I seem to be spending quite a lot of time writing on buses. At the moment I am sitting on a bus taking me from Lima, the capital city of Peru, to Arequipa, a small town around sixteen hours away. Most of my travel will be done by bus, if only for the simple reason that flying by plane is far too costly. Surprisingly, this bus is somewhat luxurious, large reclining leather, a complementary meal, and even television currently playing Taken 3 (albeit in Spanish).
I have just spent the past four nights in Lima, and to tell the truth, there is something about that city that makes me sad.
It is a city like any other, although it is huge compared to Irish standards, with some eleven million people inhabiting it. It is noisy; the constant blare of horns, people touting their wares on the street, handwoven pouches and bracelets are at every corner, with the occasional vendor selling more elicit items like knuckle dusters or counterfeit CDs. Men and women hang from the doors of vans serving as makeshift public transport, yelling their destinations. A single Nuevo Sol will get you anywhere in the city. The smells of cooking meat and fried sweets from food carts are a punctuation from the constant smell of exhaust and dust. Salchipapas and Anticuchos are most common, the first is simple fried potatoes with eggs and a sliced hotdog. The second is diced heart, skewered and barbequed.
The Peruvian culture is fascinating, with styles and dances that are fairly removed from most other South American countries, mainly because the Peruvians are descended from the indigenous Quechua people, as opposed to the Spanish conquistadors. There is an incredibly colourful culture there, but it is almost completely drowned out by the growth of this city, the expanse of capitalism with a McDonald’s or a Starbucks on a every other street corner, the fumes of everlasting traffic jams. Even the sky is almost always grey, not because of clouds but because of constant smog and mist.
There are people living in this city who have never seen the stars.
Despite this, Lima does have its charms. Despite the chaos of a exponentially growing city, the colour of this land people can still find its way through. We watched a crowd of people dancing salsa in Plaza Kennedy to an impromptu jury-rigged sound system. We saw a young woman dressed in an incredibly colourful traditional dress sing on the streets for no one’s enjoyment but her own. We ate delicious foods and met wonderful people. Miraflores is particularly beautiful, a more modern part, replete with skyscrapers and huge plazas, in stark contrast to the outer regions where brick replaces steel and whitewash replaces glass. Although in truth, I preferred the outer, they were poorer, and there weren’t the same amenities, but it felt more real, it felt like a place where people lived and grew old.
Yes, Lima makes me sad, but only because it can be so much more, because it seems as if its dwellers struggle to hold on to their identities. But Lima as it is now is still growing, and with growth comes change, so who knows, maybe some day those stars will come out after all.