There is an arrogance in those of us from English speaking countries when we travel in that, we almost have this ingrained expectancy of others to accommodate for us and accommodate for an easy translation from the native language of the country to English. I mean I am a living, breathing example of that, I am an Indigenous (iTaukei) Fijian that speaks, reads and writes fluent English because the education system that I grew up with prioritised the learning of the English language over my own indigenous language. I was fortunate that my paternal grandfather whom I spent a considerable amount of my childhood with and also my parents spoke to us primarily in our indigenous language and ensured that we did not bastardise the language when speaking it. But I'm digressing here. This arrogance I write about is what I walked off the plane with when I landed into Madrid whilst transiting to Lima. Navigating through customs and trying to translate simple signs with my very limited Spanish drove home the fact that I was completely unprepared for the trip I was taking to Peru, a predominantly Spanish speaking country. I hadn't even reached my final destination and already I could tell this was not going to end well, but it wouldn't be a trip with me if it did, right?!
My flight from Madrid to Lima was uneventful, (if you're just joining me now, I'd highly recommend reading my first post - here) I find that my previous work experience as cabin crew helps makes things easier for me when I travel. By the way I realise this is a load of crock considering the melee that ensued from my trying to get from my hotel to Heathrow Terminal 5, to board my flight to Madrid on time but just bear with me. Long haul flights are my friend, I come prepared to sleep the entire flight, I don't eat onboard because quite frankly I don't want to so I'm one of those who has pajamas packed that I change into before take-off, once I find my seat. Like I said uneventful because I slept right through the entire 12 hours. I woke up just in time to change back into my day clothes and disembark into the chaos of Jorge Chávez International Airport, Lima. As I was lining up to go through customs I noticed almost every person in that line was dressed for trekking, they had their trekking boots on, the backpacks that looked like what seasoned hikers and trekkers would use, and then there’s me looking like a right tourist, still with Nev's work jumper and a pair of leggings complete with my bright yellow Converse One Star sneakers, you could see me from the moon. Navigating through the customs line was tedious but no fuss when it came to checking passport details - by the way Fiji passport holders, you get your visa stamped on arrival valid for 90 days incase any of you readers want to travel to Peru! You're welcome!
It was at the luggage carousel that the problems arose, I always find it funny that travellers like to go stand by the very spot where the bags are coming out as if there isn't an entire belt for all the bags to go on and for us to pick our bags up from. So bags kept piling up and falling over as people kept picking up the wrong bags and not placing it back on to the luggage carousel, it was the very definition of madness. By now I had been in the airport almost 2 hours and my carefree spirit was starting to ebb as the luggage carousel started to empty and the crowd started to thin and my bag still hadn't materialised. My phone was also on 5% battery power and if that isn't enough to drive someone over the edge whilst in a foreign country where English was not a first language then I don't know what would. I'm messaging Nev at this point to let him know that it was almost 6pm in Lima and my bags might not have made it through, it was midnight in the UK and to be quite honest I don't know why I was messaging him about it and having a meltdown, thank goodness I had 3 pairs of sapo in my knapsack because ya know... priorities!
Half an hour later, there were only three bags going around aimlessly on the luggage carousel, my phone on it's last dregs of whatever battery power it could muster, the host for the accommodation I had booked had been messaging me every 5 minutes in Spanish, I just kept responding Si but by the 6th message I just simply wrote... Please help me. Just when I resigned myself to possibly wearing the same clothes for the duration of my stay in Peru, there was a loud and final bang and out popped my lonely looking bag like the true Fijian that it was, never late, just on Fiji time. I looked around for an airport staff member to help translate the text messages I was receiving from my host, found a friendly looking guy who translated the message which simply read, your driver will be waiting for you. I knew then there was a God.. but I was to find I had spoken too soon.
To give you some context on what I was to find when I did meet my driver and go to my accommodation, I need to tell you all first how I found the place I booked. So considering I was going to be travelling on my own, I thought I would try and see if I could actually save money. Yes did I mention that I actually paid to go on a 5 day trek to Macchu Picchu, that was the whole purpose behind taking the trip to Peru. But now I feel like giving you context on Lima accommodation is making me jump from one story to the next. So let's start again, I came to Peru to do a trek and then some sightseeing aftewards. I had to fly to Lima then on to Cusco to begin my trek. Anyway back to accommodation, because I was travelling on my own I wanted to find a place that was close to the airport as my flight to Cusco was early the next morning. I went online, saw a place, booked it. After I had paid for it I then decided to check reviews because obviously that's the way to do it, right??!! Anyway reviews were varied but mostly positive, I didn't worry too much about it. So bags in hand I walked out of arrivals and proceeded to find my driver that they had sent amongst the crowded airport floor. He was easy enough to locate as he had a sign with my name printed on it - ISABELE NEIDUKE. Perfect, we were off to a good start, I took the misspelling of my name as maybe the Spanish version of it, who knows, I still haven't found out if it is. I followed the burly taxi driver who had walked off so quickly with my suitcase that it took me several frantic seconds/minutes/hours??!! to find him again, he was already heading towards the carpark area. We got to his car and he turned to me to remind me to put my seat belt on. I'm glad I did. The traffic in Lima or as I was to find out during the course of my stay, anywhere in Peru is CRAZY! I was gripping the armrests on my door and praying to every deity on this earth to please ensure I got a safe passage to my accommodation. I would not recommend driving in Peru if you're a newbie tourist not used to navigating through their roads.
After several near misses I made peace with the fact that I most probably would get to use the very useful travel insurance I had taken out before my trip, Nev and the children would be set for life because surely that night was to be my last. Whilst figuring out what my last message to Nev was going to be seeing as I only had 1% battery left on my phone I noticed that we were driving through a residential neighbourhood that wasn't exactly the type of neighbourhood I expected a hotel to be in. We stopped in front of a building that had a massive bolted door and a steel gate over what seemed to be a garage. Banged Up abroad series came to mind. The driver who didn't speak a word of English, beckoned at me from outside to get out of the car. I prayed again, I mean my mother would have been proud of the number of prayers that were offered up in that short space of time from the airport to where we were now parked in front of. The driver walked up to the steel bolted door and knocked on it, I looked down the street and saw a street food tent on the front of one of the buildings, a lot of stray dogs just hanging out staring back at me and locals sitting outside their homes looking down on the road. It was surreal, like a scene out of a movie. Anyway so the driver had knocked and from the other side of the steel door, I could hear the sound of not one but several bolts being unlatched. You can imagine that by now I'd resigned myself to the fact that I was most probably going to be on a missing poster come morning time. But the steel door swung open and the most friendliest smiling face stood there welcoming me in Spanish and asking if I spoke Spanish, I replied that I didn't and he then used his phone for us to converse. He thanked the driver who looked like he had, had enough of and ushered me in. I was to learn that the steel re-enforced doors are a norm and most houses have these for safety reasons.
I was shown to my room, which was on the first floor and overlooked the street below and then came the fun part... it was a shared bathroom, a minor detail I had obviously not seen because if I had I would not have booked this place. I had no choice but to embrace the experience I was having, solo travelling and just roll with it especially as it was now almost 24hrs since I last had a shower and I could smell myself in more ways than one. But before that I decided to explore the neighbourhood because obviously like I mentioned above, life on the edge and all that jazz. I walked out the front and what had been a somewhat busy street had turned eerily quiet but the weather was comfortable and I wandered down the street towards the street food mart that I had spied earlier on my taxi ride. It turned out to be a mom and daughter setup in front of their home and they made the most amazing fried chicken, I think she pitied me because she even gave me Peruvian tea which tasted like a subtle masala tea that had a sweet spicy smell and aftertaste to it. It was welcomed as the temperatures during the night were a little chilly considering I was there towards the end of their winter season. I sat at the mom and daughter food mart for awhile and watched the going on's of the street I was in. I noticed that it was indeed a residential area, it didn't seem like the most affluent but what I had found to be unappealing and somewhat unsafe when I got off the taxi initially just had a feel of what a housing neighbourhood would be like back home in Fiji. Everyone just seemed engrossed in what they were doing for the evening and not too bothered by the lonely solo traveller who had decided to grace the street with her presence. Hunger sated I returned to my accommodation and braved the shower. To be honest, I was soon to find out that the shared shower concept was to turn out to be the least of my worries. I walked in to the shower (which was by the stairs of all places) and found that the shower curtain only covered the top half of my body, one of the walls had an opening at the top so that anyone standing on the stairs or walking up and down the stairs could look right in and see the bottom half of my body as I showered. I showered in my sapo because ... as you do with half length shower curtains. I also started to get paranoid and think maybe I had checked into one of those places that had hidden cameras and I was being recorded for an episode of funny home videos. Goes without saying that it was also probably the fastest shower I have ever had in my life, coldest also because when I tried to switch on the hot water I almost electrocuted myself so I just resigned to showering with freezing cold water. My holiday was off to an amazing start!
I guess you could say the absolute winner out of all of this was getting back to my room in my wet underwear to get changed only to find that my room door didn't have a lock or latch, it had the type of locks you'd find in public toilets or toilets in restaurants. I looked around to see if maybe I could move my bed or the TV stand (this was a bonus considering I had to share a shower and toilet or so I thought until I switched it on and found it only had Spanish channels on! I mean I was in a Spanish speaking country after all...) anyway yes back to trying to move the furniture - I couldn't, they were bolted in. So I used the next best thing, I stacked my suitcase and my knapsack against the door and hoped for the best, which I seemed to be doing a lot of so far. I managed to borrow an adaptor from the host to charge my phone and also message Nev to let him know I was still alive. He didn't seem that much concerned about the amenities or lack thereof but was more interested in the area I was in. He then unhelpfully sent me statistics of crime and murders in areas near the airport. I went to bed praying that my suitcase and knapsack would hold off any baddies that were planning to break down the steel enforced front door, storm up the flight of stairs, walk past the first three doors that are on the landing and come straight for my door because they knew the most clueless solo traveller awaited them. The first night was also a self awareness exercise of how I had never actually budget travelled and also questions I had to ask myself on whether I was ready for what awaited me for the rest of the trip because I had literally chosen my other accommodations the same way I had chosen my first night's stay! Randomly and haphazardly!
So yes, first night in Peru survived, 12 more to go which you will definitely be reading about it in the next few posts!
Love & light,