Lounging in Lima
Due to the fact that I had booked my flights very last minute, it had been too expensive to return to Lima on the same flight as Sam. So, we flew out from different London airports and I had a seven hour head start. After a journey of nineteen hours, followed by a lot of standing around in Lima airport because my backpack was ‘held for security’ in the transit airport in America, I was therefore the first to arrive, in the early hours of the morning, in our beautiful apartment in the classy, glassy Lima neighbourhood of Miraflores. Before my unexpected return trip to the UK, we had splashed out on a posh apartment for what would have originally been our first week reunited. In comparison to my usual backpacking standards, the apartment was extreme luxury: it was on the fourth floor of a high raise, with floor to ceiling windows in the main room and bedroom, a balcony with a view down to the Pacific Ocean, two flat screen tvs, and bathroom with a hot tub.
For the majority, our first week was as lazy as we had originally envisaged. We hooked up Sam’s laptop to the TV in our bedroom and watched the latest series of Games of Thrones, to catch me up on what I had missed whilst travelling. Whenever we felt cabin fever coming on, we wandered along the clifftop walkway to the nearby Larcomar, a shopping mall built into the cliffs with incredible views across the ocean, the perfect spot for a milkshake and our food provider for the week with its supermarket.
We had a few mini exploration expeditions. In central Lima, we wandered through Polvos Azules, a market housed in a large concrete, multi-storeyed building which was painted various shades of blue and housed stalls selling anything from designer clothes to white goods, though of questionable authenticity. As we had a few specific items in mind, we headed straight through the clothes section, aisles of shoes, flashing jewellery and perfume displays and into the electronics area. Sam goggled at various camera lenses, and we went on the hunt for a mini speaker which had us stood at numerous stalls plugging a mobile into various examples and fastidiously listening to the sound quality. When we felt we had meandered through the market maze for long enough, we climbed the stairs to the roof where food stalls were set up, and drank large glass goblets of thick, fresh fruit juice, which turned out to be the smallest size on offer.
One evening, we headed to a bar in the neighbourhood next to ours for a free jazz gig. The band wasn’t particularly fantastic but it made for a fun night out nonetheless.
The highlight of the week was our visit to El Circuito Mágico del Agua. For the princely sum of 85p, we entered the park once darkness had fallen, along with hundreds of locals, and wandered the series of a dozen or so illuminated fountains. They were fantastical and over-the-top, ranging from huge tiered centrepieces, to great multi-coloured arcs which squirted from the ground which people tried to run through without getting wet, myself included, linked by channels of water with small colourful jets, and leading to the 120 metre long, central Fantasy Fountain. There, we watched a laser light show. Booming music, which oscillated through classical to popular to indigenous Peruvian classics, accompanied the lasers which spun brightly coloured shapes through the spray, as well as more detailed images: a fluttering hummingbird, blossoming flowers, a ballerina performing Swan Lake, and various indigenous dancers in traditional costume.
Into the Wild
With our week in Lima up, we opted for a radical change in scene. Our first bus journey together was one of the most scenic of my entire trip. From close to sea level in Lima, we ascended to 4700m as we crossed the Andes, weaving our way along roads cut into the contours of the mountains. It was a stunning route, as we drove through mountains marbled grey, orange, sandy yellow, rich red contrasted with green shrubbery, and sometimes snow-capped, and scattered with still, clear, lakes which looked like pieces of sky thrown down. The air was noticeably thin and tightened our chests, until we started to descend to the main city of the region. Our final destination was ninety minutes beyond, and 2300m lower, than this city, so the last stretch of the journey was constantly downhill and a rapid change in scenery. Palm trees, tall trees and dense foliage began to spring up, until we were travelling through thick rainforest with mist drifting through the green peaks around us.
After those eight scenic hours, we reached La Merced. It was a small town sat on a rainforested slope, a settlement of higgledy-piggeldy buildings centred around a geometric main plaza, with a slightly shabby, faded feel, probably due to the near constant heat, and a soundtrack of buzzing moto-taxis and car horns.
The next day we woke to a heavy, thunderous downpour. Together we squeezed into a definitely two-person moto-taxi with Juan, our slightly well-built guide for our day’s activity, then, on foot, proceeded to cross the wide river using a suspension bridge, its original wooden decking patched up with more criss-crossing planks, and entered the jungle. By this time, the rain had eased up slightly, though the leaves were still heavy with water and the air constantly dripping. We walked for an hour or so along a small path until we came to a fast running stream, which we sloshed into. From then on we walked upstream, scrambling up small gullies and cascades, wading through the muddy brown flow, and at times using lianas snaking along the rocks to climb up harder sections. Finally, we came to the pinnacle of our watery trek: a two-tiered waterfall which we ascended with a knotted rope, skirting up the slippery rock face. Aside from the cold, which the humidity of the environment managed to keep at bay for the majority of the day, it was great fun and, especially when we stood under the thunder of the final waterfall, quite exhilarating.
That evening, crowds gathered in the central plaza, and a huge statue of Jesus, decorated with bunches of flowers and surrounded by small spirals of smoke from burning incense, was carried along the streets. A concert of Christian music played into the night, apparently in an effort to combat the Satanic church of the area which would be in its prime, it being Halloween night, while small groups of cute trick-or-treating kids, dressed in a variety of costumes, wandered into the restaurants of the area and around the main square. We had a night out in a local club, which had a jungly feel with its high ceiling thickly hung with fake vines and leaves.
With the weekend over, we caught a bus, which ascended once again into the Andes and brought us to the city of Huancayo. I was volunteering here, living with Eli and Neto’s family, before the interruption of my sudden return to the UK, and we had decided to return, to continue where I had left off and allow Sam to have Spanish lessons with Eli.
First experiences of South American culture
I was expecting the way of life to be a touch more haphazard here than in England, and it wasn’t long before I was treated to an excellent example of this. During our first coach journey, I was gazing out of the window as the desert surrounding Lima gave way to the imposing Andes, watching a railway track that often ran alongside the road before striking off on its own into the unforgiving mountain terrain only to reconverge further along. However, as I was watching the scenes drift past, I suddenly saw the tracks end: a cliff stood in the way, acting as a buffer stop (although I doubt it would provide much of a buffer). It seems strange that they would build, at great cost I imagine, a railway that stops halfway up a mountain, in a place devoid of any civilisation.
I am also bemused at the customer service in Peru. It is common to have long waits for service, have our food come out at different times and even get the drinks after we have finished our food. After one meal, Helen was feeling a bit funny, so she headed back to the hotel, leaving me and my very rudimentary Spanish to pay. Not knowing how to call someone over, I tried to catch the waitress’s eye. She must have noticed but, instead of coming over, disappeared into the kitchen, pointedly avoiding looking my way whenever she returned. All I wanted to do was give them the money owed and eventually I resorted to walking up and giving the money to the cook!