While on the bus on my way to attend the writers group meeting that occurs each Thursday morning I have a sudden and inexplicable urge to listen to mournful classical music. I can’t think up an exact melody I’d like to hear, but a chord chimes in my head and I want more. Sometimes the soul just needs something deep and melancholy to absorb. My soul anyway. I guard the idea in my head to act on later and tune in to the selection the Cobrador (that’s the conductor/money collector on the bus) has selected. It’s not at all lugubrious. Soon the feeling fades and I stare out the window watching the world go by.
I’m getting to know Lima, especially Mira Flores. Lima is made up of many districts or suburbs (if my understanding is correct); San Isidro, Mira Flores, Ate, San Luis, Callao, San Miguel and Magdalena Del Mar to name a few. Katrina loaned me a map and I’ve been studying it to get the visual lay of the land so I don’t feel so thrown out to the wild when I go exploring. I’m recognizing building landmarks and streets. It’s interesting how foreign, truly foreign a new place can feel. The first week I was here I thought I’d never get the hang of the streets or understand the flow of traffic. And now, one month in, I think I could give directions by billboards and KFCs like Walter does.
I make my stop and transfer like a pro. It’s a warm day and by the time I’ve walked the eight blocks down and three blocks over I’m sweating and warm. I’ve already stripped off my jacket and rolled up my sleeves. Good thing it’s winter here or I’d be a real mess. It’s been cold for about the past week and I’m glad for the warmth, I just wish I hadn’t inherited the White family sweat gene. TMI?
After Victoria and I parse Rodney’s fun, myth-provoking story, we bid each other adieu and part ways. I head south toward the beach. First stop is Vivanda to pick up a gallon of Vanish Liquid for Casa Del Gringo per Walter’s request per Jose’s request. It’s for the laundry. I know I’m going to be walking most of the day and that anything I buy I’ll have to carry. I also know a gallon of liquid weighs about eight pounds. However, even equipped with this knowledge I also know I don’t want to walk all the way back to the store after I leave that part of the district. There’s a Vivanda on the bus route back home, but I’m not feeling adventurous enough to get off there and try to flag a bus down after shopping and possibly in the dark. I also like to have my chores out of the way first. I buy the Vanish, a bunch of bananas and some chifles. Good thing I’m walking everywhere or I’d have to lay off the fried banana chips. Before I leave Vivanda I make a stop in the bathroom so that I don’t have to pay .50 centimos to use a public restroom or use any of the stash of toilet paper I take with me everywhere. I’d been warned about Peruvian bathrooms beforehand and have found them to be better than advertised. But still.
I walk past the places I’d lingered at yesterday in Mira Flores, wondering if Javier, the fortune teller is at his post in the plaza and what questions people want to have answered in the cards. I hover in a bookstore reading covers and the first pages of books in Spanish. There’s a fantastic piece of art on the wall and I ask the clerk if the artist is a local and if I can take a picture of the painting. She tells me the artist is Sonia Estrada and yes.
On a whim I stop at Larco Mar to see if my once-met friend Rodrigo is working. He’s already gone for the day. I hope I leave his coworkers wondering about what a gringa wants with him. My plan for the day is to follow the path that parallels the ocean and see the Park of Love and then go further down to the Lighthouse and make it back to Cieneguilla before dark.
The sun shines today in Lima. It’s gorgeous. There’s been about a week of overcast and rainy days and the sunshine recharges me. I’m solar powered. Heliocentrically thrilled as I am, I’m not paying attention to where I’m going and nearly collide with an older, American gentleman. “Oh sorry,” he says. “Excuse me,” I say. “Oh whoopsie,” his wife says. I swallow a guffaw at that word and turn my focus to the path.
El Parque Del Amor is beautifully maintained.
The love statue is strange, and wonderful, and odd, and I’m not even sure what. So I take pictures. The park is overrun with an assortment of love-languished couples and foreigners such as I. I don’t feel such a ghastly tourist with my camera out since there are so many others with their cameras out. The tourists here make up the majority.
“Where are you from?”“Hallo.”
“Hi. How are you?”These are the kinds of comments I get from the park bum fellows I pass.
A hang glider swoops down low. I look up. The two boys in the glider both say, “Hola. Hi.” I give them an exasperated smile, wipe some sweat off my brow and keep on.In between the Park of Love and the lighthouse I pass a boy with a backpack. “You’re Canadian?” he asks me in Spanish.
“No, I’m from the United States.”“Oh! Do you know Michigan?”
“Sure,” I say.
“It’s cold there,” he tells me.“You’ve been? Did you go in winter?”
“Yes. What is your name?” he asks.I tell him.
“I’m Tupac,” he says.
“Like the last Incan,” I say, having read just enough about the Incans to know this bit of info and thinking that’s more likely than him being named after Tupac Shakur. This Tupac tells me that he comes from Cusco and the Incans and that his native language was Quechua. I make him tell me some things in Quechua. We talk of shoes and ships and sealing wax and he tells me I speak good Spanish. I know I need to learn so much more of the language, but I still like the little pat on the back. “Falta mucho,” I tell him. “Poco a poco aprendo (I still lack a lot. Little by little I’m learning).”
“Tu tienes una buena energia (you have good energy),” he tells me. He digs in his pack and pulls out a handmade bracelet and proceeds to tie it around my wrist. “Something to remember me by. A gift for you. It’s the colors of the Incan flag.” He sells handmade jewelry, woven things and fancier stone necklaces, and does a good job of product pushing. One sales trick is to get a potential client to hold the merchandise. Somehow or other this increases the probability of a close. I think I learned that on a TV show or I made it up. I don’t know where Tupac learned it because I doubt he went to sales school. But he knows the techniques. He shows me several necklaces, one made of green stones and one of tigers eye, laying them in my hands, telling me how beautiful they are. They are pretty pieces of jewelry, but I’m not an impulse buyer and since I don’t have an income of my own yet I have to be careful of every sole I spend. I don’t go for it. I’m not entirely suckered in. Although he’s told me the bracelet he gave me was a gift, he mentions food for his family and I give him one sole, but I’ve had a good conversation and taken his picture which is worth the price for me. Sucker? Maybe. Or maybe not. We both have a good energy, I think.
The lighthouse is tall. It’s cylindrical. It’s delightful. I take a picture of it while a man stands in front of it having some local boy take his picture and trying to get all of the lighthouse in the photo. After he’s done with his photo op he picks up and his bike and heads my way.
“Would you like me to take your picture?” he asks me in Spanish. I take him up on the offer and he takes several photos. “Check them to see if they’re okay,” he says before getting on his bike and pedaling away.My coastal adventure comes to a close. I mark the descent of the sun as I walk to the Via Expresa and eventually get back to the bus stop. I’ve never gone this way home before and have to ask one of the bus keepers if I’m on the right side of the road to get home to Cieneguilla. He tells me no and points me the correct way. I take my life into my hands along with a crowd of others as we cross the street. This is standard for Lima. Street crossing is treacherous. Once again I defy death and go to stand on the edge of the curb peering into the distance to see if my bus is coming. I’m tired after perspiring out at least a gallon of sweat and carting around that gallon jug of Vanish Liquid all day. I don’t want to wait all night for a bus.
I’m in luck. I flag down the Molinero 49 with a double wave of my hand and get on board. It’s a crowded bus. Standing room only, and just barely that. I clutch the bag that has the Vanish Liquid so as not to clobber the girl I’m leaning over. I brace my feet and hang on to the bar above my head to keep from falling when the bus jars to a halt and when it shutters back to a start.
It’s all the clichés; a tin of sardines, a can of worms, a mess of humanity. Up close and very personal. The Cobrador eels in and out between bodies to collect fares. When one person gets off, two more come on. The law of the bus says if a seat empties the person closest gets it. There is one reserved bench seat on each bus for senior citizens, pregnant women, injured people or a parent with children. If it’s filled and all the other seats are filled, it’s first come first serve. Often riders will defer their right to the close seat to an older person or a mother and child. In the short time I’ve been here I’ve seen great kindnesses here in Peru. Tonight I experience one.
I think I might have to stand the whole way to Cieneguilla. The other day when I took this trip it lasted close to two hours. Now I’m willing my muscles to hold their positions for the long haul. I give the Cobrador my fare and switch hands on the rail. Twenty minutes go by. I’m staring abstractly out the window when I feel a soft touch on my elbow. I turn my head. A lady stands. “I’m getting off, would you like my seat?” she asks me. The other passengers standing near her are all men. Maybe she doesn’t think they deserve first come first serve policy. I wonder if it’s because I’m a girl that I get offered the seat. Or because I’m a gringa. Or because I’ve got a lot in my hands. Whatever the reason, it’s nice. I gladly take the chair and say, “Muchas gracias, señora, gracias.”