I come from a family of Mexican heritage; I love eating barbacoa tacos on Sunday mornings, I enjoy chamoy on my shaved ice, my version of macaroni is conchitas, and I firmly believe in “the ojo.”
I accompanied my father on a well appreciated trip to Lima, Peru, where he would spend his days working and I would spend my days exploring a Latin culture other than mine and attempting to understand that there are foods besides enchiladas and tacos.
On the day of my arrival, to my surprise, the 60-degree weather and overcast skies demanded that I ditch my tank tops and sandals, and instead bundle up in a warm coat and purchase an umbrella.
My hotel was located in the district of Miraflores, an area of the city known for its beautiful hotels, restaurants, and gardens. Surrounding the hotel were three restaurants, two hostels, one large apartment complex, a watch dealer, and countless balconies featuring Peruvian flags and occasionally an Argentinian flag.
I appreciated the hours spent alone as my father worked on the other side of town. I enjoyed ordering my breakfast and asking for directions in Spanish, taking my time in clothing stores, and explaining to lost tourists seeking directions that I, myself, was not a local and simply visiting just like them.
Breakfast was my favorite time of the day. I enjoyed exotic fruits, Inca waffles, hot tea, and tuning into people’s Spanish dialects to decide where they were from in the Spanish-speaking world. Family members and friends joined together at breakfast where they would kiss each other on each cheek after exclaiming “ciao.” It’s a greeting seldom heard back in the states. Families, presumably from Argentina, passed around their own store of mate, a South-American tea made of dried yerba mate leaves.
Two blocks east of the hotel was the leading street which would take you to the park overlooking the beach. The street was lined with clothing stores featuring prom-like dresses, specialized stores for Alpaca wool, and plenty of casinos. The street was bustling with pedestrian and vehicle traffic in a way that made you nervous. Pedestrians ignored the sounds of the city and instead listened to iPods as they walked in front of ongoing traffic, leaving vehicles screeching to a sudden stop. The rules of the road were ignored, street lights were merely there for decoration, and there was no such thing as staying in one’s lane.
The park overlooking the ocean was filled with benches and canopies, people running along the pavement and workout bars for people wanting to do pull ups. Beneath the park was a shopping mall and cafés which could be accessed by stairs and escalators. The stores featured American brands, but occasionally one came across a store featuring luxury goods made in South America.
About 20 minutes away by foot was the center of town where Peruvian food collided with pizza and Brazilian meat, and where food collided with shopping. Tourists generally filled the restaurants, but local families frisked the inventory in clothing stores in search of winter clothes. Strangely, in the midst of large department stores and fancy eateries, sat the Inca markets, tucked away in the corner of all the commotion.
The temperature changed immediately from 60 degrees and overcast in Lima to mid-70s and sunny skies in Cusco. The city had everything I pictured in a South American city: European influence, history, beautiful churches, stone roads, and excellent food.
The center of the city was filled with restaurants, clothing, leather, and jewelry shops, Inca markets crowded into every alleyway, and a park right in the center of it all. People from all over the world walked the streets, young local men and women advertised their stores and restaurants for business, and small children sat against walls begging for money. Occasionally I would stumble upon children or older women dressed in traditional Peruvian wear, including one holding a small lamb willing to pose for photos for one sol.
Before our stay came to an end, my father and I began our trek to Machu Picchu. The journey began at 3 a.m. with a two-hour bus ride, continued with an hour and 45-minute train ride, and ended with a 20-minute bus ride up the mountains to finally reach our destination.
On our journey to one of the seven wonders of the world, we met a family from Argentina and an older woman from Spain who was traveling all of South America alone. The Argentinian family and Spanish woman would become our travel buddies as we accompanied them on the Spanish language tour of the ruins.
Machu Picchu sits at just under 8,000 feet above sea level. Due to the sudden change in elevation from Lima, we were advised to drink coca tea, which is made from the native South American coca plant. The tea helps prevent altitude sickness.
The Inca ruins were at the very top of a mountain, surrounded by hundreds more covered in greenery, leaving the mind boggled as to how the Inca people reached the peak and survived atop with adequate resources centuries ago.
Llamas grazed at the top of the mountain overlooking the ruins and the hundreds of visitors below experiencing the singular beauty of the Inca kingdom. The homes were constructed of large stones, yet the Inca people seemed to moved the stones and built their cities with pure strength and will power and only lithic tools.
The site’s engineering feats amaze the visitor. A drainage system captured and stored rain water and kept the stone city from flooding.
The tour took two hours and the rest of the day remained open to enjoy and appreciate the land.
We spent our final day eating and watching the 2014 World Cup final, dressed head-to-toe in blue and white as we prepared to cheer Argentina on until the end. Surprisingly enough, we ran into an Argentina family whom we had met in Lima, where we had watched the soccer match between Argentina and Holland. We hugged and chatted before we were separated by the waves of Argentinians who flooded the bar. The floor shook as people jumped up and down before the game had even begun, but the craziness was yet to come. As soon as the starting whistle blew, madness broke out as people jumped and screamed, forcing tables to tip over and drinks to spill. It felt like an earthquake.
I’m not Argentinian, but I felt like one as I cheered Argentina on and prayed they would win. When they didn’t, I felt the sorrow and pain that filled the room. German fans on the streets of Cusco high-fived me as they congratulated me on a good game, assuming I was Argentinian. Peruvians gave their condolences for my loss.
Despite Argentina’s loss, the party never ended. Sure, there were tears and cries, but pride remained.
When the seven-hour flight back to Houston rolled around, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Peru and the people I had met, and the experiences I had. My South American adventure was a beginning, a journey I am eager to resume one day.
*Featured/top image: The top of Machu Picchu. Photo by Brooke Ramos.