My plane landed Thursday afternoon after a long international flight. I was returning to Peru after four months and was thrilled with the fascination of arrival as well as the awareness of how ordinary coming to Peru has become.
I was happier that the lines in immigration were short at that moment than with the thought of the beauty and amazement that would probably await me on Cruz Velakuy when I got to Cuzco.
I was excited to see the guys who work with me on the blog, Walter, Brayan, and Arni, though we talk most days via skype. Putting Cuzco Eats together requires we interact every day it seems. But mostly I was just happy to get through immigration, get my luggage and go catch a cab.
My flight and the delay of a suitcase had left me tired and cranky. I spoke with a taxi driver just outside the airport and settled on a price to Miraflores and the hotel I was trying. We walked toward the airport exit and then stopped while he spoke in his phone. I gathered he was waiting for his car to arrive.
Not happy, I decided to just be patient and, anyway, I was too tired to really put up a fuss or go find someone else.
His car still did not arrive. Suddenly he started shouting out a name and waving his hand “come, come, I am here.” A black car drove up and a tall, athletic man got out and grabbed my bags.
I hustled to get in the back seat hoping he would just let me be. I felt too tired to talk. Still, I had to tell him the destination and make sure the fee was still the same. All this while the car pushed off and drove by the control kiosk at the airport exit and pierced the very thick traffic of rush hour.
“It is the worst hour, la hora pico, for traffic. We will be slower than normal, but do not worry I know many ways to get you to your hotel.”
He suddenly pulled off the road onto a small, residential street and then onto another where there was no traffic.
Though I was tired, part of me was paying a bit of attention to make sure we continued in the right direction and that around us all was normal.
“You know I have been working at the airport for four years now, but I have met people who have worked there for more than twenty years and they have told me all kinds of stories.”
Yeah, we had been talking about taxis and why one should hail a cab at the airport, an official one, instead of going out into the street where things are a third cheaper. Somehow I had lost track.
I looked in the rear view mirror and he was somehow younger and more lively.
“I was a basket ball player and used to work somewhere else. They had me play on their team but then I had to sue them. I won and used that money to buy this taxi. My brothers got me on at the airport. Not anyone can work there, you know.
“You should hear the old timers. They talk about how they used to take advantage of passengers. They would confuse them with exchange rates before there was the internet and the passengers would have to pay much more than the route was priced.
“We can’t do that now, because people can look up exchange rates on the internet. They have it on their phones. That has changed everything.”
We had been zigging and zagging down streets in the labyrinth that Lima often feels to me. I just knew the sea was still close at hand on my right, mostly, and my hotel was still to the south.
“You can’t trust politicians. They promise everything to get into office and then forget about the people who put them there. Look at President Umala. He would not have been president if the poor people of Lima had not believed him. Now look at him. He has betrayed us. He did not fulfill his promises. I feel betrayed.
“Don’t worry. I know all the entrances to Miraflores. We are going to drop down to the coast road and then will go into Miraflores. The Balta is bumper to bumper at this time of the day. We are going to take another way in.
“You see I know how to get there. We have not got stuck in traffic yet.
“Did I tell you that I was born into a humble family. I grew up in the center of Lima. So when I became a taxi driver it was all easy. I knew all the streets.
“My parents were separated. I did not get along with my father and for eight years I did not see my mother. My father’s new wife did not like me.
“I like sports. They called me caballo, the horse, because I liked to run. I ran every day, all over the place. I also like all sports and played basketball especially because I am tall.
“My girlfriend got pregnant and we decided to get married. I was in the university studying medicine because I wanted to get somewhere and be something, not like my father. Still I did not want to ignore my responsibility and so I left the University so we could get married. I started looking for work.
“Her father spoke with me. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses. He asked me if I was serious about his daughter and was really going to marry her. When I said yes he helped me get a job where he worked. He was more like a father than my real father.
“It is because of him I have this car and this job. I have three girls. The oldest is 21 now. She works and helps but I want to make sure she gets a good university education and can do what I could not, become a professional.”
“What was that address? Oh yeah. Here is your hotel.”
He popped open the trunk, spung out of his car and easily lifted my bags to the door of the hotel, before wishing me well and giving me his card.
I felt somehow almost in a dream state, and had trouble putting the younger man telling me the story together with the middle-aged though vigorous man extending his card out to me.
I was in Peru. Its people and their lives had claimed me once again.