December 9, 2015
This morning I visited the US Embassy in Lima, Peru. My passport is running out of blank visa pages, and I needed to add some before heading towards Africa in March. Since I had several days in Lima, I thought I’d try to get it done here. Also, I just learned a few days ago that the United States will no longer allow additional visa pages to be added to a passport beginning January 1, 2016, so I just made it before that deadline. Otherwise, I would have to apply for a new passport, which is difficult time-wise when you’re moving fairly quickly through multiple foreign countries (ie, they keep your old passport until you get the new one, so you can’t cross any borders).
I’d never been to a US Embassy before. Boy am I naive for my age. I had visions of US Marines guarding the entrances, and me being ushered back to sit at a desk before a US government official in a suit with a US flag lapel pin, who would interrogate me, asking me a series of questions about why I was in Peru, where I was going, and why I needed to add pages to my passport, before stamping an official form and sending me through yet another military checkpoint to another building embedded even deeper in the compound.
Uh, nope. When I arrived at 7:30am, there were two lines outside the gates: one for visas, which had about fifty people standing in it, all holding large manila folders of documents. The other line said “American Citizens”, and had about ten people ahead of me. I was clearly the only Gringo present. Anywhere. There were a couple of armed guards, from a private Peruvian security firm. My passport was checked by an Embassy employee, also clearly Peruvian, and I was asked some questions, in Spanish. Then I was ushered through a door to the security checkpoint (a metal detector). Again, all operated by Peruvian nationals, all in Spanish.
Once through the checkpoint, I was instructed (in Spanish) to go to the large doors on the right, and through yet another metal detector, then into a room that looked suspiciously like the DMV. Take a number, have a seat, wait for your number to be called and proceed to one of the four windows. Or rather, “Numero cuarenta tres, a la ventanilla dos”. Yep, no English yet, and not a Gringo in sight, on either side of the windows. Or a Marine, for that matter. My illusions of US force on show was shattered.
In any case, I was able to apply for my additional visa pages for my passport, which should be ready tomorrow afternoon.
While sitting there, I noticed several posters on the walls with large print stating: “Traveling to Cusco in April 2016?” Curious, I got up and wandered over to read one (in English…finally!). The posters advised that Machu Picchu would be closed all of April 2016 for maintenance. My first thought was a sudden flashback to John Candy as the park security guard at Wally World in Family Vacation: “Sorry Folks, park’s closed. The moose out front should’ve told you.”
My second thought was, how did I make it all the way to Lima, only to find out by chance at the US Embassy that Machu Picchu will be closed in April? Shouldn’t this knowledge be more public?
And my third thought was: Maintenance? What maintenance do you do on a thousands-year-old ruin? Is Machu Picchu a scam? (Okay, in reality, I already learned way back in Mexico that most of these “ruins” have been significantly rebuilt over the years.)
Well, by April I hope to be in South Africa and/or Namibia, so it doesn’t affect me.
Now I wish I could get that John Candy scene out of my head.