Every time I travel, my world seems to shrink, my sense of time completely changes, and I often lose track of what’s happening “today.” I become completely disconnected from myself and almost feel like a passenger in my own body as I interact with the world outside.
It’s especially strong when I travel outside North America, because I am instantly alienated by the world around me. There is a strangely surreal effect on one’s psyche to be completely surrounded by people speaking a different language, following different rules, and interacting in different ways. No matter how you try to submerge yourself in another culture, you are always an oddity, an outsider, and the ever present knowledge of this is what creates this strange mental disconnection.
I’ve only been away from home for less than half a week, and in Peru for barely two days… and yet I already feel only the most tenuous of connections to home. My mind translates the distance and difference as some sort of time dilation and the result is that it feels like I have been gone for ages. I think back on situations my friends were encountering at home and wonder fondly how they were resolved without it occurring to me that little, if anything, will have changed in the few moments I’ve been away.
I think this is one of the things that makes me “good” at traveling, allows me to put myself in strange and unique situations without worrying how it will end or how safe I will be… and yet, it’s truly quite bizarre. It’s like momentarily stepping into the life of someone else, except I often live in that person for months at a time. This is one of the main reasons I’ve turned to blogging, Facebook, and photography during my travels – it provides a grounded connection to remind me of myself and force me to think about where I am and what I am doing, rather than to simply experience it. Strange, but true.
The initial plan was to fly into Peru, buy a mototaxi, and head off to who-knows-where. This is what might be considered a “high level strategy.” I did enough research to know that the paperwork might take awhile, however my research also indicated that it’s generally okay to drive around without paperwork as long as you show a recent proof of purchase – thus, I knew I would waste a few days by not handling everything ahead of time, but did not think it would be a terrible impact (and that the benefit of handling everything face to face would be worthwhile).
I arrived in Lima on Monday morning, completely exhausted after traveling for 30+ hours due to a problem with my flight out of DCA (causing me to miss my direct flight). I had a room reserved for one week at the Pirwa Hostel Backpacker Prada in Miraflores (an upscale municipality in Lima), knowing only that a major Honda dealer was somewhere in Miraflores. My first order of business was to find some food, after which I tried to crash out for a nap. Unfortunately I was too wired for much sleep, but just lying in bed for a couple hours left me feeling up to my next task, finding Honda Desert Racing S.A.C.
Google Maps couldn’t figure it out and the locals weren’t quite clear on it, so I decided to go just walk around for awhile and stumbled across the street it was on – then, shockingly, the dealer itself. It turned out to be barely three blocks from the place I’m staying, extremely convenient.
Now, imagine you’re a sales guy in the US and into your dealership walks this total foreigner, hair sticking up every which way with a pretty unkempt beard, wearing a t-shirt, cargo pants, and flip flops. Actually, I’ve done this in the US before and let’s just say the reception is usually not so hot – luckily, this is one of the times where the perception of wealthy gringos pays off, because these guys had no trouble at all believing I was serious.
No nonsense, no jumping around the bush, not even much in the way of disbelief. I simply told them I was interested in buying a mototaxi, explained that I had driven one around Peru and Bolivia last year (with the Adventurists) but it was a Lifan and everyone said Hondas were better, so I wanted a Honda. Two minutes later I have all their bank account information and a request to transfer 5,740 PEN into the account to perform the purchase. The only time I’ve had a buy go smoother was when I bought my Genuine Rattler from Vespa of Arlington (I was riding home within an hour of showing up).
Using Xoom.com (fantastic for wiring money overseas, way better than Western Union), I tried to wire money into their account but kept getting an invalid account number error. Instead, I simply wired enough cash to cover it to myself via Banco de Credito de Peru (BCP). There was one quick glitch with Xoom as I used a different address at home since last time, however after providing them electronic copies of my bank statement (showing the address) and my passport they let it through.
The next morning I woke up early and went over to a local BCP branch to pick up the money and found myself quite surprised at the organized system used by the bank. I had to sign in on a digital touch screen, indicate what kind of service I wanted (I sorta guessed since I didn’t recognize any of the words), then received a ticket and headed towards the waiting area. There was a big TV screen just like a DMV back home on which ticket numbers would pop up, and I hung out for an hour or so until they got to my ticket.
Every conversation I have with someone about anything important starts like this (pardon my lack of proper spelling and emphasis):
Bank Teller: “Hola, buenos dias.”
Me: “Buenos! Lo siento, pero my espanol es muy mal. Solo hablo un pocito…”
This is basically me warning them that I don’t speak great Spanish, and usually results in the person I’m speaking with talking more clearly and slowly than they normally would. The frustrating thing for me (and them, I guess), is that my intuitive understanding of Spanish is very random. Someone can talk to me for two minutes and I will understand everything they say, then suddenly something will change and they might as well be speaking Newt Gingrich style mumbo jumbo. I make it a point to constantly go “ok” and “si” when I am understanding and give blank looks or “lo siento?” “otra vez?” etc. when I don’t get it, and usually we make it through.
Using this system of communication, I was able to withdraw my cash, convert most of it into soles, and deposit the correct amount into the account for Desert Racing without too much trouble (it helped that the teller did a fantastic job of understanding my rudimentary Spanish and even repeated what I was trying to say with proper words/grammar/etc. at times). Then I went over to Desert Racing, dropped off the voucher and was asked to return that afternoon to get a receipt and talk to the “money lady” who would handle the details.
I have to admit, I am pretty proud of myself. I came into a foreign country and purchased a vehicle (in theory), handling the associated money transfer and all that stuff, all without ever speaking in my native language to someone. At times it sure strained my Spanish and I definitely get frustrated trying to remember words, but there’s enough of it rattling around my head still for it to get things done. If anything, it’s a testament to the power of the mind - I learned Spanish when I finished up high school in Colombia, but aside from last year’s month long trip in Peru and Bolivia I haven’t really had a conversation or actually used it for over fifteen years. It’s one things to ask directions to the next town or which restaurant is good, but quite another to buy a vehicle.
Long story short, I went back and finalized everything with a provisional receipt. The mototaxi is buying shipped in from out of town and should arrive in “ten days” (March 25) and the paperwork (and plates/etc.) should arrive in “fifteen days” (March 30). After the moto arrives I can buy the extra bits I want (like alloy wheels and hand guards) and have them do the installs, however they were adamant that I can’t drive it on the street until the plates get in because the police are apparently targeting this kind of behaviour and they could get in a lot of trouble (so much for internet info).
So, that’s where I stand now. Best case, I’ll be able to hit the road March 30, but I have to admit I’m a little skeptical. I really wanted to head home in May for a short break, but at this point I may have barely started by then. I could worry about it, but instead I’m just going to relax and play it by ear – if it ends up I don’t get the paperwork and whatnot until halfway through April, I’ll figure something out.
Until then, I need to decide what’s next, stay in Lima for the next couple weeks or head off into the hills? I kinda wanted to do the latter on my mototaxi, but if I do some exploring by bus then I can just head straight south to Argentina and Chile when the moto is ready to go. Ah, decisions. Whatcha think?