I came to Peru on November 14, 2006 and what an adventure it has been. I am just back from my final Visa Run to Tacna and the trip really showed me how far I have pogressed and some important lessons about living here in Peru.
LESSON #1 - PERU IS PERU LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT - Peru isn`t the US, Canada, or Europe it is a developing country that has limitations. The speed and efficiency we see in the states does not replicate itself here as it does back in our native countries. We arrived in Tacna at 6:00 A.M. and I decided to head straight to the border it takes about 2 hours to leave Peru, enter Chile, exit Chile, and enter Peru again. The crossing area on the Peruvian side very understaffed and the line to get in to surrender your Tourist Visa and pay whatever fine you owed literally had almost 100 people in it. The Driver I used has been doing Visa Runs for 32 years and is actually from Chile when we arrived the Customs Official knew him by first name and we were told to pass immediately to the front of the line. My mom had literally overstayed 611 days and when they calculated the fine they literally counted the days on a calendar, they didn`t have any change so $600 was accepted to clear the matter. My mom has some mobility issues because of a stroke and you are supposed to physically present yourself on the Peru and Chile sides my mom was allowed to sit in the car while me and the driver handled the necessary procedures and the Customs Officials even sent a nurse out to the car to give her some water and sit with her on the Peruvian side. My mom while having some mobility issues but is still very active and didn`t need this service and I told them this but they literally insisted. When re-entered Peru from Chile the same service was repeated and the lady literally kissed my mom as we left and said goodbye. I have seen US Customs Officials treat older people with zero respect and it is situations like this that make so grateful that I am in Peru and not the US.
LESSON #2 - RESPECT - The Customs Officials here are very underpaid and overworked and as I left Peru I saw an incident that made me sick. Tacna is part of a tax free zone and you can buy liquor there dirt cheap and save up to 65% compared to Lima. I have been restocking my Bar with some premium liquor and I decided to buy 10 bottles of liquor. We were only up there overnight so one carryon worked but we were allowed three more bags each weighing 23 kilos so I filled the empty bags with my liquor and other goodies such as Tacna Cheese, clothes, and electronic items. When I went to check in for the flight my bags were briefly inspected by Customs and were cleared. Then right before the flight was scheduled to depart I am paged and I go down and am told to open all of my bags by Customs and I do so. I am informed that I need to declare all but 4 bottles of liquor and pay the taxes on them. I immediately appologize to the Customs Officer and tell him I will do everything to comply fully with the established laws and procedures. So he tells me to wait. Right next to me was a "lady" from the U.S. who was yelling at the Customs Officers and using profainity and I tell you it was nasty I literally thought to myself, people like this are why I am in Peru and I wish these people would stay home. I stayed out of that situation until the lady looked at me and accused me of giving the Customs Official a bribe which I had not and then I told her she was a total disgrace and made ashamed to carry a US Passport. Then I told the Customs Official the samething in Spanish and it was at this point he closed my suitcases and told me to pass. The lady never made it to the plane and her husband literally cursed me out at 35,000 feet. As I said before people like this should never get a Passport. The lesson here is remember folks we are guests here and YES it does get frustrating at times but remember the government official is only doing their job and aren`t getting rich doing it. I will ocassionally pay a bribe but only when I have done something wrong, if I am right I will stand up for myself but do it in a courteous and professional manner. RESEPCT THE PERUVIANS AND THEY WILL RESPECT US.
LESSON #3 - LEARN SPANISH OR LEAVE - Learning Spanish is NOT opitional but MANDITORY. As I have learned Spanish new doors have been opened and what used to cost s/. 100 now costs s/. 50 but it goes beyond that it is simply the right thing to do. How many of us complain about people coming to the US and not learning English? How can we come here and not learn Spansih? I will admit my Spanish isn`t perfect but it works I can be understood and sometimes I get looks and laughs but my reply is "como estas Ingles" and that gets a good laugh from our Peruvian Hosts.
LESSON#4 - GET OUT OF LIMA - Tradionally we enter Peru in Lima and yes Lima has a lot to offer but so do the smaller cities. Everyone of them I have visited has been an adventure and has a unique charm to it. I am now spending a lot of time in Tacna because of the climate and people. While the cooking skills in Tacna need some improvement there is plenty of sun, no humidity, and NO TRAFFIC and I just like the place.
LESSON#4 - PERUVIAN FRIENDS ARE IMPORTANT - When you move to a new city in the states and you need a plumber, doctor, or another professional or tradesperson you can search the Yellow Pages or contact a referral service. While the Yellow Pages do exist here no formal referral service exists so how do you find a good person? Very simple YOUR PERUVIAN FRIENDS, some of the best referrals I have gotten was from a Peruvian friend I will be very candid here and state that I have not really done that much to establish myself in the expat community because of time issues and now that I have time I will be looking towads expanding my social network within our Expat Community here. I will also admit that prior to coming to Peru I lived in Mexico and the Expat Community there was awful a real bunch of losers so YES there was a bit of a carryover but I have come to realize the EXPAT community here is very different. Friendship here is deep and last week I found myself giving ten units of blood in a 24 hour period to keep a Peruvain friends brother alive after a car accident. This Peruvian friend has been a saint and has literally bent over backwards for me so when it came time to help him and his family I did so without hesistation. His family member is now on the road to recovery and I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to help him and his family in OUR crisis. The Family Matriarch told me two days ago you are no longer just a good friend you and your mother are part of our family. I tell you that JUST BLEW ME AWAY. With that said, develop friendships here slowly and upon mutual respect and trust. Also remember trust is never given it is earned.
Peru has been an adventure for me and continues to amaze me. I came here to ONLY visit a friend with my mom who had taught him in High School. My mom had a major stroke and has now fully recovered thanks to the great doctors at San Felipe and Anglo Americana Clinics. One Peruvian friend told me Peru is your adopted country and I agree with that. I think my Peruvian experience can be summarized in the following words, "When in Rome be Roman and when in Peru be Peruvian."