Saturday, February 6, 2010

South America... Ugh

South America... Ugh.

Somewhere over some place I wake up. I wake up to the smell of hot airplane breakfast. It's never good form to miss an in flight meal. Sc ambled eggs, potatoes, and salsa. It could be better; there could be meat. But on the whole? Not too bad. Now that I'm awake, I continue to read. Once more my dream are plagued with shabby third person narration.

I continue to read until I notice everyone looking out the window. Two paragraphs from finishing the chapter I decide that I too want to play this game, and give a little look. Below the mists run through the Brazilian mountains like great rivers cascading through the rocky valleys, coming together in great pools, before heading out once more.

Brazil looks beautiful.

Down, down down, we go landing on the tarmac. Quickly I grab my bag, and rush off the plane. I have a connection to make, and a ticket to obtain, and no time to dally when I should rather dilly. In the airport I make my way through security check, being asked to remove my laptop from my bag, and being told that I can leave my shoes and belt on. With my gear scanned and approved it's off to find my next flight.

This is more difficult that it should be. And it's not my fault. Of all the things I'm sure of, it's that this time, it's not my fault.

I look around for a connections booth to issue me my boarding pass. There is none. There are no signs for one. There are no employees anywhere. The only people in uniform are selling sim cards. And what smart uniforms they are. Then it hits me, the people scanning luggage should know. Walking back to them, I find the man who was talking to me earlier. When I ask him where the connections desk is he looks at me for a moment before replying, “no English.” This is a lie. The first of many. And it's obnoxious. And it's annoying.

Very well. I will just head to gate number 18, like the electronic board is listing my flight as leaving from. There are a few people there. The flight is scheduled to depart in one hour. You would expect more, but not to worry, there are some, and surely others are coming. Perhaps this is just a country where people wait until the last moment before showing up.

Nobody is showing up. Ahh, some employees are setting up for a flight. Though the signs they're putting up list an American flight departing in three and a half hours. Talking to them they suggest that I want to be in Terminal 1. This is a lie. The electronic display clearly shows gate 18. As nobody speaks English here, this is a difficult concept to get across.

This is the first place I've experienced such language barriers. All over the world English has got me by, but not here. I'm told Portugal is just as terrible for English speakers. Ugh.

A passing employee who just so happens to speak English overhears me, and tells me that if I wait at gate 18, I will be able to get my boarding pass when the LAN airlines people show up. I am somewhat comforted by this. I sit down, and I wait. And I wait. My flight leaves in thirty minutes, no one has shown up. Beginning to worry, I asked the other people if they were headed to Lima. None were. This was troubling. I checked the sign. It still read gate 18.

An elderly chap suggested that I go to the LAN desk at gate 20. I show up just as they read my name over the loud speaker. They look at me with disdain as if I should have known that this is where I was to have headed all along. How I ever should have obtained such arcane knowledge is beyond me.

They issue me my boarding pass, it lists the flight as departing from gate 20. Well of course it does. Why would the board correspond? As they read off ten other names that need to obtain their passes, I can't help but wonder why they don't just correct the sign. Surely that would solve all problems. Maybe they had? I re-check. No, of course not, it still lists the flight as leaving from, and now boarding at, gate 18. This too is a lie.

On board all is forgiven. Over the in flight screen (still no personal in chair entertainment unit) the movie “The Invention of Lying” plays. This is lovely, and brilliant, and if you've not seen it then you must – right now. By the end of it, I am overcome with joy, and happiness, and a little big of heartache. The best feeling. All is forgiven.

Hours later I land in Lima, collect my luggage, easily clear customs (Why does America and Canada hate me so, but the rest of the world not seem to mind? Well – Cuba. Cuba hates me too.)

The hostel owner is waiting to drive me to the hostel, and off we go. Once there I shower, head down to the common room, try to play some PS2 but fail miserably as the V-Hold is constantly looping like a gaming waterfall, and then open up some internets.

I zone out for some time, until the owner tells me a French girl is headed into town, and would I like to split that cab with her. I wasn't going to, but cab splitting is always economical, and this would force social interaction and sight seeing upon me. So why not?

She does not have the strongest English, but it's much better than my French, so it becomes the language of choice. And in all honesty, it's really rather good. She has that European obnoxiousness of saying she doesn't speak very well, then you find out she can carry on in three languages.

We stop quickly at an ATM. Number one dispenses only USD. Number two gives me the good ol' local stuff. Once more we head off into town; I feel like I am in South America when I see the brightly coloured houses built on the mountains. I know these are probably the ghettos like in Brazil, but still they are beautiful.

Through the taxi window I start to take pictures. We stop at a red light, and I manage to snap off a few more – quickly I yank my camera in through the window, to the surprise and shock of my new compatriot from Normandy. Two hands follow in through the open window snatching for my camera, but finding only beard. A local teen has tried to rob me and make off with my goods. Through the car window. Two police on bicycles peddle by not bothering to stop. Peru! Our eyes meet. I shrug (“too slow you son of a bitch!”); he shrugs (“I'll get the next guy.”) He saunters off. It sicken me that I accept this as normal. It bothers me the police do nothing. And it says a lot that he just slowly moves away. Were this to have happened in another part of the world, there may have been jumping out of the car and following him, but here? Just another red-light.

This was why I asked the hostel owner if it was dangerous here, how the safety was. He said it was fine. Oh yes clearly. Lesson learned. Barcelona part 2.

Arriving in the main square, I clutch my pack tight as we walk the tourists street to the next square. There are churches, and shopping, and all manner of restaurants. We look for a patio to grab a drink on, but come up short on the way there. A side street is explored. Still nothing. A second side street is – almost explored. Looking down it it seemed far to terrifying to risk.

It's strange being in a tourist area and having everyone clearly look South American. I wonder if they are Lima locals, or if tourism here is mostly continental.

Newspaper front pages are displayed everywhere. And one thing of note is that most newspaper front pages have at least one naked woman on them. Said naked women are about thirty pounds heavier than they would be back home. In fact, there's probably be a special magazine with some distressing title, for these women. And that's when you start to notice, all of the women walking around are about thirty pounds heavier than they would be back home. I can only assume the ascetic is different here. And that interests me. Any place with the idea of “beauty” is so radically altered from the internal thoughts you feel as,
“normal”, is quite spectacular. A sixteen year old North American could learn a lot here. Although she'd probably end up pregnant.

I'm not holding a grudge about having my beard yanked through a car window, or anything. Oh no. But every teenager (and I noticed this in the airport too) seems to be pushing a carriage, walking with their toddler beside them, or breast feeding on the side of the road with their other two children trying to help is all sorts of odd ways.

Hey – who am I to judge cultural differences. I'm just describing what I'm seeing.

Everyone talks about how hot it is. Let me tell you, this? It's perfect. It's perhaps eighty five, dry, and with a breeze. There is no sweat, no clammy muggy grossness, just nice warmth. And it's summer here. The winter in Bangkok I just left, not that – that was hot. Here? S'alright.

A patio is discovered and some time is spent drinking, eating, and attempting to find lighters for the French girl whose hand rolled smokes keep going out. Then our driver returns.

Back at the hostel I attempt to do something – anything – but I can not. At 7pm my eyes refuse to stay open any longer. Off to bed to crash and sleep. Day one is in the books. And what a D-Lightful day it has been.

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