If you were here and we were talking face to face, I’d make you a cup of coffee right now. This is long. Grab coffee or a drink, or just skim all the wordy bits and look at the photos if you want to see what I saw. (There are earlier posts here and here.)
I picked up my negatives on the way out of town Friday. Unlike some other film photographers I
online stalk follow, I have only just delved into film developing and that was only in a class with an amazing lab facility and only with black and white film. I took color film to Peru and to even imagine the setup, the materials, the time to develop color film just all boggles my mind. I’m not there yet. So I took my film to a lab that’s not too far from me. I think they do an amazing job on developing and scanning, and their price is terrific. I shot 8 rolls of film and they developed 7–I accidentally shot a 400 ISO roll at 200 and they can’t process pushed or pulled film, so I’ll have to take that one elsewhere. Anyway, here’s the photographic evidence of my trip. Anything rectangular was shot on a Minolta X-700 with either a 50mm or with a 28-70mm zoom; square shots were on a recent acquisition, a new Holga by Sunrise, whatever that is (but I adore it).
We arrived a bit after 10 pm local time at Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima. No stress getting our bags, and then we walked out into a massive arena of people waiting and taxi drivers shouting. I’ve always wanted to be one of those people that steps off a plane and looks for a person holding a sign with their name on it–and thanks to our Airbnb host, Saturday night I was! We found our driver almost immediately, who helped us with bags to his car and then expertly drove through Saturday night traffic the 40 minutes to our rented apartment in Miraflores District. It had been a long day and we were tired, so we settled on the bar across the street for a quick drink and a bite–a Liverpool, England and Beatles-themed pub. Two potato dishes and some kind of pisco drink later, we were exhausted and called it a night.
Sunday morning dawned a little foggy and a lot steamy. I knew from reading about Lima that it is very muggy pretty much all the time, and in the fall and winter there is often a fog that mists everything up and makes it all the more damp. I wasn’t quite prepared for how hot it felt and wished I’d packed more summery clothes, which was kind of funny because the Lima natives were bundled up most of the time while I was a sweaty mess.
We took our time Sunday morning and my first priority was getting to a place I’d read about online, El Pan de la Chola, which wasn’t far from the apartment–it did not disappoint. Two hearty sandwiches on thick, crusty bread, a shared gooey, oozy, chocolate almond croissant, and two rich cappuccinos later and we were in absolute heaven. We walked the neighborhood a bit more and then headed to the ocean front, where we took the walkway over the highway to dip our toes in the Pacific ocean.
And now the rest of that day is vague. I know it involved a trip to the grocery store for bottled water (you can’t drink tap water there), lots of yogurt to eat with the granola we bought at El Pan, more walking the neighborhood and exploring, dinner somewhere.
Monday and Tuesday mornings both started with a workout in the apartment, yogurt and granola for breakfast, then showers with varying degrees of warmth (hot water went quick), and then to the bank in the grocery store to exchange U.S. dollars for Peruvian soles, which was super fun because $60 U.S. gets you almost $200 soles.
I think on Monday we walked to Parque Kennedy where all the cats are, and had dinner at a vegetarian pizza restaurant, which was excellent. Mid day we toured Huaca Pucllana, a pyramid about a half mile from the apartment. These ruins are active research grounds and we found their history fascinating. The one hour tour cost maybe 12 soles, and then we had lunch at the onsite kinda-fancy restaurant where we tried pisco sours for the first time (I wasn’t so sure about the frothy egg white topping but I am now a big fan). Lunch here was good but not earth shattering, and it took forever. Seriously, the place was nearly empty when we sat down, filled up once we were seated, and then emptied again before they brought our check. Service is leisurely in Lima and asking for the check doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get it in the time you think you should. My kid kept reminding me to calm down. Maybe I should have had a second pisco sour here?
Again, foggy details, and maybe my kid will read this and clear things up for me. But I think this was the evening that after we ate pizza we settled into our apartment to call my dad for his birthday, facetime some people back home, and start watching a season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race on Netflix. Because, you know, what else do you do after a long day of exploring some 2800 miles from home?
Tuesday I’m nearly certain is the day we took an Uber to Lima’s city center. I knew I wanted to see the Plaza de Armas, which is Lima’s main city square, and the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco (church and convent of San Francisco). We got a nearly private tour of this absolutely stunning piece of history, a living reminder of Spain’s history in Peru. They don’t let you take pictures inside, which is a little bit of a shame because the light and the shadows and the reflections off tiled floors was right up my alley. But the history of it all was humbling.
From the city center we walked to the Magic Water Circuit in the Parque de la Reserva to see the water fountains that light up after dark. We got there in daylight and wandered a bit, sat a bit, hooked up to wifi and zoned out on our phones for a bit. Once the sun went down and the fountains started to light up, though, we were like kids. We didn’t want to get soaked so we didn’t go in the interactive one, but walked through the tunnel fountain probably a dozen times because it was really fun.
We had a bus to catch super early Wednesday morning, so we Uber’d home after this and then ran over to the grocery store for snacks and water to take with us on the bus.
Wednesday morning came too early. We were picked up in front of the apartment by a Peru Hop bus; we’d booked a two-day trip north to Paracas and Huacachina and our pick up was 6:30 a.m. I didn’t know what to expect from this tour, which included an overnight in a hostel in the small, coastal town of Paracas. I’ve never hosteled before. Or, at least not as an adult. And, the trip included a thing on day two that I was at this point starting to get kind of nervous about–a dune buggy tour and sandboarding. Not that I’m scared of these things… but the potential for something unforeseen to happen doing something adventurous was starting to sink into the part of my brain that handles all the responsible adult stuff. I kept trying to push thoughts of buggies overturning or crashing out of my head.
Day one of the bus tour had us stop at a roadside restaurant for a Peruvian specialty whose name escapes me, but it was little patties of bread with either meat, cheese, or olives baked inside. The stop was quick and we realized too late that we should have ordered more of these yummy things, but we had a timetable to keep on. Next stop was at a hacienda in Chincha–once a wealthy family’s home and now a hotel. The family owned the place for centuries and there was a brisk and brutal slave trade running through here. The earthquake in 2007 apparently unearthed a network of many kilometers of tunnels used for this slave trade, plus tunnels beneath the hacienda where the slaves lived and worked. We toured the tunnels and although I’m not claustrophobic I had a moment of panic as 18 of us jammed into a “room” not much bigger than an expanded oval-shaped dining room table. It was hot and the air felt chalky–everyone was coughing and sweating and our lovely guide kept us in there too long. I would have fared better with a pisco sour on board.
I don’t have any photos from most of this day. This was the day I popped a roll of 400 speed Fuji Superia into my camera but forgot to change the ISO setting to 400. I took some photos of the hacienda grounds, the vast porch and the onsite church and some blooming trellises. I also later screwed this roll up… when it stopped advancing at 24 (I thought I had a 36-shot roll of film in), I decided to rewind the roll a bit because I thought the film had gotten stuck. So, this one will be a surprise when I get it back–maybe doubles and some weirdness.
I didn’t want to sleep on the bus because the passing scenery was like nothing I’ve ever experienced–mountainous at times, the ocean at times, shanty towns and half-built or half-ruined neighborhoods, poverty beyond scope amidst fenced and gated homesteads. At one point we went through a section of land that was so foggy I’m not sure how the driver managed.
Once we landed in Paracas the sun was wildly bright. It was mid-afternoon and we checked into our little hostel room and then headed out to see the town. Which is about two city blocks. Hostels, restaurants, cab drivers, street merchants, a beach, boats. Not much to it, but colorful and kind of a sensory attack. We had lunch and then had to nap a bit before walking around to take some sunset photos and then meet some others from our bus for dinner.
The next morning we were supposed to go on a boat tour of the Ballestas Islands, where we would have seen penguins and sea lions and sea birds and other wildlife, but alas, no boats were going out due to winds. Bella read by the pool while I wandered with cameras. I paid $2 soles to walk out onto the pier the fishermen use to get to their boats. The photos I took in Paracas on the Holga remind me why Kodak Ektar 100 is my favorite film right now. I can’t get enough of the colors!
So the morning dragged a bit without much to do, but by afternoon we boarded the bus for the next activity, a spin through Paracas National Reserve. I’d seen images online of amazing cliffs with a pounding ocean below and I couldn’t wait to see this, but I’ll admit the bus tour of it was a little disappointing. We made two brief stops to hop out and get sandblasted and take pictures. If I’d done my research I might have planned for a whole day here and we could have taken a cab from Paracas and spent the day exploring this place. Still, we were awed by the beauty.
Apparently the 2007 earthquake changed the landscape here–that hunk of rock in the ocean was once larger and linked to the cliffs pre-earthquake. The wind here was wild. We left with fine sand in our teeth, glued to our lip balm, in our scalp and ears.
From here we went back to the town of Paracas where we dropped some passengers and picked others up for the trip to Huacachina for dune buggies and sandboarding. My tension was mounting, as was the pit in my stomach from hunger. I may have nodded off on the trip there, but once there we had an hour before the buggy tour and we needed food, pronto.
Huacachina is even smaller than Paracas. It is literally an oasis in the desert. There is a small pond, a villa that used to belong to someone wealthy but that now is a hostel; a few more hostels, a few restaurants, all surrounded by mountainous dunes and teeming with hot and tired looking backpackers and dune buggy drivers. The thick smell of exhaust from the buggies was utterly intoxicating (not in a good way) and was adding to my growing anxiety. We stored our bags in a sideroom of the main hostel and I worried about them being stolen. We did a quick spin through town the tiny town and then sat down at the restaurant attached to the main hostel, where we ordered pasta because we were starving and it sounded good and we thought it would be quick. With only minutes to spare before our tour was to leave, we wolfed down massive plates of pasta and hoped they wouldn’t show up on the Huacachina dunes (luckily they did not).
The driver was wild. We made a few stops to sightsee and he wasn’t too worried about us getting strapped into our seats before he zoomed off again (can you feel my nerves getting even more frayed here?). There were 10 of us in the buggy and the two young girls in the seat with me and Bella were more concerned about strapping me in than about their own welfare, which was awfully sweet. Just as I started to settle in and shove my fear down, we stopped for our first foray into sandboarding, which you could either do standing on the board (there were straps to velcro your feet into) or you could lie headfirst, your hands gripping the front straps. We all opted for lying and I will tell you, when our driver started handing out the boards I flat out refused. Bella gently nudged. The other young people in our car offered encouragement. I wanted to do it but worried I’d look silly. I grabbed the board and when it was my turn, I went down, shouting like an idiot and laughing my head off. Hooked!
So for the rest of the time I didn’t bother to get a camera out, but was loving the stops to slide down hills that got bigger, longer, and sometimes faster each stop.
Until my kid got hurt. I won’t tell her story, but she was involved in a crash at the bottom of a hill and I was at the top of the hill and I felt a couple of years of life leave my body. All my fears were suddenly founded, I went through all the possible horrible scenarios in my head in the (probably only seconds of) time it took for her to stand up and answer that she was okay. Once I got to the bottom I saw that she was banged up and cut up and in some real pain. But because she is one hell of a tough woman, she was able to enjoy the rest of the tour, which we weren’t even at the halfway point of when this happened. We still boarded the rest of the hills and laughed and communed with our other passengers.
After cleaning up Bella’s wounds and getting our bag from the hostel, we had to board the bus that would take us back to Lima. I don’t remember much of the trip because we both (thankfully) slept much of it, but we arrived back to the Lima apartment dirty, gritty, tired, and one of us quite sore. I was grateful to not have to spend that night in a hostel but in a very comfy bed in a modern apartment with cold water and creamy yogurt in the fridge and warm water for showers in the tap.
The next day we met the family responsible for the educational program that brought my daughter Bella to Peru. They took us to lunch and then welcomed us warmly into their home. I stayed at the apartment Friday night while Bella hung out with the people she would be working with for the next three weeks. Saturday we packed up our belongings and she left for her next adventure. I walked down to the park and the Pacific ocean one last time before my travels back home.
The reason for this trip was that my daughter Bella is teaching computer science in an afterschool program at a private school in a very nice suburb of Lima. I could not be more proud of her and she asked me to join her for this week before her program started. As I’m writing this now, one week after I’ve been home, she has one week of the program under her belt. I still have more to say about Lima but wanted to get photos out and some of the logistics written before I totally forgot.
- The smells were overwhelming: exhaust and cars, food, the ocean–all pungent and at times too much for me, but also exciting and different.
- The driving is insane: we learned quickly to cross streets fast, the horns are constant, drivers are not distracted like they are in the U.S.–they are entirely focused. The horns, like the smells, got exhausting and overwhelming.
- Dogs are everywhere: there are tons of stray dogs almost everywhere we went (not in Miraflores, though) and particularly in Paracas, where if you’re just standing around they sort of insert themselves into your crowd, which is entertaining, but also sad because they all limp, or have missing tails, or are visibly banged up in other ways. Scrappy panhandlers.
- Sometimes I felt daunted about going out because it got a little exhausting to communicate. I felt bad that I didn’t know more Spanish, and really appreciated that most people we came across seemed patient and tried to work with us. I want to do better next time I travel to a place where English is not the native language.
- It’s okay to get annoyed with each other when you are traveling with someone. It’s going to happen. Pisco sours smooth things quickly.
- I wouldn’t have traded this week with my daughter for the world, even with the couple of hiccups.
- Yep, would have been nice to see Machu Picchu, but we couldn’t fit it in. Maybe another trip, and I’d like to do it hiking.