Tales of a wandering lesbian

Getting there

I went to Peru.  With two of my friends.  Kelly and I dated years ago.  Now she lives in Atlanta.  LeAnna and I play softball together in Portland.  And, strangely enough, she and Kelly met each other in Ireland, even more years ago.  The three of us discovered that we were all considering hiking the Inka Trail and decided that we’d make a go of it together.  After months of planning, Kelly had found us great accommodations and a fantastic tour company, and LeAnna had navigated the oddities of the local airlines.  I just tagged along.  I think maybe the brought me as the entertainment.

We started our trip on the fourth of July, meeting and flying out from Miami.  We looked out from the airplane windows to see hundreds of fireworks displays below us, cheering us on our way.

This was a big adventure.  I was just one week back from Italy, where I’d spent a month, but already Peru was shaping up to be a bigger adventure.  It struck me that Italy was now a familiar place.  A place with a familiar sound and smell and taste.  Peru was completely new.  I’d never been to South America.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been to Mexico.  And although I grew up in the mountains of Idaho, the 12,000 foot altitude of Cuzco seemed worlds away.

And that’s where we were headed:  Cuzco, via Lima, where we would acclimate for a couple of days before the trek.

The first real excitement of the trip began in Lima where we navigated the complexities of purchasing a ticket on a local airline.  We were unable to purchase a ticket online.  We could reserve, but not purchase, so once in the Lima airport, we needed to pay for our tickets – in cash, at a special counter.  Fortunately, Kelly and LeAnna had been practicing Spanish, and I had been speaking Italian for a month, so I could understand a fair bit.  My college Spanish threatened to re-emerge, but never really followed-through.

After Kelly and LeAnna took care of their tickets, we found out that, for some reason, I was booked on a flight an hour and a half later than the flight the other ladies were on.  Not good.  The shuttle to the hostel was not likely to wait or return for me.  I’d have to work it out when I got there.  Alone.

Kelly handed me a map and told me the name of the hostel.  Then she wished me luck, and they ran to catch their plane, which was scheduled to leave very, very soon.  I stood in line to check my bag for the later flight.  I’d been told by the agent at the payment desk that I could not get on the earlier flight.  Darn.

But I am my father’s daughter.  He traveled extensively while I was growing up, a manufacturer’s rep for an international company.  We’d traveled as a family, and I’d seen him work with desk agents.  He’s magical.  I’ve seen him talk an entire family onto a full flight.  I’ve seen him get free first class upgrades for all four of us.  When it comes to travel, there is almost nothing he can’t do.  Or at least that’s the mythology I’ve developed.  A mythology that can come in handy when I’m in a foreign country needing to be emboldened to make a little magic of my own.

So, as I approached the desk, hefting my 35lb pack, I focused, and I channeled my father – in Spanish.  Or Italian.  It’s not clear what I was speaking, exactly.

I asked the agent if I could get on the early flight.  She looked at her watch and asked another agent.  Who went to work, typing frantically on her keyboard.  I felt like I was on the Amazing Race.  They worked together, speaking rapidly and in low tones.  Finally, the second woman nodded, and the first took my bag to label it.  Then she handed me a small, squarish piece of paper.  I looked down and saw that it was a ticket.  For the early flight.

“Esta bien?” I asked.

“Si.”  She looked at me staring at her in awe.  “Rapido!”

I smiled, nodded, and took off running.

Then I heard her behind me.  I’d forgotten my water-bottle.  We both hopped over the ropes that separated the lines of travelers.  She smiled broadly, handed me the bottle, and I was off, looking for Kelly and LeAnna who still thought I was on my own.  I found them in security, after being turned around and sent to pay my airport tax.

In Peru, you cannot enter or leave the country, or even fly domestically without paying a tax.  When we flew to Cuzco, we paid about $8 American.  When we left the country, it was about $30.

Once the tax was paid and the validating sticker attached to my little ticket, I was able to run through the checkpoint, and into security.  “Kelly!  LeAnna!”  They looked back at me, in the middle of taking off their shoes.  “I’m on!”

We all smiled and celebrated, and they waited while I danced through the metal detector.  Then we made a break for the gate.  We arrived 15 minutes before the departure time, just as they were closing the door to the runway.  We were sure we’d missed the flight, but the gate agent put up her hand, made a call, and then pointed us through the door and to a bus.  Well, we were pretty sure which bus she pointed too…

We were elated.  We’d all made the flight.  We snapped pictures, and chattered through our grogginess.

After 10 minutes of sitting in an empty bus, we started to worry.  There was almost nobody on the bus, and the flight was supposed to be leaving in 5 minutes!  Kelly couldn’t take it.  She walked off the bus to confirm that we were in the right place.  The airport worker checked his watch and told her that, yes, we were on the right bus and that we’d leave in a bit.

Apparently, departure times are kind of a general rule, more than an absolute.  The bus filled up with people and we took off.

The hour and a half flight was a treat.  Primarily in Spanish, we were instructed about safety, and handed snacks.  It reminded me of air travel in the US 15-20 years ago.  We had leather seats, as much as we wanted to drink, and a meal complete with breakfast sandwich and cookies.  All for about $100.  Maybe less.

I usually sit on the aisle, but I would have sat on the wing to get on this flight.  As luck would have it, I was on an aisle, with an occasional view out the window.  I watched as locals and returners looked out to see the terrain becoming more and more rugged, mountains emerging from plains.

The approach to Cuzco was a little intense.  The mountains were close on either side, and we turned hard to get to the strip.  And extreme landing for an extreme place.

On the ground, we celebrated again with high fives and acknowledgements that “We’re in Peru!”  In the shadow of the “Oxi Shot” sign, we repacked our bags and wondered if we’d really need the canned oxygen during the next week.  I laughed and made some Spaceballs “Perriair” joke that nobody got.

It was 8:30AM when we walked outside to find our shuttle.  The sun was piercingly bright in the thin mountain air, leaving the sky intensely blue, and the hills surrounding the city a washed-out brown.

Our shuttle turned out to be a guy with a car.  We located our names on his list and convinced him that we were the ones he was there to pick up.  The we tried to locate our seatbelts, and held on tight as we rumbled through the city over cobblestone streets, through plazas, and to our hostel.

Our driver came to an abrupt stop on a steep, one-way hill and we hopped out.  The adventure, though just officially beginning, had already given us a lot.  And, packs in hand, we were ready for more.

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1 Big Mama { 08.02.10 at 7:14 am }

I’m ready for more!!! Stories, that is!!

2 big mama's buddy { 08.02.10 at 3:54 pm }

Oh, brings back many memories – for I have also been in airports with your father when they cancelled one leg of our flight! Not to worry & I can see you have some Rick in you – that is a good thing! Loving this new adventure!

3 Ant { 08.02.10 at 7:47 pm }

I want to go there too! Sounds like a marvelous adventure.

4 Heather { 08.02.10 at 7:57 pm }

Loved the Spaceballs reference. I knew you were good people.

5 Ginger { 08.03.10 at 8:53 am }

Guess I don’t need to go to Peru now! You are bringing it right to me and with humor and flair! Can’t wait to see Peruvian food pix as I’m sure you will have us all salivating!! Roll on Chapter 2!

6 Deed { 08.03.10 at 2:56 pm }

Wonderful post AGAIN Kristin. Happy to hear that some of the “convincing attitude” rubbed off, but believe me you don’t need my influence, as you have such a wonderful convincing manner about you. If ever there was a Pied Piper in our family it is you. Keep the posts coming Kid……