I decided to break up my seventeen hour bus journey to Lima with a stopover in the magical Oasis of Huacachina. By magical, I mean a hostel full of english speakers, a pool and strawberry daiquiris. After the somewhat uncomfortable couchsurfing experience, I justified spending a night in a hostel for these effortless pleasures. The twenty-four hour break was perfect, I barely did anything besides an adventurous walk up the sand dunes and an embarrassing walk down. Going up was scary enough but I tried to keep up so as to impress the sparkly toothed American guy who I had gone with. On the way back, the sand dropped away like water beneath my feet and my legs shook at the sight of the sheer drop.
‘Do you want to hold my hand’ said the beautiful man.
‘No, I’m fine’ I reply.
Two minutes pass.
‘I changed my mind….speeding up to take the guys hand….feeling the hot stickiness of my palm…I am so sorry my hands are clammy’ I admit.
‘I expected they would be’ said the perfect American guy.
My first friend in South America, Ursula, had accepted my hint to stay with her for the weekend and recommended I take a local bus that would drop me close to her place on the outskirts of the city. I knew that the journey was expected to take four hours so was somewhat worried when it had been nearly six. I had, of course, used my trusty phrase to ask the ticket guy to inform me when I reached my stop, but I had to get up and ask for fear that Lima was behind us. I got told to sit down, did that mean he had my back or not?
The local bus was a lot cheaper, but it came at a price – no aircon, two additional hours journey time and having to endure a terrible Latin American version of Dirty Dancing.
When I finally disembark the bus into a disgusting alley and flash my phone with the direción AND the driver directions helpfully provided by Ursula, no taxi drivers want to take me. This is the only country I have ever been where the driver will literally drive off if he doesn’t know where your location is! A guy in uniform comes over and asks if I need help. I explain the situation as I hunch my back forward to take the weight off of my ridiculous backpack off my shoulders (you know that move). I can’t decide if this guy is official or a drunk playing dress up as he begins to tell me that he used to be a millionaire living in Miami, until the cops found his girlfriend dead from a cocaine overdose in his apartment and he was deported. ‘Can you believe it, I used to be a millionaire’. All I believe in this moment in time is I have had it up to here with this journey and either he or this entire area stinks of piss. He asks for my whats app, reasoning that I clearly need his help whilst I am in Lima as I can’t speak Spanish.
Finally, I reach Ursula’s apartment, she suggests I go for a walk to find the lady on a corner that sells Anticuchos to get some dinner. I ask what they are and she says she is not telling me, which of course raises suspicion. When she promises it’s not fish or seafood I decide to go for it.
It’s funny as I walk around her neighbourhood at night, I remember how scared I was three weeks ago when I landed here. Holding my bag close to my chest, my phone in my bra for extra precaution. Now I confidently stroll, interacting with people to assist my quest for this unknown delicacy (which I have always believed is codeword for strange and I am bound not to like it). It feels further than she described, so I decide to look for the suggested accompaniment first. I go from warm fridge to warm fridge until I finally get my hands on a cold Corona. Shall I buy some crisps and just pretend I found the unknown objects and that I loved them?
I dawdle and then I see a steaming grill.
The reply is yes. It just looks like beef, so I wait for her to finish twiddling the sticks and dive straight in. As I pull on the tough meat with my teeth my mind is screaming its tongue, its tongue! I slide it in the bag and wander back.
Ursula tells me ‘eeeewww no way its not tongue its heart’
…because that makes it SO much better.
The next day I pack my Spanish phrase book into my bag and head for the park. On the way I find one of the main streets is closed and people are being led by a Peruvian Mr Motivator on a stage as they salsa in the sun. I watch curiously for five minutes before jumping in to join them. God how I wished I wasn’t wearing full-length black clothes, but boy was I having fun. Sunday morning dancing in the streets would be one of my policies if I was in charge of a country.
Hot and sweaty, I retreat to the park and get my book out. No more than two minutes pass before I have made a friend. He talks and touches my shoulder one too many times. He doesn’t like seafood either and wants to hug to celebrate the fact, as does he when he discovers that we are both Leo’s. He hangs on for a good twenty minutes, really doesn’t understand why I don’t want to give him my Facebook or whats app and finally leaves me in peace…well that’s what I thought.
Along comes another guy.
‘Oh your from England, I know two exchange students from Kent, are you an exchange student?’.
He tells me he wants to visit England, asking if he can take my whatsapp so he can message me when he is there. I politely refuse and move to another bench, no word of a lie another guy sits down and asks me where I am from, I say I am going to meet a friend and speed off, smiling at the guy who shouts ‘good luck being on your own for more than one minute today!’
There is one dish that I am still dying to try so I go off to the food markets in search of Aji de Gallina. I am proud of myself as I converse in my broken Spanish until I find what I am looking for and complete my experience by translating the entire menu. Well and truly stuffed but with nothing else better to do I walk forty minutes to a desert place recommended by Daniel. The lemon meringue pie is so good I can’t refrain from making noises.
I continue my day of achievement when I manage to successfully take two buses, and get all the way to Ursula’s without making a single wrong turn (well except the last street but comon’ it’s me!)
The only thing I failed on for the second time around in Lima was forgetting to put suncream on, I would be reminded of my Sunday salsa dancing every time I looked in the mirror at my once again bright red nose.