We were in for an “eye-opening” day as we made our way towards the southern Burroughs of Lima. At 9:00 a.m., a white van pulled up to our hotel, ready to take us on a half-day excursion. I was looking for an authentic “Lima”. What was daily life like away from the touristy locations? I would get my answers. Hiring a local guide was the key.
I had booked a tour through Viator, an internet market place connecting travelers with local guides. The tour’s focus was a typical day at the market. We would visit one of Peru’s fishing markets, shop at an outdoor food market, enjoy lunch at a local hang-out, and stroll through the colorful art district of Barranco.
We began visiting the district of Chorrillos, where the fish market was located. Each morning fishermen dropped off their catch at the Mercado Pesquero Artesanal. The variety was mind-boggling. Bonita, flounder, shrimp, crab, lobster, squid were some of the choices. Standing under the roof of a building, where on all sides were open to the elements, I watched as ladies weighed and filleted the fish, and endured the chilly morning.
A couple of fishermen were still on the dock. We walked up to them, and Natalie, our guide, asked what they caught and what bait they used. In a bucket were live crabs the size of a thumbnail. They said that it was their best bait. We asked what happened to the fish that wasn’t sold that day. It either went home with the fishermen or was dropped off at a fertilizer plant. I was struck with gratitude while I watched the fishermen and fishmongers work. Because of them, I was able to enjoy a fresh plate of ceviche the day before and not suffer the cold, wet weather.
The Paradita open-air market was bustling with activity. Walking on the street was an adventure in itself. This area had no traffic signals and cars fought to cross intersections at their own risk. Crates of fruits and vegetables spilled out onto the sidewalks from tiny local shops. Fresh chicken hung from hooks. Children played nearby or helped their mom as she worked.
Natalie chose a handful of fruit for us to try. Passion fruit and Pepino melon were two that I recognized. We tried lucuma and chirimoya. Both are native to the highlands of Peru. I found lucuma to have a similar texture to honeydew. Chirimoya was sweet and pulpy.
Potatoes were everywhere. There were purple, red, and golden potatoes. They came in all shapes and sizes. The vegetable originates in South America, and Peru boasts having 3000 varieties. We would have our share of potatoes while we were in Peru prepared in creative ways.
Then there was the corn. Its kernels are gigantic compared to the varieties we see in the United States. We saw it sold by street vendors, boiled, and served with a piece of cheese. We would later try a purple drink called Chicha Morada made from corn during our lunch break.
The day remained cold and damp. We walked through a labyrinth of connected outdoor vendor stalls and found a small food stand. We sampled fish prepared ceviche style, baked and fried. Boiled corn and potato salad complimented our dishes.
We got back into the van and headed for Barranco. Standing in the middle of Barranco Square, we took in the Spanish architecture surrounding us. Ornate and colorful, the Library, the church, and residential buildings were beautiful with decorative designs and rooftop gardens.
As we started our walking tour, we saw a cozy coffee shop on our left. Ken, Sheila, Jim, and I quickly made eye contact. Were we thinking the same thing? Oh, ya! We all needed to warm up a bit, and a coffee break seemed the answer. The next moment, we were inside drinking lattes and enjoying conversation that flowed easily between Natalie and the rest of us. We asked questions like, “Was this a steady job for her? How did she learn such perfect English? What did she enjoy about her work?” She, in turn, asked her own, “What brought us to Lima? Did we like the city? What was Nevada like?” Our formal relationship turned into a relaxed companionship.
Peruvians are genuine, courteous, helpful, and kind. This is the experience we would have over and over again while visiting the country. So many people throughout our trip jumped in to help us when we hit a snag. Whether it was to help with our luggage, recommend an eatery, get on a local phone line and talk to the airline, I could always find help.
We were finally ready to continue our walk to Barrano’s art district. Taking the Bajada de Los Banos or Walkway to the Baths, we passed picturesque murals, pubs, and eateries, art galleries, and crafts for sale that were spread out on the sidewalks.
I was particularly pulled in by Jade Rivera’s artwork seen below. His drawings try to depict what is going on behind the face…invisible thoughts.
We crossed the famous Bridge of Sighs. Local lore says that if you can walk the length of the bridge, holding your breath the entire time, your wish will come true.
Natalie directed us to a statue that stood at one end of the bridge. It was an image of Chabuca Granda, a famous Peruvian singer who was popular in the 1950s. Her songs resonate with the Peruvians. Children are brought up learning one of her famous songs, “La Flor de la Canela,” considered the anthem of Lima. Her songs romanticize the Barranco area, cherishing the grand French houses and gardens, the bridges, and baths that bring beauty to the area. You can find Chabuca Granda singing on YouTube.
We were finished with our tour, but our guys had one more request on the way back to the hotel. “Where could one find a good cigar?” Natalie didn’t know, but our driver did. Later, sitting on the rooftop of our hotel, overlooking the night lights of the city, cigar smoke drifting in the air, I contemplated the differences between Miraflores, San Isidro, and Barranco. Lima couldn’t be fully known without visiting these vastly different districts. Downtown Lima was to show us another side of the city on our last day.