Ugly Betty

I have no money and am down to my last chocolate bar. I have returned, almost, to civilisation after ten inspiring days fulfilling a lifelong dream of trekking through a remote area of the Peruvian Andes. I had only a local guide and donkey for company. I have been well off the beaten tourist trail and have not met an English speaker in weeks.

Hungry, penniless and dirty I leave my guide at his small hometown and hitch on the back of a potato truck to Chiquan where I need an onwards bus ticket to Huaraz. My money and credit cards are in storage at Huaraz as I rightly figured that there would not be any ATMs in the mountains. Arriving in town it becomes clear that intense riots nearby have halted all forward transport. Chiquan is a small farming town on the edge of the Andes in Northern Peru, there are no banks (not that I have my cards) and nobody speaks English. I am a four hour bus ride away from money and food, in between me and my cards Peruvians are angrily burning tyres and smashing local banks to protest a Chinese gold mine, go figure. Spending the afternoon in this tiny town I dodge Llamas and sheep in the street and wander past mud brick homes clutching my English/Spanish dictionary like a Bishop does his bible as I try to find updates on the situation. I peer through a dirty cafe window with a Dickensonian stoop to see buildings burning on TV while an excited reporter in front nearly swallows his microphone as he babbles rapid Spanish.

My situation looks very grim.

Enter Betty. She calls herself Betty Feo (ugly Betty) after the television series of the same name I meet her in the town square as we both watch young men jumping into vans to join nearby riots;

“Hola”

“Hola”

(this conversation is translated from my halting Spanish)

“What are you doing here? What is your name?”
“Mi nombre es Ben, I’ve been…”

“Haha! HOLA Ben-Ten!”

“You Peruvians must love that cartoon, everyone calls me that here. Anyway, I’ve been trekking but it looks like I am stuck here for a few days”

“This is not so bad, mine is a lovely town, I can show you around”

“That would be great, but I have no money and my credit cards are in Huaraz”

“Huaraz is bad now, very bad riots, you will not go anywhere now Ben”

“This is my worry haha!”

“You have no money right? Then no food?

“Sadly, only about twenty Soles, which I need for the bus” (approx $5)

“Then you must come to my new Cafe for dinner tonight, I need a gringo to try out the menu”

“But I have no money”

“Pfft, forget money, you will be helping me, but be honest about the food”

“I can do that, no guinea pig please!”

“I will not do that to you, this will be fun, come to that building just over there around six”

“Ok, thank you so much”

That night I knock on the door of a newly set up restaurant to be greeted by an imposing man, “You must be Ben-10!”, laughing he waves me inside. Betty bounces out of the kitchen in a fresh looking apron, she ‘Holas’ and hands me a glass of red wine, saying that dinner will be ready in a few minutes.

Betty and her friend produce a feast of delicious local food which is easily enough to sustain me throughout the next day. My new friends and I share two dinners as I wait for the riots to quiet. Nights are spent drinking red wine, passing around my English/Spanish dictionary and laughing as we try to tell stories or make jokes in an unfamiliar language. They do not ask for a penny. When the riots stop and with the help of Betty I find a bus to Huaraz, retrieve my money and credit cards and continue my travels south.

Ugly Betty deserves a name change. She is one of the most sharing people I met in my travels through South America, even in all of my travels. I will always be thankful for the generosity and kindness of this stranger who welcomed a stranded traveller into her home without asking for a thing in return.

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