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Monday, October 22, 2012

She dreamed of paradise...

Mike and I circled the airline gate like hungry sharks, checked and checked, yes, that was the one printed on our Peruvian Air tickets.  Yet it was distinctly marked as LAN Airline. With LAN uniformed staff and a sign that read Arequipa.  Not Lima. Okaaaaay, where was Peruvian Air? We widened our circle. No Peruvian Air representatives at any of the gates. Back to the gate. Asked the LAN staff about our flight. "That is a Peruvian Air flight," they intoned, "nothing to do with us. This is LAN. We do not know about Peruvian Air flights." 

There went the hope that perhaps the two airlines worked together, had merged or some such thing.

El crappo.

another stop sign for my photo collection

Feeling like an idiot, I asked if the clearly marked gate number was indeed the correct gate number. Si.

Well, it was worth a try.

Our flight was at 11:10 am, and it was already 10:45. Other travelers were doing the same uncertainty dance that we were. This is similar to the potty dance, but with a different sort of urgency and accompanying embarrassment factor. So we asked them, "are you supposed to take flight 217 to Lima?" Yes, yes they were. Yes, they'd been told this gate as well. No, they couldn't make heads or tails of it either.

We heard one or two uncomplimentary opinions about how things are, or more aptly are not, organized in South America.


As we have a history of screwing up flights, and our flight home to the USA was out of Lima at 9:40 in the evening, we were getting squirrelly.  At a loss, I tried to read a book,  then started compulsively photographing things in the overpriced gift shop. Silver free-form alpaca sculptures. Shot glasses. Stupid T-shirts.

Everyone who was sitting calmly looked like a Peruvian. Everyone who was squirming or gesturing madly or stalking around with the whites of their eyes showing, was generally shouldering a backpack and somewhat paler than the local population.

The LAN plane left. The staff packed up their things and left.

We looked at each other, slightly numb. Now what?

Then, miracle of miracles, Peruvian Air staff materialised out of, well, thin Peruvian air and put up a large sort of sandwich board for Vuelo (flight)  0217 LIMA.

Baby, baby, that's our plane! They covered the LAN logo with a Peruvian Air one just as said plane rolled up, large as life, just outside.

Small airport, shared gates. Now it made sense. Why hadn't the LAN people hadn't said so? It was plain we weren't the only neurotic tourists. They must get the same questions over and over again from the same confused gringos. Was this some sort of previously unnoticed Peruvian talent for sadistic, systematic torturing of tourists? If it was, well, it was probably earned by those who came before us, fair enough.

But no matter. We all piled on, gringos and Peruvians alike, de nada, de nada, soared back over the stunningly white Andes and an hour later were back on the ground in Lima.

Back to the Barranco District of Lima, the rush and noise of the city, back to the rest of our luggage, safely stowed with our friends. We had time to repack, position our suitcases by the front door, and go out into the warm Pacific air with April and Royce to catch one of the local buses to dinner. There we'd meet more friends, who all wanted to say "good-bye for now."

The local bus, with its hawker calling out the rates, swayed and jolted along through Lima's endlessly honking, pollution-spewing traffic, while we hung on and grinned at each other and tried to shout over the roar about which cross street the restaurant might be on, and felt perfectly happy.

There isn't much else to tell. The sun went down, and we flew back home to the USA. It felt like taking a decontamination shower. Everything was a little more sterile, a little more predictable, less colorful.

We had one more travel moment, at US customs. We had wondered, was it truly OK to bring back the ground chocolate bean paste, still snugly wrapped in plastic and tucked into a boot? (Not one of the ones that suffered through the hideous bathroom in Cusco, by the way.)

While Mike was retrieving the last of our luggage from the usual rotating belt, the drug sniffing dog came over to where I was waiting, canine-snuffling over the rest of our gear... and sat happily down next to it. I gave it the eye. Go away, I thought at it fiercely. Go away.

It did no such thing. The handler at the other end of the leash smiled nicely and asked a couple of friendly questions. Where were we coming in from? (oh great, I thought.) Peru.

And did we have any food in our luggage, a sandwich, perhaps? Or some fruit?

No, no sandwiches. Chocolate and coffee, though, oh, and prepackaged pepper paste, I answered honestly.

"Ah," he said, "well, great, have a nice day," and he and the dog walked happily away, the dog looking in no way concerned about anything.

Long, deep breath.

Two little kids waiting at SeaTac, threw themselves at us, wrapped limpet arms tightly around and asked if we'd had a good time. Yes, we told them, yes we did.

We'd gotten lost, found ourselves again, eaten guinea pig and alpaca and roasted our own chocolate beans, discovered altitude sickness and coca teas, gazed at a 122 foot Jesus, arms stretched out over the slums of Chorrillos, danced in Cusco, the Incas' "navel of the world," seen spiders as big as your hand, glittering like jewels in the thick air of the Amazon jungle, climbed ancient stones in the highlands lack of oxygen of Machu Picchu,

drunk wine and laughed with old friends and new friends and complete strangers we'd never see again.

So we went back to our little house in the Pacific Northwest, waiting placidly in the woods for us, and tried not to dream of Sopa de criolla, or of rioting color and sound, to dream only in English, without Spanish, not to dream of the powerful Pacific in her other guise, warm waters instead of breathtakingly cold.


  1. I would have been beside myself with worry at the airport! Of course it all ended well but I was worried nonetheless!

    Thanks to your account I feel like I have traveled a little bit into Peru - thanks for sharing Natalie!

    1. Wouldn't it be a blast to REALLY go someplace together? If I ever make it out to Boston, I'll be hoping we finally get together for a cuppa...or a crop! :)

  2. I think you should compile tales of your adventures abroad in a book, Natalie! You have a gift for story-telling. Happy holidays to you and yours! (And come to Europe next!) :)

    1. Thank you Tara! That means a lot coming from you. Ah Europe...yes, I think I could handle that. And then some.

  3. When are you going to publish a book?
    Youre writing is simply delightful!!!!!!


    1. Marc, you're a gem! I'm working hard on trying to improve my writing, and happy news---with any luck I'll be back in Peru next month for another visit, hurrah! Thanks for making me smile.