About this time last year, while sitting in a pub that prized itself on being the highest Irish-owned pub in the world, I was contemplating how best to steal a beer mug. The crime itself was something I’d been planning ever since I’d arrived in Peru with my small band of friends, but now that the moment had come, a deep sense of paranoia had gripped me. The space we were in was small and cosy. The furnishings were all wooden, and the tiny windows provided a limited view of the cobbled plaza outside. Although the pub was crowded, I was always within the eye line of any waiter or waitress who might glance in my direction.
The reason that I’d decided to steal a beer mug in the first place was because, while I was in Peru, I was missing out on a friend’s birthday in Santiago. A few months previously, as a housewarming gift, Fran had given me a beer mug that she herself had stolen, and now I wanted to return the favour.
The pub in which I found myself was called Paddy’s, and it was located in the Peruvian town of Cuzco, which seemed to have more tourists than locals. The predominant language being spoken about the place was English, but in a variety of accents. I was seated in the corner, a choice I’d made even before entering the establishment. I wanted to limit the angles by which I could be seen. My best bet, I figured, was to steal the mug off of someone else’s table. That way, if the mug’s absence was noticed while I was still there, the blame would be placed on other patrons. I was not only planning to steal, but to frame innocent people as well.
After scanning the room for some time I finally had my mark. There was a group of about half a dozen folks from the United States sitting next to us. They had pushed two tables together to accommodate all of them, and their space was littered with empty beer mugs. One missing glass wouldn’t be noticed right away.
Eventually they gathered their things and left, and in the wake of their departure I leaned over, snatched up a mug, and buried it deep in my friend’s handbag. From that moment I felt a powerful desire to get as far away from Paddy’s as possible, but I had to play it cool.
Moments later, a waitress came over. “Every thing alright over here?” she said.
“WHY?!” I said, calmly.
The waitress hesitated and then said, “I mean, can I get you guys anything else to drink?”
“NO!” I replied, wiping sweat from my brow. “WE JUST WANT TO PAY NOW!” The temperature in the room had risen to Sahara-like levels.
The waitress regarded me for an extended time. I didn’t want to look guilty so I forced myself to meet her gaze, blinking one eye at a time so that I wouldn’t break eye contact.
“Sure,” she said after a moment. “I’ll be right back.”
The bill was delivered swiftly and without comment, and before I knew it I was out in the sunlight with my gang of accomplices.
The only hurdle left, at that point, was that I still had about three weeks of travelling before I would be back in Santiago.
Travelling with a beer mug in your backpack can be frustrating. You must always remember to but your bag down carefully, and to take care not to shove things haphazardly into it lest something heavy crushes the glass. But overall, travelling around South America with it didn’t cause me any problems at all. I took it with me around Cuzco, and later to Machu Picchu. After that, I brought the mug across the border into Bolivia. The mug was with me when I cycled down the Death Road in La Paz. I had it with me on the overnight bus ride to Cochabamba, and then onward to Santa Cruz. I brought it with me on an endless bus ride to a rural town called Pasorapa, and then back again – 12 hours each way. Then I loaded the glass in question onto an airplane, and flew it to Santiago, where I was finally able to bring it safely to my apartment.
The worst was over. All that remained to me was to deliver it into the hands of my friend Fran, and that wouldn’t happen for another week or two because her weekends were often full.
Eventually, a convenient day arrived when a group of us agreed to meet at one of Santiago’s oldest and most famous watering holes – La Piojera. This rustic and rowdy bar near the center of the city was famous for the terremotos that it served. Now, if you don’t know, a terremoto (which means earthquake), is a potent alcoholic drink made from snake venom, nail polish remover, and ice cream*. One glass of the stuff goes down easily and deliciously, and when you stand up afterwards you find that the ground is moving violently beneath you – hence the name. La Piojera sells terremotos at such a furious rate that at any given time there are always at least six plastic cups on the bar being filled up with the exotic substance.
Some friends and I got there early in the day, before the place had filled up completely. This meant that we were able to secure a rather large table for ourselves in one corner of the room. Puddles of terremoto and empty plastic cups littered the floor, even at this early hour, so I had to keep my satchel on my lap. My satchel contained a bottle of water, a sweater for later, and Fran’s stolen beer mug.
Fran was running late, and while the rest of us waited for her we decided to order some finger food. I scraped my chair forward to better hear my friends over the din. The satchel shifted in my lap, and the stolen glass rolled out and exploded with an almighty pop all over the alcohol-soaked floor of La Piojera.
In the universal language of bar-related mishaps, every single individual in the bar, about 50 people to a man, exclaimed in unison:
It was interesting for me to take note that not a single patron questioned the existence of a glass container in place that used exclusively plastic cups.
The second point that amused me was that, at some point in the evening, a member of the staff was going to have to clean up the mess, and I could only imagine their bewilderment at having to clean up glass. Who brings their own mug to a bar?, they might inquire.
The third and most pressing point that crossed my mind was the terrible loss I had just suffered. My travelling companion was gone, relegated to the trash in a place so far from its origin and so much closer to sea level.
While I processed everything that had just happened, a flash of movement caught my eye and I looked up from the mess on the floor.
“Oh, hi Fran,” I said glumly.
*At least, that’s what it tastes like.