This is how the story starts :
Long, long time ago in a far away galaxy
well, not exactly ......
Right now I'm sitting here in some kind of a park, smoking , eating biscochos and trying to be calm. I'm stuck here in Lima, Peru! O.K. My name is Sancho or officially Santis Limezs. I'm a geology student at WMU in Michigan. The American Embassy hasn't renewed me my visa because of some stupid electronic communication problems with Washington D.C. At the embassy they kindly told me to call back next week .. Oh, shit !! I'm out of money, my plane left on the very same day without me. So, I'm here in Lima instead of enjoying comfort in Florida. However, it could have been worse. And, by the way, there are some nice girls looking at me from park bench across. I need some time to think about stuff. So, I start recollecting how exactly it all started out ...
June 4 .Kalamazoo - Detroit
Seems, it was so long time ago. Somewhere there is a peaceful place called Michigan where in the early morning Linda Harrison arrived to pick us up. All things were packed. I'm surprised that Maarja can manage to put all her stuff in small my small school's backpack and there is still a place for my sleeping bag !!! Not all women are created equal.!!!
Linda is as always in a good mood and we set out for Detroit Airport. I try hard to remember what did I leave home this time, but nothing comes in mind.
We are going to stay with Linda's friend Nancy. Nancy is a fun person in true sense. I could listen her talking for hours . She works as a fund raiser for a nursery school and is really good at that .
Today's program includes visiting Ford museum and a village. I didn't have a clue what to expect. Actually, it turns out to be a pretty neat place where they tried to preserve some old American housing and country stuff . Quite frequently Maarja and I agree that one can see things like that in Baltic's (where we are from) without paying an entrance fee. Some people there still live that way! Anyway, I liked glass blowing show and the old train ride.
It is hard to believe that within 24 hours we will be in the heart of South America. I'm happy when museum tour is over - it's so easy to get tired of doing nothing . We head back to home and take a nap .
Nancy has made a perfect dinner. She's been married to a Cuban guy and knows how to cook .
She also gave us some nice "trip emergency" gifts - Maarja got a money belt and of course diarrhea pills for both of us (they came in handy!!).
June 5 . Detroit - Miami .
Finally, in the early morning we got to the Detroit Metro Airport. We got on the plain and next thing I noticed was landing in Miami . The first impression - it's hot and humid as hell in kids literature .
I probably have to say couple words about the way we travel : we fly as Air Couriers, which means to give up our luggage space for a cheaper ticket . In this case it was an express mail company called Line Haul Services and our ticket Miami - Lima - Miami was worth $ 250 (That's a good price, but now it is up to $275) To get this ticket you have to go to some trouble as:
- traveling light (all you can get on board: carry-on, and all-you-can-wear-on) ,
- buy tickets 2 months in advance (no changes allowed or $ 100 fine) ,
- only one person flies as a courier per flight( with flights 3-4 times a week) ,
you don't get a ticket - just a boarding pass .
- in most cases you can not collect frequent flyers mileage.
- There are restrictions on the length of stay .
Sounds like " small print" doesn't it ? Anyway - you calculate how much is your time worth and then decide to buy a regular ticket for $380 or suffer a little for $250 as in our case and fly on the very same airplane ...
Maarja's flight to Lima leaves at 4pm today and mine is 24 hours later. I kiss her goodbye and spend most time people-watching and practicing my Spanish by listening airport announcements. It's amazing how one place in the United States can have such an overwhelming Spanish influence! Spanish is a first language for all the airport personal! I found a nice corner next to the Gates and fell asleep with a sound of tropical rain poring outside the window.
June 6 . Miami - Lima
I waked up in airport from noisy announcements and no idea what to do. I went out for hike to find Gray Hound bus station. Once again I came to a conclusion that US is not made for people with no vehicle . Bus station appeared to be just couple blocks away, but all my attempts to navigate with a city map ended by being trapped in between a channel and two big highway's. Oh , no... and, of course, it was hot as hell . It's definitely worth spending couple $ for a ride on city bus
At 4pm I met a girl from LHS. She gave me boarding pass and instructed to call their office in Lima the very next day. The whole operation did not take more than a minute ! That's it? I was expecting long explanations and some important documents to carry onboard. As it turns out - it all happens behind the scene and flight attendants take care of it .
Long life to regs forbidding unattended package transport on regular flights! So I'm just an "X" they need by regulations ... well if it makes my life easier .
At least a half of the passengers and most of flight attendants are Latinos. I tried to get some sleep between watching " Junior " and some atoll islands down in the Gulf .
When we landed in Lima it's already a late night. The airport seems to be reasonably clean.
I got through the customs control getting the regular question "Where is Latvia , anyway ?". In this case it took me a while to explain because Latvia is translated as Letonia in Spanish.
The crowd of taxi drivers and "come-to-my-hotel" people outside the fence reminded me Katmandu.
I look out for Maarja .... here she is.
I guess, I've never seen her happier to see me... I'm so glad to see her safe and sound. We didn't have time to speak in this shower of hotel offers. I was so tired that after a very short conversation agreed to pay $15 for hotel and $8 for a taxi to city. During the ride I was getting my first impression of Lima. Some districts look way worse than Katmandu!
Well, I guess it's just a first impression when you come from a land of plenty .
I started some conversation with a taxi driver ... not so bad - I can even understand most of it !
Maarja, as it turned out, spent the previous night in airport, shocked by this first impression and without a single word in Spanish. She did however go to see the city during the day - she hiked some 10 km through suburbs which would scare a hell out of South Brooklyn. It must have been really scary!
Volkswagen Beetle here is #1. As a rule most have smashed fenders and rusty-Bondo color. The road rules are based on honking and maneuvering wildly. Any concept of lanes and street lights is obsolete.
Hotel looks like a prison with bars on doors and a small window in doors.
Our taxi driver waited for us to check out if the place is O.K. . It has beds and hot water in common bathroom -super. It seemed weird for first time when they ask questions like:
Latter I found out that it happens in everywhere - even on a bus.
- Are you married or single?
- How old are you?
- Where are you going?
- What is your occupation ?.
We took a shower and went to sleep. The noise from street was bad, but it didn't really bother us.
June 7. Lima
Morning came with more noise and we had no option as to get up. Our plan was to find some cheaper place to live, see how to get to Cuzco and get some food.
We used a map in book to find Plaza San Martin which is a geographic center of Lima . There is a trick however -- the nicest districts of San Isidro and Miraflores are some distance outside center.
It's a long story why center is in such a bad shape.
Senora Rodriguez later told me:
Many campesinos migrated to Lima in hope for better life. With no real education and job experience they ended up selling stuff on the streets or begging. Even more, they try to live in the city center same way they did in the mountains. They say: "We are Peruvians and have rights to do whatever we want". Because the governor of Lima (the name stands for the center district) didn't have a strong hand to sweep them out of the center, but instead hoped to get their votes in president elections (he failed) all streets stink, parks look like a public outhouse and being on streets during the nights is not a good idea . And all of this happened in the most beautiful, historic part of Lima. People living in this district hope that the new governor is going to make a change.
So, from Pza. San Martin we tried to find hotel " Belen " which was recommended in a book . Instead of that we wandered right in the place we needed: Tourist Information Office on Belen street.
They spoke English and helped us with finding a cheap place to sleep.
Hotel "Belen" on this street was charging $20 per night instead of $5 mentioned in the book .
We ended up staying in the family of Rodriguez. Well, it seemed like a big dorm room, but they offered a minimum breakfast , safe place to leave our things and convenient location (in the very center= Avenida Nicolas de Pierola or better known as Colmena ) We decided that paying $6 per person is a good deal and so it was.
Tickets to Cuzco were sold on every corner and after some shopping we bought tickets for next day from the same Tourist Information Office - Infotur ( phone: 4-245131). They charged us $65 one way and that was the best price around .
One can probably beat it, if you have time to wait for some charter flight . We did see some advertised later in Cuzco for $38 one way, but they doesn't happen too often.
During our conversation in Infotur we found out that one lady there even spoke Russian . That was surprising ! I mean, we both with Maarja have Russian as a second language , but it's not so common to hear Russian in South America !
We moved our stuff and went hunting for a good lunch . I guess we spent like s./ 25 ($12) for two but it was worth it . Maarja had Milanesa...something and I took Lomo Saltado.
Central walking street seemed to be a favorite and really nice place to hang out .
Lot's of nice looking Peruvian girls out there ..Yeah, it doesn't seem so bad at all during the daytime.
People are just like in East Europe - everything is quite dirty and run down , but everybody is dressed up so nicely. We got back to our Colmena street residence and packed things we need for Cuzco trip.
Oh yeah, we have a new neighbor - older German man. He doesn't speak any Spanish at all , has had a lifetime dream to do the Inca Trail and his equipment could conquer Himalayan peaks not just the Inca highway.
It is getting dark here at 6 PM and with no twilight's at all. At 6 AM the sun is back in place , still during most of our stay there was no sun in Lima. The fog moving inland from the cold ocean creates clouds as it raises up.
At night all stores are locked with double doors and bars. Like New York ..
We went to South American Explorers Club on the Portugal Ave. One can walk there from the city center. It's a nice place to visit - even if you are not a member ( limit it to 1hr !! ) The guys there speak British English and had some maps for sale, but $15 for a sheet seemed too much for me.
When it got dark we drunk local favorite cocktail " Pisco Sour " and headed home. Oh yeah, there was a nice local band playing Peruvian folk music on the street. That's amazing how one nation with a hard life like this can make so merry music.