Peru! Peru! Peru! It's finally here! After the several planning sessions Daina and I had at Blue Dahlia, and the subsequent six months of waiting, the day had finally arrived. May 21st was finally upon us. My bags were packed, my translators - Luis and Daina - were ready to go and we were on our way.
Delta's in-flight entertainment system was seriously awesome. I watched several TED Talks, a documentary about cycling and "About Time" with Rachel McAdams (sigh). I fell in love with her for the umpteenth time. I also met a real girl named Estephania, who was sitting next to me during the flight to Lima. She was from Venezuela, living in Atlanta, and visiting friends in Peru. We exchanged contact info so we could all meet up the following day.
We arrived in Lima at 11pm (same timezone as Austin, so no jet lag). I was so excited when we saw our driver because he was dressed all fancy holding a sign with our names on it! I felt pretty important, but my camera was packed away so I wasn't able to get a picture of it.
One of my fantastic, gracious friends allowed us to stay at his mom's apartment in Mira Flores, which is one of the fancier parts of Lima. Our driver (more on him later) brought us to our new digs and we got settled in for the night. Upon entering "my" bedroom, I was greeted by an adorable childhood picture of my said friend.
Since we were in another country, let alone an entirely different continent, we decided it'd be best not to use our cell phone service. That meant we were delegated to wifi hotspots only. Unfortunately, the apartment didn't have any wifi, so our rendezvous with Estephania was abandoned. At one point, in our exhausted/excited stupor, we were restless and started getting rowdy. Somehow we ended up teasing Daina and witnessed some pretty intense tickling on Luis' part. Luckily Daina loves being tickled. After we left her room, tickled to death, she screamed in her Texan drawl, "AWW YA'WWW". The first catch phrase of the trip had been declared.
No one had any trouble sleeping.
The following day (actual "day one") our driver picked us up at 9am, sharp. Our driver's name is Hector (pronounced ECK-torlrlrr). He's a lively, rambunctious, hilarious Peruvian Obama. For real, he looks just like Obama. Goal number one: real Peruvian food. He took us to one of his favorite sandwich joints closer to the center of the city. I don't think the place had a name, but it was basically chicharron sandwiches, with sweet potatoes and pickled onions on a dry bun. Not what I expected as authentic Peruvian food, but it was still delicious and I happily ate it.
After breakfast ECK-torlrlrr took us to a Franciscan Cathedral which was housed over the city's Catacombs. Being tourists, we took the guided tour for seven soles, which is $2.50 USD. The exchange rate in Peru is very low ($2.8 soles is equal to $1 USD). Essentially, everything is a third cheaper than it would be in the states, which makes Peru a very very cheap country to travel in. One night Daina and I got a large, delicious meal, which both of us barely finished, for $9 soles, or $3 USD. Street food was around $4 soles for one of those chicharron sandwiches, or a turkey sandwich piled high with veggies and sauces. We felt like kings... at least I did. Shirts? $5 USD. Mexican Cokes? $0.50. More examples of all that later. Back to the catacombs.
We were given a tour of the cathedral, the ancient Franciscan library (really cool) and a comprehensive history of the Franciscan priests and artists of the 1500's. We were then ushered underground where no pictures were allowed (pshhh). It was a long series of rooms with tiny corridors connecting them. Oh yeah, and there were bones. Everywhere. Skulls, femurs, fibias, tibias, sometimes all separated by type of bone rather than by person. If there were 206 rooms, one person could rhetorically occupy them all (206 bones in the body). Since everything was so old, I expected a dank, musky smell to the place, but it was quite pleasant. Some major cobwebs though, which added to the ambiance.
During the tour we met a group of four American girls taking a reunion vacation. They had studied abroad together in Europe, and they try to get together every year or so and go somewhere new (sounds oddly familiar). We got pictures with them, but our stand-in photographer didn't focus my camera on us, but instead on the door behind us. Take my word for it, we met them, they were cool. The cathedral's plaza was covered in pigeons so Luis did what any five year old would do - he ran straight through them. Daina offered us a cool factoid, stating that if you scare a pigeon, it will remember you for the rest of its life and avoid you. All I know is there is now a Luis G. hate group in Lima, Peru.
From nearly every point in the city there was a mountain visible, looming in the overcast, gray skies. Hector said it was called Cerro San Christobal and offered to take us! Of course we'd like to go to the top of a mountain and get a majestic view of Lima frickin, Peru!
On the way to Christobal, Hector drove us through one of the poorest areas of Lima. I can't remember the name of it, but it was a barrio at the southern base of San Christobal. As we drove through the tiny, narrow streets, a man yelled in a voice reminiscent of an American TV announcer, "HABLA!". Catch phrase number two was born. Luis would repeat it at the best times and it never failed to crack us all up, especially Hector. We're probably the funniest people he's ever met (haha). In an attempt to add to the humor of the day, Hector thought it would be a fun idea to RACE up and down the mountain. All he did was make all three of us shout expletives and slam on the invisible brake pedal, which he found mucho humorous. Guess he achieved his goal.
We had mentioned to ECK-torrlrlr several times that we really wanted to try Lima's ceviche, so he took us to his favorite establishment. Damn, was that good. It was an awesome, high-end buffet of authentic Peruvian dishes. Easily the most expensive meal of the trip, but we gorged on steaks, empenadas, three types of ceviche, and all kinds of crazy stuff so it was worth it. Of course, Hector joined us for everything we did. We really enjoyed his company. He was an encyclopedia of knowledge, full of both trivial and helpful information.
My favorite book is Johnathan Safran-Foer's Everything Is Illuminated, and one big reason is due to his elaborate, sublime storytelling. His stories seemingly wander into space, but as the stories progress they turn around, stare into your soul and punch you in the gut with a hot fist of nostalgia, leaving you breathless. Several of the stories Hector told me of his city reminded me of Safran-Foer's (for a taste of what I'm talking about, check out his short story, The Sixth Borough). Here are a few from Hector...
- A ship sank in a harbor off the coast of a bustling little seaside town north of Lima (we'll get to that part in a bit). The lively town used to have the nicest beach in the area, but the ship that now rests on the bottom of the harbor changed the currents, stripping the beach of its soft sand. With the town's sand went its tourists, businesses and eventually its residents. The town is virtually abandoned because of a ship that sank a few hundred yards off shore. It was a weird, sad place. As we stopped in the town, the only inhabitants we came across were a cliff-diving monk and a homeless man dressed as a woman.
- A soccer stadium was built on top of an old cemetery, so the field is now nicknamed "La Cancha de los Muertos" (The Field of the Dead). Now when people play soccer, they're trampling over dead bodies. Not as elegant of a story, but still interesting.
- When bull fighting was all the rage a few centuries ago, there were stadiums in virtually every neighborhood. In one area with a poor majority, the town's people decided to ban the elite from watching the bull fights. One wealthy man was such a big fan of the fights that he bought the adjacent land and built a watch tower so he could watch the bull fights from his own private quarters (picture below).
Daina is a beach baby, so naturally one of her top priorities was to surf in South America. So after lunch we headed for the beach. Daina changed into a wet suit after quickly negotiating a price to rent a board and off she went. Luis had other intentions. If you know Luis, you know he doesn't mess around with what he wants. One of his goals on this trip (and traveling in general) was to swim in every body of water he came across. He didn't have a bathing suit and it was chilly, windy and overcast, but none of that phased him. In he went.
We went to my favorite place in Lima directly after Daina's surf session. I don't know what it's called, all I know is it was north of Lima on the coast. It was the beach town I was telling you about in the Safran-Foer references. Well, very very close to that beach town. It was an area where massive waves crashed over the jagged, barren landscape. It reminded me of Dragonstone.
I had asked Luis to stand nearer to where the waves were crashing really large over the rocks so I could get an awesome sequence of photos of something epic. Well, either he stood too close or an abnormally large wave happened to roll through as he stood there. Anyways, the shots were great, but I haven't made a GIF of them yet, so here's the moment of impact.
You thought I was joking about the cliff-diving monk and the homeless guy dressed as a woman? Nope.
By this time we were all pretty tired. Hector took us back to the apartment for a siesta. A few hours later, he picked us back up and we were at it again. My favorite part of the night was at a park with dozens of different types of fountains. My favorite fountain was arranged in a series of rings with fountains shooting up at complete random. People would venture into the center of the fountain only to be caught off guard and splashed from below. It was so much fun to watch, and even more fun to photograph.
In the circular fountain, given the nature of it, you're essentially trapped if you're within the rings while the fountains are flowing. One boy did not care. He was soaked, running through and making life miserable for the people that would rather stay dry. One of those people was Daina. "The Antichrist" as she called him, would step on the fountains, diverting the flow in her direction. While she was doing a great job dodging most of the streams, she was powerless to stop him. When the water stopped for a few seconds, she escaped the Antichrist's taunting and was saved. Daina swears that she'll never forget his sinister little grin, so I send her this picture every so often to make sure she doesn't.
We went back to the apartment, and slept.