Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Final: Day 1: Lima

My first day was spent in Lima, Peru. But let me first tell you what happened the evening before, as I was preparing to fly out of San Francisco. I got a great deal on airfare, I just had to connect in Panama City first. There I was, sitting by my gate, minding my own business. A soft spoken but confident Asian-American man in his 50s walked up to me.

Him: Excuse me, but are you going to Medellin?
Me: (This flight is going to Panama City. How does he know I am going to Medellin?! Maybe he recognized me and is a fan of my blog (me being delusional).) Yes...eventually.
Him: Are you familiar with "mxxxxx"? (I don't remember the word he said, but it started with the letter M and was six letters long.)
Me: Uh, no.
Him: I'm sorry for bothering you. Good-bye.

As soon as the man walked away, I googled the M-word. It's a website for international sex tourists. He thinks I'm a John. He's a John.

Now, the plane is boarding. I'm in the final boarding group, and I can't find my passport. I panic. I ran all over the boarding gate area and even retraced my steps to the restroom upstairs. Nothing. There was only one other passenger left in the boarding area, an older gentleman who was waiting for his wife who was using the restroom. He started helping me look for my passport.

The thoughts going through my mind: Maybe this is fate telling me I shouldn't go on my bus trip. I have wasted the month leading up to this trip, moving appointments, telling all of my clients that I would be gone, all the shopping. Should I take BART or Lyft home from the airport?

I was freaking out. I was cursing out loud.

Then, the old man found my passport. He, his wife, and I were the last people to board the plane.

I bumped into him at the Panama City airport. I thanked him again, gave him my business card, and asked him to email me his contact info so I can send him a thank you card.

The following morning, I landed in Lima. My hotel sent a driver to pick me up. He's holding a sign with my name on it. He is tall and a bit disheveled. He's wearing a dress shirt but it's only half tucked in. While he goes to retrieve his car, I step out into the passenger loading zone. It's hot, the air is polluted, and I get misty eyed. I'm going to finally finish this bus trip.

On the way to the hotel, my driver needs to fill up his car. To combat air pollution, many cars, including his Hyundai Elantra, have been converted to run on natural gas. While the gas station attendant (they are all female, short, Indian, and wear lycra uniforms) fills up the tank, I am asked to step away for safety purposes.

It has been eight years since I last visited Lima. It's slightly less polluted and there is less garbage on the streets. The cars are newer, and there is a significant number of Chinese brands present. The main avenues are lined with posters welcoming the Pope. He is here on the same weekend as me.

I grab my first Peruvian meal, lunch at La Lucha Sangucheria in the Miraflores neighborhood. It's just a five minute walk from my hotel. That orange thing in my pork sandwich isn't cheese. It's a slice of sweet potato.

On the way back to my hotel, I spotted this rare Chinese Brilliance BC3.

I would normally try ceviche in Lima. But because my bus trip starts tomorrow and I don't want to risk food poisoning, I opt for cooked foods. I walk to La Panchita for dinner. It's street food in a fancy setting. I have a pisco sour and wonder if the egg white will spell my doom. In all of my previous journeys, I have never gotten food poisoning. Never.

The neighborhood is fancy, and so is the clientele. At one table, a young white man was with a young Asian man, obviously on a date. At another, a very Caucasian boomer couple, dressed like Cape Cod preppies with sweaters tied around their necks, are taking out their equally attractive Lands End catalog adult son and daughter. And next to me, a short, mestizo gentleman, with the confidence of a self-made successful businessman, is taking out his wife, mother (or mother-in-law), and five children for dinner.

I brought with me a bunch of used books I got at the local Friends of the Library store. That's PJ O'Rourke's 1980s Holidays In Hell. I don't know anything about O'Rourke, other than that he's often a guest on NPR's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. In each chapter, he describes a trip to a different 1980s danger zone, e.g. Lebanon, El Salvador, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's amusement park. The writing is very un-PC (lusting of underaged girls, spiking drinks) and is a relic of a different era.

And the main course. Beef hearts on a skewer. It's juicy and flavorful. I tasted cumin but my waiter insisted it was Peruvian spices. The potato halves were fried perfectly and the giant corn kernels were meaty. I asked the waiter to suggest a wine to go with the meal. He brought a glass of Syrah from nearby Ica. It was mediocre.

Tomorrow, I ride.

No comments: