Lima - The Final 24 Hours
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After Easter Island, we had a final 24 hours to spend in Lima before taking the bus east, through Arequipa and on to Bolivia.
The night we got into Lima, we went to see the "Magic Fountain Show" in the Parque de la Reserva. There are three set show times at 7:30, 8:15 and 9:30 p.m. We arrived around 9, so we didn't see the real show, but we did see lots of pretty fountains and the Magic Fountain itself, lit up with shades of pink and yellow and green. The heights of the jets danced up and down in coordination with the music.
We didn’t stick around for too long because there was no food for sale in the park. That surprised me because you can’t walk two feet in this city (or even ride a bus) without someone waving food in your face, and the park was packed with families, so you’d think concessions would be a gold mine.
Figuring we’d grab something quick and come back in time for the show at 9:30, we walked down the street towards downtown, but there wasn’t anything very appetizing for sale. When we found the Chifa Fei Yan, we decided to eat dinner and come back late to catch the last few minutes of the show.
“Chifas” (casual Chinese restaurants) exist all over Lima, literally every couple of blocks. I’m guessing that, just as in the U.S., they run the gamut from tasty to sketchy. That night, we’d stumbled upon sketchy.
Our waitress looked to be about 12 years old, and she did nothing but glare at us, with the exception of rolling her eyes whenever we asked a question, such as, “What exactly is an aeroplano?” none of us ever having heard of food called an airplane before.
When our fried wontons arrived, they were tasty enough, but mine contained a hidden surprise - a staple! It was dark gray and bent flat, possibly from my chewing on it. When we informed Susie Sunshine of the find, she held out her hand, took it away, and said... nothing. No apology; no comped bill; not even an exclamation of surprise. Once again, I realized how far I was from the U.S.
In the time I’d spent freaking out, the girls had been eating my share of the wontons, so I went back to eating them. This time, I broke them into bite-sized pieces with my hands before biting into them, so I could see if anything else was inside.
It's funny, because I would've pushed the plate inside if I'd been in the U.S. Here, I figured that any substitute dish I ordered would be just as likely to contain something questionable, so I just went with it. When in Peru, I guess.
My main course was the mysterious, “Aeroplano,” which turned out to mean fried rice with little bits of noodles in it. The pork bits were almost too tough and gristly to chew, and the whole thing was heavy with grease, but the overall flavor was pretty good. The best part was that the whole meal only cost us about $3 each.
Paying for our metal-filled meal took forever, since our child laborer waitress steadily avoided our eyes whenever we waved to her for the check. By the time we got back to the park, the entrance gates were closed for the night. The Magic Fountain Show will have to remain a mystery, for now.
As much as I adored the peaceful, elegant Posada del Parque, the girls wanted to try somewhere new, so we stayed the night at the Barrancho Backpackers hostel in the neighborhood of Barrancho. The neighborhood borders the beach and has some really pretty plazas in it, but it felt less safe and not as upscale as the street on which the Posada was located. The second we got out of the cab, I saw graffiti on the walls and leering men sitting on the curbs yelled things at us. Oh well.
Inside, Barrancho Backpackers was a typical hostel - ugly linoleum floor, ancient plaid couches with sagging middles, strange, half-done paint job of half primer, half blinding orange.
On the bright side (and I don’t meant the orange walls), the hostel was clean and the British guy who runs the place was very knowledgeable and happy to answer our questions. The usual boring breakfast the hostels give us here (two rolls with one pat of butter and a plop of jam, tea) was supplemented with a banana, earning the place a bonus point, in my mind.
On our final day in Lima, we finally got to experience the famous Lima fog. Many famous people have made disparaging remarks about the weather in Lima, saying that the “garua” (gray cloud) that covers the city from May to November makes the city a depressing place. I think we were lucky to come during one of the five months per year that the city is sunny, because I agree that walking around in the weather we saw today could get boring.
At the recommendation of our hostel owner, we had lunch at El Muelle, a fish restaurant just down the street. We knew we had come to the right place because the restaurant and sidewalk outside was packed with locals on their lunch breaks. There were no tables free, but one of the frantic guys running around found us a table somewhere, stuck it in between a few others, carried in some chairs on his head, and, voila! We had a table, even if I did have to tuck in every time someone wanted to squeeze by.
Unfortunately, getting that table was the most pleasant service we received at the restaurant. I’m pretty sure we got the gringo treatment. We watched two other tables of people who had sat down right around the time we had receive their drinks, and even their food before our waitress took our drink order.
The menu was full of non-descriptive nicknames for the dishes, like, “Especial,” so we weren’t quite sure what to order. At one point, Patti flagged down a waitress and asked her what she had just delivered, because it looked really good. The waitress shook her head, “no,” pointed to the counter, and walked away in that direction. Really, in the time it took her to be rude, she could’ve just said the name of the dish! In the end, we had to guess.
Our guesses worked out well, and the food was delicious. Instead of bread, they brought us canchitas (roasted, salted corn kernels) which were totally addictive. If the other diners didn’t know we were American, they sure knew after observing our portion control skills. We went through three small bowls of them.
For our main dish, we split a fresh, flavorful platter of mixed ceviche. Ceviche is a classic Peruvian dish consisting of raw fish and shellfish brined in lemon or lime, served in a garlic and lemon sauce. We also enjoyed clams in Parmesan that were as photo-worthy as they were tasty. They were served in dark purple shells, and each clam must’ve been about two inches in diameter.
To drink, I tried my first jug of chicha morada, a sugary drink the color of grape juice that’s actually made of purple corn, pineapple juice, cinnamon and cloves. There’s also a fermented and highly alcoholic version of this drink that’s supposed to be pretty disgusting. The regular juice version was better than I expected. It was very sweet and didn’t taste like much, for better or worse.
I ended up drinking most of the half-jug they brought me after I put an entire slice of rotocos (really hot pepper) into my mouth, thinking it was either a red bell pepper or a tomato. One chew and I spit it out, eyes leaking, the insides of my mouth, lips and tongue burning. There was no bread or milk around to cut the spice (and clearly no waitress to notice my pain and help out) so I mostly drank tons of chica and tried to scrape the spice out of my mouth with my napkin. Not fun.
After lunch, it was time for another hour-and-a-half run-in with the Peruvian post office. As we were standing in the line to mail postcards and souvenirs home, a couple came up the side and budged ahead of us; but, I thought, ok, fine, you go first. Half an hour later, they still weren’t done with the one lady who was working there.
When it was finally my turn, she quoted me the horrendous price I’d expected, but then introduced a new fun fact. If I made the box heavier, I could then mail it second class. As it stood, it was too light to mail anything but first class, and would therefore get there faster, but cost me 50 soles (like $16 USD) more. Of course, I hadn’t known this, so I looked around in the immediate vicinity for a rock or something (politely declining her suggestion that I put a full bottle of Coke in there). We were in the middle of a city. There was nothing to be found. The closest shop sold knitting supplies and the heaviest thing they had was a bag of knitting needles that would’ve cost me about 50 soles.
In the end, I went back to the hostel, grabbed some rocks I’d found on the beach and a book I’d found at another hostel but hadn’t read yet, and came back to weigh down my box. It worked! We went through the usual fingerprinting, passport copying procedure that I had the last time I mailed something in Lima, and, almost two hours later, the box was in the mail for less money than I’d expected. Woohoo!
In other good news, I’ve found a bank here that a) Lets us take out 700 soles at a time instead of 400 and b) Doesn’t charge a surcharge. It’s called BCP and I’m going to write the owner a love letter. Especially since we have to pay $540 for the Inca Trail in cash (or face a 5% commission with a credit card), this bank is going to save me a ton of money. Go BCP!