Rough Start: Part 1

Written mostly at 1:00 am in Lima, Peru Airport.

Lima’s airport is guarded by security overnight.

My heart is racing. I need to get to La Paz, Bolivia in less than 48 hours. I’m strung out on coffee and my eyes must be bloodshot. I already fucked up and been fucked with financially. A 23 -hour day of airplanes and airports will do that to you. It doesn’t help that I can’t sleep on planes. With the constant babies crying, seatbelt beeps and taps from flight attendants I never understood how anyone could.

I knew getting from Lima, Peru to La Paz would be a bitch. I’ve been dreading this day for weeks now if not months.

Skip a huge country (one of South America’s best) without any sleep over a two-day span. Why would I do this to myself? Well, when I booked my flight three months back I planned to start in Lima and make my way from the west side to the east side of the continent. Like Tupac, but in reverse. The plan then was to spend a month in Peru, a month in Bolivia, a month in Argentina and a month in Brazil. I was itching to book the ticket, so when the price was almost as low as I’d first seen it I went for it.

Two days later, I got accepted to an internship in La Paz, but I couldn’t do it in December as planned due to Christmas holidays. Instead, I had to start it two days after I arrived in Peru.

So, first I tried calling the airline to see if I could reroute to La Paz. After a half hour on the phone at a Bridgehead during my break as a server I was at $275 + cost of additional fare + tax. Also, I couldn’t be sure if Delta would let me do it. So no.

Then I tried finding a ticket from Lima to La Paz. Over $500. No.

Then I tried to find a ticket to the east of Peru and then bus over for $130. I tried about seven times on one of the airline’s websites to buy a ticket, but it constantly bounced back in the pay phase. I called Visa and they had no clue why and I did not feel like reasoning with Peru on the phone in Spanish. So, I tried to use a third-party website to buy the flight called Seemed legit when I bought it, but then I got an email… In order to validate my flight I had to send them a copy of my passport, both sides of my credit card and a waiver. Ughh no! So, I cancelled that.

Enter right now. I’m sitting in the Lima airport in the food court at 1:00am with sleeping Peruvians and nervous tourists (like me), waiting for the airline to open to see if I can buy a ticket. While I am sitting here I’m feeling a little paranoid so I locked my bag to my seat. Good idea? Wrong! Even though I tried it 10 times at home, my combo didn’t work for my snowboard lock so I had to cut my bags to get it off. Right on the part I carry it with when it’s not on my back. Grrrrrrr! As the uber-white old tourist couple behind me said –“That’s the skids.”

Fuckin combo lock grrr!

Meanwhile, joining us in the airport at two o’clock in the morning are hundreds of Peruvian teens and creepy middle-aged men to see some pop star arrive at the airport (not sure if these guys were picking up other passengers or just creepy middle-aged fans…). Mats and sleeping bags lined the walls around the huge airport atrium, while the rest more leaned over the tape for a glimpse of their beloved – (yet to be determined) celebrity. You can imagine my shock when I walked out of the gate with my new Peruvian mother who had just been arrested and taken in for questioning by airport security to see a sea of Peruvians staring at me as if I was the second coming of Jesus…

Let me backtrack a little.

Goodbye Canada

It’s 9:45am and I arrive at Toronto’s Pearson airport. My 12:35pm flight from Toronto was delayed 45 minutes, so I waited for over 3 hours.

Random Toronto airport observation: EVERYONE has technology. People don’t have enough hands to carry their iPhone, laptop and ipads, yet there are very few plugs in airports and none on flights – #whatupwittdat?

I regret leaving my iPhone at home already #firstworldproblems.

In line for customs I met a really cute girl from Chicago. Turns out she was a missionary and we got into talking religion. Before she was set to depart she asked me for my blog info as she was interested in my trip. So, if you are reading this, thank you whoever you are for showing interest in a stranger’s life. She attributed us getting along to G-d’s plan – I just see it as part of the wonders of travel. Note: thus far, I’m not an evangelical Christian.

Onto Atlanta where I caught my flight to Lima, but not before grabbing a delicious fat American stuffed pizza slice. Why doesn’t Canada make pizza as thick? Guess we don’t got the dough… (badabam chh!).

The flight to Lima was a culture shock. At first I wondered why the boarding time was an hour before takeoff – then I found out.

I had never been on a flight so big and so high-tech. It took me 15 minutes just to walk from one end to the other and to my seat.

During the flight there were two meals – the first of which was a delicious grilled chicken taco salad. Ya, I said airplane food was delicious, so? Also, there were TVs with a selection of awesome movies like The Dark Knight and HBO shows like my most loved/hated show Game of Thrones. But, I didn’t get to too much watching.

Instead, I immediately sparked up a conversation with the older woman sitting next to me – Marietta. In the span of six hours I became Marietta’s adopted son.

We talked about everything. Her two kids living in Washington and Jacksonville, my love life, my travel plans, my dreams, her dreams. For all intensive purposes, I now must meet Marietta in Cusco for the New Year, hike the Inca Trail with her and then allow her to take me on a tour around Lima.

To her I’m a “nice,” “intelligent” and “mature” young man who would go great with many girls she is willing to matchmake me with. I showed her my family albums, explained my family history and in turn she gave me sagely motherly advice on everything from safety to what beers to drink in Peru. She did make a very strong case for Lima, so I will definitely have to consider it. At this point, it’s probably Peru or Argentina, one or the other, suggestions?

Back to my lovely Peruvian mother. A Peruvian who was born in Alabama, U.S.A., Marietta picked up her things and moved to Oregon to work as an English as a Second Language teacher. Now that Marietta’s kids are out and living on their own, she decided to return to Lima with a new set of business plans. One of which is to buy a bed and breakfast for tourists heading to Peru – a bed and breakfast that I will have to stay at. Another is to fulfill her fashionista destiny (according to her daughter-in-law) by selling designer bathing suits she bought from Kohl’s in Oregon where they pay no tax and then sell them to her friends in Lima.

Unfortunately, things did not go to plan. Throughout the flight Marietta constantly talked about how she was worried she wouldn’t get through bag check.

In Peru, when you are set to leave the terminal you must press a button to determine whether you have been chosen to have your bags checked. Green means good to go, red means a full scan check of your bags as well as a potential hand-search. Marietta had a bad feeling about going through it this time.

A little airport info: the customs officials find out that you are bringing over $500 of merchandize into Peru you must pay a fine. One passenger was fined $500, but she negotiated her way to $300. An early sign that anything in South America can be negotiated…

On the plane, Marietta knew she would not get away with carrying dozens of designer bathing suits if she got checked. To prevent this, she rubbed her hands on a cup of cold water – a trick that she heard could get you a green light. It probably doesn’t work for the coke dealers and it didn’t work this time either.

As Marietta and I were ready to take on the world with our new plans, she was suddenly taken away at customs for questioning. After about 15 minutes she was let out in order to help me find a way to La Paz. Without her bags, however, which were being tallied to make up the fine.

The plan was that she would speak to her airport car-driver friend who was familiar with flying through Peru. He would tell me the best way to get to La Paz. Didn’t happen.

As she ran around like the wanted criminal she technically was, I was told to go out another exit. As the door to the exit opened, the hundreds of fans of this crown-symbol celebrity character were staring at me, hoping I was their beloved artist. Terrifying.

There was nowhere to wait for Marietta in the sea of people and all I wanted to do was get the fuck out of the crowd before those many warnings of pick-pocketers came true and I was jacked in my first few steps on Latin American soil.

In this panic, I lost Marietta.

Frantically, I began writing this blog entry – which is more rant than I expected I would be doing. I figure that in the past couple weeks, people seemed genuinely interested in my trip, so why not report back a.s.a.p. You’re welcome Mom.

After settling down and suffering from my frustrating lock situation (see above), I decided to go with my plan to buy a ticket to the east of Peru (Juliaca) and find my way to La Paz from there. Sure enough, when I go to the airline to buy the ticket – the same flight is $162 (up from $130). Grr! Screwed by airport taxes.


One thought on “Rough Start: Part 1

  1. Helene Huot

    Very entertaining Blog Joel. Been pretty action packed already! You are learning so much already. Keep on enjoying this marathon you are on. Love. Helenexoxo

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