Lima, Peru • July 2013 • Length of Read: 10 Minutes
The following extract has been adapted from my self-published paperback travel book, Crobs Abroad: A Scot’s Misadventures with a Backpack. It follows my mishaps across five different continents as I get comatose drunk on the Thai islands; kicked out of a Hungarian lap dancing club; kidnapped by the mayor of a Peruvian city; and trek for a week across the Moroccan Sahara. If you enjoy this post, then please visit my online bookshop for more details.
Flight AA2153 touched down on Peruvian soil at 04:30; five minutes ahead of schedule despite the pilot having attempted to find every pocket of turbulence littering the Tropic of Cancer that ghastly evening. I was knackered from the northern-to-southern hemisphere crossing and wanted nothing more than to just curl up in a ball and snooze for the rest of the night. To do this, however, meant first finding some form of accommodation. Endy’s guidebook recommended a hostel called The Point, and with no public transport running at that purgatory time between night and day we agreed to take the financial hit and split a cab.
Sleepwalking towards the taxi rank Skills pointed out that it may first be a good idea to withdraw some local currency, but in crowding round the beat-up ATM at the exit to Lima Airport’s baggage reclaim hall we came to the stark realisation that nobody had a clue what the exchange rate was.
“What are you thinking Endy?” I asked in hope, pointing at the various options available. “200 Soles? 500 Soles? 3000 Soles?”
“Well, the guidebook says that it’s S/.2.65 to USD$1.”
“And when was that published?”
“Right, does anyone know roughly what Peruvian inflation has averaged out at over the past 15 years?”
“Fuck it, S/.500 it is.”
Upon leaving the terminal a friendly woman immediately approached us offering just the service we were after. How convenient. In broken English, she told us that two taxis would cost S/.400 and that this was ‘muy razonable’ - mighty reasonable. As she plugged this great deal, however, we couldn’t help but notice the giant poster in the background depicting lines of polished Mercedes; fresh from a full valet service and driven by men wearing coattails and wide-brimmed hats. Something about this image made us think that the service might be a little too high-calibre for our straight-out-of-University budget and style. Opting to turn down the kind lady’s offer we instead trudged outside to a line of dilapidated cars where a cabbie, who could have been mistaken for a Don Corleone tribute act, said he could do the trip for S/.50. No matter how dodgy the situation appeared to be we couldn’t argue that this wasn’t a stonking deal.
Bundling into the back we were scared to ask what other services he could provide for a similar fee; the combination of his mafia dress code and blacked out station-wagon giving a hearty tip-of-the-cap to the opening scene from Goodfellas. ‘If we are to become embroiled in any protection racketeering during our outings along South America’s Gringo Trail,’ I thought to myself, ‘then this may well be the guy who could save our backs.’ As concerned as we were, however, after a half-hour of winding up and down Pacific Ocean cliffs we safely arrived at our hostel and piled out of the squashed four-seater. Evidently, the required people-to-seatbelt ratio of taxis doesn’t apply to wannabe gangsters. We had flights booked out of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for two months’ time, and until then the continent was ours to explore. As it turned out this would primarily be done by hopping from pub to bar to club, with some wild misadventures thrown in to keep us on our toes.
Awaking the following lunchtime in a groggy haze I stumbled from the top bunk towards the bathroom where I bumped into a man wearing a radiation suit and carrying Ghostbusters equipment. Pausing to watch I was slightly disappointed when it was not the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man he was trying to fend off however but simply some cockroaches. I went for a piss and made a mental note not to use the hostel’s kitchen at any point. Having freshened-up I began to feel a thirst coming on. Initially confused as to why the reception fridge wouldn't open after almost yanking the door off, I went a little red when the girl behind the desk handed me a key for the massive padlock strapped across its front. In fits of laughter she then pointed me in the way of the supermarket, and with the others still to stir I headed out for my first taste of Lima by daylight.
Before embarking on my South American adventure one of the main pieces of advice provided by a well-travelled uncle was to get in and out of Lima as quickly as possible, and meandering around the sewage infested back alleys of the Barranco district I could see why. In only two blocks I passed a burned-out police car and numerous wild dogs whose growls and stares made me extremely thankful for the rabies injections I'd paid a small fortune to get. My sense of smell was also nearly obliterated from the stench of urine puddles that turned walking the pavements of the Peruvian capital into one endless game of hop-scotch.
Picking up a tuna baguette I returned to the hostel. The others had finally arisen and, despite my protests, were keen to have a look around the neighbourhood themselves. We only got as far as the garden gate, this time, however, when glancing to our right, a kid came flying out a side-street on a skateboard only to be T-boned by an oncoming car. Before we could even comprehend what has just occurred, and as quick as the crash had happened, the boy then stood up; dusted himself off; and legged it, leaving a 14-year-old shaped crime scene imprint in the bonnet of the busted hatchback. The driver got out from behind the wheel looking absolutely perplexed, and as a security guard from a nearby building came over to analyse the situation we quickly headed back inside before being asked to give a statement and testimonial.
Playing some table tennis in the security of the property we met Luke from New York who was also only spending one day in Lima before heading off to the heights of Cusco to catch up with some of his Israeli pals from College. Over pizza at a nearby restaurant, he told us of the inductions undertaken by those pledging for his fraternity, some notable challenges including downing a ‘fish pint’ and participating in an ‘elephant walk’. I would best describe this latter term to those readers not familiar with such proceedings as a ‘naked homosexually-intimate conga’. Grown men kneeling down on all fours and grasping the penis of the person in front of them through their legs whilst a fellow ‘pledger’ does the same behind. I couldn’t help but see Luke in a different light following this admission. Neil, the Dutch Barman who had served up the food, kept us entertained in a different manner for the remainder of the evening with convincing theories as to how thermometric and geological metamorphosis could explain the construction of The Pyramids and Stonehenge. He also ensured we were kept topped up on Cusquena, the local beer. When not pouring pints he operated tours of the continent and as last orders were called said that we definitely needed to visit the ‘sexy woman’ when in Cusco. Despite our desperate pleas, however, he wouldn’t divulge any further information as to what this might entail.
Woken up the next morning by a regiment of the Peruvian Army marching down the street we bode farewell to Luke and headed to the shops to buy some supplies for our flight. Gadams and I also took this opportunity to find ourselves a touring mascot and entering a dingy shopping mall our prayers were answered in the form of a stuffed giraffe who was quickly christened George. Peering out the taxi window on the way to the airport that afternoon our new pet was treated to a deconstructed mobile circus performance that the whole city was seemingly involved in. When stopped at traffic lights and crossroads we witnessed juggling unicyclists, fire breathers, and a man pulling a wheelbarrow full of wheel-less wheelbarrows; shooed away street vendors trying to sell us refreshments for the show; and admired the severe patriotism expressed through every political building being draped with the red and white vertical slithers of the Peruvian flag as if a blanket had fallen from the sky. For the grand finale, our driver almost ripped his exhaust open as he pulled into the airport over an enormous speed bump. Never mind sleeping policemen, this thing was the size of a small rhino. Despite our short time there, upon boarding the 55-minute flight to Cusco we were not sorry to see the back of the Peruvian capital. When anyone now asks me what the best thing to do in Lima is I tend to echo my uncle and respond with the five letter word: leave.