Lima is generally the first stop-off point for tourists to Peru. They may stay a day or two on their way to Cusco to see Machu Picchu, but they don't come to Peru to spend all of their time visiting Lima. There just isn't much to do. So what to do with all of these tourists in their city? Design a part of the city specifically made for and that caters to tourists: Miraflores. It also happens to be one of the safest areas of the city. Miraflores is really lovely; the neighborhoods are nice, the stores are nice, the shopping mall on the side of the cliff is nice (more about that later). All of the places we looked at in Miraflores catered to gringos and the prices reflected that. So, we did the next best thing. Our place was technically in Surquillo, a neighborhood southwest of Miraflores, but the back of our building bordered the Miraflores border, which meant we got to enjoy all of the perks of Miraflores but not pay the price.
The parks in Miraflores are FANTASTIC. There are so many of them, which is interesting, considering that Lima is the driest country capital in the world. The parks are all lush and beautifully maintained and usually just consist of green space, although a few have playgrounds. The back of our apartment building was adjacent to a park. Several other apartment buildings and houses surrounded this park. This was absolutely ideal for a few reasons. First, and most importantly, we could let Des leave our apartment, run out through the back door, and go play in the park all by himself. Every 10 minutes or so we would peek our heads out of our window to check up on him. Because this park was surrounded by residences, the kids who played there lived nearby. Besides school, this was a perfect way to make friends for Des. Des's friends would run up to our open window and ask, "Senora, can Des come out to play?" The smile on his face was incredible as he would run to his room and get dressed and run out the door.
Part of the draw for us for visiting Peru was its gastronomy and varied indigenous produce. Peruvian gastronomy is absolutely amazing, but I was shocked to see a huge lack of variety (compared to other Latin American markets we have visited) in the produce they offered. Sure, there were a few fruits and vegetables I had never seen in real life (lucuma, a type of fruit; purple corn, which is used to make my favorite drink there: chicha!; and pepino dulce, which tasted like a cross between a cucumber and a melon), but where were the 30 varieties of potato or corn? Regardless, there was an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables always available at the markets (my favorite was the Surquillo market) and I found the sellers there to be less pushy and way more pleasant than sellers in other large markets in Colombia, Mexico, or Chile. I even made friends with the sellers and they would give me and my kids fruit to eat while I shopped.
4. Avocado ice cream.
Right by the Surquillo Market is an ice cream shop. After a tiring day of shopping with the kids, we stopped by to get the ice cream I promised as a bribe to get Desmond to behave. We taste tested a few flavors and settled on a green one called "palta." I tried to ask the person working what palta was, but all they said that it was like a fruit. We loved it and it wasn't until weeks later that we found out that palta is what Peruvians (and Chileans) call avocado. Avocado ice cream!
It rained a total of two times in the three months we were living in Lima. The picture above was taken on a day when it did, indeed, rain. It rained for maybe 15 minutes. This "downpour" made the news, messed up the internet service in the building, and made the paint peel off the top of the roof of our building.
Peruvian food is amazing. Besides Mexican food (and, of course, Colombian food), Peruvian food is my new obsession. It is amazing how diverse and delicious their cuisine is. For example, due to the high number of Chinese immigrants that came to Peru in the 19th century to work as indentured servants (basically slaves), there has been a long tradition of Peruvian/Chinese fusion called Chifa. My favorite dishes are the arroz chaufa (fried rice) and tallarin saltado (Peru's version of chow mein).
7. Peruvian seafood.
Peru has almost 2500 km (~1500 miles) of coastline. This means that seafood is a central part of their gastronomy. I can't tell you how many cevicherias there are in every part of Lima. Ceviche is a dish that contains raw fish, onions, peppers, and cilantro marinated in a lot of lime juice. The hallmark of this dish is that the lime juice "cooks" the fish. Ceviche is not generally eaten in the home anymore, since you can get a decent ceviche dish at a local restaurant for about 3 dollars. It is also usually only eaten at lunch. Oh! And the most interesting thing about Peruvian ceviche? It sometimes comes served atop sliced sweet potatoes! Totally weird combo, but I ended up really loving it.
8. Chicha Morada.
Oh my goodness. Usually, when I talk about my favorite drink, it tends to be alcoholic or filled to the brim with caffeine and sugar. Chicha is a traditional Peruvian drink made with purple corn that is boiled with cinnamon, sugar, cloves, and lime. We always had a bottle of it in our fridge.
9. Peruvian fast food.
Republica - our favorite restaurant. Why is this surprising? Because it is a fast food restaurant. We would have never thought it possible that a fast food chain could become our favorite place to eat, but it was. They had really great chaufa. And their little cups of yellow aji (hot pepper) sauce were amazing.
Taking taxis was so easy in Lima. Usually, I prefer taking taxis that have meters in them, but in Lima, you negotiate the price before you get in. You usually ask how much it will be to get somewhere, they tell you, and then you negotiate a few soles down.
11. Lima neighborhoods.
The way that the neighborhoods are divided are really interesting. They're not so much neighborhoods, they're municipalities. They're mini cities. They even have their own serenazgos, which is what they call the neighborhood watch. By the time we left, the neighborhood watch guys in the 4 blocks on our walk to and from Des's school knew my name and our kids by sight. I felt very safe, especially since we let Desmond play in the park by himself. It was easy to tell when you crossed from one district to the other; different architecture, different flavor, different types of people. The only city I know that has something similar was St. Louis (which is really a gem...please go visit.)
The Lima government let contractors build a bunch of buildings on the cliffs along their coast, fully knowing that an earthquake could cause them to easily tumble down in an instant. There is even a mall tucked into the cliffs (rather fancy, called Larco Mar).
Yes, it wasn't the most beautiful city in the world (sorry, Lima!) but we left parts of our hearts (and stomachs) there and we really can't wait to go back soon and properly explore the rest of beautiful Peru. Coming soon, stories of our trip to Machu Picchu!