Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Peru Day Three

After language school today, we had the opportunity to lunch at a restaurant called Cala, right on the ocean in Lima. Cala specializes in seafood and had wonderful food, but by far the most interesting thing about the restaurant was the menu, translated from Spanish to English in a most creative way, made all the more funny by the bracing pisco sour we had to start.

We had our choice of:

Our traditional salted but with us Angus short ribs

Juicy rice in black sauce with grilled shrimps, reduction of chili peppers and coral

Rare-done ahi tuna sealed with juices of mirin, covers the turnip spaghettis

Kid legs, shoulder and loin 24hrs marinated in indian corny brandy, grape mixed with pisco, borgona wine and Peruvian squash perfect slow cooked with a patty of fried rice and smooth pureed yellow manioc

To Make Life Sweetteness

Martini of lucuma custard over Meringue and chocolate
Breaded cheesecake fingers in Aguaymanto sauco and raspberry sauce
Crispy ponderation filled with Peruvian cinnamon milk sauce, happy custard apple, guanabana and caramelized aquaymanto
Big plate with the best cala's bitosize donout desserts

Unfortunately, after this meal, one of my travel companions was the first to be visited by what we'd like to refer to as Inca's Revenge. Something disagreed with her and she later had to retire to her room, not to emerge until completely empty. She introduced a new word to me: shart. The rest of our group was sympathetic, but would have been even more so if we knew that we would, almost all of us, feel the effects of Inca's Revenge by the end of the trip. Never would I have dreamed of having so many conversations about bodily functions with people besides my own children.

I suppose it is time to introduce my travel companions. There were 15 of us all together. Mirta, my local Spanish teacher, and her Peruvian husband Fernando organized the trip. Two of my girlfriends, also traveling without their husbands or families were there. The rest of the group, all from the area I live, were new to me. But not for long. Like any group of people, there is always a character that stands out. That character on this trip was Lou. I will leave the other wonderful people I met on the trip well enough alone in this blog, but not Lou.

Lou is a 65 year old man, large sturdy build, thin grey short hair, a mouth full of silver braces. Yes, braces. Divorced and looking for love. In Peru. Within a day of meeting him, I knew all about how he met several ladies online who live in Peru, and he was hoping to meet up with them during the trip. One such woman, I don't know her name and didn't get to meet her, traveled 14 hours on a bus from where she lived to meet Lou in Lima. She was 28 years old. They met, he took her to a nice dinner, they got along very well (according to him). The next day they were supposed to meet and she canceled. The next evening they were supposed to meet. Lou bought some Peruvian potatoes, a special variety that are supposed to have properties similar to Viagra. That evening didn't go so well, she showed up late and drunk, and they got in an argument. He's not sure if he will bring her to visit him in the US.

Meanwhile, Lou entertained us all by talking to, and asking out, every single breathing female he came into contact with on our trip. Every tour guide, every hotel and restaurant employee, the ladies in the language school, other students in the language school, ticket agents at the airport, EVERY SINGLE FEMALE. Unless she was over about 40. This guy tried so hard. I was embarrassed for him. Here and there others on the trip would try to talk to him about being careful, women might want to take advantage of his US passport and his US money. But he was so desperately lonely and trying so hard that even if the woman he was talking to didn't understand a word of English, she instantly understood him. That kind of female intuition is universal I think. The braces didn't help either. I think he would be fine with a woman trying to take advantage of him, but he couldn't find anyone to do that either.

So, where were we? Oh yes, lunch at Cala. After that hours-long affair, our tour took us to the Petit Thouars. A shopping heaven for some, to me it looked like a series of giant flea markets haphazardly jammed together and filled floor to ceiling with colorful touristy junk. Ick. I don't like this kind of shopping at all. Very pushy sales tactics, haggling over prices, trying to find the gem in the haystack, yuck yuck yuck.

I did the cursory speedy lap around the market, chanting "no gracias" and holding my cash inside my hand inside my pocket. Back out in the courtyard, I caught my breath and all of a sudden Rosa appeared! Rosa, our tour guide from the first day. She then started to explain to us how the night before, she had been mugged and her purse, containing all the cash she earned from our tour, her house keys, her cell phone, everything she owned was gone. She looked at us with her sad, tearing brown eyes and produced from her pocket a brand new key she had to have made for her apartment. Of course we all felt terrible for her and quickly got together a donation of $10 per person for a total of $150. She accepted it with the promise that the first thing she was going to do was buy a new cell phone for herself. As she left, something seemed strange. Wait a minute, isn't it an amazing coincident that in a city of 9 million people we happen to run into her in this particular section of a huge market? Isn't it strange that she seemed to be there alone, not guiding a group of tourists? Why do I get the feeling that we had just been ripped off? In hind sight, several people in our group came to the same conclusion. Others refused to believe that sweet Rosa with tears in her eyes could be anything but completely sincere. I will never know for sure, but $10 means a lot more to her than to me, so if she needed it badly enough to put on that kind of performance, she is welcome to my donation.

After giving money to Rosa, we had to take a taxi back to our hotel. Our friend Fernando gave us some advice about the taxis. Try to pick a good one, not one that will rob you. The driver should not be too young. The driver should also not be too old. The car should be a decent one, not too nice. Look the driver in the eye and make sure he is a good person before you get in.

OK. We're somewhat nervous.

We quickly pair off and my two girlfriends and myself find ourselves with Mirta hailing the first taxi that comes along. We look at it. Everything about it goes directly against the advice her husband just gave us. She jumps in the front seat and impatiently motions for us to pile in. We stare, thinking she is completely crazy or has some kind of death wish. She insists it's fine and throwing common sense to the wind, we squeeze in the back seat. The car is stripped down. Downright minimal I'd say. The inside is all bare dirty metal. The glovebox is held together with a twist tie and an old Bic pen. As we proceed down the road, it is apparent that the mechanics of the car don't work so well either. Each time we have to stop and then go again, it is a question in each person's mind, including the driver I'm sure, if the car will cooperate and move in a forward direction. Grinding clanking groaning noises come from the engine area. The car has no shocks either, so we feel each pebble as well as each pot hole. The traffic is very heavy. Lane lines are merely a suggestion that no one follows. We are so close to the car next to us that I could easily reach out and pick the nose of the driver. Just entering into my consciousness is the sound of a siren behind us. As we all realize it is getting louder, we turn around. Bearing down on us from behind is an ambulance. But we are in the middle of a completely jammed intersection, there's not one inch of space for us to move. The ambulance is directly behind us now, wailing insistently. I am convinced that it is going to drive right over the top of our car. Two out of four passengers scream. Our driver doesn't react in any way. Once we are able to move out of the intersection and the ambulance can get by us, our driver waves him by, as if to say "come on, pass me already."

We all laugh nervously and start to relax just a bit. Traffic lets up and we are cruising down the street, three cars abreast in two marked lanes. Mirta looks back at us from the front seat and says "isn't this fun?" We all look back at the traffic just in time to see our taxi driver gunning to overtake a car and cut right in front of a large delivery truck, a gutsy move in a gutless car. This time, four out of four passengers scream.

Finally arriving at our hotel, we tumble out, very glad to have survived the taxi ride. We pay the driver the equivalent of $4 and count it as one of the most reasonable thrill rides ever. Not one I want to try again though, thank you very much.

We go to the bank of three elevators in our hotel. The one on the far left opens up. By now we know that this particular elevator is possessed. Sometimes it will take you to the correct floor, sometimes not. The elevator reads Floor 4 as Somewhere in the Range of Floor 4. As we rehash our exciting taxi ride, each of us gets off on the wrong floor and we find our way to our rooms, laughter echoing in the staircase. My friend with Inca's Revenge is not laughing though, she is running at this point.

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