October 4 to 14, 2010
It’s not often that a married man gets to sleep with another woman. It’s even less often that his wife shares the bed with him at the same time. But that’s what happened to me one morning in Lima, Peru.
We had been in Lima for a few days staying at Tony’s place, a friend of a couple we had met a month earlier in northern Peru (LINK). He was turning his house into a hostel and we were his first customers. Early one morning his girlfriend, Lisette, still drunk from the night before, entered our room and with a sleepy smile, got into bed next to me and promptly fell asleep. I looked over at Roz with a sheepish smile and remarked how friendly these Limena women are. I received a raised eyebrow in reply. Twenty minutes later Lisette woke up, realized where she was and bolted out of our room aghast at what she had done. Roz and I were laughing too hard to fall back asleep, but we didn’t mind. Worse things have happened to travellers, especially in hostels.
(ROZ: Lisette later told us that she usually slept in our room before it was turned into a hostel, so in her sleepwalking, drunken daze, she just naturally gravitated to our bed.)
After reassuring Lisette that we weren’t offended at all, Roz and I headed off to explore Tony’s neighbourhood of Miraflores – one of the more upscale neighbourhoods in Lima. First stop was the Larcomar Mall, built into a cliffside overlooking the sea. Security all over the mall ensured that no riff-raff got in, but we somehow escaped detection. Then we enjoyed all the things we love about big cities and malls: movie theatres, ice cream parlours and most important, delicious sushi! It was so good, we returned for another gorge before leaving Lima.
(ROZ: Lima’s winter weather is similar to Vancouver’s coastal weather – grey skies, light drizzles and a cool ocean breeze. But that didn’t stop surfers from donning their wetsuits and catching waves in the Pacific Ocean below us. For some unknown reason there were also paragliders flying over us every time we went to the mall. We didn’t know which way to look.)
Bursting with a bellyful of sushi and ice cream, we walked it off with a visit to the ruins of Huaca Pucllana, surreally situated in the middle of Miraflores and surrounded by towering modern-day residential buildings. While I’m sure it would have been interesting, by this point in our journey through Peru, I had had enough of crumbling structures, so I opted to wait for Roz in a nearby trendy restaurant while excavating beer from an ancient beer mug. Fun times were had by all. Roz even got to see more of those creepy Peruvian hairless dogs hanging around the ruins.
As an antidote to the hairless dog experience, we headed to Lima’s Kennedy Park, infamous as the city’s dumping ground for unwanted cats. While it was sad to see so many abandoned felines (despite all the signs declaring it forbidden to leave cats in the park), it was heartwarming to see Lima’s cat lovers doling out the food, ensuring the cute kitties weren’t going to starve to death.
Near the end of our stay, Tony and Lisette took us on a day tour into the historic centre of Lima (yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site we can check off our list). Considering Lima is the fifth largest city in Latin America, the huge Plaza Mayor was way cleaner than I would have expected. It was also almost eerily quiet the day we were there, but perhaps that’s because it was a Sunday. We then moved on to the San Francisco Church and Convent where we were dazzled by the exquisite baroque mosaics inside the church (which we weren’t allowed to photograph). The coolest thing about the Church were the catacombs down below, containing an estimated 70,000 burials. The tour took us through a labyrinth of low, narrow passageways leading to various musty burial sites where hundreds of skeletal remains lay out in the open. Creepy and fascinating, but definitely not for the claustrophobic.
Then we were off to the bizarre and intriguing Inquisition Museum, which contained the original tribunal room that was the headquarters of the Inquisition for the whole of Spanish-dominated America from 1570 until 1820. Beneath the building were dungeons and torture chambers, featuring many gory scenes of simulated torture. Among other things, we learned that waterboarding has been around a lot longer than Guantanamo Bay, thanks to the sadistically creative minds working for the Catholic Church. In both cases, the victims were of the incorrect faith and needed some, ahem, adjustments.
But it wasn’t all fun and torture in Lima. Both Yuki (our Suzuki Samurai) and I needed some professional help before moving on. Tony arranged for me to see a family friend who was the chief surgeon of the Peruvian air force (how often does that happen in life?). The doctor had a look at my leg to decide what should be done with my resident creature. Faithful readers of our blog (yes, all 8 of you) may recall that I discovered two botfly larva wriggling out of my leg a few weeks earlier in Northern Peru (LINK). I managed to get one out, but the other one broke in half so part of it stayed inside my leg (ick!). After the doctor had a look, he told me that there was no infection and since surgery behind my knee was risky with so many tendons back there, he recommended that I just leave my pal in there as my body would absorb him. I took his advice, even though it worried me that, one day, I might just turn into… Botman. Yes, that exciting new superhero! He flies, he stings, he lays eggs in bad guys!
Next, it was Yuki’s turn for some professional work. Her clutch felt spongy before we reached Lima so I adjusted the clutch cable in Tony’s driveway, but I still wanted it looked at. Also, an American insurance company wanted a safety inspection report before they’d insure Yuki for the rest of South America, so we took her to Derco Motors, the Suzuki specialists of Peru, Bolivia and Chile. Not only did they give our girl a clean bill of health and confirm that the clutch was okay, but the guys also washed the truck and even steam cleaned the engine. I swear I could have eaten off it!
We had a great time in Lima, but since we had less than a month to get to Cuzco and Machu Picchu before Yuki’s temporary import permit expired, it was time to move on. With big hugs to Tony and Lisette (who was still red-faced from her bed-hopping episode), Roz and I said good-bye to our new pals and departed Lima.
Outside of Lima, we got pulled over a couple of times by the police, but unlike the mostly corrupt cops north of the capital, these guys seemed genuinely happy to hear we were enjoying Peru and let us go with smiles and handshakes. As we drove south, we noticed the desert dunes getting bigger and bigger until we finally arrived in Huacachina, an oasis resort town built around a small natural lake. Surrounded by massive sand dunes, some 300 feet high, the former playground for the rich was now a playground for tourists, sandboarders and dune buggy fans. In the distance, you could hear the roar of Mad Max-like vehicles racing through the desert and the screams of passengers in the back. It sounded like fun.
We found a place in town called Bananas where, for a few bucks, we set up our tent at the back of the property. Also staying there was a wonderful Canadian family who was in Peru because the dad, Dave, was flying helicopters for an oil company in the Peruvian jungles of the Amazon. Suffice to say, Dave and I, an ex-private pilot, talked non-stop about flying and the life of a commercial pilot. It sure got me thinking about a new career for me. Wait – don’t I need an original career to start with before getting a new one? This life stuff can get so complicated at times.
Unable to resist the terrifying screams of tourists and the enthusiastic recommendations from Dave and his family, Roz and I finally went on a dune buggy tour of the desert. What a blast!! Even though our driver was an expert who had been driving these dunes for over 15 years, I still held on for dear life and screamed like a little girl. We’d zoom up to the top of a huge, steep dune and then suddenly barrel straight down the other side like on a roller coaster. Then we’d careen around the sides of a deep sand crater like an out of control hot wheels car. It was exhilarating and the most laugh-out-loud fun we’d had in awhile. At one of our stops, I tried sandboarding for the first time with some other passengers. (Roz decided to watch and be my official videographer). Since I’ve never snowboarded, I chose to play it safe and lay down on the board, but for some reason, I couldn’t get much speed. I’m sure it wasn’t my expanding beer belly that caused the excess drag. Probably just needed more wax on my board. Yeah, that’s it. More wax.
The next day, Roz and I went for a morning hike up into the surrounding dunes that overlook Huacachina. The sand on the steep slope kept giving way under our feet, but eventually we made it to the top and were rewarded with stunning views of a landscape right out of Lawrence of Arabia.
Our crevices full of sand, we departed Huacachina and headed southeast towards Cuzco. The route was made up of amazing climbs and descents. The highest pass was 14,950 feet. Traffic became more sparse, as did the settlements along the way. Pretty soon, it felt like we were the only ones on the road. We did see two world travellers on Suzuki V-Strom motorcycles who waved to us and it made me wonder what our trip would have been like had we stayed on motorcycles. I’ll find out one of these days.
Soon we reached the Nazca lines, those incredible desert floor drawings that are so large in scope, you need to see them from the air. While we contemplated taking a flying tour, Dave’s stories of poor maintenance by some of the tour operators and a recent fatal crash made us choose instead to view them from a tower next to the highway. Even from there, the drawings were impressive. We marveled at their scale and wondered if they really were meant for space travellers, as suggested so many years ago in the book “Chariot of the Gods”.
Before nightfall, we found a beautiful place to camp on a vicuna reserve about a kilometre from an abandoned military base. A caretaker from the base came over on his motorcycle to check us out and confirmed that we were welcome to camp there. It wasn’t long before we saw vicunas for the first time. Thinner, more delicate-looking and less shaggy than their llama relations, these ethereal cameloids reminded me of the elves in The Lord of the Rings. Don’t ask why. My mind is a strange place sometimes.
After dinner, we sat and stargazed. Far away from any light pollution, they seemed especially bright and twinkly at this altitude. Later in the tent as I drifted off to sleep, I wondered if I’d see a vicuna next to me in the morning – because you never know what you’ll wake up to in Peru.
Coming up: Cuzco – a city out of this world.
END OF PART 33