Driving Miss Meri

Dan Diamond
April 29, 2010

As some of you may have seen in a previous post driving in Lima can be a bit crazy. None the less I decided that it would be important for me to have my license to help out in times where another driver is necessary, when we need to move stuff, picking people up at the airport, etc. Oh yeah and the last and most important reason is to drive my lovely wife places when she needs a ride; she has opted not to get her license so I will be like her chauffeur.

As you can imagine there is a story that goes along with getting your license abroad. This is my story and I am warning you it is long, kind of similar to the process of getting my actual license, but I think it is kind of funny and hopefully worth the read.

Here are the steps:

  1. Study for the written test. I thought this would be a piece of cake since I have driven for 20 years in the States and I can manage the language fairly well…I was wrong. I looked online and decided to take the practice test without studying. Half way through I realized that vocabulary that goes along with driving is completely different than what I knew and half of the questions were obscure rules that I could never have just known. The practice test was 40 questions and my first try I got so many wrong it didn’t even let me finish the test. Luckily for me they have all of the possible questions and answers, 250 in total, worded exactly like the test are available online. I studied for about 6 hours one weekend and I was pretty sure I was good to go.
  2. A medical exam. This part sounded pretty straight forward so I decided to go to an exam station close to the testing center (1 hour from the lay mission house by bus) so I could kill two birds with one stone. I was wrong again. The exam lasted 5 hours including waiting time which was about 1.5 hours, not including waiting between tests. Why does a medical exam for your drivers license take 3.5 hours? Well because they had to do a blood test (only a finger prick) to figure out my blood type…wait 20 minutes…go to the 2nd floor lift some weights and do some DWI type tests…wait 20 minutes…sight and hearing test…wait 20 minutes…take a 1 hour psychological test in Spanish!!!! For my drivers test. Because this whole ordeal took so long I didn’t have time to take the written test that day.
  3. Pay for the written test at a bank (of course you can’t pay for it at the testing location). The bank was near the exam station so I figured I would just crank that out quickly before the test therefore I left the house at around 11:00 (the traffic is much lighter at this hour and the buses are not so packed) which would have left me plenty of time to get to the exam station before 4:00 when it closed. I arrived at the bank at around noon and there was a line around the corner to get in…why wouldn’t there be a line like that at a huge bank like Scotiabank. I stood in line outside baking in the sun for 20 minutes and then when I was finally let inside where I had to wait about another hour because the lobby was packed and there were only two tellers. So I am waiting for my number to come up and I think to myself, “what would be the worse case scenario in this situation?”, besides the obvious which would be not making it to the license place before they closed. I decided that it would be if the number before mine would come up and the person would not get up in time before they skipped her and my number came up; which is what happened. I watched as other numbers after mine came up and it was like mine was skipped. So I just waited in line behind the slow lady who’s number was skipped and it all worked out. But it was now close to two and I was worried that if there was a long line I would not be able to take the test that day…not to mention I was getting hungry.
  4. Take the written test (really on a computer). This part went pretty well, besides not knowing the flow of the building and where to wait. Once I figured that out I thought I was good to go until the lady had to get my “information” i.e. my address. The address that I thought was the Columban center house was really a PO box so I had to have the lady call the door man at the Columbans to give her the address. Finally I was able to take the test and I passed it easily. I felt great to have passed a pretty comprehensive test in Spanish. The lady gave me a sheet to take to the drivers exam station and on that was stapled a little piece of paper stating what I needed to bring to the test; one of the items was proof that I had completed secondary school…are you kidding me!!!!
  5. Send my university an e-mail. I was hoping they would send me a letter stating that I graduated from a university in the States therefore completing the secondary school requisite. I don’t know about any of you but when I was sending the e-mail to the registrar’s office at my university asking for my transcript and a letter to be e-mailed to me I thought it was an extreme long shot. Because I thought it was such a long shot I was mentally preparing to bother my sister Ann again (who by the way has been awesome in helping us with stuff back in the States whenever we need it) to do me a favor and go pickup a transcript. So the next day when I got an e-mail with the transcript and a letter stating that had graduated you can imagine how happy I was. The only problem was that it was all in English…I didn’t care I was just going to go with it and play dumb gringo if they gave me a hard time.
  6. Pay for the road test. Go to another bank and pay for the road test. This time I was worried because the bank was a bank affiliated with the country so I dedicated a whole day to this part. Much to my surprise it went super smooth and I was back at home within an hour (actually I think that is unheard of here).
  7. Take the drivers test. I didn’t know what to expect at this point and all I knew was that I was going to have to hire a car to bring me there because it was too far to take a local bus. It was good to go with the taxi driver though because we know him and I was able to ask him about the test. One thing that is very common here is to practice on a mock course before actually taking the test. The practice course is exactly the same as the real course including the cars that they rent at the testing place. One funny thing about a lot of the cars here are that they are used exports from Japan that have been converted from the British style to the rest of the world style…meaning the steering wheel has been changed from the right side to the left side. But the steering wheel is the only thing that is changed therefore the blinker is on the right side of the steering wheel instead of the left…needless to say I turned on the windshield wipers every time I wanted to signal a turn. But back to the story…the test course really helped me. The funniest thing about the test course was that as we were leaving a guy asked my taxi driver if I wanted to pay him for a guaranteed pass when I got to the real testing place because he had “people” on the inside who would make it happen. We declined his generous offer because I was confident in my driving abilities and I try to stay away from bribing government officials. Then we went to the testing place and I took the test and I felt that I did pretty well. After the test I had to go to this waiting area with 80 other people and while in there I felt maybe I was a little too confident judging by the number of people who seemed to have failed the test. The guy giving out the results could have been in a comedy spoof as the biggest bastard government official in the world…I really thought he was joking at first when he would tell people they failed in a super loud voice that everyone could hear. I was hoping and praying that I would not be called into his line and as the hour wait went on I was feeling like maybe I would be called into that line. So when I heard my name called from the other group I was very excited…I would have my license that day and this epic journey on the road to driving would come to an end…but that was me thinking like a dumb gringo again. When we were called to tell us that we passed they informed us that their printer or computer or something was not working and we would have to return to one of the license places the next day…of course because everyone has an extra four hours to got to a Peruvian government office when you should be able to just get the thing right then and there. My fear was that I would go to the office the next day and they would not have the results from the tests or that their computers would be down too; but I didn’t have a choice
  8. Go to the office where I took the written test to get my license. I got to the office and after I had all the paper worked filled out the guy told me I also needed a picture for the license…why the heck didn’t it say that on any of the forms I had? But because I was getting used to this kind of stuff so I just went and got it…what’s another half mile walk each way when you are this deep into the process. With the picture and all my documents in hand I was close…there was only one more government worker between my new license and me. Here is our conversation:

Government worker: Where is your document proving completion of secondary school?

Dan: Here is a letter from my university in the States along with all my grades (my transcript) sorry it is in English but I hope it will work.

Government worker: Where is your diploma?

Dan: If you see here in English it says the day I graduated from university.

Government worker: So you went to the university? Where? Here in Peru?

Dan: In the States, that is why everything is in English. I am a foreigner (I thought that was obvious by my broken Spanish, my height, my eyes, and my ghost white skin but I guess I just needed to say it because he seemed a bit confused). I hope this will work.

Government worker: Just a minuted (then he walked away and actually was gone for 5 minutes but who was counting. Of course every minute that passed I was assuming I was going to have to get my letter and transcript translated then notarized)

Dan (after his return): Is that going to work?

Government worker: Yes…I just needed to make a copy of it.

Dan (thinking not talking): Why did you need to make a copy of my letter from the States with my transcript when you are going to keep the original that I gave you? Should I say something or just pretend to myself that they do that with everybody? After this much time and effort I better just pretend.

Dan (now talking): OK thanks

Government worker: Everything is in order…here’s your receipt. You can go wait in the other room for your new license.

One hour later this was what they gave me:

And that is the end of my really long story about getting my license here in Peru. I think it is a perfect example of a culture that Meri and I are slowly getting used to.