I arrived in Lima after midnight and my driver, "Yamin," a courteous and talkative man, chatted about Lima, politics and traffic with my serviceable but not-very-good Spanish and his minimal English. I was wiped out from the long flight from Portland, OR but grateful to use so much brainpower to communicate. Without that distraction, I would have freaked out about the traffic. Not so big on the rules of the road in Peru. It was every car for itself with no concern about pesky things like staying in your own lane, slowing down when a car gets in your way or veering away from pedestrians. It's all about honking the horn and sparing the breaks. There's no way I could have navigated the drive from the airport to my hotel in a neighborhood called Miraflores.
Arriving at night, I couldn't get a feel for what the city was like other than as an odd combination of Vegas-like casinos next to cement tenements lined up with Spanish colonial architecture. CARE booked my hotel and I didn't know what it would be like. Those pictures on the Internet always look good. I was thrilled to find a nice room, clean bed, excellent service and a cute bellhop who dragged my luggage for me. El Condado Hotel—good one. I collapsed into sleep and awoke a few hours later to my first day in Lima. I was smart to book my flight into Peru a day before my official time with CARE. Lima is quite a few hours ahead of my own time-zone and I was exhausted.
I spent my first full day split between sitting in a hazy, sleep-deprived glaze; walking near the ocean, checking out parks, cathedrals and most importantly, shopping for a small backpack at Ripleys—kind of like Macy's crossed with Target. I found just what I needed and felt oh-so-sophisticated. Y'know, like a real world traveler who can just pick up whatever she needs wherever she goes. Uh-huh, just like that. I'm an excellent packer and came prepared for humid summer weather in Lima and cold mountain weather in Ayacucho and Vilcashuaman. Having just left wintery Portland, I had an all-weather wardrobe I didn't want to haul around.
Lima is cool (actually hot and muggy in January); incredibly chic in spots and historic in others. Santa Monica-rich in some areas and Tijuana-poor in others. Everyone seemed to be packing electronics—cell phones, iPods and laptops. Most were dressed in western attire. Since it was Sunday, near the ocean, it was a fascinating combination of Sunday-best meets day-at-the-beach; designer wardrobe meets neon halter-tops, cargo pants and lots of Bedazzled denim. I'd been advised by CARE not to wear jewelry or jeans and though I don't usually flash the bling; I am a jeans-and-t-shirt kind of girl. Lima was all about the bling and denim. Care's advice was more appropriate for the mountains I'd be traveling to the next day.
I had dinner with Sarah McCune, my translator and guide (provided by CARE) and her boyfriend, Kartig, who happened to be from Beaverton, OR—just a stone's throw from Portland. We bonded over pasta at their favorite restaurant. I was so relieved I liked Sarah right away. That could've been awkward, right? I mean, here I was in a totally foreign environment with pretty horrible Spanish-language skills and not a clue where I was going. Traveling with someone annoying could have put a damper on my week. Instead, lucky me, Sarah was lovely and a ton of fun. I was instantly at ease.
I headed back to my hotel after dinner, repacked my mountain-and-village gear into my backpack and fell into bed for a brief few hours of sleep. I had to stay awake worrying for a while, though. What the heck was I in for next? How far away was my family? Oh, a full continent, that's all. I tell you what, thinking like that will keep you up at night unless you really are oh-so-sophisticated. Y'know, like a real world traveler.
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