I shucked off my pants and jacket and hung them over the stall door. Peru had been fun, but I was ready to get home. Cam and I had been there just a little over ten days, which wasn’t really that long at all. But we’d only planned on ten days. We were both fresh out of clothes, Cam was fresh out of money, and we had to go back to school the next day. In addition, a never-ending hassle with Avianca Airlines (don’t ever fly with them, ever) over our constantly delayed flight from Lima to Cusco had worn us out.
We’d flown in to Lima initially, and planned to leave for Cusco on our third day in Peru, but our noon flight kept getting pushed back throughout the day, and ended up getting delayed overnight because the Cusco airport didn’t have runway lights, and therefore didn’t operate at night. This resulted in us being booked in a nearby hotel along with the other unfortunate souls on our flight. This troupe included a hippie, two meatheads from Texas whose vocabulary seemed to be completely limited to flagrant outburst of profanity (usually directed at the Avianca staff), and about thirty pimply teens from some rural Tennessee Christian school, who were travelling with a dangerously frazzled mom as a chaperone. She had a tramp stamp, leopard-print yoga pants, bleached blond hair, and gaudy blue eyeliner that evoked Renaissance era-Venice.
This mother (Nicki? Tiffany?) was of a breed of mom that we all encountered as kids. I can guarantee that one of your friends had her for a mother (or maybe you did). She was the mom who would let you guys drink liquor in the basement (“as long as it stays under my roof”). She was the mom who (at age forty) wore thongs, low-cut shirts, and whose tits were bigger than Pluto (they were, of course, silicone). She was mom who dominated your wet dreams when you were a prepubescent spunker, before you grew up a bit and realized her startling similarity to Lucy from Trailer Park Boys. This was the mom who you thought was “so dope” when you were thirteen. On days when your own, housewife, ‘eat your vegetables’ soccer mom mother would make you go to sleep early or stop drinking Mountain Dew, you would wish that Nicki was your mom. Of course, you would come to realize a few years later that having a mom who chain-smoked and was fucking the high-school assistant principal at the Motel 6 on Wednesday nights (when he told his wife he was working late) was a less than ideal situation.
This was the woman who was chosen to chaperone thirty children in Peru. Their flight had been delayed by the villainous Avianca for the past three days, citing stormy weather, and Nicki was pissed. On the bus back to the airport, after the unfortunate sop took a wrong turn and plunged us into a swarm of traffic, she stood up and yelled at the driver. The three sweaty, chubby boys crammed into the seat behind her craned their necks at the sight of her pink thong stretching up out of her bedazzled jeans. I grimaced and shot a look at Cameron, pantomimed a gag.
After a few more delays that morning, we finally made it to Cusco. Because of our lost day, we decided to push back our flight back to Lima to the day of our flight home to the states, which left us arriving in Lima at ten in the morning and not flying out until half past midnight that night. We didn’t wanted to bust money for a hostel when we wouldn’t even get the chance to sleep there, so we arrived that morning with our packs and bummed it around the city all day. We snuck into a movie theatre and slept in the back, hiding under the seats whenever a greasy, lanky-haired teen with a broom would come in between flicks to sweep popcorn and malted milk balls off the floor. After this endeavor ended with our swift ejection from the premises, we posted up at a pizza restaurant and hung out under an awning outside for five hours. Cameron stole some bananas from a nearby grocery store and we dried our sweaty socks on the metal tables in the ninety-five degree Peruvian heat. This abhorrent day ended with a three-mile trek back to the airport along a highway so dirty and litter-infested I wished I had a gas mask on.
Now, finally we were back at the Lima airport, and our flight to Mexico City (and then L.A.) was leaving in a couple of hours. I was smiling just thinking about it. I set my passport, phone, and wallet onto the paper towel dispenser inside the stall while I changed into a clean(er) pair of pants. As I slipped on my new pair of pants, my clothes hanging on the stall door vanished over the side. I zipped up my fly and rushed outside the bathroom, only to see Cam swinging my clothes around, laughing. I shoved him and grabbed my clothes back, tossing them onto our packs, which were propped against the wall outside.
I patted my pants, feeling for my phone. Oh shit. I dashed back into the bathroom, banged open the stall door. No passport, no phone, no wallet. My mind was racing. Maybe it was the wrong stall. I busted in the stall next door. Nothing. The one after that was empty too. I cursed, kicking the wall. The little janitor looked at me, wide-eyed.
“Have you seen my wallet? My phone?” I yelled at him, not bothering to use Spanish. “Telefono?” I pantomimed talking on the phone.
The little man just shrugged, pulling his lips back to reveal a toothy leer. I ran outside and told Cam what had happened. We told the two girls we’d been sitting with at the airport to watch our stuff and started walking down the hall towards the exit. Cam pulled out his phone and we pulled up Find My iPhone. My phone didn’t have a password on it, and I kept a slew of passwords and usernames stored in it, so at this point I was incredibly strung out, not to mention the fact that I was now without a passport in a foreign country.
Once Find My iPhone connected, I could see that my phone was still in the airport. The dot that represented my phone, unfortunately, did not move in real time, so I had to keep refreshing the page to update my phone’s location. Cam’s phone plan in Peru had abhorrent coverage, so this was all being done via the Lima airport’s shitty Wi-Fi service, which was incredibly frustrating. To add to this, the app doesn’t show where on the map you are, so it was difficult to determine where I was in relation to the guy I was trying to catch. After a minute of refreshing the app, though, I could see that the thief was making his way outside, and I followed him out, trying not to draw too much attention to myself so that the thief wouldn’t see me following him. I soon gave up and broke into a run, after the dot seemed to be gaining distance. I followed the beeping dot across the street outside, running past the airport security who were blocking my path, yelling what was probably neither English nor Spanish. I barreled through a crowd of people, darting across five-way large intersection. Horns honked and drivers swerved to avoid me. I didn’t know where Cam was, he hadn’t followed me across the street, but I wasn’t worried about that right now. I ran down the street another block, checking Cam’s phone as best I could (now that I had left the airport and its Wi-Fi, the loading times had increased dramatically).
The dot appeared to have stopped near a bustling bus station. There were at least fifty people here, but I was sure the dot was here, probably getting on one of the buses. I selected the “Make Noise” option, which is supposed to make your phone send out a high-pitched beep. It worked! I could hear it! The guy was right around here. I knew I only had a couple of seconds before the idiot turned the phone off (like he should have in the first place), and sure enough, the beeping stopped after only ten or twelve beeps. It seemed like it had been coming from one of the chicken buses about to pull out of the station.
The bus took off and I sprinted after the rusty, sputtering thing like a fiend and hopped onto the running boards. The door was closing, but I stuck my hand through and wrenched it open. The driver looked at me tiredly. Encountering erratic and quite possibly psychotic behavior must have been a normal part of his day. I was completely off the chain at this point, running on one hundred percent adrenaline. The bus driver stood up and I shoved him to the side.
“Which one of you motherfuckers has my goddamn phone!” I hollered.
The cadre of small, sad-faced Peruvians jammed into the chicken bus was probably silent, but I don’t really remember because it felt like my head was full of bees. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. I checked the Find My iPhone app. The last known location of the phone was two miles down the street, in the opposite direction. The bastard hadn’t gotten on the bus at all.
A notification popped up. Your phone has been turned off. It will not be able to be located until it has been turned on again.
The bus driver had recovered and was yelling in Spanish. He swiped a leathery hand at me. I backed up quickly and raised my hands in surrender, hopping off the bus.
Cam was coming up the street.
“It’s gone,” I said. “It’s fucking gone.”
Cam looked shocked. I handed him his phone back.
“We’re in big trouble man. They got my passport too.”
Cam put his face in his hands. “Damn dude,” he said. “Can we get out of here still?”
We headed back inside. The guard at the entrance to the airport asked for our passports.
“It was stolen,” I said in broken Spanish.
“My wallet was stolen too,” I said.
He looked perplexed, and consulted with another guard.
“I’m gonna go to those girls get our luggage,” Cam said. “I think their flight leaves soon.”
He headed inside while I was stuck outside with the two guards, who appeared to be waiting for a superior to let me in. I couldn’t wait on this. I started talking to them in English as quickly as I could, throwing in a few Spanish phrases for good measure. I waved my hands around and did my best to appear worked up (which wasn’t hard). After a minute or so of this bombardment the two men caved and let me inside.
I darted upstairs to the Aerómexico airline office, where I was greeted by a dour blond woman with imperiously arched eyebrows, a thick frown, and a nose that could cut glass (think Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). This woman informed me that, no, there was no way I could fly without a passport. She then shut the door with an unreasonable amount of gusto and went back to plucking little kids toenails out, or whatever other heinous crime she was committing in the back of that tiny airline booth. I looked at a clock on the wall. Our flight was leaving in two hours. I barreled back downstairs and talked to an airline security guard who spoke English. He directed me to the office of the tourism police, which was behind the airport.
In this small trailer, a girl who looked no older than twenty, sat behind a desk and filed her fingernails. She was coated in at least an inch of makeup and her uniform identified here as a “Tourism Sergeant”. Wary of this dubious rank, I explained my situation to her as she chewed a large wad of bubble gum. She was clearly unimpressed.
“No, you won’t be able to get a passport tonight.”
Worth a shot.
“The embassy doesn’t open until Monday morning. You’ll have to wait until then to put in a request for a new passport.”
It was Saturday. I cursed internally.
“Did you see the man take your things?” The woman spoke in a monotone voice, akin to a female counterpart of the Terminator, at least if this Terminator smoked three packs a day and had lips the size of bananas.
I shook my head.
“Then I’m citing these as lost objects…”
“Wait, but I followed him. He was running away. I tracked him on my phone!”
“So you didn’t lose your phone?”
“No…wait yes, I did lose my phone! I mean on my friend’s phone! Find my iPhone?”
She held up a hand. “We’ll check the cameras, and if we see that anyone took your stuff, we can change the case to a theft.”
“I thought you said there were no cameras in the bathroom?”
She scratched her eye, gingerly, so as not to disturb the intricate layers of makeup painted onto her face.
“There aren’t, but we will check the ones outside the bathroom.”
“How will you tell it’s him? You think he’s gonna fucking wave the thing around? He’ll have put it in his damn pockets!”
I rubbed my face with my hands. It didn’t really matter. They weren’t going to find jack regardless.
“I’m going to go, I need to change my flight, I said.
“No, you must fill out this theft report.”
“You just said it wasn’t a theft!”
“Yes, but this is in case we find evidence and need to change it to a theft.”
She handed me a ten-page form and a pen that was dangerously low on ink and pointed me to a ludicrously small red plastic chair, which evoked memories of coloring books and nap time.
Once I had scribbled my way through this packet of nonsense using as many abbreviations as I knew, I hurtled back outside and up to Nurse Ratched at Aerómexico Headquarters. She opened the door after enduring a few minutes of me banging on it, wringing the tears of orphan children from her spidery hands.
“It’ll be four hundred dollars U.S. to change your flights.” She paused and smiled. “Per ticket.”
Currently, I couldn’t have paid ten cents for a ticket change, so the figure was moot. I walked down to Cam, who was squatting outside with our packs.
“We can’t leave tonight man. I can’t apply for a new passport until Monday.”
Cam groaned and rubbed his face with his hands.
“I think you’re gonna have to ask your mom to wire you more money,” I said.
He cursed. He hated asking his parents for anything, especially money. We walked outside. Cam had a couple soles left in his wallet, and we called a taxi. We headed back to the hostel we’d stayed at during our first couple of nights in Lima. Luckily our friend, Charlie, was working the front desk.
“Daaammnn boys!” he bellowed, clapping us on the back. “You guys got some bad luck, eh?”
“Nah man,” I said. “I’m just stupid.”
Charlie winked. “Wrong kind of vacation, my man.”
Lima, Peru 3/12/17