The moment I stepped off the plane in Lima, I felt that nervous, excited energy that arises when I venture into something new. Brent and I were promptly greeted by a Duty-Free shop and after being somewhat restricted in my purchases by Ecuadorean import taxes, I went into a slight frenzy. Whiskey, normal price! OPI nail polish right in front of my eyes! Lima had already won my heart and I was still in the airport terminal. Upon leaving the exit, we were greeted by a taxi driver from our hostel, waving high a sign that read “ALEXANDRA JENNINGS,” I’ve never felt so wanted! Entering the freeway, we were exposed to one of Lima’s ugly realities, the traffic. It was late morning and stop-and-go for miles. Lima has more than 40 neighborhoods and 9 million people who surely do their part to contribute to this mess. A quick snooze later, the car parked in front of 1900 Backpackers, a hostel in central Lima that was designed by Gustave Eiffel. The best part about arriving here though was that our friend Ben from Fort Collins was inside waiting for us!
Ben had arrived a few days before from Mexico City and was soaking in his first international travel experience. That day, he showed us around central Lima: Plaza San Martin, Gran Hotel Bolivar for a pisco sour, Plaza de las Armas, Chinatown, Mercado Central and Monasterio San Francisco. For lunch we found a small, busy and packed menus (set lunch) location. I was surprised that although a border country with Ecuador, Peru had completely different food and barely any of the names I recognized. Brent tried the creamy national specialty aji de gallina, chicken and walnut stew in a butternut squash-color. At the market, I was overwhelmed with ripe fresh figs (Ecuador has a problem with picking under ripe fruit that never matures correctly as a result) and purple corn. What surprised me the most was the grandeur of the colonial architectural style in that part of Lima.
In general, Lima is known for its exquisite food selection from high end restaurants to Ben’s favorite, street carts. There are a lot of anticuchos (meat skewers) and papas con salsa de ají (roasted potatoes with spicy sauce) sold at stands on every corner. Our favorite restaurant was Cevichería la Choza Nautica, tucked into a side street but immediately recognizable by the crowds of people outside waiting for tables. We ordered an arroz con mariscos (seafood rice) and our first Peruvian ceviche mixto, so much tastiness on one table! The ceviche was soaked in a yummy lemon sauce and tasted incredibly different than the soupy ceviches in Ecuador. It was also accompanied by mote (corn) and sweet potato, which might have been my favorite part because it was not South American camote but a true sweet potato that you might find in the U.S. (and nowhere in Ecuador).
Migrating toward the coast to our new neighborhood, Miraflores, also marked a shift in our food consumption. Miraflores boasts less street food and more adorable coffee shops. Our first stop was at a gelatería for delicious pistachio gelato, my first real gelato since leaving the U.S. We also tried out Lima’s public transportation for the first time and hopped on a combi or what some might call a micro, aka a tiny bus meant for tiny people, not travelers with huge backpacks, it was quite… comfortable.
That night, we settled into quiet Backpacker’s Family Hostel, just a quick hop away from the ocean. We walked over to el malecón (boardwalk) to break open our Duty Free whiskey and enjoy the night. On our way back, we discovered Vivanda, aka the Whole Foods of Lima, or what I liked to call my Mecca, as nothing like this really exists in Ecuador. Some highlights were blueberries, herbed goat cheese, Aveeno lotion, and Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt! I also bought a bag of peanut M&Ms that exploded on the sidewalk when I opened them but I picked them up and ate every last one because I thought I might not get a chance to eat any in Ecuador (it turns out they’re actually quite common in Ecuador, I just had never looked for them before). The Miraflores neighborhood was definitely more upscale than anywhere I’d been in awhile, which was confirmed when Brent got yelled at by a security guard for not wearing a shirt on a run near high-end outdoor shopping mall LarcoMar.
Beyond Miraflores is Barranco, an artsy neighborhood with a large international food scene. After our run, Brent and I beelined to Burrito Bar, which was truly everything we dreamed of and more. Handmade tortillas and limeade with fresh mint put us in full belly bliss. Our next stop was at a place called Twist to drink microbrews to our hearts’ content. By pure coincidence, when leaving Barranco we stumbled upon the chocolate museum (Choco Museo) for a free tour with samples. One of the strangest experiences was walking through Parque Kennedy, the epicenter of the tourist area in Miraflores and seeing that it was overflowing with cats of all kinds. Little, big, fluffy, short hair, kittens, grandpas. I probably counted twenty to thirty cats roaming around their stomping grounds and of course I had to try to pet each one. That and finding a self-service laundry mat after a week of sweat, sand and saltwater really sealed the deal on Lima!
Next up: a 22.5 hour bus ride to Cusco!