Swine flu. Shining Path. Sunburns. Etcetera. Everyone we knew had some reason for us to cancel our trip to Peru. We couldn't argue with these points...we just interpreted them differently, applying a simple formula: perilous destination = high season discount. Our journey began at the unusual hour of 9pm, when we embarked for a 12:30am flight from JFK to Bogota, en route to Lima.
Having just finished a biography of JFK Jr., I can't say I understood why I was voluntarily boarding a 20 ton steel projectile on a 4000 mile ride through a dark abyss. But the danger wasn't without its sense of glamour. International spies travel at night, I told myself. Granted, with our overstuffed backpacks, waterproof hiking boots, and full array of Goretex accessories, we bore more resemblance to extras in an EMS photoshoot than characters in a James Bond film. I assured myself that that was precisely the point. The less we looked like real spies, the more real we were.
Perhaps one of the greatest advantages of night travel is also the most obvious- nobody else does it! We breezed through airport security with pre-9/11 efficiency. This left us plenty of time to gawk at the Port Authority armed guards standing ominously at our gate. We secretly hoped we'd bear witness to the dramatic arrest of a Colombian drug lord; as it turns out, this level of preparedness is standard procedure for planes arriving from Bogota.
We flew to Bogota on Avianca, Colombia's national airline. One might describe it as Spirit Air with the Latin flair of Spanish safety videos. With my 6'2 frame and mild claustrophobia, every millimeter of legroom counts. Unfortunately Avianca does not rank among the world's roomier airlines, but despite the parsimonious floor plan, we landed safely around 6am.
As a self-identified climate nerd, I was taken aback by Bogota. In my ignorance, I had lumped all of Central and South America into one massive banana republic, filled with sweltering jungle heat and insufferable humidity. At sea level, Bogota might have fulfilled that expectation, but at 8,000 feet, a blast of 50 degree morning air immediately roused our senses. When we first arrived, the landscape was shrouded in a thick fog. As morning progressed, the sun unveiled a green mountain landscape described by Eyal as no less than a temperate paradise.
In Bogota, we transferred to Peru's national airline, Lan, for our second flight to Lima. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the usual suspects of cultural diplomacy: McDonald's, Dunkin Doughnuts, Papa John's, and the like. However, we needn't take this as cold, impersonal capitalism robbing the earth of its diversity; these franchises certainly had a local twist. All employees were wearing face masks, apparently to protect themselves against the swine flu epidemic whose epicenter had recently shifted from Mexico to Peru. Perhaps the only thing more puzzling than the ubiquity of this accessory was the widespread belief that it would actually do something. It's not that Eyal and I didn't give it some consideration, but we ultimately decided that anything worthy of the McDonald's seal would be chemically sufficient to smite anything mother nature threw our way, viruses included.