Friday, April 21, 2017

Peruvian first impressions in the capital

Even more than the blaring horns and screaming sirens of New York, Lima is loud. For years I have discounted the noise factor in Asia by remembering the Rudyard Kipling quote, "With Asian indifference to mere noise." Although it doesn't apply to either Japan or Bhutan, almost all the rest of Asia can be deafening. Then New York surprised me with the fact that even on the 14th floor you can't continue a conversation when emergency vehicles are in the vicinity. Now that's loud!

BUT downtown Lima is like living inside the battle of the sounds zone: traffic, music from car stereos, loud conversations, music from cafes and restaurants, megaphones, whistles, music from unknown sources and constant horn blasts compete to drown each other out and most continue to 2 or 3 in the morning and start up again at about 8am. Auditory overload is new to me and it's impossible to meditate. 

Unlike the developed world where we have spent most of our time since leaving Bhutan, Peru immediately comes across as life on the edge. The cars are old or beaten up or both. In the capital the traffic is at dead stop or like a car chase. The stunning beaux-arte buildings are restored to their former glory or mere facades gutted and used as car parks or decaying and so dilapidated that they pose a threat to public safety. 

Street vendors some with only a few items clutched in plastic bags sell snacks, hand squeezed fruit juices, batteries, pens, garbage bags, paper products, key rings, cigarettes, bling, drinks, and a million other things. Baskets of odd items are toted about and a game of cat and mice is played by those without appropriate permits, to avoid the police. Unfortunately children also join the ranks of street sellers mostly after dark and sometimes still in school uniforms. All this reminds me of an Asian scene from decades ago. 

The cuisine has been surprisingly good, if somewhat a game of lucky dip with our lack of Spanish leaving us at the mercy of whatever the waiter decides after our plaintive cries “vegetarianio” or pointing at dishes other customers are eating. Nonetheless people come to rescue and everyone tries to make it work. We were expecting lots of beans and rice but there is oh so much more on offer and an incredible array of desserts, cakes and baked goods. Though, we are rarely tempted by sweet dishes, we have definitely eaten more desserts in the last 4 days than the previous four months.

The spectacle of the changing of the guards at the Presidential Palace was reminiscent of a bygone era. With a full brass band playing and marching the compound while vast numbers of the guards were goose-stepping and parading with flags, swords and batons. It involved a great deal of pomp and ceremony. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and was somewhat taken back by the young girl inside the palace taking selfies and watching through the open doors. The president’s daughter perhaps?


You get the feeling Lima is alive. It's kicking, struggling, and fighting but surviving and loudly. Few people appear wealthy and there appears to be a vast middle class, who is comfortably well off and enjoying life. Too many of those visible on the streets are poor beyond belief but they are not begging. They are doing whatever they can to get by and much of it right on the crowded pavements. 

Modern shopping malls, fast food super chains and the latest electronics also abound but to me they haven't taken over the culture they have just joined the chaos of it all. 

Peru has begun with a bang and Lima may not be indicative of what is to follow but I can't wait to see more of the rural areas beyond the capital.

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