I would like to say that I did enjoy my visits to Lima and it is a city well worth seeing. That this story unfolded during those visits is probably coincidence. I recommend visiting Peru and I probably will again myself someday.
Going for a Ride in Lima
The flight to Lima was uneventful. My second visit and Mother’s fifth, we anticipated our arrival knowingly and with excited anticipation. My family is involved with a charity project a couple of hours North of the city and Mom is the administrator.
We arrived to a summery Autumn day. Now experienced with this destination, we knew that the best exchange rate was not found in Canadian banks or even Peruvian banks, but in the airport. Mom has also become involved in a small community down South in the Sacred Valley where she likes to spend most of her time when visiting Peru because her visits to the charity project are basically constrained to two days. Canadian money goes a long way in Peru and Mother had decided that on this trip she would buy a roof for the church she attends in the Valley. It wasn’t that the roof needed replacement, the church didn’t actually have one. It was thought that having a roof would be handy, especially during rainy season when four brick walls on a patch of mud might not provide the shelter desired. For this purpose and for her own spending, she brought with her a good amount of cash.
Looking back at it, a glass cage in the middle of a busy airport hall was perhaps not the most inconspicuous place to deal with stacks of cash and we could have been more discreet. We both giggled when we saw the stacks of Peruvian nuevo sols that thousands of Canadian dollars had become, it looked silly. It appeared like the amount of money one could retire on, which in Peru I suppose it was. We also filled another small bag after Mother’s purse was full to busting.
Well educated on the perils of hiring just any taxi, we organise our government-controlled taxi ride before leaving the airport. The facility itself is located in one of Peru’s most dangerous neighbourhoods and is not somewhere one should even step onto the street. Too much luggage for us to take a car, we hire a full-sized van to get into the city.
After being directed into the van by our amicable driver, we start out. “I can’t believe how comfortable I have become here!” Mother exclaims, “I used to be nervous arriving to Lima, now it just feels like my other home!” We both beam excited smiles, looking forward to visiting some familiar places in Lima before we head to the charity project in a couple of days. The children will be excited to see us. I’ll get to visit my own sponsored kids again too, quite a rare experience when one sponsors children in the third world.
At the traffic light some blocks away from the airport, a young man has smashed Mom’s window open. He has her bulging handbag out the passenger-side window before we can even register what has happened.
Mother is in the habit of keeping her purse over her left shoulder. The purse catches on her shoulder long enough that I am able to join in the struggle myself before it is too late. The young man and I have a considerable tug-of-war through the window before the assailant realises he won’t win, lets go, and runs off with nothing.
Our driver somehow hadn’t noticed this was happening and only after the man was sprinting away did he turn towards us. “What’s wrong?” as if he didn’t hear the window smashed open directly behind him, me shouting and fighting with someone right there. The driver got out in an act of infuriation that such a thing could possibly happen. But his reaction was impossibly delayed. If he honestly did have that delayed of a reaction, then he should not be allowed near any motor vehicle or even be permitted to walk down the street. A lot could happen to someone who has a 20-second delay in processing stimuli. (Sad. He fell in the bath tub and didn’t notice until after he had drowned that he was under water.)
Can you imagine being behind such a fellow at a coffee shop? “What would you like?” Twenty second pause. “What kind of juice do you have?” “Apple and orange juice.” Twenty second pause. “Is the orange freshly squeezed?” “No.” Twenty second pause. “In that case I guess I’ll just have a coffee, do you have a medium roast?” “Yes.” Twenty second pause. “I’ll have that then.” “How do you take it?” Twenty second pause. “Take what?” “You’re coffee.” Twenty second pause. “Where? I don’t see my coffee.” “Would you like to have a coffee with cream and sugar?” Twenty second pause. “No, just cream.” . . . . I imagine myself tackling him in utter frustration. Back to what actually happened, it wasn’t as though our struggle had been quiet, and we were in the seat directly behind his. He didn’t seem to be hard of hearing nor visually impaired. Oddly nearby is a police officer who our driver mockingly yells at and then tells us that he yelled at the policeman for what happened. Case closed. We were then back on our way with our deflated driver who probably just missed-out on a 6-month holiday. Mother whispers, “Should we still tip him?”
A good question. From my considerable experience, I usually factor-in quite a few scenarios when calculating my tip. How honest was the route taken (if I know, today I do), how helpful was the driver with our bags, was the driver friendly or standoffish, did the driver try to take us places we did not want to go enroute to our destination? Did he try to take us to his friend’s hotel rather than the one we instructed, did he tell us our hotel was out of business trying to persuade us to another destination then feign shock when he was mistaken? Did he refuse to use the metre, or did he start the metre at an extraordinarily high amount? Did he pretend there were ridiculous surcharges not included in the prepaid fare, did he not have any change whatsoever and refuse to take us to get change causing the fare to be six times the agreed rate? Did he try to pick-up an additional passenger (who could be a comrade to make it two-against-one for a mugging, by the way.) Did he run out of gas, did the car break down, did he insist on smoking and with the windows up, did he refuse to turn on the air conditioning without further payment when it was steaming hot and an air conditioned cab was already paid-extra for. Did he agree on one fare before you got in and then present you with a random total four times the agreed amount at the end? Did he then yell to a nearby police officer that YOU were trying to cheat HIM? Was his visa machine broken until you took a photo of his car’s id and then suddenly it was working after all? Did he try to drive away with your luggage still in his trunk? Did he put your suitcase on the roof and not secure it until you refused to depart until it was? “If it doesn’t fall off, someone will just take it when we’re stuck in traffic.” “So? Maybe my brother, I mean the stranger, needs it more than you do.” All of these scenarios I have encountered. I am not kidding. In some places I am now in the habit of taking a photo of the cab information while the driver is watching, I make that gesture obvious on purpose, although many drivers will still attempt a variety of cons even knowing I have the full ability to track and report. Best to use a phone because cameras can be removed from you. “So exciting to be here again! I just texted a picture of your cab to my sister!” NEVER admit to being a first time visitor to a taxi driver. At the very least, first time visitors tend to get the scenic route. The only country where I completely trust taxi drivers is Japan. “Sumimasen. Could you please count the cash in my wallet while I go use the toilet, I didn’t have time to check how much I have. Arigato gozaimasu.”
Today I add to my tipping criteria, “Did he collude with other criminal(s) to look the other way for a share of the takings while we were being violently mugged less than two feet away from him?” If you ask me, it’s definitely grounds for a reduced tip.
We arrive to our usual hotel shaken but thankful. We are still alive and the church will still get it’s roof. “I’m glad you were with me this time!” Mother chirps gratefully. Definitely. Alone her purse would have been gone and she would not have had anyone to calm down with. That would have been a terrible experience. (Unlike the wonderful experience it was due to my presence.) “That poor man, he’s probably addicted to drugs,” my Mother mused throughout the day. “Isn’t that sad, Darren. Did you see how thin he was? Do you think he probably uses crack? That makes people really skinny. He’s someone’s son. He’s probably someone’s brother. Just think of his poor Mother.”
We weren’t so lucky during my first visit. Nearly, but not quite. At the end of those three weeks we had one last day in Lima after covering Cuzco, the Nazca Lines, Machu Picchu and some other main areas. Our guide took the two of us inside St.Francis of Assisi Church in the lovely district that looks more like colonial Spain than South America. This was a church open for tourism, with paid admission. A crowd pressed close to look over a railing down into the catacombs where we could see a large collection of skulls. Turning away Mother suddenly noticed her purse was now open. Someone in the pressing crowd had unzipped it and got away with her wallet.
I had her passport with mine in my waist wallet, strapped under my shirt. Without that, we would have had to extend our stay which we were no longer keen to do. We did, however, spend our last afternoon and evening in Peru on the phone to Canada cancelling her various credit cards and later in Canada she had to go about the process of replacing all of her stolen ID. “Good thing you were with me,” I remember her saying that day too. Yes, thankfully one of us still had access to funds. And it’s much better to share a crisis. Not in the same way that it’s better to share a birthday cake. Or it’s better to share your crayons. This is more like sharing student debt with your parents. Everyone wins. Except your parents. You know what I mean.
Later we discover that the same scenario coming from the airport happened to someone we knew who had arrived to Lima a week before. She had also changed money inside the airport hall. Her window was also smashed open, she thought with a metal gun but wasn’t sure because it happened so fast. Despite being closed, our window was able to be smashed open. Her’s was smashed into pieces in her lap and she had to go for stitches.
At the end of our stay we again flew through Lima where we had an 8-hour layover. Previously, we would have gone into town to enjoy lunch and wander around without a second thought, but this day we stayed-put. We decided it wasn’t worth the risk for such a short duration. The airport suddenly seemed a perfectly cozy place to spend a day.
No matter how experienced one may be there are always new situations that life can bring and new lessons to be learned. I didn’t really feel like learning a new one just yet. I firmly believe that we need to take chances in order to live life fully. But sometimes we need to listen to our experiences and not just move boldly forward. Perhaps there was a reason we weren’t to visit Lima that last day. Maybe our close call was actually a warning. Whatever the case, the expectation that someone might attack us at the first traffic light after leaving the airport was enough to alter our enthusiasm for seeing Lima again.