Our small, clean hotel provided us with a good breakfast. The coffee in Peru is wonderful and they heat the milk so it doesn't cool down. We ate fast and went across the street to the market where the vendors were just beginning to uncover their stalls. The market was perhaps the size of a hockey arena and divided up into tiny booths, each filled to the top with sweaters, scarves, skeins of alpaca for knitting, jewelry and other touristy treasures that, for the first few hours, simply dazzle!
We shopped until Nilda and her friends Ana Maria and Rosa pulled into the one coveted parking space in front of the hotel. I hadn't seen Nilda since our chance encounter on a flight to Vancouver last year. We had been corresponding ever since and our reunion on her home turf was as warm and emotional as if we'd been friends forever! After enthusiastic introductions the five of us piled into Ana Maria's car and we began a tour of Lima and the surrounding area that only the locals could take you on.
[Image: Lynn and Liuba mugging for the camera like idiots at a local market.]
Lima is a small, modern city (?) complete with neon and bustle, traffic and glass. A few blocks from our hotel, the Pacific Ocean rolls up onto grey desert beaches. Steep sandy cliffs rise above the coastal highway. Gouged and striated by wind and water, they form a solid wall on which sharp grasses and thickets of morning glory grow. Beyond the city limits the buildings become small. Houses of cinderblock, jumbled together in almost random patterns, dot the steep, barren hillsides, forming communities that rely on foot and pedal power to get from one level to another.
The ladies had promised to take us to a hilltop restaurant and a spectacular view. We drove south for perhaps an hour, following the coast. The conversation was lively, filled with information and local political gossip. After getting used to the speed in which they spoke, I understood almost everything. It was great to have Liuba there, to keep our side going, leaving me to interject when I could find the words to do so! At this pace it was like a year's worth of classes in one day!
Eventually, the divided highway became one and here the housing changed again. Unable to afford cinderblock, people had constructed shelters made from woven straw. Each tiny home seemed to form a cube of about 8'X8' and Nilda explained that the people here were squatters. With no electricity, running water or facilities of any kind, we wondered how families managed to survive. If they survived.
The entire coast seemed to be desert. No trees or grasses coloured the roadsides. The wind picked fine dust from the dunes and blew it like talcum powder into and onto everything. The temperatures go down to almost freezing at night, so life in these shelters would have been harsh. We all marveled at the number of them and wondered how and why the government turned a blind eye.
The little restaurant was in a town long settled by Spanish and Indian peoples as it was one of the few fertile areas on the coast. Grape arbors and vegetable gardens appeared out of nowhere. This is where the Pizco grapes for the famous Peruvian aperitif "Pizco Sour" come from.
There were no customers in the Balcon del Cielo restaurant. We settled ourselves onto wooden seats overlooking a vast river valley, its terraces filled with rich colourful vegetation. This must be where some of the "straw house people" worked. It would have been the only source of employment anywhere nearby.
[Image: Lynn and her hosts at the Balcon del Cielo.]
Nilda and her friends were dear and comical, kind, enthusiastic and oh so generous. It was difficult for us to pay for anything. They introduced us to the local cuisine, we drank red chicha- a fruity drink made from sweet corn and Pizco Sour. We tried the bread and the rice and good things wrapped in corn husks. As the sun was setting we headed back to the city, to a park literally filled with fountains. There is a tradition of "fountainry" in Peru (if you can call it that) and in this park, one spectacular display followed another. We thought we had seen the most beautiful show of all and were going to leave when Nilda said the show was just about to begin! Onto the fine spray of the huge fountain a picture began to form. Then a light show happened to a symphony of sound. Patterns and images, projected onto the spray whirled and flickered. It was mesmerizing. Of all the sights we saw on our first day in Lima this is the one that, for me, will define the city. Beautiful, artistic, modern and clean, Lima presents a most curious variety of living conditions and a diverse population which seems to exist as much in the present as it does in the past.
[Image: That damned fountain the idiot is squealing about.]
I'll post my insights when I tame my gag reflex.
Now that my jangled nerves have been soothed, it's time to re-enrage myself:
- It starts out as expected with Lynn stuffing her face and looking for bargoons (there's a word I promised myself I'd never use) at a local market.
- Given that Lima has more people in it than Metro Toronto, one would hate to see her idea of a large city.
- We next have her blank-witted inability to understand the world around her; I don't wonder why the people in the shantytowns live the way they do, why they make their houses out of something that won't fall down and crush them when the sort of earthquake Peru experienced three years ago reoccurs, what, if anything, the government is doing to fix things, what farms are and why more people would work there than at a restaurant and that cities are more than playgrounds for idiot tourists because I'm not walking around half in the bag or stoned out of my mind most of the time. It would also occur to me to frakking ASK if I didn't know something.
- She describes her hosts as being more or less figures from a movie of some sort; one should expect that she's about to pout because they'll tell her that Emperor Cuzco, Yzma and Kronk were made up by Disney.
- Finally, a glowing description of the local plonk and tourist attractions; all that she left out was yapping about the biff or simpering about real-life Pablo Da Silvas.