Head On A Swivel

“What’s the most important thing I need to remember to be safe here in Iquitos, Peru?”

The question came from a college age tourist from Wisconsin. He had just arrived on the early morning flight from Lima. He sat across the table from me and my friend David at the Dawn On The Amazon Cafe in downtown Iquitos. David gave him a five minute lecture about how good the con artists are in this jungle town. Citing a half dozen times when he’d been conned.

“What about you, Leo?” The tourist asked. “What advice do you have for me?”

I gave the matter some thought. Finally I said, “Well, when you’re crossing the street in this town, you have to have your head on a swivel.”

The young tourist—a robust six footer wearing a gray tee shirt with the words WISCONSIN BADGERS FOOTBALL stenciled in black on the front—whipped off his cap. Scratching his head, he gave me a puzzled look. The answer I’d given him obviously wasn’t what he’d expected.

So I explained. “When I first came here in 1998 I almost got run over a half dozen times. In the first week. I went on to explain that just about nobody driving a vehicle gives a signal when making a turn. And the tradition is that if the driver—regardless of whether he’s driving a motorcar, motorcycle, or a car—he’ll wait until he’s about ten feet from you—then he’ll sit down on his horn.

“It’s the pedestrian’s responsibility to jump out of the way;”David explained.

“About a year ago,” I said, “an Englishman, a retired professor of philosophy at Oxford University, was terrified when a car almost hit him here in Iquitos. So when the car stopped at a red light, he took down the license plate number and reported the incident to the nearest police precinct.” I paused. “Do you know what the police chief said?”

“No,” the young tourist responded.

“The police chief asked the Englishman if the driver of the car blew his horn?

“Uh … yes,” the Englishman replied.

The officer said,  “Then you were the one at fault.”

The retired professor’s mouth flew open. “Why do you say that?”

“When he blew his horn, Senor,” the officer said. “Then you had plenty of time to jump out of the way.”

The young tourist said, “Okay, Leo, I get it. Like you said earlier, I should always keep my head on a swivel when I cross the street, right?”

“Always,” I said. I checked my watch. Twelve o’clock. Time for lunch. “See you later.” I stepped out in the street—where I was almost struck by a motorcycle.

I didn’t dare look back at David and the young tourist. But I heard David call out to me, “Don’t forget to keep your head on a swivel, Leo.”

Don’t you just hate it when someone throws your own words back at you.

About Leon Jones

I am a retired American living in the remote jungle town of Iquitos, Peru. I came down 15 years ago to help Indian children. Presently I operate a house for abandoned children, a teenage volleyball team to help combat teen pregnancy and annual Christmas party for 200 Indian children in the town's poorest community. Periodically, I will post about the children.

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