Travels in Peru

Arrived in Lima on December 30 – just in time to ring in the New Year! Lima is a huge city – nearly one third of the entire population of Peru lives in the Lima urban area. We stayed in the Miraflores neighborhood, which is considered an upscale area, and sits cliffside high above the Pacific Ocean.

General Impression

We’d been to Lima previously, ten years ago to the month, but only stayed a few days back then, so it was great experiencing the city again with a more leisurely lens. We loved it.

Part of our great experience had to do with our living accommodations. Our apartment was beautiful- this was the first time on our trip that we’ve had roommates (the wonderful Chau Duong and Bri Suffety, who graciously surrendered the master bedroom to us). The apartment was perfectly situated on a relatively quiet street (for Lima!). We had an upscale grocery store right across the street, a “go to” restaurant (Mama Olla’s) half a block away on a pedestrian street, and most services (pharmacy, barber, etc) within a block or two.

Lima was one of the easiest cities we’ve lived in over the last nine months. The currency, the sole, is stable – in fact, the exchange rate is nearly what it was when we were here ten years ago, about 3 to a US dollar. The ATM’s all worked, most things we wanted to buy were available, most places accepted credit cards, and generally the city seemed to function efficiently, at least in our small part of town.

Dining

Ceviche

Sometime in the last ten years Lima has become a foodie city. There are several one world renowned restaurants here, and many people in our group enjoyed them. Barbara and I passed on those, since they were fairly expensive, but we still ate out at a number of great places. The local alcohol of choice is Pisco, which is brandy/cognac-like often made into a sour and topped with whipped eggwhites.   As you might expect on the coast, seafood was popular. We enjoyed the ceviche – freshly caught raw white fish marinated in lime juice and onions, which actually “cooks” it. There was also a wide variety of exotic (to us Texans!) fresh fruits available. One that I really enjoyed was the Aguaymanto (Peruvian cherry), which is a small fruit that looks like an orange cherry tomato. We were told that one of these small fruits contains as much Vitamin C as three oranges. Lots of other great food, too, including Chinese (the Chinese restaurants in Lima are called Chifas), Italian and various fusions.

Although we really enjoyed the City of Lima, much of our month was spent traveling around areas that we didn’t make it to on our previous trip ten years ago. We had already seen Cuzco and Machu Picchu, so we chose not to do that again, although we remember it as an amazing experience. Instead, we took a bus trip to the north, along the Pacific Coast, and then inland toward the mountains, ending up in Bolivia. Some of those travels are covered below! We also saw some of the lesser Nasca lines from a viewing tower. I had always pictured those as being carved in stone, but the ones we saw were simple drag lines in the dirt. Since it never rains in the very arid place where these lines are located, the wind keeps the lines swept clean, even over hundreds (thousands?) of years.

The City of Arequipa

Our morning view of Arequipa Square

Peru’s second largest city (by far, with less than one million people compared to ten million in Lima), it is a beautiful colonial city at Elevation 7660 feet. The weather was cool and pleasant, the air clean, the mountain views beautiful and the colonial architecture interesting. We experienced a small earthquake there on the morning we left!

Lake Titicaca

Every schoolboy’s favorite location (it’s just fun to say!), the lake covers a huge area between Peru and Bolivia and is very deep. Our bus drove around the perimeter for several hours, but we also had to take a ferry across a narrow arm of the lake. The people got off the bus and took a regular boat, but our bus came across on a flimsy barge.

Lake Titicaca ferry

The Oasis of Huacachina

An amazing freshwater “lake” and associated flora surrounded by huge sand dunes in the middle of the desert, Huacachina is said by some to be the only natural oasis in the Americas. It’s really a sight to see, although my allergies complained about the dust and the sand. The shopkeepers swept constantly to clear the airbourne sand particles from the fronts of their shops. There are only about 100 actual residents, who survive by catering to tourists who come in on buses to sandboard, ride dune buggies, or just enjoy the unusual scenery.

 

Lunch on Uyuani Salt Flats

The Bolivian Salt Flats

I’m not usually too impressed with stuff. I enjoy it all, but I don’t ooh and aah. However, there are no words to describe the salt flats. They are an otherworldly experience like nothing I’ve ever done. It was like having a mirage in a dream. Our tour guide set up a picnic lunch for our group of six out on the flats, where we sat with our sandal clad feet in the ¾-inch of water that covered the salt (the water is what causes the dreamlike effect, so that only happens after there has been a rain). The flats are huge – we were told they cover a larger area than Lake Titicaca. The site was well worth the grueling travel, which consisted of an overnight bus trip from La Paz to get to Uyuni (where the tours begin), and then another to get back to La Paz after our day at the flats.

The City of La Paz

We didn’t know much about La Paz, other than that it is the (or one of the!) highest capital cities in the world, at around 12,000 feet. We just knew we needed to go through there to get to the salt flats. But it’s a city that warrants a visit all its own. We spent only two days there, which wasn’t enough, but we did get to ride the gondolas, eat some local cuisine and walk on the elevated boardwalk through the park. We held up pretty well, elevation-wise, because our bus trip through Arequipa and the mountains had already acclimated us. However, there are a lot of hills and we did have to stop and catch our breath a few (many?) times.

Tidbits

The commuter system in Lima is actually a rapid bus system that runs on dedicated lanes down the center of the primary limited access highway. The few times we used it, it seemed to be quite crowded and well used. There was also a system of buses and vans running on the surface streets, but it was confusing and not user friendly at all. We used cabs, Uber and good old foot power most times.

Although humid, temperatures were pleasant the whole time we were there, with highs in the 70s F. It didn’t cool down much at night. We didn’t have, or need, AC at our apartment, but we slept with the windows open and there were no flying insect problems, even with no screens. It rarely rains in Lima (it’s technically a desert and annual rainfall is less than one inch!), but there were a couple times when there was a trace of moisture that almost wet the sidewalks. Most days included some sun and some clouds. Very nice, overall.

Prices were reasonable for most things, and downright cheap sometimes. Only a few times did we spend more than $20 per person for an entire meal plus drinks and tip, and those times were at very upscale restaurants. The more local restaurants would typically have a set lunch special (menu el dia) that ran about $3 or 4 US for an appetizer, main dish and dessert. But drinks were usually extra! A glass of wine usually ran between $4-6 US, often more than the meal itself. As you might expect, the more touristy places were a lot more expensive than the local places. I got a great haircut AND beard trim for less than $12 US, without even shopping around for the best deal.

Hang gliding off the cliffs in the Miraflores neighborhood was awesome – I went when we were here last time and several in our group went this trip. Most days there were many kites soaring above the cliffs. Surfing is also big, with rental shops and surf schools stretched all along the waterfront. Gambling is legal in Lima, and there are several large casinos throughout the City, and many smaller ones (often the larger Chifa restaurants have casinos in them).

The Ugly

Lima is a very crowded city, with all the problems that go with that. Air quality and traffic are bad. The tap water is not drinkable by most tourists, and the plumbing is old and undersized – toilet paper cannot be flushed (similarly to several other South American cities). Pedestrians are ignored by most drivers, even though there are huge crowds of people walking on narrow sidewalks most of the day. It’s everyone for themselves!

 

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Nightmares

I wake up slowly. There is bright sunlight streaming through the atrium door in our bedroom. My wife is beside me, still dead to the world. I have overslept.

There is a small mound on the floor beside me. A small mound that moves ever so slightly. Rising and falling rhythmically. The small mound is a small boy. The small boy is my son.

There has been another nightmare. A nightmare that has driven a small, frightened child into his parents’ bedroom, dragging his blanket and pillow, to sleep on the floor. How thoughtful that he came in quietly so he did not wake us up. How thoughtful and how sad.

I step over him on the way to the bathroom. I hesitate and turn around to lift him up into bed with his mother. He is warm, in his little nest on the floor in the morning sun. He stirs a bit as I lay him on the bed, unconsciously adjusting to the feel of new surroundings. But he doesn’t wake up.

As I shave, I think about the nightmares. My wife is certain a pet would solve the problem. A dog or cat to provide security and companionship. I have resisted this idea since it first came up several months ago. Pets are messy. Pets are expensive. Pets need lots of care. But sometimes, perhaps, pets are necessary.

My son and his mother are ecstatic at dinner that evening when I announce my change of heart. My son is given the choice of dog or cat, and without hesitation chooses a puppy. A trip to the animal shelter is scheduled for the weekend. However, the excitement can’t be contained, and we end up making a trip after dinner to buy a dozen pet care products, most of which are probably unnecessary.

Another morning. I wake up slowly. There is bright sunlight streaming through the atrium door in our bedroom. There is a small mound on the floor beside me. The small mound is a small boy. And an even smaller puppy.

PC:  Artem Sapegin on Puppy-And-Boy Pictures | Download Free Images on Unsplash

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Trouble With Keys

Andrew searched again through his computer bag for his keys, just two simple keys on a ring with no chain. Perhaps he’d just missed them the first four times he’d looked. Perhaps they were nestled there in some forgotten pocket, or they’d slipped inside a folder or book. Perhaps….

Andrew put his computer bag aside, sighed mentally and began the task of retracing his steps. When was the last time he’d seen them? When was the last time he’d used them?

That morning had been such a blur. A work assignment with a short fuse had been sent his way early. He read the email first thing upon awakening and hurried to dress and head to a cafe where the WIFI speeds were better and he could work in solitude, away from his too loud apartment building. Away from the sounds of construction in the apartment upstairs, the street noises from the front windows, the sounds of cooks, waiters and patrons in the restaurant below. Away from his too chatty roommate, who was still asleep when Andrew walked out the door. No, he was certain he hadn’t used his key that morning – he didn’t generally lock the apartment door when his roommate was home.

The night before then. More blur. Happy hour, followed by dinner. Visits to several clubs with a group of friends. Many, many drinks. A taxi ride home. But his roommate had been in the group and, Andrew was sure, had unlocked the door when they arrived home. Well, almost sure.

Losing the key to his apartment wasn’t a big problem for Andrew. His roommate had a key. His girlfriend had a key. His roommate’s boyfriend had a key. The building super had a key. Any of those people could let him back into his apartment. And a few euros were all it would take to replace his own key. Assuming he ever needed to get into his apartment again, which was unlikely.

No, the problem was with the other key. The second key on the ring. A key that couldn’t be replaced. A key with no duplicates. A very important key. It was this key Andrew needed. And he needed it now, or some very significant plans would need to be changed.

This important key was the key to a locker at the train station. A locker that contained a variety of items Andrew had planned to use two hours from now. Items that could be combined to create an instrument of destruction, the use of which would be the first step in the creation of a new political order. Andrew had been honored to be chosen by the collective to initiate this first step. Andrew would now fail. He assumed his failure would result in his termination by the collective, as was deserved. But that wasn’t important to Andrew. What was important was that the new order, carefully planned for many years, would be delayed. Delayed for months, possibly years.

Finally, Andrew gave up. He gave up searching for those two simple keys on a ring with no chain. Those two simple keys that, at this very moment, were lying under the loose fold of a canvas pocket in his computer bag.

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A Friendly Ear

Emily sat down at the counter in the small café and ordered a Greek coffee. It was a glorious sunny morning on Santorini, but Emily was feeling a little down.

The girl behind the counter listened intently to Emily chattering away while preparing her order. She heard about Emily’s awful ex-boyfriend, who’d cheated on her. About their dramatic breakup – it had been painful, but had left Emily free to travel. About Emily’s exciting summer plans in the Greek Islands.

Emily felt much better after unburdening herself to this nice girl. This nice Greek girl who understood almost no English at all.

 

Photo by asoggetti on Unsplash

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