Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Peru Trip

This travel log is going to be different than many people who find this site via search engines, etc. will be expecting.

The reason?

While it's written in English, this trip is originating from Montevideo, Uruguay -- not North America.

Our trip began at Uruguay's largest airport in the Carrasco neighborhood in the outskirts of Montevideo. Like all absurd airports they want you to show up a few hours early. If you have a few dollars, a *great* alternative to being sheep herded through duty free shops on the way to a very cramped and uncomfortable waiting area is to delay as long as possible and go "upstairs" in the airport.

Back by the area where they have cafe-style eating (which is pretty bad btw) there is a stairway that looks like it's going to a private club/lounge room. It's not. It's just a restaurant available to the public and a very relaxing way to chill and have some overpriced (but totally worth it) food while waiting for your departure to get closer.

To leave the country you'll need to pay 31 dollars per traveller (if holding a US passport). I'm not sure if this is the same for locals and residency holders.

A word of caution: when you go through the security in mvd -- after enjoying a leisurely meal upstairs of course -- the security check and another visa stamping line are "out of site". So, it can be difficult to judge how long that line actually is.

Once our MVD flight was ready to board from its pathetic "departure lounge" we were spirited away by standing room only bus across the tarmac to the waiting plane. At the time of this writing we could see a rather large (for uy) and futuristic airport being constructed on the horizon.

While I'm sure some architect and construction company are thoroughly pleased with the contract that berthed this beohemouth --- good god, there are only 3.5MM people in the entire country....and not that many of those can afford airtravel.

The scale and magnificence of the building seem a bit ambitious -- but at least I know where part of my 62 dollars (departure tax X 2) is going.

Our trip was booked through LAN chile. It is a pretty nice airline by SA standards. Their only problem is they have the nasty habit of hubbing everything in Chile :) We were laid over en route and on our return in Santiago.

Santiago Airport

Once we arrived in Santiago we had a few hours to kill before our continuing flight to Lima Peru. We decided to eat in the airport since on a previous trip (from Hell) to Santiago I had been pleasantly suprised by a "Ruby Tuesday" in the airport.

In a nutshell, when you've been out of the US as long as us, it doesn't take much. What it was was they had a cheddar based cheese sauce that they poured over some nachos.


If you are living in the US, don't take this gem for granted! For those of us who are vegetarians whereever practical -- and some places not very practical -- cheddar is a godsend. Alas, there is no cheddar in UY to speak of.

When we arrived in Santiago we walked the entire length of the airport looking for the elusive "Ruby Tuesday" -- (for those of you not "in the know" Ruby Tuesday is a "casual dining" -- meaning not that great -- bar food type chain that seems to emenate from the southern states. it's a rouge equivalent of chilis, bennigans, TGIF's, etc etc etc)

We finally found Ruby Tuesday's at the far end of the airport, and sat down to order. Unfortunately, I guess to keep their franchise license intact they have to run with the Ruby Tuesday decor and the Ruby Tuesday menus, etc. However, they've taken the strategic position of simply stocking and cooking those things that are convenient to get or the majority of people in south america order.

While they were bringing out sizzling fajita plates of all kinds, it seemed like all the different things I would order they were "all out" of that specialty. This took the zest out of my quest pretty quickly....I settled for a wilted salad bar and cheese fries -- drowned in the same boring ass tasteless white cheese that i am already dreadfully sick and tired of eating in Uruguay.

I pawed around at that for a while and declared it a bust....considered a milkshake to salvage the experience, but of course they weren't making those either.

All in all, while Ruby Tuesday's was disappointing, this trip to Chile was much less painful than the last one where we were crazy enough to actually leave the airport. :) I considered that a victory.

After a couple hours of cooling our heels, our flight for Lima boarded and departed. This leg of the flight was *excellent*. LAN had jumped in the 21st century. Each seat-back -- even back in "steerage" where we were -- had seat back movie/game/tvshow/music etc. players. I watched a couple of different movies and GL was able to watch the new narnia movie and i wasn't forced to be subjected to it (!) a total win-win if ever there was one. :)

We arrived in Lima and found what is probably the longest customs line I've ever seen. I was still in great spirits since the flight rocked....but it did wind back and forth for some time. Apparently, several flights had landed simultaneously.

We had opted NOT to check any luggage so once we were through the line, we proceeded quickly to the waiting area for arriving passengers....and this was my first impression of Peru....

Finally in Peru

I'm not sure how many people reading this have done extensive travelling outside of the US -- or in Latin america in particular, but when you are ejected out of the customs area there is usually a gauntlet of people in the waiting area...a massive flood of humanity...usually restrained by some dainty velvet rope and a benign looking security guy with a walkie-talkie.

In the mix, so to speak, is all manner of family members, hired drivers, taxi-cabs without fares, tour guides seeking out their clients, tour guides without clients looking for suckers, and many many many people who make a living by selling to or fleecing tourists who are "fresh off the boat" (so to speak).

The resulting cacaphony is at times quite a bit to take in.

If you are looking for a loved one or are going to meet someone in this atmosphere, it can get crazier a.) the closer you get to the equator, and b.) the more homogenous the population appears to outsiders. c.) the larger the airport.

By these standards, the "crazy" factor at the Lima airport was about a 7 (on a scale of 1-10).

(By way of comparison, Seattle is a 2.5, MVD is a 3, San Francisco is a 3, Cabo San Lucas a 4.5, Mexico City a 5, Taipei a 5, San Jose Costa Rica a 5.5. Manila a 7.5, Beijing an 8, etc.)

Luckily I was able to quickly spy my name (mispelled) on one of the many signs being held up and waved around by the souls clustered around the exit....There were a LOT of people cluttered around the exit....on the positive side of things, they were fairly well behaved :)

The woman holding up the sign was our "tour guide" for Lima. This was new to me. When we have travelled in the past, it's very frequent that we don't even have a hotel arranged at our destination, much less a tour guide to take us there.

However, to reduce travel stress I had gladly turned over the travel planning to GL this time, and she had a arranged a package deal that included transport to/from hotels, and rooms with wireless internet throughout the trip -- nice. :)

"Yolanda" and us waited for 15 minutes before another couple from MVD (of all places) emerged from customs and we were spirited off to the van that would take us through Lima's night to our waiting hotels.

For all my impressions of Lima, our neighborhood, the hotel, etc....stay tuned.



Anonymous said...

Cheddar cheese is all over MVD.

fuBarrio said...

what can i say?

i don't get out much! :)

to be clear, when i say "cheddar cheese" i'm talking about cheddar, not that vile processed crap that comes in slices called "american" that people are fond of putting on hamburgers and bad sandwiches (think: subway)

cheddar crumbles.

Anonymous said...

Duh!! >(Cheddar crumbles)
Cheddar cheese is all over the ferias. There's one lady in particular that travels to all of them selling her cheeses. look around until you find her and get her card. She lists where and what time she goes to ferias every day of the week.
Try the one on Fridays in Pocitos-Massini to Chucarro then down Chucarro for 2 blocks.
Oh,I almost're welcome.