I’d been in Lima for nearly 4 weeks and I hadn’t seen the historic city center.
Every tourist in Lima goes to the city center; it’s like seeing the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Opera House if you’re in Sydney. Francisco Pizarro founded the city of Lima there almost 500 years ago and some of the buildings remain to this day. It’s definitely worth a visit, if not for the historical draw, then at least for architectural, cultural, culinary, or check-it-off-the-list reasons.
Yet nearly a month into my South American adventure, and I hadn’t made it 7 stops north on the bus line to check it out. So when my good friend Jonathan stopped by Lima this weekend for the first day of his whirlwind, 81-day, trip around the world, we made it one of our first stops.
A short bus ride from Miraflores, we found ourselves in the midst of a festival celebrating the winter solstice and the indigenous cultures of Peru. Colorful native costume mixed with surprisingly varied music in representation of the cultural diversity within the country. People from the Amazon and the Andes share political borders and currency, but come from backgrounds as diverse as those from Iceland and Indonesia.
A few streets further, we were in Barrio Chino (China Town), snacking on duck meat rolls and taking in a completely different scene from the festival just a few minutes and blocks behind us. Now, meat cleavers casually butchered animals in an open air market with chicken feet nonchalantly tossed into a nearby bucket. Drivers purchased pieces of pineapple for a few centimos from roadside vendors as they avoided pedestrians and traffic rules alike.
The Italian waiter with broken English brought our ceviche and “free” pisco sours at the restaurant with English menus. Fried octopi found their way into our main dishes somehow and gave the meal a rather exotic feel, curated for tourists it might have been.
Cervezas overlooking the Pacific Ocean preceded a dinner of cow hearts, Peruvian drinking songs to live guitar, and Earth’s best french fries at Las Tejas, a restaurant that has nothing in common with its namesake state.
Impromptu English practice with Peruvian college students turned into more rounds of beers and us “learning” to salsa dance from the two girls in the group, the cacophony of the dance club erasing any chance of cracking the language barrier and hopefully somewhat hiding our limited dance skills.
The day was a wonderful chance to be a tourist in the city I hadn’t toured yet. So many opportunities within a few minutes bus ride away, but I’d missed them so far after falling into a fairly standard routine and forgetting to explore what Lima has to offer.
Back home I do the same thing really, getting stuck in routines and forgetting to take advantage of the reasons people move to Austin in the first place. I’ve been to Barton Springs once in the last year, only seen a handful of concerts, and never been to Franklin’s BBQ. I didn’t go to South Congress once in the first 10 years of living there and haven’t been kayaking on Lady Bird Lake since its name changed to such.
Doing all those things every day would be unsustainable and unenjoyable, but every once in a while it’s good to take a break and be a tourist in your own city. I know I plan to do it more frequently when I get back.