3a (Interlude): What Little Blue Paper?
As sweat drips in rivulets down the nape of my neck, down the small of my back and gathers on my brow, I try to control my breathing and hope I don’t offend the passenger sitting to my right with the smell of my week-worn clothing now moist with the sweat of my odyssey through the Lima airport. It starting in Cusco when I checked my maleta (backpack) for Quito, Ecuador. They said I’d have to claim my bag in Lima, have it drug-sniffed, take it to the Taca counter, give it to them, pay my airport tax and go on my way.
Simple… if I didn’t have only 45 minutes to layover and my baggage hadn’t been the last out of the plane! That’s what I get for checking in early.
So after hauling my unbalanced, too-heavy bag across the airport to the now closed Taca counter, I was lucky enough to find a tour group with my same problem. The counter help told them to drop their bags with them, so I deposited mine with theirs hoping it would mix in unobserved. I had a half hour to departure and spent the next precious five minutes looking for the airport tax counter. After paying an outrageous $25 American to leave the country, I ran over to the departure line, well aware of the 20-minute check-in limit. I waited in line for my bar coded ticket to be read (another anomaly: no toilet paper in sight, but bar coding on airline tickets) and then waited in the passport line, only to find out the little blue paper I had just thrown out was a tourist card that I needed to leave. Thankfully an English-speaking gent translated what the passport control guard was trying to tell me about my little blue paper, and eventually I understood that I had to replace it or remain a guest of the country.
Another five minutes to replace the paper at the cost of US$4, and I was OJ Simpsoning my way back to passport control but couldn’t get back in the way I had gone originally because I had already had my ticket barcode-read and it was simply impossible to pass again. I had to pry open a door, slip back into passport control, wait again and finally get stamped and sent on my way…
But of course, as the rules of running late in airports never fails, my gate was the last one in the building. So I’m off in an attempt to make a land speed record with about 8 minutes to take off but I get stopped again for another ticket check and bag and body search. Apparently my silver jewelry set off the scanner and instead of a manual scan, the guard insisted I take off all my jewelry… which amounted to 8 rings and 7 bracelets and one necklace. I passed inspection the second time, and I grabbed all my jewelry, my daypack and started my mad, mad dash again…
One more ticket check, this time by the gate agent, and I go leaping onto the tarmac with about 30 seconds to spare, flannel shirt hanging off one shoulder, daypack falling off the other, jewelry jostling in hand, ticket in my mouth. I vault up the stairs to the attendant’s obvious amusement and am quickly ushered to my seat, panting and sweating and swearing never again to toss anything I get in the airport.
So here I now sit in seat 13A, hoping the air-conditioning kicks in soon and my luggage really is on the way to Quito.