My journey to Peru started on Thursday night when Maple and I left Prescott to travel to Phoenix in order to spend the night with family. Sheri was in Orlando on business travel. The next morning Maple stayed in Phoenix, and I drove our car to the airport and parked it in long-term parking where Sheri retrieved it later that day when she arrived from Florida. During the day my Sweetie and I were in the air at the same time, but alas in different airplanes.
I flew from Phoenix to Houston, and then from Houston to Lima, Peru. When I arrive on an international flight in a foreign country, it feels like I am in a funnel because I feel compelled to follow the crowd toward the immigration and customs offices, especially if I have a connecting flight to catch. However, on this day I arrived late at night in Lima, and my next flight was not until the next morning. Even so, I followed the funnel into the line at passport check-in which leads to immigration.
The immigration line at Lima was a bit of a cluster – you never know what you will find when you arrive in country at immigration. Sometimes the signage is excellent and the lines are organized, and you can pick which line you enter in the hope that you pick a fast line. Other times the whole crowd enters one line that snakes back and forth interminably until you finally get to pick a line. What makes it even more fun is when 2 or 3 international flights arrive at the same time, and then all of us foreigners try to get in the snake line at the same time, and at some point (sometimes, but not always) the immigration security personnel notice the traveler overload and start breaking the snake line at various places in order to create shortcuts. At that point some people in the back of the snake line who arrived last will sprint to the open shortcut lines, and it becomes sort of a free-for-all. At some point you find yourself in a line with some idea of how many people are in front of you. I always have my iPod in my pocket during this process so that I can tune-out and remain tranquil as possible, especially if I have chosen a line with an immigration officer that appears to be eating a snack, brushing his teeth, checking email, or whatever, in between processing the next traveler in line. I just listen to my iPod, and before I know it I am next in line. It took me about 40 minutes to get through immigration at Lima.
After passing through immigration, my journey through the customs area was a breeze … I walked up to a security checkpoint and put my bag through the screening machine, and, after they looked me over, I was on my way. At that point I looked for the airport lounges I had discovered online while still in Arizona, which sounded really nice because for about $30 you could get access to a secured area where you could use a computer on the internet, lay on a couch and rest, and one of the lounges even had a shower you could use. However, after passing through immigration and customs, I discovered that the lounges were INSIDE the terminal I had just left … that is, if such lounges do exist. And the problem I had was that I did not have a boarding pass for my next flight, from Lima to Arequipa on Peruvian Airlines … this airline requires international passengers to check-in at their desk in the main lobby in order to get a boarding pass. It was now about 11:30 PM, my flight was not until 6:00 AM the next morning, and the Peruvian Airlines check-in desk would not be opening again until 4:00 AM. Moreover, without a boarding pass I could not get back into the terminal I had just left in order to lounge at one of the lounges in a soft and comfy lounge chair. Fortunately, the airport at Lima is not a desolate and dark place during the night, for there were several 24-hour stores including McDonalds, Papa John`s, Radio Shack, jewelry stores, various cafes, and other stores. There were plenty of people and plenty of activity all night long, including entire families with small children hanging out in the food court. At about 1:00 AM (way past my bedtime) I finally laid down on the tile floor right beside the chapel figuring that if someone wanted to mess with me they would have to do in front of GOD, not to mention in front of all the security personnel that frequent the hallways all night. I kind of fastened my bag to my person, and then laid my head down on the bag, and I slept for about an hour until the cold tile floor woke me up at about 2:00 AM. I wandered around the airport until 3:45 AM, and then got in line for the Peruvian Airlines check-in desk … I was about 10th in line. Finally, I got my boarding pass, and then went through Security again in order to get back into the terminal … and I headed immediately to my gate. I was so weary at that point that I forgot to investigate whether those lounges do exist, those with the comfy lounge chairs, and my flight to Arequipa left on time at 6:00 AM.
The ticket agent had given me seat 1A on Peruvian Airlines, and I assumed that he had put me in first class because I took the time to speak to him in Spanish, ask him about his work and family, etc. But what I discovered is that first class does not exist on Peruvian Airlines, and I found myself at the head of the class sitting almost in the flight attendant chambers. I had the opportunity to be the first passenger to greet every other passenger who boarded the plane. It was wonderful. We arrived in Arequipa, Peru, and we descended the staircase onto the tarmac just like we used to do in the olden days. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I was struck by the site of the volcanoes nearby that overlook the city, so I stopped on the tarmac to pull out my camera in order to take pictures. After snapping some photos, most of the other passengers had passed by me in order to enter the terminal (which looked like it was once a large factory or something), and suddenly I could feel eyes on me. I looked over and, sure enough, security guards standing on the tarmac were staring at me as if to say, ¨What the________ is that Americano doing?” So I quickly put away my camera and scurried toward the terminal. At the entrance to the terminal there was a security guard who was handling an adorable golden retriever … and I thought to myself, “What a cute dog they have to check for drugs.” So I smiled at the guard and also at the dog, but before I could walk past them the cute doggie buried its snout in my groin area … and I froze. When I travel internationally I travel light, with a backpack on my back and a fanny pack around my waste. Whereas I would normally have the fanny pack behind me at my waste, when I am in a crowd I move it around to the front of me to discourage any potential pick-pockets from trying to sneak open one of the zippers on the fanny pack. So the cute doggie had buried its nose into my fanny pack that was in front of me at my waste, and the security guard said to me, “Tiene fruta?” (Do you have fruit?). I said “No,” and then he beckoned me to follow him to the Security desk. The two guards seated at the desk asked me the same question, and then asked me to open my fanny pack. I pulled out the red and orange bell peppers that I had been snacking on while travelling, as well as my Costco Korean Barbecue-flavored Pork Jerky, and I said something like “Puedo dejar estascosas aquí” (I can leave these things here). They looked at my food and said, “Está bien” (It`s OK), and then let me leave the terminal. Fortunately, the cute doggie and its handler had returned to their station because no doubt what the doggie smelled was the dried mango I still had in my fanny pack … honest to Goodness, I had forgotten that I still had some of that mango in my fanny pack. Outside after I discovered that I still had mango I briefly thought about going back in, but then thought I had better not do that. Many countries forbid foreign fruits, vegetables, plants, and seeds from entering the country to prevent contamination of the existing environment with non-native plants. Nonetheless, I did enjoy the rest of my contraband mango.
In contrast to Spain where no one was waiting for me at the airport and I had to wander into the city`s transportation system without knowing where to go exactly, in Arequipa the English Center´s academic coordinator was waiting for me outside the terminal. After waiting for another English teacher who arrived on the next flight, we grabbed a taxi and we were on our way to the rental house where I had a room waiting for me. “Grabbed a taxi” is not really an accurate way to say what happened, for it was more like one of the dozens of waiting taxi drivers grabbed us … in the 45 minutes we waited for the next flight to arrive, I must have been approached by at least 7 taxi drivers looking to take me anywhere. I am renting a bedroom witha private bath in a home with about 6 or 7 such bedrooms, and the monthly rate is around $200. As I understand it, the owner is a somewhat well-known historian and musician who has written about 25 books and also does singing engagements … one of my fellow teachers described him as a Peruvian Frank Sinatra. After doing some shopping and wandering around town, I went back to my room and fell fast asleep at about 3:00 in the afternoon … I woke up again at 11:00 PM, and fortunately after being up for about an hour or two, I fell back asleep again until about 8:00 AM the next day.
I will conclude with just a little bit about my first week of classes, which was not without excitement. Monday through Friday I am teaching an advanced English class from 7:00 AM until 9:00 AM, and then I have a beginner class from 3:00 PM until 5:00 PM (and when I say¨beginner” I mean beginner, we started with the letters of the alphabet), and finally I have an upper intermediate class from 5:00 PM until 7:00 PM. To start in a new English teaching system is fairly involved because you are required not only to know and follow the various rules and regulations of the school, but you also have to figure out how to use all the materials that they dump in your lap. During my first week in class I went home immediately after the last class to have dinner before going to bed early, and I was up early every day to prepare for my 7:00 AM class. Then I did some exploring, shopping, etc, before returning to school about 1:00 PM or so to prepare for my two afternoon classes. Honestly, I was hoping that they would not give me a fourth class, which would be a class with small children or teenagers on Saturday from 9:00 AM until 11:30AM … if the class did not fill by 9:00 PM on Friday with at least 4 students, it would be cancelled. But alas, I found out late Friday that the Saturday class had been filled, so at that point I received another stack of class materials to prepare for the next morning. I was really tired Friday night, so I arose early on Saturday to prepare my lesson plan … and about 5 minutes into my class on Saturday I discovered that the course materials they gave me the night before were not the correct course materials for this class, so after scrambling around for awhile I was given the correct materials and I just kind of winged it that first day with a group of 5 very energetic, distracted, fanatically texting, teenagers … the kind of kids that I thoroughly enjoy. I had them spell-bound with the past progressive tense, the conditional perfect tense, and about 8 other English tenses … but not too spell-bound, for I discovered that these almost-teens are pretty sharp. It should be fun.
That´s all for now … espero que todo esté bien en su vida (I hope that all is well in your life).