We arrived at JFK at about 4:00am to begin the long journey to Lima. We would be flying though Panama City for a brief layover and then we would be heading to Lima. The flight time would be about 8 hours and we would be flying over a beautiful part of the world. I got to watch as we flew over the entire country of Cuba and Panama. Around Panama City, I could see a small fleet of tankers gathering around for their chance to pass through the canal. On the way back, we would get to spend a day full day here, so this was only a taste of what was to come.
We were behind schedule, so we only had about 15 minutes to find our gate and get food. Apparently some airlines allow you to call ahead if you want vegan or vegetarian food, but I have never been able to pull this off successfully so most of the time I just don’t eat much on the travel days. We were able to find a Subway, and although I got a few looks for ordering a sandwich with no meat or cheese, it was worth it for a decent meal.
We quickly boarded the plane and before we knew it, we were up in the air. I had no idea what Lima would have in store for us, but I assumed I would be prepared for it. I had been to big cities in Central and South America before, so I assumed this would be the same type of deal. Boy was I wrong.
As soon as we landed, the culture shock began to hit us. We hopped into a taxi and drove straight into the rush hour of Peru’s largest city. I saw buses filled with people that looked liked they hadn’t seen a repair in decades. The entire city was shrouded in a dense smog and I couldn’t help to compare the outskirts of the city to a scene from mad max, with people hanging out of buses and jumping out while it was still moving. There were a million things I could’ve complained about here, but I was overcome with a sense of excitement. I had the amazing opportunity to experience a new city, and although it was very different than what I was used to, I couldn’t help but smile.
After some of the most aggressive driving I had ever seen, we finally arrived in Miraflores, a beautiful part of the city with lots of parks and trendy places to eat. We were staying on the 14th floor of a high-rise so we were able to enjoy an amazing view of the city. After getting settled in, we decided to venture out and explore Miraflores. After a short 5-minute walk, we encountered what is still my favorite part of the city. Kennedy park is a large patch of greenery right in the center of Miraflores and it has become famous for all the cats that take up residence there. This seemed to be a meeting place for tourists and locals alike. There were high-end restaurants positioned around the park, as well as street vendors scattered throughout. This was a nice first taste of the city. It was a combination of familiar and unfamiliar. There was one part of the park where people gathered to sell trading cards of famous soccer players. Of course, the whole country was caught up in World Cup fever back during the group stage. They had a huge screen in the front of the park where people could gather around and watch Peru play.
As fun as the park was, we knew we could always come back to it later. For right now we needed to find a place to eat dinner. This would prove to be quite a challenge for a vegan in a country famous for ceviche and alpaca burgers. We walked through one busier streets and found a lot of people standing out with menus, eager to show us their options. One guy caught me off guard and all of a sudden I was roped in. He started reading off the options: “We have chicken, steak…” he saw me beginning to lose interest. “…guinea pig…” he said, thinking for sure that would pique my interest. For those of you still eating meat, perhaps seeing your 3rd grade pet served up on a plate in front of you will make you reconsider. Cuy al horno or “baked guinea pig” is possibly one of the most famous dishes in Peru after ceviche and it is as shocking as it sounds. In that moment I thought I was in over my head, and I didn’t know what I was going to do for food on this trip. I would later find out that people here are so friendly that even if they don’t have good options for you, they are willing to go out of their way to help you out.
We found a fast-casual place that had some rice and fried banana on display that looked really good. Our Spanish skills were still quite rusty, so we were going to need some help ordering. Luckily, there was a really nice couple behind us that spoke great English and they helped us order food. I ended up getting a plate of rice, bananas and some of their amazing papas fritas. I looked at my plate with a smile and thought “not bad for my first meal in Peru”.
After dinner, we ventured back into the Parque de Kennedy and began to follow the sounds of music coming from inside the park. We eventually found a group of teenagers having a rap battle in the middle of the park. We gathered around as the kids took turns slinging rhymes at one another, not having a single clue what any of the words meant. There was even a little girl less than 2 years old dancing to the music they had playing!
After a fun first night, we headed back to the hotel. We had a full day tomorrow and we would be exploring a lot of different parts of Lima so we needed to get some rest. So far, it was so great to be traveling again, and I really couldn’t wait to start the next chapter of our adventure.