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Sunday, January 29, 2012

You say, you don't know, I say: take me out.

Outside of the cathedral, the scene had been transformed  from relatively placid to one of mayhem. Cars and pedestrians jostling over every spare bit of pavement, activity and movement, and above all, noise.


The cacophony of the horns blaring and echoing back and forth between the buildings can best be described as disconcerting. It's a time-honored tradition: all drivers in Lima are honor-bound to aggressively honk their horns. A lot. And by a lot, I mean constantly and without surcease. I think the rule may be something along the lines of: for every car you see, honk once, cars in your way (which includes parked cars), honk until that car is no longer in your way, and then one more blast, just to get in the last word.

Guide books warn that visitors to the city need to be prepared for the sheer volume of noise and people. Some, one reads, also need a break from it all now and then or risk going a bit mad.

I can see why.

On the sidewalks, among the swirl of pedestrians, the only still things were numerous waist-high stands selling, of all things, hard-boiled quail's eggs. The tiny eggs had been cooked and peeled and then were kept warm in water baths until a customer came along. Then they were dipped out with a slotted spoon and presented in a bowl to be munched on the go.

I took what was intended to be a discrete photo and got a really dirty look from one of the egg seller women. Ouch.

It was strangely, piercingly lonely to be in the milling crowd with all that noise and activity, feeling like a gawky giant at 5'4", and as pale as something the had been rooted up from too long beneath a log away from the sun.

There were buses stacking up along the shoulder at paraderos, each one with a bus caller -conductor hanging off the side and calling out their destinations and the price for the trip. Each caller barks out the price they think is the perfect balance of getting what they can while packing the bus as full as possible.  The smaller the bus, the faster and cheaper it is.


Of course, we all know faster and cheaper is not always better. But it can be fun. As much as I would have liked to have caught one and gotten off the street, I wasn't confident that I would end up where I wanted to be; a mistake I wasn't willing to take with darkness approaching.

Plus, and this is vaguely cowardly, I couldn't really understand what the conductors were saying. Better to go back to the regulated trains for a turista like me, I figured.  

So I wove and buffetted a path through the dense crowds, getting in the way, getting some stares, not necessarily unfriendly but not exactly nice either. The storefronts that had been firmly shuttered on my way out were now open for business, the two most frequent being sellers of rotisserie chicken cooked on enormous sword-like metal skewers over vast vats of coals, and purveyors of women's underwear. The latter were held overhead on cross-barred wooden poles by men in hats while being turned this way and that to give full view of the merchandise.

In the confusion of the crowds and the rotating underwear and naked dripping chickens, I took the wrong fork of the road. As the scene was so changed from before, I didn't even realise my error until I realised nothing looked correct. Plus the streets were much cleaner than I remembered them. Almost no poo. Either they were hosed down before rush hour every day or I was lost again.

The latter.

It all turned out, of course. It usually does. I found a freeway, and then a ramp down to the trains, and got to Central Station all right. Then I ended up asking which train to take...the maps for the trains were far inside the gates that  I couldn't make them out to decipher which was going where.  There's nothing like stupidly repeating your destination: "Miraflores, Miraflores por favor"  to take the air out of your deflatable ego.

After thanking the train employee who came to my aid -many graciases- me and my flattened ego smushed in with the rest of the train commuters. It really was quite cozy. So much so that you needed to plan ahead and cooperate with your fellow man, woman, and child if you wanted to get off at the correct station. I found myself at an advantage here...I had longer arms and could snake a path for myself and those nearby through the pressing bodies, and I ended up helping several riders make it to the doors before they closed in their inexorable way.

I was also really glad for Safety Purse. There was no way I could have told the difference between innocent smooshing and pickpocketing. As for the nearly inevitable weirdos that hang out in crowded places to cop a feel...who could tell?! All I knew was that I arrived at the correct destination with all my gear. Can't ask better than that.

By the time the train was in Miraflores I was late. I ran the now-darkened streets trying not to knock anyone over or get hit by a car. Both are considered bad form abroad. Sweaty and tired and feeling incredibly grungy, I mentally rehearsed several apology options offer to Mike. These turned out to be unnecessary...he was late as well.

Puente de los Suspiros, Bridge of Sighs, where, legend has it, a young maiden's sighs could be heard by passers-by after her wealthy father forbade her to ever see her common-born love again.
It is traditional to kiss your true love upon this bridge. Ah, amor.

We took our tired selves and luggage to April and Royce's house in the Barranco district of  Lima that evening, down the coast a little ways, past the Puente de los Suspiros. Our driver, provided by the hotel, was hampered in two ways: he didn't know where he was going and he couldn't drive slow enough to take the turns when we recognised them. So we got the roundabout tour in more ways than one, but finally we made it.

A home-cooked meal of lasagna and much-needed glasses of wine in April and Royce's beautiful apartment later, I was looking around their digs and wondering if we'd made the wrong decision not to live in Lima.

adorable animal figure at Royce and April's


Then we heard yelling and some sort of scuffle below the windows. Without hesitation, Royce and April ran outside to break up a fight in the parking lot; as it turned out, their somewhat elderly security guard was beating the cerviche out of  a young guy who dared park in the wrong spot in defiance of the guard's instructions. Mike joined them downstairs. I stayed upstairs, hanging out the window to watch from a safer vantage point.

I looked around again and decided yup. We'd made the right decision.

4 comments:

  1. The noise and crowds would probably do me in, but you are much braver than I. Did you ever make it over to Ireland?

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    1. Nah, sadly we didn't...boringly, couldn't afford the Emerald Isles for the 4 of us. You and I could tear us up some travel, Paula...it'd be a kick! :)

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  2. Brave or crazy, I can't decide! :) i'm surprised you didn't share a photo of the underwear sellers;)

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    1. I only got out my camera when I felt it was safe to do so. Which was not so often as it got more and more crowded on the sidewalks and I felt like a big tall (5'4") pale tourist, aka target, for street thieves.

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