Monday, March 29, 2010

The Long and Winding Road

So things may have broken down a little here. Yolanda, the tour guide in Puno picked me up at the hotel at 9:10 and delivered me to the bus terminal, where my overnight bus to Cusco was waiting. Unfortuantely, it was not a “bus cama” or bed bus. This was finer than the best of our Greyhound buses, but still crowded and not entirely comfortable. I managed to sleep fairly well, however, even after they started the movie 'UNDERWORLD: Rise of the Laicas.' The good thing was that the movie only lasted about 15 minutes before the picture went out and so they turned it off. The bus left the terminal at about 9:45 and I woke up at 10:30, 12:00, 1:00, 2:00, and 4:00. The road between Puno and Cusco is quite bumpy and has enough twists and turns in it to keep anyone off balance for the entire journey. The lady next to me didn't sleep at all on the trip. We arrived at the Cusco bus terminal at 4:30, and here I sit, listening to the agents at the many bus counters call out their destinations to the weary travelers as they sit and try to sleep until their bus departs for wherever they are headed. I have heard, “Arequipa Arequipa Arequipa, bus cama Carhuamayo a Arequipa” about 500 times in the last half hour. I'm thining I might go buy a ticket just to get the girl to shut up.
The only problem with this last step of the journey is the many layovers I have. I don't fly out of Cusco until 1:25 this afternoon, so that means that even if I have to be at the airport two hours early, I don't have to be there for 6.5 more hours. I do think I will catch a cab out of this bus terminal over to the airport at about 6 this morning just to be moving and hopefully find a more quiet corner to sit and read in the airport. I suppose I could go into town again, but nothing really opens for another 3-4 hours, so I'm stuck either way. I'm also at the absolute end of the cash I brought, so additional cab fares would only further strain an already tight budget. The long layover is not a problem for me, but I have to be very careful to eliminate this kind of down time when I bring students back with me next time.
The noise got to be too much. As the minutes passed, more pregoneros began crying their company's destinations, an elderly man wandered among the benches selling hot chocolate and bread, an elderly lady wandered through offering soup and sandwiches, and as dawn approached, it got cooler. I finished a chapter in my book, grabbed my stuff, and decided to make my way to the airport. Five soles is about $2, but for a three minute cab ride to the airport, it is too much. It is, however, the first amount every cab driver quoted me when I asked. I offered the first guy 2 soles, he countered with 5 again, I came up to three, and he waved his hand at me and walked away. No big deal. There are fifteen other cabs in line, and I can easily get any one of them to take me, even if it means coming up to four soles. I ended up hiring a cab for 4 soles, but now I am in the airport, sitting on a cuschioned chair in the departure waiting area. It's only 6:30, and my flight doesn't leave for seven more hours, but I am most definitely more comfortable here than at the bus station. I may even snooze for a little bit.
I'm freezing my butt off! It's overcast in Cusco, and although I am inside, I cannot get warm. I think a lot of my problem stems from my sunburn, which is drawing heat out of my body through my face. I am wearing a cap and have my hood on, but my hands are ice cold (also a result of washing them with cold water- there is no warm water in public facilities anywhere in Peru.) It's 11:00 and I decided that I could check my luggage at 10:30 (3 hours before the flight is to depart) and lighten my load a little. As I arrived at the Star Peru check in desk, there were four American college kids in front of me having a collective nervous breakdown about their earlier flight being cancelled and them being pushed back to the same flight I am on. They were beyond reasoning, and all four of them are determined to find the worst in everything, so I chose to ignore them once they were checked in. This is just a part of international travel, especially travel to a third-world country: things don't always work out as you plan. Schedules are loose guidelines rather than hard and fast rules. For instance, my flight this afternoon was originally scheduled for 2pm, three days ago I was told it would depart at 1:25, this morning, it's 1:15. In all actuality, it may be closer to 2 by the time we get off the ground, but so what.
I wish I had the inclination to go out and see Cusco once again, but unless you are going to a museum or archaeological site or shopping for handicrafts, wandering around Cusco is pointless. I have plenty of reading to do, so there's really no reason for me to succumb to my short attention span and wander.
I looked at my watch and saw that it was 12:05, at which point I began to rejoice that my return journey to my family was now nearing the 24-hour mark. My flight to Lima should begin boarding at 12:45, so I went ahead and went through security. I should be meeting Alfredo in Lima and I'll spend a couple of hours with him, but I am one step closer to home, and although I will miss Peru, my mind is focused on one thing only: holding my family.
It's now 7:38pm and Alfredo just left me at the airport. My flight doesn't leave for another 4.5 hours, and the ticket/check-in desk doesn't even open until 3 hours before the flight, so I am sitting and typing. Alfredo and I went to a cebicheria (same as a cevicheria) and had cebiche (ceviche). Alfredo was waiting for me as I got off the plane from Cusco, and after a few minutes of tracking down my backpack (which had been sent to Lima on an ealier flight and was waiting for me at the ticket desk,) we walked out of the airport and went in search of a cab. The cabs inside the airport parking lot start at 30 soles and go up from there. We walked out to the main road (about 500 yards) and caught a cab for 7 soles. How's that for bargain shopping? I wouldn't advise doing it alone, or at night, but it was 3pm and so we had no trouble at all. We spent the last three hours at the restaurant talking and making plans for possible collaborative efforts on study abroad and teaching endeavors. We walked for a little bit to let our food settle, and then caught my last cab ride in Peru (for this trip, anyway.) Like all Lima cab rides, this one didn't disappoint. Speeding, honking, cutting off buses and trucks, jackrabbit starts and panic stops were all part of the 15 minute ride to the airport, and all for only 6 soles! I'm going to try and drive like that in Florence. I should be back with my family in about 17 hours, and I can't wait. Oh yeah, I did just brush my teeth, but I haven't showered since yesterday morning in Puno. Since then I have been on the floating islands, visited Sillustani, slept in these clothes on an overnight bus ride, sat for two hours in a bus station, six hours in an airport, another hour on a plane, and you get the picture. I will be pretty ripe when I get to Nashville. It should be the ultimate test of love if CJ can even stand to be near me when I get there.
9:55pm and I am through security screening safely. I'm not sure how fond I am of paying an airport tax separately from the ticket. In the U.S., all the taxes are included in the price of the ticket. Here, you get to pay a separate airport tax. My flight to Cusco from Lima was S./20, the flight back from Cusco to Lima was S./10, the flight from Lima to the U.S. is $31! Ooops. I thought maybe S./30, never $31. This is something that needs to be carefully planned for when traveling with a large group of students. 20 people, $31 each is $620 in airport taxes alone. Now, if students are like me and cannot say no to every child peddling handicrafts, they may find themselves without $31 at the end of the trip to pay their airport tax. This means I have to budget all that money in and hold on to it for the duration of the trip, then dispense it just as everyone goes through security. Oh well, that's why I did this trip, to eliminate as many surprises as possible. I'd hate to have that little monster rear its ugly head and ruin an otherwise successful trip.
My flight should start boarding in about an hour.
I just had to apologize to a young lady working at an airport kiosk for the behaviour (note spelling) of some rather obnoxious blokes. (Again, note vocabulary.) These guys were shouting obscenities in the Queen's English as they were walking down the hallway. I made sure the young lady knew that the jerks weren't North American. Of course, the Manhattanite biker chick who walked down the hall next to them wasn't any better with her language, and well, she IS North American. Groseros, malcriados. Don't people realize that they look like idiots when they behave like that, in ANY language?
14 more hours and I should be back in Nashville. I can't wait. I do hope there are some good movies on the flight. Maybe if there aren't I'll actually sleep, but who knows?
10:20am EDT. It's cold and overcast in Atlanta. I am weary of so much travel. I got through customs and immigration without a hitch after the flight landed, got back through security, and went to the gate where the next flight for Nashville was leaving from. Then I realized it was two hours before the flight I was scheduled to be on. I asked if I could get on that flight, but even if I wanted to pay the $50 upgrade fee, I couldn't do it because I had to stay with my checked bag. I went to the next concourse, where I have now visited three different gates trying to find the one where my flight actually departs from. I think I have found it, and mercifully, Atlanta is an hour ahead of Nashville and Lima time, so I will be boarding on this flight in 30 minutes, and landing in Nashville in about an hour and 45 minutes. The end is in sight. In the last 48 hours I have traveled by bus, car, boat, train, and airplane. I'm tired.

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