Our first stop in South American stop was Lima, Peru. A city that most people visit for a day or two before heading to Machu Picchu. Our plan was to stay in the capital city for two weeks but not visit those famous ruins - almost unheard of! There were a couple of reasons we opted not to go - first it was very expensive, and second, it was the rainy season in the Andes. At least one person we met was grounded for two days before his flight could land, and then it rained the entire time he was there. I am sure we missed something amazing, but we were comfortable with our decision.
Besides, we are city mice. We like to stay near the center of capital cities where we can get around on public transportation and dive into the cultural events. From what we read, Lima wasn’t going to be a “wow!” city, but there would be enough to do to keep us busy - or not, because during this round of travel we planned to stay in places longer than we have in the past. Hopefully allowing us to slow down a bit and enjoy more quiet days at home.
Speaking of home, we did have a challenge with our Airbnb. This was our 211th stay, and out of all of those, we’ve only had a handful where we thought we’d made a mistake. In Amsterdam the photos of the listing were very misleading, in Baku the kitchen was a disaster, an invasion of ants in Gozo, and perhaps the worst listing was in Brno, in the Czech Republic where the bed was horrible and the neighborhood garbage dumpsters sat just outside the window.
In this case the apartment was very dirty. We’d had a heads-up from the most recent review (one that wasn’t posted when we booked) where the guest mentioned the place needed a deep clean and new linens. We hoped by the time we checked in the host would have taken that review to heart and all would be well. It wasn’t. The floors were really dirty, the kitchen was sticky and there was a strong smell of smoke in the back bathroom. The fridge and freezer had old food in both, and indeed, the towels and sheets were sub-par.
On the bright side, the apartment was light and spacious, the shower was great and the bed was firm. The view from the balcony towards the sea was a good reason to stay, the building was secure, and finally, the location was perfect. What should we do? Our philosophy when renting an Airbnb is that we are in a partnership with the host. If we are unhappy or have a problem, we go to the host first to see what can be done. We think it unfair to contact Airbnb or leave a bad review until you’ve at least tried to work with your host to resolve an issue. So we reached out to Nicolas, our host, and told him the state of the apartment was unacceptable. He’d only just seen the previous review and was very apologetic.
He doesn’t live in Lima so he was unable to see things for himself so we sent some photos. He was quick to make things right and did everything he could from afar. He booked his cleaner to be there early the next morning and she spent the day scrubbing the place from top to bottom. Once the apartment was clean and the linens were changed we were comfortable and happy with our choice. We offered some further suggestions to make it even better for the next guests and Nico promised to follow through. We are glad we stayed because the location, the view and an attentive host helped to make our two weeks in Lima a good experience.
From our building we could walk out the door and be on the famous Miraflores boardwalk in five minutes. The boardwalk is a six mile stretch of walking and biking paths that wind through a park that follows the cliffs edge above the Pacific Ocean.
Along the way you pass a famous lighthouse designed by Mr. Eiffel, a butterfly garden, small cafes, an enormous Terra-cotta statue of a couple kissing, a tribute to Paddington Bear, and the third most visited destination in Peru - the Larcomar Shopping Mall carved out of the rocks overlooking the sea.
Best of all there is patch of smooth grass the size of three tennis courts, where on windy days paragliders fling themselves off the cliff and catch the updraft from the sea that take them soaring above the city. And for $85 you can hang on for for a ten minute flight that includes a video. We hemmed and hawed on that one - and when I finally got up the courage to do it to celebrate my birthday there wasn’t enough wind. That also happened to be our last day - so another time.
We could also walk to Kennedy Park in the center of Miraflores. It was a green oasis in the city that was carpeted in flowers and home to magnificent, hundred-year-old trees. On the weekend the park filled with people of all ages dancing to Salsa music, artists selling paintings on the sidewalks, and food vendors selling empanadas and churros. There were also hundreds of happy “city cats” being fed and cared for by volunteers.
Just beyond our neighborhood was the Bohemian enclave of Barranco known for its street art and restaurants. We had a great meal at Isolina Taberna with new friends and also rolled through on a bike tour. We met our dinner partners, David and Lisa Kaplan on a free walking tour. They are newly retired nomads who also sold their house and all their possessions. David is a real live Rocket Scientist and recently retired from NASA, Lisa is an accountant who keeps the team on budget. They are currently taking a leisurely tour of Central and South America looking for a place to settle in retirement.
To get to know our neighborhood we took an Airbnb Experience called Hop on a Bike in Lima that took ten of us through Miraflores and Barranco on two wheels. Our two guides did an excellent job of keeping us all together and entertained with stories along the way.
We read over and over again how delicious Peruvian food is so one evening we took another Airbnb Experience called Street Foods and Old Taverns Night Tour. We met our guide Gonzalo in the historic center of the city and he took us directly to our first stop for a freshly fried Peruvian Churro - a hot curl of dough filled with dulce de leche or manjar as it is called here, and rolled in cinnamon and sugar. Amazing! Manjar is a rich, thick, caramel spread made from boiling down sweetened milk until in turns to magic. It is used all over South America in deserts including an addictive shortbread cookie sandwich called Alfajors. Personally, I just bought a good sized jar of it and eat it by the spoonful.
So - in the spirit of eat dessert first, we finished our Churros and headed to the oldest tavern in town for Chicharron; a sandwich filled with roasted pork and a slab of crackling skin. From there we toured street food vendors for skewers of grilled beef heart, sweet potato donuts, and a corn pudding called Mamorra Morada. We also stopped at some interesting watering holes for drinks that included a nonalcoholic drink called Chika Marada - a spiced, purple-corn based “Koolaid” made from scratch in every household. That was followed by a tasting of Belgian influenced Peruvian craft beers, and finally, at the coolest old school bar in the city we had our Pisco Sours. The one national dish we didn’t try that evening was ceviche; bits of fresh fish, seafood and red onion “cooked in lime juice”. It turns out Ceviche is a breakfast or lunch food so it didn’t make it on the evening tour menu. I had plenty of other opportunities to try it, and it was delicious every time, just not for breakfast.
It was a just the two of us with our guide Gonzalo so we felt free to ask lots of questions including political ones. He was very knowledgeable about the Peru’s history and culture so we felt we’d really tapped a great source of information, and he didn’t shy away from being direct about current world affairs. One thing he shared with us is that South Americans would rather we called our selves “Ciudadano de Estados Unidos" - or say we are from The United States rather than America since really, everyone who lives on the continent is “American” so those of us from the USA shouldn’t claim exclusivity. Here’s a link to an interesting perspective I found online.
On the second Sunday we decided to attend a football match between two first division, cross-town rivals. Michael has been to matches all over the world and they have become some of his favorite memories. I don’t always go, but this time it seemed like the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon together. We hopped in an Uber and headed to the stadium. Michael always does thorough research around activities where location and tickets are concerned, so I sat back and relaxed. About half way to the stadium we slowed down as we passed a line of well-armed policemen backed up by a dozen more officers on horseback. They were keeping a wary eye on a crowd of mostly men wearing light blue jerseys streaming down the sidewalks. They were going in the opposite direction. “Those look like football fans to me.” I remarked. “Yes.” agreed Michael, but they couldn’t be going to our match because the stadium is 10 minute away.” Okay. So we carried on and drove deeper and deeper into a neighborhood where the driver told us to keep our doors locked and windows rolled up. He dropped us in front of the stadium and left us there. There were no fans in sight. Just a few plastic bags fluttering on the ground along with empty bottles and a couple of dusty cars in the desolate parking lot of the stadium. Obviously, someone had made a mistake regarding the match location.
Fortunately we spotted two young men wearing the same light blue jerseys we’d seen earlier. They spoke a bit of English and told us they were heading to the match we wanted to see. We discovered that indeed, the crowds we saw were Sporting Cristal fans walking to the big National Stadium about a half and hour back the other direction. They were a bit concerned about us staying too long in the area and suggested we high-tail it up the road where it was safer and catch a taxi.
Long story short - we arrived to a sea of fans in blue chanting and cheering outside the Estadio Nacional while they waited in very long lines to get inside. And there were plenty more policemen on foot, this time with plexiglass shields, and more on horseback to make sure things didn’t get out of hand.
We didn’t have tickets so we set about figuring out how we would get inside ourselves. First we had to talk our way past two officers who didn’t want to let us anywhere near the stadium without tickets. Michael can be persuasive in those kinds of situations and we got through. But once we’d crossed that barrier and got closer to the stadium we didn’t see any ticket windows.
At this point the match had already started - but there were thousands of fans still outside. Michael found some kids in line that spoke English and they explained they never expected to get in before halftime, because “That’s Peru” they said with a shrug. Suddenly they stopped talking and starting running with the herd about 20 yards ahead because the were letting in more fans. That’s the sort of thing that got the mounted police all excited and they came clattering down the asphalt shouting and pushing people back with their horses. It was actually a bit scary.
Meanwhile we found there were plenty of strangers willing to sell us tickets. There was just one problem. You had to have an official ID of some kind to match the name on the ticket (all of which are purchased online). With a lot of hand gesturing and Google Translate, Michael decided to risk $30 on two tickets that came with fake ID’s to match. Unfortunately, my name isn’t Maria and Michael isn’t bald, so the gatekeeper took one look at us, one look at our “identity” cards and with a laugh, sent us away. Fortunately we found our good-hearted scalper and he gave us back the cash. We watched the second half at a nearby bar and added this adventure to Michael’s list of football memories.
After my paragliding hopes were dashed we decided to celebrate my birthday with a night at the Circuito Mágico del Agua at The Reserve Park. Inside the beautiful grounds there were at least a dozen different fountains and interactive water features to enjoy. Every night, right after dark a Bellagio like water show played on the hour. A long row of jets began shooting colorful plumes high in the air choreographed to salsa music and then projected lasers and film images including a running Cheetah were projected onto a screen of water. Not the same impact as jumping off a cliff, but certainly an entertaining and romantic birthday outing.
Our two week stay allowed us to settle into a nice rhythm. We learned which stores had the freshest fruit and vegetables, where to find the best ice cream, and discovered a local restaurant or two we liked. We also had time to appreciate moments of beauty and Latin passion amidst the noisy, chaotic background of life in Lima. We are now in Santiago, Chile with looking forward to stops in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Rio de Janero before we arrive in France to celebrate Easter.
Thanks for following along,
Debbie and Michael Campbell
The Senior Nomads