Waking up in Lima, Teresa and I had a trip to plan because, to be honest, we hadn’t really done any of that before arriving. A rough geographical route flicked in and out of my mind, alongside a very inaccurate projection of the adventure to come. Prior to being completely sure of what you’re doing, having those tickets booked or knowledge of bus, train, and boat schedules, there are stresses that go along with the unsureness.
The shorter the trip is, the more pronounced this seems to be because if you fuck up even one excursion, it could adversely affect a sizeable chunk of the journey. “Fuck up” is a pretty strong term; it would likely take a lot to go that far. But regrettable moments aren’t fun when they creep up after the trip, and mismanaging the scheduling of a travel adventure can cause this to occur.
At the same time, though, you have to leave room in your mind for the understanding that nothing will ever be exactly what you imagined it to be, especially when tour companies are involved. And that’s the thing that was a bit different about this trip compared to Southeast Asia in 2013. In that situation, quantity of time had a positive impact on quality of time as well.
So in the short 2 ½ weeks we had to traverse Peru, we began scheduling everything in Lima, learning quickly that our Lima-Cuzco-Amazon Jungle-Arequipa route was not as doable in the timeframe allotted to us, and even if it was, it would have been insensible. Arequipa and Colca Canyon became our first destinations, from which we would move on to Cuzco and Machu Picchu, then on to the Amazon Jungle; whether through Manu National Park or Puerto Maldonado, we hadn’t yet decided.
At this point, we simply booked our bus ticket to Arequipa and decided we would purchase our tickets as we went along; we learned there was an abundance in availability. With one stress off of our shoulders, we decided to spend the whole day outdoors, exploring Lima as far as our legs would carry us. The next day, we’d be out the door already, heading south down the Pacific coast.
As I mentioned, there’s stall food everywhere and it’s damn delicious. For breakfast, though, we found a great ceviché restaurant. We’d heard from a lady at our hostel than it can be overpriced at times, but a fair-sized “cevicheria” about a 10 minute walk away, called Alta Mar, served up some damn delicious seafood for less than $8 a plate.
We ordered two different ceviché dishes, one which was a mix and easy to recognize on the menu, the other of which we weren’t sure so we figured it would just be one aspect of the mix. It turned out to be the shrimp, not one of my favourites, but very hard to say no to either way. The seafood, which included fish, mussels, squid, shrimp, and octopus is soaking in seasoned lime juices and served with yucca, these massive kernels of maize, and some other veggies as well. It’s a killer breakfast and you’d better be hungry for it.
I also tried Inca Kola for the first and last time.
The ceviché was a spectacular start to our day and gave us plenty of energy to hit the ground running in this massive colonial city. We walked passed museums and government buildings, the wide highways leading towards even larger roundabouts with half a dozen streets jutting out of the centre in every direction. On one of the corners, an older lady was selling freshly squeezed tangerine juice, sans anything but freshly squeeze tangerine juice. A large, glass bottle of this chilled, refreshing drink cost me 40 cents. The feeling that I get when I am enjoying the best food and drinks in the world for almost no cost has not waned whatsoever. It might seem weird to get so caught up on something as simple as fresh OJ (or TJ) on the street corner, but these simple pleasures hold a high place in my life’s enjoyment.
We continued to walk along the streets, and the sun pulsing down on us. It really didn’t get to us, though. We’d just come from a Canadian winter. We saw all order of crazy tropical country stuff that makes us love it all that much more. The streets were packed and you brush and bump shoulders with dozens of people as you move along. Everyone talks very loudly, but are almost always friendly and cordial. At one intersection, I saw a lady, maybe in her 40s or 50s, naked from head to toe, very dishevelled and walking unsteadily with her hands out to help her balance. Everyone just gave her space, as did we, shaking our heads in awe at the thought of such a spectacle.
We weren’t just wandering aimlessly, though, up Avienda Abancay. My sister had mentioned to me that she’d been to San Francisco (Saint Francis) Cathedral, and often visited historical attraction closer to a more touristic section of Lima. We didn’t know this though, we just heard about it, found the address, and started walking there from our hostel. We only realized on our alternate route home that we’d taken the outer roads to get there, completely bypassing the tourist traps that are strewn all about this part of the colonial district.
San Francisco Cathedral was beautiful, and awesomely historic, indeed. It’s difficult to say whether I more enjoyed the old library, with multi-centenarian old books, grasped only by scholars with government approval, or the subterranean catacombs with human remains stacked metres high in underground wells and along the stone walls. Ironically, due to the foundational structure of the Cathedral, apparently the catacombs are the safest place to be in the midst of an earthquake. Pictures inside were forbidden.
We learned a lot on our walk through San Francisco Cathedral, and as we emerged back out into the sunlight, it was as scorching as ever. The architecture in this part of the city is magnificent.
We snapped a few pics and made our way to a more central, populated location only to wind up down this terrible, wide walkway where every last person is screaming at you to buy their stuff. It was exactly like this one strip in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, a place I really enjoyed when I got off the main road, and a subconscious influencer in my wanting to get off the beaten path and explore a place for what it’s really like.
We laughed about it and took it all as part of the experience, a good contrast to how we like to travel and a poignant reminder of how most people tend to travel. We didn’t see any travelers on our way to the cathedral. This route back, we saw thousands.
We diverted away and headed back to a more “local” route, this time further west from Avienda Abancay. We came across some local schoolboys who Teresa noticed were gawking at me as we walked by. We smiled at them and asked if they wanted to take a picture with us. 2 of the 3 boys adamantly agreed, while the other, the smallest and likely youngest of them, shied off against the wooden fence. We flexed for the photos and parted with smiles on our faces.
On the way back we came across this spot specializing in a fried hot-dog dish with chicken, fries, and a few condiment options. We saw a lot of this later on in the trip, as well. The hot dog was really red/pink; it looked very unnatural but the dish itself tasted pretty good, especially for $1.50. We downed it with this purple fruit drink. My dad used to make this beverage called sorrel; if you’re Caribbean, you’ve probably heard of or had it. This purple drink tasted a lot like that, almost like a blandish-tart prune juice.
I will say, while being a coy bastard, that we “found” something to elevate our minds to a different level. It provided an alternate experience for some of our adventures and it was nice to have the option. At times, it can supplement creative inspiration.
As we came back to our hostel, evening was beginning to set in. We’d sweat quite a bit in the heat and decided to wash up before changing and heading out for dinner. Once more, we opted for the stalls; cheap, varied, delicious. That’s all we needed. We had this one salty meat dish with potato and egg. I’m not quite sure what it’s called. We also bought a couple of ripe passion fruits from a local variety store. The nights are fairly cooler than the days, but still sticky and humid. It wasn’t long before I changed into a light pair of track pants.
Lima did not disappoint, nor does my recollection reflect any such sentiment. It wasn’t the last time we’d be here, and we’d still have several hours the next day to enjoy before hopping aboard a Tepsa bus for the 15 hour journey to elevated Arequipa, and the lush, pastoral villages surrounding godly Colca Canyon. An excellent start, and it only got better.