I was awaken some hours later by the stewardess thrusting two slips of paper into my hand. When I could focus properly I found that she had handed me two blue forms, each no bigger than a single piece of A5 paper. Still half asleep I attempted to make sense of them. It wasn't helped by the fact that whoever had written them had only Loosely grasped the concept of English, and I mean loosely with a capital L. After my third attempt understanding blossomed. Then I laughed. The first was to declare that I would in fact be staying in Peru, the other was to declare any items of an electrical nature, to which I would be required to pay a 20% tax. I was relieved to find a list of exceptions, which covered everything I was carrying.
The last rays of sunlight splashed over a sea of dark grey clouds and were gone. We were approaching Lima International Airport. The light outside seemed to evaporate away so it was dark when we touched down. I gave it a LF of 6 and even though I felt nervous I was glad to get off the plane.
With Dianne and Robert in tow, we went in search of our luggage. Peruvian customs had to be negotiated first and it has to be seen to be believed. A dimly lit enclosure with guards (and guns, big guns) and bored looking officials behind big imposing desks. They took my two forms; saw I was English and promptly ignored them, after stamping my passport they ignored me as well. Uncertain if all the formalities had been taken care of, I followed the others. The bright lights of baggage reclaim were dazzling in comparison to passport control. Now, for the moment of angst, had my luggage actually made it to Peru with me? After what seemed like an eternity, and well after my Dianne and Robert had collected their gear, my very own blue pack appeared. The relief is hard to describe, but I know for a small while I completely forgot the journey here.
I found Dianne and Robert counting the local currency, and went in search for some of my own. I returned armed with 100 Sol's , this decades-local currency , and we all went in search of a taxi. The Peruvians may not be at the cutting edge of the social and technological knife but they know how to get money out of the unsuspecting traveller, especially one that just stepped off a plane. Once you step from the protection of the Terminal you enter what I can only describe as an arena. Peruvians lined a metal barrier like a human wall, their shouts drowning out the sounds of the airport. The metaphorical lion turned out to be the Taxi administrator. A serious looking chap quickly explained that we could only get to central Lima by taxi - one of his taxies. Not so bad I thought. Then he explained that it would cost 18 dollars. I looked round for a sympathetic driver and found only hard-nosed taxi drivers, all desperate to share in our money. Resigned to the inevitability of the situation we handed over the money, where we were guided to a taxi.
Taxi. This is possibly the most ambitious term I have heard for the vehicle that we finally
travelled in. It was an old American gas-guzzler - which put me in mind of Starsky and Hutch , circa 1965-75. This particular model came with all the features of a car (did I say car, sorry) which had never seen a days maintenance. Broken lights; an uncomfortable seat; an engine that had an interesting death rattle, and a Speedo that said 30 miles an hour. A little worrying considering it wasn't moving. These were but a few of the things that concerned me about his vehicle. Clasping the St. Christopher my mother had bought me specifically for this trip, I hopped he was paying attention. With Dianne and Robert in the back I took the front seat. The taxi wheezed away.
What happened next was... No I shall not spoil it for you by telling you how it ended. Here is how it began.
... Lima International Airport is surrounded by car park and it took all of our driver's skill to get us to the exit. On the other side of the barrier, cars crowded together on an already packed highway. The cacophony of sound was unexpected. Not from the expected engine noise, which was still a factor, but from hundred of horns being used continuously. As me we moved to join this anti-melodious body our driver, obviously feeling left out, let off a long flat blast on the horn, Well at least that worked.
I'm uncertain how me managed it, but we drove straight across two lanes of traffic and merged with a third. There was no signal, no use of any obvious gesture, just a toot on the horn and that was it. I was fast learning the first principle of Peruvian driving. The car-horn. This uninspiring device only used in frustration and anger back in England seemed to be the fundamental requirement for driving here. I watched, agog with terror as our driver, without looking, hooted his horn and changed lane. I had looked and I could see the whites of the eyes of the driver of the battered and patched car that was matching our speed. And as if by a kind of magic, it just made room. How was soon forgotten as I saw the red traffic lights ahead. Our driver hadn't - ‘What to do at Traffic Signals' obviously weren't part of the driving test here - he passed happily through them, his hand firmly jammed on the car-horn.
By this time I had gripped the front dash with both hands, my white knuckles clearly visible in the soft orange glow of the streetlights. The greater part of this journey was spent in this manner. And when I though that it could get no worse, it did.
The road indicated two lanes for traffic, but the three and sometimes four lanes of cars didn't seem to notice. Up until now I had not paid much attention to traffic going the other way. The two flows had been separated by a wide shrubby wasteland. Up until now, I hadn't needed too. Without warning the shrubbery vanished and only a solid white line painted down the middle separated us from the screaming cars heading the other way. It was soon after this that my fears were proved. The traffic slowed to a stop, the cause unknown. Our driver had other plans. Spotting a gap in the traffic on the other side of the road he pulled out. Oncoming cars tooted there horn, I wanted to scream. My fingers were starting to leave marks in the front dashboard when I noticed a pair of headlights move into the lane we were racing along. A voice in my head was screaming, "This is it we are going to die." I ignored it and watched transfixed as the lights drew closer. Finally I closed my eyes and waited for the imminent collision.
I waited and nothing happened. I waited some more, and still nothing happened. Reluctantly I took a look. We were now travelling on the right side of the road, in the now moving traffic. I wish I had had my eyes open so I could have seen how he managed it.
It wasn't long before the bright lights of Lima appeared. Our driver seemed to be soothed by this and his erratic style calmed enough for me to release my vice-like grip on the dashboard. The trip from the airport appeared to take as long as the flight from Aruba. The big colonial buildings looked tired and washed out in the unnatural street lighting. There was a meeting of two cultures: the original colonial and the pre-modernism of western society. It made for an interesting and often surprising journey. Not as surprising or surprised as the two pedestrians that our driver narrowly avoided. The car-horn blocked out the drivers exclamations which I'm certain weren't complimentary.
Before we (that is Dianne, Robert and I) began this journey we agreed that the Plaza San Martin would be the best starting point. It is the most central of the dozen or so Plaza's in Lima. They had already pre-booked a reservation in one of the more expensive hotels in Lima. My task when I arrived was to find more modest accommodation. It was with much relief that the three of us climbed from the taxi and retrieved our packs. The driver hovered expectantly for a tip. As one person we walked away. None of us looked back to see if he was still there. The Plaza San Martin is a large open area with statues and trees lining the many paved pathways. It harked back to a period of colonial expansion. Now as it neared ten o'clock it looked menacing and forbidding.
Seamus had suggested that I pamper myself on my first night in a Peru. And at this time it sounded like a good idea. With this in mind I picked out the Hostel San Martin.
All I had to do was find it.
I was expecting a large banner or an illuminated sign; nothing. I consulted the 'Planet', the road name and a map. I was in the right street, in the right place, just no hostel. I was about to go in search of my second choice when I found it. The name was pasted to a half-open glass door. On the other side of the door a staircase lead up.
The chap behind the desk was very helpful, and it was at this point that I realised that I didn't understand a word he was saying. The four months I had spent rapidly learning Spanish hadn't prepared me for this. They spoke so quickly I think I understood one word in four.
I was able to ask questions , after a fashion , I just didn't know what the answer was. Between his broken English and my fractured Spanish I was able to get a room and convey that I needed to find a way to Nazca the next day. There was much nodding, smiling and signs of reassurance. When he had finished, he called someone's name and a teenager dressed in yellow and black came and collected the room key.
As I left the check-in desk the male receptionist called to me saying that he would get his friend from Rodregeze travel to call me regarding my travel arrangements. I nodded and followed my guide to Room 41 at the top of the hostel. It was a basics room with a simple bed and more importantly a shower. I was told that breakfast was at 8:30am as he handed me the key and left.
A little while later I was considering the shower when the phone in my room rang. Hesitantly I answered. A soft-spoken male voice introduced himself as Michael a representative from transporta Rodregeze. He told me that he wanted to meet tomorrow at 11am to discuss my travel arrangements. Good, I thought. "So how do I find your offices?" I asked. A hesitation, then a suggestion that it would be better and easier if he met me here. "Sure, Okay!" I reply and the phone was hung up.
I thought about the conversation I'd just had. I didn't like the way he had shied away from a meeting at his office. Now call me Paranoid, but I decided that I wouldn't be able to make the appointment.
It was late, I was tired and the shower was calling. All in all it had been a very long day.