Lima was my first and last stop during my Peruvian trip.
During the drive from the airport to the hotel, the city unfolded before me. Or at least attempted to.
The fog was the thickest I’d ever seen in my life and when it did clear, harsh, barren landscapes saluted me before precipitously dropping towards the ocean. The stark scenery disoriented me after basking in the beauty that was Cuzco and Machu Picchu.
Thankfully, 3B’s Hotel, which is a beautifully decorated place in the Barranco neighborhood, soothed my senses. When booking, I had no idea that Barranco was Lima’s bohemian, artsy area.
Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have stayed there if I had known. Though I’ve sometimes been described as one or the other, I’m not a fan of hipster/bohemian culture. I’m too much of a pragmatist and have no patience for glorifying suffering in the name of art.
After living in NYC for five years, I’ve decided that I like to write with an A/C blasting in the summer time, heat gurgling in the winter, and a full stomach in every season.
Yet there I was loving Barranco. There were musicians singing in the streets, plazas inviting people to lounge amidst their statues and greenery, and graffiti art adorning buildings.
My first day in Lima I walked across The Bridge of Sighs, lunched at Songoro Cosongo, and made my way to Larcomar, a mall built right on the beach. After living with constant shortages in Venezuela, the mall amazed me. As an American fed on consumer culture, my astonishment at seeing fully stocked stores of clothes and the like was nothing short of ironic.
The next day, Good Friday, saw me making my way to Plaza de Armas via De La Union street.
That was a mistake.
Because Holy Week worshippers combined with shop customers, crowds were everywhere. De La Union reminded me of Brooklyn’s Fulton Street, and I’m a fan of neither place.
I was hot and beyond done with the hawkers selling everything from intricately braided palm fronds to tattoos. Permanent tattoos.
The day had a carnivalesque nature to it that I didn’t expect. For instance, even though the cardinal was giving mass in the cathedral people milled about inside snapping pictures and talking. The perpetually-present hawkers were there and I just wanted a calmer, less crowded experience. Eventually, I decided exploring the area was not feasible with the crowds, but I got lost trying to find the bus station.
Of course I got lost. I always get lost.
By the time I got back to 3B’s I just wanted some sleep and a meal.
And what a meal it would be.
After a crowded, hot day in Lima’s Plaza de Armas, my night was spent delighting in a meal at Huaca Pucllana. This restaurant, which is nestled up against ancient indigenous ruins, had me in love with its food. From the warm bread and butter to the fresh juice and paella with black rice, I enjoyed every bite, sip, taste, and smell.
The soft rock music playing in the background took me back to my 90s childhood when Sunny 99.1 was all that played in my parent’s car.
Originally, I was seated in a corner that reminded me of Patrick Swayze’s famous line in Dirty Dancing “No one places Baby in a corner.”
I was a young, single woman in a restaurant full of couples and groups. I didn’t mind the corner seat, but I would be lying if I said it would’ve been nice to have a friend with me.
Then, without my prompting, the hostess came and moved me to her favorite table in the restaurant, right in front of the ruins. As I crossed the restaurant’s open floor plan I couldn’t help but smile inwardly.
Yes, I was a young, single woman.
And I was enjoying myself immensely despite the occasional pinches of loneliness.
Throughout the night I practiced my Spanish with the waiters (they inevitably asked me about Venezuela when curious as to how I learned Spanish) and ate.
Huaca Pucllana was my goodbye meal to a beautiful country, a vibrant food scene, and simple pleasures.
The next morning when I boarded my Avianca flight back to Venezuela I decided that I would have to break an old habit. I would have to learn how to return.
Just like I almost never re-read books (I can think of only two in my lifetime of reading), I’ve never made re-turn visits to countries I’ve visited in the past.
Peru, extraordinary Peru, will change that.