Peru – Day 8 how I got stuck

June 23 was supposed to be my last day in Peru. I got up early that day around 7am, had my breakfast and tea, packed. At 8am I was walking around the hostel and bumped into a market. The market where locals buy their produces is always a main attraction for me as a traveler. It provides me a window to the true color and smell of the city. At 10am I was enjoying the chicken rice. By 11am I was back to the hotel. By 11:30am I was at the Lima airport waiting to check in.

And here was where the drama started.

Although Lima is considered a metropolitan judged by both land and population (close to 9 million), not a lot of people speak English, not even the attendants at the airline counter. Most foreign travelers speak basic Spanish. That´s probably one of the reasons why they are travelling in the South America. In my case, I thought majority of my time would be spent walking on a trail; and I would be in and out of cities quickly. Therefore I did not bother to bring a dictionary (or even download an iPhone app ;-)). Trying to explain my travel documents to the airline counter person got me a lot of blank looks in return. Language problem aside, I don´t think a lot people travelling with the documents that I have. However, the one thing that set off the alarm was a manual correction on my parole document, made by the US Customs upon my return from China in May. The year was changed from 2010 to 2011. I was questioned who made the change, and my straight answer was not good enough. After over 30 minutes discussing among themselves and asking around for opinions, the counter lady decided to escalate the matter. I later learnt that a copy of the parole document was faxed to the US immigration. After another 30 minutes, the lady got back with a clearance, apologized for the long wait and issued the tickets.

At around 1:30pm, one hour before the flight´s takeoff, and just after I used my last sole on postcards and Peruvian candies, I heard my name being called out in the broadcast. The message was in Spanish so I did not understand what the message was for. I rushed to the boarding gate to find out and thought my watch might running behind. I was brought to the gate next, and met with the stern faced counter lady. She told me that my flight would land 15 minutes past midnight on June 23, when the travel document was supposed to expire.

In the next hour, with each minute getting closer to my flight’s departure, my hope of getting onto the plane diminished. Pleading did not work. Reasoning did not work. Refusing to be escorted out of the boarding area did not work. Bursting into tears did not work. I was disoriented, exhausted after the tough trail and a week of lack of sleep. I did not have any clean clothes with me. I did not know anybody in Peru. I did not speak the language. I did not know where to go or where the US embassy was. I did not know how to make a phone call to US and let others know what happened.

I was led to the TACA office, waiting for my checked in luggage to be pulled out from the plane. In front of me, the counter lady started right way to write a  report about my incidence and was seemingly proud of her achievement. I sat there, still could not believe what had just happened, and still tried to comprehend what this meant now.

In the next three hours, I found an Internet cafe, got some cash, connected with US, especially the lawyer. I also got confirmation from the hostel I was staying in that there was room available that night.

Finally at around 6pm, I stepped out the airport, carrying the heavy backpack, looking terrible, got into a cab heading back to the hostel.

And started my unplanned journey in Lima.

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