Danny in the Andes: Arrival

…Or, the Peruvian Whovian.

Or not that? If you like…

It suddenly occurred to me on a Friday evening in late February that, in less than 48 hours, I would be in South America for the first time. Now, this shouldn’t have been a surprise. I booked the trip last June, after all. So that should have been plenty of time to come to terms with the fact that I would, come the end of February, be in Peru for a tour ending in a four-day hike to Machu Picchu.

Yes, okay, elephant in the room… four days of mountain hiking and three nights of camping normally aren’t things I do for fun, so much as things someone would subject me to as some form of enhanced interrogation. But I did just tell a friend that adventure lies outside your comfort zone, and I try to limit my hypocrisy to things like complaining how overexposed Wolverine is while buying every comic about Batman I can get my hands on.

But that’s later. When my plane landed in Lima, Peru, the four-day hike was still a far-away thing. For now, I was in another country, another continent, another culture for the first time, and once I found the hostel where my tour would begin, there was only one thing to be done…

What's your second guess?

What’s your second guess?

A nap.

Don’t get all judgey, with your judging and whatnot. I arrived in Lima at 8 AM (two hours behind schedule, thanks so, Dallas airport, but whatevs), I didn’t sleep great on the flight to Lima. Either of them. I’ve done two overnight flights to London in recent years, and in both cases, a mid-day nap turned out to be necessary in order to avoid falling asleep in the middle of the city. Sometimes while standing up. So, I decided to head that off at the pass, grab a 90 minute nap, and then head out into the city to see what I could see… and maybe buy some toothpaste and conditioner because I kinda forgot to pack those.

Found the touristy spot.

Found the touristy spot.

The hostel was a short walk from the both the beach and Miraflores, Lima’s (and possibly the country’s) most upscale, touristy area. Seemed a good place to try and find some ceviche for lunch. Through some sort of providence, I not only found it, but found a place that made a trio of ceviches similar to the versions I came to love in Belize and Mexico. Not as easy as you’d think, since in Peru it involves much larger chunks of fish (often tuna) on a bed of onions, rather than the smaller-chunk seafood-salsa version I know and love.

I was less successful in finding the beach.

Yes, that one.

Yes, that one.

Yes, obviously I could see it, and there were people on it, but the coast of Lima (at least next to Miraflores and Barranco, where the hostel was) is waaaaaay downhill from the rest of the city, finding a way down wasn’t super easy, and it was really beginning to sink in that I’d completely forgotten to put on sunscreen before heading out for the day, so “inside” felt like my friend.

And to enjoy the fact that as the only guy in my group, I got a room to myself without having to pay for the upgrade. Score.

7:00… time to meet the group. The five people I’d be spending the next two weeks with: our guide and four younger, fitter, and far prettier ladies of my Peru on a Shoestring adventure.

My new peeps.

My new peeps.

Kate and Amy, both from Ontario… despite living in the same province, they met on the far side of the planet, backpacking through Australia, New Zealand, and southeast Asia, and are now travel pals. Which is the sort of friendship I find fascinating.

Tayla from South Africa. Youngest of the group, taking a year to wander the Earth in between school and starting work in accounting. I’ve liked the idea of a “gap year” ever since I heard of it. Which, sadly, was too late to actually have one myself. Although it wouldn’t have helped that the idea of having a job while going to school seemed, like, way too stressful to my addled teenaged mind. My addled teenaged mind had, as I’ve stated in the past, some powerfully stupid and self-destructive notions. Moving on.

Maria, originally from Russia, currently living in Brooklyn and bartending in New Jersey. At first, the quietest member of the group (a group that includes me, a notorious introvert with habitual difficulty entering conversations), but we would learn that those still waters ran deep.

And last but hardly least, Elard, photographer and our guide from here to the start of the Inca Trail. A guide who handily doesn’t just know the historical facts about churches, but also where to find dinner, crepes, and cheap happy hour drinks.

For night one, we grabbed dinner by the hostel, a “getting to know you” style of thing. We were introduced to one of the national drinks of choice, the pisco sour, made from a type of brandy (pisco) produced in Peru and Chile. I also ordered a dish made from strips of beef heart, because I cling to my belief that if I eat enough odd things while on vacation, I will somehow find redemption for eating McDonald’s in Greece instead of discovering souvlaki and flaming saganaki a decade early.

Damn you, Past Dan! Think how many more of these we could have eaten!

Damn you, Past Dan! Think how many more of these we could have eaten!

It was, overall, a simple day. The Lima airport isn’t in the best neighbourhood, and my drive to the hostel felt reminiscent of every movie set in Brazil’s favelas. Miraflores, however, took the edge off the culture shock. Ocean and heat aside, Miraflores now felt like most major cities I’ve been to. Most of them are alike, in their ways.

That… would not last. I would learn that Lima is in a part of the country still heavily influenced by the former Spanish occupation, whereas the areas we’d be travelling to are still influenced by the Incas, some people even still speaking the local languages from before Spanish occupation. Perhaps that’s why Lima was the one major city we visited whose restaurants tended not to carry guinea pig.

But the smaller-town, less affluent, tiny winding streets of inland Peru would have to wait. Tonight, there was just meeting the crew, a brief and unsuccessful attempt to watch some of the Oscars (the Spanish dubbing really drowned out the English, it was annoying to try and follow), and a spectacularly bad night of sleep in my single hottest hotel room.

Next time… buses.

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