Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Part II of Johnny's Rocket

Part II of Johnny's adventure....

As the plane vectored for a landing I caught glimpses of Lima’s busy Pacific coastline, with ramshackle huts, cars in long-term parking lots completely covered in tan dirt, and fishing boats gearing up for the day.  Our aircraft dipped its wing and glided in for a safe touchdown, streaking L.A. grit in Lima at 7 a.m. local.  I rubbed mis ojos, and put on sunglasses.

Stepping off into another world was no real grand occasion, but there was an undercurrent of expectation; discoveries to be made, new foods to taste, different people to see.  There were no pan-flutists there to greet us, unfortunately, or dancing aliens wearing colorful chulos handing out barbecued guinea pigs.  But, while waiting to get off the plane an interesting little video played on the headrest screens.  It did have flute music, and showed colorful photographs of the famous Peruvian sites, with catchy buzzwords capturing the essence of this unique country.  I should have written them down, because it would’ve been good to use here.  They were golden strings of words indicative of an advanced society.

After advancing relatively smoothly through customs, and using my rough Spanglish to fill out a report for my lost duffel bag, I finally saw a familiar face in the airport.  Bryan --hereafter referred to simply as BC -- was there in shorts, and a yellow, Colombian soccer (or as they call it hear "futbol") jersey, with a grin and a friendly welcoming hug.  Good ol’ BC.  I hadn’t seen him in eight months or so.  I’m not sure how long he waited there for me; longer than expected due to my lost baggage.  It was 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 19.  I wanted a liter of water, and strong cup of coffee.  I would have to swallow my spit for another hour again.  BC introduced me to the driver.  I forgot his name, but he was a short older gentleman with dark skin, a white shirt, peppered hair, a strong frame, and deep lines of experience in his face.  “Mucho gusto senor,” and we jumped in the little car for my introduction to the world of Lima taxicab rides. 

There are no rules, other than the need to honk a lot, swerve and dodge cars and people jumping across the street, speed up as fast as you can and then slam on your breaks, and squeeze into tight spots between other little cars and jam-packed buses.  Why the government bothers in painting white lines on the road I don't know, because no one uses them.  I was ready for a beer by the time we got to la casa on Paul de BeauDiaz.  We were greeted by Luis, a sort of unofficial doorman in a floppy camo hat.  He seemed to always be there, in the shade doing something in a chair.  I never found out where he lived, but he was always there.  He grabbed my bags and carried them in.

No cervezas in la casa.  I would have to settle for water.  But not tap water.  That will kill you.  No beer due to a prohibition temporarily installed for a city council vote.  They call it ley seca, “dry law,” and there’s a S/.1800 fine (roughly $650) for breaking it. (S/. is the sign for sole, the national form of currency.)  When we got to the bank the exchange rate was 38 cents for 1 sole.  I was all of a sudden rich.  I cashed in $83 for S/. 200.  You can get a good meal for S/.7 here, but a beer costs almost the same, at about S/.5.50.  It didn’t matter.  We were in need.  But, the grocery store across the street still had signs up saying ley seca was in effect, and it wouldn’t be over until noon.  It was 11 a.m. Tuesday.  The girl at the counter wasn’t budging.  BC knew of a little place that would sell to us.  We went down there and got two Cusquenas (1 dark and 1 regular) and two Cristals.  The Cusquenas turned out to be too sweet.  It was a perfect opportunity to have my first try of hoya de coca, the bitter leaf of the coca plant, to offset this sweetness and wake my jet-lagged self up a little.  I’d had coca tea before, thanks to our other friend Bart when I visited him down in Jacksonville, Fla., a couple years ago.  The raw leaf definitely has more of an impact, but it seemed no different than taking a dose of what my friend Cheryl calls “hippy crack.”  BC Powders contain 65 mg of caffeine and 465 mg of aspirin.  After about 10 minutes of chewing hoya de coca, the mouth becomes numb.  I swallowed my spit again, and again, until I had extracted all of its juices.  The smell of this hoya de coca can be off-putting to some. It is a mild mix of tuna fish and cat piss. 

We had to stay sober, so beer consumption was limited to two each.  At 2:30 p.m. we would be walking down to pick up Davis from school, and the womenfolk were going to be back at 4:00.  Jessica and her friend Cindy, who was also visiting from Arkansas, were returning from Cusco and their epic adventure to Machu Picchu.  And BC was in a marathon debate with the Dell customer service over his computer’s microphone, as well as dealing with repairs of both the refrigerator and the clothes dryer.  Oddly enough, even though it is a very dry area, the clothes do not dry well on lines.  It takes a very long time, 24 hours or so, before the clothes were dry enough to wear after being washed.

There was also my lost baggage issue to attend to, and this was valiantly accomplished despite either of us having a working phone.  I forgot to sign up for the international plan before I left.  And BC had lost his phone in a taxicab.  However, just as BC was about to have the issue handled, using his iPad and internet Skype to talk to Lima LAN customer service, the connection was lost.  We were so close.  When he was able to get back online, another customer service rep, who spoke even less English, answered.  Regardless, he was able to work through it all in his Spanish accent.  It reminded me of the way he talks to his dog, Forest.  Friends know it as BC-talk.  It’s an amalgam of South Carolinian and something foreign where cutting off the back third of the word with a sound or a grunt is acceptable.  His voice goes up a half octave, and he slips into the vocal posture of an old tobacco-chewing-fiddle-playing hillbilly.  But, just imagine this with Spanish words coming out instead.  I could only imagine what it sounded like on the other end of the phone.  The next morning, BC checked the flights that came in from L.A. over the night and saw that three had arrived.  One of them contained my luggage.

I can’t remember what we had for dinner that evening, but it was hearty and good. I just recall passing out on the couch not long after Jessica and Cindy got back, and our after-dinner conversation involved a lot of bathroom humor.  I fell soundly asleep in Davis’ bed, as he graciously loaned it to me for the night.


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