Sunday, 19 June 2011

Lima Life

After our adventure in Ica we settled into the routine of working at Karikuy, the volunteer placement we're doing here in Peru. It's run by Julio, who's from Lima but has lived in New York for most of his life. He founded Karikuy (the name means 'to live life with an open heart') a couple of years ago. A couple of days after we got back from our trip to Ica, Julio's friends Sal and Jill left and for a week or so it was just Julio, Ania and myself. The project we're doing involves researching and writing articles for Perupedia, an English-language online database on everything involving Peru. For some examples, check out Ania´s article on an ice mummy (mentioned in our previous blog post) and my article on the Peruvian cocktail, pisco sour! We also write posts on what we've been doing in Peru for the Karikuy blog. You can check it out by clicking here. Of course there will be some overlap with this blog, but you can also read the articles by our fellow volunteers. It's a nice insight into what life is like here!

Talking of which, let me tell you about our time here. We´ve all been living in an upstairs flat in a two-storey building in a neighbourhood or barrio called Planeta in Lima. Ania and I have been on the road for nine months now. Mostly we've been moving on from places every two or three days, but every so often we've unpacked our bags and had a base for two or three weeks. Our days at Karikuy have been one of these occasions. Julio's family live downstairs and as part of the programme we have our meals with them three times a day Monday - Saturday. Julio's aunt is quite elderly but she has help from a sweet young girl called Magna, who helps with the cleaning and cooking, making us delicious soups, stews, salads, rice and all sorts of other tasty Peruvian food. They’ve made us feel right at home and I particularly enjoy hearing from Julio’s uncle, who usually has lunch with us. He’s from Venezuela and my Spanish isn’t good enough to catch everything he says – Ania and Julio always translate for me – but he’s really friendly and enthusiastic and it’s always a good thing when you hear him bellowing, ‘HOW ARE YOU?!’ before a meal! It's been great to see real family life in Peru.

The neighbourhood, Planeta, is not touristy at all. I think it’s seen some tough and even dangerous times in its past. And it’s definitely still a little rough around the edges, but that’s all part of its charm. Because it’s not a touristy place, gringos are not exactly a common sight around here, but I feel pretty comfortable and welcomed. Sure, when we walk down the street the girls in our group may get whistled at – it’s annoying, but Ania and I have seen far worse ‘machismo’ (read: ‘sexism’) in South America. The Karikuy house is in a gated street with a security guard on duty at night and of course we have Julio’s two dogs: Killer (who I wouldn’t mess with) and Pisco (who probably isn’t a threat, unless he’s hiding secret powers!). The security’s a comfort and I wouldn’t take a walk down a dark road on my own at night in Planeta, but then I probably wouldn’t in most cities in the world, some parts of London included. On one of our typical daily walks to get some food, some bottled water or visit the lavanderia (launderette), we’ll mostly encounter families with young children playing football in the street or clutching at their mothers’ skirts.

There's also a market nearby and great street food is sold everywhere, including delicious hot churros (long, thin donuts) filled with manjar blanco (a caramel-like substance that's a bit like dulce de leche). We seem to have developed a rather crude way of naming the local street food vendors, using a basic formula of 'what they sell+their sex'. So we have Churro Guy, Cake Lady and Rice-Pudding Woman (yes, that's a real one). Our other favourite is Hamburger Man, who sells… you guessed it: burgers. But these are Peruvian style! Man, they’re good. Choose your burger: beef, chicken or chorizo (pork sausage, the best one in my opinion) and they put it in a bun with chips and salad. We always ask for ‘todas las cremas’: all the sauces! Delicious! They also cost 2 soles, about 45p each!

Julio eyeing up my Hamburger Man burger:

I should also mention a local soft drink that we've really enjoyed here. I'm not a huge fan of fizzy drinks, even at home, so when I first saw Inca Kola I didn't think it'd be my kind of thing. Check out the colour of it (see below)! Julio tells me that in Peru it outsells Coca Cola. This annoyed Coca Cola, who bought it up! Inca Kola has a very artificial bubblegum taste and there's something a bit 'mediciney' about it, but I like it!

Most mornings we play basketball after breakfast (got to work off those burgers!). We usually get an audience of local kids or old people who stop to watch us. Sometimes they even join in! It's great to get some exercise and I'm enjoying playing basketball. I haven't played since I was at secondary school and I'd forgotten how much I enjoy it!

Here's Ania and Julio on the court:

Lima is a big city and it's not really walkable. We've taken a few cabs or combis (cheap minibuses that take you around town) to see the more touristy areas such as Barranco and Miraflores. On our first weekend here Ania and I went into Miraflores to meet up with our friends Sophie and Tim, who we met in Bolivia. They were heading off to the airport to get to Brazil, so after a quick breakfast we said goodbye to them and went exploring. One of the things we've loved about Lima is its proximity to the sea. Being Brightonians, it's weird not seeing the sea all the time, so in Miraflores we sought it out and enjoyed seeing the Pacific. It was quite a gloomy day, but we saw people going surfing and even found an English-style pier!

The view from the cliffs with surfers amongst the waves:

Ania in front of Miraflores pier:

In our second week a third volunteer came to live at the house and that's when we met Kate. Kate is from Boston in the USA and studied archaeology at university, so on our first weekend with her we went to Pachacamac, about an hour's drive south of Lima. Pachacamac is a pre-Incan site that was built in 200AD. Kate's written a Perupedia article about it which you can read by clicking here. Meanwhile, here's some photos from the day:

As you can see, the site is beautiful and there were some striking juxtapositions. Firstly, the location. Pachacamac feels like it was built in a desert and in a way that's true. Sand everywhere and dry-looking brickwork. But glance up and you're right next to the sea, some lush vegetation and the Andes mountains are in the distance!

One of the many views of the sea from Pachacamac:

Secondly, the buildings themselves. As I mentioned above, Pachacamac originated in pre-Incan times, but it was used by the Incas and other civilisations too afterwards. There's even some modern brickwork mixed in with old stuff. The most memorable part of the day however, was making some finds of our own. A site like this in places like the UK or the States would be well looked after, with sections roped off and barriers up. In Peru, it seems they just don't have the money. The three of us walked down a less-travelled path and Kate spotted two pieces of skull (we think they belonged to children), a huge leg bone and some vertebrae: all human! A few moments later we found out we were on a path next to what had been a cemetery. There were vultures circling in the air in the distance too. Spooky! Ania and I were so glad to have Kate with us, we probably wouldn't have spotted the bits of person lying by the side of the road.

Kate and I find a bone:

A human vertebrae:

An enormous leg bone! The girls got up close to this and turned it over, finding a pool of suspect looking liquid. There's skin on there for Pete's sake!

Kate and I examine another find:

The next day we continued our Indiana Jones-style adventure by going to another site in the middle of Miraflores in the city of Lima. Huaca Pucllana is about 1500 years old (again, pre-Incan). We had lunch in a fancy restaurant right by the site before doing a tour with some American tourists (quote of the day from one of them: 'Do alpacas still exist?'. Brilliant.). Again, the site was cool. So strange to see one in the middle of a capital city.

From L-R: Julio, Ania, me and Kate at Huaca Pucllana:

They also had a small wildlife pen at Huaca Pucllana, where we saw some live Peruvian delicacies-in-waiting! Have a look at this:

Another of our favourite areas of Lima is Barranco. We've been there a few times and it has nice bars and places to eat. The buildings and other scenery are just really cool and it's a great place to spend a day or night! We went here during our first weekend in Lima with Julio and his mates from New York. We visited a bar called Ayahuasca - in the top 5 bars in the world apparently - and drank unabashedly pretentious cocktails!

From L-R: Alex, Jill, Julio, Neysi, Ania, me and Sal

The basement at Ayahuasca:

A couple of weeks later we returned to Barranco with Julio and Kate. Here´s us enjoying some desserts. I´ve got passionfruit cheesecake and Ania has a ´suspiro de limeña´, a traditional Peruvian dessert:

One of Barranco´s many beautiful buildings:

Some turkey vultures roosting on top of a house:

Ania enjoying the wonderful views from the Barranco viewpoint:

The final thing I must mention is our trip into
the centre of Lima to visit the Park of the Reserve, home to the world’s largest water fountain park! This aquatic attraction seems to have many names. Julio tells me the locals just call it ‘Parque del Agua’, although it’s also known as ‘El Circuito Mágico del Agua’. In English, this translates into the slightly underwhelming title of the ‘Magical Circuit of Water’, which I think sounds like a descriptive term for the plumbing at Hogwarts. Don’t be fooled by the bland names though, the park is nothing short of spectacular and if you visit Lima I’d say this place should definitely be near the top of your ‘must-see’ list! We headed out on a beautiful, clear night with a bright full moon in the sky. After leaving Karikuy Towers, Julio, myself, Ania, Kate and our newest member of the team, Alfonso, crammed into a taxi and headed into the centre. We were met by another of our volunteers, Jacqui and her friends, at the park.

After paying the more than reasonable entry fee of just four soles each, we went into the park to find the first of many illuminated fountains. For me the star attraction was the appropriately-named Fantasia Fountain (Fuente de la Fantasia): a huge line of water features with different coloured lights that you can see in the photo below. It’s 120 metres long! The show was set to music, mostly dramatic classical pieces which worked perfectly. They also threw in some traditional music from around the world and I think as we approached there was a crazy ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks’ style song playing too!

Some of the pieces of music were accompanied by a projection of a dancer. I didn’t notice this at first, there’s so much going on after all! Once you notice it though it’s really special!

It felt like our group stood for ages watching the show. It was mesmerising and I just couldn’t stop taking photos! After breaking the spell we went over to the park’s tallest fountain. This one is called ‘Fuente Mágica’ (Magic Fountain). In the centre is a jet which shoots water to a height of over 80m! Certainly not as showy as the previous lot, but the giant jet of water in the middle was pretty cool. Next up was the brilliantly-named ‘Tunnel of Surprises’! As you can see below, this was a red-lit tunnel of water that you could walk through. Our group had some fun taking photos and videos inside and emerged out the other side relatively dry. But for some of us that was about to change…

After the tunnel, we went to one of the park’s interactive pieces. This was a circular maze of fountains that you could run inside. They were on timers that kept changing and there were big jets of water shooting across the middle too. You could attempt to navigate the maze or just try to run to the centre when the water was briefly turned off. I got a bit wet having a go at this, but Ania and Kate did a lot better:

Next we walked through a tunnel (of concrete this time, not water) to the other side of the park, seeing lots of information including how people use water in the modern world and how much of the human body is made up of water; before seeing one final fountain and making our exit.

The night was like the aquatic equivalent of a fireworks display! El Circuito Mágico del Agua is a beautiful tourist attraction that provided us with one of the most memorable nights of our entire nine-month trip so far.

So lots of information there, blog fans. Our time in Lima flew by, and now I see that´s because we crammed so much in! Thanks as always for reading.

1 comment:

  1. Ania by the Miraflores pier is *just* like Brighton! What a great time. I wonder, though, why Stu's wiki on Pisca sour is longer than Ania's on Juanita the Ice Maiden? Have you got your priorities right? lol

    Interesting about the archaeological site in the middle of Lima. Reminds me of how I once took Ania and Mina to one of Asoka's inscriptions (300 BC) in the middle of Delhi. We were able to walk right to it, no barriers, and I got Ania and Mina to trace it a bit with their fingers. More recently, the Archaeology dept. has put barriers around it.