After 16 hours of flight time, spilt red wine and a visiting President, we arrived in Lima.
16 of flight time is not fun at the best of times, but the opportunity to photograph everything and anything with my exciting new camera as well as the blind anticipation of jumping on a plane to some faraway land we knew only from guide book, got us through a good few hours of the journey. However, much like the time Harry Potter and Ron Weasley stole Mr Weasley’s car to fly to Hogwarts, the initial novelty of the situation wore off remarkably quickly. After (accidently) knocking a glass of red wine over Camilla’s pale grey hoodie, we decided to calm down a bit and get down to the serious business of learning to speak Spanish.
Quick tip here to any potential travellers: learn the language. Unfortunately my cunning plan to spend the entire plane journey listening to my ‘Beginners Spanish’ CDs and to become fluent my the end of the journey went slightly to pot when I fell asleep after the first ten minutes. Peruvian people are amazing, but they don’t like it if you don’t speak Spanish. Or try at least. Turns out ‘Hola’ and ‘Gracias’ are not quite enough to get by on.
When the plane finally touched down in Lima, we strolled out of customs into a wall of voices shouting ‘taxi, señorita, taxi’. We may as well have been wearing signs saying ‘First time travellers – please take advantage of’, because the first taxi company demanded $100 for a 20 minute ride and didn’t seem impressed when I said you wouldn’t pay that much for a 20 minute taxi in New York, let alone Lima.
I’d like to say that we then bargained a cheap taxi ride, however the choice of taxi companies was limited and we ended up paying 90 sol (roughly 18 pounds, which might not sound much until you realise that a hotel in Lima, for example, cost just three pounds for one night.) We found a different taxi company and told the assistant the address of our hostel. He muttered to himself for a few minutes before saying, “no, no, no. Bad part of town. Not a good idea for travellers to go there at night. Very dangerous. No, safety must come first.” Great. Out with the guide book then. Find new hostel in “nice” area. Mr Taxi Man approved our new decision and commanded one of the drivers to take us.
Lima is buzzing at night and nothing like I expected. Vendors selling sweets clutter the streets and every time the taxi slowed down someone came towards the window trying to sell us something. The city is set out like a grid and the drivers tend to turn a blind eye to minor road restrictions like traffic lights. Hence, each time we arrived at a junction (at the end of each block, so about every thirty seconds), we swerved and braked to avoid the stream of oncoming traffic. The police presence in Lima is incredible. As we drove along we saw police wandering around constantly, but weren’t entirely sure whether we should be reassured by this or disturbed by it’s necessity.
We arrive at our hostel, ‘Hotel Espania’ about twenty minutes later. The taxi leaves and we go in to book a room. “Non. full up”, the charming hostess grunts. Oh. It seems our brilliant plan is coming to a sticky end. Neither of us really want to walk around in Lima at night (it’s about 10pm by now) with our huge backpacks which may as well scream to the city: “Look at us, with lots of expensive stuff on our back, come and mug us, please!”
However, it seems we have no choice. So on the backpacks go – for the record, both of our pack weigh about 15kg each, plus we were both carrying 20 litre smaller backpacks. Our trusty guide book tells us there is a hostel one block away so we headed for that: “Sorry full up.” And so it goes on. We ended up trekking around night time Lima for about 45 minutes, either failing to find a hostel or being told they were full up.
Neither of us were nervous but were both very aware that what we were doing was incredibly stupid – but also unavoidable. Perhaps we should have stuck with the original hostel, but at the time it seemed like that would have been a stupid thing to do given the advice we were faced with.
The fact that there were police literally everywhere made us feel marginally better. Eventually we reached the square in front of the Government Palace in the centre of the city. I was starving and we both felt like our shoulders are going to break from our backpacks, so we went to the nearest cafe to rest and decide what to do. I ordered chips and was served up three deep fried bananas instead (should have stayed awake for the menu part of the Spanish CDs…) After laughing for a ridiculously long time at this mishap, we got out the guide book and found one hostel we hadn’t yet tried.
Ten minutes later we walked past a hostel called ‘Hostel Machu Picchu’ (not the one we were looking for). It looked very closed but we decided to ring the bell. The lovely man who opened the door told us he has free beds; practically delirious by this point Camilla declares her undying love for him and tells him he has saved our lives. I preserve my dignity but secretly agree whole heartedly. Even better, the room is a double room not a dorm and only costs 15 sol (about three pounds) each for the night. Bargain bucket.
The hostel is basic has beds and is therefore like a dream come true. We shower (hot water! Wow!) and sleep. Despite the fact that neither of us have slept for the past 24 hours, we both wake up at 4am, just as good jet-lagged travellers should. We manage to go back to sleep and end up getting up at eight in the morning. In the daylight the hostel is amazing – a building with half the roof missing but in a strange amazing way. Looks like we’ve found a real hidden gem, despite it not being in the guide book. We also discover that, if there is ever a night for being ridiculous and walking around Lima with all of your money and possessions, it the night of the visit of a foreign President. Turns out the President of Paraguay was visiting Lima last night, thus the huge Police presence. Beginners luck.
Despite all this drama, we felt our introduction to Peru had been suitably hard-core. Now just the sightseeing to get started on…