Peru Part One: The Airport (or, “are we there yet?”)

We stepped out of the Lima airport to see displays of fireworks in every direction signaling our arrival. Well, more like the arrival of Christmas, since it was approaching midnight on Christmas Eve. As we headed to our hotel we quickly realized that these were far from being the organized, regulated fireworks displays we’re used to. No fire restrictions here, the large explosives were being launched from every driveway and street corner around town. Maybe kids in Peru aren’t quite as into Santa, since the explosions would seem to make rooftop landing pretty hazardous.

Peruvian Nativity Scene

It was exciting at first. It’s always fun to be a part of another country’s holiday celebrations. But then those celebrations continued until about 4a.m., inducing dreams of gun fire and crashing cars.

Despite a 7a.m. Christmas Day departure, our spirits were still high. We were going to the Amazon rainforest! Or at least we thought. First, we had to keep ourselves entertained for 8 hours in a rather small airport departure terminal when our flight, along with several others, was delayed due to a severe rainstorm in the Andes.

Top five things to do in the Lima Airport:

  1. Run up and down the stairs between the arctic cold main level and the hot, muggy, smelly, crowded lower level.
  2. Shop in the one small gift store that’s accessible. Read the two English language magazines in stock.
  3. Memorize the identity of the 200 other passengers in the terminal so we make a game of trying to spot them again in other cities as we travel.
  4. Check the flight status update board to see if the status of our flight has changed. Nope.
  5. Try to figure out how to use the pay phones to call the lodge we’re supposed to be arriving at. Swipe a credit card? Nope. Dial the 1-800 number? Nope. Oh wait, all you have to do is insert some change. Kind of forgot how those things worked.
  6. Talk to other passengers – a risky option. Most either want to share horror stories about how this same thing has already happened to them during their Peru travels or to spread rumors about how our plane can’t take off because they are lacking necessary equipment or because the pilots are undertrained.

Finally, the flights were officially canceled, our baggage was released and we were sent away with promises of being booked on a flight the next day. Without any documentation of that reservation, which of course we would soon regret.

Then we were released to find taxi rates had been doubled for the Christmas holiday. Once we got past our initial irritation, we went into problem solving mode… figuring the easiest way to reduce our taxi cost would be to share a cab.

So, lurking outside the taxi stand, we started questioning any passenger we recognized about what part of town they were headed to. Finally, a couple took us up on our offer. Fortunately they turned out to be friendly, fun Californians since they turned into roommates when their hostel gave away the private room they had reserved.

Day three, the four of us arrived at the airport as instructed, exactly two hours before our “scheduled” departure. Only to be accused of being late for the last flight of the day going to our destination. Yeah. Seriously. We’re spare you the details. But by that point we weren’t too impressed by the warm Christmas welcome we’d received in Peru and kind of wondering what the heck we were doing here. Which is actually a question we heard a lot before our trip. To be honest, Peru was kind of Plan D. Or maybe E. Neither of us really have had a lifelong dream of some pilgrimage along the Inka Trail.

See, we had a bunch of miles and points we needed to use. Initially, we were trying to arrange to use them to go climbing in the Greek Isles. But currently, the only time of year Aminda can get enough time off is over Christmas. And a cold, rainy trip in the Greek Isles probably would’ve been a little disappointing. So we started researching southern climbing destinations. We didn’t have quite enough miles to go to Australia (too hot at the crag, anyway). Or Thailand. Or Chile. Hey, what if we flew into another city and took a train down to Santiago? Actually, that would require a three day bus ride. 

Finally, we decided we didn’t have to do climbing trip. We can get to Lima, let’s just find something to do in Peru. It shouldn’t be too hard, right, in a country that has the Andes Mountains, the Amazon rainforest (recently voted one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World) and the ruins of Machu Picchu (a 7 Modern Wonders of the World). Peru is also the birth place of many good things, like potatoes and onions, which we eat a lot of.

Cusco Skyline

So, anyway, back at the airport counter all packed up and ready to go, the four us finally reach a compromise with the staff that would at least get us halfway to our destination and then on a continuing flight the following day. So we were able to enjoy an evening in the high mountain town (at about 11,000’) of Cusco, where we all drowned our sorrows in Coca tea (said to relieve altitude sickness. Originates from the same plant as cocaine) and Pisco sours (the national drink of Peru. Made pretty & frothy with raw egg white). We enjoyed a traditional meal including a spicy, cheesy potato dish, quinoa soup and a dessert made from purple maize. Traditional dishes we did not enjoy included ceviche (raw, shredded fish), alpaca, and cuy (fried guinea pig). Anthony Bourdain we are not.

Our cute hostel in Cusco

Over dinner we also enjoyed some traditional Peruvian music and conversation with our new friends. We met a nice guy fromWashingtonwho assured us that the previous day’s storm had been plenty bad enough to shut down flights. (it was somehow comforting to know the airline wasn’t completely jerking us around) And while we thought we had a disappointing Christmas in the airport, this guy described his day alone and feverish from altitude sickness, huddled in bed in his unheated, windowless hostel room. Ahhh, the joys of travel – guess the trip could only get better for everyone!

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