We had taken the LAN airlines ‘red eye’ from Los Angeles. It’s an 8 hour experience – one moment looking through the aircraft window at the coast of Mexico passing by below with childish excitement, the next struck with boredom, unable to sleep, then wondering if the turbulence might just snap off the wing tip as it did seemed to be flexing a lot!
The city was covered by thick cloud when we arrived. So I saw nothing coming into to land until the very last moment as we skimmed over the tops of shabby shanty town structures.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. Guidebooks imply it’s an edgy city, plagued with crime and corruption.
But The first thing I noticed was the smell – it reminded me of Morocco. That sort of sweet foul mix of rubbish; diesel and natural gas fumes from cars and trucks; and drains – just weird! Plus every now and then an olfactory wave of fish and old seafood coming in from the port.
We managed to get a cab without a problem but the journey to our hotel through the sprawling towns of Callo and San Isidro and Lima’s suburbs immediately confirmed we had arrived in the developing world.
Traffic was heavy and dominated by ageing mini buses and coaches, carrying workers across town. Compliance to any kind of road sense was practically non existent save for the fact everyone did keep to the right and generally headed in the same direction.
The people of Lima are still chasing their gold. In amongst the run down blocks of flats were extravagant neighbourhood casinos promising to change the lives of the city residents – a stark contrast to the streets they dominated.
The fact that Rafa is from the mother nation and I can defend myself well in Spanish surely helped us have a stress free time in the city. That, plus the fact we were both dressed simply meant we just fitted in nicely!
We used are usual strategy to find a restaurant in an unfamiliar town – avoid at all costs places that display pictures of food. Avoid restaurants with PRs on the pavement outside hawking menus; and look for the place crowded with non tourists.
It worked! We had a three course meal with beers for less than 5 euros each! Beer is a safe bet for a first meal, as are piping hot set menus where the turn over of food is swift.
We enjoyed a complementary shot to kick off the meal – the local ‘Pisco Sour’ and my starter was the popular ‘Rocoto Relleno’, a pepper stuffed with meat, egg and vegetables and served with potatoes. It was delicious but super spicy but I just imagined that disinfecting my intestine!
I finished off with a coffee with milk served from a filthy jug. All part of building up my immune system for India!
We ventured down a thousand and one streets – seeing the remarkable selection of Spanish colonial architecture that is just rotting and crumbling away. At one point a street vendor called over to Rafa to advise us not to go any further – robberies at knife point were more common in this part of town he said.
I wanted to go up to the top of the San Cristobal hill to get a view of the city. But no taxis would take us and the red tourist bus didn’t go there either. It appeared the area is quite dangerous. But we found a local mini bus that would take us for 5 soles each ( just over a euro). We were the only non Peruvians on it but gave up after half an hour as we just kept going around the main square repeatedly as the driver’s sales girl continued to try and get more passengers on board!! ‘Paseos! Paseos!’ she called out from the window.
As dusk was drawing in and the street lights were coming on we headed down towards the shore and the historic district of Barranco (Limeño de Barranco).
This is an area of once impressive period homes designed by architect Genaro Pellón in the early 20th century.
Although many have fallen into disrepair some are finding new life as restaurants, boutiques and even galleries. It must have looked amazing in it’s heyday. Now a mix of crumbling colonial villas, churches and public buildings, it has a wonderful charm. In amongst the chaos are little candle lit bars and restaurants – a welcome respite from the unending traffic and car horns.
We arrived the day after the national elections. Propaganda was still all along the streets and the normal police presence was pumped up by the highly visible national guard with their old decrepit tanks and roof mounted machine guns stationed across town. We even saw riot police. But the elections appeared to have passed without much fuss, and in this southern hemisphere humid autumn no one seemed to be able to muster much energy. Even the street dogs just lay on the pavement motionless, within kicking distance of the armed police.
Lima is a bit sad – drab, crumbling, disorganised. Yet the people are warm, friendly and open. We struck up conversations across town and there seemed a great deal of lovers kissing in parks, squares and on terraces! The people are happy, chatty and interested in visitors. We chatted to a guy from an out lying village who had come to Lima to work in a Nike t shirt factory, hoping to better his life. He dreamed of travelling.
Our taxi drivers were jovial and talkative giving us insight into everything from local and national politics to family life and hopes for the future.
Thank you Lima. You smell weird, you look sad but your people are great and so is your food!!
Now off to the real treasures of Peru – flying to Cusco! (just waiting to board)…