Peru – the rescue plan

By the time I went to the hostel bed on Wed, June 23, I have informed friends, the company immigration lawyer and the office of my situation. The lawyer was able to quickly put together an electronic visa application package that night. Unfortunately his instruction was put into the Junk mail folder by Yahoo Mail. (Some algorithm failure on the Y! side. If I have sent email to the person, should the recipient ´s communications not considered as Junk?!) Without the knowledge of the mail, the best idea at that time was to pay a visit at the US embassy the next morning.

I woke up at 7am on June 24, skipped breakfast to save time, got the embassy address off the internet, and was on a cab by 7:40am.

There are plenty taxis in Lima, some newer models, some really old cars. Taxi here is not metered. So the price needs to be negotiated beforehand. After days´ riding on various types of cars to multiple destinations, I developed a theory that drivers of older cars were more willing to negotiate. Every time before I went out, I asked the hostel staff for their estimate of the fare, and used it as my yardstick for bargaining. Since I don´t speak the language, the bargaining was really done by pen, or more often, hand gestures. Some of the drivers, though speaking only bits of English, tried hard to start a conversation and tell me about their city :-). One of them was a big fan of Chinese Peruvian mixed cuisine. Almost all Chinese restaurants here are called something something CHIFA.

As far as I know, cars here are powered by three types of fuels – petro, diesel, and gas. The gas powered car has a big tube in the trunk. Because the city has plenty of old cars (old beetles everywhere), the air smells strongly of gasoline. The fact that almost all taxis keep their windows down does not help. I was told that gasoline price here was pretty high. It was the reason for the Cusco strike on June 18 and 19.

Traffic jam was visible during the rush hours, though a full stuck was rare. Driving was pretty much free style. A two-lane can turn into three or even four lane if needed be. Drivers were not intimidated by the closeness of their vehicles. This made me wonder why people should bother to buy brand new car here at all, especially the few BMV SUVs on the road, knowing dents and scratches were just a matter of time.

The US embassy is an impressive gray building in the Surco district. Getting inside involved the usual queuing, security check and confusion. I first tried my luck with the Homeland Security Officer. My queue number was 4. The officer, a middle aged lady who spoke both good English and Spanish, clearly had no clue how to treat my case. So she instructed me to sit down and wait; and continued with the rest of the queue. For some reason, the embassy had not bothered to build a more comfortable waiting area for its citizens. The sitting area had rows of wooden benches under a tent roof, in the open, with wind blowing right through. After over two hours and having gone through another thirty applicants, I was summoned again to the window. Again, the lady stressed she could not help me. She phoned the consular section and it seemed nobody knew what to do either. She was convinced it would be tough luck to apply for a visa in Peru. Seeing my frustration (and possibly desperation), she then handed me an application form for humanity parole. Having flipped through the document, I immediately decided that unless I was terminally ill or seriously in danger, this would not apply to me.

Without a phone or internet, I was at a loss of what to do next. Going back to the hotel computer seemed to be the only choice. Once I was connected and had a talk with the lawyer, I knew I had to hand deliver a visa application package to the DHL office that day. It already passed 1pm. In order to get the package done, I needed to do the following:

– print out all the documents, by using the hostel owner’s computer and offered to pay for the cost. The printer went out ink two pages short and took some technical persuasion to finish the job.

– find an electronic copy of my photo. I was glad I had the smarts to put a passport photo on Picasa.

– complete the online application form, copying and pasting Chinese characters from the Google translator.

– locate a Banco Continental and pay the application fee.

– rushed to the DHL location in another district and made the drop.

By the time I got to Banco Continental in San Isidro (the banking district), I was unconsciously starving, as well as mentally exhausted by trying to explain my situation to non-English speaking audience all day long. So forgetting my check card in the ATM machine was almost “inevitable”. I did not realize I had misplaced the card until I was back to the hotel that night. By losing my access to cash, I just pushed my situation a little more over the edge.

Regardlessly what happened, the day was not too bad after all. Ordinary people´s kindness was surprising and heart warming. One of them was a teller at the bank, who helped me through the payment process  and left me his phone number in case I was in trouble. He even took me to the street money dealer to exchange some soles. Another was a customer in a restaurant, who helped me to order the food, invited me to sit down and had a nice chat, and actually paid for my meal when he left!

For the past decade or so, my life was constructed by organized events. This was probably the first time I was thrown into a unknown situation with no plan. This was the time I had to trust strangers, asked for help, slowed down to observe, and waited patiently.

By the time I wrote this entry, I had been to the US embassy the second time and got positive news. I had been given a tour around San Miguel district by a local. I had visited a technical institute. I had some amazing conversations with other hostel guests. I had successfully ordered and eaten at local eateries, sitting by construction workers. I made friends with almost every staff in the hostel, and was moved into a quite nice room with the ocean view. I can now say I have really “traveled” Lima, Peru.

Finger still crossed for a passport with visa, and a plane ticket home.

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