Tag Archives: Lima

61. Lima III

61. Lima III

My third and final stop in Lima this year is mostly errands and chores; but I have a delightful ceviche lunch with Aldo and a co-worker of his, wander the streets a little, and finally do what the locals always tell visitors to do first.  I take the open-top City-Tour, the bus that leaves from Parque Kennedy in Miraflores and explores the sights of downtown Lima, with no worries about parking the car or making sure to take the radio out of it. 

The City Tour

I should, finally, go on the City Tour. Wednesday is a fine morning, and I set out walking toward Parque Kennedy, only to learn I’ve misunderstood: the buses do not leave every hour or so between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 pm. Rather, one leaves at 9:30 and the next at 2:30. It is now 9:45.

But the next morning I front up at the ticket office in timely fashion, so early that I have a moment to snag a coffee at Starbuck’s and phone Aldo to arrange to meet for lunch when I return.

Sitting on the upper deck of the bus, waiting to start, feels odd: six months ago, perhaps to the day, I stood just here, looking at the international photograph exhibit and talking with a local man.  In my mind, I compared Lima perhaps to San Francisco and Beijing and Reykjavik, but not yet to Huancabamba and Cajamarca and Arequipa and Amantani.  I had not yet been to the mountains, so as to recognize, as I do now, the clothing on those indigenous women selling crafts a few dozen meters away.

Today, it feels odd to be wholly without control over the vehicle I’m riding in.

The greyness of the day or the murkiness of the emotional context give it all a very muted aspect. I am leaving Perú. I have come to like Perú. Very much. I am not quite sure what is next or why I am finally, on my last day, taking this tour I never got around to on our earlier stays in Lima.

From the “catacombs,” way below the huge old church, I look down to a still-lower level and find these:

sm 08 7039 skulls in the catacombsHow neatly arranged they are! To see the skulls and bones arranged so, in concentric circles, in a photograph, without more, is more compelling than the sight itself. The photograph alone has perhaps a bit more power to disturb us, because we do not have a context: how long have these been here, and who arranged them so neatly why? Were they placed here by the murderers as a cautionary tale for those inclined to question the regime? Or did they straggle separately into the land of death, over many months or years, from natural causes, and wait centuries for someone to arrange them so, and centuries more for this photograph to be taken? We do not hear the clipped voice of the tour-guide or feel the fat gentleman from Spain trying to push us out of the way to get a better view himself, as we try to hold the camera steady enough to make the picture in the dim light.

I want also to think about these for a moment, the skulls themselves. To muse on how often, in Perú but also in Mexico, the culture cheerfully rubs our noses in sm 08 7038 skulls in the catacombsthe fact of Death. That Death and Life, yin and yang, bear a deep and abiding relationship is pretty obvious, yet modern American culture [if you’ll forgive the oxymoron] brushes every hint of death from sight instantly, like crumbs from a table-cloth in a high-class restaurant. I feel quite sure St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, the little red one I was made to attend intermittently as a child, had no such interesting display in its basement, and not merely because of its limited size and age.

sm 08 7030 horse-drawn carriage crFortunately within moments we are back above-ground, brought back to the reality of contemporary everyday life, with its reassuringly familiar sights and sounds.

 sm 08 7119 hungry in LimaAs we continue, I photograph also a woman and child, presumably begging. Of course I wish I could give them something, but from the upper-deck of a tour-bus whirling past, that isn’t too practical. I consider it just long enough to realize that a coin hitting the pavement from here would not only startle them and seem horribly disdainful, but could even bounce up and hit the kid in the eye or something. I content myself with certainty that at this distance, with everything going on at street level, they clearly do not see me photographing them, if that would matter. Yet when I look at the resulting photograph, their eyes seem to be locked onto me.

sm 08 7082 San Martinsm 08 7128 The Orator

Nearby, San Martín remains in his saddle, and a long-dead orator passionately exhorts oblivious citizens.

 sm 08 7073sm 08 7072 street scene

Nearly a decade into the 21st Century, a portable typewriter can still make you some money on the streets of the city, writing for those who can’t.

sm 08 7107 selling kites in trafficsm 08 7111 selling kites in traffic

When traffic slows down, vendors dance among the cars and trucks and buses, selling kites, toys, soft drinks, air fresheners, lottery tickets, and even books — though sm 08 7129 selling in trafficsm 08 7142 selling in traffica sudden light change sometimes means sprinting a block to complete the sale.

From the top of a bus, from my vantage point as a lone visitor who knows no one and leaves on the midnight plane, without attachments, suddenly it seems as if I can see everything, and everything I see evokes senses, even if in fact I know sm 08 7176 resting laborernothing, not the text of the letter the typewriter man is composing for his client nor the dreams of this resting laborer, nor even the next turn in my own life, and yet everything feels quite right. I am full of reflections today, compelling ones to me but too inchoate and quirky to share.

sm 08 7185 The Lovers

For a moment the view from the top of the bus looks as if some Great Comic Strip Writer in the Sky had drawn me these two pairs of lovers, one large and one small, one flesh and one stone, but both full of such passion as to remind me that, as I have felt at various moments in my life, love is a country that canceled my visa long ago.

I grin, a little sorry that the sunlight isn’t brighter, wondering whether the picture would be stronger or weaker in bright sunlight, but mostly grateful that this bus with this photographer clinging to the top of it paused here at just this moment.

sm 08 7193 La Rosa NauticaA familiar sight! La Rosa Nautica. Yet another view of it. But this is as close as I’ll get to it this week. It strikes me that this is my third stay in Lima, and the first not to include a supper down there. But the thought quickly gives way to curiosity whether framing three such different views of the same landmark would look at all interesting.

And then I’m back where I started. Back where the bus started this morning and the journey around Perú started more than six months ago, though rather than contemplating any of this I’m busy dialing Aldo on my Peruvian cell-phone and starting the short walk to his office building.

We have a pleasant lunch at the menu place where we’d lunched six months ago. He has with him a book of Vargas Llosa’s, in Spanish – and surprises me by telling me it’s for me. I point out that he has an optimistic view of my capabilities in Castellano. He acknowledges that, but encourages me to grow into the book.

In the evening I walk around.  In Parque Kennedy it’s a nice evening, and lively.  I stroll about, then find a perch and write idly in my notebook:

I sit, quite quiet and relaxed, on a bench in a park, city, and country that are not mine.  it is a cool evening.  There is a pleasant breeze.  Vendors, lovers, chess-playhers, and conversationalists are all here doing what they do, as are children, not far away, the rusty screeches of swings more consistently audible than their screams of joy, of excitement, perhaps merely of childhood.

I am alone.  Quite alone.  Too, I am in a curious moment when all waves have rolled in and crashed, with their usual sound and fury, and are ebbing now, while their successors are in sight and imminent, though I cannot yet discern their shapes.  This Peruvian journey is over, a sustained period of rhythmic peaks and valleys of excitement  suddenly ending, a little too soon, like a disappointing orgasm.  An eight-year relationship is also over, with a much louder crash.  I have left the flat in Arequipa, where i felt comfortble, isolated, relaxed, and the black quatro por quatro, which was our real home these many months.

After some speculation on how it will be working in San Francisco again:

I know nothing and, for the moment, am comfortable knowing nothing.

It’s a nice night, though.

Why is one often so much more comforatble in a park where the dominant language is not one’s own?

Only night’s cool breeze

knows me now.  All around, the

language is not mine.

It seems all my life people

have spoken some other tongue.

I feel very good.   Quite content in my solitude.  Curious about the future.

The next day all the way out to the airport, I feel more and more closely trapped in a web of sadness.  Sourceless, it subtly builds its hold on me, strand by strand, before I recognize it consciously.

The truth is, I do not want to leave Perú.  This Peruvian journey has been a delightful adventure, and I do not want it to end.  I’d probably known that, but as I ride to the airport, check bags, and wait for departure, I feel it a lot more strongly than I’d have anticipated.  I’m full of hopes for what lies next, but right now my sadness at leaving Perú is a fog that muffles the sounds and dims the lights of those hopes.

Perú has been kind to me.  A few individuals have become close friends I do not want to lose, many more have shared with me a moment or two of magic or kindness, wild countryside and beautiful images are stamped as clearly on my mind as on the hard-drive full of photographs.  Life here has been, more than usual, a string of steps into the unknown; and if some have brought hassles, most have brought wonder.     

sm 08 6969 another self-portrait


I. Lima [11-21 April, 2008]

moonrise over Lima
moonrise over Lima

Welcome to Lima

Our first impression of Lima is, of course, the airport. An airport. Late at night. Long lines of tired travelers waiting to pass through customs. The fellow who is supposed to meet us does meet us, and drives us down many unsurprising city streets, then along the coast: beaches, people still out enjoying the beaches, and occasionally a restaurant on a pier jutting out into the Pacific.

We get settled in the apartment we will occupy for ten days while we buy a car and do other chores in Lima before heading into the countryside. An acquaintance from Cuzco has told me that Lima is a place in which to get your business done quickly and get out. I’ve felt that way in Zhu-ze-Hu about Taipei, in Las Cruces about El Paso, and even in Lincoln, Massachusetts, about Cambridge.  But when I make a late-night excursion to the nearby Vivanda for groceries, I feel comfortable on the streets and a little exhilarated that we are finally here.

When I awaken, it’s early Saturday morning in Miraflores.  Five a.m.  Through the night, the traffic noises from Alcanfores, on which we’re staying, and Benavides, the bigger street two blocks away, have never quite stopped. Now the noises are minimal, mostly the horns of taxis warning potential cross-traffic of their progress down Alcanfores. From the 13th floor, I have a fine view of the world. 

I watch for awhile, looking at nothing in particular. Glad to have the preparations and arrangements and long flight over with, and pleased we’re really here. People have asked why Peru. There is no easy or cogent answer (or maybe I don’t understand the question). Impulse; but also the fact that Peru has a marvelous mix of remote, high mountain country, seacoast, and jungle/rainforest, along with a mix of cultures and an interesting history that has left behind plenty of tangible reminders. Or, I wanted to go somewhere, and when I went down to the farmers’ market one day in January, I got talking to a man from Cusco selling Peruvian health food.

I am glad we are here, and glad we will soon be on the road.

Ragna is ill that first morning. I wander out on various errands, and look at our new environment by daylight. Miraflores, of course, is not Lima. It is a privileged enclave. The Vivanda is a fine supermarket with a large wine department and plenty of gourmet treats.

I see an eclectic mix of glitz and beggary. Down the block from Vivanda is a huge glitzy gambling establishment that looks as if it should be in Vegas [and is in fact called “Atlantic City”] with mirrored front walls, fountains, and more guards than Fort Knox. The mirrors look interesting for photography, but I notice the sharp contrast to many of the people passing by, some of whom are begging. Miraflores’s gleaming modernity coexists with a very different world. Diagonally across the intersection of Alcanfores and Benavides, Vivanda’s competition is a chubby woman reading a newspaper beside her white pushcart of fresh fruits and vegetables. The hang-gliders and para-sailors fly over LarcoMar’s modern shops, while outside women with children on their backs seek handouts from people approaching or leaving the enclave. As I walk back down Alcanfores, past buildings of relatively expensive apartments, I see a man with one leg, sitting on the sidewalk and exhibiting his stump to invite financial assistance, as I so often saw in Nepal.

Late Saturday afternoon we go for a drive with a Peruvian couple, and see the sea by daylight and some pleasant parks and some amusing handicrafts and a sunset. Barranco feels like where I’d want to live if I lived in Lima. It was an artists’ community and is near the sea.

Our friend Aldo is a government official who was partially educated in Indiana and has corresponded with me on a Peru-related web-site.  We looked forward to meeting. When we do, he and his wife Carola show us around a bit, apologetic that they can’t spend longer with us because their maid leaves at 6 for her Sunday off, and they have two young children.

self-portrait in a gitzy casino window

self-portrait in a glitzy casino window

My initial photographs in Lima are hardly travel photographs, but rather the sort of thing one might shoot anywhere.  At the Atlantic City, I play around with shooting photographs of the city block,  the streets, and even myself reflected and slightly distorted in the mirrored front walls.

Later, waiting for Ragna outside a store, I shoot a series of a small girl playing a small stringed instrument for coins on the street. She cannot be even ten years old, and may be just seven. I give her a coin, a smaller one than I ought to have given her; and after I show her the first few pix, she smiles a warmer but guarded smile. 

playing for tips

It is a fact of domestic life that one sometimes spends a fair chunk of time in shoe stores, even when the quality of light invites photography. Like a restless boy stuck taking piano lessons across the street from the ballfield, listening to the dry click of the metronome when he wants to be swinging a baseball bat, I stand around in stores and stare longingly at the lengthening shadows outside, my camera hanging uselessly in front of me.Bored while waiting for Ragna to finish trying on clothes, I take off the lens cap and shoot a couple of shots of a father, also waiting for his wife, who obviously loves his kid. Then, hidden in the store, I shoot out across a main street to the park, where there is an outdoor exhibit of wonderful large photographs from around the world, many from the air. (Three are from Iceland.) Just aimlessly shooting folks looking at the show, I catch this just in front of them on the street:

just looking
                                                   Just looking 
Clearly he saw something he liked. I did not notice until later the shape of the figure in the photograph, a New Caledonia landscape shot from the air.

We like Parque Kennedy. Artists show and sell their stuff along one side of it, and some of the art is good. Children play, lovers embrace, and there’s a huge crowd around what turns out to be a sunken dance-floor with live music. No one is dancing. As we watch, a very old man walks over to an elderly woman and invites her to dance. They begin dancing, gracefully, and are eventually joined by others.

In Lima one feels the rhythms of many races – and discovers wonderful unfamiliar fruits.  (Instantly I become addicted to maracuyá juice, never even having heard of it before.)   The beautiful cliffs, marred by high-rises, are alive with colorful hang-gliding contraptions, and the sea is dotted with surfers.  We enjoy Lima more than we’d supposed we would, but we want to get out into the countryside.

Buying a car in Lima

Our plan is to buy a car. Something used and not too expensive, but hardy enough to trust on bumpy and remote mountain roads. Possibly a four-wheel drive – a quatro por quatro, as I soon learn they say here. We will be here six months, perhaps more. To rent would cost as much as to buy – with nothing coming back in when we leave. If we leave.

Everyone has said, both before and since our arrival, that we would be crazy to try to buy a car in Lima without taking along someone who is both fluent in Spanish, particularly in discussing automobile parts, and local to Lima. I agree. But life does not always cooperate.

We miss connections with people who might assist us or they are not immediately available. We do not wish to be stuck in Lima forever.

Thus one day we call a car company and take a cab to the address we’re given. That address turns out to be the company’s corporate offices, not its car lot, and we begin wandering on foot down long blocks [in an area that, two days later, a woman will come up to us in a grocery store and warn us we absolutely should not walk through], looking at cars but finding nothing suitable. Meanwhile the man we’d actually spoken to begins to assume mythic proportions, like some Holy Grail: due to a confusion about the actual address, we keep traipsing around near his office without ever finding him, until finally we hail a cab, start off in a completely wrong direction, then hand the phone to the cab-driver, who takes us down a side street a block or two from where we’d been walking.

Initially the salesman starts talking about some four-wheel drive vehicle priced at about U.S. $28,000. Way beyond our budget. Eventually, though, he drives us to the site where an acquaintance has a used Mitsubishi 4×4 for sale for $12,800. Ironically, the site is a parking lot on Benavides, catty-corner to the Vivanda, with one side on Alcanfores, the street we live on. We’ve passed it several times a day.

The car looks fine. Later we return to meet the man who is selling it. He has a German or eastern-European name, R___. He and I go for a drive so that I can test it. I’m no mechanic, but everything seems fine. I try to bargain the price downward from U.S. $12,800, and manage to shave only $300 off it.

We need to raise more than $12,000 U.S. in cash. There are constraints: I can’t just withdraw up to $10,000 per day from my CitiBank account, as I’d been told I could. Nor can I do anything like that with my Bank of America account. Along with difficult calls to the U.S. to increase the total amount I can withdraw each day, I make repeated trips to two different ATM sites, where I stand withdrawing as much as I can. Since I am limited to U.S. $200 [?] per withdrawal, I stand for embarrassingly [and dangerously] long times at the ATM windows, withdrawing ten twenties at a time, stuffing them in a formerly hidden pocket in my shirt, retrieving and re-inserting my card, and snagging more dollars. This is not discreet. Since I will immediately walk back home down several blocks of Benevides and two blocks of Alcanfores with a bulky collection of $20 bills, it is not entirely safe or wise; but there seems little choice, and Miraflores is relatively safe. I stride purposefully and keep my eyes open, grinning inwardly at the silliness of it all.

Ragna, not unreasonably, is not inclined to leave thousands of dollars lying around in the flat unattended; we are not inclined to carry it with us; and, not having met him,

In light of all we’ve heard about Lima, as well as the flimsiness of our apartment door-knob, Ragna is absolutely unwilling to leave the flat with thousands and thousands of U.S. dollars hidden in it. Every clever hiding place I suggest is, she announces derisively, the first place anyone would look. Haven’t I ever seen a movie? We are equally disinclined to carry the money with us; and, not having met him, she vetoes my suggestion that we could take it as a partial payment to the seller of the car, who would give us a receipt and, I feel sure, not try to claim the next day that he hadn’t gotten the money.

As a result, I wander out to get us something to eat. At the nearly-empty restaurant at the Posada Marquez, I order a Pisco sour to kill a few minutes waiting for the food. The drink creeps creeps up on me, along with a sudden sense of relaxation.

Although I’m dimly aware that it seems to be taking a long time for the food, I don’t care. About anything. Somewhere in my mind a voice repeats the phrase, “aaja bholi parsi” [“today, tomorrow, the day after . . .” in Nepali] echoes through my mind. Left alone in the pasture, without anyone to talk to or anything to do, my mind wanders freely.

Ten days ago I was in Arlington National Cemetery – as strange an environment for an old antiwar advocate as anything I’ll experience in Peru – at my uncle’s funeral.  I hear again my cousin’s moving discussion of his father, watch again the white horses pulling the wagon with the flag-draped coffin, listen to the mournful bag-pipes played by a bearded gentleman dressed in kilts, see the ironically smaller box with his ashes removed from the coffin, and hear the rifles salute him.

I let the Pisco sour soften my mind and listen to the Spanish spoken around me. It’s a language I’ve learned to find my way around in and order food in, after so much traveling in Mexico, but I do not really speak it.

Now, isolated words and phrases drift through my mind. “Si, claro,” repeated intermittently by men far drunker than I am in At Play in the Fields of the Lord. “Mas o menos,”a genuinely useful phrase. “Parece Jesus,” spoken by a very old lady, the grandmother of a Mexican former girl-friend, when I was walking home from one-on-one basketball with the ex-girlfriend’s brother, and as we approached his mother and grandmother the latter, whose mind had long ago left on a permanent vacation, touched my beard and repeated, “Parece Jesus” with apparent contentment. “Amortiguador,” spoken by a fellow who had just looked at my rented Volkswagen deep in the jungle near the ruins of Bonampak, a word that sounded as deeply ominous as the clanking sound that had led me to stop next to him as he, an artist, was inspecting the engine of his own car, but which meant only shock absorber.

Finally the food arrives, and I return belatedly to Ragna, who has begun to worry about me.

Thursday morning I get up and walk to Citibank to continue the process. By noontime we are wealthy enough in cash to purchase the car, and so inform the seller. We are told that he’ll be back in 40 minutes. We wander up the street and discover a health-food restaurant where we eat a light but satisfactory lunch, while the same kid from Cuzco that we heard across Miraflores two days earlier plays indigenous music for coins.

We are quite content, sitting outdoors and eating. The only other customer, a Peruvian fellow, opens a conversation with us. He turns out to be a staff-member at the Irish consulate. Upon learning that Ragna is Icelandic, he advises us that the Icelandic consul is a doctor, and quite a good one. After we chat awhile he calls his boss and good friend, the Irish consul, then hands the phone to me, and I chat with the fellow for awhile. He sounds quite pleasant. Has spent time in Iceland, was born in Toronto, has a son in New York who was born in Houston. “We’ll have to get together next week,” he says. I tell him we’ll be on the road by then, but give Jorge our phone number.

I feel a little as if I were back in Tai Bei, or somewhere in mainland China, where expatriates of all nations tend to share a comradery for which they might not loosen up so quickly in London or New York.

What is different here is that I have been asked several times in a day where my forebears hailed from. The Irish consul, for example, after we had talked a bit, said “What about your father?” “My father?” “Yes, what about your father?” “My father is dead,” I told him, uncertain why it mattered. “But where was he from?” “He was American.” “But where did your forebears come from?”

When we return to meet R___, he introduces us to his partner, W____. Both have Polish names and heritages. W. is a long-haired fellow who has in fact studied in the U.S. for a year or two – at U.C. Davis, where my sister teaches. W., who speaks English, will take us to the notario’s office.

It appears that the car belonged to the daughter of a former vice-president of Peru who bought the car when it was new and kept it until she sold it for a 2007 model. This may be true: I have signed my name and paid down a couple of hundred dollars, and we are on our way to the Notario, so this is rather late for a sales pitch.

We set off toward the Notario, W and two of his friends and Ragna and me. As we enter a freeway, headed who knows where, the fanciful part of my brain has a character asking, “Didn’t it occur to you that there were dozens of notarios within a few blocks of Benevides and Jose Larco?” We are, indeed, setting off with three relative strangers in a city we don’t know toward a destination we don’t know; and since we are meant to pay one of them $ 12,300 after the paperwork, it may have occurred to them that we have that money on us.

All this is mere mental play. I feel perfectly comfortable. Then W interrupts my reverie to recommend that if we get up to Trujillo, we might want to consider looking in Deliciosas, a seaside community just south of the city, as well as Huanchaco to the north. He’d have to be a hell of an actor to waste time on such courtesies at this point, if he planned to do away with us!

Seriously, instinct and logic have convinced me there’s no danger. Instinct first: this guy is not some violent criminal. Logic follows along: he’s a doctor’s son and a businessman and making ample profit just selling me the car. Even if he were dishonest, which he is not, he’s smart. If he meant to rob us, he’d know that he’d have to kill us too. He’d hardly drive off in plain sight with two foreigners he planned to kill.

The notario’s office is on a quiet cul-de-sac with a garden park out front. Inside, at least a dozen people at a dozen desks create or modify documents or witness their signing. The notario carefully explains the document, and I have to sign an additional document acknowledging that although Spanish is not my native language I fully understand all the provisions. Surprisingly, we have still not been asked to hand over actual money.

W could not have be better to us. He drives us back the long way, showing us a special sushi restaurant and other local points of interest and sharing good advice on spots to visit or avoid in Peru. He’s funny, too. At one point he comments negatively about Peruvian driving and the traffic in Lima, adding, “In that we’re still hopping around in feathers up in Cuzco somewhere.” He has the city-dweller’s amusement over the provinces. He’s a professional-class urban youth with a European heritage who’s studied in the United States, and would have it clear who he is not.

It occurs to me that far from cheating us, W has theoretically left himself open to being cheated: having officially signed away all rights to the car, what would be his legal remedies if we gave him another $5,000 and claimed to have paid the whole price? I could show all my receipts for cash obtained during the past few days, and convincingly claim that I paid it to him and he’s now trying to gouge me for more

Once back in the little shack behind the used-car lot, I start pulling money out of all my secret pockets, much to the amusement of all of us. W says he now understands why Ragna looked very nervous to him at the notario’s office.

We all count the money several times in various ways and make all the obvious jokes about what could have happened or could now happen, with this vast amount of cash in the shack. W reassures us that even if someone now held up the shack, that would be his problem, not ours.

But we have our car.

Next we must do what a prudent person would have insisted on doing earlier in the process: take it the next morning to an independent mechanic to evaluate its condition and make any necessary repairs.

Tomorrow morning I will take it to the fellow recommended by our chance acquaintance in the vegetarian restaurant.

our new car

our new car

Like a couple of happy idiots we drive around in our new car, occasionally getting lost but enjoying the feeling of discovery. Down toward the playas. Hang-gliders and surfers out in force. Afternoon sun turning the sea a blinding silver. Breakers rolling in along stone jetties, each looking almost like some strange, frothy creature crawling in toward shore.

la rosa nautica

La Rosa Nautica

Without discussion we stop at La Rosa Nautica, although it’s too expensive. Walk out the long, wooden walkway to it. Feel as if we are stepping back in time, somehow. A roundish dining room with windows overlooking the sea. Wooden floors and a very fine menu. Fans and open windows keeping the place so airy that while I watch an old man smoking a huge cigar ten or fifteen meters away, I can’t smell a thing. (There is a long table occupied mostly by very old men. They are very familiar with each other, and very comfortable being who they are in a world they have had plenty of seasons to get to know. They seem like men who know how the world is supposed to be, even if the world doesn’t always live up to that standard, whereas I just bumble on through it like a dog, sniffing curiously and reacting.) The one in the striped polo shirt is so visibly enjoying his cigar that I almost imagine he has been wondering how many more of them he would smoke in this lifetime.)

falconry at la rosa nautica

falconry at la rosa nautica



Meanwhile, on the roof a young man appears with a huge bird.  It may be a falcon or it may be some other sort of bird, but whatever it is it seems quite content to stay on his arm.    It’s an odd sight, particularly here.  I wander out to shoot a few photographs, but never do find out whether this is a daily occurrence or whether or not the bird sometimes hunts fish or smaller birds outside the restaurant.

ragna at la rosa nautica

ragna at la rosa nautica

We laugh about the day’s events. As Ragna orders a second glass of wine, I ask the waiter how the laws are on driving after drinking. He laughs at the question, and basically says that so long as a man isn’t drunk, it doesn’t much matter. Then I say we’d have two more glasses, not just one, and he laughs at that. A moment later he adds that as we are tourists, no one much cares what we do.

Red-beaked seabirds dart about, presumably picking off fish stunned by waves hitting the building-supports below us. On the roof, a slender young man plays with what might be a falcon. Whatever it is, it seems content to stay on his arm. Behind Ragna, surfers paddle about in the water. Very occasionally one or two will stand and glide in on waves, with the sun setting behind them. Before them, the moon rising above the cliffs.                        

sunset from la rosa nautica

Not for the first time, we toast Peru and share our wonder that we have felt so quickly so comfortable here, so confident that things will go well.

I can not disagree with the Peruvian friend, from Cuzco, who had told me before we left, “Lima you go to when you have to, to do what you have to do, then get back to Cuzco as soon as possible.” Yet I have no complaints, either.

Next day I take the car to a mechanic unrelated to the seller. It is difficult to find the place; and when I first set out I realize this is my introduction to day-time traffic here. It is a massive game of “chicken,” and reawakens the instincts of my youth as a New York City cabdriver.

The mechanic, Humberto Vargas, whose face could be engraved on a coin marked “integrity,” has every motive to “find” flaws he can then get paid to fix. Instead, he examines and drives the car and pronounces it “bien conservado.” A brake specialist, he does some minor work on those and finds a problem that he concedes could wait a couple of months to repair. I do have him change the oil and check the spare tire and do a few other tasks. He takes extraordinary care with the car, even to the point of spending several minutes scraping the old “oil change” sticker off the door-frame before applying the new one. He is such a neat workman that before he affixes the oil-change sticker to the car-body, he spends several minutes scraping off the vestiges of the old sticker. His final bill is quite reasonable.

The brake shop is in a fine location, too. Taking a walk while they work on his car, I look over the cliffs at kids playing football in a park near the beach, and at the sea beyond them.

I drive back along the Malecon. It winds along the tops of the cliffs, past playing fields and green grass and colorful flowerbeds on the right and luxury homes with fabulous sea-views on the left. It looks like a great place to have a house – and the first wall I spot without a house behind it has a huge, hand-painted sign, “Esta propriedad no es en venta“, to ward off inquiries from speculators. 

We do not see what we should see in Lima, despite constant urging from our friend Aldo and my own resolutions to do so. We’re lazy; and we’ve been preoccupied with buying and insuring the car and checking it out. But we enjoy the city’s energy, the feel of Parque, the sight of people para-sailing and hang-gliding from the cliffs, the view from Larco Mar [and the sound of the night sea as we drink pisco sours or eat ceviche]; some pleasant restaurants, and just the feel of being in a new country, starting to learn it.

We do walk a lot. We are at the stage in which many new habits and customs and phrases that will become familiar still seem odd or mysterious.

Security is a major concern in Lima, and in much of Peru.  Houses and apartment buildings have gates and guards, and often extraordinarily high walls with spikes or barbed-wire on top. We are repeatedly warned not to leave the car radio in sight when parking the car for even five minutes, or someone will break in and steal it. We are warned not to carry our cameras visibly on the streets. On the web-site forum Aldo and I are part of, there are all sorts of horror stories; Aldo tells me that on a beach in the summer if someone is careless a thief will sneak up and steal a bag or purse, in plain sight of dozens of others who will not even alert the person being ripped off.

Our second Sunday in Lima, we go with Aldo and Carola to a restaurant [named, oddly, The Hawaiian] for a buffet of traditional Peruvian foods. The place is not cheap, and apparently also not terribly well-known among tourists, but the food’s good and we have fun. It’s a big barn of a place, with extensive and varied foods to choose among. Our friends are a little surprised that we are so ready for the spicy foods, and at how much I enjoy the ceviche; but we do, although when it comes to the desserts I opt for ice cream and chocolate cake and such, rather than the interesting selection of local items.

We enjoy our new friends, although I’m also aware of how different we are. I’m an unreconstructed hippy, a bohemian by nature and a perennial rebel. My friend Aldo works for the tax department. Their home is in a gated enclave where children play freely on artificial grass, and their house is antiseptic, with nothing out of place and nothing on the wall in the living room, though they’ve lived here for months now. Mine is often such a disaster that once the police, arriving because a visiting friend had screwed up the alarm when opening the front door, looked inside and remarked, “Looks like the place has been ransacked” although everything was just as I’d left it. Aldo is from Arequipa and lives rather proudly in the capital; I was born in New York and have always drifted toward obscure and quieter places. Still, we all have fun and talk a lot about everything. And their seven-year-old daughter regales us with her “stories,” a notebook full of them illustrated with her drawings.

Driving home that night is less fun: we naturally get lost, and wander around clueless for awhile; and when we are finally on the freeway, flying through the night toward Miraflores, suddenly the cabs in front of us veer into the lanes right and left of us, revealing – all too suddenly in the darkness – a Volkswagen stopped in our lane, without lights. I jam on the brakes quickly enough and hard enough – and they work well enough! – that there’s almost no impact. The desperate driver asks for our help and we manage to push him to the side of the road.

Is this truly a Lamborghini?

Is this truly a Lamborghini? [Did you know that Ferruccio Lamborghini, a rich man and apparently a very good driver, never made sports cars until after he’d gone into Enzo Ferrari’s office to complain about subtle mechanical difficulties with his Ferrari? When Ferrari kicked his ass out of his office, Lamborghini swore he’d make a better sports car — and, by most accounts, did so.

We had not expected to like Lima. We rather do, although we’re restless to set out for more remote and interesting pueblos, and for more impressive natural beauty and the ruins of more remote and interesting civilizations.

We do thoroughly enjoy Pisco sours at the top of the cliff overlooking the sea, the warmth of our new friends, and bits and pieces of encounters with various acquaintances.

ragna in lima -- silhouette





Travel Notes*

[*I’ll include a section like this at the end of each post — though for Lima, given its vastness and our very limited experience, I’m not sure it’ll be useful for anyone. ]


We walked around Lima enough to know that there are abundant places to stay, across the gamut of budgets. Two that we can speak of are “InnPeru.com” and __________. [We stayed in the former during the ten days described above, and in the latter when we returned to Lima a couple of months later.] InnPeru has a variety of apartments of various sizes, around the area of Miraflores near LarcoMar, for prices ranging between  U.S. $250-450 per week. The web-site contains photos of the apartments, as well as prices and dates of future availability. Mark, who owns them, speaks English quite well, being a native of the U.K. Communications from outside Peru may be best made by e-mail, rather than phone, as the phone sometimes emits an unintelligible set of sounds reminiscent of science fiction movie sound effects. They will have you picked up at the airport, at a price that Mark freely concedes is two or three times the market-rate for a cab but can be relaxing and reassuring after a long flight, particularly on one’s first trip to Lima.

The other, ______, is pricier, but worth it if you have the budget. My mother would have stayed in this place, but not in Marc’s; and Ragna enjoyed it, but wasn’t best-pleased by InnPeru. To put it another way, if I returned to Lima alone I would happily save the money and stay at one of Marc’s places. If Ragna returned alone, she’d stay in _______. I know plenty of people who would consider Marc’s places far too expensive and stay in a hostal, and plenty who would stay in one of the fine hotels and wonder why I even discuss these places.


 La Rosa Nautica is delightful and a bit expensive, and the food is good but not great.

There are some good ceviche dishes at a couple of the LarcoMar restaurants overlooking the sea.

__________ is good, a popular local favorite that has good seafood and ceviche.

The Hawaiian is a great place to sample Peruvian food, in quantity and quality. I think it was S./40 per person, which is not cheap by local standards but is by the standards of travelers not on a strict budget. It’s location is too difficult to describe, but a cabbie will know it. I do not know it’s days and hours of service, but Sunday lunch was great.

There’s a good [simple and cheap] little vegetarian restaurant on Alcanfores, just up the block from Vivanda on the same side of Alcanfores.

Really, though, there are so many fine places to eat, again at all budgets, that advice from someone who’s sampled only a few isn’t worth much. Too, there’s so much of everything in Lima, and we were so preoccupied with buying a car, that I can’t offer advice as useful as what I am able to say about some other places in Peru. Certainly Larco Mar has some pleasant restaurants that serve decent food and offer a very fine view.

Vivanda’s has a good selection of food and wine if you’re staying in an apartment.

Other points

If you plan to buy a car, contact me and I’ll put you in touch with the fellow we bought one from. There are two kinds of insurance, one of which [SOAT] you probably inherit from the former owner, at least for awhile; buy the other from a major company. They came to our flat to sign us up, although I had to go to a nearby office the next day to make an actual payment.

Joining the South American Explorers’ Club is a good idea if you want to store stuff in Lima, have access to a bunch of other people’s accounts of individual travels in Peru, or need a mailing address in Lima, and discounts at various hotels or tours could amount to more than your dues. They have maps and other useful items if you’re traveling independently and/or going off the beaten track.

If you’re driving, leaving Lima toward the North, consider engaging a taxi to lead you through Lima. We found our way, but it wasn’t the easiest start to our day. If you’re driving South, it’s pretty straightforward from the map; from Miraflores, you just head out Benavides; but I’m told that the Pan American Highway is better-marked if instead of taking the best-looking route on the map [turning right onto Santiago de Surco at a traffic circle] you continue on Benavides. We did. 


self-portrait in a gitzy casino window

self-portrait in a glitzy casino window


playing for tips

playing for tips

a guarded smile

a guarded smile

just looking

just looking

our new car

our new car

la rosa nautica

la rosa nautica

falconry at La Rosa Nautica?

falconry at La Rosa Nautica?



la rosa from above -- a few evening after we'd eaten there

la rosa from above — a few evenings after we’d eaten there

ragna in lima -- silhouette

ragna in lima — silhouette

 Is this truly a Lamborghini?

 Is this really a Lamborghini?

Did you know that Ferruccio Lamborghini, a rich man and apparently a very good driver, never made sports cars until after he’d gone into Enzo Ferrari’s office to complain about subtle mechanical difficulties with his Ferrari?  When Ferrari kicked his ass out of his office, Lamborghini swore he’d make a better sports car — and, by most accounts, did so.

sunset from la rosa nautica

sunset from la rosa nautica

moonrise over Lima

moonrise over Lima