My weekend in Lima was coming to an end. I got to sample amazing ceviche, and hung out at the capital’s coastal areas. Along with Maria, we concluded our weekend together with a boat tour to the San Lorenzo and El Fronton islands.
Isla San Lorenzo is the largest island of Peru. Except with a special permit, the access to the island is banned, so one can only observe it from a boat. The nearby Isla El Fronton is home to an infamous Peruvian jail, in which former President Fernando Belaúnde Terry was held as a political prisoner. Later, Maoist guerrillas from the Communist Party of Peru Shining Path were imprisoned, and extra-judicially executed during a rebellion there.
The boat set to approach and pass by these islands departed from the Callao Port, and we just caught the last ride of the day. The sun was setting when we departed, which at first seemed cool as even though Lima is permanently cloudy this time of year, the sole thought of sailing into the sunset added a lot of romanticism to the “date“.
On the other side, not being that far from the equator, the transition from daylight to night is fast in Lima, so by the time our boat reached the islands, there was nothing to be seen. It was pitch dark. Moreover, with the sun, the temperature dropped rapidly too.
Here’s the video from the port. It shows the last but one boat docking, continues with the plentiful pelicans that hang around the port, and concludes with our departure from the port in the boat:
There is a constant and rather abundant presence of the pelicans at the Callao Port, and whereas they are used to the presence of boats and people, they maintain pretty close proximity.
The people feed them, so that brings them ever closer to us, but there’s also a lot of plastic floating in the ocean, making them confuse it for food. It’s a sad sight, really.
End of Weekend in Lima
Me and Maria have greatly enjoyed each other’s company during my brief detour to Lima, and even though I had to return to Cuzco after the weekend, it was clear that we’ll hang out again. But now I had another 22 hours long bus trip to undertake, and it was as brutal as the first.
After munching on true Peruvian ceviche, and enjoying a few games of pool followed by a couple of Cusquena beers, Maria returned home to spend the night with her family while I went to the room rented from the Spanish woman in San Miguel. In the morning of the following day we met up, and went to the La Punta district in Callao.
La provincia constitucional del Callao (the constitutional province of Callao), while technically a part of Lima, is administered by its own government that’s independent from that of the nation’s capital.
Twice resurrected from the ruins, Callao’s history is shrouded in myths and legends of submerged cities, as well as stories of pirates and hidden treasures.
Foreigners don’t tend to have Callao on their itinerary, and for the most part – rightly so. It’s a low income, high crime area that in many places resembles ghetto. It’s home to Peru’s main port, which has served as the main port of the Spanish colonies since 1537, but visitors arriving by way of cruise ships are warned by the staff and the tour guides not to venture into Callao because of the out of control levels of crime.
The one area of Callao that stands out is La Punta – the upscale home to luxurious mansions, with works in progress on remodeling its Malecon.
Lined with narrow cobbled streets, the smell of fresh fish floats in the air around La Punta, as delightful restaurants along the waterfront invite you in for “mariscos” (seafood).
If you tag along swimwear, La Punta also has a stretchy beach (Playa Cantolao) with round rocks in place of sand, which, albeit challenging to walk on barefoot, are said to provide therapeutic reflexology effect to the feet of those who brave them. The Pacific Ocean water at the beach, however, is cold so you’ll also need to tag along thick skin.
Even though weather in Lima is not sunny this time of year, the temperature was comfortable with it being neither hot, nor cold, nor windy. We paused on Malecon Pardo to enjoy the sound of waves and watch the ocean for almost an hour. It was very relaxing and bonding.
While Callao deservedly has the reputation to back up its rough environment, and the abundance of soldiers with machine guns patrolling its streets was a frequent reminder of the type of area Callao is, the Colonial houses that add color and character to Callao may be worth one’s while. Nevertheless, even though I have never encountered any kind of trouble in Callao, I wouldn’t recommend anyone wandering there without a person who knows the area.
Malecon Pardo as well as the rest of La Punta are a whole different story and are generally safe and rewarding to visit.
While still in Cusco, I told Maria whom I was going to meet in Lima, that even though at the time I’ve already been in Peru for 3 weeks, yet have still not eaten a Peruvian ceviche. Since we maintained contact the whole time on the internet and finally set up a date to meet up in real life, I thought it would be the perfect time to finally try ceviche.
Under normal circumstances, I take the masculine role in a relationship, but whereas I’m not familiar with Lima and she is from there, I gave the responsibility for picking up a suitable restaurant for my first time pure Peruvian ceviche to her.
She picked a restaurant called El Chef y El Mar, and it did not disappoint. Located in San Miguel where I was staying, the more upscale restaurant had the prices to match the quality and the atmosphere, but that only made the place more perfect for the occasion.
At El Chef y El Mar, there were several dished with ceviche on offer. We picked a platted for each consisting of two different forms of ceviche and a creamy rice with the calamari. I asked for my ceviche to be extra spicy, Maria went for medium spicy. It was delicious to the last bite. I could not have asked for a better place, company, and type of food to start my addiction to ceviche.
Ceviche is considered one of the flagship dishes of Peruvian cuisine, being one of the most traditional meals offered in Peru.
According to the Peruvian historian Javier Pulgar Vidal the name ceviche comes from the Quechua word “siwichi“, which means “fresh fish” or “tender fish“. One hypothesis proposes that the words Siwichi and Sikbaǧ were confused during the conquest of the Inca Empire by the Spaniards, which caused that it was transformed into the name with which we know it today.
Peruvians claim that ceviche originated in the Mochica Culture on the Peruvian coast, more than two thousand years ago. However Ecuadorians maintain the pre-Inca Empire people along the Ecuadorian coast used to prepare the same cold fish dish for just as long, claiming the origins of ceviche were not exclusively Peruvian.
In both cases, ceviche was originally being prepared by marinating the catch from the sea with chicha – juice that comes from corn.
Later, with the Hispanic presence, two ingredients of Mediterranean cuisine were added: lemon and onion. The development of the lemon farms in the lands helped to shorten the time of preparation of this ancestral dish.
Put bluntly, ceviche is basically raw fish marinated in soury, vinegar like solution. If you like raw fish in sushi, you will likely love ceviche.
From my standpoint – having come to Peru from Slovakia, where what is known in Peru as Ceviche is commonly available in its Slovakian form as “Zavinace” and purchasable from pretty much any grocery store for under a Euro, I was already familiar with the type of fish and had taste buds tuned in to it.
Ceviche in general is not the cheapest dish to eat, but a trip to Peru would simply not be complete without giving it a try in some proper restaurant where it is properly prepared.
Caution eating ceviche is however well warranted, as improperly prepared ceviche can be the bearer of bacteria that could seriously harm your health and screw your entire trip.
Fish used to prepare ceviche should be fresh out of the sea and should be eaten early in the day. As a way to honor this requirement, many ceviche restaurants close in the afternoon.
Concluding the First Date with Maria
After enjoying the wonderful triple dish of Peruvian ceviche for the first time, with our bellies happy, I took Maria to a billiard club where she played pool for the first time in her life, and then to a bar where we downed a few Cusquena beers. Late at night, we parted our ways after what for both of us was a highly fun and fulfilling date. We had one more day to spend together afterward, and we both looked forward to it.
After returning to Lima following my near 24 hours long bus ride from Cusco, I stayed in an apartment room in the district of San Miguel. The room was being rented out on a day to day basis by a young woman from Spain. What I didn’t know, was that the woman was a single mother living with her 6 year old son.
At first I was concerned over the lack of disclosure that a child lived in the same apartment, as the presence of a young child typically means a lot of screaming and running around, but in this case, the little boy was very well behaved and my entire stay was reasonably peaceful.
I instantly got along well with the woman as well as her child, and could tell the boy truly lacks a father figure in his life. My being the age of what his father just about could be, he always sought to hang out with me, talk with me and play with me.
The moment I moved into my room, he came over and started talking to me about his favorite football team. He then fetched his football trading cards and showed me his favorite players.
He then would hide behind a curtain and poke his head out, to provoke me into playing hide and seek with him. He kept relentlessly engaging me in conversation, and I gladly chatted with him and shared manly wisdom he craved but lacked in his life, but I was in Lima only for two days and I had a girl waiting to spend time with me.
The boy was so excited to have me there, it was always a challenge tearing myself away from him, and I had to explain to him that as a man, like him, I can’t ignore a woman waiting on me. Then I had to lie to him that I’ll play with him more after taking care of my girl. I knew very well I would not be returning home before he heads to bed, but that was the only way to calm him down and let me go without feeling hurt.
I commenced what was to be the 22 hours long bus ride from Cusco to Lima on Friday at 1:30pm. The checkout at Margarita Hostel was at 10am, which I thought was really aggressive, but found out that it’s a common checkout hour for the majority of hotels and hostels in Cuzco.
To avoid incurring additional charges I checked out at 10am, and headed down to the bus terminal. Since I had a few hours until the departure of my bus, I popped into one of the nearby restaurants where I ordered “almuerzo” (lunch menu). I picked a table close to a power outlet on the wall, and plugged my laptop in it, thinking I would spend the time I have until the bus arrives by doing some work on the computer.
To my surprise, the waitress demanded that since I use their power outlet, that I pay for the power usage on top of the food I ordered. I was ready to leave when she said that, but after she clarified that it would be just a Sol more, I said what the heck, and agreed to give her the damned Sol for the power I’d use.
The Civa bus left on time, but it was full to the last seat. I had a chubby guy sitting next to me (there are a lot of overweight people in Peru as their diet is rich in carbohydrates), who had foul odor to him and snored a lot. While I could not have done much about his odor, I did not put up with his snoring and each time he disturbed me with it, I disturbed him by poking him to interrupt his snore.
The beginning of the ride, at least until the night fell on the country and I could not see much anymore, was through the mountainous terrain of the Peruvian Alps, which were just spectacular. The progress was slow, as we were slowly gliding down winding road into the valleys, before climbing up equally winding road up on hills, to do it over and over again. It was one huge canyon after another and driving through them was as scenic as it gets.
That explained why the bus ride would last the predicted 22 hours, because you truly can’t pickup much speed on those steeply inclined roads full of sharp turns. Having secured a front row seat right above the driver, I had the panoramic views of the country we were driving through. Unfortunately, pictures taken through the tinted windows during a very bumpy ride are doomed to lack in the overall attractiveness no matter what.
Having to spend 22 hours on the overcrowded bus was however no fun at all. I got no sleep and very little rest. Luckily, 5 hours before the projected end of the trip, when we stopped in Ica and unloaded some of the passengers, two pretty Venezuelan girls took the seats across the isle from me, so I spend the rest of the journey chatting with them.
That made the rest of the trip more enjoyable and pass faster, however the projected 22 hours journey ended up being 23,5 hours long, because of heavy traffic causing jams across much of Lima. It’s never fun when you’re stuck in a confined place for 20+ hours and then your transport barely moves because the traffic is so congested, it can’t move.
I knew my friend from Lima was waiting for me at the bus station, so realizing that not only will I not arrive in time, but I would be an hour or more late, was only adding to the anxiety. So when I finally did arrive, after almost the entire 24 hours on the bus, getting off that thing and giving a real life bear hug to my internet acquaintance felt amazing.
After returning from a walk up and down Miraflores, I went to my dorm, took a shower, washed my clothes in cold water, put earplugs in and hit the bed.
I woke up around 3am, but stayed in bed until 8am to catch the complimentary breakfast Pool Paradise provides their guests. It consisted of what could have been one, maybe two eggs scrambled, two bread buns, a banana and a glass of orange juice. Tea and coffee were also available.
The checkout was at noon, and whereas I knew I was leaving Lima, I decide to check out after breakfast, put on my backpack and head downtown to visit some of its old quarters before I leave the city for good. I did not want to do it knowing I’d have to return to Miraflores in the city’s awful traffic in order not to miss the checkout, which is why I had to do it all with my backpack on.
In August it’s winter in Peru, so ever since I arrived, the sky was overcast and it was rather cool – around 14 degrees centigrade during the day. The hazy conditions also brought rain, but it was the type of rain that sogs everything, but you can hardly see any drops fall to the ground. The humidity is super high the whole time, but I found the weather suitable for walking with a load on my back because it’s not overly hot, so you don’t sweat the whole time, but it’s neither cold, so you’re not freezing your buns off either.
When I was checking out of Pool Paradise, I met a Brazilian girl named Isadora. A resident of Sao Paolo, she was also getting ready to do the tour of downtown Lima, but she didn’t take all her belongings with her, as she planned to return to the hostel to continue her stay. We hit it off really good right from the start, and went downtown together.
We left Miraflores in a Metropolitano bus. It costs 2.50 Soles per ride and is paid upon entering the area from within which a bus can be boarded. The bus identified with a letter C connects Lima’s downtown with Miraflores. That’s what we took.
We first visited Plaza Jose Marti, who’s considered the liberator of Peru. We took a few pictures there and headed toward Plaza del Armas, where the presidential building is located. Behind its gates a brass band in full military attire was playing. The whole area had a strong military presence, with a number of soldiers armed with rifles, several policemen with spooky looking canines scanning the area, and armored vehicles parked on corners.
There was a group of school kids that walked past us while at Plaza de Armas, who were so excited to see a white man, they got in chat with me and really wanted to take a picture.
From there we headed toward Plaza Simon Bolivar, with a building of the Peruvian Congress behind the statue of the other Peru’s liberator. But first we made a brief stop in the Choco Museum, where Isidora bought a few chocolates to take home as presents for friends.
We then made a stop at Basilica and Convent of San Francisco – a church within which there are catacombs filled with skulls and bones. The access to the catacombs is paid and picture taking is prohibited, so we decided against paying for that access.
Afterward we walked a little bit more toward an overcrowded market with fruits, meats and fish (the type I lacked in Miraflores), where I bought half a kilo of mandarin oranges. They were all incredibly bland and tasteless. It made me really miss Ecuador where fruits were delicious and juicy.
From the market it was just a bit more walk to an adjacent China town, where I bought Palo Santo from a very nice woman with Shamanic training. I will write a post about Palo Santo later.
Having concluded we’ve covered enough of Lima’s downtown, we decided to wrap it up and pace our way back toward a Metropolitano bus stop. I was gonna take it a few stops to Avenida Mexico, near which I found out there’s a bus terminal with buses going to Ica, and Isadora would carry on over several more stops back to Miraflores.
We however got lost along the way, and found ourselves in a shanty town area with a lot of shady characters and no police in sight. We have not encountered any problems, but had no idea where we were nor where to find a Metropolitano bus stop. A few people we asked provided conflicting information as to which way to go to find one.
Eventually, after crossing a bridge, we saw a traffic police and got some reliable pointers. As we walked toward the station along a busy street, we passed multiple sellers of Palo Santo and other incenses and tools for shamanic rituals, so I bought a baggie of myrrh, frankincense and copal resins to use with my earlier bought Palo Santo for deactivation of negative energies and evil spirits that may have latched on me.
After a busy day together, having also got lost in Lima, I parted ways with Isadora, with a promise that we’ll stay in touch, and a hope we’ll meet and hang out again.
At Avenida Mexico I asked which way the terminal for buses to Ica was, and bought a ticket for a 3:30 bus, which I boarded and left Lima. The trip lasted 5 hours, and I was unlucky to have a guy sitting behind me who spent the whole 5 hours yapping his head off on the phone. I never wished more for a meteorite to blow up half of the bus before.
Whereas I knew I would not stay in Lima longer than one night, after booking the bed in the dorm in Pool Paradise, I decided to go exploring Miraflores a little on foot without the backpack. I was too tired and too stinky after the journey, but knew that if I took shower, I would not feel like going anywhere anymore. I needed to buy water to rehydrate anyway, so stink bomb as I was, I grabbed the camera and stepped out.
After snapping a few pictures at Kennedy Park, I headed down Avenida Larco to Larcomar – a stripmall of sorts on the cliffs of Miraflores overlooking the ocean. From there I turned right and walked alongside the cliffs, passing a few parks until I got to Parque del Amor (Park of Love).
The park is dominated by a statue of a man and a woman in an embrace and kissing. The structures around are adorned with love quotes, and the mini amphitheater like cascading steps surrounding it are used by couples to hang out, talk or more.
I also took a walk to a place called Huaca Pucllana, which is an archieological site of an ancient pyramid structure that looks like a giant monolyth, but consists of man made clay bricks.
On the way back I made a quick stop in Parque Reducto No2, within which there are statues of war commanders and a display of old military gear, like cannons.
I looked for a fruit market, which would surely have been around had this city been in Ecuador, but there was none. A few street sellers selling fruit from carts was all I could come across. Most shops I’ve seen were either selling souvenirs, alpaca products, or they were overpriced restaurants. Overall, I saw absolutely no reason to stay in Miraflores, or Lima in general, for any more than a day.
It was 9:30am when I finally arrived in Miraflores and got off the Quick Llama van to look for accommodation on foot. It was far different from Ecuador, or basically any country I have ever looked for a place to stay in before.
First of all, finding any kind of accommodation that’s not a higher class hotel is extremely difficult because none are very well marked. But what made it all worse was that every hostel in Miraflores charged so much for their rooms, you’d think you’re in Singapore, not Peru.
After 3 hours walking up and down Miraflores on foot with my backpack on on the sweaty back, I concluded that Lima has one of the most expensive accommodations in the world. Certainly so when looking at what you get for what you pay.
Had I not been tired as all hell after a 32 hours long journey across multiple time zones, I would have packed up and left. Eventually, sheer tiredness got the best of me and I caved in and booked a bed in a 6 bed dorm for 40 Soles (about $12 US) in Pool Paradise.
Whereas in neighboring Ecuador I got beautiful private rooms with private bathroom and smart TV for $10, a bed in a busy dorm, which was located right on the ground floor and right next to the reception, so there was talking, banging and other noise 24/7, and there was no internet in rooms so I had to sit in the lobby to get on line, this seemed like one truly shitty deal. And that was the cheapest dorm I could find, as well as the cheapest anyone in the tourist information center knows about.
The room was dark, gloomy and smelly, with the only window facing a wall right outside of it. But the scariest thing was the young Filipina who was in the room when I checked in, who told me that she was just moved from another dorm room after herself and everyone else who stayed there woke up with bed bug bites all over their bodies.
The whole check in process to Pool Paradise was over the top. They asked me to fill up their registration form which was on a tablet, and which asked way too many personal questions which went over and beyond whatever a hotel may need in order to provide guests with accommodation.
To get a private room in Miraflores, you’d be looking at a cost of 160 Soles or more (about $50 US) – the type of money for which you could get a room in a decent hotel in western Europe.
Overall, right on my first day I found Peru to be very expensive with little to justify to high cost of services. I knew right away that I’m only staying in Miraflores because I’m too tired to look for a bus terminal and take a trip to another town. I knew I was only gonna stay in Lima for this one night, and the following day I would move somewhere else, but if somewhere else it’s as expensive as in Lima, I would then just quickly visit the places I was interested in visiting and move to another country all together.
Ecuador’s new law permits foreigners to only enter the country once a year if stayed for the full 3 months, and whereas I was there since the late September of previous year, I would not be able to reenter until late September again. Bolivia remains a strong option. But like it or not, for the time being, I remain in Peru.
After arriving in Peru’s Lima, I wanted to stay in the area of the city called Miraflores, because it’s known for being one of the safest and has numerous tourist facilities, including hostels.
I found out beforehand that a company names Airport Express Lima has regular services between the airport and Miraflores, precisely because Miraflores is popular with tourists. I however also found out that a smaller company called Quick LLama also offers transportation from the Jorge Chavez International Airport to Miraflores, and unlike the former, which costs 25 Soles, the trip with Quick Llama costs only 15 Soles.
However because Airport Express has a stronger hold on the market, it is far better advertised, so a tourist arriving in Lima will know right away where to find them. There are no indications at the airport that Quick Llama even provides that service, so one simply has to know about them in order to seek them out.
Nevertheless, both companies depart from the same parking lot, which is located behind the Costa del Sol Wyndham Hotel. To get there, walk out of the airport, and you will see the hotel right in front of you, on the opposite side of the road passing by the entrance. Walk around the hotel to find the parking lot behind it. Airport Express bus will likely already be parked in the most prominent location there, and will have a small booth set up where one can buy a ticket.
Quick Llama doesn’t have buses, but rather vans. The vans have large stickers on sides, so they can be easily identified. If there is one already waiting for passengers, it will likely be parked more in the back of the parking lot.
When I got to the parking lot, it was already 7:15 am. There was no Quick Llama vehicle, but Airport Express already had their bus waiting. I asked the staff at the booth at what time it leaves, and was told the next one leaves at 8am. Whereas I had enough time, I went back to the airport and returned to the parking lot in 15 minutes. By that time, a Quick Llama van was already there. I spoke with the driver who told me they were leaving at 7:45 (15 minutes before Airport Express), and confirmed their ticket to Miraflores indeed cost 15 Soles, which was 10 less than Airport Express.
I boarded their van and waited until it departed. There were only 3 more people in the van, so even though far from full, the van left when scheduled – precisely at 7:45.
We however did not arrive in Miraflores until 9:30am, because of Lima’s insane traffic. The jams on uncontrolled intersections were massive, and there are many uncontrolled intersections in the city. It was all about who can push themselves in the hardest. The larger the vehicle, the less crap it gave. The smaller the vehicle, the longer it took it to get anywhere.
Despite seemingly long lasting journey, the Quick Llama van got us all to Miraflores safely, and given the mad traffic situation, as fast as could be. I would use them again, and would not hesitate recommending their services to visitors arriving in Lima.