Day 1 in Peru — If Your Friends Jump Off a Cliff . . .

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Buenos Dias!  It’s 5:30 am in the beautiful Miraflores district of Peru!  The sun is up and so am I!  So I race down stairs to partake in my first Peruvian breakfast and take multiple foodie pics.  So I get downstairs and I see . . . eggs.  OJ.  Bread.  Yogurt.  Granola.  I’m not one of those Instagramers who take pics of normal food.  Hell no.  I’m more into the foreign and exotic, in both food and in wome. . . . Stop.  It’s too early in the morning for that.  I need a cup of coffee first 🙂

So I sit outside on the terrace enjoying the sunshine with my coffee and I had the privilege of my first meeting with a resident of Peru. . . .

He must have left his bandana and ninja weapon in his other shell :)

He must have left his bandana and ninja weapon in his other shell 🙂

Meet . . .uh . . . Botticelli.  I named him after a famous Renaissance artist.  His name may not be as well known as four other artists that I’m sure you’re well aware of, but I’m sure his art skills are just as remarkable as anyone else famous from that era.  The same can probably said of his skills in ninjutsu 🙂

In terms of meeting homo sapiens I was fortunate to meet five people on my tour that morning.  And all of them were Canadian!  Eh!  Four people from the cowboy province of Alberta and one person from La Belle Province of Quebec.  And here I meet my first team . . . Team Canada (brings back memories from last year’s trip).  Like most Canadians (myself included, hopefully) they are SUPER NICE.  They invited me to take a tour of downtown Lima with them.  F’n Eh!

So here is a quick synopsis of traffic in Lima — it is complete and utter anarchy.  Cars and motorcycles all crammed together, honking and yelling at each other.  The traffic lights are basically suggestions to traversing the streets of the nearly 9 million residents in Peru’s capital.  Because of mass traffic congestion, Lima’s mayor, Susana Villarán, decided to create a new transportation system of blue buses that were free and meant to promote the use of public transportation.  Although it seems like a good idea being a passenger on one of these buses, two facts will make you think twice.  First, being shoulder to shoulder with a complete stranger isn’t my way of spending a vacation, especially if it feels like 25+ degrees Celsius on the bus!  This is because some people on this Earth still are not sold on the benefits of clean hygiene.  Heat plus sweaty people multiplied by the one hour commute from our hotel to downtown Lima equals one uncomfortable Gringo.  Oh . . . and this bus stops at EVERY STOP.  Every fibre of my being was screaming “GET ME OFF THIS BUS NOW!”

We finally make it to our stop and I’m the first one off the bus.  As my feet land on the concrete I straighten up my back, breathe in the Peruvian air, soak in the sun, and open my eyes and see the main square of Lima:

Plaza de Armas of Lima

Plaza de Armas of Lima

The Plaza de Armas in Lima is a great place to take a photo!  More importantly, a safe place to take a photo.  Some parts of Lima are not the safe for tourists.  In fact, two of my friends on another tour were approached by some locals for their SLR camera.  Thankfully they were able to escape.  When travelling to unfamiliar places be aware of your surroundings and what you carry.  This site will help you out.

Here are some shots from this famous square:

The Municipal Palace (City Hall).

The Municipal Palace (City Hall).

The Cathedral of Lima, built in the 1600s.

The Cathedral of Lima, built in the 1600s.

The Government Palace, the official residence and office of Peru's president, sits on the banks of the Rimac River, Lima's principal waterway, and faces San Cristobal Hill, the city's highest point. Back in the time of the Incas, the site had strategic and spiritual meaning, which is why the last Inca chief in Lima also lived here. Pizarro, the conqueror of the Incas, so liked the site that he kept it for the first Spanish palace, whose construction began in 1535. Since then, Government Palace has been rebuilt numerous times; the current French-inspired mansion was constructed in the 1930s.

The Government Palace, the official residence and office of Peru’s president.

I also learned about the Festi Arbol — “Festival of Trees”.   To celebrate life and nature, the city of Lima displays 53 acrylic structures of trees to raise public awareness about the importance of trees and the environment. This in the context of Lima’s “Adopt a Tree” program that seeks to plant 500,000 trees in the city by the end 2014.  Here are a couple of my favourite designs:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe streets then pulled us deeper into downtown Lima.  We soon found ourselves in our first museum!  The main feature of this museum was an excavated Incan house.  Here are a couple of shots:

Excavated Incan home.

Excavated Incan home.

An arc with the keystone.

An arc with the keystone.

I’ve always marvelled at the symmetry of a good archway.  I find it fascinating that the middle stone, the “keystone”, holds everything together.  Without it, the archway falls apart.  I wonder how the Incas actually perfected the application of mathematics without any modern tools like a protractor, calculator, or measuring tape.  Yeah I’m a geek shut up. 🙂

And of course my fans.  Didn't you know I was big in Peru?  :P

And of course my fans. Didn’t you know I was big in Peru? 😛

 

After signing a few autographs with the kids (that didn’t happen), posing for pics with the fans (neither did that), and passing out high-fives (THAT happened for sure!) my team and I continued to explore Lima.  On the way our guide explained that the number one sport in Peru is football (that’s soccer).  The national team has won two Copa America trophies in 1939 and 1975.  Guess what else is a popular sport in Peru?  Being a pedestrian.  I have never seen such a disregard for traffic laws.  The rule “pedestrians have the right of way” is not adhered to in this part of the world my dear reader.  Dodging cars, having quick reaction time, and sprinting from crosswalk to crosswalk is a FANTABULOUS way to get the blood pumping in the morning.  According to this article, “Traffic accidents top Peru’s burden of disease categories for lost healthy life years, ahead of pneumonia and alcoholism. They are the leading cause of death for children aged 5—14 years—who typically walk to school—and the second-leading cause for people aged 15—44 years.”  Oh crap.  I’m in that age range.  Need to get your heart rate up before the morning jog?  Cross the street in downtown Lima with the traffic signal flashing a person walking.  Just make sure you have adequate insurance and a good pair of running shoes.  And possibly football pads and a helmet.  And witnesses.

Our next big landmark is the Monastery of Saint Francis of Assisi:

Monastery of Saint Francis of Assisi in the heart of Lima, Peru

Monastery of Saint Francis of Assisi in the heart of Lima, Peru.

Named after the patron saint of animals and the environment, the Monastery was rebuilt in the late 1600s and 1700s (reconstructed after several earthquakes) and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991.

Inside the church.

Inside the church.

Inside the Monastery there is a library and catacombs.  Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed in either venue and I wanted to respect the rules of the tourist attractions (in the next few posts or so you will see I toss this rule out).  So I will direct you to this site for pictures.  The catacombs, or crypts, were definitely a site to see.  Underneath the church there are bones of about 25,000 corpses.  The crypt was used as a burial site during colonial times.  People believed that they could secure their place in heaven by being buried underneath the church.  The graves would go up to four meters deep!

After getting a little creeped out at seeing exposed bones at the church, we make our way (make that avoid Gringo killing vehicles) to Plaza San Martin — another UNESCO World Heritage site.

Monument to Jose de San Martin and a guy with a yellow shirt :)

Monument to Jose de San Martin and a guy with a yellow shirt 🙂

The plaza was named to honour the Argentine General who won Peru’s freedom from the Spanish in the early 1800s.  Funny thing about this monument. . . rumour has it that the sculptor of the above statue was instructed to add fire to the top of the head of the female figure.  Fire represents wisdom.  However, the Spanish translation of fire is “llama” (pronounced “yama”).  So the sculptor did just that . . . a llama was placed on the head of the statue 🙂

A "llama" or a "llama?"

A “llama” or a “llama?”

At this point of the day I split up from the group to go find my own adventure.  And my first solo adventure will be to find somewhere local to eat!  One of my favourite activities!  When I’m in a new country I tend to test the limits of my stomach, in addition to my courage and physical fitness.  I make a quick stop at the hotel and before I leave on my new search I meet a new travel buddy, from the UK!  She’s also on her own, starving, and jet lagged from her 26 hour flight from the land of David Beckham, Mary Poppins, and Love Actually 🙂  So I dragged her along for some sunshine, and to compare stereotypes:

Canadian Stereotypes asked by an English girl:

1. “Seeing a moose everyday.”  No.  We do not see moose everyday.  Maybe every other day if you are in the northern part of our provinces.

2. “A-boot.”  We do NOT say “a-boot” and we have NEVER said it this way.

3. “Ice Hockey.”  Yes.  We love our ice hockey.

4. “Robin from ‘How I Met Your Mother'”  Yes.  Cobie Smulders is Canadian and we are very proud of her.  We still don’t say “a-boot.”

5. “Our homes are made of wooden logs.”  No.  Not all our homes are made of wooden logs.  I mean, yes, we have cottages, but . . . okay never mind this one is right 🙂

U.K. Stereotypes asked by a Canadian guy:

1. “Boulderdash.”  No.  They do not say this word.

2. “Govner.”  No.  They do not say this word either.

3. “Does everyone speak like Mary Poppins?”  No.  English accents vary whether you are from the North or South of the country.

4. “Wanker and Tosser.”  Yes.  These words are used quite frequently.  Especially during soccer, I mean football matches.

5.  “Are you all Harry Potter fans?”  No.  This particular U.K. girl loathes Harry Potter.  Pssssh.  This muggle doesn’t know what she’s saying 🙂

6. “What do you call an SUV?”  They call them “people carriers”.  And trucks are called “lorries.”  U.K. people come up with such cute names for things.  “Womping Willow” is an example of their adorable-ness 🙂

After our long and comical exchange, we end up at El Parquetito.  A local hole in the wall resto that has two features that I like in foreign restaurants: zero English and zero Pictures in the menu.  Perfect!  So I close my eyes and use my finger to blindly select “Higado”.  My U.K. friend had a tougher time.  With words like carne, pollo, and pescado on almost every item, its tough for a vegetarian to get by!  However, huevos (eggs) was her saving grace 🙂

The thing about being adventurous is that your mind has to be open to new things . . . even when you are wrong.  So I learned that higado meant liver.  Yuck!  Not my first choice in a meal but I’m here to experience new tastes!  So down the hatchet it goes.  Yup.  Still not a fan of liver.  Thank goodness for the fries!

So we walk all the way to Larco Mar, a mega complex of first world shops and restaurants.  Excuse me while I hurl.  I really wanted to see something foreign, not a Banana Republic!  However, being situated at the edge of a cliff helps with the view.  And they are breath-taking!

View of the Pacific Ocean from Larco Mar - a mall built into a cliff in Lima, Peru.

View of the Pacific Ocean from Larco Mar – a mall built into a cliff in Lima, Peru.

So we take a stroll down along the coast and pass by some really cool photo spots:

Lover's Park

Lover’s Park

Rosa Nautica Restuarant

Rosa Nautica Restaurant

So in the distance I see my first active adventure: paragliding.  I’ve never done it before so why not now?  I’ve done well with conquering my fear of heights, I’ve jumped off cliffs into rushing rivers, zip lined the tallest trees, Tarzan swung on long vines in the jungle, and rode the biggest roller coasters in Canada.  But I’ve yet to tackle this latest reincarnation of my fear.  So we make a bee line straight for the paragliding booth.

The price of paragliding in Miraflores is 240 soles.  But you can work them down to 225.

The price of paragliding in Miraflores is 240 soles. But you can work them down to 225.

Even though it was my initiative to try and kill myself I surely wasn’t going to do it alone.  I have Hermonie Granger (or someone who speaks like her) with me!  So I use all my powers of rational and logic to convince her.  Just kidding . . . I just used good old peer pressure and booyah!  This adventure is now a team of two!  Just like Hermoine and Harry . . . okay I’ll stop now 🙂

So here goes . . . “Click, click, click” go the sounds of the straps as they connect around my limbs.  I could hear the winds lifting the parachutes behind me.  Random Spanish words are being yelled around me.  My guess is that they are placing bets on when this Gringo is going to chicken out!  But hell no.  I’m not backing out of this one.  So off I go.  Running towards the edge of a cliff, anticipating to be either carried into the sunset or rushing to meet the motorway below.  Thank God for physics 🙂

Me and my crazy a*s adventures :)

Me and my crazy a*s adventures 🙂

Even though the flight was about 11 minutes it felt longer.  Everything is muted when you are flying . . . the cars no longer honk and the people no longer yell.  The sounds of the city are left under my feet, and all I hear is the wind, the birds, and the waves of the ocean . . . Mother Earth’s symphony for my soul 🙂

As soon as I touch down I am exalted into new realms of ecstatic!  i.e. I am high as a motherf*cker!  We both are!  I was extremely happy we both took the opportunity to just be daredevils!  Carpe Diem!

After several “I can’t believe we did that!” conversations my new partner-in-let’s-do-crazy-things went to seek out dinner.  And we find a Chili’s — yes the chain.  Yes, you’re right.  I said I don’t like going to chains.  Yes, I know it’s not adventurous.  Yes, I’m totally missing out on an authentic experience.  Yes, you are right when you say “It’s no excuse” when I say “it was the closest thing to the hotel” and “It was the girl’s choice.”  Yes, you are right to make fun of me.

Although we went to a North American chain we did have a chance to try the National drink of Peru — the Pisco Sour.  The Peruvian Pisco Sour cocktail is made by mixing Peruvian pisco with Key lime juice, simple syrup, egg white, Angostura bitters (for garnish), and ice cubes.  And yes, this drink is sour!  This also marked the second time I peer pressured my U.K. friend to try something new with me.  And by new I mean “This drink has 43% alcohol!  Welcome to Peru!” 🙂

Pisco Sour!  43% Alcohol!  Hello vacation!

Pisco Sour! 43% Alcohol! Hello vacation!

MOMENT OF ZEN:  There is perfection in imperfection in both art and in people.  Remember that you are a masterpiece.  Just like the statue of Jose de San Martin.  Who cares if it was supposed to be a flame?  The statue still represent freedom.  Maybe that’s what mistakes are supposed to do . . . highlight the fun quirks that make us human.  That statue still serves its purpose, and so do you in this life . . . . regardless of all the shortcomings you perceive you possess.  I think the author of “The Power of Positive Thinking” Norman Vince Peale said it best, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.”  Pretty solid quote if you ask me.  But hey, what do I know.  I’m just a guy who travels and thinks llamas are cool 🙂

Peace, Love, and Adventure!

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