No hablo español, dammit!

Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Peru  ,
Thursday, August 19, 2004

After spending a few days eating steak, drinking wine, doing laundry (thanks TomTom and Cena!) it was time once again to say adios to Washington DC. No more reality TV (someone please tell me if the dwarf wins the Amazing Race!) and no more machine guns pointed at me when getting on the metro. Thanks to everyone who has put me up over the past couple of months, and donīt forget you are all welcome to visit me when I get home, just not all at once.
I was taken to the airport by Zak, an old college friend I hadnīt seen in years. For the princely sum of $47 and 80,000 airmiles I got a return business class ticket to South America. But let me tell you, business class isn't all it's cracked up to be. For starters, I only got one glass of champagne before take-off as the poor people swept passed on the way to steerage. Tired of hearing from the riff-raff behind me I decided to listen to some music from my iPod. It was in the pocket on the back of the seat in front, but it was so far away that the headphones wouldnīt reach, so I had to get up and bring it back to my seat. I ask you.
At least dinner was good, with extra vegetables "for those passengers watching their carbohydrate intake" (ie. fat Americans, as everything there now is low carb, even Coke and beer) and I watched a film I had wanted to see called "The Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind" but can't really remember anything about it.
We landed at Sao Paolo in Brazil ten hours later where I had to wait only two hours for my connection to Peru. Confusion ruled as the gate was changed three times, and as it was announced only in Portuguese I was clueless. But I made it, and after another five hours and Shrek 2 I was in Lima.
I had arranged to be picked up by the hostel, but such is the sophistication of Peruvian rip-off merchants I had been given a password so I could be sure he was the right driver, despite him having my name on a board. So I ask him the password, and he said he had it in the car. Of course he did. As we got to the car I asked him again and he started rifling through the glovebox, probably for a knife. Twenty minutes in the country and I was going to be bonked on the head and have my stuff taken. Then he turned round and, much to my relief, said "Sunny!" All was good in the world again.
Beeping and honking through the beautiful industrial part of Lima, I rode for half an hour listening to the soothing tones of The Carpenters and Paul Simon on the radio as traffic bedlam went on around me. I checked in to the hostel in the suburb of Miraflores and decided to explore, but I was warned not to go far as it wasn't safe to walk alone.
So off I went, having (sort of) memorised the map so I didn't look too much like a tourist gringo carrying a guide book, but I think my lack of command of the local language gave me away. Let's just say I don't know much. What I do know I've learned from a variety of sources: Maņuel in Fawlty Towers, standing in line at the El Pollo Rico chicken shop in DC, and from the office cleaners who came round when I was working late. (At the airport before leaving, however, I thought I'd try and get cash from an ATM in Spanish - all US ATMs are bilingual - but it didn't take me long to push something wrong and my card was spat out mercilessly.) Why oh why didn't South America become part of the British Empire as well? Then I wouldn't have been given a Spanish lesson by a weirdo in the park before he tried to sell me drugs and begging for money.
There was nothing keeping me in Lima. I didnīt even bother going into the centre, so I decided to leave and take an overnight bus trip to Arequipa. As luck would have it, I got talking to an Aussie and an American over breakfast at the hostel and they decided to get on the same bus. So together we took the 13 hour journey - which actually took 15 hours - the 1,011km south where we managed to find a great hostel in the middle of town.
Arequipa is much more what I was expecting Peru to be: a lovely central square with impressive Spanish architecture, friendly locals and nice cafes all set against a wonderful backdrop of snow-capped volanoes. Itīs also the main tourist town for the magnificent Colca Canyon which, at twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, is the second deepest canyon in the world and where Iīll be spending the next three days and two nights partaking in a bit of a trek. Ay caremba!
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