Making Mistakes To Find My Way

I felt uneasy the moment I got in the cab.  And I should have listened to that feeling, or felt it more, or something.  I knew something wasn’t going right.  Not like I was in eminent danger, but that things weren’t as I wished them to be.

I caught the cab just off the street where my hostel was located and the language barrier should have been a sign.  At first he couldn’t understand me and then I couldn’t understand him.  This was actually normal as my ability to speak Spanish is slim.  And there were other people in the station wagon.  And he was turning left when I came from the right.  Yes, bells.  But for some reason they weren’t loud enough or I wasn’t listening.  Either way it’s my fault, let’s make that clear.

When I thought he understood me I got in.  There were three other Peruvians in the car and it was tight.  We headed out past the Sheraton I used as a landmark the day before and where I had planned to grab a cab.  I should have stuck with that plan, or maybe not.  We turned onto one of the main highways and as the sun couldn’t be seen from behind the low clouds, I wasn’t sure which direction we were heading.  North?  Maybe.  Could have been Southeast for all I knew.  I wasn’t going to flash my expensive watch with a compass at this point.

The driver exited about 4 minutes later and started asking questions.  I kept trying my best to repeat “aeropuerto” which I knew was right, but I wasn’t coming across, even pantomiming with my hands a plane taking off (I kept the “Zoommm!” sound effects to myself).  And this wasn’t a happy bunch who wanted to be helpful.  From glancing the other riders, I guessed they were all on their way to work.  The man next to me mentioned a few things as the driver got back on the freeway, only to exit on the next ramp where he stopped in earnest.  My pulse was up a couple of notches and I had to calm myself against the adrenaline now entering my system.  This time my pronunciation must have been better or the car not so loud, because he understood with a long, “oooohhhhh” and then thumbed backwards.

So I got out and paid him three soles for taking me the wrong way.

Now where was I?  On a side street off the freeway (a sunken one like some in LA).  An immediate check of my surroundings let me know I wasn’t in danger, but I also was more than lost.  I was lost the day before, wandering around town, but had a feeling of knowing the right direction and easily found my way back once I listened in earnest to my internal compass.  Which means just not listening to my frantic mind for a bit.  But this was more.  I had to be at the airport in less than an hour and a half and had no clue where it was.  No planes in the skies to hint towards its direction.  That’s what I mean by more than lost.

So I took a deep breath and looked around again but this time not for thugs, but for patterns.  I noticed a bus stop on my side of the road (heading in the wrong direction) and one of the other side of the freeway that could be reached by an overpass.  Lots of morning commuters around but I didn’t see a lot of taxis.  I started walking towards the other side of the road as I knew I needed to head back the way I came, thus I needed to cross the road.  And then a taxi whizzed by.  And other.  But there was a construction fence between me and them by that time I was on the overpass.  Buoyed by a glimmer of hope, but stupidly gun shy from my last attempt to communicate in Spanish, I reached a cab on the other side of the street.  His flashers were on and he was waiting when a woman walked up and handed him something.

I could tell then he’d be a better bet as she was handing him breakfast while smiling in a familiar way.  And his cab was noticeably not dented.  Walking up to his passenger side window I stooped down and again, ignoring my self doubt for a minute, asked, “Auropuerto?”  A slight hesitation on his part, then, “Si”.  Relief.  One of us at least was not lost.  What followed was an experience 180 degrees from that first cab ride.

With building confidence I asked, “Cuanto cuesta?”  And on went our journey.  He knew as much English as I knew Spanish but I can understand more than I can speak.  We agreed on a price with hand signals and then he proceeded to ask if I had cash or coins or dollars.  He relaxed when I mentioned cash soles, the Peruvian currency.  Then came the string of normal cabby questions; Washington, North of California, not Washington DC.  Yes, I’m Christian (the Living Bible he had on the dash also reassured me he was an honest driver, sorta) after passing some churches.  He asked what I do, all of this in Spanish I could suddenly halfway understand.  So much better than the day or even hour before.

And luckily I had my high school language class skills to fall back on.  When telling him how long I had been in Peru I thought a second and responded, “Tvo daj”.  Yes, I had taken Swedish in high school and boy, was it coming in handy now!  I also lapsed into a bit of Nepali as well telling him I had a ‘shrimad’, or wife.  Heck, Kim will probably tell me I got that wrong as well.

I then dropped my defenses long enough to pull out my phrase book when I was trying to explain I went in the wrong direction first.  As well as the word for ‘writer’.  He offered me his last two breakfast rolls and made sure I rolled up the window and locked my side of doors while he removed his Taxi sign from the dash when we were in a surly part of town.  He also told me President Bush was in town as well as other world leaders.  And I didn’t have to fake my understanding for a while.

He pointed out other sites along the way as Roxette and Cheap Trick hummed from the radio.  A half hour after entering the chariot that delivered me from who knows where, we were at the airport.  My first real interaction with Peru was coming to an end as I got out my cash.

And all because I had made what I thought was a mistake getting in that first cab earlier in the morning.

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