PANORAMIC PERU 2006
September 22 – October 8
Harold and Karen Greig
John and Barbara Wise
Guides: Carlos Lazo and Marco Palomino
Friday, September 22. TRAVELING
After driving up I-5 to the Portland Orrs, on Thursday afternoon, we spent a fitful night trying to get some sleep, but mostly we just dreamed about the adventure to come. The alarm went off at 4:00AM, and we hurriedly dressed and Randy made a magnificent effort to get up and get us to the airport, just ten minutes from their house. When we arrived at the airport at 4:30, we noticed that the Delta check in desk was dark and deserted. It was then that we noticed that our original flight had been cancelled, and that our new flight was to leave an hour later. So, we were at the airport an hour earlier than needed. It didn’t matter much, as we were too excited to sleep anyway. Eventually, the Delta desk opened, we were the first ones in line, and we successfully moved through immigration and security and boarded Delta Flight #1683 and were speeding through the skies to Atlanta, Georgia.
Since the flight left on time, we made a very smooth, but long flight to Atlanta, arriving around lunch time. There, we were faced with the immense complexity of the overwhelming W.B Hartsfield airport. After grabbing a quick sandwich at the airport Wendy’s, we walked to the airport subway system that rapidly transports passengers to distant concourses. We managed to get ourselves to the proper international gate, and soon we were checked into Delta flight #335 and flying on to Lima, Peru.
After a grueling set of flights that included four and a half hour from Portland to Atlanta, and a very long six and a half hour flight down the west coast of South America, we arrived at Lima, descended through the fog and landed at J. Chavez airport. It was just after midnight, and the airport was in incredible chaos, with many hundreds of passengers filling the airport and trying to work their way through customs and immigration. We followed the crowds, and eventually worked our way through the maze of checkpoints. We sweated out the usual apprehensive baggage arrivals, but they all arrived safely! As we walked towards the exits of the airport, we encountered hundreds of taxi and transport drivers aggressively yelling at us, and trying to get us to hire them. Fortunately, we quickly spotted our transport driver holding an Adventure Life sign with “Harold and Karen Greig” written on it. It was a very welcome sight! Our transport driver helped us get our bags into his van, and quickly we were driven away from the mad scene of the airport, and into the late Friday evening mad scene that constituted downtown Lima. . We couldn’t believe that we were actually in South America!
The rough streets of Lima were still alive with action at 12:30 AM as we raced through the perilous traffic, dodging cars and busses that seemed to pay no attention to stop signs, lanes or stop lights. Fortunately, our driver understood some English, and was able to carry on polite conversation with us as we nervously rode along. Eventually, the surroundings became decidedly more upscale, and we realized that we were entering Miraflores. Soon we were at the Carmel Hotel, checking in and collapsing in our room. It was almost 1:00AM, and it had been a very tough day of traveling. Before retiring, we tried a couple of bottles of chincha, the popular Peruvian corn beer that was stocked in the hotel minibar.
Saturday, September 23, MIRAFLORES
We were too excited to sleep much past 6:00am, so we got up, showered and went downstairs to the hotel restaurant. There, we ate our first continental breakfast at the Carmel Hotel, sampling for the first time quinoa the high-protein grain that is a Peruvian staple. We also tried chincha morada, a juice made from purple corn. It was not too flavorful. The hotel brought a money changer to the restaurant, and we exchanged some dollars for Nuevo Soles, the common currency of Peru that exchanges at 3.2 Soles for each American dollar. I then used the hotel computer to send an email to our family and friends. We were astounded to find that in a country with such limited resources, that they were so technologically advanced on the internet. There was no problem in connecting on the internet anywhere in Peru.
After breakfast, we explored the streets of Miraflores, the very upscale and modern section of Lima. We have to admit that we were nervous for a few minutes as we mingled with the natives who were energetically going about the start of their Saturday morning. Before long, we lost our fear and started enjoying the tremendous buzz of this nicer part of Lima. Along the way, we purchased some watercolors paintings from a local sidewalk artist, who had trouble changing our $20 Sole bill, and had to run down the block to get change from a friend. This was a problem we were to encounter throughout Peru. Even though 20 Soles is only about 7 US dollars, most merchants have trouble exchanging it because of the poor economy. Wandering far and wide, after some time we strayed beyond the boundaries of Miraflores, and entered an area with a dark energy. There we found ourselves close to a funky looking local market, and decided to explore it. However, a nicely dressed, middle-aged business man approached us and told us in Spanish that we were going into a very bad area, and we would lose our wallets and camera because it was an area replete with pickpockets and thieves. When we gave him puzzled looks, he quickly switched to English and told us that he just could not let us go in there. He was genuinely concerned, and we appreciated being saved by this local from entering a bad area. So, we gave it a cursory exploration and got the heck out of there. We felt very thankful that this nice Limeño citizen would b e so helpful. As we walked through Miraflores, we were amazed at the captivating women with beautiful hair, big dark eyes and lithe bodies, as well as the handsome, curly-haired charming men-what a beautiful race of people!
In the early afternoon we returned to the hotel lobby and had our first meeting with Carlos Lazo, our first Adventure Life guide. Carlos walked into the lobby, looked at me and said: “Look! We’re twins!” This was because we were dressed in similar fashion, and were wearing our Adventure Life hats. Later in the tour, I was to realize that this statement was more accurate than I could have imagined. Carlos and I were certainly “simpatico” in many areas! A few minutes after meeting Carlos, we met Jon and Barbara Wise, who were to be our traveling companions for the tour. Jon is 58, and recently retired from his job as a transportation planner. Barbara is 53, and is still working as a nurse practitioner. They live in Glenwood, Maryland and have three grown children. We all realized right away that we thought alike in terms of politics and world views. This made for a very pleasant companionship throughout the trip.
LIMA TO PISCO
Carlos took us to the bus station where we first sampled Inka Cola, the favorite soft drink of Peru. It is a lot like Mountain Dew. Soon after that, we boarded an Ormeño bus for our trip from Lima to Pisco. An attractive girl from Madrid sat by Carlos on the bus and shared filberts with us as we traveled along the Panamericana Sur-coastal freeway running to the south. We saw political slogans painted on numerous buildings in Lima, and throughout our Peruvian tour. Carlos said that they were nearing elections in Peru, and the politicians were in high gear. We learned that the Spanish word alcalde, means “mayor” in English. Evidently, numerous people were running for that position, as we saw it painted on buildings everywhere. We noticed many Pecsa Peruvian gas stations as we left Lima. Many abandoned high-rise apartments with hundreds of windows broken out were situated on the outskirts of Lima, as the tenants had been unable to afford the rents. We quickly encountered the first of many peajes, the Spanish word for "tollbooth". There we paid our small fee and drove on. Ripening cotton fields dotted the landscapes, and we saw cattle living with squatters in their houses. Many large chicken farms were scattered along the highway, and pumpkin fields and palm trees lined the roads. Farther outside Lima, we saw slums established on high sand hills with steep stairs leading up to them. Carlos mentioned that the squatters had to carry their water up those many steep stairs from long distances. These settlements were occupied by squatters who placed a Peruvian flag to claim their spot. These slums all had names like “Nuevo Lima,” and were more or less tolerated by the local governments. Carlos mentioned that the first relatively strong earthquake would bring all of these settlements crashing down. As we traveled along the highway, we saw sticker bushes placed on back of trucks to deter robbers from climbing up the backs of the trucks to steal goods as the trucks slowed down on steep grades. As we passed through the town of Chincha, Carlos mentioned it was a town with many black people, but he said that more Asian people were brought to Peru as slaves than blacks.
After three and a half hours on the bus, we were glad to arrive in the late afternoon and stretch our legs by walking the streets of colorful Pisco, our first road town. After we checked in and settled into our first hotel, the Posada Hispana, we moved to the upstairs restaurant where we enjoyed a memorable first supper that included Pescada Putanesca (sea bass with Putenesca sauce). As we watched the attractive waitress in the Posada Hispana flirt with Carlos, we noticed that he had the ability to attract beautiful woman of all ages wherever he went. We were becoming more and more aware of the need to speak Spanish, as English speakers were far and few between. Before dinner, we had our chance to first experience the Pisco Sour, the national drink of Peru. It did not disappoint! It is a special type of brandy made from clear grape alcohol, beaten egg whites, lemon juice, sugar syrup and a touch of Angostura bitters. Jon Wise colorfully said: “It will knock you on your ass!” As we sampled our first typical Peruvian dishes we learned that Peruvian “papas fritas” are the best french fries in the world! We also noticed that Peruvian food is always served with both potatoes and rice. An excellent pipe band was playing authentic Peruvian music nearby as we finished dinner, adding to the festive air. Wh