How can the word “refreshing” arise when discussing a city populated by nearly ten million people and polluted to choking levels by almost as many cars, trucks, buses, and motorbikes? And yet it was so.
It hit me harder than I expected it to, when Teresa and I departed Jorge Chávez International Airport and stepped out into the warm, sticky air of the evening. I took a deep breath, a backpack hugging me from both the front and the back once again, and it was like I’d never stopped doing this. It had been a long time since a sense of “home” possessed me with this kind of strength. This feeling actually caught me off guard. Even the brief layover in Panama put a big smile on my face.
I think it had something to do with the, at times, frightening indifference I felt in the weeks leading up. I wonder if I would have felt this way if I had been visiting a city or town in Europe, or Australia. I’m sure that it would, but I think that the developing world, and some of the quirky nuances that come with much of the territory, hold a place in my conscience that I’ll never be able to match.
But then again, New Zealand was and is one of the best places I could think of, and there’s no doubt in my mind I’ll be returning to experience it even further in depth.
Getting back on track, when we got out into the open air, and hopped into a cab to take us to 1900 Backpacker’s Hostel, we were speechless and at peace as we cruised by the colonial-style buildings, the broken down stone slums, the clogged streets, the countless vendors…it’s not perfect by any means but it’s so real, and raw.
We were lucky. Between the time we landed, got our money sorted out, and unloaded our belongings in our room, we’d only been in the country for about an hour. The night was young and we were ready to start exploring. We’d been ready pretty much since the last time we’d touched down in Canada from a foreign land. It’s hard for us to cease our movement.
We stepped out into the night, and we were in the middle of Lima. The majority of travelers we saw were inside the hostel. People tended to linger there quite a bit at all hours of the day.
After walking for a few minutes, we came to a little stall where a lady was making anticuchos, marinated beef heart on a skewer, grilled and served with some lettuce and fried potatoes. It was our first taste of Peru, and I really enjoyed it.
Teresa, not quite as much. We didn’t know it was heart when we were eating it, but we could tell it was some kind of insides. I think I would’ve liked almost anything as the first taste. It was an exciting time.
We began walking down a main street, and really took notice of how there were thousands of people all around us, going about their daily lives. But more than just people, many were uniformed police officers, or some kind of government hired inspector. We observed these men and women in the thousands over the few days we stayed in this city. Their presence was a daily and nightly reality in these busy, concrete streets. Also, private security seems to be a huge business in Lima as banks, hotels, and many other commercial locales were seen to hire up to dozens of guards armed with a variety of weapons from clubs and tazers to guns.
I can’t begin to imagine the impact that this armed presence has on the citizens of the streets. It’s one thing to see this in designated touristic areas, as a means to inspire a feeling of safety in these commercial zones that rely on the tourist dollar. But in Lima, the cops were everywhere. Even the traffic control officers, who were women by a vast majority, carried holstered revolvers at their side. And even still, motorists would often ignore both the traffic cops and the traffic lights. We witnessed situations where taxi drivers got out of their cars to hold up traffic out of spite because of words exchanged between them and a truck driver. It was about 20 meters away from where one of the transit authorities was holding down an intersection, and she wouldn’t even acknowledge the situation. It was a surreal experience.
So a lot of places in the streets are essentially regulated by some kind of authority at a very direct and imminent level. Whereas some of us may be used to the law being implied without the need for a constant authoritative presence in the form of police and security officials, Lima didn’t seem to have any such luxury. It was more than implied, it was right up in your face.
I can’t say that a heavy police presence itself brings about any particular feeling of safety for me. We had no problems in Asia without all the cops. But perhaps there is a sublevel of crime that exists that has the potential to become more emergent without this presence in the city. Either way, we never felt like anyone was bothering us more than we could handle. Solicitations were the worst we came across, which is a very minor nuisance when you’re used to dealing with it. People were very friendly when it came to offering help and directions and no one was ever explicitly rude to us.
A 44 hour visit is, I’d argue, incapable of really penetrating the surface of such a large metropolis so my opinions could be very superficial in that regard. I can only relay the senses that I got from my direct experiences in Lima, and as influenced by other travel experiences. It was a great start to our trip though, and the hour hand had barely completed a full revolution.