Learning Lima

By: Josh Lowe

The first weekend in Lima has passed, and new traditions learned. Saturday night I was introduced to the Lima club scene where the majority of the locals hang out. I think we left the house around 11:30 or so, as the “discotecques” don’t fill up till later, and stay open until the last person leaves, which is often after sunrise. The cab ride there was interesting. We definitely crossed over into the oncoming traffic lane on more than one occasion, as apparently it enabled us to cut out a few blocks of travel. Seems a bit hectic, but the drivers do stay focused on the road and aware of other vehicles. After getting over the initial feeling of insanity regarding Lima traffic, I think you can come to appreciate its organized chaos.

The bars here are set up opposite of most back home (generally the Midwest for me), with the majority of space being used as dance floor and much less seating. It was time for ‘when in Rome’ once again, and I logged a few more salsa (and possibly merengue?) dances until around 5:30am or something like that. I guess time flies when you dance like nobody’s watching (or pointing, laughing, etc.). Actually everyone was just having a good time, and you can get free dance lessons from the locals. If you’re a guy, you may just need to ask a few times, if you’re a woman, just wait near the dance floor and chances are you will be asked. I was told I needed to practice up though, because the next day (later that same day really) we would be going to a little benefit party for Julio’s sick relative, and to expect his cousins to want to dance, presumably to make fun of the gringo failing miserably.

So after a taxi home, and a few hours of sleep, it was off to the gathering. On the way we walked by a Peruvian festival, where the local communities have some sort of exhibition of traditional dance, with full on costumes of vivid colors and marching bands, so we stopped by to check it out. There are 25 regions in Peru, each with their own traditional dance. It took place inside a walled area, so wasn’t visible from the street, but the music gave it away. Another little moment of traveling and living like the locals do that I think many tourists would miss out on, and I’m glad we caught it.

Scene at the Peruvian dance exhibition
Scene at the Peruvian dance exhibition

Personal boundaries are different, for instance the kiss hello/goodbye, however that is not all that uncommon. The style of beer drinking kicks things up a notch though. We arrived at the party, which led to my learning the Peruvian way of drinking. Another drink, after-all, is step one in hangover cure. One glass is passed around among the group. So the first person pours some beer from the bottle into the glass, usually 1-3 drinks worth, then passes the bottle to the next person to hold, drinks the beer from the glass, then passes it on to the bottle holder. I think it has something to do with showing a common bond and acknowledging group friendship. We arrived as a crate of 650ml bottles (roughly 2 12oz beers each) was about half empty.

Fear not though, for as soon as those were gone more bottles appeared from the house. I was also introduced to the second step of curing a Peruvian hangover, cebiche, or ceviche. It is a dish of seafood cooked in lime, with onions and potato slices, topped with a little sprig of seaweed. Inward I dove, however after a few bites one of the guys there chuckled a bit and said something to me that I didn’t really understand, but did catch the word “muerte” which I recognized… death. Apparently hangover cure isn’t the only nickname, as I was informed their motto of cebiche was “eat now, die later”. But I figure if the millions of Lima residents can handle it, it can’t be that harmful, and luckily it appears to have agreed with me.

All the while we listened to the salsa music from a stereo that Julio’s cousins had out in the street, with the occasional street vendor biking by shouting and whistling their sales pitches for whatever they happened to have on their cart, a group of kids playing soccer up one end of the street, and another group playing volleyball at the other. The neighborhood has a nice little park area in the center. I am told every few blocks or so there is a space sectioned off that the neighborhood decides what to do with, mostly to keep kids off the streets.

In front of the park, sharing a drink
In front of the park, sharing a drink

After about 4 hours of soaking up the sights and sounds of this central Lima barrio, I realized more food was a necessity to soak up some of the beer, and the closest/cheapest thing was a corner a couple blocks down with street vendors. Some travel sites will say to not take your chances here, but I’m not here for a quick vacation, and restricting myself to the standard tourist locations was never an option. The burger cart/station was calling my name, so a quick request later and one was thrown on the grill. A few moments later the pattie was slid onto a bun, covered with lettuce, tomato, various sauces in a variety of colors (I gave the go ahead on the works) and french fries were thrown right on in there too. It was more functional that way as the entire mess was contained in a little to-go wrapper as we walked back to the drinking circle, and tasted good too, all at a cost of about 65 cents. The dollar menu is a rip off.

Another hour or so of pass the glass, and I decided it was time to head back, not really knowing where in Lima I was. Turned out we were only a few blocks from home, so sleep was not far. On the way we went past the corner of sustenance, so I decided to grab a nonalcoholic beverage to prevent dehydration. A lady was stirring a pot of steaming tea, cutting apples into it. We got a couple of to go bags…. yes bags. A ladle full of tea is placed in a little plastic bag, and you bite a hole in it to enjoy the beverage. It was a pretty good blend of tea and cider, really hit the spot to get me ready to start the work week!

to go bag o' cider-tea
to go bag o' cider-tea

Right now I am working mostly on importing data into the site, along with templates, then cleaning up and expanding the content. The work days are pretty easy going really. Typically get up around 9am, have a little breakfast downstairs, which is fresh bread from the neighborhood, ham, and eggs usually. Then do a few hours of work and research before lunch, which is a big meal. Soup every day, usually a variant of chicken noodle, along with a healthy portion of a main dish, typically a combination of rice, potatoes, beans, veggies, and chicken or beef. I find I need to limit myself at breakfast to spare the room at lunch time. We take a little break to let the food settle, then get back to work for a few hours until dinner and stopping time. There is a lot of flexibility in the day, not rigid at all. I am mostly sticking to data functions right now, but part of the project is also going out and getting information and doing field research.

I thought maybe I would mention a few tips from my experience so far in Lima. The Combi buses (extended vans) are pretty crazy to get used to, but only cost about a quarter a ride. There is typically a driver and a recruiter running the show, and the driver will take off at any moment as the recruiter hangs out the door or window yelling route information and marketing info I suppose. You need to be in a seat quickly, and typically they won’t ask for fare until you are near the destination, but small coins are best used. In general you don’t want to carry more money than you need at that moment, and small bills and coins are best because most items are inexpensive, and most shops and transport services cannot change large bills. Also, keep in mind that when you are exchanging money for local currency, they won’t take damaged or torn bills, so don’t bother bringing them. You also need to check the bills you are receiving, especially from street vendors since they have had problems with counterfeit currency. Other than that, just keep in mind that this is a different place, and enjoy the differences and all it has to offer!

Josh Lowe

Hello fellow travelers, contributors, knowledge seekers, etc. I am currently serving as the first volunteer for the Perupedia project started by Julio C. Tello here in the city of Lima. I am originally from Iowa, and now living in the Kansas City area. This is not my first international trip, but I am still definitely a novice. What a great opportunity though to travel, learn, and share the experience with others. Seeing Peru from the perspective of the local population in addition to some of the standard tourist fare should be a great way to enrich the overall travel experience, as well as the content of this site.

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