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Live Happy, Aim Low

Some places on the road are never as bad as you expect - the key is to set low expecations, then you are never disappointed. I had never heard a good word said about Lima, Peru, save for that the busses out of town were driven quickly. I spent four days in total in Lima and ended up having a decent time mostly by virtue of the fact that I didn't do anything. I spent the best part of the days just wandering from district to district and the nights enjoying Lima's nightlife; it was the abscence of action that was appealing.

My favourite moment in Lima came when I tried to mail a package home to Canada. For a few weeks I had been lugging around various gifts and extraneous (aka heavy and useless) items and I had decided to make the effort to send them home.

To mail a package in Peru, one has to show up at the post office with the package still open so its contents can be checked by the employees before its mailing. The difficulty comes not in the customs check but in the weight system the Peruvians have for posting objects. All parcels cost the same to mail within a certain weight range, after which the price rises drastically. For example, a package will cost the exact same amount to post whether it is 3.01 kilos or 5 kilos. After that the price nearly doubles, regardless of if it weighs 5.01 kilos or 10 kilos or anywhere in between.

I brought my parcel in, in a cardboard box, waited in line for 5 minutes and then found out that it weighed 5.85 kilos. I decided I would rather take out .85 kilos and keep them with me thereby saving myself a lot of money by sending the package in a lower weight class. (Mail in Peru is prohibitively expensive regardless of what you are mailing). The woman behind the counter shooed me away to empty contents out of my box. I took out two items, waited in line for another 5 minutes, and found out it was now 5.35 kilos. Pushed out of line again, I took out another two items, waited 5 more minutes and had gotten it all the way down to 5.24 kilos.

"OK," said the woman. Expecting her to then stamp my box, instead she dumped all my things out of it and into a plastic bag, then promptly crushed my box and threw it away. Mystified, I watched her put the plastic bag on the scale and saw it ring in at 4.94 kilos.

"OK," she said again, then waved her hand at which point a large guard armed with a shotgun came and got me and my plastic bag and led us both through the post office and outside into an alleyway. In this alleyway was a woman tending a small stand and not doing much of anything. The guard gave her the plastic bag, having not said a word - I guess you don't need to when you carry a shotgun - and walked away. The woman took my plastic bag filled with all my treasured gifts for my family and, of course, stuffed it into a potato sack. Seeing the normal world disappear before my eyes at a rapid rate, she took the potato sack and for half an hour painstakingly sewed every open orifice and every dangling corner shut.

At this point I had realized that this hemp sack was to be my new box, allowing it to weigh in at under 5 kilos. I was slightly concerned for the welfare of the goods inside, which included ceramics and a mirror amongst other valuables, and asked the woman if she was positive it was safe to send my things in this way.

"Sure, sure, safe," she mumbled disinterestedly. "Want to buy a postcard?"

I told her no, so she returned to her sewing, doing an incredible job of sealing it airtightly shut. At this point the shotgun-toter came back out and took me back to the counter where I waited 5 minutes more before being allowed to put my potato sack on the scale. My potato sack that weighed 5.05 kilos.

Still not allowed to send the sack, the woman behind the counter sized up the situation, turned the sack around, then vigorously tore out all the stitching. Happily willing to pay the higher price at this point but no longer having a box in which to send the items, I watched the woman destroy the half hour of work the postcard woman had done and then proceed to cut small squares of the fabric of the sack off, knocking off 5 grams at a time but thusly making it virtually impossible to re-seal. They finally allowed me to send the sack at a weight of 5.005 kilos. A 0.1% discount - and they say westerners don't know how to bargain!

Note to mum: the broken flower vase is for you.