Lima, Peru - 1998
From July 8th to August 4th, 1998, truk and
Katherine traveled through various areas of central,
8 July 1998 LIMA! At long last, we are here. Planning, saving, dreaming, wishing, hoping, saving some more, doing all of the little things to get ready (such as a monster Yellow Fever vaccination), and months and months of waiting culminated this morning at 4:30 as Kath and I stepped off our 757 and into the 19th century. Well, actually, the airport wasn't so old, though we did get to walk down these movable stairs which roll up to the side of the plane and then walk across the tarmac (which I had never done before). The immigration line was long, the customs line confusing, but at last, we were free. The halogens of the airport emptied out into a sooty, humid blackness, much like as if a train had just steamed past. Thankfully, we met up with a guy (helpful travel agent person) who helped orient us and get us into a ride toward central Lima. Our driver was just another airport worker on his way home, trying to earn some extra money. At the current rate of 2.9 nuevo soles to the dollar, we got reamed with a s/ 42 fare. I justified it to myself that at least this was going to a private guy and not some creepy cab company.
The poverty we saw from the back of the car coming out of the airport area as truly shocking. I've seen much worse (Turkmenistan, China, parts of Philly), but something about its dirty stillness left me wondering, "Why flock to this?" I think this thought probably applied as much to us as the people living in the poorer parts of Lima, but I suddenly felt a strange resolve to understand this country and roots of poverty in the country. Right outside the airport, near the Rio Rimac that runs through town, there are rows of squatter communities, little cities of plywood and tin, modern "Hoovervilles," some with young men out front tending a small fire and staring out into the night. In the emerging light of morning, the men and women will flood out of these "pueblos jovenes" or "young towns" and hit the streets trying to sell candy and cigarettes or even begging, trying to get enough money together to buy food. At least a few won't make it, succumbing to disease or crime or despair. Kath and I saw several food kitchens on our walks around later in the day, public feeding areas with troughs of potato soup and stale bread.
The hostel where we wanted to stay, the Hostel Espania (given high marks by Lonely Planet) turned out to be closed until 7 am, so we sacked out our first night at Hotel Europa, right around the corner. This place is just not recommended. Dirty and confusing. After a few hours of sleep, we packed up and got a room at the Espania. We were not disappointed. The rooms there are pretty sparse, but there is satellite TV in the cafe, the front desk people speak English, there is a lot of free travel advice to be had, and the bathrooms are convenient. After the move, we struck out to explore. The Plaza de Armas is a little less than impressive, considering its age and importance. The 16th century fountain in the center is pretty neat and the plaza is a center of activity (much like the other places in Lima), but everything has this "just thrown together" feel to it. The green grass and flowers looked out of place under the endlessly gray sky. The Presidential Palace is interesting but definitely off limits. The cathedral is, well, European in style. Pizarro is supposed to be buried there, but we couldn't find him. We did find a statue of him on his horse, though. The statue used to be in the middle of square, but the church leaders had it moved when they realized a horse's ass was pointed in their direction.
It has been an interesting day - watching people - seeing only the taunt skin of Peruvians - knowing that I, with my blonde hair must and do stick out like a sore thumb. Very few people seem to speak English here, so communication has been interesting. The streets are crowded with Lima's 8 million people - the air is hazy with smog and the buildings look like they are covered with ash. It is really dirt and exhaust particles. There are beautiful buildings around almost every corner surrounded by stores with no store front, only a roll-back gate which is up when the shop is open.The large number of these kinds of places adds to the desolate feeling of Lima at 5 am. Now, we sit and wait for the dinner hour - 8 pm - so we can eat.
We found an ATM, got some money out without fanfare, and headed off toward the Museum of Anthropology, about 4 km away. Our LP map gave out, though, and after two hours of wandering around still could not find it. We caught a cab back to the Plaza, walked back to the Espania, and captured a table to eat upon while watching the France vs. Croatia semifinal World Cup match. This proved to be interesting in and of itself, simply for the diverse background of the gringos in front of the TV. Everyone seemed not to care who won that game because they were all rooting for Brazil to win it all. Some of them were heading on to Brazil in a few weeks, and they knew the victory parties would still be in full force is the Brazilians captured the cup. A cop from outside sauntered in and out of the hostel, checking on the score of the game.
After talking to a travel agent, we found out the times the buses run to Huancayo (no train; "it only takes minerals"), and we left to buy tickets. Mission successful, we flew back to the Espania for a shower.
Tomorrow, we will attempt to go from 0 to 3,800 meters in a day. The best advice is to do this over three days, but we will try to spend tomorrow and Friday recovering from the height. If all goes well, we will visit a few towns and make our way to Cuzco via the highlands.