Tom & I took the Peruvian Airlines flight from Cusco back to Lima, leaving the hotel at 5:00 AM. What is it with these Peruvians and five AM? Man, were we tired! To make matters more interesting, there was no gate listed for our flight. This happens a lot in Latin America. You check in, but the gate for the airplane is not announced until 60 to 30 minutes before takeoff. They do it that way in Mexico City, too. If the flight board isn’t working or the PA system isn’t loud enough, well, you’d better get resourceful. It was 35 minutes before takeoff and nobody knew where the gate was. Tom saw a lady in the distinctive Peruvian Airlines red overcoat and ran after her until he found our gate! Everyone followed Tom to the gate and we were first ones through. But to get to the plane, we had to take a ramp underneath the departure gates and walk out on to the tarmac past other planes for about 300 meters. I haven’t done that since I was a little girl, and it made me smile to think of it.
Another thing that happens a lot in Latin America is that airport taxes are not included in your tickets so you have to stand in a separate line, pay those, and show a receipt before you are allowed to go through security and get to your next destination. In the end, the airport becomes a confusing hurdle between the passenger and the plane.
A couple hours later, we got to Lima and checked into my hotel. We napped for a couple of hours and then walked up the big Avenue Jose Larco in the Miraflores district. Miraflores is the safest and nicest district in Lima, and some call it the “new town”. It’s right by the ocean, and it’s pretty. We headed up to the “Inca Market” area, because Tom still had some souvenir shopping to do. On our way there, the people-watching was rich. It’s Tom’s favorite sport, if you don’t know him. He could sit in an airport watching people all day and be happy as a clam. Remember that it’s winter now in Lima, and it’s pretty cold, maybe a high of 50F. We saw a young woman in a little jacket, heels, black tights and some very short shorts. She was in front of us, and Tom and I both looked at her and looked at each other and had a giggle. Just then an older lady next to us started shaking her head and said some things in Spanish about “improper” and “not right” and “imprudent”. She looked to us for confirmation of these judgments but we had to explain that our Spanish was “muy limitado”. Then she said, in English, “I am a Christian missionary and I am sad to see that”. She was happy to meet Tom, another churchgoer, and very gently tried to convert me. She gave me the softest sell ever, and she gave me a big hug and a kiss. The people we have met in South America have been great.
We got Tom’s souvenir shopping done, had a snack and headed down to the Larco Mar shopping mall on the Oceanside cliff to get some dinner. Tom asked our waiter if he spoke English, which he did, and Tom explained that he’d like to try to order in Spanish, but he might mess it up. The waiter spent the rest of the meal stopping by and teaching us new words and grammar. What a nice guy. Sure, we gave him a good tip, but he really seemed happy to help us improve. It is so typical of the people we have met all over South America – such generosity of spirit.
Finally though, it was time for Tom to leave for the airport and go back to work. I didn’t want him to go. His cab came and I had to kiss him goodbye and let him go. I hated it. I was so down, I didn’t go anywhere all day the next day. I just sort of sat around, edited photos, and checked my mail repeatedly hoping to get a message from him. I wrote the posts for the Inca sites, and you can probably tell from reading that I was in a blue state. Sorry about that! But I’ve been alone, away from friends, family and home for a long time, and I was disappointed to go back to it. Yeah, it was only a few more days until I was supposed to get home to California, but still, I was pretty down. I got hungry and forced myself to go out for supper around seven thirty. I decided to try a traditional Peruvian place known for its excellent food, since it wouldn’t cost so much for just me. I had some great ham & cheese eggroll thingies and then a wonderful salad, and some young, slow-roasted goat. Turns out I don’t like goat very much. Not exactly a successful evening. I went back to the hotel and tried to sleep.
The next day, I managed to get myself going a little and headed out to the Museo de Arte Colonial Pedro de Osma. There, I met Javier, a museum employee who took me all over the essentially deserted museum. He told me a lot about the paintings and sculptures. It’s a collection of religious art in Peru. I noticed that the Virgin Mary looked a whole lot like Pachamama, the Inca’s most important goddess (mother earth), with her mountain-shaped dress adorned with corn kernels. The art belonged to a private collector, and the museum is his former summer house, a beautiful, turn-of-the-century home by the sea in the quiet district of Barranco in Lima. It was vaguely interesting, but not a big cultural “wow”. Probably the most interesting parts were the portable boxes full of little miniatures of bible stories. These would be carried by missionaries through the mountains and used to teach the local people about Christianity. They unfolded very cleverly to reveal figures and trees and miracles. The place was listed as a choice attraction by my Fodor’s guide book, but it didn’t really live up to that billing. That book has been wrong so many times that I finally left it in Peru for recycling. Their maps aren’t even useful. But at least I met Javier – he was nice.
For dinner, in a fit of real homesickness, I went back to Larco Mar and ate at a Chili’s. You see how low I’ve sunk? Oh dear. I managed my order in Spanish and tried to speak it all night, but my waitress helped me out from time to time with an English confirmation. She then told me that most of her customers don’t even speak one word of Spanish (!) and she thanked me. I cannot imagine going to South American and not even trying. In Peru and a few other places, the natives speak Quechua as their first language and you are lucky if you can even find Spanish, let alone something else like English. That was a surprise to me.
It turned out that Chili’s was a big mistake. I know, you could have told me that, right? I ate something that didn’t agree with me and I was up half the night. The kind Hotel Ferre Miraflores gave me an extra two hours to check out which I used to get some rest. My plane didn’t leave until after midnight, so I spent the rest of the day doing some final shopping, repacking, and having “sopa de dieto”, or chicken noodle soup. The soups in Peru are really good, and I advise you make those your main culinary base if you go there. You can branch out occasionally to Lomo Saltado if you like, or even Cuy (whole roasted guinea pig) if you feel brave, but mostly, just have soup.
The time came to go to the airport, and I was more than ready. There was a good deed to be accomplished before I got on the plane, though. At the airport gate (I found it), I had my laptop on, having decided to pay the $13 to use the wireless service. I had two hours to kill, after all. A woman came up to me and told me that she needed some help. They would not let her board the plane to Mexico City. Her final destination was Miami, Florida, and then a few days later on to Jamaica, her home. But she didn’t have a printout with her of her Jamaica ticket. The airline is forced by US Immigration to see evidence of ongoing travel before they can let someone into the US, and she didn’t have it except in her email. So, we used my laptop to find her email itinerary and show it to the counter personnel at the airport. Problem solved, boarding passes for her, and another big hug for me.
Then it was on the plane. One more stop, Mexico City, and then I will be HOME!