Despite all my nervous energy about this trip, I got to Lima with no hiccups whatsoever.
I got to LAX just after 6 am this morning, proudly parading around with my backpack but secretly hoping I did not forget anything that I would kick myself over later. I managed to get some shut-eye on my first flight to El Salvador, partly because I lucked out with a seat right behind first class, which meant just about as much leg room. When we approached El Salvador, I got a good glimpse of the place as we were landing, and I was mesmerized by lush landscape and felt a wave of calmness wash over me at the sight of all the greenery. It was so pretty, it almost made me wish that was my destination. Almost. But El Salvador is now officially on my travel list.
I walked around the airport a bit, only to realize my Lima gate is the exact same I just came out of. But it was nice to take in the stark change in surroundings from LAX. While you can see all kinds of nationalities and ethnicities there, here I was surrounded by the Latin versions of me – dark-haired, swarthy types. I may not speak a lick of Spanish, but that was enough to make me feel like I was among my people, somehow.
One of the things I cherish the most about travel is the opportunity to strike up a conversation with the complete stranger who ends up sitting next to you on a plane, and discussing things you might normally only talk about with close friends and family. On my flight to Lima, I sat next to an older Bolivian guy who was going home to see his 94-year old mother, which lead to conversations about length versus quality of life and all sorts of other tangents. It turned out that he had lived in Lima for about 5 years, so he made sure to tell me to eat lots of ceviche and drink Pisco Sours. Pisco is a grape brandy produced in the winemaking regions of Peru and Chile. He also recommended checking out chifa – a style of Chinese cooking in which the native ingredients have been substituted with Peruvians ones, as well as the chirimoya fruit, which I was actually familiar with from my trip to Asia in 2011. We also swapped stories about running into people we know, or people who know people we know, all over the world.
When I finally landed in Lima, I braced myself for what I’d read was a very likely long wait at customs. International flights coming into Lima can sometimes get clustered together, resulting in a less than pleasant experience for the already weary passengers. But to my surprise, I was out of the airport in 20 minutes total, with the only oddity being having to take my backpack through an X-Ray machine on the way OUT.
Since Nathalia was going to arrive a good 2 hours after me from Rio De Janeiro, we had arranged to be picked up separately by our hotel. I found my driver with no problem, and we set off towards Miraflores – the touristy, upscale district of Lima known for its shopping centers, gardens and beaches. Lima reminds me slightly of India. Maybe it was the rikshaw-resembling moto taxi (called chollo taxi here), or the juxtaposition of upscale, fenced off apartment buildings against less attractive housing and buildings right next door. Or perhaps it was the driving style – not nearly as crazy as what I witnessed in India but still aggressive. Whether this impression holds, we shall see tomorrow!