Prior to arriving in the great land of the Inca, I had ample time to picture Lima, Peru. This was before the golden age of Internet where access to information was slightly more limited. How did we ever manage back then? Even as I sat on the edge of my seat in the airplane carefully listening to the crew’s announcement about our descent to Jorge Chavez International Airport, I thought the city could resemble a blend between Santiago and Caracas. Memories of these two places were still somewhat fresh. As the aircraft continued its approach to land, I was not even able to see city lights in the dark. I always adored night flights as there were lights indicating a sign of life and civilization. A deep fog enveloped our plane, hiding everything as if keeping some kind of secret or hoping to surprise me. I impatiently kept gazing through the window hoping to catch a glance of a skyline, challenging the thick fog with a determined stare that met an even more determined contender. Neither of us gave up until eventually the plane touched down on the tarmac inching me closer to my new home for the next two years.
|Peruvian flag adopted in 1825.|
Our plane taxied to the terminal but did not park in front of the usual sleeves transporting passengers from the aircraft into the building. The flight attendants opened the doors preparing the travellers for their exit and a heavy smell penetrated the aircraft. This smell is something hard to forget. To say it stunk would be an understatement. The foul stench originated from fishmeal, garbage and perhaps a pinch of guano all engulfed in the thick, humid fog. We learned that the thick fog was called garua and would be our constant companion day and night for the next 6 months. I figured we would have to tough it out until leaving the airport, as in several large cities these are built in industrial areas. Upon stepping down a ladder leaving the Aeroperu plane behind, we boarded a bus that would take us to the terminal where we would have to go through customs, the international bureaucratic procedure officially granting the right of entry to the country. At this point, an Embassy admin officer, Mr. Stuart Bale, who had been on posting with his lovely family in Caracas, Venezuela overlapping with our time there, met us to provide a briefing on Peru. It was a lovely surprise to start this adventure with a familiar face. We went through customs through a special diplomatic line without any trouble eventually getting to baggage claim followed by our departure on an embassy van. All of this accompanied with that awful smell. There were several hundred people gathered outside the airport, milling about waiting for their loved ones.
We met our driver, a hefty Peruvian named Wilbur, who would take us to our overnight accommodation. As the vehicle made its way through the crowd, some kids began throwing rocks to our car, apparently in an attempt to irritate passing drivers enough to stop the car and exit the vehicle. Those who were not experienced in this kind of confrontation would soon find their vehicle swarmed by several dozen kids - called pirañitas - releaving you of any contents of your car. Stuart was kind enough to fill us in on some of this useful local intelligence. This part of the city was called Callao, and the cityscape was quite striking. We travelled along a large avenue where the median was covered in all manners of garbage, as the city did not have an organized collection system and contributed to the smell. On the opposite side, buildings appeared to have been demolished in some sort of terrorist attack. This was actually a way to save on property taxes, as the owners did not have to pay the maximum taxable return if the building was not completed. As we moved along, much of the city seemed to be distributed in a similar manner, although upon our arrival to Miraflores – a downtown for foreigners as well as a business centre for the city – things seemed to improve.
Our first night in the city, we checked in to the Hotel Pardo where we had reservations. It was a perfect location as it was literally right across from the Embassy of Canada and it was in the heart of the entertainment district for the gringos. That night, Brian was still upset at having to leave Ottawa behind so he had decided to stay in the hotel room. Dad, Maman and I went to the famous Calle de las Pizzas (Pizza street to us foreigners) to enjoy a locally made pizza and their own brand of sangria – a drink tracing its origins in Spain made of red wine, bubbly water or citrus flavoured soda mixed in with some seasonal fruit. It was a delightful meal, the service was excellent and the price was reasonable. There were perhaps anywhere from 30 to 40 pubs serving their own pizzas with special deals for the Pisco Sour, their national drink. Although I had heard of this drink during my time in Chile, I had never had the chance to try it as it was an alcoholic beverage. Peruvians would always proudly state that it was their drink and their neighbours to the South had copied their idea. I never debated with my hosts out of respect. In the streets as we made our way back to the hotel, there were several Peruvian kids selling roses to passers-by, many vendors with their moveable kiosks, all catering to the busy Miraflores nightlife. We did not stick around as the next few days would be action packed having to start our lives again from scratch and this time, Brian and I were going to have to go school hunting.
|View of Pizza Street from Parque Kennedy, Lima, Peru|
We were determined to make the best out of this situation and continue our seasoned adventurous spirit developed during our previous South American adventures. Our first night, as we readied ourselves for a good night sleep on foreign soil once more, we watched some local television hoping to find news providing more insight on the country’s happenings. Unfortunately it was a little too late and we were only able to see an end of the day commercial with a patriotic tune. The video had this attractive woman dressed in typical Quechua attire running around fields and there were also images of different regions of the country and the soundtrack was a song repeating “Así me gusta mi país, Perú.” (This is how I like my country, Peru). After this cute uplifting video, we settled into our beds for a goodnight sleep, as we had to be early in the morning in the embassy for a meet and greet. Instead of the sandman coming to ensure our dreams were sweet, an earthquake woke us up from our slumber. It was quite a scare, especially as it was the first one I had experienced in my life.