I wrote this mostly so I could remember all of the great stuff that happened on my first week in Lima, and so I could just say, “read this post,” any time someone asked about it :D
I don’t think I’ll spend much energy on travel-related posts after this but I’ll keep up with Facebook!
Here’s my first week in Lima, Peru.
Lunes // Monday
Unless you’re a gifted empath–or you’ve done it yourself–I don’t think it’s possible to grasp the feeling of expatriating yourself.
I had an excellent job, an amazing group of friends, a home with possessions, a routine, and a familiarity with the city. When I left Monday morning, I had one piece of luggage, a laptop bag and the knowledge that I’d be heading to a country with a dramatically different culture and whose language I didn’t speak. For an indefinite amount of time.
I’m not sure how to explain how I felt; it doesn’t fit nicely into words. Freeing, maybe. Exciting. Frightening.
I told a very close friend that, “it feels like standing at the edge of a massive waterfall, where you can’t see the sides or the bottom through the mist. Just a really loud noise and the knowledge that you’ll be going down into it.”
The trip itself was very… trip-like. There’s nothing special about airports once you’ve been to one. At 3am I exchanged a ninja turtle handshake with one of my best friends and grabbed a cab to the airport. Two planes, a 6 hour layover in Newark and the fresh feeling of warmth and humidity brought me to Lima, the capital city of Peru.
My hostel has dorms of 18 and 8, of which I got into the latter at 10pm Monday night.
What’s Lima like? I feel like that’s not the kind of question I can answer right away, even writing this a week in. I don’t have any idea where the locals are coming from, and I’m living in the wealthiest neighbourhood in the entire country. I’ve seen pictures and spoke at length with another traveller of the rest, and the vast majority of the country is nothing at all like Lima.
I’m not sure how I feel about that. When I just finished high school I’d have wanted to go see the “real” Peru, and I still do. But I’m more inclined to find a fun place to build my own life than I am to explore the tragedies and glories of every nook and cranny of every country. I’m a dabbler at travelling, I guess.
I do recall that the two hour walk I took before passing out in my bunk was just enough to calm my nerves and introduce some items to my mental checklist of, “things I have to do to feel more comfortable here,” like:
- Navigate to a couple new places without excessively relying on a map
- Buy something from a street vendor
- Take a taxi off the street (you have to negotiate the price before you get in)
- Order food at a restaurant
Once I do it once it becomes part of my map and there’s no fear of trying it again later. Unless, of course, I get horrifically sick while trying multiple new things all at once, which happened later this week and makes me extremely sensitive about surfing. Cliff hanger?
Martes // Tuesday
I’ve usually had a good time at hostels by meeting folks in the evening, but I ran into John around 8am during breakfast. I’d just woken up on my first morning in South America, so it was nice to start the morning with a conversation. He’s a traveller with a bit of an entrepreneurial bent as well, so hopefully you’ll see his name on a couple Cevicherias in the U.S. soon.
I’ll also add that travelling solo is just something that I expect to do, so it’s not brave at all. There are backpackers who move in groups, but expats tend to either travel solo or with SOs. I just happen to be solo, and the nerve-wracking bit about whether I’ll meet people or not comes later. I’ve come across that tattered old ghost, trying to scare me with loneliness, before, though, so it doesn’t bother me.
What I found surprisingly bothersome was that the combination of the lack of confidence in completing every day tasks (due to language and culture issues) and hanging out with backpackers who live a much more mobile life made me pretty quiet. It also didn’t help that I have no time to recharge here–I’m always around and chatting with people, even as I’m typing this. When I want to get to know someone here, I tend to ask questions and try to avoid answering any of my own, shifting the conversation away. I also expect that they’re going to be leaving anywhere from 6 hours to 3 days from the first time I talk to them. It’s an odd set of feelings.
After breakfast I was hoping to check out the rock climbing place I’d found online before heading to Lima. Turns out it was closed, so I ended up wandering down to the cliffs overlooking the water:
Just walking down the street is a new experience for me in Lima. Most of the streets are one-ways. There are street vendors everywhere. There’s not a huge press of people, and the ones walking around are generally pretty relaxed and chatting happily in Spanish. The stores are all unfamiliar and a bit intimidating to someone as miserable at the language as I am. My only understanding of the route came from a glance at a map, and the street names are all new and confusing (Jose Larco, Diagonal, Calle Schell, Malecon de la Marina, Malecón 28 de Julio). The architecture is new to me and varied. The street signs use familiar expressions in odd ways, (Playa=Beach, but also Parking?) The further southwest I walked, the more the roads were covered in a fog that smelled like the sea.
This all makes even a short walk into an adventure.
Lunch was out in an awesome restaurant in La Victoria with John (US), Chris (AUS) and Miles (AUS). I’d never tried Ceviche before, and if you can find it con leche de tigre anywhere I highly recommend it.
I had met John and Chris in the morning, but tonight was their going away party. It included Pisco Sours and meeting some new folks–Ben, Ilia (Israelis) and Darie (Ireland). We hit up a casino, failed miserably at finding a bar open past 1am, and recovered by getting some fantastic sandwhiches.
Miercoles // Wednesday
Darie, an Irish guy I met the night before, and I went to check out the rock climbing place when it opened around noon. The moment I walked in the door I met a kiwi named Beni. I think the conversation went, “Hey! Need a partner?” “Yeah!” “Do you lead?” “Yeah!” “Give me your number, I’m back in a week!” Which is actually kind of what I expected.
After checking out PIRQA (the climbing place) we stopped for food at a turistico–which I think just means, literally, “tourist,” but seems to be short for restaurante turistico and represents a place where you can get an entree and segundo for 10 soles ($4)–and we walked back to the hostel through Kennedy Park, AKA the cat park. Which is a park… full of cats. Yup. They’re really cute :)
Popped back to PIRQA with Jake (UK) for some climbing. It’s much harder than I thought to climb in the heat and humidity; we both got wrecked pretty early.
We were supposed to check out a club called “Help” in Barranco, but the hostel handed us a dozen wrist bands for Bizaro, which was just across the street. The whole crew that went out was a massive group of the folks from the previous two days, as well as two UK girls (Anna and Rhiannon), and an Aussie girl (Shansal). Beni found us as well since he was hanging out with the girls. “Che Lagarto? I just met someone from there…”
The club was… a club! Except full of mostly Peruvians. I’ve done the club thing in Canada, the U.S., England, Sweden and China before this. This one didn’t really stand out that much from what you might expect in Canada, though they call rum and cokes, “Cuba Libres,” and people smoke inside. I did bump into my first Canadian on my way out, which was nice.
That was about it; hangovers are the same no matter where in the world you wake up.
Jueves // Thursday
Thursday morning I was a bit sore. I managed to get about 4 hours of work done, though, which was the first bit of work I had gotten done since showing up on Monday. I mostly spent my time researching what the hard science and peer reviewed studies had to say about conversation and communication skills. If anyone has anything to recommend taking a look at along this vein, I’d love to hear it! I’m not talking about motivational speakers or life coaches, studies and empirical evidence only here :)
Jake and I grabbed some lunch and headed down to the beach. I wasn’t feeling the best, so when he asked if I wanted to give surfing a go I was extremely hesitant. But then, since when have I said no to an adventure?
I came out of the salty sea water feeling like all of the shitty things I’d ever done to my body were coming back to haunt me. After returning the surf board and paying with soggy soles, I tried not to die on the beach, more or less successfully.
I think that was the first time I was ever in the ocean, unless you count hopping in the English Channel at Brighton. I’m not very intimidated by water, though if you know me well you’ll know that I have massive respect for big bodies of water and can just sit and watch for hours. I really enjoyed the exercise of surfing, the adventure of trying something new and the water around me.
But I was so sick that it took me about 15 minutes to get back to shore and even then picking up the board and carrying higher up on the beach was a gargantuan effort. I sat down and focused intently on not vomiting, noting the displeasure of my organs and muscles, and waited until I thought I could hike the 2 minutes back to the stand we rented the boards from. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was turning colours; I didn’t even want to speak as I paid the guy and stumbled to sit on the uncomfortable rocky beach for fear of losing focus.
I’d like to think that I hid it pretty well though :)
The consolation prize for coming in last in surfing was that I look fantastic in a wet suit and I finally caught up on my sleep when we got back.
PS: I didn’t bring my camera that day, but here’s what I saw from the road down:
Viernes // Friday
Turns out it wasn’t me being out of shape or hung over that was the issue with surfing. I woke up with a fever and some other wonderful complications. I couldn’t focus on abstracts and such so I just went through some extra Spanish words and slept all day. It was pretty abysmal.
I did head out solo for lunch and forced some ceviche on myself (was the more common lemon sauce rather than leche de tigre), for some odd reason finding eating uncooked fish while flu-sick to be a good idea. Maybe I was just proving to myself that I wasn’t THAT sick. I did fumble pretty much all of the interaction with the server, but even that reinforced some words / expressions that I needed to pick up faster ([somethingsuperfast] ¿Como? Mi español es bastante malo. Puedes hablar más despacio, por favor? [Algún más?] No más, gracias. Puedo tenar la cuenta?).
By the evening I recovered enough to play a couple games of pool and have a couple beers with the crew, plus Lesley (U.S., from whatever state where they say, “pap,” instead of, “pop”).
Random note: the Israelis taught me a game that’s kind of like Kill. My 3-person game, Kill, assigns people numbered balls (so 1-5, 6-10, 11-15). Once those are sunk, you “die.” Their version was that the first ball you sink is your series, (again 1-5, 6-10, 11-15), and you win when you sink all of those balls. Both games work with 3 or 5 players.
Sabados // Saturday
Saturday was arguably my busiest day so far. I can’t sleep past 7am even if I’ve gotten to sleep after midnight, so I was up having breakfast and studying Spanish when Jake asked if I wanted to buy 2 hours of Spanish classes off of him. We wandered down to the class to ask, but got shot down. I might take some classes there anyway–it’s a beautiful place and the teacher I met was fantastic at getting me to use what little Spanish I had to figure out what kind of class I wanted to try.
Future me might as well interject here–I did sign up for classes, they start on the 13th. My goal is to master the simple past and future tenses for the top 20 verbs and figure out a couple of issues I have with basic grammar before I show up on Monday. I’m mostly looking for practice and improvement in spoken and heard Spanish anyway; I can do a lot of the grammar stuff either on my own or by bothering all of my AWESOME SPANISH PEOPLES :)
Since I couldn’t take the class that morning, I wandered down to the beach sometime near 9am and chilled there for a couple of hours. It’s so incredibly beautiful, I can’t get enough of the water.
By the time I came back it was almost lunch time, so bumping into Lesley and Justin (U.S., Alaska) meant we were right back out. We hit up another turistico (I’m starting to think this isn’t the right name for them), and ended up wandering through Kennedy Park, a Starbucks, and the Larcomar shopping centre down by the water. Hell of a lot of walking by this point.
When we got back, I just managed to chill for 45 minutes before I was on my feet again to check out an apartment on Malecón de la Marina. My first solo taxi adventure taught me that it’s easy to negotiate with a cabby as long as you know what a reasonable rate is and can argue over prices in Spanish (really just knowing numbers, “Voy a [address]; es 5 soles ok?” “Entonces, ¿cuanto cuesta?” “Es muy caro.. 10 soles ok?”). I also learned that Malecón is not pronounced the way I thought it was, much to the confusion of the cabby.
Anyway, the area we pulled up to was beautiful. It’s on the cliffs overlooking the water, with just a cute road and a pretty park being the only things separating the apartments from the edge of the cliffs. There’s a little structure built for pull ups, dips and various exercises right out front. The inside has a pool and a rooftop patio, and the apartment and owners were great folks.
The only things that turned me off were that it was really just a box to stay in, and it’s about 30 minutes walking from Kennedy Park (and all of the good food, shopping, rock climbing and Spanish classes). I was hoping for roommates to spend down time with. I ended up politely declining, but I was happy to have checked it out.
I took advantage of being in the area to take a walk by the cliffs, grab a churro and a coffee and watch the sun set. Definitely not a waste.
When I finally made it back I was handed a beer. Chilled for a bit over an hour with the crew before heading out to the Parque de la Reservá, which is a big park full of fountains in the (I think) Downtown area. It was nice, but touristy in the, “lookit the pretty fountains for two hours” kind of way that doesn’t really arouse my interest. I took a couple pictures and videos just in case though :)
Instead of stepping back into the hostel, we reached a bar on Calle Berlin around midnight. A couple of beers in and I realized that I had absolutely no energy left; I was more or less passing out on the spot. An Irish exit later, I fell asleep to the thought that maybe I should take it easy if I’m going to do this full time.
I definitely felt like I was socialized to excess pretty early, but didn’t want to tap out with any form of excuse. This is where having my own room and a bit of separation, e.g. phone or SMS, between me and the world helps a lot. My lack of energy for social stuff is probably from a mix of being constantly with people and having a whole lot of other pressures–still sick but ignoring it, brand new country, new language to learn, and folks back home who my mind’s with a lot. It’d be a lot easier if I could get a room in a house or an apartment!
Domingo // Sunday
I wrote most of whatever this is on Sunday morning, eschewing my adventuring responsibilities for you to have something to read. I also just needed a good reason to sit in front of a computer and smash keys instead of going skydiving or joyriding up the coast in a rental car or something.
Besides, I had plans for the afternoon to do some rock climbing with Ilia and Ben. I had told them that it was going to be closed (the owners and instructors were out on a climbing trip), but Ilia didn’t believe me, so I figured we’d meet there and then be doing something random.
It was very random indeed; we hit up a chess park for a couple games, then they showed me a store called 5cuenta which was a much better (and cheaper!) experience than Larcomar. It involved digging through piles of clothes at each individual stand, which were independently operated so that you had to haggle with and pay the separate owners. They were very nice and taught me that “brighter” is “más claro,” as opposed to my first attempt along the lines of, “more white.”
Ilia and I walked down to Parque de la Amor (that’s probably the right name?), which Ilia calls Malecón, to try to do some slack lining. We ended up meeting Nathaly (Paraguay), who we knew through Ben, and she convinced us to go for a walk to find, “los gentes muy locos.”
I had actually been to Malecón the day before, so I knew the park. It was a bit different tonight, though; we passed a dog that was skateboarding along the path on our way to this little dip in the cliff filled with palm trees and, as we half fell down the slope, about 50 people either sitting around and relaxing or playing some kind of instrument, most noticeably drums.
It was a bit of an intimidating feeling to sit by the same fire as all of these folks, especially when he organizer started on an empassioned speech that I only half-understood (which was worse, “Capitalists..” “Lawyers, Bankers..” “BAD! .. BAD!..”) in the midst of which he’d pause to blow a conch until he turned red. Apparently he was mostly focussed on peace, but it was a bit intimidating to be sitting there in jeans and a nice silver dress shirt when he was bashing everyone from lawyers to teachers.
Of course Nathaly then volunteered that Ilia and I were Israeli and Canadian, which immediately had me wondering if I’d survive a jump off the cliff if it came to that.
It got a lot more chill when the speech was over and it was just music. The organizer handed me a small piece of wood and asked me to say a prayer and put it in the fire, so I said a nice little prayer for togetherness and a small reprieve to everyone’s shackles and hoped the fire would do something to share it.
Overall it was a great night :)
Future me again: By Wednesday I had a pretty solid feel for the city and felt a hell of a lot more comfortable with everything. It’s still a bit awkward speaking with backpackers, “6 WEEKS!? THAT’S A LONG TIME! YOU COULD SEE EVERY COUNTRY IN S.A.!” They don’t really get why I’m here, which is fine, but since they flow through in small groups and last only a couple days, it’s the same conversation a couple times a day.
That having been said, once I’ve had the chance to get Spanish down (3 weeks of classes and my pretty ingrained study habit should help) and get into a habit with work, I’d definitely like to see a couple more cities, though exactly how I’m not sure yet. I know a couple folks want to see different places, like Machu Picchu and Chile, so it might make sense to plan around them. Cuzco/Machu Picchu isn’t a long term venture, but I wouldn’t mind being in Chile for a bit. I want to see Colombia, Panama and Cuba as well, probably for a couple months at a time.
1 thought on “My First Week in Lima”
I lived in Lima for 3 weeks back in 2008 and loved every minute of it. So much of this post brought back great memories. Make sure you hit every bar in Barranco while you’re there — and if you’re interested in a really chill lesser-travelled city to visit, I highly recommend Tarapoto. Thanks for sharing, and all the best!