One journalist's musings about the beautiful, bizarre world in which we live
Yesterday morning, I woke up with a gasp.
Startled out of a dream, I pulled in air like I was rising from a night underwater.
Standing about six feet away was a woman with dark, curly hair.
“Hola,” she said, with a smile that looked ready to laugh to my fuzzy, unfocused eyes.
Then I remembered: I’m in Peru.
* * *
Dec. 5, I spent about 20 hours in transit, flying from Toronto to Houston to Lima. We landed just before midnight, and because of another plane’s emergency landing, customs was quite busy.
On finally making it through around 1 a.m., I contacted my CouchSurfer and headed for a house in the San Miguel district in a too-expensive-taxi.
Driving through the neighbourhood, the cab driver shook his head.
“Es peligroso aqui. Es muy peligroso.” It’s dangerous here. It’s very dangerous.
Despite the 40 soles (or about $15) I gave him for a 10 minute ride – which is hefty by even Canadian standards – he didn’t want to stick around very long after I rang the bell. He complained, saw a person inside, tossed my bags out of his trunk and drove off just as the gate opened, despite the fact I asked him to stay a moment while I got in.
(Note to future Lima visitors: “Safe” airport taxi drivers don’t necessarily care what happens when you get out of the cab. I would suggest withholding pay until the end of his/her service.)
The gate was opened by the landlord. I trekked up a set of red stairs, taking comfort in the fact that I had e-mailed several people my whereabouts. I found myself on the fifth floor of a very nice apartment building.
My CouchSurfer opened the door, and welcomed me into his home before scurrying to bed.
The next morning, I met the other two CouchSurfers who are staying at his place – one of whom I saw when I woke – his boyfriend and Maya, their viringo, or Peruvian Hairless Dog.
After a lovely breakfast of homemade bread, mermelada de sauco (elderberry jam), fresh papaya, pineapple and coffee, I took off with the two ladies and toured Lima.
* * *
Today, I walked around the neighbourhood (which is actually quite nice) with my four new friends. We went to the local market and shopped for this afternoon’s comida – the largest meal of the day, held a little later than lunch.
I watched as my Couch Surfing partner whipped up a wonderful comida criolla – criolla (criollo) in this sense meaning from here but of foreign origin.
My CouchSurfing partner said his mother taught him the dish, which is a mix of different cuisines, but is considered a typical Peruvian meal.
He fried some onions and garlic, boiled some chicken. We all pulled the chicken off the bones while he poured chicken broth over broken crackers and bread. He boiled and blended chilies he couldn’t even name. He mixed it all together and voilà!
But that’s not all.
When he took us through the market, he stopped at a stand with about 10 different types of potatoes. He picked up these odd-looking red and yellow things, which were lumpy and had many crevices filled with dirt.
With washing, most of the red skin came off, giving the potatoes an odd, half-crappy look. He then boiled them, and some of the skins cracked, making them look like they were yesterday’s throwaways.
I don’t normally like potatoes that much. I find them bland, boring and tasteless. Eating one, to me, is like eating glorified cardboard.
But when I took a bite of this sublime tuber, it was like I was tasting a little piece of Eden.
It tasted natural, earthy and fresh. It had a flavour reminiscent of butter in every chew. To me, they tasted the way potatoes should taste. I’m seriously considering a potato smuggling plan to get some back to Canada and begin my own greenhouse operation (perhaps hydroponic).
That said, the stew was also wonderful. Although I was skeptical at first of the bread-and-water mix, I was pleasantly delighted by the outcome. I’ve written down some form of a recipe, and I plan on trying it out at home, for those who’d care for some in August.
* * *
That takes me to here, where I sit waiting for the evening.
Tomorrow, I should be on my way to Nazca, a town on the edge of the mountains I plan to head through the next day.
Wish me luck!