Los Angeles, CA
I barley slept during my last two days in Los Angeles. I woke up on Monday morning fairly early and didn't sleep at all that night, only catching a 40-45 minute nap when I reached my 25th straight hour of being up. That would be the only rest I'd get in LA before I left for the airport in the early evening. I spent a good 6-7 hours attempting to triage all of the stuff I never got done on my infamous To Do list.
I spent the entire afternoon on tilt and called an audible a few hours before I was set to leave -- I decided to switch bags. I was going to take a large backpack because I prefer to travel light since I was actually packing for two different trips (a work assignment in Lima and a side trip to Machu Picchu). I realized that my backpack was at 99% capacity which is a bad idea when you travel. Always leave yourself 10-15% extra space. I scrambled to find out if Lima airport had storage lockers. Once I discovered they did -- I called the audible and went for a wheelie suitcase and my small bookbag (to hold my laptop). The wheelie allowed me to take everything I originally wanted instead of trimming my load by 20%. Once I'm done with work in Lima, I'll head to the airport, drop off the suitcase, and just pack a couple of days clothes and hiking gear for the arduous journey to Machu Picchu.
In theory it made sense and I felt a tad better knowing that I could have the best of both worlds. Even with taking a wheelie, I still think I underpacked compared to the average person.
I had a hectic chat with Nicky before I was supposed to leave for the airport, which put me behind schedule. I called for a cab, but it showed up 20 minutes late. The driver apologized and I said I hope you drive fast. He understood what I meant and he did the best he could considering the circumstances of 6:30pm rush hour traffic. He managed to get me to LAX by 7pm. I had about two hours to spare, but since I was on an international flight I needed to get to the airport early.
My client booked me on LAN Airlines. Nicky flew that airline to Chile for a work assignment a couple of years ago. My friend Shirley also flew LAN to South America in the past and she remarked how much better they were compared to AA, which I usually fly for trips to South America. I ran into a snag when I went to check in. I was greeted in Spanish, something that would be a slightly humorous considering I speak really bad Spanglish. It's because of my swarthiness that flight attendants assume that I'm South American.
Once I showed the lady at the counter my passport, she spoke to me in English. She wanted to take a peek at my carry-on bags. I showed her the wheelie and the backpack. She asked to weigh the wheelie. I obliged and she said it was too heavy.
"Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?" I said knowing that it was no more than 10-12 pounds.
"It's two pounds overweight. You can't carry it on otherwise you have to pay a $180 surcharge."
I didn't have a choice. I protested of course.
"Thumb through my passport. See all those stamps? I'm not a rookie, ma'am. I pride myself in being an expert traveler. This will fit in the overhead no problems. It's around 85% capacity. This is how bags get unnecessarily lost."
She reminded me that checked bags were free and that I was taking a direct flight to Lima, so the changes of a lost bag would be slim. I wasn't going to give up and offered to re-balance the load and take out two pounds from the carry on.
She grabbed an orange fluorescent tag that said "PRIORITY" and I knew exactly what she was doing. She was trying to sweeten the deal for me. Did she think that just because my bag had an orange tag that my bags would still arrive without any hassles?
I paused for about five seconds and made her sweat before I folded my hand. I knew that most customer service people at airlines hate their jobs as much as that hate passengers, so I took her gesture (checking my bag as priority) as something that she didn't have to do...but did it anyway. Alas, I checked my bag, but not turning on the charm and seeking out a free upgrade to business class. She said it would add another $2,000 to my ticket. I smiled, thanked her, and walked away.
Ah, before I left my bag, I removed a couple of things (er, pharmies and my hoodie) and stuffed them into my backpack. At that moment, I was officially traveling light.
I found my friends Shirley and Sos, who were both on my flight and flying to Lima for a few days before they joined me in Machu Picchu. Although security was slow and annoying, I didn't get stuck in a full body scanner, so I avoided a cock check. Of course, what's a trip without a delay? The flight was delayed at least 30 minutes. Awesome news considering that at that point, I had been up for over 36 hours with less than an hour of sleep.
I noticed that at least a hundred or so retired Japanese people were on the flight. They were obviously on their way to Machu Picchu as well. The entire back of the plane was filled with the Japanese tour, with the exception of myself, Shirley, and Sos. I joked that I felt like Manute Bol as the tallest person in the back towering over everyone else.
I freaked out for about fifteen seconds and wondered if the Japanese tour originated from Tokyo? How much radiation would they be spreading? I waited until takeoff and the lights to go out to see which ones were glowing in the dark -- they were obviously going to be the ones I avoided.
The light above me wasn't very good and it was bothering my eyes trying to read. I only got through about 60 pages before I gave up. When the flight attendant offered me a meal and drink, she launched into Spanish. I said, "Pollo y agua con gas."
After a crappy piece of rubber pollo and rice that was sticky enough to caulk your bathtub, I ate some pharmies and decided to watch movies. I had been wanting to see The Fighter and I wasn't let down aside from the part f-bomb were deleted so like 36% of the dialogue was bleeped out. Christian Bale is an amazing actor and he plays a crackhead to perfection. And all the girls who played Micky Ward's sisters freaked me out! I wouldn't want to walk down a dark alley and run into those tough broads.
I enjoyed the first movie but wasn't blown away with Paul Haggis' latest flick The Last Three Days. It starred Elizabeth Banks as a woman who gets thrown in prison for murder due to overwhelming evidence against her. Her husband, played by Russell Crowe, believes in his wife's innocence and plots her escape for three years. I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more if I actually was able to rip a few bonghits, but alas, I was about to be clean for at least a week, possibly more.
The flight to Peru was around 8+ hours so I really didn't have any time to try to sleep. Just when I was feeling my eyes get heavy, I fired up my iPod and hoped to drift off to sleep, but then the entire lights in the cabin came on and the flight attendants were wheeling out the carts for breakfast. I ate a second crappy meal and watched two flicks inside of 6 hours. Once breakfast was over, I finally drifted into sleep and napped for about 20-25 minutes before it was time to begin our descent. I had been up for over 2 full days at the point with just a couple of naps to keep me sane. Of course, I wouldn't be able to sleep for 18 hours! I set a new record of 66 hours with minimal sleep. I can do 24 hours without blinking and 30 is about average before I start to get loopy. I've hit 40+ a few times and I'm sure I might have done some sort of brain damage along the way depriving myself of so much sleep. Alas, this is what I do.
I'm working this assignment with my buddy Shamus, who flew in from North Carolina via Miami. He arrived a few hours early and hung out at the airport for me to arrive. I picked up my bag (it didn't get lost, but it didn't spit out first on the belt as I had hoped). Luckily Sos is fluent in Spanish, so he arranged a cab for us guaranteeing that we didn't get hosed and charged Gringo prices. It was $40 total or $10 a piece to take us to the hotel.
I rode shotgun and I forgot it was around 8:30 or so... the height of morning rush hour. I gazed out the window, giggling when I saw tracers as some of the road signs were blurry images of I dunno what. Everything was written in Spanish obviously. We almost sideswiped a bus and I noticed dozens and dozens of buses on the road were stopping every few blocks to pick up passengers standing along side the highway. The driver had turned up the radio and I sung along to the Ramones and the Police, before the driver switched stations after what seemed like a lengthy commercial break He tuned the dial until he got to a Lady GaGa song and I peered out of the corner of my eye and noticed that he turned up the volume and was tapping along with two fingers against the steering wheel. Ha, my Peruvian taxi driver was a Lady GaGa fan.
Once we got out of the congested highway, we headed along a road that resembled Pacific Coast Highway. The beach and water were on one side of the road, meanwhile massive, steep cliffs were on the other side with homes and condos built up on top. I also took note of all the soccer fields alongside the beach that were set at a 45% angle. I didn't see a single basketball hoop, but noticed tons of soccer set ups -- everything from a mini-stadium with walls, to lots of grassy half-fields with nets, and even a dozen or more concrete/blacktop soccer fields with nets on both ends of the concrete.
I saw a bunch of military guys in berets and combat boots from a distance. They stood on the side of the road, on the cliff side, and I noticed a huge crowd had gathered. My immediate reaction was -- workers were on a strike and the military police were there to keep things in order. As we got closer and the cab slowed down, I saw a film crew and thirty or so pedestrian rubberneckers. They were starring at a limp body curled up on the crowd.
"Two bodies," said the driver in English.
I was dubious. Smelled like a hit to me -- maybe they got involved with the wrong guys and were tossed off the side of the cliff? Although I only saw one body, I was surprised that the cops did not cover up the carcass. Instead, a news camera guy stood over the body and filmed what appeared to be a close up.
About ten minutes later, the cab made its way up a winding path of cobblestones to reach the affluent Marifores section of Lima. I got put up on a hotel that was attached to a casino (but not the casino I was working) and it was odd to see three casinos within walking distance. I guess we were in the hip part of Lima?
Shamus and I tried to check in but our rooms were not ready. It was not even 10am. They told us to go eat the breakfast buffet before it closed. We wandered upstairs and I feasted on Peruvian bacon and pineapple juice. It sounded like two of my staples from LA. My colleague Rey from Coast Rica joined us and let us hang out in his room until our rooms were ready. My CrackBerry wasn't working for some odd reason and I needed to check up on some emails and let everyone know I made it to South America in one piece.
I finally got my room and if you've seen the video (posted below, or you can click here to view the video of my swanky duplex/loft), you know why I was more than pleased with the accommodations.
In fact, here's the view...
Luckily, I'm working one block away (just around the corner) and there's a 24-hour grocery store (Peru's version of Trader Joes). We have a fridge in our room so I picked up $20 worth of groceries -- half of which went to buy Peroni beer. I bought a freshly made empanada and made myself a ham & cheese sandwich.
Rey found out that I had been betting on soccer and he wanted to watch the game that I had bet on. Originally, we were going to watch the game in a dive bar, but Rey wanted to put in a bet at the sportsbook across the street inside the casino. We climbed a marble, circular staircase and walked into the cozy room on the second floor. A screen behind a young girl displayed a TV screen with baseball scores. Rey pointed out that the sportsbook was being run by an online sportsbook that we both knew about. I thought that was an interesting concept -- but made sense because the online book can post better up-to-date lines than a small casino in Peru. We watched the game in the sportsbook because we found an empty table. The room had one massive screen and like 8 smaller plasmas. Mostly everyone there was watching one of two soccer games. We had bet on Tottenham against Real Madrid. Brits vs. Spaniards. The damn Brits lost 1-nil on a gaffe from the goalie when he gave us his best Mr. Butterfingers impression and allowed what should have been a routine save. On a good note, we were served free drinks from a scantily-clad cocktail waitress. The beers were small and tasted like Bud drafts, but heck, they were free. She even gave Rey a free sandwich. I was surprised that a non-Vegas casino was being so generous (and in this struggling economic era, even Vegas casinos have been cutting back on freebies and comps) with their free booze.
After the game, we headed into the poker room to chat up with some colleagues and get the low down on when we had to show up for work the next day. We also needed to acquire valuable intel on the location of the PokerStars Welcome Party -- which is an open bar with tons of ceviche for three hours. Since I'm without herbal supplements, I'm definitely down for getting shitfaced! I expected to show up for work hungover everyday, which happens whenever I cover assignments in foreign countries, but in this instances, I was usually hanging out with Nicky and Otis, but both of them were working an assignment together in Connecticut.
I headed back to my room to write and relax. I couldn't get my TV to work...actually I couldn't get either TV to work...so I tried to stream the Yankees game via mlb.tv, but the internet wasn't fast enough. Alas, I just cranked up some John Coltrane and opened up my laptop and started writing and writing and writing until the doorbell rang and a very short looking dude in a red suite held a tray of chocolates. He offered me one as part of their courtesy turn down service. I declined the service (I don't need anyone to lift up the covers for me), but I snagged the chocolate. Two of them.
I got dressed and headed downstairs to catch a shuttle bus to the party at a restaurant in Miraflores adjacent to the Huaca Pucllana pyramid. The party was like most work functions -- a proverbial sausage fest of poker players with a few leggy models that were hired to greet us at the entrance. As soon as I stepped inside, a waiter rushed voer to me with a tray of drinks. I was offered my first Pisco Sour. Other waiters stopped by with trays of ceviche. I sampled it -- a few dishes stood out -- but I'm not biggest seafood guy in the world.
Sos arranged for us to get a tour of the pyramid for like $2 USD each. Our guide informed us that the area was nothing but a huge hill before excavation began in 1981. They found the pyramid which was constructed in 400 A.D., which makes it pre-Incan and part of the Wari culture. Our guide pointed out a spot where virgins were sacrificed to the ocean (Gods). She also mentioned that they ate shark meat frequently during these rituals -- because the shark was the warrior symbol of the ocean.
Check out a video I shot of the pyramid tour if you haven't done so already.
That brings you up to date with my first 15 hours in Peru.