Peru, 2016: Lima, in love

It’s wonderful to be back in Lima, a city I was able to get to know last year while doing research and conducting interviews for a project on Peruvian social comics. It’s such a vibrant city, and there is so much to explore. I’m excited not only to return, but to share the experience with Matt. We both have a deep love for travel and exploration, so this trip is a real testament to our shared passions and a way to connect on a deeper level outside of our day-to-day lives in Iowa City. Before we left, Matt’s sister Anne stopped by my office to drop off some suitcases full of donations we had agreed to transport to Voices4Peru, a charitable organization that we are happy to help support. In saying goodbye, she told me that if we could survive three weeks traveling abroad without killing each other, we would know it was true love. Hmmmm. I’ll keep you all posted on that.

We flew out of O’Hare, having gotten a fantastic deal on round-trip tickets (under $500, which is absolutely incredible). After some trouble with Matt’s passport and epically long security screening lines, we jumped on our first flight to JFK. As we boarded, we came across my cousin Zac and his girlfriend, who were en route to NYC. What are the chances? There was a delay, of course (oh, O’Hare), but we made our next flight to Lima with no problems. We even had time for a quick selfie with Zac and Michelle, which seemed obligatory, under the circumstances.

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Our flight to Lima was an overnight flight, departing at 11:45pm and arriving at 6:25am. One of Matt’s most enviable superpowers is his ability to sleep on command, so he was out most of the way there. I do NOT have that power, unfortunately, so I wasn’t able to sleep much, but I did have some nice conversations with a fellow travel insomniac seated next to me. That helped.

Our arrival in Lima was smooth and easy, and the director of Voices4Peru met us at the arrivals gate to collect the bags we brought for him. He was so gracious and welcoming, and provided a nice first contact here in Lima. Having gotten there all in one piece (and with all of our luggage!), we hopped in a cab to the Barranco district, where we’re staying for a few days at Casa Nuestra, a fabulous B&B I stayed at last time I was here. It’s in a quiet neighborhood just slightly removed from the hustle and bustle of the Barranco streets, and is run by a lovely young couple, Carmen and Francesco. The space is cozy and inviting, cohabited by a handful of international travelers passing through, and is the perfect landing pad for anyone spending some time in Lima.

Plus, it’s within walking distance to the centers of both Barranco and Miraflores, which means easy access to lots of art, cool cafes, amazing food (ceviche!!), the coastline, and – most importantly – Parque Kennedy,  the cat park that has my heart forever. More on that later!

Once we settled in at Casa Nuestra and had a nice chat over coffee with Francesco, we headed over to a sweet little neighborhood cafe to have some breakfast and wrap up a few pending end of semester obligations.

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After much-needed naps and showers back at the B&B, we were ready set out again, this time for downtown Barranco. I took Matt through some of the obligatory sights – the main plaza, the bridge of sighs, the cobblestone streets leading down to a beautiful viewing window of the coastline, and around some small side streets with local artists selling their wares. We had pisco sours at the converted train car across from the plaza, and then ambled over to CantaRana, my favorite neighborhood spot for ceviche and seafood. I had promised a lot for dinner, and the folks there really delivered. The ceviche was divine, and the chaufa de mariscos (a Peruvian/Chinese fusion food that’s best described as seafood fried rice) was incredible as always. It was the perfect introduction to Lima cuisine for Matt, and a culinary trip down memory lane for me. Perfection.

After a stop by the local grocery store for wine and water, we headed back to Casa Nuestra, where we enjoyed wine on the rooftop terrace with our host, Carmen. It was a wonderful first day here in Lima, and we went to bed excited to wake up and continue exploring the next day.

On Saturday, our first full day in Lima, we had breakfast at the B&B and then set out for a jam-packed day of sight-seeing. We started out in Parque Kennedy, the cat park in Miraflores, where Matt was quickly swarmed with snuggly felines. He told me later he didn’t fully trust that this place actually existed, but he was clearly glad that it did.

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From there we walked to the Surquillo market, where we perused the vendor stalls and had a fabulous lunch prepared by a group of local women, Las Madres Surquillanas. It’s sort of akin to the kind of lunch you’d buy at a local farmer’s market, but where the primary ingredients are pulled directly from the sea, just a few blocks over. It doesn’t get much better than this, people.

After another short stroll around the market, we headed to Museo Larco to take in their exquisite collection of pre-Colombian art. Even having been there before, I was amazed at the collection, as well as the excellent curation. They do a great job of providing enough artifacts and explanations to paint a comprehensive picture, but not so much that you drown in the details. After the primary exhibit, we enjoyed some white wine and calamari at the on-site restaurant, and then went took in the collection at the famed erotic gallery, which is really delightful. All in all, it was a perfect afternoon.

In the evening, we met cartoonist and friend Jesus Cossio for coffee, and it was really great to reconnect with him and talk about travel, politics, ayahuasca, and local culture. He is such a lovely man, and Matt enjoyed getting to know him just as much as I enjoyed seeing him again. Luckily, between Jesus’ English and Matt’s Spanish, we were able to have a pretty fluid conversation, and we made plans to get together again when we return to Lima in a couple weeks.

For dinner, we followed Matt’s favorite travel adage: do as Anthony Bourdain would do! We had reservations at Amaz, a renowned restaurant in Miraflores featuring exotic Amazonian ingredients. We boldly ordered the tasting menu for two, and were soon bombarded with a never-ending series of plates and flavors. Ceviche, empanadas, shrimp stew, chicharrones, chaufa, fish, sautéed beef and vegetables, black mushrooms, baked plantains with cheese, sorbets, and a crema volteada (similar to flan) that totally blew our minds. To say we were overwhelmed is an understatement, but it was a culinary adventure we were excited to share. All told, it was a nearly 3 hour experience, and once we got back to Casa Nuestra, it was lights out for the evening.

Our final full day in Lima, we enjoyed a leisurely morning at the B&B and then hopped on the Metro towards the city center. Our first stop was la plaza de San Martin, where we found a cozy little cafe to have a quick bite to eat. Then we were off to la plaza de armas, the main plaza, where we visited the basilica and were able to explore a few subterranean catacombs and the crypt holding the remains of archbishops and other high level church officials. The artwork was very much in need of preservation, but some of the shrines were quite beautiful.

From the basilica, we walked to the central market and the barrio chino (Chinatown).

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We strolled around, ate some ice cream, and enjoyed some dim sum before eventually heading back to the metro that would take us back to Barranco. Having picked up a nice bottle of red on the way back to Casa Nuestra, we’re now lounging on the rooftop terrace once again, and looking towards future adventures. Tomorrow: Paracas, a three hour bus ride down the southern coast, where we’ll stay for three days. We’ve had a great first few days in Peru, and are eager to continue on our journey.

PS: We’re still both alive, and very much in love. Barranco is, as they say, for lovers, after all.

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