One of the biggest weaknesses in navigating South America is not being able to count higher than six.
The best way to practice counting is to play Bullshit while waiting in line at the Ecuador border. I did this yesterday. Bullshit is a game requiring lies and deceit. The aim is to get rid of all your cards and if you don’t have the card you need, you have to claim that you do. If someone thinks you are lying, they must claim “bullshit”. The cards are turned over, the truth is revealed, and whoever is lying (or wrong) must pick up the deck.
Amy, Nicola, Guy and I traveled to the Ecuador border yesterday with the aim of extending our visas before we travel south to take on a promising teaching position in Trujillo.
It was a confusing mess. Our taxi driver Jorge (Hor:Hey?) helped us but he didn’t know what was going on either, and he knew little English to give us much insight. We were worried we might be denied entry back into Peru, or wouldn’t get the six months we needed (through our ignorance or inability to communicate).
As we waited two hours in a line (that we didn’t need to be in at that point in time, it turns out) I pulled out a pack of cards and we played Bullshit, standing around the deck. I invited Jorge to play which meant trying to teach him in a foreign language, and it only worked because Guy is naturally gifted at learning Spanish.
I decided to try to play while speaking the numbers in Spanish.
“Bullshit! That’s bullshit!”
We started having an audience – spectators that began to understand the rules. By the end of the game though, my brain was about to explode with the numbers I was trying to remember and pronounce (I still can’t get the e in Tres right. It’s embarrassing).
As we were about to be served at the counter we learned we had to go to another line in another building and that we would have to return to this same line later. Fortunately when we returned the line was shorter, but we queued in about four lines by the end.
Four hours after the game of Bullshit, we were struggling to fill out our paperwork without tables. “Write on my back,” Nicola offered to Amy. And Amy started trying to draw on Nicola’s back! Ha ha ha. We were tired.
Finally I was at the counter, confident that with blue eyes and my Aussie charm I might be able to persuade the lady with the stamp that I should be allowed six months more to stay in the glorious Peru.
What I wasn’t so confident about was my ignorance of the Spanish language and my ability to
fuck up burnzy everything up with good intentions. But not today! I carried a slip of paper which said “Seis meses de Peru, Por Favor” (should have had para instead of de, and it would have meant ‘six months in Peru, please”.) and I even had an excuse up my sleeve if they asked “why do you want to stay?”
“La Chica,” I would say. Which is bullshit but it sounds cute.
But I never got the chance to sound like a brainless sap, because the lady at the counter tried to talk to me, and I didn’t understand, and I gave her the paper, and passport and I said “Lo Siento, no hablo Espanol”, and she spoke again, and I looked confused, and she laughed (it’s the, ‘wow, he really is dumb’ laugh and I’ve been hearing a lot of it lately, but it’s actually not a bad laugh).
“Cinco,” she said, (five) and I was glad that Bullshit had helped me with the numbers a little. And I said, “No, Seis, por favor!” and she smiled and somehow I was able to understand that because I had already just been in Peru a month, this year, I couldn’t have the full visa refreshed.
I pouted….I actually pouted! Bloody hell. It was a thinking pout, and then I grinned, and I tried again.
“Seis muy bien!” I said, (six very good!*) and in a tone where I was pleading, but she shook her head, with a genuine wide grin, and said ‘cinco’.
I didn’t dare push it, I was already winning, and I hope I thanked her, I hoped I showed the gratefulness on my face, and I think I did. I left with the final stamp and waited for my friends, and they had gained what they needed to, more or less.
Then we went back to the hotel for a pool party where we could drink as much as we wanted in three hours. I got changed in a red flannie and I sang Mambo No 5 and Black Betty on karaoke, and scared the nearby school children at the party by doing it in a heavy raspy voice, and I drank so much that I threw up by a palm tree (making Australia proud) and nearly passed out in a hammock, and made a real arse of myself. The end.
*With my ignorance of the local language I’ve wondered how on earth I’m still alive. But I am alive and there will be plenty of embarrassing stories to come, I’m sure. Keep safe out there, and I’ll make sure to do the same.