Peru, 1989

He was sitting next to me in the taxi, the bearded stranger, and I could see him getting paler and paler as the journey went on.

Juliaca to Arequipa

He had told me that he and his father were on a tour of Peru and had been booked on the aeroplane to Arequipa. Because a plane had fallen out of the sky the day before, things had been a little disrupted at the airport. They had come into Juliaca to confront the airline at their office. They had eventually found that my taxi needed just the two more passengers for us to be able to set off over the Andes for Arequipa.

So they get in the front; the bearded one insisted on the front because his father was old and wasn’t strong enough to be crammed in with four others in the back seat, over the back axle on dirt roads. Old indeed! Soft more like.

And off we go. I don’t understand English but I could tell they were enjoying the scenery: it is spectacular. Winding roads, high rolling green pastures, dusty plateaux, lakes pink with flamingos and I once managed to point out to them a herd of rare vicuna, necks straight and pointed ears erect, silhouetted in a cloud of dust as they ran.

Juliaca to Arequipa

He gave a sick kind of smile when I pointed out the welcoming shape of Misti, the only active one of the three volcanoes which sit over Arequipa. The sun was setting as we went down the mountain hairpin bends past all the lorries chugging their way up past us with goods destined for Puno, Lake Titicaca and Bolivia.

He got out of the taxi very gently at the customs post at the bottom, our first stop in five hours, and after a lot of deep breaths he looked a lot better for the final few miles. Did he not know that, for those unused to the lack of oxygen, going over a mountain pass of 5,000 metres often gives rise to sickness? His father was completely unaffected. I think that made him sicker.