Because nothing is simple inPeru, a bunch of us have to go to the bus station to purchase tickets for our weekend trip to Paracas. It’s not possible to buy them online. Why would it be? The station is about 45 minutes away inLima. We decide to use a cabbie we know, have him take us to the station, and from there to Miraflores where we’ll get some drinks. Then he can drive us home and we’ll have had a safe and successful night. He’s scheduled to arrive at 8. At8:15he says he’ll be 20 minutes late. This turns out to being the Peruvian 20, which is to say that the real time is about double that. We’re all antsy and we don’t have all night so we decide to take a Combi to a more populated area and try to grab a taxi from there. The night devolves from this point.
We’ll still go to Miraflores though later and have a drink though, right? Right! Totally. Oh. Wait…we won’t be able to find a taxi to take us back. Almost no one will drive to Huaycan.
Okay, well we can go to Chanclacayo maybe and have drinks there. We’ll get our taxi to drive us there and then bus it back. Yes!
We get toSanta Claraand start heading for the taxi stand. I use the term loosely. Almost none of the cabs, well okay probably exactly none, are even licensed. You can just buy the little taxi sign and stickers and wait somewhere and be considered a taxi. Taking a ride with these guys is always a risk. A few years ago a bunch of (very stupid) voluntarios got into a cab in the center of Lima, a place you shouldn’t be caught after sundown, at about 1am and obviously ended up getting dragged to some awful part of town and robbed at knifepoint. So the point is, you have to be careful. We all try to do the Peruvian thing where you look into their soul, but it’s hard. How do you ever know who to trust?
I’ll tell you who not to trust though. Anyone, absolutely anyone who Pollyanna thinks we should trust. Not one minute after we get off the bus, I turn around to find her talking to three boys who could not be more than 16. She points to them:
– They’ll take us.
– You must be kidding me.
– No. Absolutely no.
– Abby, come on. Geez. They said they’ll take us.
– Polly, how is that a good idea? Three children walk up and solicit us before we go to them? Too eager. No. And where the hell is their taxi? Did they tell you they’d drive you there before you even told them where we were going? No. Just no.
I cross the street and the rest of the volunteers follow. Herbie and I begin talking to a guy who actually has the decency to fake being a licensed cabbie. I turn around, Pollyanna is talking to two more sketchy guys near a car. Perfect. NO! No! I signal to her. The cabbie gives us a reasonable price, he even haggles a bit to get more, which always gives me a false sense of confidence. If he was just planning to take all my money anyway, why would he be haggling for that extra 5 soles? We tell him we’re going to the bus station in LaVictoria. He asks, “Javier Prado?” Yes. That’s the road.
A few minutes into the drive he starts going on about how there are two bus stations in LaVictoria. One on Javier Prado and another somewhere else. This is news to me. I tell him no we want to go to the one on JP. I call my house manager to confirm I am not nuts. She confirms. She has never heard of another one. So I tell him just to go to JP. He’s kinda sketching about. He confirmed before that he knew where it was and would take us there, and now he’s all like, oh maybe we need to go to the other one.
– No. No. Just take us to the one we asked for. Do you know where JP is?
-Yes of course. You see we are on our way there now.
Then he pulls off for gas which is always a fun little Peruvian taxi detour. He gets out of the car and says he needs to make a phone call. I start yelling at him not to call anyone and say we’ll get out if he does. This is the M.O. of these guys before they take you somewhere and rob you, they call up some friends and try to coordinate the heist. So he gets back in, muttering about how he just needed to find out some info about God knows what. We’re on the right road, so I’m not worried about him messing with me. We get to the station and buy our tickets and he waits outside. Everyone’s a little nervous. What if he called some friends while we were inside? No one really wants to be the person to bug out and say let’s not go with him. So we don’t.
On the way out I see him waiting and walk back to the car with him. “Ready to go back?” I ask. He answers but doesn’t really look at me. I’m not digging this. During the ride back he keeps checking his rearview and giving all of us the creeps. I find myself looking behind us at license plates to see if anyone’s following us for a long distance. Then he starts to get off the highway where he should not be getting off. I have only done this route a handful of times, and my sense of direction is awful, and even I know that we don’t exit here. I start yelling:
– What are you doing? No. No. Straight.
– Oh. Sorry. I didn’t know. I thought we could go that way too.
It occurs to me that I’m anywhere from 6-10 years older than all the other people in the car. Maybe I need to just be the grown-up here and get us out of this situation. After hearing the story with the voluntarios that got robbed back a few years ago, I always wondered what was the moment when they were all in the car, realizing they should say something, but keeping quiet for whatever reason? Like what was the point that they were all like, oh shit, we’re in trouble, but then kept their mouths shut? I promised myself I was not going to be that person.
A few minutes later he tries to exit the highway again. I yell again. Pollyanna turns to me and says, “I don’t like this guy.” That’s all I need to hear. If Polly doesn’t trust him, and she trusts everyone, then we’re getting OUT of this thing. BAJA! BAJA right now! He pulls over and drops us off on the side of the highway near a major bus stop. Forget it. Let’s just take a Combi back. I toss half the fare at the guy and slam the door and we all walk away. “Oh no, Abby! He’s getting out.” Bah! We argue about the fare. I told him half was fine, but he went on and on about how he thought he was taking us to another Cruz del Sur station which was closer and blah blah (Upon further research, no such other station exists). We eventually toss 5 more soles out to him and hop the first of three busses we’ll need to take to Chanclacayo. Everyone still faking excitement about heading there for a drink.
Forty or so minutes into that bus ride I say a phrase I never thought I would: Can we just go back home to Huaycan, where it’s safe? Let’s have drinks there.” Everyone enthusiastically agrees and we all admit that we are tired of being constantly scared out of our minds. Enough adventure for one night. Let’s go back to the bad we know.
There’s a little local bar down the street where one of our students works. It’s beyond cheap and they have the tastiest Pisco sours around. We all feel like we need a few drinks after this evening.
There’s no food at the bar, so after a few pitchers, Herbie and I head to get pollo a la brasa for the group, but everything’s closed. We head to Quince and I try to buy some French fries from a street vendor.
– You don’t want chicken?
– No. Just fries.
– I don’t sell my fries.
– I don’t sell my fries without the chicken.
– Right, but I’m going to pay you for them.
– They’re not for sale.
– They are if I pay you and you give them to me.
– No. Then when people buy chicken I will have no fries to give them. – I take a big, obnoxious look around the empty street. It’sone a.m.on a Tuesday, lady…what people?!
Where am I right now? Germany? Kenkos? What do you mean you don’t sell your fries? You’re a frigging street vendor! What? Is corporate going to come by and audit your till and realize you’ve been just willy nilly selling fries and not chicken? Will you be fired? Demoted? Nuts! But okay, fine. We buy about 6 soles worth of junk food from the lady next door. She looks at us so happily, and thanks us profusely, like we’re the most business she’s done in a year.
We take our sad snacks back to the bar. Tasty Piscos aside, it’s been a fail of a night and we all want to just head home.
On the way we run into the original Amigo. Back in March when I arrived, I was walking down the street with two other girls and the saddest, skinniest little dog stood next to me on the sidewalk. Though he was pretty gross he had such a sweet face, so I scratched him a little behind his ears. That’s all it took. He started following us. He followed us all the way down from our house, and down Quince. Stopping and waiting with us as we ran our errands. We started laughing and saying he was our Amigo. Sad, terrible looking Amigo that he was, he was ours, and really he was so very sweet. Eventually we lost Amigo in traffic, but we always talked about the little guy. I never saw him again until this night. He ran over to us. I can’t believe he’s still alive! He looked worse than before, having clearly been run over, he was now only walking on three legs. His fur is missing in places and he looks just truly terrible. But he walks right over to us and starts wagging his tail.
Everyone gets excited. The original Amigo! We must bring him home and feed him. He’s slow on only three legs so Herbie picks him up and carries him some of the way. He follows us the ten or so minute walk up to our house. Everyone is drunkenly excited to save Amigo. We’ve had a bad night, but geez, this dog has had an awful life and he’s still so sweet and adorable and loving. After all the awfulness that has clearly happened to him. Maybe we should stop complaining. So now we’re on a mission to save Amigo…wait…AmigA as it turns out. She’s a she! Okay so everyone wants to save Amiga. Herbie carries her past Rex, the huge guard dog that lives next door. I run inside and pull out all the food I purchased today. Cheese, turkey, crackers. We give her a bowl of water. She gobbles it up like crazy and then sort of wants to cuddle, but really she’s just way to gross to be cuddled with. She looks awful. I realize that she has these awful ticks all over her and start pulling them off. Herbie starts to help. We’re officially the Huaycan drunken veterinary service.
After an hour or so it’s time to go inside. We bring Amiga out a little towel and wrap her in it. She seems happy and passes out. Amiga has brightened everyone’s night. I tell myself that she will live here as the house dog from here on out. It seems even the worst night can be redeemed.
Eleni is hands down the prettiest and most well educated girl in Huaycan. Obviously, this is a little bit like being the tallest midget, but she wears these superlatives like badges of honor, the way big fish in small ponds the world over do. Like an asshole. (I’m sorry mom but sometimes only a bad word conveys the meaning I’m looking for.) So far, she’s failed to be my favorite adult student. Every word she says to me is in this disdainful tone, like it pains her to even have to speak to me. The only time she smiles when she speaks to me is when it’s to say something mean.
– I heard from Jose you got your bag stolen. – (To be read in the tone of “I heard you just got a new job.”)
– Yeah. It sucked a bit, but I’m okay and really, it’s just stuff. What can you do? I’m really only mostly sad about my diary.
– Hmmm. Well, really you should be more careful next time. How do you say ‘naïve’ in English?
Um, I think it’s “you’re an awful bitch.” I think that’s how you say it.
For our second trip back home from the bus station, I decide we’re not taking any chances. We’re gonna splurge on the one secure taxi company inLima. The taxi driver arrives, he’s a cute little old man, maybe approaching seventy, and reminds me very much of a Peruvian version of my grandpa. I ask him to confirm the reservation name for me, and he does, assuring me that we’re safe with him and his taxi. “With us. No problem.” He squeezes my hand. Then we tell him where we’re going.
– Huaycan? Huaycan? Sure?
– Yes. We’re sure. We live there.
This is basically the format of every conversation we have with people when you tell them where you’re going. Huaycan is a notorious ghetto, and most people fromLima, even most taxi drivers won’t go there. They just won’t. And they can’t believe you want to go there either. They think that maybe you’re mispronouncing it.
– No, it’s M-i-r-a-f-l-o-r-e-s. Say it with me. Miraflores. Not Huaycan. No.
– Yes. It is. I live there. Truly.
So this poor little old man cannot believe his (lack of) luck. Here it is, 1am on a Thursday, and he’s managed to pick up a fare to the worst place he can think of. He tells us he knows how to get to the entrance, but not how to get us to where we need to go, and we assure him we can lead him from there. He looks nervous but nods and starts driving. He looks petrified.
– Have you ever been to Huaycan before?
– No! — It’s like I’ve asked him if he’d ever been to Mars before…. if Mars was a horrible scary place that you’d never want to go ever, even if you were being paid a large sum of money.
As we drive and begin to get into the sketchier parts of town the poor little driver is starting to look panicked. We all joke amongst ourselves about how this is the total reverse of our normal taxi situations; since here, I am pretty sure our driver’s worried that we’re taking him to the ghetto in order to rob his ass and drop him off in the middle of sketchville with nothing. He keeps asking: “Are we close?” “Will it be much further?” in a high pitched tone that I’ve heard myself use a number of times while fearing for my life and safety. We try to assure him we’re close. He drops us off and we give him a tip that is maybe the equivalent of $3, and he is shocked and very grateful. Then the role reversal continues while I make sure he knows how to get back and that he’s okay. When Peruvians aren’t robbing you, they’re really a helpful sweet bunch, so I hope our taxista will feel that way about Americans he’s got to drive to Huaycan in the future.