After having the chance to visit Sao Paulo (see previous entry), I got the travel bug and wanted to again get out of the city. Since we had a full week of vacation after the intensive and SP only took up four of those days, immediately after returning I went to my study center and sat down to plan. I was in front of the computer with a map of South America staring me in the face. The world was literally at my finger tips and originally I thought small.
“Maybe I’ll go to Paraty or Ilha Grande,” I thought “or maybe even Brasilia for the weekend.”
But as I sat there my eyes kept drifting west to Peru.
“Wouldn’t it be a dream if I went to Peru for the weekend, Adams?” I said to one of my coordinators at the office.
“Why does it have to be a dream when you can make it a reality?” He replied as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “You’re already in South America, and if you have the funds, do it!”
Something that I’ve noticed about myself and travel is that I often wait for permission. I won’t do something unless someone offers or plants the idea in my head, otherwise, I would fly off the handlebars and never be in one place for longer than two weeks. Adams’ permission opened up a door for me that I hadn’t ever realized was there. Almost immediately after our conversation, I was on Lonely Planet searching for things to do and places to see but first I needed to find a flight. Obviously, I knew Machu Picchu and Cuzco were big attractions, but I only had four days and after researching both flight prices and travel suggestions I just didn’t think I had the time. Flights to Lima, however, were quite affordable and I found a Brazilian hostel located in Minaflores for dirt cheap. Before really thinking about it, I had booked myself a four day trip to Lima, Peru!
The morning of my flight I woke up ridiculously early to head to the airport because I booked the cheapest thing I could find. Leaving my house by 3 am, I Ubered up to the international airport and wasn’t surprised to find it mostly closed down. I mainly slept on my flight even though it was ridiculously cold and we landed safely in Peru’s capital. While sitting on the tarmac, I thought about the gravity of what I’m doing. I, a young single woman, was traveling internationally to a country I had never been to, and whose language I did not speak. Travel had always excited me, but this trip was the first that actually scared me a bit. I realized I really needed to rely on myself and I couldn’t afford to mess up, but I was already here so I was willing to see where the experience took me.
My first impression was that my brain didn’t register Spanish. After four weeks of hard-core studying in Portuguese, my mind acted like my four years of Spanish were out the window. I found myself saying “Eu preciso” instead of “Yo necesito” when I asked for a taxi which surprised me a bit. My second impression was that it was cold, colder than I was expecting, so that meant I would need to buy a sweater. I eventually find a taxi to jump in and get a solid 40 minutes to practice my Spanish with my driver. I ask him about the city, where he was from, good reliable banks to use, his favorite things to do, and recommendations for my trip. He asks about Brazil and my studies, where I was from in the States and why I chose to come to Lima. Coming out of that ride, I was ecstatic at the fact that I could communicate in another language with someone, even if it wasn’t the language I was studying. I asked him how much it would cost and he says sixty, so I go withdraw from the ATM and hand him sixty. He shakes his head slightly and clarifies that he meant sixty USD. My jaw drops but how was I going to refuse to pay this sweet man who already completed the job I asked of him? Reluctantly, I hand him two hundred pesos and grab my bag from the car.
I find my hostel and seeing as it was still morning, I couldn’t check in yet. I walk upstairs anyways and find that I can drop my bags there for the morning so I take my purse and a book and walk back down to find a café. There was about four within a stone’s throw, I was pleased to find, so I sit and have an amazing club sandwich and a strong cappuccino. I could tell pretty much right away that I was going to be happy with the variety of food Lima had to offer. After brunch I find a street vendor and buy myself a beautiful grey scarf and a wool hat for the weekend, finding the perfect pair of boots in the window right next to the stand. I felt slightly bad splurging on the clothing seeing as I was stretching my budget, but I knew if the weather kept, I would have been miserable if I didn’t layer.
After a nap, I venture back out to try and find the beach but quickly get knocked into by a man on the phone speaking English. I respond to him in English and we strike up a conversation. He asks what I’m doing and I mention the beach only to find out it was in the opposite direction, I sheepishly laugh and he asks if I would like to get a drink.
At this point, bells go off in my head. Literally, everything my dad had ever told me about stranger danger came crashing into my brain, but this was solo travel. I felt I needed to be open to the people that came into my life to make the trip interesting, so I agree. We walk into a deserted bar and sit on the couches by the window. He orders Pisco Sours, the Peruvian drink, and we start talking. (Let me establish early on that I don’t think this guy is cute. He’s bald, in his early thirties, wearing black pleather pants and the whole walk over I’m wondering if he’s straight or not.) So anyway, we begin drinking and I’m pleased that the piscos were like a creamy capirinha which I had grown accustomed to drinking in Brazil.
For a while, I genuinely enjoy the conversation about yoga and energy, even though I think this guy is odd. As the night progresses, however, he becomes braver and becomes quite touchy and hugs me over and over for minutes on end. I, being two drinks in, was becoming a little intolerant and called him on his shit. I asked him to please stop and after he makes a fuss eventually agrees. After the second drink he slides in a comment about going back to his hotel, getting in the Jacuzzi, and ordering bottle service because the deserted restaurant had too many distractions for him. I politely try to divert away from that and suggest we go to the light up fountains instead. He doesn’t really agree before getting up to pay and as my tipsy self stood there, I panicked. The alarm bells in my head were getting louder, and in a moment of desperation I turned around and ran out of the restaurant.
Not wanting to draw attention to myself, I take my hat off, and walk as fast as I could, turning the first corner at the end of the block in the direction of my hostel. This man, being the person he is, comes running after me down the street and asks me what’s going on. I am flustered and not knowing how he will react, I make up a half-hearted lie about my hostel calling me which he sees through right away. Somehow, I find myself back at the same restaurant minutes later and the waitress gives me a nervous look which I actually appreciate because that means she knows this situation was not normal. We continue conversing for another hour about quantum physics, the 5th dimension, and opening an expanded visual plane and by the end I literally can’t stand it anymore and excuse myself to use the restroom. While in there I say a prayer like I had been since arriving at the restaurant, that I would be delivered from the situation safely because I was drunk and a little scared.
After paying we get in a cab, and I say I want to be taken home, point blank. He, still thinking he has some sort of chance, again mentions his Jacuzzi waiting back at his place. I am pissed at this point and snap at him to stop and he gets pissed and leaves the cab. I take a deep breath and sigh with relief, sometimes you just need to fuck politeness. The driver, sweet man that he was, asked me if the guy was my friend and if I was okay. I wanted to hug him over the seat! I felt so gross about the whole situation and he seemed genuinely concerned about my wellbeing. I assured him I was alright and thanked him. He couldn’t drive up to the door of my hostel because of the roads and he seemed heartbroken, waiting to see me turn the corner before driving off. There are good people in the world!
At this point, I’m very drunk and am in desperate need of food so I walk into the restaurant next door to my place and order pasta, cake, and red wine. I’m furiously texting people the whole dinner telling them what happened to get out my frustration while my waiter is so attentive the whole evening. To make the night end on a good note, I leave my number for him after I pay and he texts me before I can even get up to my room. I find out his name is Johnathan and we end up conversing the whole weekend I’m there.
The next day starts off with a hangover but then quickly gets better as I walk around a botanical garden and join a free walking tour. On the tour, we visit the central region of the city and I, choosing the all English tour, meet a ton of other travelers who then become my friends for the weekend. Three English girls on the tour just had a 12 hour layover before heading to Cuzco and I instantly click with them and another English couple who were traveling separately. The central region was under protest by the city’s teachers so many of the places the tour was originally supposed to take us on were blocked off, but I still felt like I got to see a lot. After the tour, we have lunch with our guide and then visited a church with some catacombs, which was so cool! By then I’m beat so we take a cab home and after chatting with Johnathan I take a much needed nap.
I wake up hours later to a message from Charlie, one of the Brits, inviting me to a neighboring hostel for karaoke that night so I reluctantly get up and walk over. After a couple drinks, I know everyone at the bar and we all have a blast singing and dancing right up until the moment they leave for Cuzco! This was the image I had in my mind about solo travel!
Day 3 and walking tour 2.0. Instead of settling for crappy hostel breakfast, I take myself out and have an amazing breakfast in Minaflores and then walk around some very cute bookstores. I stumble upon a chocolate museum and buy myself some chocolate tea, which is surprisingly very good. I sit in Starbucks with the intention of watching my online church video but halfway through it I run into my Norwegian friend from the day before. We chill inside, shielded from the cold, persistent rain before I meet up to do another walking tour of a region called Baranco. That tour was less interesting but was filled with more street art and surprisingly, I got better pictures that day than in centro. One thing I really love about Lima is that even though the sky is always grey, they paint their buildings such bright colors to cheer everyone up! After the tour I eat cheap Chinese food with my English couple Annie and Tom, and actually feel like were legitimate friends by the time we leave which was very encouraging.
By day four, I’m out of steam. I’m tired and slightly sick with the constant dampness so again I spend the morning cozied up in a café reading for hours. By afternoon, the sky actually clears and some sun peeps through so I walk down to the beach (successfully this time) and walk around the shopping center they had after walking the coast a bit. It’s incredible what sun does to my mood. Just that little bit of Vitamin D completely changed my mood and erased the feeling of loneliness I had been carrying the entire day before. By the time I went to the airport, I was tired and ready to go home, but not harboring any hard feelings against Lima. By the time I landed in Rio I was exhausted but so grateful to be back at home base.
Overall, I thought that for a first solo trip things went well and I did indeed meet really quality people. I just don’t think solo travel is what I needed in my life at the moment. Having massive chunks of time to myself would have been great had I been on a grandiose soul searching escapade, but I was just frankly missing companionship. I’m very happy I went to experience all that I did, good and bad. I’m sure I’ll do solo travel again because now I know I can really rely on myself when I need to.
Quick tips about Lima:
-The weather I experienced there was not abnormal, so please pack accordingly!
-They will absolutely try to screw over grinos so don’t be afraid to bargain and hold your own in conversation.
-Lima is a great city to spend two days or a year in. My four-day trip was an awkward length in comparison to everyone else there. Many people just saw Lima as a layover to Cuzco (like my Brittish friends I met) or had decided to stay in Lima for a while to learn Spanish. I have a feeling it’s a great place to stay if you’re intending on getting comfortable.
-You’ll be impressed by the food! Lima is one of the top food destinations in South America and I enjoyed everything I tasted!
-Miraflores is the neighborhood you’ll want to stay in. It’s touristy, yes, but is central to activities, hostels, and attractions so it just makes sense.
-Public transportation consists mainly of buses which are very cheap, otherwise (legitimate) taxi’s are another affordable option.