City of Kings
Lima, Peru. City of Kings, as Pizarro declared in 1535.
Everything I’ve heard and read about Lima so far seems to suggest that it’s a dirty city, inconvenient and dangerous. No one has has very nice things to say about it, and were it not for the fact that I’ve just spent more or less the past 25 hours on a bus, getting from Cuenca to Loja to Piura to Lima, probably wouldn’t have decided to chill out here for a night.
The ride from Piura to Lima itself was 15 hours. I took a luxury Cruz del Sur bus—because they’re cheap here, and god damn it, I want a cushy chair and my own little space—and watched the countryside change before my eyes. At 7:30 in the evening, as the bus was rolling out of Piura—itself a dirty little town with enough traffic to make New York shit itself—I watched a desert landscape, with pale, dry sand stretching flat out, charred little scraggly blackened shrubs and trees sticking out like deadened, skeletal hands reaching out of the earth for air. It was the first time I’d seen anything besides vast, towering hills and mountains and lush greenery, and I suppose the change was nice.
At some point, it got too dark to see, and I can’t remember at which point I stopped listening to the poorly dubbed A Walk To Remember and let the plush leather armchair take me away. When I awoke in the morning, the bus stewardess was pushing a cup of warm papaya juice into my hand and the arid hopelessness of the desert had been transformed into a dramatic coastline.
When you are about two hours outside of Lima, on the Panamericana Norte, the Pacific Ocean scrambles to meet you. It pushes, not violently, just very insistently, against dark, rocky sand that has been sculpted away by years of the tormenting sea to resemble smooth cliffs. The ocean meets the wall of earth, and the wall rises up, for the most part, at a 90 degree angle, and a great length, to meet the highway. As I peered down at what could have been a terrific death for some melodramatic soul, it struck me how taunting the water looked. This is no postcard scene—the ocean is a dark emerald green meets dull, deep navy, the kind of endless color that suggests mermaids, the sort of vast emptiness that only foolish sailors would seek out. It wasn’t pretty, or calm, or angry—nothing like what I’ve heard an ocean described as. It was solemn, permanent, wearing its waves like a grim smile.
The closer we got to Lima, the ocean drifted from my view and little towns sprouted up. These towns were like ramshackle little colonies, concrete shells for houses with tin roofs or straw roofs or no roofs at all, built on the edge of the Pacific like last lodgings for desperate outlaws. These are pueblos jovenes, little villages that haunt the outskirts of Lima, their residents the desperate poor that lack even the electricity that would allow them to dream of the life they might have just a few kilometers further. Heading into Lima, these pueblos, and the desert, make Peru suddenly seem Middle Eastern.
But Lima. Whatever I’d heard, it wasn’t the full story. Lima holds 9 million people. No one can possibly tell its full story.
There are parts of Lima that are dirty, wretched and dangerous. (The same is true of New York, Quito, Mexico City, London—you name it.) I’m not staying in any of those neighborhoods. I’m staying in Miraflores, an affluent neighborhood right on the beach, with tempting shops and sleek, modern architecture and restaurants boasting a gamut of seafood, not the least of which is ceviche.
Lima is the gastronomic capital of South America. Not just Peru—all of South America. You want to eat? This is the place to do it.
A hostel friend and I got fantastically lost trying to find a restaurant that our guidebook had recommended as the place for ceviche, which seems to be one of those things you simply have to try in Lima. As we glanced from the street signs to our map, a saintly Peruvian gentleman began giving up directions—and then led us to Restaurant Punto Sal, half a mile from our starting point. He tried to ask for our numbers, but of course we don’t have phones—all the same, I told him my name was Natasha and that I was leaving for Cuzco in the morning. (Half of it is true.)
Punto Sal was worth the effort. In sushi vs. ceviche, ceviche wins. At least when it’s done right.
And after splitting three plates of ceviche and a bottle of wine, my hostel friend (her name is Wendy, she’s from England and is just lovely) and I walked back along the beach, and this coastline was much different than the one I encountered on my way into the city. A bit prettier—certainly not the picturesque playas that surfers dream of, but still—with immaculate parks and paragliding daredevils and a fair amount of surfers trying their best to catch a wave.
City of Kings, indeed.
- nataliaabroad posted this