On June 2015, I had begun my travels through South America in Lima, Peru, with no clear plan of where I was going or for how long I was going to stay. All I knew was I wanted to be back in Manila for my brother’s wedding early the following year. It hadn’t been so evident yet during the first week, but wow, did I bring too much stuff.
It was my first backpacking trip, and I admit, I didn’t do any research on how or what to pack (click here for my article on this topic), nor did I take the time to begin studying the local language before I arrived (something I meant to do but efficiently procrastinated). Let me save you, dear reader, from the pain and frustrations I had to stoically wander with for not having done the aforementioned.
Notwithstanding, I was in high spirits so even my undeniably incompetent circumstance and foolhardy pre-travel attitude could not spoil my jolly humor. I flew into Lima from San Francisco where I had spent a month with my loving and supportive family, not knowing when I was going to see them again, but not caring much, to be perfectly honest (as long as it wasn’t from behind bars, locked up abroad).
I immediately got to work in learning Spanish thanks to my long-time friend Chris, who had a more than ample grasp of the language from his time spent in Central America. He coached me and let me listen to these Pimsleur audio files which helped tremendously for conversational Spanish. The Pimsleur program uses verbal repetition at gradually lengthened intervals to help with memory retention, which quite frankly, is genius. I highly recommend Pimsleur for the courageous that want to learn the basics of any language.
We spent the first week surfing the winter swell off of the great ol’ Pacific. Read about my epic time surfing in Peru here.
I had never been exposed to Latin American cultures and was excited to see it first-hand in the form of what I would soon know as one of the kindest and most gentle cultures in South America. Peruanos are known to be friendly and having been conquered by Spain – are mostly Catholics. Being the continent’s oldest civilization, they take pride in their heritage in the form of music, dance, and almost 3,000 annual festivals – religious and secular alike.
I got on a taxi and left the airport to meet up with Chris who was staying in a friend’s house in Miraflores – the swankiest suburb in Lima by the west coast (Peru only has a west coast, in case you were wondering), perched on a cliff high above the wavy shores. Infrastructure in Lima gave me flashbacks of home. At first sight, it seemed like I could be just moving through unfamiliar streets in Metro Manila. Miraflores though, was breathtakingly different.
As far as major cities of developing nations go, I realized they tend to feel the same way. Pollution, traffic, huge crowds; everything seemed to be covered with a film of soot and dust during the day. As most may have noticed in developing nations, for every 9 poor and dirty districts there is perhaps 1 clean, green and more expensive neighborhood in town. For Lima, this is Miraflores.
The night I arrived we went for a walk down the Malecón – the Boardwalk. It stretches for almost 10 kilometers past the borders north and south of the Miraflores district. It’s not just like any other boardwalk, it’s riddled with parks, playgrounds and access-ways to the beach far below as well as to shopping centers across the street and parking facilities. The Malecón is an excellent place to sit down and read a book, people-watch, skateboard, exercise, walk your dog, or meet up with friends. Lovers even take particular advantage in meeting up in the Parque del Amor, or the Love Park, where there are benches and many isolated areas (while still remaining visible to passersby) with a stunning view of the Pacific ocean and several Parasailers floating above and beyond the cliffs.
Many cities I visited in South America have a central plaza called the Plaza de Armas or sometimes called the Plaza Mayor, although in larger cities these might refer to two separate plazas. Plaza de Armas translates to Parade Ground, and gets its name from the Spanish military-style of building their cities in a grid pattern as they conquered the Americas. One or several blocks would be left empty to form the plaza, which would often be surrounded by government buildings, churches and museums. In case of attack back then, everyone would gather in the Plaza de Armas for refuge and defense.
The Plaza de Armas of Lima is a beautiful example of the grand experience one gets when walking along these squares. As are most, the square is dotted with palm trees, patches of colorful flowers and grass, benches and a towering fountain in the center. A center of bustling activity and relaxation during the day, I usually visited the central plazas of each city at daytime and was hardly left disappointed. At night, the lamp posts and facades of buildings would light up the square for locals and foreigners alike. Some cities are safer than others, so use your judgement and intuition in telling if a particular Plaza de Armas is safe to traverse late at night.
After Lima, I had taken a $30+ USD, 20+ hour bus ride into Cusco, which was an adventure all unto itself. Read about my experience in the Andes here.