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Published: January 20th 2011
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Miguel, my peruvian best friend, had invited me to come visit Lima, and it fell in such perfect timing that I decided to go. About a week before Christmas, with my projects halted in the national buzz of holiday travel, I said good-bye to my host family in Yarina for a few days and hopped on the day-long bus ride from la selva to la costa.
My logic was this: having had lived in Peru for about 5 months at this time, and having spent less than a total of 24 hours in this largest city and capitol of the country, I felt it was time to give Lima a fair trial. More importantly, I had the option to travel with a dynamic buddy and authentic Limeño (Miguel was born and raised there), stay with his family, to explore the city with tranquility and without a tourist agenda, and to search for items that are not easily encountered in Pucallpa (100%!c(MISSING)otton clothing? body-care products derived from plants? Tricky to find down here).
So, the reality-popping transition from humid jungle to the arid sierra to the dusty and dry coast happened. It will never cease to amaze me how many micro-climates there are in this country, and how quickly they transition. We left Pucallpa in the afternoon and arrived in the late morning in La Victoria, a simultaneously gristly and picturesqe part of town, where the colonial splendor is only dimmed by a thick coating of grime. I couldn´t stop thinking of of how I would squat the abandoned, old buildings in a second.
We gathered up our little backpacks (so refreshing it is to travel for once without the bulk of a big bag!), and I followed Miguel onto the first of many buses. His Aunt Kati lives in San Juan de Lurigancho, a municipality about an hour from La Victoria in the center. The view included such delights as pastel but dust-covered, ornately domed cathedrals, the scanty and plastic-rimmed Río Rimac, to shack-covered hills stetching into the distance until the smog-fog makes everything dusky.
I met Miguel´s family, including his mother Doris, Kati, Kati´s two daughters Kiomi and Evelyn, and their combined three sons Tony, Fabrizio, and Joseph. I had previously stayed with Miguel and his dad Carlos, outside of Pucallpa in San Jose, for a week or so during a period of transition. Carlos often returned home to say such things as, ¨Susannah, it´s really nice to have someone in the house,¨or, ¨Susannita, I´ve become so acustomed to you!¨ Later, when I started living with my Shipibo host family, Carlos urged me to visit whenever I had the chance. We just got along. Because of this, it didn´t feel awkward visiting the rest of Miguel´s family, especially his mom, who is living in Lima to better receive physical therapy after she had a stroke a few years back. Needless to say, everyone was very excited to see Miguel, for the first time in a couple of years, and especially for the holidays, and they very nice and nourishing to me. This helped my spirits incredibly as I had been passing through a little bit of doldroms and loneliness without my family.
For a a few days, I stayed with the family and made explorations with and without Miguel. Some highlights included:
• The water-fountain park, which was surpisingly fun. Never under-estimate the power of a big walk around a quiet park (in middle of downtown Lima), with geometrical, twinkling, colorful, music-accompanied, creative, and BIG water fountains
• Of course, I visited the Plaza de Armas. The governmental palace and cathedral are, as expected, way big and way impressive. We were fotunate enough to witness a military band in full regalia playing and dancing drills for a wedding. Miguel was very excited about this. This is apart from the oodles of other colonial and fancy buildings in the center of Lima.
• Visiting the US embassy, in what could be called the most pompous building in Lima. Yeah, yeah, yeah... we get it, you´re the US. I talked with some folks at the consulate about my visa, and they turned out to be completely non-helpful. Thanks guys.
• Going to the beach with Miguel and his 8-year-old nephew Tony! It was almost two hours in bus and a good long walk from there to the playa, but so worth it for the grey views of an expansive sea! It reminded me of home! There was also an abundance of surfers. We all had fun skipping stones, and I keep a special one from Tony in my pocket at all times now.
• Running errands in the middle of Lima was interesting, as was handling public transportation. I would just like to give myself a pat on the back that, for all of my reservations about the place, I didn´t have anything like the problems I had imagined from Lima. Specifically, folks didn´t talk too fast for me to understand, strangers were occasionally nice, I didn´t get mugged or beaten up. Although it is charming in parts, I didn´t take pictues of the center due to reservations of carrying valuables during ¨las fechas malas¨, or the time around Christmas and New years when things get risky in the streets, with more crime than usual. And, for Lima, that´s saying something
• I think my favorite thing about Lima was the public transportation. It must be said that, for a city so immense and decentralized, the folks are doing something right with busses, which take the form of combis to old school busses to the typical city busses we have in the states. I took a taxi once when I was in a hurry, but apart from that the busses get you where you need to go, and there is a lovely phenomenon of musicians boarding and serenading the loads of folks in hopes for tips. Seriously, some of the best music I have heard in Peru was from the lips, guitars, or zampoñas of roving musicians. It´s high traffic, there are cars and busses honking all over the place, emitting plumes of exhaust, you´re holding on for dear life and hoping you won´t fall while crammed chock-full in the aisle, babies are crying and vendors are trying to sell you gum or newspapers through the windows, but there is that one magnificent voice singing so sadly, and everything is beautiful in that moment.
Now I know Lima a little better from the inside. I know that I have no interest in staying there or visiting for an extended period of time, but now I feel more
comfortable navigating. Thanks especially to Doris and Kati for their kind hospitality!
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