Success in a mission abroad lies primarily in becoming a spin artist. The reality of your own circumstances depends on how you define your status quo. The most appropriate motto I can think of is from Monty Python’s: The Life of Brian, which plainly states: “Always look on the bright side of life.” The easiest – and worst - thing to do in this type of situation is to face your reality negatively, locking the door to prevent contact with the outside world, confining yourself to isolation. You no longer deal with the situation, opting to run away from your problems. The other option, which I highly recommend, is to swing that door open and let yourself and your family be exposed to something new. The psychological trauma of being on “lockdown” mode for an extended amount of time can be extremely harmful. The sooner you realize this will not be like home – whatever that means to each person individually – the sooner you can learn from your surroundings and the richness around you. You will be proud of your accomplishments when you look back. You allow yourself to expand your horizons and have a real perspective of the world. Of course, similarly to being back home, some things are good and others are not. We, the Bickfords, always opted for scenario number two, which leads me to the story of our first day trip out of Lima.
|Santa Rosa de Lima by Claudio Coello|
In the early going, the Bickfords had become friends with the Lambert family, facilitated by the link of a working relationship in the Embassy between our heads of household and at the following generational level, through school. Over one of our first weekends, the Bickford gang met the Lamberts across Primavera and Velasco Astete, the main thoroughfares dividing our homes, where we would be joining another French-Canadian family on an interesting adventure. I can only remember the last name, Thibault, and he ran some sort of orphanage for underprivileged young boys in the city. Out of the three families, Mr. Thibault was the one who knew more about Lima, having lived there the longest. He had suggested we make our way to a hidden gem, Santa Rosa de Quives, a holy place the importance of which had not been properly explained to me at any point. He was in fact the only one to have been there, so we were basing this trip on pure good faith in him. Since both Alain Lambert and him had SUVs, they decided to split passengers up into men and women in their vehicles. Curious as both drivers were men so the division would not work in its entirety. Mr. Thibault would be the lead car of this expedition loaded with our women. It made sense for him to be the guide as he was the one with the intel. Alain, the RCMP veteran, would drive the escort car hauling all us hardy and handsome men. He even joked around reminiscing about his time spent trailing suspects early on in his law enforcement career as he agreed with his task in this adventure. We all settled into our proper positions and hit the road toward Santa Rosa de Quives.
Through the disorganized driving patterns of a busy Lima, my motion sickness began to kick in as I sat in the back seat with Brian and Mario. I could see through my discomfort the famous pueblos jóvenes – local name for shantytowns - surrounded by dust, dirt and tons of rubbish as we progressed. We passed the mighty Rimac River, which flows through the centre of Lima. Sometimes a raging torrent, when we passed, it was a coffee-coloured trickle. Mario suggested it was the only river in the world where one could do brown water rafting. The cityscape was still enveloped in that persistent thick fog accompanied by that lingering curious odour. Eventually a tabernacle, pronounced in a colourful Lac Saint Jean accent, resonated from the driver’s seat as Alain explained that he had lost the lead car. Maybe his cop skills had undergone a sort of attrition after years of desk-related work. We were now five gringos on the road to who knows where, surrounded by the pueblos jóvenes and all their décor. He pulled off the highway, not to give us a closer look as to the living conditions but to ask for directions. In his thick French-Canadian accent he asked an indigenous-looking Peruvian how to get to Santa Rosa de Lima. Everywhere we went, no one knew what he was asking but they were kind enough to give us even more vague directions, hoping this would help us attain our objective and catch-up to the party. Hope was lost. We ventured through the hostile streets with everyone who gazed upon us wondering what we were doing there. We figured nobody knew where this place was, but in fact, Santa Rosa de Quives was the actual name of a place, whereas Santa Rosa de Lima was the name of a virgin. She was the first saint hailing from the Americas and the Patron Saint of Peru. I guess Santa Rosa de Lima was everywhere so to speak.
After our failed attempt to rejoin the party, or find the site of Santa Rosa de Quives, we decided to stop at a reasonable looking place to grab a bite to eat. Since we had no cell phones or military radios, we were unable to communicate with anyone else to let them know what had occurred. We stopped within the Lima city limits to a district called Ancón, which Alain explained was a treasured destination to many limeños looking for some fun in the sun over the summer months. It was hard to imagine what the place would look like without the fog and that cold humidity always upon us. Regardless of being indoors or outdoors, your clothes always felt somewhat wet and sticky. We parked in a playa – usually means beach but in Peru, parking lot – where the only vehicle that seemed to be properly parked between the lines and in front of the curb was a row boat. Even the oars were safely stored inside the vessel. This seemed comical from a North American perspective, as a parking officer from our home country would have had a field day in this city. People routinely parked wherever they felt was convenient and driving seemed to have few rules. Sure it is odd as an outsider but it is not up to us to judge and expect everyone to be like us. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Nearby we found a local seafood bar, a simple-looking place that appeared to have a great menu. It is common fashion there to have someone just outside a restaurant or bar approaching passers-by to coax them into their unique and fine establishment. Alain asked the friendly young waiter if they sold a drink called Sangre de Tigre. It was evident he did not understand Alain’s request but in a very “can-do” entrepreneurial attitude, he said they had anything we could ever want. The rest of us also had no clue what this was but we were all famished. We quickly learned that sometimes, the simpler the place is, the more genuine the food. I have no recollection to what this place was called, but the food was amazing. I ate perhaps one of the best ceviche mixto – a coastal seafood dish, usually fish cooked in limejuice, but this one had octopus, fish, shrimp and all sorts of good stuff – in my life. My bowl seemed to contain half of the ocean. What an incredible unexpected treat. We later tried Sangre de Tigre – a mixture of ceviche juice with vodka – a thoroughly vile concoction that we never drank again. After the meal we proceeded to the shore and boardwalk.
The walk through the insidious fog was tough, especially after filling ourselves to the brim with incredible food. We saw several monuments telling their story about local heroes who gave their lives valiantly defending their beloved country. The Peruvians had fought battles against their neighbour and long time rival to the South, Chile. It was funny but I was quite familiar with their conflicts as history was fascinating to me since a very young age, and now I was listening to the Peruvians as they shared their tale. During our walk, we came across a motorcycle taxi service – a motorcycle hooked up to a sort of rickshaw – and we hired two of these to give us a tour of Ancón. We would have a chance to see more without having to walk with full and heavy stomachs. The drivers did not seem to express concern having three teens on one and two rather large adults, one more than the other, as passengers. They flew through the tight streets – and sometimes sidewalks - not really explaining much or giving us time to admire the scenery until eventually, I noticed we were on the highway travelling in the opposite direction to traffic. That was living on the edge! The drivers seemed to race each other and as we passed by, we greeted our fathers with gestures and waves of all sorts. Both vehicles merged once more into streets and sidewalks, completing a circle that took us back to the boardwalk where they picked us up. Maybe a 15 to 20 minute flash tour of Ancón. I am sure there was more to see but we shared many laughs and great anecdotes afterwards on our way back home to rejoin the women. I heard later from my Maman and Mario’s mother, Angèle, that their tour was rather dull. Perhaps our failure to reach the objective was a blessing in disguise. Santa Rosa de Lima was with us on that day.