The Accidental Hijacking
The smell of freshly brewed Britt coffee filled the air. Andean pan flutes playing “Flight of the Condor” for the 1000th time echoed through the halls as we strolled through Lima Airport. It would be a routine flight from the capital to our home in Puerto Maldonado. But the typical stopover in Cusco to pick up and drop off passengers turned into an unforgettable standoff.
After living in Peru for many years, my wife and I were fluent in both languages and culture. We understood what was being said and usually could interpret the more subtle cultural communications. We loved Peru, and every day was a new adventure, but we were unprepared for that day’s encounter.
As we boarded the airplane, we saw the usual cast of characters. It was a mix of locals going about their daily business and tourists on their way to see Machu Pichu, one of the world’s modern wonders. I remember passing two older ladies who looked to be in their eighties. Their excitement to see Peru’s claim to fame was obvious, but their inexperience was equally evident and somehow endearing.
We saw a familiar face in the row behind us as we found our seats. Victor was seated directly behind us, and we took a moment to catch up. His father was a dear friend and respected chief of a village where we often worked. His son, Victor, had recently gotten a job working with the government representing indigenous rights. The new position was treating him well, as he had packed on a few pounds since we had seen him last. Too much “Pollo a la brasa,” I suppose. Eventually, everyone took their seats, and the plane took to the air.
The first leg of our journey went off without a hitch. Our plane wove through the Andean peaks and eventually touched down in Cusco. The plan was to drop off all the tourists and pick up other passengers headed into the jungle. But something seemed off. As we taxied from the runway to the airport, we saw a crowd of people staring longingly at our airplane from inside the airport.
The passengers going to Cusco gathered their belongings. They exited the aircraft while the rest of us waited patiently and engaged in polite conversation. That’s when things took a turn.