook.

Each new discovery was punctuated by the same snarling line of interrogation: What have you been smoking? Why are you in Cusco? Where are the drugs? It beings with a presumption of guilt, and even after every pocket is emptied, every shoe sole ripped out, every inch of flesh explored, there is not even a glimmer of recognition that I may have been innocent all along. It’s not just Peru; this humiliation follows me like the eye of Sauron across Middle Earth.

It’s an occupational hazard, I suppose, for a guy who spends half his time on the road in varying stages of hygienic decay. Long hair and six-day growth and the gaze of a miscreant don’t help either, I suppose. But when he—Peruvian, Chilean, American, whatever—zips up the bag and tells me to have a nice flight, I’ll be dead before I offer that bastard even a syllable in return.

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