Tuesday, May 25, 2010

PERU - MAY, 2010 - PT. 1

I hoped I'd gotten everything. I had a checklist of things to take, but I didn't really use it. Instead, it sat there on my desktop with a hundred other things that I never remember to look at until it's too late.

Ready or not, I was on my way to the airport at 6 am on May 8. I met Casey, Clint, Nathan and Richard in front of the Frontier Airlines desk where we checked in and made our way upstairs. We had a layover in Denver on our way to NYC, and while I wasn't especially hungry, I knew we were in for a long day so I stocked up on some bagels for the ride. Soon after we boarded the first plane, I was asleep and didn't wake up until we were landing. Went by quick enough, and I hoped that most of our plane rides would be like that.

We had just enough time in Denver to get burritos and back on the plane. Richard and Clint were seated a little ways ahead and behind us, so Nathan, Casey and I partied on our row for a couple of hours. We acted out with Pepsi and I tried to keep the party going by ordering chips and salsa from the flight attendant. But you know what? Fuck Frontier Airlines. Not only were the chips and salsa $3, but the salsa had milk in it. Nonfat dry milk. That's not common. And now I was stuck with it. That kind of killed the mood and we all took naps the rest of the way to New York.

Once we landed in NYC, we had some decisions to make. We needed to meet up with Brook and Adam (who had flown in earlier), we needed to eat and we needed to get from La Guardia to JFK. All of this had to be done in five hours. Anywhere else in the world, we probably would have been okay, but with traffic and a million other factors, we weren't sure if we had the time to spend figuring out busses, subways and cabs. So we rented a mini van and drove straight into Brooklyn to eat at Vinnie's, which is some of the best pizza I've ever eaten. We caught up with Dan, Bill, Kristin, Kyle and a few other friends but were soon headed to JFK for our international adventure to begin.

JFK to Lima was supposed to be a seven hour flight with a quick one hour layover in Ecuador. Unfortunately, that didn't quite happen. We were scheduled to leave at 11:55 pm, but an announcement came on saying the flight would be delayed for an hour. None of us were really concerned, but Casey went up to check what that meant for our connection. He was assured that since we were using the same plane for the last leg, we'd be fine. He came back, filled us in and we waited another hour to board.

Once we were on the plane (the nicest plane I've ever been on), at close to 1 in the morning, I sat down and immediately fell asleep. I woke up for about 20 minutes in the middle of the flight to listen to the two women next to me talking loudly in Spanish, then went back to sleep. I woke up as we were landing, got off the plane and started walking towards the boarding area.

About halfway through the exit terminal, we were met by a woman that worked for LAN airlines. She had a printout with her that had all of our names on it, as well as another group on their way to Peru. She informed us that we had missed our connection flight and we wouldn't be able to get another one until 5 pm. And then we would have another layover, eventually getting to Lima sometime after 11 that night.

Not thrilled at the prospect of having to hang out in the airport for 8 hours, we stood around thinking about what we were going to do. Then the woman told us to get in the customs line and then pick up our bags from baggage claim. She stayed with us most of the way through, occasionally checking in with her superiors via walkie-talkie. After we had our bags, she had us follow her to the front of the airport where she informed us that she had a car waiting to take us to a hotel.

This is where it got a little sketchy, only because she told us we had to take everything with us, while the other group that was delayed was allowed to check their bags for the next flight. Standing out front of an airport in Guayaquil, Ecuador didn't seem like it was dangerous or anything, it just didn't quite sit right.

This is the reason it didn't sit right: We found roundtrip tickets from New York to Lima, Peru for $250. Not sure if it was a glitch in their system or something, but that's the price we paid. We had a sneaking suspicion that since we found that deal, LAN was going to try and jerk us around and have us keep missing flights until we coughed up a few hundred more dollars. We felt like this was the beginning of that, so we were a little apprehensive about leaving the airport.

Nevertheless, we got in the van anyway. We rode through the streets of Guayaquil, Ecuador and it looked like every movie you've ever seen about the slums of a South American city. As we got deeper and deeper into the heart of it, the worse it got. Then we pulled up in front of the hotel. The building looked nicer than anything we'd seen so far in the country and there were heavily armed guards at several points surrounding it.

As we walked into the lobby, all of our fears and apprehension went away immediately. It was one of the nicest hotels I've ever been in and the two women at the front desk had another paper with all of our names on it and everything that needed to happen between then and when we needed to be back at the airport.

The first thing we found out? We were all getting our own room. Or at least, they tried to give us all our own room. Everyone paired up and shared one, but I was the odd man out and ended up with a room all to myself for the next six hours. They also gave us two meal vouchers; one for breakfast and one for lunch. She gave us directions and keys to our room and told us where we could find the in-house restaurants. We needed to be back in the lobby ready to go by 3 pm in order to be back at the airport in time.

Everyone raced up to their rooms, showered and changed an met back up to go to breakfast. We had half an hour before the buffet ended and we wanted to make sure we used those meal vouchers. As we walked through the door, the entire restaurant stopped and stared.

It was Mother's Day and the place was packed. Families all around, no table had fewer than six people at it and they were all dressed to the nines in their Sunday best. We were in jeans, t-shirts, camo shorts and jerseys. Not to mention covered in tattoos. Everyone watched as we were led to our table, sat down and proceeded to stare at us through the entire meal.

This is also where Nathan and I got our first glimpse of our limited breakfast options in South America—bread, jam, tang and bad coffee.

After breakfast, we wandered the hotel for a while and ended up deciding to swim. This caused more of a commotion than breakfast as six heavily tattooed Americans in Speedos wandered through the hotel pool. It was in the courtyard of the third floor and could be seen from just over half the rooms in the hotel. Every six seconds, a different window had a new set of eyes watching and the hotel staff kept wandering through in awe.

After a few hours of lounging around after the pool, it was time to check out and head back to the airport. As we were in the lobby, one of the receptionists told Nathan that everyone at the hotel (except for her, since she knew our situation) assumed we were famous American musicians, but just couldn't figure out which ones and that many people had come to ask who we were. We got a kick out of that.

Back at the airport, it was business as usual. We checked our bags and got on the plane. We had another layover in Quito, Ecuador and it was a short flight from one place to the other. Once off the plane, we didn't feel like sitting around the airport, and since we missed lunch in Guayaquil, we decided to venture out and find somewhere to eat. Outside the airport, we saw a little place across the road called Pueblito Paisa and headed towards it. Our server, who said his name was Medellin and he was from Columbia, spoke no English at all and assumed we spoke Spanish. That may have had something to do with Casey telling everyone that we spoke a little Spanish as opposed to the truth, which was absolutely none. He pointed at his favorite thing on the menu and announced that he'd bring out seven of them. Nathan and I declined and told him to bring only 5. Having looked at the picture, it looked like nothing we were going to be able to eat anyway.

Towards the end of the meal, Medellin finally figured out that none of us had any clue what he was talking about, but didn't seem to mind. We paid our tab and made our way back to the airport. When we checked in at the LAN counter, the attendant had us follow her to another part of the airport where we were supposed to pay the country tax before leaving. She pulled out a manilla envelope full of cash and paid for all of us, gave us our boarding passes and sent us on our way.

While we waited for the plane to take off, Nathan, Adam and Casey got airport massages, Richard took a nap and I ate French Fries before it was finally time to leave.

We landed in Lima, Peru about 11 pm, went through customs (where Casey was the only one to be randomly selected) and met our driver, Marcel, who had waited at the airport for three hours that morning to pick us up, before figuring out that our flight had been delayed. He was a nice enough guy, understood what we were able to explain to him in hand gestures and broken Spanish and took us to our hostel where we immediately crashed.

It took 5 planes and the better part of two days, but we were finally in Peru.

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