A Reflection of My Life after living in Uganda as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

South America Part I: I Love Lima

Back in January when my sister Melissa was visiting me in Uganda, we dreamed of where we wanted to travel next. For years, both of us had wanted to see Maccu Picchu. Melissa was seriously talking with her friend JaNahn about going there in the next year and I thought I would tag along. Since I was already planning a visit to Ecuador if I didn't stay in Uganda, I thought it would be perfect for us all to meet in Peru after that. However, my sister actually has a job and responsibilities and couldn't make it happen that quickly so we planned our trip for the end of the summer. Not only did I want to see Maccu Picchu but I wanted to see the highest navigable lake, the Amazon River and jungle and everything else we could fit in a little less than a month trip. Melissa's only request beyond Maccu Picchu was to see Colombia. No problem, I said.

Here we are several months later walking through Lima. What a beautiful capital city, greatly influenced by the Spanish and cuisine wise, by the Chinese. Melissa and I love Lima! While the people don't always look the friendlies, when you start up a conversation they are very helpful and kind. And honest! We took the bus the other day to another part of the city. Going was one price and we assumed coming back would be the same. It was actually cheaper coming back and the conductor on the bus handed us money back and took the time to explain this to us. What a welcome experience!

It is Winter in the Southern Hemisphere which makes Lima very gray. Any color strongly stands out. I told Melissa my summer in San Francisco with all the fog and dreary weather, prepared me for Lima.

Like many South American countries, squares/plazas abound every few blocks. Around the plazas are businesses, government buildings, museums, Presidential palaces and cathedrals.

Me in Plaza Bolivar (Bolivar is on the horse)

Beautiful blue church we walked by every day

More dangerous part of town we were warned to stay away from but got lost and found ourselves there

Pedestrian walkway connecting Plaza Bolivar with Plaza de Armas - full of shops and eateries

On our first day in Lima we went to the Plaza de Armas to see the changing of the guard at the Presidential palace. There was much pomp and circumstance as the guards marched with straight legs to what I thought was Peruvian brass band music but to what Melissa tells me was American composed brass band music. It was a surprisingly long ceremony but many Peruvians and tourists alike where there with cameras to capture the experience.

We wandered around the streets, visiting different churches/cathedrals and eating a traditional Limean lunch of soup, fish and tea. After lunch we went to Catedral San Francisco. The outside is painted yellow but from farther back looks like it also has black polka dots. However, when you get closer you discover the black polka dots are pigeons! They cover the catedral and it's courtyard. We got there just in time for a guided tour. The only problem was that the tour was completely in Spanish. Now, after 2 years in Uganda, any Spanish I may have thought I knew no longer came to the forefront of my brain. I found myself translating everything first into Luganda and then into whatever Spanish I could pull at. It was rough to say the least. Somehow, I managed to get some of the gist of the tour and passed it on to Melissa. About half way through the tour, my brain hurt so much from trying to translate I gave up and we just nodded our heads and pretended to understand like all those around us. After all, we are Rodriguez's. It shouldn't be that hard. It is our heritage.

Plaza de Armas with the Cathedral and government buildings

The Presidential Palace during the changing of the guard

Catedral San Francisco with the pigeons
Around every block is a new surprise for us in Lima. We found so many hidden treasures of beautiful doorways, interesting architecture and even street performers.

On our second day in Lima we decided to go see Miraflores, a more upscale neighborhood known for it's stores, restaurants and craft markets. It is very touristy. Miraflores is on the coast and as I am a lover of the ocean, I wanted to spend some time here. The coast was beautiful though the restaurants that dotted the boardwalk were U.S. chain restaurants, much to my horror. Miraflores is a popular place to hang glide too and it was fun watching people do this. It was very windy and cold so here are Melissa and I trying to stay warm.

While Miraflores wasn't our favorite part of Lima, I did have the best vegetarian meal I've had in a long time! After lunch we went to see some ruins. Melissa and I both appreciate history and we like visiting historic places. However, maybe due to our guides thick un-understandable accent or maybe to our sleepiness, we never really figured out what they were ruins of or from. The mud brick reminded me of Uganda. The excavation in the middle of the city reminded me of Israel. It was fun to climb around them though we still don't know what they are.

In Lima we stayed with Familia Rodriguez. Having grown up in rural-Scandinavian-heritage-only-Minnesota, we didn't know any other Rodriguez's growing up. So coming to Lima and finding the Rodriguez Family we were sure they must be long lost relatives. Familia Rodriguez was an older couple who rented out rooms in their beautiful old apartment in Central Lima. They were very hospitable and kind to us. Papa Rodriguez gave us a map and a lecture our first day instructing us on where it was safe for 2 young women to go. He made big X's over parts of the city he deemed too dangerous. Every morning they made us breakfast and while I sipped a very satisfying South American cup of coffee and Melissa drank her tea, Mama and Papa Rodriguez would read their newspapers and sip their coffee with us. We loved this family atmosphere.

While our Spanish will improve over the weeks to come, at this point it is near extinction. I had read about Penas (Peruvian gatherings) much like a dinner show where a meal is served and traditional dances are performed. Because we were not confident in our Spanish, we decided to go to a club where Penas were performed in person to inquire on the times and prices early in the day. This way we could make our plans around the Penas and not show up at the wrong time due to our lack of understanding the posters we attempted to read.

We walked down a very random secluded street past Peruvian men who knew the only reason 2 white girls would be there would have to be to go to the Penas club. They greeted us and kept pointing further down the street. When we arrived at Club Titicaca we were surprised to find many middle aged women in clusters standing around the waiting room. We were further ushered in to a ticket counter and after attempts at speaking and trying to understand what was being said, we circled pollo (chicken), the only food word we recognized on the paper the man held out and were handed 2 tickets and pointed at a door we were supposed to wait at. Not very long after, the doors opened and we were taken to our seats.

What ensued for the next 5 hours was one of the most fun and crazy experiences of our lives. We felt like we had been thrown into Havana back in the 1950's. There was a stage where a live band played traditional Peruvian music and also crazy dance music. Every few sets traditional dancers would come out and perform folklórica. When they were not performing, the audience would get out of their seats and dancing on the platform. We had stumbled upon the great Limean pass time! They love to dance. No one came off the stage without sweat dripping from their faces and chests. It was really so much fun to see people doing what they love.

Melissa and I enjoyed our pollo and were pleasantly surprised to also receive Pisco Sours. Pisco is the traditional liquor of Peru. It is a grape brandy they mix with lime and put an egg white on top. It taste similar to a margarita. For a girl who is allergic to eggs, this drink isn't the best choice. But it was delicious. You can't go to Peru and not experience this traditional drink!

Melissa and I also enjoyed eating off the street. If we saw many Peruvians buying empanadas, churos or most anything, we would try it. We only really had two disasters with this approach. The first was a pink desert thing Melissa saw several Peruvians with. Terrible. Just terrible. It was fake strawberry flavored soft styrofoam if you ask me. The second was hot chocolate from a street cart. Hot chocolate in South America, how can you go wrong right? They grow the cocoa beans there. Well, it was from a powdered mix. Not authentic in the least.

Melissa was a very excited to see the animals that are so famous from coming from the Andes. Too bad our first experiences were with fake ones!

On our last night in Lima we went to Hotel Bolivar, where the Pisco Sour originated. It was good. It was over priced. But it was authentic!

Many people had warned us that Lima is a dirty and dangerous city and we should get out of it as quickly as possible. It should only be used as a passing through place. But Melissa and I loved Lima. We wish we had more time here. I guess we'll just have to come back someday.

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