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Published: November 2nd 2010
A saturated Peruvian sprawls across the hood of my taxi at the stoplight. His eyes are bloodshot and he stares wildly at us through a ruddy face. My driver, apparently not fazed by this interaction, glares intently back until the man finally slides off and wanders toward the bright-lighted entrance of a casino.
It was one o'clock in the morning when I arrived in Lima. As the taxi ventured deeper into the thick downtown core, I was beginning to wonder what I had gotten myself into. Packs of dogs enjoyed a buffet of garbage strewn along the main throughway - the lighter, plasticky items blowing artistically in a light breeze. Armageddon was all I could think. I tried not to feel weirdly violated as strangers loitering in the dark passageways watched us go by. My blonde hair an obvious beacon that flashes the message - Rob this taxi! Rob this taxi!
"We are here." My driver announces. "Here?" I felt my skin crawl. There are no noteable hostel signs, and I was about to be dropped off in the midst of a crowd of young men. I struggled with my backpack as the sounds of yelling erupt nearby. A
The beaches of Lima off the cliffside near Miraflores
knife-fight has broken out. The two drunk individuals in question duck and weave at each other before running off with the crowd in hot pursuit. I look pleadingly at the driver, but he just wants his fare. I tell him he has to walk me to the hostel, where ever the hell it is. Defeated, he joins me for the walk up the paseo, I spot the hostel's sign and thankfully greet the sleepy security officer who reluctantly opens the iron cage to let me in.
Eight hours later, I am recharged and ready to take Lima on. I'm a prison guard for godsakes ...it will take a lot more than a Dirty Old Town to rattle me. The smoggy daylight lifts to transform Lima into a busy, slightly civilized city. I am cautiously relieved. With trusty map I find all Plazas, I bust out my best 'touristy tourist vibe' for the day...in and out of assorted museums and churches, down into creepy catacombs, I watch in confused awe as a strange brass band rocks out at the Presidential digs. Police loiter everywhere. After a nice salty soup lunch, and a few in and outs of absolutely identical artisan
Paseo in Lima
great for local shopping and people watching
shops, I am very aware I am being followed by two young guys who try to look bored but move when I move. I try not to let this ruin my tourist experience and actually have some fun with it, changing direction and acknowledging them in Spanish. They finally give up and stroll away. That's okay. I'm done with being a tourist. But my little guidebook suggests a visit to Miraflores a must. I hail a taxi.
Traffic is terrifying. A lovely two lane roadway is transformed into a six lane parking lot as everyone jostles and cuts in during the midday rush. Endless honking ensues. Stoplights are ignored. I am gobsmacked into passive silence as I watch from the backseat....but I also notice no one seems to crash....hmmm perhaps Peruvians have an intricate set of road-rules I am not aware of? They definitely have the language of honk down pat. I think I may live to see Miraflores.
Suddenly, I spy the Pacific Ocean. A clean, lovely Lima emerges from the marine fog. Miraflores district sits at the cliff tops that follow the stunning endless coastline. There is a malecon. I easily navigate the streets, an assortment
Town Hall Lima
The municipal buildings in Lima's Plaza Mayor
of fancy clothes shops and cafes, I do a little people watching to burn time before I return to my hostel for dinner.
For a dirty old town, I am quite taken back by how beautiful Lima is. Founded in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro, Lima was the Spanish empire of South America for two whole centuries. Lots of power and wealth being thrown around. The Plaza Mayor being the central Lima and it fans out from there. An earthquake in 1746 kinda trashed everything but many of the original structures have been morphed in to government offices and museums.
One of the things I couldn't help but notice from a parkway overpass was the brightly coloured houses hanging procariously off one of the hillsides, topped with a religious cross....like a cherry on top. The slum houses in this barrio are an array of shoddy cement, second and third floors an afterthought. What happens if there is a sudden downpour? I wonder. I am told it doesn't rain much in Lima, ever. I raise a suspicious eyebrow, as I live on the Pacific ocean and this statement does not compute. The view from the top of the mountain must
Lima's dried goods
Looking at all the great goodies and trying to identify them
be amazing and the smog has lifted enough, but I am scolded for even thinking of walking through this barrio neighbourhood to get to the top. I will be surely robbed and other things. A bus can come by to take me up there. I am pointed to the particular pick up point by an officer wearing swat gear. I wait for 1 hour before giving up and walking back towards Callao to wave a taxi over.
Although I have been told over and over by everyone I talk to, that I must eat Chifa (Peruvian version of Chinese food) while in Lima, but I decide I'd rather try out the Peruvian cuisine, and go to the recommended eatery called Tanta. It is only later in my journey I learn that all Peruvian food is served carbohydrate heavy. Just a warning, expect to be served three kinds of potatoes, a noodle and rice all on one plate. I order a few Pisco sours and the traditional dish called Aji comes with complimentary salt lick but it is still delicious.
Night falls on Lima, and even though I want to visit one of the many "Penas" to witness traditional
hanging with the Lima policia
dancing, I am strongly advised not to go out past ten o'clock by myself. I heed this warning and stay in. The Inka Path hostel is safe and comfortable within its confines.
I ask myself, have I given Lima a fair assessment? Probably not. But I am only here for one day before I depart on an epic journey that takes me from Andes to Amazon. Tomorrow, I will be taking a bus to travel down the coastline towards Pisco.
I hail a taxi to the bus station the following morning, my young driver whips out his cell phone to type in a number...and someone reaches into the open window and swipes it right out of his hands. He says a few choice words in Spanish before he borrows my cell phone to call the thief. After several moments of heated argument, the thief refuses to bring it back.
I am pleased to be leaving Lima.
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