Buenos Dias Amigos! Welcome to the first installment of Vegetarian in Peru: A Love Story. I don't know how to explain my love for Peru and more so, Cusco. But we didn't start that way. First, we met.
Our flight was at noon-ish from Louisville to Atlanta and was largely uneventful. Actually, all of the travel in the states was uneventful including the flight from Atlanta to Lima. It takes about 6 1/2 hours to get there and surprisingly it really wasn't all that bad. There's something about the size of international flights that makes me feel more comfortable. It shouldn't make sense that an enormous plane would float magically through the air easier than a smaller plane but to me it does. It's the same way I (used to) feel safer on big cruise ships than on tiny row boats. But I digress. I slept a little on the plane but also watched The Hangover Part 2 (eh) and Side Effects (crazy!!!). There were no crying babies, snoring adults or serious turbulence so the flight was easy peasy. Once we landed that familiar culture shock hit where English is no longer the first language spoken or listed on any signs but luckily in Peru they speak tourist so they knew how to handle us.
Peruvian customs...well, it's not American customs and for that I am grateful. I walked up to the agent and it was time for the questioning we were anticipating:
Agent: Buenos Dias.
Me: Bbbbbuenooos Diiiias?
Agent: *scans passport, types a little, stamp, stamp, stamp, write* Gracias.
Me: *blank stare* ...That's it?
Agent: *blank stare*
Me: Uh gracias! Buenos Noches!
Just like that I made it through the rigorous entrance requirements and was granted a 90 day travel visa to the great nation of Peru. I was a lucky one though. Some people did have to answer questions like, "Are you here for business or pleasure?" Luckily none of our Spanish was good enough to make a joke about that. We picked up our bags then sent them through the scanner where the operator in charge was a 19 year old girl giggling with her friend and texting. They keep their TSA on short leashes. We exited the terminal and it was like we were celebrities. People everywhere were creating a sort of aisle and holding signs for their passengers. Somebody spotted Roxana from ISA and she took us to our bus. By now it was pretty late, maybe midnight but excitement outweighed exhaustion for the moment and I snagged a window seat to start my sightseeing immediately. What did I see you ask? Well, on a Wednesday night in Lima you can see a lot of characters including young people, old people, bingo and casino goers walking on the streets and everyone who wasn't walking was driving their cars wildly with reckless abandon. The traffic is truly terrifying. Think Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, New York City. Then add in construction. Add merging. Smush it into 3 lanes. Subtract any sort of speed limit and actual lines for those lanes. And that will give you an idea of what Lima traffic is like. But still only an idea.
Finally by the grace of God we made it to Hotel Habitat and were assigned our rooms. I didn't know my roommate before this adventure but I'm pretty sure we're best friends now. Hoping she'll confirm that. The hotel was nice even though it was small. We put together my converter (yes, it needed to be assembled), questioned whether or not we could rinse our mouths out with the faucet water, decided against it, then went to bed. In the morning we got the beautiful overcast view of Lima city that it holds from May through December of every year (what?!).
Off we went in the morning for our walking tour of the city which meant battling more traffic but we got to visit the second largest cathedral in the Americas (we would also get to visit the third largest later) and see the catacombs. But most interesting would have to be the tear gas. What? Tear gas? Yes. Peru is kind of known for it's occasional political unrest and civil protests so we probably shouldn't have been surprised to see a march going right down the street next to the bus amid the terrifying traffic. We got further into downtown and had to detour our stop since there were also demonstrations in the main square. Lima is definitely a big city with that big city feel. It has that NYC I should probably keep all of my things as close to me as possible feel. Not to speak badly of it, it's just a big city and they all kind of have that vibe. We exchanged some money and then headed out.
We were lucky enough to catch the changing of the guard outside of the president's palace which was complete with a marching band and armed guards with AK's.
After a long morning we headed to lunch which was just a quick walk away. Or so we thought. The streets we had been on earlier suddenly had metal gates and barricades up and were trolling with policia. Our dear Roxana was doing her best to detour us but it wasn't easy. At one point we were hiding out between stores behind a metal gate while policia on horseback patrolled around. Every little while people would come rushing from some direction covering their faces and when I finally got a little too close to the action I understood why. Tear gas stings and messes with your contacts. But not to worry, we made it out alright and after nearly an extra hour made it to lunch where we were introduced to a few Peruvian staples, Chifa (Chinese/Peruvian food blend) and Inca Kola.
I waited for what seemed like another hour for vegetable fried rice and a big ol' heaping of stir fry veggies. Like a bad little food blogger I didn't take pictures of the actual food but just imagine a big plate of Chinese and you've got it.We got back home and all kind of vowed not to tell our families about the day's events until later...in some cases much much later...like never. Tear gas just isn't something you want to bring up in a conversation about your first day in a foreign country. Later that night we had a welcome dinner and show which was super fun even though I was exhausted and I tried to drink my first pisco sour. Pisco is a typical Peruvian drink made up entirely of alcohol and gasoline (that may or may not be true) which leads to drunken shivers and other reactions that come from taking shots after just one sip. 20 year old me would've been embarrassed by my performance because I didn't even get through half of it, and trust me, I tried.
Day 1 in Lima was definitely a success. Despite the hang ups and chemical warfare it was an amazing day 1and I'm already missing it terribly. Stay tuned for part two with more pictures, more adventures and less gas