First Impressions of Peru

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

“An ancient civilization I never knew
Impressions of fear in which I stew
An opportunity from which I grew.”

I’m terrified in the taxi from the airport. Not really terrified, but after so many kidnapping warnings I’m on high alert. The cab driver seems nice and honest. But he asks me for 5 minutes to pay his parking ticket. He leaves me alone in his car with the keys in the ignition at 11pm. So, I’m alone, in a strange man’s car at a parking lot at the airport in Lima, with little light in the backseat of a car with the keys in the ignition.

I’m checking for some imagined person who wants to jump in the car and drive off. This seems like the right thing to do given all the warnings I’ve heard about and read about, and I imagine I’m in the perfect setup to be kidnapped. I decide to lock the doors. Only the front ones lock. I don’t want to get out of the car to lock the rear doors and give away that I’m alone. Luckily they self lock a few minutes later.

Exhibit at Larco museum in Lima.

Photograph by Heather Markel. Copyright 2019

The driver eventually returns, alone, so I don’t feel like the stupid screaming girl in a bad movie and decide to unlock the doors. (Though I could have driven off with his car, I learn it’s good that I did not because the driving in Lima is CrAAAAAY-zy!) As soon as we start driving, I turn on Maps.me to make sure we are driving in the correct direction. I do this as a general rule of thumb in every city/country I don’t know.

“Fabulous food, amazing colors, a park full of cats, but also cloudy and dirty.”

I walk outside with my bag closed and in front of me and my phone in my pocket and refuse to take it out. I’m looking for would be pickpockets but don’t see any. In fact, just like in Buenos Aires I feel like a big boob for being so paranoid. That’s been a resounding experience across South America – coming in with this stigma about safety, theft and kidnapping, and ending up feeling foolish for being so over-protective. Obviously, better safe than sorry, but, I’m sorry I so mis-judged South America – the people are wonderful, the scenery amazing, and I am so happy with my adventures here.

My first few days are in Lima. I stay in a hostel that’s about 10-minutes walk from the main park in Miraflores. I feel the need to be home by 8 or 9 so I don’t have to walk alone on a quiet street. I go to Huallamarca to see something cultural and end up meeting Angel, a lovely woman from Shanghai. She insists on paying for my entrance ticket, happy for my company. We are both disgusted with all the sacrifices we learn about, including the babies. Seriously, there were a LOT of sacrifices in Peru. She asks me to stay with her in her AirBnB. I feel overwhelmed by all the people I’ve met recently who meet me and want to move in with me immediately 😮 so I tell her I’ll think about it.

Huallamarca, Peru.

Photograph by Heather Markel. Copyright 2019

Peru has lots of photo ops with llamas which I indulge in. I see swarms of guinea pigs around the country and think about all my friends whose kids have them as pets and recall playing with them myself, as a kid. I want to pet them, but then I learn that in Peru, they EAT them. Yup, a local delicacy. OK, confession time. While in Argentina I ate llama, and I liked it. In Arequipa, I ate alpaca, and I liked that, too. Both are very low in cholesterol and just plain good! And, um, in Cusco, with Angel, I ate guinea pig. My only source of redemption is that I didn’t like it. With the dead head staring at me I couldn’t get over the WHAT I was eating, and the meat was slimy and rubbery and the skin extremely tough. I let my friend from Shanghai enjoy it.
I am lucky to be in Peru for the finals of the soccer cup where they played against Brazil. The entire country is decked out for it, and they even hold a parade. When a goal is scored, all of Lima screams in unison. I get the last seat at a restaurant to watch the game sitting down. Though Peru loses I’ve never seen a party for “losers” so intense and happy. After all, they got to number 2! Quite an honor.

Lima is eternally cloudy in the winter, and it feels a bit dirty, all of which clouded my impressions of it, on the first pass. It seems a bit unsafe and lacking in charm. I feel a bit sequestered to Miraflores as the only “safe” place in Lima, grateful for all the security in the area. My second visit, however, broadened my perspective, more to come!

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