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Release The Hounds: A Peruvian Jungle Town Chase

Tarapoto, Peru – where mountains meet The Amazon

A few years back I dated a girl from a small town called Tarapoto, in the North of Peru where the Andean Mountains meet the Amazon Rain forest. It was a small, humble town with a tropical climate, that offered fuck all to do. Most of the inhabitants lived close-knit, working-class lives, my girlfriend’s family included, who lived on the outskirts of the city. Her house was situated in a poor suburb with run-down, dirt roads, that were littered with stray dogs. During the day, the stray dogs normally slept due to the humid, perpetual 30°C+ days. However, when the temperature dropped after sunset, they came out to play, when most people returned to their houses.

The locals were used to the good-for-nothing mutts and showed little concern towards them. I’d been informed that if a dog displayed aggression, which wasn’t uncommon, it was advised to pick up one of the many rocks on the ground and pretend to hurl it at the face of problematic dog/s. It sounded good in theory and I’d even seen it work from time to time, though it also seemed that a complete lack of fear was also necessary. At the very least, the fundamental rule when dealing with aggressive dogs was to remain calm, continue to walk by slowly, and by under no circumstance should you ever try to run away.

For the duration of my one-month stay in Tarapoto, most days were spent hanging out at my girlfriend’s house with her and her family until late at night, where I’d retreat back to my hotel. During the day I could take a moto-taxi straight to her front doorstep, but come nightfall, no taxis would pass through the dark streets of her suburb, since nobody was around. So instead, I would have to make the anxious ten-minute walk to the main road to hail one. Every one of those walks I made was a complete sweat, constantly being on the alert for mischievous strays, that would become aggressive if you wandered into their territory.

At around 1 AM one typical, nerve-racking night, when I turned onto the final, long stretch of road I usually took, I noticed a heap of garbage bags up ahead, on one side. I could see three dogs rustling through the rubbish whom I wanted no business going anywhere near, but the alternative was to turn back and gamble on a different road, none of which were illuminated and likely had other dogs lurking in the shadows. I took a breathe and continued.

When I got within eyesight of the pack, I turned on a fake confidence, to try to mask the utter fear that had overcome me. There was a good twenty metres between them and me when I passed on the opposite side of the road but a shot of adrenaline injected into my bloodstream when I got a better look at one of the dogs, in particular, that was of a large terrier breed. With a jacked and shredded physique, the size of a Shetland pony and seemingly bred to kill, I wanted no part in a tango with the beast. The other two were smaller but I sensed that they weren’t shy of an altercation either. I kept calm and remembered my training.

*Just walk slow. Don’t even look at them…*, I thought to myself, reassuringly. But less than five paces later, I heard a subtle but deep bark from one of them. Instinctively I knew it was the enormous hound that had noticed me. Nervously, I looked over again to see that all three now had their heads craned curiously towards me. The large dog barked again, but this time in an obnoxious, troublesome manner. One of the others followed suit.

In anticipation of a showdown, I frantically scanned the road to see a smorgasbord of rock-throwing options, just in case I became more appetizing to them than the trash. But when their barking increased and they began walking towards me, it became clear that I was at the point of no return.

“Fuck…”, I uttered to myself in distress, my squinty eyes widening to that of normal size.

I looked again to the rocks on the ground for much-needed ammunition; then back at them, as they closed more distance, then back to the ground again…

*Alright Ryan, no backing down here, you gotta hold your ground. Remember what they told you…*, echoed a voice from the logical corner of my brain.

The large terrier transitioned its walk to a trot, its confusingly large, yolked deltoid muscles, which looked to have been carved from the hands of God himself, flexing with terror every step. A second adrenaline dump came as my heart pounded violently.

*Do not run….Do not, run….Do not ru-…*, all of a sudden the logical part of my brain became overridden by an impulse of cowardice, causing me to come out of the blocks like Usain Bolt in the one hundred.

Within seconds I’m sprinting as fast as anyone wearing thongs can, with the eruptions of barking at my back, from the savage hounds hot on my tail. A panic-stricken glance over my shoulder saw that there were another three dogs who’d come out of the woodwork to join in on the chase for the fresh game that had been presented to them.

The enormous hound at the front of the pack of now at least six strong, with his enormous strides, I could feel closing in on me, like Phar lap galloping the home stretch of the 1930 Melbourne Cup. With a cold but indifferent look in his eyes, it seemed he’d be taking no prisoners tonight.

Looked a bit like this

At the top of my lungs, I let out an almighty, primal roar of, “Fwaaaarrrrkkk!!!…“, loud enough to wake up the whole of Tarapoto, whilst fed another ocean of adrenaline, never having run faster in my life.

With only the grim sight of bare, open road, I clearly wasn’t going to outrun six animals with twice the amount of legs as I, so I made a change of direction towards the footpath, which was to achieve God knows what. In an attempt to do so, the six-inch deep ditch, between the road and footpath caused me to lose my footing and fall face first, with my body coming to an abrupt, crashing halt. My body had gone from full sprinting speed to a sudden, stationary stop when the middle of my thigh caught the edge of a small footbridge. The footbridge and my femur bone shared a brief kiss, resulting in a deep, excruciating cork.

Scene of the chase

The adrenaline was enough to fend off the pain, leaving only the feeling of dread of the thought of the dogs about to tear my body to shreds with their rabies-infected fangs, whilst I helplessly lay crippled on my back.

Thankfully, however, when they caught up to me a few seconds later, they just stood over me whilst barking loudly, before dispersing, when several locals came out the front of their houses to witness the scene.

Vision blurred and in a state of panic, I got to one leg and limped up the street as if still amidst the thick of an on-foot chase, desperately trying to escape the canines. I hobbled clumsily up the road, panting deeply, for another twenty metres or so until I finally realised the chase was over.

Parked not much further up the road, a young driver of a rickshaw moto-taxi, looked on as I approached. He asked if I was okay, trying to mask his amusement but failing to do so, after having witnessed the whole ridiculous spectacle. During the chase, one of my thongs had gone astray, so the guy agreed to drive me back down to where I fell since I was too much of a wimp to walk back to where any of those blasted hounds may have been lingering.

Back at the scene, several of the dogs began barking loudly again, with little regard for the sleeping neighbourhood, as I proceeded to scan the ditch where I had fallen. Meanwhile, the taxi guy informed the small crowd of civilians dressed in their pyjamas, about what had happened.

“Fucking Gringo…”, was the disgruntled expression on most of their faces, when I’d shamefully glance over between rummaging through vegetation.

After a few minutes, right as I retrieved my parted thong, all of a sudden, a large Peruvian man, donning only Crocs and a pair of bright red, speedo-cut underwear, emerged from outside the house where half a dozen people congregated. Standing at around 6′4″ and weighing almost 120 kg, he was visibly mad for having been yanked from a deep slumber and wanted vengeance – to my horror, the target being, the young, innocent, and friendly taxi driver who’d only been there to help me.

After attempting to explain all the commotion, the young lad desperately tried to plea with the enormous, Peruvian giant but his words fell on deaf ears as the ogre came for him. The kid weaved in and out of the standing folks, desperately evading the grips of the oaf whilst I looked on in despair. At that point, my Spanish was far too basic to intervene and try to explain the absurd scene that I was solely responsible for. Nor did I particularly feel like having to break out any Jiu-Jitsu on a dirt, rocky road against a semi sleepwalking, irrational meathead. Fortunately, the giant’s gut weighed him down enough for the taxi guy’s agility to prevail.

Some of the civilians finally managed to calm the situation somewhat, which I took as an opportunity to slip away into the dead of the night, like a spineless coward. I slowly edged away from the crowd, unbeknownst to anyone, and began limping my way up to the main road to hail a taxi.

Upon the main drag, I impatiently stood for a good fifteen minutes, bearing the agony of what felt like a blade being inserted through my thigh, down to the bone.

Finally, to my relief, a lone moto-taxi appeared in the distance and pulled to the side of the road when it reached me. However, my elation turned to shock, when I recognized the face of, none other than, the young taxi driver who had come to my aid only moments ago, after having been dragged into a situation by some dumb Gringo and almost getting his ass kicked for it. On top of that, the cravenly Gringo didn’t even have the decency to stick around and offer as much as an apology. His face said as much, exhibiting a look of utter contempt.

“Oh, was that you who just helped me? I’m so sorry man…”, I said, in awfully broken Spanish, cringing with awkwardness.

His face didn’t change as he maintained a look of disgust, without saying a word.

“Ah, Jungle Hotel, please?…”, I asked sheepishly, causing him to turn his head forward, which I took as an indication to get in the rickshaw.

In between awkward meetings of eye contact in the rearview mirror, not another word was exchanged until we arrived at the front door of my hotel.

I made one more attempt at a sincere apology when handing him the money for the ride, but he didn’t so much as break his sour, forward gaze. As soon as money was in hand, with me mid-sentence, the disgruntled taxi driver hit the throttle, speeding off and billowing smoke into my face as I watched the rickshaw shrink into the distance.

I limped my sorry ass up the hotel stairs to my room, racked with an emotional cocktail of shame, guilt, and anger, before collapsing on my bed.

“Fuckin’ hounds…”, I muttered to myself, before passing out …

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