If you’ve been in college or the corporate world you’ve probably done the “describe yourself as a fruit” exercise, it’s commonly done as a “get to know each other” or “team building” exercise. For example:
“I’m like an apple. I don’t look very special on the outside but I’m so good for you that once you get to know me you’ll want me every day”
“I’m a lot like a grape: very versatile, mostly sweet but sometimes sour. I’m known better for my accomplishments (wine) than I am as a person.”
I was in Lima a while back and thought if Lima was a fruit, it would be a pineapple.
Step outside the Lima airport into the mess that is Lima traffic. Old buses belching smoke, scruffy looking taxis beeping their horns everywhere. Everything is dusty because Lima’s in the middle of a desert, only it’s hard to tell from within the concrete jungle that’s home to about 10 million people. The cool weather and milky-cloudy overcast don’t fit your idea of what a desert should be like anyway.
An hour in Lima traffic gets you to Miraflores, Lima’s best known tourist district. You check into your hotel tired and stressed out. After a quick nap you venture out to Parque Kennedy, nice during the day but too many hustlers at night, especially in that little “pizza street” where all the tourists go. You check out the expensive cosmopolitan shops in Larcomar – didn’t think there was so much money in a place like this. You take a walk down the Malecon (boardwalk) overlooking the Pacific Ocean and start to think, “this is nice, I could get used to this”.
The next day you take a touristy open bus tour around the city, you get glimpse of Lima’s colonial past, museums and the government district downtown. Provided you’re at least somewhat open minded, you’ll have mixed feelings about the place by this time, you can’t quite figure it out. Your hotel suggested you check out the Parque de la Reserva (Parque de los Aguas), an old park converted with beautiful fountains. The fountains are beautiful and the water is great fun in summertime but you vaguely remember reading on some blog that there are large neighborhoods on the outside of Lima without running water. You don’t want to fuss because you’re a guest here and respect the culture but everybody should have access to clean running water, no?
Unfortunately, if you’re a typical tourist this would be about all of Lima you’ll get to see. The next day another hour drive in horrible traffic back to the airport and off to Cusco you go. Your first impression of Lima will likely become your only lasting impression: traffic, dust and milky-cloudy overcast. However, if you stay a bit longer you’ll have a chance to see more.
Maybe you’re on a budget so you venture away from Parque Kennedy to have lunch at a local place. Look for the “Menu” sign which means they have daily specials, the type of place where the locals eat. You sit down and the waitress rambles of the 3 choices of the day. You have no idea what they are but look around and point at the least-unfamiliar looking plate: “I want that”. The little restaurant is full at lunchtime and a stranger sits down at your table. You realize this isn’t some hustler like the guys in Pizza street, no, he’s just another customer looking for a place to sit. You exchange niceties and as you’re eating your S/.12 (~$4) three-course meal you begin to think “why didn’t I eat here every day?” Nice people and the food is better at 1/3 the price of what you’d paid at the touristy places before. In fact, the food is great.
Later in the evening you take a trip to Barranco – your bus tour took you there but you want to check the place out for yourself. It’s a lot like Miraflores, only without the hustlers and fewer tourists. You have anticuchos at Tio Mario, someone tells you the story about the history of the place, how it was just a lady selling anticuchos on the side of the street many moons ago. You wonder why you don’t know many Tio Mario restaurants in the “land of opportunity” where you come from. Is everything supposed to be owned by corporations? You walk away fat and happy, feeling like a Lima expert, shaking your head at those poor 2-day tourists who’ll never know what they’re missing.
Next time you walk along the Malecon or Larcomar or Parque Kennedy, you’re now clever enough to avoid the hustlers and you strike up a conversation with a regular guy/gal. With all the hustlers chasing you down those first couple of days you were in town, you didn’t hardly notice the regular Limeños. Now that you’ve got the hustlers figured out you can sit down at Cafe de la Paz and have a Pisco with a regular Limeño, perhaps someone getting off from work after a 12-hour day. You might be the first foreigner they’ve ever talked to outside of their job. You might be the first person who’s ever bought them a Pisco at Parque Kennedy because many regular Limeños can hardly afford that indulgence.
People everywhere love to talk about their lives, their families, their city. So you listen to your new friend talk endlessly about the good and the bad, life in Lima. From the great food and the fun they have in summer to the hard times and the struggles of life in a developing ecomomy mega-city.
Then you realize life is so much more real here than it is back home. Lima is like a pineapple, once you get past the rough and prickly outside, nothing but sweet, juicy goodness on the inside.