I’ve been kicking the shit out of myself for more than a year because I haven’t taken the ample opportunities that have generously presented themselves to do what I love best. Waiting as long as I did to travel like this again was a mistake. But it was also what amplified my experience in Peru, no more so than in those first few hours of exploring a new city for the first time.
The streets in Lima are massively wide and almost always packed with vehicles. The sidewalks are bustling with thousands of people at nearly all hours of the day and night. Food stalls are everywhere, to our delight. I hadn’t really considered the possibility that there would be so many dirt-cheap options for some of the best food I’ll ever eat.
In the cab to our hostel, we’d noticed dozens of Chifa restaurants; Peruvian-Chinese fusion representative of an Asian culture that made its way to the Pacific shores of South America. Chifa creates a unique blend of ingredients and styles. Local meat and produce is used for these Chinese recipes. The first place we went, however, turned out to be the last for this style of cuisine. It was pretty good, I had some noodles and a rice dish. But it pretty much just reminded me of Chinese food that I could get back home with a bit of a twist on it. I also drank my first bottle of local beer, Cristal, La Cerveza del Peru.
After a confusing conversation with the lady who prepared the food, we got a lot more than we thought we ordered. We also got our first taste of language-barrier related travel issues, but it would only improve from there. Basic but passable Spanish isn’t too hard to pick up for an English speaker if you have a little bit of time.
A homeless man came into the restaurant, asking everyone for money or food. Since we ordered too much, we gave him a plate of ours, which he silently took, sat down and made a huge mess of eating. I don’t think the owners (the chef/waitress and her husband) appreciated us inviting the man to eat like that in their restaurant. After all, the meal was already paid for by us, and he seemed to attract a bit of unwanted attention from other patrons and passersby.
After we paid and left, we began walking down the streets, into the night to explore some more. We had permanent grins on our face. Nothing could take away from our good mood.
We stopped for some fruit shakes on our way back to the hostel. Teresa got pineapple and I got papaya. It was slightly bland but still refreshing. Everything is when you’re in honeymoon-mode with an experience. One thing I can say about the shortness of this trip is that that feeling tended to linger throughout the entirety, knowing that it would be over before we knew it and Teresa and I wanting to soak up every last second.
The constraint of our temporal window also factored in to how we organized ourselves. We had to start making plans ASAP and we were never completely sure what exactly we would be able to fit in. Our goal was: Cuzco/Machu Picchu to the Amazon Jungle to Arequipa and Colca Canyon. We had our route mapped out in our heads leading into this trip, simply based on the way it looked to us on the map. A perfect loop of southern Peru, in our minds. What turned out to be the determining factor was which cities constituted the jump point for which excursion.
The following day in Lima, we would be figuring out exactly where our train of thought went wrong and how we would be arranging, and stressing out about, all of the possibilities and potential missed opportunities.