Since the mother-daughter trip I took when I was sixteen I have been wanting to return to Peru. Not only because I remembered it as a fantastic country to visit but I was interested to compare my impressions now to what I saw eleven years ago. What I remember of Lima is a few hours spent before a flight walking in the centro with my mom while two men started talking to us, slowly trying to split us up. We, of course, were oblivious until a Suburban with two beret wearing soldiers pulled to the side of the road and started yelling something we couldn’t understand at the men. The two guys took off and Mom and I were left staring at each other confusedly as the soldiers insisted that we get into the Suburban with them. Not even sure whether we could trust the soldiers we were pressured into the vehicle. It took us a little while using our spotty Spanish to understand that the two guys walking with us had a history of separating pairs of tourists, knocking them out, and then robbing them before leaving them in the street to wake up later. Relieved to be away from the muggers but still uneasy about being in the soldier’s suburban we were treated to VIP tour of central Lima. Our new friends drove us by a few major sights parking illegally and stopping traffic so we could get unobstructed photos. They even went so far as to direct my mom in her picture taking. As nice as they were trying to be we both heaved a huge sigh of relief when they decided that we had seen enough attractions and dropped us off where we first got in.
Even having had this strange, potentially bad experience I was really excited to come back to Lima and spend a little time getting to know the city. Thanks to Andy’s hobby of acquiring frequent flier miles we had a great flight on LAN with wonderful food and free wine; it almost felt like we were on a nice date night out. International flights only arrive into Lima twice a day so the lines through customs are always crazy long. It took us two hours before we were cleared to leave and in a taxi headed to the Sheraton that Andy had also managed to book us with points.
For us flying to a different continent on the same trip was a departure from our normal style of traveling where we spend months in a single country trying to get a feel for the place. It took a day to get used to the new exchange rate of 2.5 soles to dollar compared to Mexico’s 12 pesos to the dollar, as I’m sure our airport taxi driver will tell you from the really nice tip Andy gave him. And although we had made great progress on our Spanish in Guatemala we found ourselves at a loss ordering in restaurants where we couldn’t understand what the heck was on the menu. Our first day in Lima we stumbled upon a great local place outside of the center to get a cheap set menu for lunch. Thinking the best way to learn new food words was to jump right in and start ordering I found myself staring down a plate of rinon saltado. The taste was something I have never had before; meaty but with a different darker, more pungent flavor. I only managed a few bites before leaving and after we discovered that rinon means kidney I have gotten a bit less adventurous at ordering words I don’t know.
Lima is a great place to aimlessly wander the streets. We walked through Chinatown drinking non-alcoholic chicha morada and watching vendors selling hundreds of quail eggs out of shopping carts. We popped into bars for refreshing pisco sours and passed by San Martin plaza and a statue of a woman with a llama sitting on her head. Apparently when the statue was commissioned it was requested that the woman be wearing a crown of flames, or llamas, and the artist took it to mean the animal llama, also llama in Spanish. A pretty funny thing to see and also kind of symbolic of how important llamas are to highland Peruvians survival. I can imagine the artist wondering why anyone would put such an abstract thing as a crown of flames on a statue and not even thinking twice before setting the miniature llama on her head.
Peruvians stay up late and the streets were always filled with interesting things to see, even long after dark. At one point we found ourselves walking down busy market roads where each street seemed to have a different theme. All of the shops on one road would be selling plastic bins, the next one over sold children’s clothing, and one was full of washing machines placed out on the pavement making it impossible for cars to pass. As we walked our heads constantly swiveled from side to side taking in all of the new sights and it wasn’t hard to stay entertained.
The next day we took the Sheraton shuttle out to the seaside suburb of Mira Flores, a place much talked about by other travelers we had met. Although the view of the water was pretty it didn’t take us long before making the return trip to the center. For us western style malls and overpriced food can’t compare to the the squalor of walking down an overcrowded street eating street food with a pisco buzz on.
We ended our stay in Lima with a trip to El Circuito Mágico del Agua in the Parque Reserva, the Guiness Book of World Records holder for the largest fountain complex in the world. It was only a short, if creepy, walk from the hotel and well worth it to watch young couples out on romantic dates and the two different girls getting their quinceanera photographs taken in huge pink dresses.
Our time in Lima had come to close and we were itching to get into the mountains. So much so that the thought of an all day bus ride had us running to the hotel computer and booking a last minute flight to Arequipa. With a carry-on full of hotel shampoos and lotions we were on the next mornings flight into the Andes.