May 23 – Metal? You call this metal?!?
At noon we roused ourselves and headed into town for food, to exchange money, get our tickets to and from Machu Picchu, and reserve our flight tickets to Lima. After doing some comparison shopping I essentially doubled my money by not using the cambrio who assured me he was the best rate in town. We found Lima tickets in the only travel agency to not physically harass us. In fact, the lady seemed downright apathetic to us dropping $300 into her lap. She also told us there were no more tickets to Machu Picchu for a few more days. While The Collins waited near an hour for our Lima tickets to go through, Devon and I went next door to ask about Machu Picchu tickets and the women at the desk told us No problemo.
The only consistent thing in this town is it’s inconsistency.
I paid $80 USD cash for my Machu Picchu ticket and everybody else’s tickets went on The Collins’ credit card. Except that the agency’s credit card swiper wasn’t going to be back in the office until after seven tonight. With one receipt for a ticket (but no ticket) and three reservations, we left and met the Scots for some Krishna food that took 90 minutes to make but was every bit vegetarian.
Robert succumbed to a shoeshine kid, but only after the kid said bluntly, "Look mister, I need shoes." His feet were as dirty and haggard as Robert’s boots. When the boy finished he tried guilting Robert into paying for another can of polish and another brush because Robert’s shoes were such a resource-depleting project. He also tried swiping my pen from me. ("I need it for school.") Robert refused every attempt and when the kid tried to pull Robert into a shoe store Robert was forced to get rude. On the one hand this is the kid’s job, of course he’s gonna be pushy. On the other hand, guide books tell you never to encourage begging or swindling. But it’s never that easy when your swindler is right in front of you, with dirt on his face and no shoes and hardly even has to lean over to reach Robert’s boots.
Trekking through town, Robert and I stopped back in to check up on our Machu Picchu tickets. The woman bound up, wiped some drool off her face and some sleep out of her eyes, and inadvertently gave Robert an eyeful of bush. It wasn’t until she was standing erect that she noticed her pants and panties were undone and somewhat down. Henceforth referred to the Bushwoman, she confirmed our tickets and told us to come back a little later when the credit card machine was returned. We obliged and tried to see if there was someone under the desk on our way out.
Devon and I spent the evening wandering and found ourselves on a very different side of town. Nary a gringo to be seen. We passed an open air market which felt and smelt like a slaughterhouse. Someone stole the pen clipped tightly to the inside of my pant-leg pocket. Better my pen than my wallet or my kidney. Probably just karma for not giving it to the shoeshine boy.
We were supposed to meet The Collins at Bushwoman’s office at seven, but they were already sitting before her when we arrived. Robert’s first words to us were, "We’re getting screwed."
Two of the reservations ‘never got processed’ and were now irreplaceable. Devon and I started hitting up the neighboring agencies (there were about 30 on this block alone) looking for two more tickets for tomorrow morning. The Collins stayed behind to have it out with Bushwoman. After we left, El Hefe came in and began offering them more expensive package tours. He was also terribly condescending. When Karoline, who speaks very good Spanish, asked the guy to slow down because she couldn’t believe what he was saying (not because she couldn’t understand what he was saying) he leaned in real close and, real dramatic-like, repeated each syllable.
In the meantime, Devon and I found a very nice gentleman who got right on the payphone (his office line that he shared with the other twelve agents down his hallway) and started working feverishly to get us two tickets. Every morning all the agents go to the train station and buy up the next day’s tickets so very few are left for direct sale to tourists. Somehow, of course, extra tickets float around right up until the train actually departs. The trick was finding who has those tickets.
Forty minutes later our guy found two tickets. We started on the paperwork when Robert came over and said Bushwoman ‘found’ our tickets, as soon as she realized we were going through someone else. Had I not already paid for my ticket through them we would have dissed and dismissed them like the crooks they were. We thanked our guy, who confided that his tickets would have been ‘a little more’ than what he’d promised anyway, and left.
We went back into Bushwoman’s office and found out that the new tickets would cost all four of us ten more US dollars. I got real indignant real quick but Karoline’s tone towards them was so exasperated I thought What’s the use? I stole their pen but it turned out to be Karoline’s anyway.
The credit card machine had not yet been returned so Robert and I followed El Hefe to another agency, in the shady part of town. On the way, Hefe tried to act buddy-buddy with us but we were so incensed he didn’t get much camaraderie in return. We arrived at the office in silence. Outside in the dark courtyard were nothing but shady-looking dudes doing nothing but standing around looking shady. Inside were shadier-looking dudes standing against the walls mafia-style while a man behind a desk controlled things. The whole vibe of the place was really giving Robert and I the creeps. I backed against an empty space on the wall so I would at least see anyone approaching me.
A slimy-looking guy with a greasy mullet and peach-fuzz moustache approached Hefe like they were best buds. Hefe turned an awkward face to the man and made a lousy attempt at being happy to see the guy. Peach-Fuzz kept trying to shake Hefe’s hand and pat his back and ask if everything was okay. Hefe was doing his best to keep the guy at bay, but the more Hefe pulled away, the more clingy Peach-Fuzz got. Peach-Fuzz eventually strong-armed Hefe out the door where the two had a very expressive, violent conversation. It was very obvious Hefe had screwed over Peach-Fuzz, which was not at all reassuring to us. If he’s ripping off locals, he’s surely ripping us off. Why were we really here? And more importantly, how could we leave?
A few slugs and elbows ensued and Hefe returned with a nervous smile and a bit of sweat rolling down his temples. (Peach-Fuzz let Hefe go after he emitted a series of used car salesman No Problemos.) The Collins’ card was ran through the machine and we were on our way, Hefe as quick to hightail it as we were.
Back at Bushwoman’s office Karoline made no discreet effort to let us know how much she "hated these fucking assholes." (This was a far cry from the robotically sweet Karoline of the mid-90’s.) I paid my ten extra for-no-damn-reason dollars in all ones and the implications were not lost on them. They explained that a representative of the agency would pick us up at our hostel at six tomorrow morning, and that he would have our tickets.
So after all that we still didn’t walk out of the office with any sort of ticket – just a pink slip of paper with a series of numbers signifying just how much money we spent on nothing.
Earlier in the day Robert was handed a flyer for a "heavy metal live show" at a bar in town. We showed up and a band was playing, only they sounded more like Air Supply than Aerosmith. Robert showed the door guy the flyer and the door guy said, "Sorry, no metal tonight. Tonight is music to get girls." Touché.
We rolled back to the hostel early and caught Ludwig Roth, the purveyor of the Royal Frankenstein. "My place is dingy and uninviting. I am German, what do you expect?" We told about his neighbor trying to lure us away and he lamented his location and advertising restrictions. His hostel rested in a building surrounded by a 1.5 meter-thick wall. He is not permitted to post signs on the outside of the 500 year old structure, but he was allowed to build a window so passer-bys could see into his courtyard (where he was able to advertise all he wanted). But as he pointed out, "A window in a wall that thick is not a window, it is a tunnel."
WHN? in Sudamerica - May 2002
0 – Please wake me for meals.
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