Andrew Evans explains how he learned to love Lima, Peru. For more on Lima, click here.
In Spanish, the word “Lima” means “under construction.” OK, that’s not true. Really, I think it derives from the ancient Inca phrase meaning “perpetual traffic.” Alright, that’s another lie–but honestly, those were my first two impressions of Lima when I arrived.
Maybe it’s because I’d been sitting on buses for 30 consecutive hours and was a little bit cranky. After a 621 miles of desert (that’s 1000 kilometers down here), I stared out the window at what I hoped would be my own special urban oasis and jumped to some harsh conclusions. I immediately shot out a tweet that Lima was “the brownest city in the world.” Everything I could see was brown–the ground (no grass), the buildings (brown brick)–even the overcast rainy season sky was filled with dust and shone a kind of dull brown-grey.
Let me be clear: I am not on a sightseeing trip. Rather, I’m on a “seeing” trip. I am traveling 10,000 miles on an open itinerary with the ultimate goal of Antarctica–I just try to see what I can see along the way. Admittedly, it’s been hard to pass up wonders like Machu Pichu or the greater Amazon, yet the real glory of travel is the unexpected things that pop up all along the way.
Lima is what popped up along my way and I was coping with that. Thankfully, my attitude changed thanks to a hot shower, a little nap, a 14th-story view from my very splendid hotel, the Crowne Plaza, and some bona fide Peruvian food. Now I know that Lima has all kinds of fabulous museums and galleries and old world colonial architecture and is rich in all aspects of Peruvian culture, but I only had two days and lots of chores to do. I’ve discovered that when I’m not on a bus, then I’m recovering from the last bus or else getting ready for the next bus. For me, Lima was simply a very large and noisy rest stop on the road to Antarctica.
Still, I took the time to see what I could of Lima and enjoy the process. No, I didn’t sightsee–I merely went out in search of what this city was all about. What I found is that Lima is a wonderful city if you like rectangles. Everything is quite rectangular and I did appreciate some of the great modern buildings that are stacked up along the coast. I also learned that Lima is a great city for traffic cops, bricklayers, taxi drivers, chefs, foodies, surfers, skateboarders, and graffiti artists. It’s not a good city for commuters or anyone else in a hurry.
Personally, I connected with Lima in two ways: food and chaos. I like to eat good food and Lima likes to make good food. Lima’s layout is also completely chaotic–even my taxi drivers kept getting lost or not knowing the name of a street. I found that touching.
Thanks to advice by friends on Twitter and Facebook, I located some outstanding Peruvian restaurants and dipped into what is considered to be South America’s greatest cuisine. My favorite restaurant was La Red where I indulged in grilled octopus tacu tacu and ate a heavenly bowl of fresh fish ceviche marinated in lemon and chili. Food is definitely Lima’s forte.
As for the chaos, I just went with the flow and walked the chaotic streets, making sure to look both ways about five times.
Somehow, the streets led me to the sea, where I stood atop the high cliffs of Lima and watched an army of surfers the size of ants catching waves several hundred feet down below. I was amazed by the number of green parks along the coast and by the bike lanes that were all being used. I realized that despite the chaos, Lima’s urban planners have figured out a few ways to deal with its huge population of eight million.
I like cities and I like traveling in cities. Lima is a kind of pulsating, overgrown city that counters any urban unpleasantness with its man-made charms. In two days I learned to love Lima–kind of like that weird plant in your backyard that you can’t kill so you just give into it and enjoy the flowers when they come. In my last hours in Lima, I got myself good and lost in the jungle of concrete and asphalt at the edge of Miraflores. When I was done exploring the back alleyways and bricked up shops of that quarter, I found a taxi whose driver said he knew how to get to my hotel. He was right–he did know–but he couldn’t take me there because there was too much traffic. After ten blocks I paid him and walked all the way back. I picked up my laundry from across the street, rode the elevator to my 14th floor room and then watched the sun set over a pretty row of rectangles.