11: Lima, Part I
14 April 2002
Very early in the morning Arlen and me were riding in a taxi through a still dark but awakening Managua on the way to the airport. And then it was time to hold each other one more time and say goodbye.
From Managua to Panama City to Lima, Peru. In the afternoon I arrived in South America once again and took a taxi to Hotel Espaï¿½a, where I took a single room on the roof. In the center of the city, this is a beautiful hotel on the inside; it used to be a colossal colonial building.
The center of Lima is also very colonial with tall colorful old buildings. It could be the center of an European city. You almost get the feeling you could feel safe here. Very strange. Lima is also a very big city with more than 8 million people, most of them living in the poor suburbs around the center, which you see as you drive up from the airport.
I walked around the central Plaza des Armas and the shopping street to get a feel of things before going to bed early. I got out of bed very late and then walked around some more, did my laundry, changed money and went to the movies where I saw Blind Love and Black Hawk Down. These first two days I did nothing else, just relaxing and waiting.
On Saturday evening of the third day I took a taxi to the airport and picked up my father, Willem or Guillermo as he likes to call himself here, and my brother Paul from Switzerland. Before I went on my trip we had made plans to travel together, and now for the next three weeks we would be traveling together through Peru and Bolivia.
The next day we just relaxed and walked around town so they could adjust to the sudden change in their surroundings. We had to find the bus company to buy tickets for the next day to Nazca. We were walking slowly down a big street when suddenly there was some movement to my right where my brother was walking. He held up his left arm and said: ‘So, there goes my watch.’
Someone had just snatched the watch from his wrist and was running away around a corner. We were stunned, but in seconds I regained my thoughts and felt it was very unfair for my brother to lose his super-expensive multifunctional Casio watch, which he had been showing off to me just the night before, knowing I love that kind of stuff. And that on his first day of the trip. I looked at him and said, ‘Lets go get him.’
We dumped our small backpacks with our father, who had been walking just ahead of us and had noticed nothing yet. We didn’t have time to explain, and he didn’t know what was happening as we started running away very fast. He told us later he knew something big must have happened, because many people were walking our way to see what was happening.
Paul and me had a strong adrenaline rush and a surprised robber, who had been slowing down, looked up in fear and tried to run again. With mad smiles on our faces we cornered him one block further. We didn’t dare touch him, because he looked very dirty and dazed from drugs (or the running…) and he could have a weapon. A taxi driver drove up to help us and started shouting at our robber and blocking any exit to escape. Within a minute a police car drove up and two policemen started interrogating the robber, who was now quiet and subdued. They also didn’t touch him right away though. After some arguments between them, the robber saying he didn’t do or have anything, the police found the watch in his underwear, near his balls, yech, this being a well-known trick, apparently. Then they let the robber go.
Phew, we almost had the watch, now we only had to wait for the police to give it back. We stepped into the police car and told them how glad we were about the watch. It took several minutes as the police looked over the watch, but then they gave it back. However, as we were nearing the place our father was waiting, a hand went back and they demanded a ‘propino’. We decided not to be stupid and gave a 30 soles ($10) tip! Maybe it had also been a bad idea of me to keep repeating how glad we were to get this very valuable watch back.
When we told our father about all that had happened, he was amazed he had not noticed anything. For the rest of the day we were pretty nervy, but satisfied at our success.
As we would discover later in our trip, crime on tourists is very common in the region of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. We heard many first- and second-hand stories of victims, most of them having to do with something being snatched away like sunglasses, cameras and bags. But also more violent crimes like robberies! Also, false money is a big issue, as you will soon notice when everyone here is always checking the bills carefully before accepting. As you will do too, soon. It happens in an instant and there is nothing much you can do about it after that. Always be aware of your surroundings; a little paranoia can get you a long way! It seems petty crime is more proficient here in South America than in Central America.
The next morning at 6 o’clock we were on the bus to Nazca. I enjoyed the ride very much as we drove through the yellow coastal dessert of Peru, a real sand and rock dessert, very nice with the cold white waves of the Pacific Ccean crashing at the edge. In the bus there were two pretty and very enterprising young women who approached all 10 backpackers on the bus for hotel and tour arrangements in Nazca. And so it happened as we arrived we were all herded by the girls into taxis and all of the 20 or so men waiting for us had to look in frustration how they had lost the game that time.
The hotel was good, and within an hour we were on the way to the local airport to see the famous Nazca lines. These are giant geometrical lines and animal figures (monkey, spider, birds, etc) drawn in the nearby dessert more than 2000 years ago. There is a lot of mysticism surrounding these lines, most of them having to do with UFO’s and extraterrestrial beings. All I can say is that this is all rubbish and shows a total lack of respect for the people who made these lines.
You can only see the lines from the air, so we stepped into a small 4-person Cessna and off we went. This was my first time in such a small airplane, and the heavy turbulence got to me quickly. Both to my stomach and the fear center in my brain, when we would drop a couple of meters every now and then. From the ground it looked like the planes were flying smoothly, but reality was very different.
It was also very hot in the airplane, and soon we were all sweating like crazy. This had a strange effect as I looked at a heavily sweating pilot, holding on to the steering wheel as if he was fighting for control. If I had not known better, I would have thought we were seconds away from crashing. But of course it didn’t and I kept thinking that these pilots do this several times a day and maybe for fun as well. I don’t know.