My Dad, Indiana Jones and Peru

Photograph Source: Josh HallettCC BY-SA 2.0

A few years ago, I bought my dad a Raiders of the Lost Ark themed birthday card. It read: “When they ask how old you are, take some advice from Dr. Jones. It’s not the years…it’s the mileage. Here’s to being well traveled!” The card played John Williams’ iconic Raider’s March theme when opened.

Since then, it’s occurred to me that my dad is somewhat similar to Indiana Jones. Like the famed archaeologist, he’s part educator and part adventurer. My father was a teacher, who eventually worked his way to school administration. Although retired, he remains a mountaineer in every sense of the word — hiking, skiing, rock and ice climbing.

I was reminded of this recently, as I rewatched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I noted my feelings at “Way back when, I thought Harrison Ford was too old and the tone was too silly. But I’ve come around and decided I quite like an aging Jones surviving a nuclear blast in a refrigerator. I always enjoyed Shia LaBeouf’s portrayal of his greaser son.“

Now, I’m aware it’s not the best film in the franchise. I haven’t watched the whole series together in some time. I prefer Last Crusade and Raiders of the Lost Ark; however, I think I like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull more than Temple of Doom. The 2008 outing is a worthy — if below average — entry in the franchise.

One thing I didn’t mention in my brief review of the movie for Slaughter-Free America is that Jones and LaBeouf’s Mutt Williams travel to Peru, which reminds me of when my father took me there in 2005, the summer before I went to college. It was the capstone of many adventures I went on with my dad throughout childhood.

My father had planned to take a group of students to Peru the year before I was born, but violence by the Maoist group, Sendero Luminoso, the Shining Path, forced him to change his destination to Ecuador. So it’s no surprise my dad forbade me from bringing my Che Guevara shirt. In hindsight, it likely would have been fine. Guevara’s visage was plastered everywhere.

I had begun my initial experimentation with vegetarianism. At the time, I was an animal welfarist, to use the strict definition of the word, not an animal rightist. I was primarily concerned with nonhuman treatment, as opposed to use. I didn’t see ending a life as wrong in itself. Since meat in the countryside didn’t come from factory farms, I put my vegetarianism on temporary hold.

As much as I enjoy the films, the Indiana Jones franchise can’t escape its colonial baggage, even in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The Nazca descendants are portrayed as savage and dangerous. They emerge from a graveyard like the undead, moving around on all fours like animals. Ultimately, they’re dispatched by the real villains of the picture, the Soviets.

I like to think we conducted ourselves with some sensitivity in Peru. But the truth is no amount of understanding or niceties could obscure the cavernous difference between the economic reality we lived in and that faced by most of the people we met. The mountain villagers, in particular, seemed to exist in an almost completely different world.

We were mountaineering. To be clear, this wasn’t hiking. This involved ropes, crampons, ice axes and helmets. The highest peak I climbed there was Urus, which is 17,792 feet. That was enough for me. I let my dad climb the nearby Tocclaraju, 19,797 feet, with another partner.

For perspective, I’m a native of the Adirondacks, which is home to Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in New York State. Marcy is 5,343 feet. Climbing Urus — even as a reasonably fit 18 year old — the air was so thin I was doubled over, gasping for breath on relatively gentle slopes.

Athletic challenges have never appealed to me as much as they do to my father. So my favorite parts of the trip were probably the days we spent acclimatizing in Huaraz, learning about the country’s history and taking in the sights. The Café Andino, with its English-language lending library, was where we spent most mornings.

At night, sometimes we’d go to the Huaraz Satyricon, a charming ‘movie theater’ run by an American expatriate out of his living room. He’d show a wide selection of films on a projector. While we were there, I believe the offerings were Barbarella, The Motorcycle Diaries, Revenge of the Sith, and Casablanca. We saw the latter two.

Come to think of it, like Indiana Jones, we also engaged in some Peruvian archeology by visiting the Chavin ruins, the remnants of a pre-Inca culture. Here, my dad revealed he suffered an unexpected phobia, like Jones’ fear of snakes. My father is claustrophobic and refused to crawl through Chavin’s smallest tunnels.

For these reasons and more, I have a special affinity for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, despite its flaws. I’m looking forward to the fifth Indiana Jones movie, which is scheduled for release next summer. Perhaps, like my dad, Jones will have retired from school duties. But I have no doubt that, like my father, he will still be up for an adventure.

Jon Hochschartner is the author of a number of books about animal-rights history, including The Animals’ Freedom Fighter, Ingrid Newkirk, and Puppy Killer, Leave Town. He blogs at