If we’re to believe the cultural aphorism that all Colombians are born with a ‘dancing’ gene — then for Peruvians, it’s jaywalking.
Welcome to Peru, an experience guaranteed to deliver an unrelenting buffet of firsts until the phrase “I’ve never seen that before” loses novelty and you’re left with, simply, it’s Peru.
I suppose you can say that about every country, but as a seasoned traveler who’s been around a few blocks, let me tell you, there’s something about Peru. There just is, okay?
Curiously, it’s my second time here. I visited in 2015 with my ex, and we did the hokey pokey machu picchu thing. Does anyone else think selfie sticks should be outlawed and confiscated at World Heritage sites? Just me?
Like I said, I’ve been here before, but it was quick and dirty and full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, if you know what I mean. I left without a sense of the present culture or people; we barely explored the food. Don’t ask me why. We just didn’t.
But now, living in gargantuan Lima — a city of over 10 million where I don’t know a single soul—I’ve come to appreciate a host of delicious details and delicacies of my gracious host country:
Peru has, hands down — forgetaboutit — the best cuisine in all of South America. I remember coming here and being dazzled by the ceviche and nothing else a few years ago. This time, I’m dazzled by damn-near everything. There’s love in Peruvian food. There’s also variety. From causas and anticuchos to salteados, rocotos rellenos, caldos, pato, and pollo a la brasa, there’s something for everyone. It’s not all rice and beans. There’s passion, creativity, and flavor. Something a lot of the other countries in SouthCentral seem to be lacking. I’m looking at you, Colombia.
According to some people I met last weekend who insisted (and were oddly proud of the fact) that their country was the world’s largest manufacturer of cocaine (this is not accurate — looking at you, Colombia), Peru doesn’t have criminal cartel organizations because they’ve elected them all. Is that true? I don’t know. I heard it from some homie I was sharing a joint with on the street. But I like it, and it’s going on the list. Incidentally, the quality checks out. (Answering for a friend)
Traffic lights are suggestions in Peru, and pedestrians behave as though they have the right of way in every instant, on every street, at every intersection, without exception. I have seen mothers with strollers Frogger through oncoming traffic while the “Don’t Walk” sign ticks down from 12 seconds. Twelve. Imagine the hurry you must have to hurtle a child into a real-life Squid Game to cross the road a few heartbeats faster. That’s Peru.
When I walk into a Currency Exchange Bureau in Lima, we don’t flirt for five minutes with paperwork. There’s nothing there but a man standing in a flimsy cage, the day’s exchange rate crudely written on a chalkboard behind him, a small safe, and an old-school calculator. I say a number, he punches it into the calculator, I hand him a wad of cash, he hands me a wad of cash, and I walk out. That’s it. A 10-second interaction. At a Shopper’s Drug Mart or Canadian Tier in Canada, buying a single roll of tape will cost you five minutes and earn you a footlong receipt. Measure it next time.
Are we ready to talk about Iquitos — the arm-pit protruding from the Lungs of the World — Powered By Honda? If you’ve ever had a chance to take a stroll through Mercado Belén, then you’ve had the three-dimensional, multi-sensory experience of what it feels like to put the lotion on your skin or else you get the hose again. Iquitos probably also holds the unique honor of being the only major city in the world where you can flag a taxi in three seconds flat, no matter where you are or what time of day it is.
What does this rag-tag list of non-sequiturs have in common? Nothing, except to say I’m having a delightful time alone in Lima, working and writing and exploring the city and enjoying the hell out of this wonderful opportunity to gallivant around my home planet.