Classic Peruvian Bureaucracy

My life these days is like a blur…


Today I am just sitting around here, having a rest day. It’s mid-morning or early afternoon and I’m sitting in the roots of an ironwood pine tree. It’s sunny, warm, quiet and still.


The pine needles are soft and I can lay down comfortably or recline however I want. It’s like my couch, and there are actually no bugs to bother me at all. It’s definitely paradise here.


It’s warm in the sun so I keep to the shade, looking out to this view of the mighty Pacific Ocean. It’s a shocking, oversaturated blue. I’m halfway up a small mountain on Kauai Island, Hawaii.


The island is an enormous chunk of soft volcanic sediment, sitting in a prime location in the center of the tropical Pacific. The island is high enough to rake the jet stream- aptly named the Pineapple Express. The wild amount of ensuing precipitation caused by this phenomenon has carved out dagger sharp peaks from the crumbling, volcanic clay.

These mountains are deeply emerald, with the most luxurious rainforests I’ve ever seen carpeting their fluted ridges and razor-edged spires. The heavy rainfall also makes the island home to the wettest spot on earth, at the summit of Mt. Waialeale. Dozens of waterfalls pour down the faces of Waialeale and his surrounding range.


The mountain summits are home to so much water, but at the lower elevations there is much less percipitation. Most of the island is in the rainshadow of the mountains, and is actually classified as a desert. This allows for really fantastic living conditions here, the air isn’t too dry, but not too humid, and when it does rain it’s light and gentle. It’s fresh and usually not too hot… but never too cold either. The water is relatively warm for swimming and crystal clear, what more could ya want?? The island is conveniently located about halfway between America and Asia, in the middle of absolutely nowhere.


From this lovely spot I’ve picked out in the garden-like jungle of the island, I can see the massive, glassy waves rolling and turning turquoise before they crest and break. All day today has been that peaceful thundering, and otherwise silence and sunshine. Like I’ve mentioned before, I can’t seem to find a good excuse for our modern world as to why I’ve come here, but basically I wanted to so I did.


Now I’m here and it’s just great, although I’ll need to work and get paid eventually. For now I’ll just live in my mountain castle and touch base with nature because that’s really what you’re supposed to do on Kauai. Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian islands, and is known as the mother island. Kauai is a sacred place.


Today on this lazy day I am going to try and write about the events which happened to me in the days and weeks following losing my backpack and all of my possessions in a river. I didn’t write for a long time after it happened.



I was in Huaraz, Ancash, Peru, my favorite city in the Peruvian highlands. I had nothing but the clothes on my back and all the amounted to was an old T-shirt and a bathing suit which I had found on the side of the highway in the Atacama Desert. Oh, I also had a plane ticket in about 12 days to Hawaii.


The first evening after I lost my backpack was a frantic one. When I visited a bank and was turned away, and I asked futilely at another bank, and I went back to the first, and I wandered in circles, confused, miserable, even in tears for a while. Until I found I had three soles change in my pocket and was able to use the money on a couple hours of internet to talk to my mom.


She came through successfully as always for me, so I didn’t have to sleep on the streets in the rain and was treated to a nice hotel room instead. The next day I had to get money. First thing you need when starting a new life from scratch. It was easier said than done.


My mom continued to help me, and I definitely needed the help. She transferred me money through Western Union. However, they wouldn’t let me pick up the money without ID, the classic conundrum when starting a new life. You need money to get ID but you need an ID to get money…


Another breakdown at the bank led me to the police, where I probably should have gone in the first place. They wrote me a denuncia (police report), but first made me wait an hour while I had to stand around and shelter from the rain. I looked crazy with no coat in this cold weather, and I talked to a very nice British girl who offered to give me her tent! Unfortunately I never saw her again.


Finally I had my denuncia but the bank still wouldn’t accept it as ID. I went back to the police and they told me to have my mother re-do the money transfer. Send it instead to one of the police officers who could pick up the money for me.


Mind you this is all in Spanish, it was very difficult for me to communicate my problems and situations to anyone. I succeeded in the end even though I had to constantly make a fool of myself. And people could see that it was difficult for me, and that I was having a hard time far away from my country, and I needed help. And the people were all helping me, I had to run around town to wait in a bunch of lines but everyone was trying to help.


I hope a non-English speaking individual who was lost and needed help in the USA would be treated the same way. It’s easy to be pessimistic and say that people in the USA wouldn’t be kind to a stranger, a foreigner in a situation like mine. But I’ve met a lot of really good people from the USA. It starts on an individual level, so all I can say is that if you’re reading this, be one of those good people.


People will come to the USA from all over the world searching for a better life. Some will come illegally and there’s nothing we can do to stop that. We must help each other to get what we need regardless of where we are from, regardless of the roadblocks from government… roadblocks I confidently hope someday to see become less, not more. Basically what I am saying is we don’t need to build a wall we need to build a bridge. And if THEY build a wall, we need to be the people to stand together and tear it down. It starts on an individual level of simple right and wrong, to help each other when we need it, and to come together despite our differences.


Fortunately for me, the people of Huaraz are a very kind lot. The police let me use their computer to talk to my mom. Both my mom and I were pretty stressed, and she went to the bank to send a new money transfer of 300 dollars to Lucia Maribel Guerrero.


So I went and waited in line at the bank with officer Guerrero, and she picked up my money for me. Thank god, it felt great, I had 1000 soles! Time to go shopping!! I was apprehended by a man named Anselmo who was trying to help me. He was the bank director. He insisted to take me to buy some clothes.


So we went and he even bought himself a new suit. I got some long pants, and his friend gave me a discount on an excellent jacket which I got for 100 soles, (30 dollars). I said goodbye to Anselmo in the pouring rain and made my way through the city to a hostel above the Café Andino. I booked two nights.


Life was starting to feel a little closer to normal now that I had money, but that night I became unbelievably sick with diarrhea. I woke up every hour of the night and well into the morning with violent attacks. Finally it subsided and I slept until 1PM.


It was that day, I left my quaint and lonely balcony hostel in the narrow, open air building, and found out on the internet about the donations I was receiving. I was shocked and in awe of the generosity of my friends and family. It obviously doesn’t help to preach kindness to the people reading this, because you’re already there! So all we can do is spread that kindness onward wherever we can. I feel like I owe the world. Maybe we all really do, it is not a bad feeling.


I became extremely emotional and bawled my eyes out at the little internet tienda. I had considered abandoning my extravagant plan to go to Hawaii, because I had these even crazier plans to go to Alaska in the summer. Now after this fiasco I would be needing more time and money while at home to prepare for that. Better to just go home, but when all this money came to help me rebuild my life I decided I had to keep up the adventure. My plan was to go to Hawaii and find a job for two months.


That afternoon, a beautiful lady served me lunch at her hole-in-the-wall café, in an alley full of cats and dogs and children playing. I was still sick and wretched feeling after the night I had, and the food couldn’t have been more perfect. Heavenly carrot soup, pureed, and the meal was a Peruvian dish called Ahi Gallina. Like a shredded chicken in thick garlic sauce, served over rice with boiled potatoes. The meal was 10 soles (3 dollars) and gourmet. The people were warm and made me feel welcome.


The rest of the day I didn’t eat anything except for yogurt and some thin chicken soup. The nutrition seemed to heal my stomach although I wasn’t perfect for a long while afterward. I also bought a cheap backpack and filled it with gifts for my family.




I was very sad to leave Huaraz but I would be forced to. I had to go to the US embassy and get a new passport. I had wanted to spend the rest of my time in Peru in Huaraz and the surrounding mountains. That was no longer an option, I had to go to Lima.


After one final day sitting on the balcony at the Café Andino, eating my crusty bread with avocados, I got an overnight bus. At 5AM I arrived in Lima and decided to take a long walk. Little did I know that I was in for a very bad day ahead! (Sorry if this story becomes hard to follow, it was a complicated day!)


I walked extremely far, across the city through the poor section of town. For 1 sole I bought a sandwich of crusty bread and Andean cheese from a street vendor. Another sole got me fresh squeeze orange juice, which the man squeezed right in front of me.


I walked through a street market that was maddeningly huge and sprawling. Every kind of produce imaginable lay carelessly around the sidewalks and streets. Tomatoes, carrots, limes, plums, cabbage, cilantro, eggplant, they had everything piled high on the ground. People were laying among it, or furiously pushing carts through it. Cats poked around, I accidently stepped on some leeks! Who leaves their produce somewhere it could be stepped on? Seems weird.


Anyway, I became completely lost, and in the end needed to take a taxi to the embassy. There I waited in more lines and at the door was turned back. I needed an appointment.


In my confused state after leaving the embassy I was wrangled up by some people who made the appointment for me. Let’s call them the “embassy helpers,” and they ripped me off 100 soles for their service. I couldn’t go see the embassy for 7 days, not until Friday and my flight was on Sunday.


Well that whole experience made me feel a bit lousy, and after a lot of walking I made it to a grocery store where I bought fresh, delicious food. Bread and jam, avocados and cheese. I ate it in the grass in a park nearby. The day was getting very warm, it felt great, much better than the chilly weather in Huaraz. I hadn’t slept well on the bus, and I couldn’t help it, I passed out in the grass in the shade of palm trees and slept undisturbed for two hours.


When I woke up, I visited an internet tienda to use a computer, and then went in search of a hostel. I heard there were nice ones in the Miraflores district so I started walking. I walked a long way before being snatched up by a bus.


Only after walking very far around Miraflores did I find the hostel I had heard of. It was full… and only after checking at another hostel nearby, when they asked for my ID, did I realize I made a big mistake… The embassy helpers… they had given me a manila envelope with documents in it. I didn’t have it anymore.


I had put my police denuncia in that envelope, so now the only semblance of ID that I had was missing. The horror upon realizing this! I must’ve left it in the park, or at the internet tienda I had visited. God forbid I left it on the bus, which was just a run down, crazy driving, passenger van among a hundred other passenger vans.


I ran out to the street- taxi! He brought me a great distance back across the city to the park, and had a funny sense of humor despite my extreme agitation. Rapido!! I told him, and he went fast! He could speak a little English, and I could speak enough Spanish we could understand each other just fine. My Spanish was getting better with all this forced practice I was having.


Back at the park and I found nothing. I checked all the trash cans and then retraced my steps, to the internet tienda, to a gas station bathroom, and then back to the park, still nothing! I was freaked out by now. I had worked hard to get those documents.


I went to a security guard and they brought me into a surveillance room where cameras were watching the park. We re-winded the security video and watched! The tapes however, were very bad. They scanned the area in all random directions and couldn’t see much.


But then I was there! Yup, there I go, laying down, and there’s the denuncia! The manila envelope was lying next to my backpack (for it couldn’t fit in the stupid little thing), as I slept shamelessly there on the ground for literally over two hours. At one point the security cameras zoomed in to check me out! They didn’t have footage of me leaving the park, which is all I really needed to see if I left the paperwork behind.


I left the tiny, ridiculously hot security building after that hour of time had gone totally to waste. Now I was down in the dumps and didn’t know what to do. I wandered aimlessly off, upset. Eventually I saw a police officer. I went over to talk to her and explain my story in Spanish:


Tres dias atras, perdido mi mochila y todas mi cosas en un accidente en los montanas… en un rio… cerca la ciudad Huaraz. Tonces… err… Tengo un denuncia policia… pero ahora, hoy dia, perdido mi denuncia aqui en Lima. Ahora, necessito un nuevo denuncia.


So I wound up back in the police hands and they were all pretty nice to me again. This funny old bloke, kind of fat, behind the computer, let me sit there with him and search through all the records to find my name on file. It took a painfully long time. Wow, a lot of people had lost IDs in Huaraz every day. My name was nowhere to be found.


After a really long time searching ever corner of this stupid, outdated computer system, I was nowhere to be found. Very annoying and made me sad. The man told me to go to the tourist police, in Miraflores across the city, and they might have me on file there. Or I could come back in the morning and try the main office where apparently they have a better computer system. Otherwise, I’ll have to go to the tourist police and file a new report.


I left the place feeling bad, and resolved to try their main office in the morning and try to stay in this area tonight. Miraflores is a good half hours’ worth of driving from here. I needed to get a hotel room but had no ID. Some places, like the Café Andino for instance, don’t care… (or maybe they were just helping me out)… but Lima is more the “real world”, and I would need ID to get a room.


I went to the internet! To talk to my mom! I told her my story, but spent a long time talking to her and it became dark outside. She said she would try to buy me another hotel room over the phone like she did last time, but it was easier said than done.


Some hotels were booked, but most didn’t speak English. She needed the place to speak English so she could explain my unique situation! And she offered to pay as well, some of these hotels were fairly expensive and might drain the last of my cash, which I needed to spend on that cheap hostel in Miraflores once I had ID again. My mom needed to find someone who would basically be willing to help.


Finally, after she made many calls, she got a hotel booked for me. I’d have to walk pretty far. It’s already dark, I just have to get there before 11 PM so I can see the woman who spoke English and knows my situation. I walked a long way. I would get the hotel and eat pizza! I had been too busy to eat for most of the day. But then I got lost.


I just got more and more lost, and became extremely agitated. No one had heard of this hotel or could give me directions, and I had lost the piece of paper with the address as well. This was my problem! My little backpack sucked, I didn’t have a good system. All my systems went away in that river and staying organized with what I had left was bordering on impossible. I didn’t have a phone or a map so getting lost in the city becomes inevitable.


Finally someone helped me.


It was 10:30 by the time I arrived at the hotel. Wow it was really swanky, much fancier than the last hotel she booked for me. I met the lady who spoke English. I thought she knew my situation but… It turns out my mom only “reserved” the room for me, and I still had to pay. Well I couldn’t pay. The room was very expensive, over 300 soles and 3 times more expensive than the room in Huaraz.


If I had paid it would have drained me down to 30 soles and I couldn’t do that. That same price could buy me ten days at the hostel. I had no bank card, I needed this money. My mom thought she had paid, there had been a communication error between her and this lady. The lady said my mom did not give her the credit card number, but my mom did.


Either way I couldn’t pay, there was nothing to be done about it. The lady felt sincerely bad and I left.


I was so furious when I got outside, I had actually been extremely furious and out of control BEFORE this had happened when I was lost. Now it returned, and I kicked one of the hotel’s potted plants in a concrete pot three times very hard until it fell over. But I hurt my foot doing it- that was stupid. I wandered off.


The first thing I did was go and eat to try to regain sanity, but the pasta dish I wound up with was not great and the people were nasty to me. I think it was obvious that I was crazy. So I left into the night, not really sure what to do. I had no way of contacting my mom at this hour so forget that.


I asked a hotel, it was the slimiest hotel you’ve ever seen. They turned me down. And equally slimy one then offered me a room, but it was like 80 soles for 6 hours. … What? First of all, I usually pay something like 15 soles per night for a nice hostel. This is disgusting, no I refuse. I decided I’d just sleep in a park somewhere.


So I walked. And walked… and walked, and walked and walked. I found no good places to sleep. I made it to a dingy part of the city, with gambling and hookers and such but I had been in a super opulent neighborhood before that. This awful red light and shopping mall district was not the “poor” part of the city, this slime was still for the rich.


I tried about 6 hotels and they all turned me away for not having ID. A couple were okay deals too, 40 soles per night. It just wasn’t working out for me. My foot hurt and I started to walk with a limp. Damnit, whatever happened today, I certainly screwed up.


It was very early morning, I didn’t have a watch, but I had been basically walking nonstop, aside from the two hours I had passed out in the park, since I stepped off the bus at 5:00 the previous morning. Finally I found the spot. A huge highway overpass, where the city street and sidewalk passed over a 6 lane highway.


I walked for a moment down the entrance ramp to the highway. There was a jersey barrier beside me. I hopped over the jersey barrier. Right here, it’s perfect, it’s fine. I was on kind of a ledge, if you will. Below me a good distance was the highway, and from the highway steep grassy hills rose up, decorated with ornamental hedges and flower displays writing out things like “Bienvenidos a Lima.” Above that was where I sat, where the hill was mechanically flattened on the top for about two to three feet before the jersey barrier.


Behind me, the jersey barrier hid me completely from the highway onramp and city street. It was hiding in plain sight, because the cars could see me, in fact they could look right at me, but only for a moment and then they would continue roaring passed on the highway. I was hidden by the glare of the streetlights.


I laid down on my backpack, still wearing my shoes, new pants, and thankfully my coat. My crappy little, hand-sewn, Inca wool backpack filled with crunchy empty water bottles made a pillow. The roar of the highway like the roar of the ocean… I actually slept perfectly fine, until dawn.



Dawn woke me up with the city still sleepy. It was clear, warm and dry, thank god! Lima has a great climate. I was tired as I walked back towards the police station, but felt good. Yesterday was like the worst day of my life so it can only get better. I resolved to make it a good day.


I was cheery to the policemen, and waited. In the office they still couldn’t find my police report on file. Then a boss man guy came in and began doing the same search as yesterday. I explained to him that it was hopeless. He sighed, opened up a new file, and typed me a new police report in 5 minutes. Printed it- I was good to go! Wow, thank you, he short-cutted some bureaucracy for me, and the report was rather brief but it will do!


After that, I finally went back to Miraflores and got myself a hostel. It cost 24 soles per night (8$). It was perfect. It had a piano!! They gave me a bunk on the top floor, next to a window with a cool tropical breeze blowing in. The shower had high water pressure and was hot. The market was right next door with my fresh baked crusty bread, pastries, and the fruit stand with avocados was in the street. The beach was two block away.


I booked the place for ten days, the longest I’ve ever stayed in any hotel or hostel. I got comfortable, and ready to wait for a while.



In the time that followed, I didn’t do anything too exciting. I made friends in the hostel and one night two dudes from Argentina showed up. They were probably in their 40s, and probably had been travelling all their lives. One played the saxophone and the other played the guitar, and they would perform only on the streets. We heard them practicing… and that night in the backyard of the hostel where they had lounge chairs, the guys put on a show.


It was absolutely incredible, the audience was just us, a couple random wanderers from Argentina, a girl from Germany, an old man from France and another dude from Chile. The sax was played so flawlessly it was as though it was simply a part of this man, and the guitarist was hands down the most talented guitar player I have ever witnessed. They had microphones and speakers, and the guitarist sang Spanish lyrics with perfect pitch and harmony. We were all mesmerized.


They played for hours, and the cops finally came to tell us to stop. The whole hostel was together in this enjoying the music though, so after they stopped playing I got on the piano and shook the house with a dramatic performance. That got them started right back up again, and the music was unstoppable! And the cops came again!


That was really the most excitement I had in Lima though. I faced a few walls of bureaucracy, I needed to get an earlier appointment at the embassy, and basically barged my way in. I walked back and forth across the city over and over, at times aimlessly. I ate a lot of bread… and a lot of avocadoes… and a lot of pizza, and a lot of ICE CREAM!


Miraflores was the richest district of Lima. It was probably the richest place in all of Peru, and wealthier than anywhere in Colombia or Ecuador. It was like I was in the US, with spoiled tourists, and lots of shopping, and KFC, and Starbucks, all the fast food. The city was cleaned like it is in the USA… not like Huaraz or the other trash filled cities in South America. Not like the other side of Lima where like an invisible line to cross you go from very rich and opulent to abject poverty and literally crumbling architecture.


In the end, I got my emergency passport. The bank shipped me a new bank card to the hostel. I was all set. I had become pretty complacent and relaxed there, the hostel had computers and I didn’t have anything I was in such a hurry to do. I bought a new cell phone for cheap and unfortunately it takes awful pictures!


But I used the cell phone to conduct a Skype interview to work as a bicycle tour guide in a town called Skagway, Alaska this coming summer. I got the job! However, that might change my current plans… I’m going to Hawaii, but this job starts May 1st. I’ll need to get there sooner than I expected.


It was looking like I would only have about 6 weeks to spend in Hawaii, and that might not be long enough to find a job. I thought I could probably WWOOF or work in a hostel. I would need to do work on my truck, drive it to Alaska, and I wouldn’t see a paycheck until May. It was mid-January. I’m pretty sure my savings will get me through…


I left the hostel with touching goodbyes on January 16th. I had a few plane tickets, a journey ahead. I’d fly to Mexico City, Los Angeles, Seattle, Oakland CA, and then to Kauai island, Hawaii. The Lima airport was a tragic place. I began my journey on my own.



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