A Journal Entry

Day Four
No time to edit in Peru, I just leave the typos in

December 14, 2002
Day Four

Today started with a loud knock at the door and a shout of "Armando!" A rude awakening indeed after only 4 hours of sleep. Still, it was impressive that Christian was there right when he said he would. Too bad I wasn't ready to go. I (and Ryan and Charlene) held the group up for a bit while we dressed and packed up all our stuff.

We condensed our belonging down to two rooms and made sure it was safe and secure with the clerk down on the first floor. Christian made extra special care to tell the guy to keep a keen eye on our stuff. He promised that everything would be okay.

When we emerged from the hostel, we noticed that we'd already been joined by a large part of the group that was sleeping at the house. Soon, we were off in search of breakfast. Our path led us to a market area with an indoor section of bar-style restaurant seating and a group of small stores along one street. Everyone was staring at us and, I think, most of us found it amusing rather than unsettling. One lady, all smiles, kept saying, "Gringos! Mira a todas las gringas! Aun mas gringos!" Inside the market, Christian indicated that we could sit down anywhere we liked for breakfast, but the group had to explain that they were planning on buying breakfast and taking it back to share with the rest of the (still sleeping) group.

We went back outside and everyone when in five directions to find food. Some people bought bread. Some bought a hoard of tamales, sending the vendor home in surprise. Ryan bought a half-kilo of honey, fresh from two honeycombs. I found some mardarins and others bought papayas, avacados, bananas, and mangos. We had a feast fit for kings.

During everything, Evelyn and Charlene went back into the market in search of yogurt. Christian practically had a heart attack when they didn't return in about 60 seconds. He kept coming back to me, over and over, and saying, "Arlo, where are they?" I just smiled and said not to worry. In fact, Christian felt that it was his personal duty to watch over all of us. It was amusing to watch him trip to heard us like a sheep dog operating solely on instinct. Eventually he just had to go off in search of the girls and, as soon as he entered the market from a different doorway, they exited from one closer to us.

Once we were all back together, Christian took us to a street corner to grab a bus. For 1 sol each, we got a ride up the hill, a distance we could have covered on foot in 5 minutes. More worrying on his part, I guess. We might get tired carrying all that food.

At Casa Vidal, we hauled our food up the second floor and awoke the remaining sleepers (Rick and Matt.) The tamales were great and the fruit was fresh. And after breakfast we had a short meeting to discuss what we're going to do for the day.

First, Rick gave a couple tips on the Spanish language and especially the slang we might hear. After that he matched us up by skill level and told us advanced students to work with the beginners on their past tenses. Liz became my partner by default when we discovered that we were the only ones that Rick hadn't already selected. We decided that we'd study "mas tarde."

As soon as the meeting started to wind down, Adrain and I grabbed a disc and headed over to the basketball court to play catch. It didn't take long before others picked up the scent and joined us. First Ryan, then Rick, and at the end we had Evelyn, Liz, Eluisa, and Christian playing 500 with us. Super fun, but also very sweaty and very, very dusty. Sweaty enough that I had to borrow a clean shirt from Adrian to replace my one and only t-shirt.

When we were just about finished playing with the frisbee, Sharon came up and asked me if we were still going to go to Miraflores to shop today. We'd talked a bit about what everyone wanted to do today and we were the only ones that really needed to go out and buy some things. We tried to do a little recruiting for our cause (mostly because Rick wanted people to stay in groups of at least four people while in Lima), but unfortunately people had other plans.

It became apparent, though, that some people wanted to go to the hostel first to pick up some stuff. I thought that was a good idea because I, myself, wanted to get a couple things out of my (plastic) bags, too. While there, Sharon and I thought it might be a good idea to tag along with Dan, Cameron, and Charlene to the Plaza de Armas before embarking on our Miraflores odessy, mostly just to split the cab fare.

Catching a cab was fairly easy, especially since Sharon and Cameron were eager to test out their Spanish. In no time flat, we were 6 soles lighter and heading for the Plaza Mayor. The trip though town was nice, actually. On the way, I realized something: In the many times I've gone back a forth through Lima by cab (at least seven times) I'd never yet done so during daylight. This time we mostly stayed with routes that did not pass through large garbage heaps and the driver wasn't trying to break any land-speed records. Nice.

We got to the Plaza de Armas in short order and hopped out in front of the governor's palace - or at least I assumed it to be such. Sharon immediately regretted leaving her camera back at the house, and while I was getting things situated in all my pockets, I gave her my camera (the same model she has) to shoot whatever she liked. The palace guards, the gigantic fountain, the brash transsexual man wearing flowing, pastel silk clothes with large balloon in place of breasts and buttocks…

We explored the Plaza briefly but did not see any of the other group members who said that they would see us there. I took a few pictures, sidestepped an encounter with a cartoonish dinosaur giving out candy, and waited for someone to make a suggestion. Cameron did: Let's eat.

It's not hard to find a place to eat in the touristy areas. Every restaurant you pass has hawkers coming up to lure you into a seat. We passed two places despite these people waving menus in our faces before settling on the third option down a bright, pedestrian alleyway. The main attraction to this restaurant was that it had outdoor seating.

Our first ordered meal in Peru was fun. It started with some soft, salted corn nuts that dried out whole quadrants of your mouth with a single kernel. After trying some, the waiter magically appeared and asked a question with a predetermined answer: Something to drink? After the drinks arrived, we all decided to order the Menu Ejecutivo. Menus are simply a prepared meal that comes with preset appetizers, entrees, and a dessert. Actually, in this particular place you could even mix-and-match the different items to get the meal you want. All this for about US $2. Not bad at all.

I ordered chicken soup for an appetizer and had some sort of garlic fried fish for the main course. And all this came with more rice, salad, and french fries than I could eat. After THAT, though, we even got a small cup of jello for dessert. Menus are great, cheap options for lunch… if you don't order beers and Cokes, that is. We found that all that liquid really adds to the price!

As we finished up our meals, we discussed what to do next. Our first priority was almost universal. We needed to accomplish the class tasks that Rick had given to everyone: 1) Buy a little notebook to jot down notes, new words, etc. 2) To buy a Spanish language book. We asked the waiter where the nearest bookstore might be and he set us off in the right direction. Eventually, with the help of an eager coca leaves salesman, we found it.

Unfortunately it wasn't what we were looking for. On the advice of the same guy (after Charlene bought some leaves from him for 4 soles), we set off for the other end of the Plaza de Armas. We didn't find the bookstore, but we did find a tourist information center and asked there. The bookstore was two doors over.

We spent half and hour in that second bookstore and only Dan and Cameron walked away with anything. The selection was pretty poor and the prices pretty steep (I saw a Stephen King paperback there for about US $15!) We wandered a bit more, but rather than waste the rest of the afternoon looking for the elusive "big bookstore," Sharon and I announced our desire to depart for Miraflores. Dan, Cameron, and Charlene, having discovered at the tourist info station that their goal, the Museum of Anthropology would be closing in just a couple hours, decided to go with us.

The next cab was 8 soles and a little bit longer in length (the ride, not the cab itself.) We asked to be dropped off at "un plaza central" and, sure enough, it was right where Joe, Karl and I had spent most of our time in Lima three years before. I had thought that I wouldn't be able to find my way around, but after a few minutes I realized that the only difference I could ascertain was that a Dunkin' Donuts had gone missing. No bother. I was after clothes, not donuts.

Sharon and I split off from the other three to do our shopping and vowed to meet them two hours later in front of the church at the end of the plaza. We started looking in shoe stores, but quickly got sidetracked by a large pen and paper retailer. Sharon bought two notebooks and pens and it only took us a little bit to figure out how to actually purchase them. First you took an item list to the cashier and paid for everything on it. Then you took the receipt to a pickup location to receive your goods. It sounds easier to figure out than it really was.

On the way out, we encountered the others going into the same store. I told Sharon not to let on the "secret" of how things worked in there. Better to let them figure it out on their own.

We continued on our quest for Teva-like sandals and warm-weather clothes. A nearby shop lured Sharon in with its displays of womens clothes and she gave in to the urge to buy a pair of shorts. While she was trying them on, I fell victim to another saleswoman who convinced me to buy a pair of shorts for myself. I didn't really like them, but they were cheap and I really had nothing else to wear the next day, anyway!

We swung by the movie theater and checked out what was playing. I actually inquired about when the next Lord of the Rings movie was expected to arrive, but the ticket-taker wasn't in the know. The most recent Harry Potter movie was already playing, though, so I'm still retaining hope that The Two Towers might be playing when we return to Lima in mid-January.

Remembering that there was a bookstore around the corner from the movie theater, Sharon and I walked down to see if it was still there. It was, and she ended up buying a book of jokes. It was expensive, but it should be interesting to see if we can figure out the more complicated language in some of them.

We opted not to walk down to the beach (today) as Joe, Karl, and I did in 1999, but instead continued with our shopping. Sharon had said that she really needed to wash her hair and was planning to stay at the hostel tonight just for that. I offered to share my room and then found a pharmacy for her, and after much debate, she finally decided to buy a bottle of shampoo. Unfortunately for her, we found many more brands and better prices in other stores later on. I felt bad.

In one of the stores, I managed to find some things I needed, too. A touristy shirt with the Nazca lines on it for $3, a little notebook, and some razors (but no shaving cream). Sharon bought a collapsible hand fan. While we were in the store, I happened to find myself next to a Russian family. Listening to that language again made me miss Oksana, so after a brief stop at McDonald's for a "large" Diet Coke that wasn't really very large at all, we searched out an Internet café.

We found one that I had actually visited three years ago, but they had obviously done some upgrading since then. Sharon asked to make a Net2Phone call in one of the Cabinas Privadas while I fired up Internet Explorer with broadband access to check my e-mail. I checked my e-mails and found only one that was really important: Oksana's phone card information so that I could call back if I needed to. I did send out a few e-mails of my own, though. To Oksana, of course, but I also sent an e-mail to Beth to let her and the university know that everyone had arrived in Lima and that life was generally good.

I was all done and paid before Sharon was even finished with her phone call. After exiting her little cabina privada, she still wanted to check her e-mail, too. I asked her about the cost and quality of the Net2Phone and she gave it a glowing review, so I thought that I might give Oksana a call while Sharon explored cyberspace.

The Net2Phone was surprisingly good, actually! I've been playing with voice-over-IP for awhile now, and have even had experience using my computer to connect to someone else's telephone. In the past it's been acceptable, but here they had a new setup. The computer in the little room was only used to run the software and to dial the number. To the side was a small telephone, presumably plugged into the back of the computer somewhere. I picked up the phone, pressed enter to start dialing, and a moment later Oksana answered her ringing telephone. Isn't technology amazing?

We didn't talk long, partly because it was rather expensive (about 30 cents a minute), and partly because she answered the phone just out of the shower. I was touched to hear that she had taken her cell phone into the bathroom with her just in case I would call, too. I did find out that she had gone out the previous night to paint the town red with Adrian's wife who was also left behind in Juneau. It was good news. I'm glad that they're having some fun back in Juneau, too!

After saying goodbye, I found that Sharon was also done and ready to go. We were pretty close to our 6pm meeting time, so we made for the big church just down the block. Dan, Cameron, and Charlene were already waiting for us, but were pleasantly passing the time watching a group gather before an empty stage. We didn't know what was going on, but it looks like a Christmas-themed concert might have been about to begin.

Sharon and I were still in search of some sandals, and the other three were content to postpone our return to Casa Vidal in Zarate for another half-hour or so. The two of us continued down the street, past the church, with a promise to return in 45 minutes or when the sun had set, whichever came first.

Not far beyond the church we glanced into a luggage store and say a couple hiking packs hanging up on the back wall. We went in to check them out and discuss how expensive they were. They seemed a little steep in Peruvian term, but then again we were in the high-rent Miraflores district, too. I think we both liked what we saw, but decided to tell the proprietor that we wanted to take a walk about and see some more before spending our money. Surprisingly, he seemed not at all put out by that.

Just one block further down, we came across something I vaguely remembered from my last trip with Joe through this section of the city: a whole bunch of shoe stores! In fact, an entire block of stores, crammed side-by-side, sold nothing but shoes. There would be an athletic shoe store, then an women's store selling nothing buy elegant high heels, then a knee-high boot store next to a kids shoe story… With all the variety around us, it was almost amazing that we weren't able to find and Teva-like sandals that we wanted to buy.

Sharon had noticed a large department store on the first corner called Ripley's, though, and we decided to check it out. I'm glad we did, not just because we were able to find practically everything I wanted to buy on two of the 3 levels of a very American store, but also because the superbly obvious Men's floor had a sporting goods section with Nike ACG sandals, a large electronics section with DVD players and big screen TVs, and even a computer department with all the latest and greatest hardware. Oh, and practically all the attendants on the floor were beautiful women wearing neck-to-ankle, form-fitting, spandex body suits of neon blue and green. That was pretty darn cool, too.

Time was running very short by then, however, and we needed to get back to our meeting spot at the church. Even though I hadn't bought much today, I at least had a clean change of clothes for tomorrow and Sharon seemed willing to come back later to make some purchases as well. Quickly, without trying to window shop any further, we found a new route through the plaza back to the church. Too bad the route took us through a crafts market that not only slowed us down, but forced us to backtrack a bit to get around the much larger crowd gathered before the stage to watch an elderly couple dancing a lively Peru jig.

This time we were first to get back, but the others were simply waiting for us to appear as they sat in a café across the street. Sunset was rapidly approaching and no one was too thrilled with the idea of staying out after dark, so we didn't waste any time in hailing a cab. After agreeing on the slightly elevated price of 17 soles for a trip back to Mangomarca alta, we were once again speeding through Lima. If you needed any indication that we had put in a full day, all you needed to do was take a peek into that cab 5 minutes into the trip: Everyone buy me was fast asleep. I would have been, too, except that the cab driver wouldn't have known where to take us.

Without too much difficulty I helped the cab driver find the right street for us. We piled out, paid up, and slowly moved back toward our group's little apartment at Casa Vidal. On the way we stopped at a corner store for a strawberry soda, gum, and when I noticed that they sold razors, I asked if I could buy some shaving cream. Nope. Didn't sell it there, either. I was starting to think that Peruvians don't even use the stuff.

Don't drink the strawberry soda, by the way. It's absolutely horrible.

It looked like we were the first ones to get back to the house. Matt was there and while Dan and Cameron caught up with him, Sharon fell asleep on her little couch. I took a peek downstairs in the main house and was invited in by Luis (Jose). Along with him, his grandparents and sister were also home were eager to show off the pride of their meager video collection on their new VCR. Bloodsport, staring none other than the king of Latin Action video market himself, Jean Claude Van Dam. Oh, what a feeling of freedom being a rude person must be…

But I'm not rude, so I agreed to watch it with them. Right away I noticed that it didn't even have subtitles and I asked them if they even knew what was going on. Nah. But they enjoyed making stuff up. Ten minutes into the movie, Luis excused himself to go hang out with his friends, leaving me to enjoy the spilled, on-screen blood with just his grandmother and his 10 year old sister. And it wasn't until the movie was almost over that someone else from the group arrived and gave me an excuse to leave.

Actually, everyone else came back at the same time because they'd spent the day together. The nine of them had gone to the Plaza de Armas and had looked for us around lunch time, but we must have missed them while their were exploring the inside of the large cathedral. And just like the end of the day on every other trip, boy did they ever have some stories to tell!

Would you believe the whole lot of them almost got mugged? While they were entering a park near the university, still downtown, Christian was approached by a couple guys who simply told him to "Move on, let us do our thing." Christian started to panic, thinking that his tour of Lima was about to end very poorly. At this point the rest of the group started to get the picture as a number of people, men and women, started to encircle them. It was a bad situation and they knew it. There were inside a gated area (although it was only waist high) and a gang was closing in. It's a funny thing, too, because there were a lot of people around, including families with kids… As I understood it, it wasn't even evening yet.
Anyway, someone in the group, thinking quickly, noticed a small gap in the fence and quickly ushered everyone through it before the gang could close their circle. Before they knew it, the gringos had crossed a street and piled into a couple cabs. They were out of there lickety-split, but not before the whole lot of them had learned a valuable lesson. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out that little moral.

Listening to everyone speak out about the events of the day made me realize (or rediscover) a two things:

1) On the first day of each trip, everyone is hesitant to plunge right in and head off into a big city on their own. Especially when the language is different, it can be an intimidating experience. Although I'm getting more independent and confident in Latin American surroundings, for many of the others in the group it's their first time out of the states. It makes all kinds of sense, in retrospect, that they would want to explore Lima in such a big group. Gringos on parade.

2) When traveling in a large group like this, when it's impossible to keep everyone together, I find that when I hear the experiences of others I get jealous that I didn't get to share the time with them. Even when they have bad things happen and I have a great, safe day (like today!) I feel like I missed out on something. It's a strange feeling, and I'm sure on some level others feel it, too.

The converstion took a turn and somehow we wound up talking about Mormons - maybe because someone spotted a Mormon church just down the street in Zarate. I fired up my computer with the intentions of getting a little work done on my journal, but before I knew it Adrian was announcing to everyone that Christian had made an offer to host a party over at his apartment. The tricky part was that Christian didn't want his family to know about it (because there was likely to be beer involved) and we would have to leave in two groups. I waited with the second group for about an half hour and then was ushered down the street by Christian until we got to his tiny pad on the second floor of an apartment building.

It was a small room, but he had the essentials: Four walls, a bed, a couch, a chair, a dim florescent light tube, and a crate of beer on the floor. Before long, everyone had gathered around and we were having a good ol' time. Rick proposed that since almost everyone was in attendance (minus Shirlena) that now would be a good time to discuss our plans for leaving Lima behind and starting the next leg of our journey through Peru. Whoo-wee, it was Pandora's Box opening, let me tell you.

The discussion got pretty heated at times, but in defense of the members of the group, I'd have to say that no one every lost their cool. From my point of view, the group seemed split three ways: Those that wanted to fly to Lake Titicaca, those that wanted to bus to Titicaca and see the Nazca lines on the way, and those that just plain didn't mind one way or the other. Being the only person in the group to have gone to Peru before, I fell into the last category.

It would be very difficult to try to describe all the twists and turns that the argument, er… discussion, took. Some people stayed adamant in their desires, some people changed sides completely, and some didn't actively participate at all. Looking in from the outside would have been a case study in group dynamics. Eventually a compromise was tentatively reached: We would bus to a beach south of Lima, a town called Pisco - half way to Nazca, and part of the group could continue on to view the enigmatic desert lines while the others enjoyed themselves on the beach. The deciding factor on this compromise was a good one, I think. After much discussion, everyone came to realize that splitting the group for a long time would be detrimental to our moral. How can we bond as a group if we're separated; more, if we don't share the same experiences?

Anyway, a couple lines back I used the adverb "tentatively," did you notice? We were still sober enough to realize that we shouldn't decide anything after drinking, and also Shirlena hadn't yet had her say, either. Once we realized that the debate was over for the night, logically we climbed a shaky ladder and crowded together on the small roof to stargaze over the smoggy city. It was a good time up there and it felt much more sociable than in the confines of that small bedroom.

Up on the roof, as the night changed from late to early, we started to make plans for meeting in the morning. We had to know what was going on so that people in the group could gather information on bus/air fares, timetables, etc. I got the meeting time and got ready to leave with Charlene, Dan and Cameron. Ryan decided to switch roommates and had asked Charlene if she wouldn't mind switching to the apartment at Casa Vidal. She told me that she'd rather stay in the hotel and asked me if she could spend the night in my room instead. Sometime during the evening Sharon had decided that the hot water in our hotel wasn't that important and that she was going to still stay in the apartment. In principle, I wasn't looking forward to sharing the room that I had all to myself the night before, but I told Charlene that I didn't mind if she crashed "at my place."

That settled, we said goodnight to the rest of the roof group and walked down the hill to our hotel. Charlene stopped briefly for a snack and even through it was very late in a poor section of the city, we didn't have anything else eventful happen.

Back at the hotel, Charlene tried to take a shower, but the water cut off on her about five minutes into it. I paused in my journal writing long enough to get the hotel clerk to come upstairs to check it out. He pulled a lever that was jutting out of a break in the concrete wall in the upper corner of the bathroom, just over the door. I guess it was a water shut-off value. Gee, why didn't I think of that?

When she was done I hopped in for a half-hour shower myself. It was easy enough to do; the water was hot, the pressure decent, and I had plenty of sweaty, dusty clothes to wash in there with me. I hung them on the curtainless shower curtain rod to dry and tucked my self under the bed sheets before starting in on my journal again. Charlene went to sleep and I hesitantly plugged my laptop into the room's only 240 volt power outlet which just happened to be near a growing puddle of water from the bathroom's leaky shower. Charging lights came on, there was no smell of ozone, and now, at 1:30am, felt confident enough in my preparations to go to bed.

And that would have been the end of my day had it not been for the overly amorous couple with their window right across the open airshaft from ours. What started out affectionately, if hesitantly, enough, soon turned into what I thought might have been a date rape situation. It got to the point where I thought I should have called the cops, but as I was wondering (in my dreamy, sleep-like state) how to go about it, I heard the hotel clerk pounding on their door. Thinking the situation was resolved, I tried to go back to sleep only to hear the girl's distressed outcries later. It was an unpleasant experience, to say the least, and when they were finally done, the roosters and barking dogs started up and prevented me from getting the sleep I so desperately wanted.

With a wakeup call barely four hours away, I finally drifted off into a fitful sleep.