Friday, July 28, 2006

A day in Lima.

The best part about travelling is mingling with the locals....something I had a chance to do today as I did not have a conducted tour to go on. My day began with long walk down one of the city´s major avenues (Avenida Jose Lorca), heading towards the Pacific Ocean.

Okay, just a few more observations about Lima which I picked up on my walk today:
  • Chinese restaurants are known as chifas here. I read a few menus that had pictures of the dishes, and didn´t recognize a single dish. I also came upon a small stall selling Chinese dim sum and again, didn´t recognize a thing. I think Chinese food has been re-interpreted by the Peruvians to match their own tastes!
  • The street vendors sell everything from potato chips to fresh fruit to newspapers to Peruvian pastries. There doesn´t seem to be any rule about where they can/cannot set up shop so you see them in the most unexpected of places.
  • There are casinos everywhere. None were open today. Had they been, I might have been tempted to just go in and check out the slots!
  • Lima is a very polluted city despite its location next to the ocean. After a few hours of walking in the smog filled air, I found myself having to constantly clear my throat and my eyes were beginning to get very irritated. Sad to say it but refuge means going indoors. I can´t wait to leave the city if for no reason other than to escape the smog :-(
  • People will exchange currency on the street. I can´t tell you the number of people who approached me asking me if I wanted to buy Peruvian Nuevo Soles with US dollars. Of course, I would never do this so I just kept turning every request down. In all my trips outside the US, this the first time I´ve ever been approached by someone on the street offering to sell local currency!

Along my walk towards the ocean, I stopped and did a bit of window shopping, making mental notes of the places that I want to return to when I get back to Lima in a couple of weeks. Okay, I admit it. I love to shop and no time more enjoyable for me than when I get a chance to buy local wares!
Av. Jose Lorca ends in a park that overlooks the Pacific. The view reminds me a lot of what you see along the southern coast of California i.e., near Santa Barbara. The water was calm today but even so the waves seemed high to me. The sand is darker shade of brown than what you find in California - my guess is because it´s not faded by the sun here which I don´t believe ever really shines. What I´ve been told is that the Humboldt current keeps the water VERY cold and I think that that coupled with the cold weather (it is winter here) is the reason why there was not a single person to be seen on the beach.

Hugging the cliffside between the park and the ocean is a newly built shopping center called Lorca Mar. I wasn´t really keen on doing window shopping in a shopping center (which by the way also houses a Tony Roma and a Hooters) but decided to check things out anyway and I´m glad I did. First off, every store exits onto a view of the water. Can´t get much nicer stored exit than that! Second, I stumbled onto a small ceremony. I could only understand about one out of every 30 words that the host was saying which meant I couldn´t string any words together to understand what was actually being said but I soon figured out it was a flag raising ceremony in honor of Independence Day. Someone then sang (what I´m guessing is) the Peruvian national anthem which was followed by a short performance by two really cute kids, of a native dance. A bit more window shopping and I decided to head back to the hotel.

About two blocks from the hotel is Park Miraflores - a small city park. Just so happened that today, there was a Peruvian arts and crafts open air market (Peru en Miraflores) where there were vendors from various regions in Peru selling wares. It was quite a sight to see - handicrafts all on display, both on the ground and in booth but nothing was more interesting than the vendors who were in their native Peruvian dress. The men are always dressed in white shirt and pants with colorful shawls (serapes?) around their shoulders and hats. The women have beautifully embroidered shirts, skirts and jackets and like the men, they wear hats, but not shoes. My guess is that the style of clothing worn by the vendors and wares being sold indicate the region in Peru that they´re from. After about an hour in the market, I hit sensory overload and decided to walk on.



Continuing on my way back to the hotel, I found a supermarket (the chain here is called Metro) and picked up more bottled water, a tamale (which is wrapped in banana leaves and not corn husks as Mexican tamales are) and some fruit for lunch and headed back to the park to eat. The exchange rate is about 3 Nuevo Soles to 1 US dollar and the dollar sure does go very far here! My entire purchase of a tamale, a litter of bottled water, two local melons, two ham/cheese pastries and a small piece of chocolate cake came to 5.52 Soles - less than $2 and this was in a "high end" supermarket. I can only imagine what the purchase would have cost me had I done it in a local, neighborhood market....which, unfortunately, I have yet to discover.

Tonight, I met up with the rest of my tour group and we got a brief day-to-day rundown of our tour - it promises to be a real adventure - especially for a city girl like me! Our guide, Simon Myburgh, is originally from South Africa but has lived and worked in Cuzco for the past 9 years. It´ll be really great having someone, who is fluent in both English and Spanish and is essentially a "local" taking us around. Including Simon, there´s 10 of us though it does not appear that all 10 of us will be together for the entire tour. Some are leaving part way (to hike the Inca and Lares trails) and then we will all be rejoining back at a later point in the tour.

Tonight will be an early night as we have to be up at the crack of dawn to catch the flight to Puerto Maldonado - our launching point to the Amazon. Apparently, there we will be repacking our luggage - I will be reduced to just carrying my daypack (leaving behind my larger backpack) as our main form of transportation will be motorized canoe. It will be a two hour canoe ride, "up" the Tambopata river to reach the lodge where we will be spending the next two nights. Can´t wait to see what adventures the next two days hold!