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Lima in five observations [PERU]

in Featured/Travel by

With direct overnight flights from Toronto, Lima is often viewed as the necessary starting or ending point of any trip to Peru. Most tourists will book a hotel or hostel in Miraflores (the most Americanised neighbourhood in the city), visit a couple museums, and buy supplies or last minute souvenirs on their way to or coming back from the “sierra” (mountains) or “selva” (jungle). I arrived in Lima with an entirely different purpose. I came to work as a CUSO volunteer for a feminist organisation called Movimiento Manuela Ramos. The following are five initial observations about Lima.

1 – “Trust no one”

Having only met lovely Peruvians in the past, I wasn’t quite prepared for the shower of warnings I would get in my first couple weeks in Lima. A typical introduction would involve a quick name exchange immediately followed by “watch your bag,” “be careful with taxis”, “do you know which neighbourhoods you have to avoid?”, “don’t walk alone at night”, and a general explanation of how delinquency and insecurity were the biggest problem facing Limeños. Just in case that wasn’t enough, general warnings were usually followed by either a personal story or a story of a friend of a friend, which involved armed robbery, bag snatching, earring stealing (while they were hanging from one’s ears), etc.

This, and the fact that I didn’t know my surroundings, led me to spend my first two weeks in the city looking over my shoulder, eyeing suspiciously anyone who talked to me, and being slightly paranoid overall. In fairness, these warnings aren’t completely unwarranted – Peru does have a turbulent history and continues to struggle with narcotrafficking. Two months later, however, I’ve thankfully relaxed a bit. Now I know that Latin America isn’t St. John’s and precautionary measures should be taken, but (knock on wood), so far all I’ve lost is my cell phone (which I managed to do without anyone’s help). And what I have found are some of the most incredibly nice, warm and helpful people in the world.

2 – Condiments

Aji de gallina, one of Lima's favourite dishes
Aji de gallina, one of Lima’s favourite dishes. Photo by Katherine Giroux-Bougard.

If you aren’t familiar with Peruvian food, you are in for a treat. A quick google search will uncover a huge variety of native ingredients (such as corn, potatoes, quinoa), incredible mouth-watering dishes, and world renowned chefs. In short, Peru has amazing food. However, what I wasn’t quite prepared for was their love of condiments.

Especially mayonnaise.

They love mayonnaise here. Many dishes will come with a side of mayonnaise, ketchup (which is sweetened) and aji (chili pepper sauce). Though I began with an ambivalent relationship with mayonnaise, I now find myself ordering a bit extra to mix with the aji for my fries.

3 – God matters

This is not only evident by the sheer number of churches present in the city and the number of people in them, but also in general day-to-day life. My favourite manifestation of faith, however, often occurs when I’m on the bus. Heading to work one day I noticed that a bus swerved in front of mine with a “God guides this vehicle” slogan at the back while mine proudly boasted, “this vehicle belongs to God”. The only logical conclusion is that God likes to live on the edge. In a city where buses are privatised and compete for clients, it is not unusual to see them cut each other off to try to get to a stop first, while “cobradors” (fare collectors) yell where they are heading, someone at a bus stop gives information about the status of competing buses, and vendors and performers sell their goods. Unsurprisingly, a number of accidents occur. Which must put God in an awkward position if he both guides and owns competing vehicles that crash into one another.

4 – Articles

In the English language, there are a number of reasons to use a definite article – “the” – such as highlighting that it is placed before a noun to highlight the fact that there is only one (i.e. “the sun”). One clear rule, however, is that it is generally incorrect to use “the” in front of a name or in front of a country name (unless that country name includes states, kingdom or republic). The same line of thinking tends to apply to Spanish, though with a small quirk here in Lima. Firstly, the easiest way to spot foreigners (apart from the fact that they are likely taller, don’t speak Spanish and are wearing a camera around their neck) is that they will say “Peru” instead of “el Perú”. Other countries such as the India (but not Canada), get the same treatment, though there seems to be no logical rule. The addition of the article “the” (in Spanish “el” or “la”) also extends to people. So it is not uncommon to hear, “did you hear what the Juan did last night” or “I’m here at the house with the Katherine.” Yup that’s right. THE Katherine. It makes me feel special every time.

5 – Chile

Ingredients for making Chilcanos (including Pisco)
Ingredients for making Chilcanos (including Pisco). Photo by Katherine Giroux-Bougard.

If you’ve ever had a chance to encounter a group of Latin Americans outside of Latin America you’ll soon realise that no matter where they are from on the continent, they seem to have an instant bond when they meet. It gives the impression that it is a place with such a strong sense of shared culture and background that everyone must be getting along swimmingly between these countries.

Wrong.

If you move to Latin America, you quickly learn that there is a hierarchy of most favourite neighbour to least favourite neighbour. In the case of “el Perú”, Chile ranks as least favourite. This becomes quite evident during soccer matches or if you follow politics. But it also comes up in more subtle ways. Eyes tend to roll when one is perusing a menu and considering Chilean wine. And of course, then comes the thorny issue of Peru’s national drink – Pisco – as both countries claim to have invented the drink. My advice? Never ever say that Pisco comes from Chile.

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