Foreword: I maintained a diary while in Peru and wrote regularly. This is it. It is lengthy, and preachy at times. Only a bit of editing went in. I wanted to keep the essence of what I felt while writing about the experiences.

Relevant photos are embedded. Pictures are all unprocessed/unedited. All albums are in the final post, but you can get to them by following the embedded images too.

If you have the time or curiosity, dive right in.

Arrangements.
The thing about Peru is that far too many Indians have been there — I had 3-4 friends who have been to Peru. Plus our custom states that one must advice another even when one has no freakin’ clue of what one is talking about. So you’ll likely get plenty of advice.

Usually incorrect.

Visa.
That is still better than the information the Peruvian consulate shares — which is nothing. The websites don’t work and no one answers the call, but if you say you don’t have a certain document, they put on their best Puneri impression and say ‘But all this was clearly mentioned’. ‘Where’ is not a valid follow-through question.

The best bet is to ask those who’ve travelled and search on the web for documents, and carry all of ’em. (Thanks to this process, I now know that there aren’t any criminal cases pending against me.)

The first visit to a consulate is to drop the passport and documents (and you’ll always have one missing document — rather, the officer will always think of one document you don’t have). Nothing is lost here; you just agree to bring it along on your visa appointment date. This date will be one day before you travel. When I requested to get my passport at least a couple of days before I was scheduled to fly, the officer wasn’t angry, or condescending, or frustrated: He was disappointed, and his exact quote was ‘But we have so much work to do :(‘. The frownie is transliterated from his exact expression.

The appointment date is when they manually stamp the visa, which they could’ve very well done the last time you dropped by. Here I was asked the question, Are you single or married?

I said Single.

To establish some small-talk, he said Haha, good decision.

I explained to him how being single was not a decision, it was the default option, and lauding a default option made no sense.

I still got my visa.

Shopping.
Shopping for the trip cost me more than the trip, as there were plenty
of one-time investments like camera equipment and hiking gear. But now I have all hiking equipment for any trip, and all camera equipment to annoy anyone under the pretense of taking a snap.

Day one.
Flight.
The flights were smooth– Five flights from San Francisco to my first destination in the Amazon rainforest- Puerto Maldonado.

First stop at Texas, Houston, where they take security very seriously. That’s literal: Any jokes about security may get you arrested, said the announcement. The security was impressive though. I stepped 10 feet away from my bag to talk to the airline representative, and ten seconds after I left my bag, there was an announcement that someone’s bag was unattended and they had to claim it within 10 seconds.

Conclusion: Texas is the most secure state, and we already know most of the intelligentsia lives there. What’s not to like about Texas?

Second stop, Panama City. Panama has the biggest rain forests in the western hemisphere after Amazon basin, and the landscapes resemble the Sahyadris.

From [Peru] Way up to Puerto Maldonado 4th-5th Sep. 2010

I read that US invaded Panama a couple of decades ago, so I was sure they had a functioning democracy. The cheese at Panama was the hardest cheese I’ve ever eaten. I don’t know what they’re doing to the cows there, but whatever it is, it can’t be good, and the cows are angry now.

And don’t ask me any follow-up questions, but they don’t flush used toilet paper; they toss it into a bin. Lesson for UI designers: If there is a bin very close to a WC, oh you bet people will use it.

[Update: This was to be seen everywhere I visited during the trip. At one place the reason was mentioned: To avoid clogging the drain.]

From [Peru] Way up to Puerto Maldonado 4th-5th Sep. 2010

Third stop, Lima, Peru:
Staying to a hotel for around 8 hours (till the next flight to Cusco) didn’t make much sense, and many suggestions online were that one could sleep at the airport. There is much description of the airport online: good locations to sleep, their relative location to the Starbucks in the airport, etc. Before landing I could visualize the airport perfectly in my mind. None of that information was correct, but I did discover a cool website www.sleepinginairports.net

12 a.m.
Day two.

Worth it.
I bought a cup of espresso at Starbucks. Mind you, only for the WiFi. A true TamBram wouldn’t touch anything that isn’t decoction coffee with a 10 foot long pole.

On any trip or hike, there is usually one moment when everyone thinks It was worth it just for this. For me during this trip, it was about 3 hours after landing in Lima, Peru.

When I travel alone, I talk to every stranger. Back in the society I am familiar with, we think before approaching a stranger. I consciously avoid doing that.

There was a couple with their kid daughter at Starbucks. The father looked Peruvian, the mother looked American, and the little girl, Lusero, was the most adorable child I’ve ever seen — the kind who’d make you want a child for yourself. Proof:

From [Peru] Way up to Puerto Maldonado 4th-5th Sep. 2010

The mom had slept on a Starbucks couch, and the kid was running around. So I started playing with Lusero and eventually, a conversation with Tomas, the dad, began. It started at 12.30 and went on till 5 in the morning, with breaks in between to keep Lusero busy.

From [Peru] Way up to Puerto Maldonado 4th-5th Sep. 2010

Tomas’ parents are Peruvian, and he was raised in Oregon. Last year — after working as a lawyer for a few years and running a successful business for the next few years — he decided to move to Cusco, where he now teaches English at the university. His wife and Lusero stay in Oregon, where the wife is pursuing her masters’. The family was at the Lima airport to see off mother and daughter.

I can’t quantify what it was about the conversation, but I learnt much about everything and myself in the course of it. His background and experiences in US and Peru were something I identified with immensely. It helped that we were in sync on our core beliefs. And it wasn’t only philosophy: movies, society, love, trophy wives/husbands, children, parenting, system. For me, much conversation happened about happiness and society in the last few weeks with friends and acquaintances; this one felt like the finale. I saw some things that I wasn’t seeing previously, and was introduced to interesting thoughts. There is a certain high in good conversation, and I don’t mean the intellectual masturbation conversations — I’m talking about conversations that teach you something, conversations from which you take away so much that it changes your attitudes and philosophies for an extended period of time. Every idea in the mind course-corrects itself based on experiences or conversation.

Not many people around me have an opinion about society. Most have a critical opinion about things in society, but don’t seem to care about society and conditioning. I was happy to talk to someone who did. I don’t fault those who are happy to live in society, but it’s not what I identify with. I have an aversion to society and all its symptoms, and it looked like I wasn’t alone.

3 hours into the conversation and barely 4 hours in Peru, the thought first came into my mind: I think I just got what I came for. Until then, I didn’t know what I had come for. The rest of the trip now seemed like a formality — including Machu Picchu.

Fourth stop, Cusco; final stop, Puerto Maldonado.

In the Amazonia.

Part two here.

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