4 Things I Wasn’t Expecting
Now I’m not saying I expected to see people riding llamas to work every day, but I certainly wasn’t expecting narrow streets jam packed with cars, denser than most parts of Chicago with pedestrians and the occasional motorcycle weaving through traffic. There are high-rises all over the city (I live on the 5th floor of a 10 story building) and the streets are filled with old manual transmission cars haphazardly painted as taxis and re-purposed vans for buses. Lima has a metropolitan population of about 9 million, but it doesn’t feel like a big downtown with suburbs; it’s very urban everywhere that I’ve been.
The view from my 5th floor window. Pretty cool.
That said… Lima isn’t all pavement and city blocks. Which brings me to:
Historic downtown Lima is comprised almost exclusively of 16th and 17th century buildings, cathedrals, palaces, and fountains. Some pictures:
The buildings are beautiful, but Lima definitely isn’t the only city in the world with old buildings, old fountains, old plazas, old statues, etc.
The real historical shock came a few days ago when I was walking from my apartment to a movie theater down a crowded sidewalk on a main road in Miraflores, when, off to my right, one block down a side street, I saw a giant pile of dirt squeezed in between high rises, flats, and houses. It didn’t look like a construction site, but I couldn’t quite tell what it was, so I walked down the side street to inspect it. When I got closer, I realized that it wasn’t actually a pile of dirt, but an ancient structure built from mud bricks. Two blocks north of the movie theater in urban Lima was a pre-incan archeaological site thousands of years old and still being excavated.
I took these pictures later from a tour bus when we drove by at night:
And it’s not the only one in Lima… I’ve seen at least two others, one that’s right next to the University and another one in Miraflores.
Street signs are not obeyed. Street lights are usually obeyed, but not always. Most of the vehicles I have been in don’t have speedometers, and none of the buses have them. Every driver drives with the sole goal of moving forward down the road in the next five seconds, and they will change lanes, drive through intersections, or cut people off as many times as necessary to achieve this goal. Cars do not drive in a straight line, and you can’t really tell where the lanes are, or even the number of lanes, based on the position of the cars on the road.
Tickets are rarely given, and when they are, I am told it is usually in the form of a cop asking for a bribe. Crashes are ignored if both cars can drive away.
Public transportation. When I talk about buses, what I am referring to are the combis. Most are not buses, but re-purposed industrial vans made in the eighties by companies I have never heard of. They are painted bright colors and have seating for about 15, and standing room for many more (I use the terms ‘seating’ and ‘standing room’ loosely here, because in Peru, there isn’t really a concept of personal space). And if they are buses, they are rickety, manual transmission, and jam-packed. Combi operators are paid on a commission basis, so they have an incentive to drive recklessly, cut off other combis looking to pick up passengers, and cram as many people in as possible, and they do all of these things. There’s a lot to say about the combis and public transportation… I’ll probably have another post later on exclusively on this subject.
Despite all of this, crashes seem to be very rare; you can’t really half-ass driving here, so everyone brave enough to venture out onto the roads in a car probably has a good idea of what they are doing, or they wouldn’t last long on the streets.
The fruits are different here. There are many different types of bananas; orange ones, green ones, ones that need to be cooked, and really small ones. There are ‘Chinese Oranges’ about the size of a cherry that you eat with the skin, and granadillas which are, as I have just learned from an online translator, passion fruits. If you’ve never seen a passion fruit before, they are bizarre. They have a skin like styrofoam, and when you pick it all off, you are left with something like a bag of jelly with edible seeds in it. All of these fruits are delicious, and there’s a lot of other fruits that my host mom has served me whose names I can’t remember.
The gallery of fruit: