Leaving Peru was supposed to be easy | Week 86 Abroad

We were all sad to leave the Amazon River, but excited for a few quiet days in Lima, a city we’d already explored, before heading on to country 22. We had a lot of hectic travel, early mornings, and new experiences to process in the past week after a last-minute trip to Lake Titicaca, a tearful goodbye with Whit’s Spanish teachers in Cusco, and moving from the calm, chilly mountainside to our Amazon adventure, so it was nice to avoid the pressure and stress of exploring another new place.

One last bit of stress for the road, though, was that we’d never had enough internet while in Iquitos/ Amazon region to book our final Peruvian hotel. Luckily we’re getting pretty good at being flexible travelers and going with the flow, so we decided it wouldn’t hurt us to pull out our computers and book something quickly once we landed in the Lima airport. Well, that bright idea took around 2 hours (still not sure what ended up taking so long, but boy, did it get frustrating after a devastating goodbye to Iquitos early that morning!) and still led to Ben needing to pull out his computer and tether internet from his phone to adjust the hotel booking in the Uber on the way there!

He ended up pulling some magic, at least, and we found ourselves at one of the top hotels in Lima a few minutes later.

Whit and I played a game on my phone in the plush lobby chairs while Ben got us checked in, only to return to us without a room. None were ready yet as multiple guests had paid for a 3 pm checkout, so we opted to visit a vegan restaurant around the corner offering gluten free pizza while we waited for something to become available.

Time for a rant:

I’d researched GF restaurants before arriving in Lima at the beginning of our time in Peru, and this was the highest-rated restaurant serving pizza. We made it our first lunch stop on our first time through town only to realize it would be closed for maintanence our entire stay, so I was excited to give it another try. We may as well have just hung out at the hotel lobby, though, for how terrible our vegan meal ended up being! I just have to say… why are the only gluten free pizzas in vegan restaurants?! We love a healthy diet centered around vegetables, but sometimes you just need dairy. Having a gluten free crust is bad enough, why do you have to make it worse with cashew cheese?!

I was feeling a little sad and frustrated when we finally made it back to the hotel only to be ushered to a triple room with a view of the indoor pool’s roof and a lingering cigarette odor. This would not do. The hotel sensed our annoyance and offered an upgrade to one of their suites for half off, or an extra $20/ day. This was further frustrating as we’d paid for the hotel with credit card points in an effort to not spend extra money, but we agreed to see the room anyway.

It was AMAZING.

Two huge rooms separated by a door included a kitchen with bar seating, a full table, and living room on one side and a giant master bedroom with a seating area, walk-in closet, bathroom with jacuzzi tub and sauna, and office space on the other. After arranging Whit’s rollaway bed against the wall-to-wall windows in the living room and filling the fridge with snacks from the organic grocery store down the street I was prepared to move in full time- assuming we could replace the graphic Catholic paintings and suggestive Incan statues, of course.

The day had finaly turned around, and only got better the next morning: a huge breakfast buffet full of special jams, breads, yogurts, meats, fresh juices, and more including an entire gluten free section with brownies!!!! That settled it. I was never leaving.

On Sunday we went to a ward nearby and were so grateful when multiple members approached us. We’d been background noise for the past 4 weeks in Cusco, an area so used to tourists coming and going that no one (literally no one, even missionaries) bothered to get to know us, so it felt wonderful to feel like part of a community again. We met a missionary who introduced us a single sister interested in Korea after hearing that Ben served his mission there, and this English-speaking sister ended up being my personal friend for the rest of the day. She told me all about the area and their ward and even sent me tons of travel tips in case we ever make a return trip to Peru. Now that’s a great Christian attitude!

Another friendly person told us that President Holland would be in the area that week and was hosting a fireside for couples who had been married less than 10 years. After 7 months of not hearing the church in our native language, being able to listen to our favorite apostle sounded like a miracle. Ben and I high-fived over being 3 months away from our 10-year anniversary, though we probably would have gone no matter what!

We spent the next couple of days revisiting some of our favorite things in Lima (riding Lime scooters through Parque de Amor), took the opportunity to try some new things (a Korean BBQ our friend from church had mentioned and surfing lessons which Ben and Whit both loved and excelled at, despite the cold water temperature), and hung out at our swanky hotel (Whit took daily baths while watching cartoons and we did his schoolwork at the table together while Ben worked) while waiting for Tuesday night’s discussion with Elder Holland to get here.

Here’s where the roller coaster of our last few days in Lima takes another nosedive.

We were scheduled to fly from Lima to Santiago, Chile, on Wednesday morning. Since our flight was early in the morning Ben booked us at another hotel across town which was only a 5-minute drive from the airport so we could get as much sleep as possible (good intentions!). Our original plan was to leave our bags at the swanky hotel while we kept busy for a few hours and then get a taxi to the new hotel for bed time, but once we made plans to see Elder Holland we needed to change things around. We decided to check out of the swanky hotel on time and make a pit stop at a museum on our way to the new hotel. After the museum we checked in and dropped our bags in a tiny room with 3 creaky beds, no A/C and reeking of cigarette smoke. Wow. Kind of a downgrade.

We had about 30 minutes to change before getting a car back to the area of our swanky hotel for the discussion with Elder Holland. We still had a couple of hours before we were supposed to save our seats, so we asked to see the Lima LDS temple before heading to church. After going about 5 km in 1.5 hours we realized trying to go to the temple and back to church would be impossible in not-even rush hour traffic. I started to get anxious, and Ben explained to our Uber driver that we needed to change directions.

We got to the area of church with about 20 minutes to spare, during which we decided to try and eat a hasty dinner at the only restaurant nearby. We ordered the fastest items possible and then tried to gulp our food down as soon as it arrived.

Ben made a startling discovery while trying to multi-task during that dinner, which resulted in an incident I will always be ashamed of. I’ve written the entire story in an answer on Quora, which I’m going to copy and paste below to save the emotion that comes from every time I think about what happened:

 

Before you read and judge, understand that yes, I know I was wrong and they were right. And I know to never argue with airport security, even if it seems like they aren’t right. But sometimes things get heated and you lose perspective.

It all started around 6:20 last night. We’d gotten stuck in crazy traffic for 90 minutes and were rushing through a quick dinner before an event at 7:00. I was getting anxious about arriving early to find good seats when my husband, looking at his phone, exclaims with deadly seriousness, “Oh no.”

He’d been talking about the stock market and some miscommunications affecting our business earlier, so I assumed it was an annoying issue he’d figure out soon enough.

I should have known it was more serious.

In almost 2 years of traveling full-time and having visited 35 countries as an adult, my efficient, organized, intelligent husband had finally made a cliche travel mistake: missing a flight because he got the dates wrong.

In his defense, it was a perfect storm of events. Two events, at least.

The flight automatically synced with the travel scheduling app we use, but imported a date 2 days later than our actual flight. Once he confirmed it was sent to the app he didn’t double check the flight since the app has never steered us wrong. To make matters worse, we usually get check-in reminders 24 hours in advance, but none came for this flight. So last night when he tried to sign in online for our flight this morning it took him a while to figure out why we weren’t allowed.

I was sure we’d figure it out and encouraged him to get to the event on time, but he immediately stepped out after finding seats to try and call the airline. He figured out that the airline wouldn’t re-book us and we needed to purchase new tickets, but both of our phones ran out of data on our temporary SIM cards while trying to book tickets for the same morning flight.

After the event we rushed to the nearest store selling SIM cards to refill his phone. He tried, again unsuccessfully, to purchase new flights in the Uber back to our hotel.

At the hotel I got our son to bed and organized our things to leave early for our flight (still convinced everything would be fine) while my husband tried, for the third time, to buy replacement tickets on the airline’s website. Eventually we both had our computers and phones out to get the tickets figured out and went to bed late after purchasing $700 in flights for the next morning.

This morning my husband’s alarm woke us up an hour before I expected it to because he never got a ticket confirmation email and wanted to get to the airport early in case we needed to buy tickets again. It was good thinking, since the airline had no record of us. The tickets hadn’t gone through. To make matters worse, the counter to buy tickets at the airport wasn’t open and flights on theirs and other airlines were now $2000. Ouch.

Through it all I stayed supportive and calm to my husband who felt absolutely terrible about this stupid mistake.

We eventually get through two long lines at different ticket counters only to buy tickets to our destination for 10 hours later online (at least this time it worked and was only $600).

Now I’m feeling a little annoyed.

It was an honest mistake and my husband felt so guilty, but the fact remains that he and I worked for hours to get replacement tickets, had stood in tons of lines and repeated the story to multiple people (not in our native language), paid lots of extra money, gotten even less sleep than we expected to, and were missing a day of travel all to spend the next 10 hours in the Lima airport.

(You may be wondering why this even mattered. Why didn’t we just chill in Lima for an extra day or two and buy cheaper tickets for a later time? We like Lima and are usually really flexible with our plans, but this happened to be the one time we booked ongoing travel early the following day, Thursday, for a very expensive side trip we really couldn’t miss. We planned 24 hours in our connecting city to prepare for our expensive trip. Go figure.)

Luckily we were able to check in at the ticket counter early and head into the airport, so things were looking up. At least I could sit on a chair instead of standing over our luggage (as I’d been for the last 3 hours).

I was officially annoyed but still keeping it together when we headed to security. We pulled out our laptops and liquids, but my backpack (1 of 6 pieces of hand baggage we were traveling with) got pulled for additional screening. I’d forgotten about a large liquid bottle in another bag, but this one? What could be wrong?

The offender was a half-used bottle of hair gel I keep on hand for my son. The bottle was over the size limit but had passed through security at every other airport, so I was a little annoyed at my continued bad luck this morning. Since we had 10 hours to spare and I needed a win I pulled out a travel shampoo bottle, emptied it, and started to squeeze the hair gel into the smaller bottle.

Sounds innocent, right? It should have been, but this was not going well. It’s a special hair gel that’s really thick (and pretty hard to find outside of the US), and it was barely trickling into the bottle. The agent who pulled it was watching me the entire time to make sure I didn’t swipe it past her, and I admit I was feeling a little spiteful. Getting this hair gel past security was going to be my win.

Suddenly a different security agent approached our table and asked if she could check my son’s backpack, which had already been passed. I said, “Sure! Check all the bags!” more rudely than I should, but that’s just how my mood was turning out: from decent to annoyed to bad to worse.

She found the play blow dart gun we’d bought as a souvenir from a tribe in the Amazon jungle, and without a word took the toothpick-like darts out of their holder and threw them away. It turns out my son had been looking for something in his backpack while I was squeezing the world’s slowest bottle of hair gel and this other agent happened to look inside and recognize the blow darts.

My son started crying hysterically and I lost it. All the frustrations of the last 12 hours and the effort of keeping it all inside came flooding out.

I said in Spanish to the agent watching me that it wasn’t fair for the second agent to throw my son’s toy away after it passed security. I then closed the hair gel bottle, and threw it (with excessive force) into the trash can beside her.

It felt good.

Having said peace and heard the satisfying thunk of the bottle against the trash can I started to zip my bag and walk away.

Except she didn’t appreciate it.

A second later a third security agent appeared and yelled at me to calm down. I yelled back that it wasn’t fair to throw something away after it had passed security. He asked for my passport.

My husband walked over to me and started whispering to me to calm down, we would get bumped off our flight, we wouldn’t travel again, and I’d go to jail.

He was right, but it was not what I wanted to hear.

A fourth agent comes over and threatens to review the security tape and advise the airline that I was too aggressive to fly. I told him to do it and asked for the airport’s complaint contact while we waited. He called the second agent over who told him I’d given her permission to throw the darts away, found the darts in the trash, and refused to give them back even after I calmly offered to break the tiny tips off and re-enter security.

It took me too long to see the spectacle I was making in front of so many people over what official agents have every right to deem a weapon.

My husband was right. Even if it didn’t feel fair security had the right to do and say whatever they want, and I have to comply. They really did have the power to put me on a no-fly list or something.

I sat down on a chair nearby and held my son in my lap. My husband talked to the senior security officer as he reviewed the tape, told him what a stressful morning it had been and apologized for my behavior, and after a tense few minutes he ushered me out of security toward the immigration counter and our gate.

I have so many emotions.

I’m still mad about having to spend the extra money for new flights, full of both compassion and annoyance at my dear husband for this simple mistake, heartbroken for my son losing his one-of-a-kind toy, disbelief that this was the only time the hair gel was pulled and that the second guard just happened to see the darts while he waited for me, indignation that something was thrown away after clearing security, and complete shock and embarrassment at my behavior.

Oh my gosh. I was that person.

It’s honestly too much to process.

I’m now sitting in the floor of the airport clutching my son’s favorite stuffed animal feeling like I’ll either burst into tears or throw up if I move.

What a great start to our next adventure!

 

When I found out we were late for our flight my first reaction was that it was part of God’s plan so we’d be in town for the discussion with Elder Holland. It had been a great meeting with lots of funny, insightful stories and insight from he and his wife, and I was glad we had been able to make it. I was so sure that we’d be blessed for the effort it took to recover our travel plans after going to the meeting, but, so far, the blessing hasn’t really occurred.

I’ll keep you posted!