It’s been a long day but it’s far from over. I stayed up most of last night packing, sorting, organizing and making sure I had crossed the T’s and dotted the I’s on my list of preparations. I’m no stranger to international excursions so I appreciate that careful planning is critical to a successful journey. I had booked my flights well in advance (July 27 for a trip mid October) but my first glitch arrived via email in August with a notification from Cheapo-air explaining that my itinerary had been modified. A stop had been added between Toronto and Lima with an 18.5 hour layover in Quito Ecuador. Really? Can they change a purchased flight so the passenger arrives a full day later? I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and planned to make a trip into the capital city of a country I hadn’t expected to land in. Making lemonade from lemons so to speak.
The second glitch presented itself this morning when I arrived at the Go Train in Oshawa only to learn that the UP train (express to Pearson airport) was backed up due to a truck hitting an overpass. Thankfully I had given myself plenty of extra time for the commute. I arrived at the airport in advance of the required 3 hours prior to international flights.
My flight was relatively uneventful. I was surprised that they fed us not once, not twice, but 3 times. I had a stash of nuts and dried fruits squirreled away in my bag but they still remain untouched. We landed in San Salvador and I had 50 minutes to connect to my next flight. Turns out it was the same plane that I had just disembarked from. I sat in the boarding lounge of airport and watched all the people in utter fascination. I soon realized that I was one of the few people with light colored hair and blue eyes. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I watched a young couple juggle with their bags and attending to a child who seemed quite ill. I hoped that it was nothing serious and that they wouldn’t be on my flight. I wasn’t sure if it was a boy or girl. He/she had thick dark shoulder length hair and black eyes. I decided afterwards that it must have been a boy or his mother would likely have dressed her in something other than jeans and long sleeve button down shirt. The child starting coughing and that led to projectile vomiting. Oh boy! Now I really hoped they weren’t going to be on my flight. I had taken so many precautions to maintain my health before traveling, I didn’t want exposure to whatever she had. Unfortunately the child was in a high traffic area and I was concerned that people would walk through the vomit and track it into the planes. I jumped up and grabbed the stanchions used for making line-ups and blocked off the area. The attendants behind the check in desk seemed completely unimpressed.
I watched with concern (for the child) and relief (for me) when the family boarded a flight through the adjoining gate. The next leg of the journey would have me land in Quito Ecuador. The first surprise of my trip presented itself upon meeting my seat companion. Nathalie smiled and greeted me as I settled into the aisle seat. Within seconds of our introduction there was a huge connection. We soon discovered that we had a great deal in common. She is an Investment Officer for EcoEnterprises Fund. I was in South America to shoot projects exactly like the type she funds. We had plenty to share on the 2 hour flight. I was particularly interested in visiting one of the initiatives that had been running successfully for 10 years. Eco Lodge Rainforest Expedition is run and managed by the local indigenous people.
After landing in Quito, I hit my next glitch. I was not able to leave the airport upon arrival since it was 1 o’clock in the morning and not safe to venture out on my own. I decided to snooze in the airport until morning then travel by bus into the city for breakfast. Here’s where my next glitch came in. As I wandered around a virtually deserted airport I spotted my backpack on the conveyor belt. I had been told it would be checked straight through to Lima. Thank goodness I saw it! Also was the fact that this was a new airport and farther from the city than the old one. I would have had to take a bus to the old airport then one into the city and return by same or taxi… all with my baggage, so chose instead to explore the area around the airport. I couldn’t risk missing my next flight.
I was tired from 48 hours with little sleep but my excitement kept me charged. Luckily all airports have free WiFi so I was content to read and study more about the region. Turned out that Quito is close to Zero Latitude and Zero Longitude. I was pretty much sitting right near the equator. I managed to keep myself entertained until my flight the next evening and after 2 days on the road I was finally landing in Lima!
My host, Joel, met me at the airport and we pushed our way through the crowds to find a taxi outside. I was bombarded with offers… Taxi, Taxi! The men shouted and waved keys at me. Joel politely declined all offers and found a man he thought to be suitable. It was a highly competitive environment. When we arrived at his home I was met by his cousin and my first awkward exchange of broken English and unintelligible Spanish began. I slept well and was greeted in the morning with a traditional breakfast.
Maca con leche, freshly made papaya juice and bread with cheese. When I first saw the size of the juice (served in a beer mug) I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish it. Turns out it was no problem. My first day in Lima was spent in the city center. The sights, sounds and smells were overwhelming and I found myself wanting to photograph everything. (I took over 700 photos in less than 3 days) Vultures perched on edifices, lunch, street performers, a ride to the top of the city and an evening at a wonderful interactive water park.
Beautiful park with interactive fountains and displays
On the way home we opted to take a taxi instead of bus because I was dragging my feet a bit. (**notes from my cell phone)
**A taxi just hit our bus but no one seemed to notice. When he pulled along side us; our driver delivered a curt reprimand and we continued as if nothing happened, it was a non event. I’m certain that damage was done but, judging from the condition of the vehicles on the road, it’s just part of the daily commute. Sort of the way North Americans may brush past each other on the sidewalk and mutter a pardon or excuse me under their breaths. As we traveled from the Barrio to the city diesel fumes and dust wafted through the windows. The radio offered a mix of traditional Peruvian, CHINCHA NEGRA (music of the blacks) and remixes of American favorites executed with guitar and flute. Each bus, often a multi passenger van, has a helper who collects the money, calls out for passengers and navigates through the congestion.
We had a bit of a slower start on day 2 of exploring the coast since I was slightly jet-lagged and exhausted from the previous day. We boarded a bus for the city where we would transfer to another to go up the coast to Chancay. The beach there was stunning. Lots of shore birds and children running in and out of the surf.
**We hit major traffic on the freeway and a group of school children played in the street taunting joking with those idling in the snarl. Our co-pilot (the drivers helper) jumped out and wove his way in and around the trucks, cars and buses clearing a route for us to sneak through. We exited the freeway into the barrio and the children squealed and cheered. A young man sitting opposite gestured toward my phone indicating that I best stash it in my bag. Another passenger slid my window (which was wide open) shut with a stealthful nonchalance. I began to understand that we were in dangerous territory. I was reminded how fortunate I was to have such an amazing friend who was guiding me through these days in the big city. I looked out my dust tinted window and watched as vultures circled overhead. I felt like I was in a cartoon. As we snaked through the slums I took a moment to reflect on how grateful I was for all the freedoms and opportunities I had received in my life as a Canadian.
After a few twists and turns we emerged on a feeder route that ran parallel to the traffic which remained at a standstill. The assistant to the driver (I wish I knew what they were called) exited through the open door while the vehicle was going at a fairly quick speed. I have no idea how he managed but we were back in the flow which had come to a near stop. Sweat poured off Joel and he removed a tissue from his pocket to dab his face. Pieces of lint clinged to his skin and I reached to help wipe them off. The blaring of horns drowned out his response which I soon took for embarrassment. The next thing I know he tapped my arm and I followed him from the bus onto the pavement. No danger of being run down by motionless transports. We back tracked about 100 yards to an opening in the barrier and then used an overpass to enter an industrial district. We followed the freeway for about a kilometer then turned left into a whole new would. The air was heavy with perfume and when my eyes adjusted to the dim interiors through garage door openings I realized we were in the flower district.
What a wonderful detour! I asked if I could take pictures but from the look on Joel’s face I knew the answer. I saw a woman talking on a cellular and asked if I could use my phone instead of the Canon Rebel in my bag. We entered a market and I hastily popped off a few shots as we passed by the displays and stalls. We exited through a different door and were back in bright sunshine again. I was happy to have the memory of the experience and cared little about the quality of the images.
We continued on our way until reaching a busy intersection where we caught another bus. After a short trip through the heart of Lima we were delivered to a terminal where cruise coaches lined up waiting their departure. One was pulling out as we entered and we boarded it (while it was still moving) and pushed towards the back to pick seats on the side facing the ocean.
We had about an hour trip to reach our destination so Joel tipped back he seat and promptly fell into a deep sleep. It never occurred to me that he may be stressed with the task of being my keeper. The ride north was uneventful except for a rotation of street vendors that got on and off at each stop. They were selling nuts, chocolate, drinks or traditional Peruvian foods. We passed a succession of towns, a large naval military base and a water slide park then turned toward the coast and the ocean appeared again shining like a crystal beside the barren cliffs. The road was narrow and as transport trucks and buses passed us I could feel the vibration of the wind between us. I decided to keep my camera lense well within the window for fear of having it sucked from my grip. When we reached the outskirts of Chancay the cliffs receded and gave way to fertile agricultural land. I saw corn, cabbage and a patchwork of greens and brown.
to be continued…