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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Black and orange stray cat sittin' on a fence...

Monday morning. Back on my own again, Mike commuting south to the job site in Chilca as he wasn't on vacation yet.

But I was.

My sworn duty, then, was to continue exploring Lima, utterly on my own terms. Return to the hotel by 6 in the evening.

It's good work if you can get it.

First on the agenda: coffee. Easy enough. Latte overlooking the Pacific from Larcomar on the clifftop. Again.

Oh shucky darn.

Did I mention that this was not such a bad gig?

Then, not so fun: clothes shopping. I needed to go find something to supplement my minimal travel wardrobe for a high-falutin night with Company people. I had questioned my spousal unit about this whilst planning packing, as any woman would. Mike had sworn we would not need clothes for that sort of thing....but he was wrong. Wine tasting and dinner at the elegant Lima Country Club with the Chileans. Drat.

So I headed for an area I felt comfortable with,Parque Kennedy; Kennedy Park. As in JFK -his bust is there, smiling gently over the scene. Parque Kennedy is an oval green space in the central plaza of Miraflores District, green grass, flowers and trees beneath the shadow of a beautiful cathedral. Shoe shiners, gardeners, canvases of paintings to buy from artists with wildly varied levels of skill.

And cats. Lots and lots of cats.

Cats of every color up in trees and dug down into the root structure of the same trees, cats in the flower beds, cats peering out from beneath park benches and darting across the walkways. Cats purring and mewing and begging to be adopted, cats drawing back their paw and growling as if to whack your head off.

The ubiquitous dogs of Peru, some stray, some not, snuffed and charged around the park, flushing out the less resolute cats from their hiding places for a moment of chase-the-cat. Some cats held their own, and were left alone.

There was one little boy shrilling gato! gato! pointing up into a tree with a chubby finger, the gato staring disdainfully down at him from its safe vantage in the high branches.

Cats and toddlers don't mix well, generally. Well played, cat.

As far as I could tell, looking at the signs, these were cats that had been dumped at the park, and had made the best of it.

Fortunately they weren't entirely bereft of friends; I saw a woman stride in with a trolley loaded with cat food. Obviously well known to the feline population, her arrival caused a massive flood of cats from all corners of the park, bounding with tails pointed to the skies on the way. A few dignified specimens of cat sat waiting quietly nearby, but most proceeded to yowl at her feet or twist figure eights around her legs as she put out bowl after bowl of food.

This feline lady wanted to come home with me:

as did this one:

Sorry, dear kitties. I have no home in Peru for you. Some ear scritching from me and a few strokes under the chin was the best I could do.

I think they should have gone home with this guy:

Seems like they would coordinate nicely with that outfit.

Yes, I stalked him to get a photo of his pants. So wrong, I know.

But I think I am better than this twit who was photographing some poor guy trying to brush his teeth at the bus station.

This really bugged me for some reason, her utter lack of discretion. I love photos of people, but I also think they should be given space, respect. So I took HER photo. See how I am? How do you like them apples, hmmm?

Leaving the relative haven of the kitties in the park behind, I trudged though several department stores, finally setting on a pair of black pants (because, you know, I so needed another pair of those, but that's what would match the one vaguely dressy shirt I brought.) These were nice department stores, to be sure, but it's a good thing I had coffee and eggs to give me strength first.

Department store shopping on vacation. Bah. People deliberately do this abroad, as entertainment? Ugh. What a total waste, to my way of thinking. Who's with me on this?

There are far better pursuits. Like, say, walking around and eating things.

Those are good.

To soothe my ruffled feathers from having to spend valuable exploration time on shopping and convince the world at large that even with my clothing disdain, I am a girl after all, I went to get a manicure.

Does that seem weird? Here's the thing: I'm not really a manicure kind of gal, but it's kind of a tradition to get one for vacations. Is there a sensible reason behind this?

No, not really. But it's nice to feel pretty.

I'd asked my female compatriots for a good place and gotten recommendations along with directions that were undoubtedly very clear. Probably ridiculously so, but no matter; not a chance of my being able to follow them.

Mike says I have some sort of mental block. Most likely.

My spousal unit is blessed with an internal compass and mind for maps and visualisation. I am blessed with a spouse who has these capabilities. Without him I am a ship adrift. Fortunately I am also the one who has patience and a pretty high tolerance level for not knowing where the hell I am.

So I circled the block, figured it'd given it my best, and went into the first nail salon I saw.

¡Hola! I called, stepping inside a narrow space of plastic chairs and plastic flowers, mirrors and a tiny television bleating Spanish soap opera. The proprietress of the establishment greeted me with much enthusiasm, a small but (as I was to learn) strong woman with hair that must have greyed long ago, restored by chemical means to a raven glory.

I held up my hands, showing my naked, short, less-than-perfect nails and was immediately taken under that good lady's wing. She grasped me by the arm, escorting her new client quickly to one of the stations, as if she was afraid I might change my mind and scuttle back out into the street.

Smiling and nodding as she examined my digits, she asked several questions in Spanish, but seeing my utterly confused continence (I have one of those regrettable faces that shows everything whether I want it to or not), she correctly perceived that I was an out-of-towner and not going to answer easily.

La Casa de la Llama. The House of the Llama. Love it.

De nada, she had her ways of making me talk. She sketched out nail shapes so I could grunt and point to the desired one, then she got to work, chattering away at me and pleased, praising me like a particularly slow child whenever I understood anything she said. This included si.

We decided on the desired shape of the nails (ovalo?) and she understood better than the last person who gave me a manicure back in the States that I did NOT want my cuticles cut. That woman looked perplexed, came at me with the clippers from another angle (OK, so she was Chinese, but who lives in the US and doesn't know the word no?) and even through I covered my hands and shook my head emphatically (this should have been universal), she kept trying and looking hurt until she wore me down and I gave in.

Yuck. Those cuticles are there for a reason, you know. (Once again, I lose my girl card.)

This time I followed up my refusal by explaining that we were going to the Amazon and that I wanted the cuticles left intact, you know, para las bacterias. I did not mention that it would have been reassuring to see a nice container of blue Barbisol or something to indicate that the nail tools had ever been cleaned.

She peppered me with questions: was I travelling alone? Where was my husband, then? How had we arrived? How long ago? Do I chew my nails (no, I like them short. No bonita, she said, but shrugged philosophically and kept on with the creams and soaking and filing.) Were we going to Machu Picchu? We must go to Cusco. Did I have children? What are their names, how old are they, who is caring for them? Do they have curly hair and blue eyes as well?

Virgen Milagrosa Cathedral, Parque Kennedy

This was like a Spanish 101 crash course. I was doing some pretty impressive crashing, but my teacher was both patient with my wipe-outs and encouraging, delighting in teaching me words, prodding me to repeat them until we both figured I understood.

At about the time she finished massaging my left hand and put it in a bowl of warm water to soak, a fly showed up and began its irritating but inevitable circling and buzzing, as flies are wont to do.

"¡las mosca!" she cried, pointing and buzzing, following the path of the fly with her index finger. Then she looked at me, a sly look in her eye. "¡Las mosca es un beeetch!"

Si, si, I agreed, un completo beetch. I was outclassed. I don't know any swear phrases in Spanish, and she not only had that one down but even used it correctly. I resolved to learn some Spanish swearing ASAP.

As it turns out, there are some very creative ones out there, my current favorites probably being Hijo de las gran mil putas, "son of the thousand great prostitutes," Cago en tu leche, "I poop in your milk" and Que te folle un pez , "may a fish have, er, unnatural relations with you."

Points for creativity, I say.

Bereft of my phrasebook, which didn't have any of those in it anyway, I tried to make a joke with my teacher and asked if hombres es un beetch? She looked at me like I was nuts. I dropped it.

I thought poking fun at menfolks in beauty salons was universal. Apparently not. Either that or only the professor was allowed to make jokes in class.

Fair enough.

Either way, I had stumbled upon an excellent teacher. And not a bad beautician either. 45 minutes later she had taught me at least 25 new words and painted my now perfectly oval nails the palest pink, playing with me first as she pulled out a bottle of bright poppy red lacquer, then chuckling at my expression. She could tell I'm not a rojo kind of woman.

I think I'm the first woman in a very long time to choose that pink. She had to use pliers to wrench it open, after both of us tried manually to unscrew the stubborn cap.

The entire time, despite all the hopefull-looking empty chairs in the salon and a decent location, I was her sole client. Once a man stopped by, I think asking for directions, but other than that, it was just us womenfolk chatting away.

The price for all this education? 4 USD. Plus about $2 for a tip. She hugged me goodbye.

Really, you never know what will become a memorable experience, do you?


  1. You had me chuckling at those Spanish swear words!!! What a fun read once again!

  2. Aren't they great?! Not that I could whip those out at an opportune moment...it's nice to pretend I could, though. Thanks Nathalie! :)

  3. Ah Natalie, Natalie, Natalie, how I love to read your travel reports. This one cracked me up. I'm going to stash those swears away for future reference, you never know when they might come in handy ;)