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Our introduction to Peruvian cinema was an interesting one. Not because of the film itself, ‘Lo Que Quieren las Mujeres’ (a dubbed version of the Mel Gibson ‘classic’ ‘What Women Want’) but because of the lively antics within the cinema.

My very English friend Rachael and I had travelled down through Ecuador and were now in our second of three months in Latin America.

Originally from Norfolk and, inexplicably, with a better knowledge of  Japanese than of Spanish, Rachael would often do what we all do when struggling to communicate abroad and routinely come out with words in the only other foreign language she could muster. So during our trip there was a fair amount of ‘Kon’nichiwa’ going on instead of the more traditional ‘Hola’ favoured in Spanish speaking countries, although it always delivered with a faint Norfolk twang. ‘Cone-itchy-ooh-arr’, if you will.

Frustrated with slow internet in a café, she did once try her hand at Spanish, hoping to explain that she couldn’t wait much longer as she only had ‘three months in South America’. However, ‘Tengo solamente tres mesas en Sur America,’ (and not ‘tres meses’) actually informed the manager that she was the owner of three South American tables.

Mel Gibson was quite an attraction back then – perhaps old ‘sugar cock’ still is in those parts? The cinema was completely packed with hombres, mujeres, babies and alpacas. The life these people had outside the cinema continued without interruption inside, in front of the screen. Conversations at full volume, the ringing and answering of mobile phones, torches beaming around the auditorium to help find friends and family, shouting names out when the torches revealed nothing, babies crying, hot homemade meals served up and dished out across the aisles.

I had picked up one or two choice local words and spent the first 20 minutes randomly shouting them out, enraged at how impossible it was to follow the film.

It did no good whatsoever.

Our next trip to the cinema was even less successful. We were spending the night somewhere nondescript en route down south towards the major attractions of Arequipa and Cusco, for Machu Picchu. The Lonely Planet talked of a cinema on the outskirts of town and we decided to take our chances and walk to it, crossing our fingers for a good film. It was a dark, miserable night, lashing with rain. It took us ages to find it and we were soaked through by the time we came across a tiny ‘cine’ sign pointing up some narrow stairs.

At the top was a woman selling tickets who gave us a very confused look, but no tickets.

‘Dos, por favor?’ I ventured.

Nada.

‘Para la pelicula?’

Even less than nada. An old man appeared and was sold a ticket.

‘Y para nosotros tambien?’

She shook her head and had the courtesy to look embarrassed as she said, ‘Aqui hay porno.’

Even Rachael understood that.

We left fairly sharpish and ended up instead with a load of other gringos and gringas in a bar showing ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’.

A number of long distance bus journeys later we found ourselves in the town of Nazca, home to the famous Nazca Lines (geoglyphs) of which we had a bird’s eye view in a dawn flight that morning. With the rest of the day to kill before our next overnight bus, we sought out the best entertainment the place had to offer and narrowed it down to a cinema (that was the evening sorted) and a posh hotel with day access to a swimming pool.

We checked our filthy backpacks in with the unimpressed receptionists and splashed around in the water all day until sunset, when we headed out to the cinema.

Although it was a proper, old-fashioned theatre-style building, it had completely fallen to rack and ruin. We had to wake up the sleeping ticket seller, who was beside himself that he actually had customers. We were escorted from the foyer, down the unlit, dusty corridors through to the dilapidated auditorium. There were gaping holes in the floor, seats missing, wires hanging down and furniture piled high in what would have originally been a beautifully ornate building. We were asked what film we wanted to see as they could rifle through the knock-off DVDs and show us whatever we wanted.

We opted for the most recent film which, at the time, was ‘Coyote Ugly’.

The shabby chicness of it all made for a totally charming and unique personal experience. We had the entire, huge hall to ourselves and the management would pop out from time to time to see if we needed anything.

We were all sad when it came to the end and it was time to leave. Who knows when they would next have any customers?

We headed back to the posh hotel to collect our bags, change into our night time travelling clothes and make our way to the bus station.

When we reached the entrance we came across a big, boisterous crowd gathered outside the locked gates. It was hard to tell what was going on and whether they were friends or foe. It was generally quite good humoured but the hefty police presence struggled to keep them all under control.

There was also an impressive display of professional-looking camera equipment, so clearly something major had happened.

We wrestled our way to the front of the crowd but were stopped from going any further by security. Rachael explained, in Japanese, that we were residents and needed to get in. Eventually we were allowed to enter, but only by scaling the gates and jumping down the other side – thankfully the local men were happy to lend a hand, albeit in fairly inappropriate places.

We retrieved our bags and dragged them through to the main area to peel off our dirty day top layers and replace them with even dirtier night ones.

A group of very official-looking men exited from an adjoining room, accompanied by rapturous applause and cheers. They stopped next to us as we sat on the floor shaking the Nazca desert sand out of our rancid socks, pulling them on over our blackened, blistered feet. One of them appeared to be a VIP and was particularly interested in our task, smiling and waving at us before continuing on his way towards the jubilant crowd outside.

‘あれは誰?

Yes,’ I said, ‘Who is that?’

‘El Presidente de Peru, Alejandro Toledo,’ replied the weary receptionist.

‘私はまだ3つしか南米のテーブルを持っている.’ said Rachael.

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

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