Thursday, July 9, 2009

Day 2 - Midnight Walks

I woke up first. The window was open which had made the room chilly. By the sound of the cars outside and my satisfactory sleep, it seemed to be late in the day. Sucharit´s Ipod showe 7:40 am.

As I used a crank-powered radio to listen to Spanish music, Sucharit strummed on the guitar our host had lying on his leather sofa. We quited down when we realized that the host was still at home. We must have woken him up. Oops. After taking what I relished as my last hot shower in Peru, we had a breakfast of bread, cheese, and thick, sweet milk. We were fed, well-rested, and ready to begin our adventures.

First stop - German embassy. Nikhil was unsuccessful in getting his transit visa for his flight to India. Our second stop was the Bolivian consulate where we did not get our Bolivian visa either due to a few missing documents. I wasn´t put down, because I had the opportunity to take not one, but two buses to the consulate, along with a healthy dose of walking. If we did get lost, it wasn´t for long. Nikhil has a much better grasp on Spanish than Sucharit or myself, and he was able to guide us through unnamed streets and unlabelled buses by questioning strangers every few minutes. Every once in a while, I´d ask a question and then step back, leaving Nikhil to decode the answer.

Everywhere we went, I felt nothing but kindness from strangers. The guard at the German consulate ended up giving us his name and number. "You can contact me if you have any questions," he said. "I want you to have a good impression of my country." In every taxi we rode, the drivers were cordial and helpful. One driver in Mira Flores told us how much we should pay other taxis if we go to Central Lima. "12 soles," he insisted, "not a cent more." Another driver became our unofficial tour guide to the streets of Peru. He pointed out where a laser show was going to be tonight, how the zoo was spectacular, and so on. Upon learning that we spoke English, he blasted a CD of the Bee Gees.

In Central Lima, I was reminded of Lajpat Nagar, a marketplace in Delhi where shops line the tiny alleys and a diverse array of people come to sell their wares. We saw our hotel, Hostal Espana, and decided to check in then. The halls were decked with paintings, Greek busts, statues, and gold-plated artifacts. Our room was quaint, with four beds, two wooden dressers, and a mirror. Nikhil and Sucharit left some of their belongings in the room, and we went off to explore the city.

My first impression of Peruvian food was at a vegetarian hole-in-the-wall called Villa Natura. Food never tasted so good. Ceviche mixto was a lemon sprayed salad with un-popped but eatable corn, tofu, and mushrooms. I got a tortilla de berentena, which included the most flavor-packed omelet I have ever had. Truly. Nikhil´s dish was my favorite. Arros a jajadinera had a creamy tomato saue mingled with another sauce, in which there lay a drenched slab of moist tofu. The meal made both my stomach and palate very happy.

The highlight of my day was going back to Mira Flores and walking down the seaside. We weren´t satisfied with simply looking at the view to the ocean below. Instead, we walked at least ten blocks (buying bananas and oranges on the way), climbed down a mountain of stairs, and walked across a pebble ridden beach to go to the spot that had caught my eye- a dark rock formation jutting meters into the sea. I imagined standing at the tip of those jagged rocks and seeing nothing but the ocean around me. I was working on reaching that tip, when the tumultuous winter waves began crashing a tad too violently...and a lot closer to us. We settled for a rock in the middle and enjoyed our fruit while taking in the view. As spectacular as it was, a quickly rising tide made me anxious. It was dusk, the salty wind was in full force, and the water was getting darker. Save for the few fishermen, everyone had left by now. All of a sudden, a huge wave crashed right by us, drenching Sucharit completely. Adrenaline rushed through my body as I scurried back to the shore, climbing and slipping on the large sharp boulders that made up this peninsula in the sea.

By now, we were cold and wet, some of us more than others. A little tired, but relieved at the thought of being in Mayra´s fiancee´s apartment soon. We were almost there when Nikhil smacked his head. We stopped and stared at him. "The key to the apartment is at the hostel." He had left it at Espana. Hoping that the fiancee was at home didn´t help. He wasn´t home. We called Mayra from a payphone, and she agreed to meet us at the apartment in half an hour.

We used this time as an excuse for dinner. Cafe Italiano was warmer and the food filled me up. Within an hour, we had gotten our stuff from the apartment and were on our way to the hotel.

The beds were comforting and warm, but the day was not over yet. We roamed the streets of a now desolate and dark Central Lima. After some delicious Brusselina cake at Rorky´s, we roamed the Plaza de Mayor, an area of grand and architecturally gorgeous buildings. There were police and army officials stationed throughout the Plaza, fully armed. They were not guarding the monuments, but preparing for what is supposed to be a large protest tomorrow. We have been warned numerous times today that the protest will result in difficulty getting transportation.

Blaring Bob Marley music led us to a tiny alley, lit up by two street lights. Five boys and a dog were playing football (soccer) on the cobblestone road. Two cardboard boxes made up the goals on either side, and the dog was growling and pouncing on the ball, very much part of the game. Whenever a goal was shot, it was the canine who fetched the ball, and a boy would pry it out of his snarling jaws.

We went to the source of the reggae tunes, it led us into a hallway with psychadelic lights and indie-inspired paintings. A spiral of stairs later, we were in an isolated bar. A large chalkboard read "Peace, Love, and Happiness". The owner was a dread-locked man. A sweet smoky smell permeated the air. This place was hippy-central. I felt a bit uneasy in the emptiness. If there were other people around, the wooden rooms might have seemed cozy. In the emptiness, I imagined if I were murdered, my screams would be silenced by the blaring speakers. It was a scary thought. Soon enough, I went back outside, roaming the streets of the Plaza. It had bee na long first day, and it ended on a surreal note; an empty street, magnificent structures with no one to appreciate them but us, and the policemen arriving with body shields, now quickly increasing in number.

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