¡Hola a todos!
I departed Cusco, finally, destined for the Peruvian capital, Lima. I had tarried so long in Arequipa and Cusco that I decided to forego the apparent delights of the southern coast in order to make up a little lost time: I still have it in mind to journey on past Ecuador into Colombia overland before eventually flying up to Panama and on into California.
Waving goodbye to Cusco and to so many close friends in particular was difficult. I could well appreciate the dilemma of my two Liverpudlian friends, Natalie and Jenny, who had delayed their original departure date by some eight weeks before biting the bullet and bidding their adieu at long last. In the end, I endured a rushed – though no less fond – farewell, running back to the Yanapay hostel, completing one more round of hurried partings, catching a taxi to the bus terminal and jumping aboard with mere moments to spare. In hindsight, such a frantic exit was perhaps best, ridding me of heart-wrenching, drawn-out episodes and forbidding me from being able to dwell overly on my flight from the city and its hospitality.
The journey to Lima was long and uneventful, bar my inevitable mild fit when the in-house DVD player refused to operate properly half-way through the non-descript film being screened. No matter how poor the cinematography on offer, if I become engrossed in the plot, only to be denied a smooth run through to the ending, there is bound to be trouble. Another passenger sat across the aisle from my seat certainly enjoyed my shenanigans. This self-same traveller, once we reached our destination, introduced himself as Alfonso (Alfie) from Galicia, Spain and asked if I would like to share a lift with him into Miraflores, the nicest, safest area of the sprawling, murky metropolis. I agreed, it transpired during the ride that we wished to reside in the same hostel and a fledging friendship was born.
Alfie and I deposited our bags and headed to a cafe for a very late lunch, after being denied such a luxury on our bus-trip. Strolling down the street in search of a likely eatery, Alfie explained how he feels more “Galician” than Spanish, how connected he feels to his home-region’s Celtic roots, shared with the Irish, Scots, Welsh, Cornish and Bretons of north-western France. I found his knowledge of this culture and its history fascinating, heartening. I myself am very interested by Celtic traditions and music especially, many of my favourite groups and songs heralding from this background. After selecting a cafe, we exchanged stories regarding our adventures on our travels thus-far: Alfie regaled me with a particularly exciting tale of danger and intrigue in the Peruvian jungle. A professional photographer by trade, Alfie had accompanied a band of trekkers into the deepest depths of the forest in search of a newly-discovered complex of ruins in the process of being excavated. En route, they had stumbled across a rag-tag remnant of guerrillas from the Peruvian terrorist group Sendero Luminoso. Active until the late 1980s, this group is still active in some isolated locations and has been known to act with tainted hospitality towards travellers. Alfie took the wise decision therefore to quit the scene and use some of his free time in Cusco before moving on to Lima and a friend’s birthday party. I was casually invited and accepted with glee: a brilliant opportunity to see a more personal side to the city and a great way to fill some of my free time before continuing on up the coast to Huaraz.
The party itself was a rather subdued affair, consisting of prolonged drinks at the home of the birthday girl before a belated, half-hearted foray out into the city’s nightlife and an hour or so at a subterranean club heavily inspired by gothic religious architecture and iconography. The people present were friendly nonetheless and I enjoyed practising a little Spanish, which – as ever – improved with every drink, alcoholic of course. It was becoming increasingly obvious that the birthday girl was displaying a little more genial hospitality towards my friend Alfie than was strictly necessary, so we made our goodbyes and quit the scene in search of some late-night food and bed. Said girl followed us and two soon became one as Alfie waved me a pitifully apologetic farewell and dived into the twisting backstreets, hand in hand with his enamoured fan. Left in the main plaza of Miraflores, surrounded by convivial nocturnal revellers, I was far from upset and stumbled the half-block back to the hostel with minimal fuss.
The next day I waved goodbye to Alfie, who was in a hurry to fly north to Colombia, and embarked upon a city-wide open-top bus tour, complete with visit to a church complex, home to the city’s catacombs, a graveyard until the mid-nineteenth century when it was closed down before lately being opened to the general – paying – public. I must confess that the catacombs and the tour itself were far from spectacular; merely they provided an amenable opportunity for viewing as much of the metropolis as possible in the short time that I had given myself. Much more exciting to my mind was to follow that evening, when I took the liberty of visiting the cinema once again. The trip was intentional and in fact formed much of the reasoning behind my determining to reside some two nights in the capital. I loped off to Larcomar later that evening, a bustling pedestrianized complex full to the brim with trendy cafes, bars, expensive restaurants and fashionable shops, overlooking a wonderful view down to the beach and the Pacific surf. The sun setting, I queued patiently for my ticket to see the latest Harry Potter film (please, I am impervious to your jests and pity any of you who has yet to enjoy the obvious pleasure of such brilliant stories). Granted some minutes before the opening of the film, I spied a ‘Dunkin’ Donuts’ stall and took the liberty of spoiling myself. Harry P was fabulous, of course, and I exited the cinema to a party-like atmosphere. Alone, I sauntered casually through the throng, exhilarated by the experience – as I always am after watching a particularly entertaining piece of cinema. I crested a flight of stairs and stood overlooking the pounding surf, illuminated by the artificial light of so many high-rise buildings. I inhaled the salty odour of the sea and contemplated a wonderful film, a fantastic trip and life at large. It was a night for solitude among the masses, for quiet reflection slipped in among the carnival noise, a night ripe for the appearance of an ever-so-slightly bittersweet melancholy within which I could wrap myself; a protective veil against the world outside.
The following afternoon, after a rather leisurely mooch through some of the more attractive side-streets encompassing Miraflores, I booked a night-bus on to Huaraz, a centre for outdoor pursuits some eight hours drive to the north of Lima and nestled among the pristine, breath-taking mountain ranges of the Cordillera Blanca and Negra (one filled with snow-capped peaks, the other not). Finding myself with some six hours to kill before boarding my bus, I set off back to Miraflores and to an alternative cinema that I had espied from atop my tourist bus the previous day to while away a little more time ensconced with first my (terribly neglected) diary and then the latest Transformers offering. The most exciting aspect of this evening was undoubtedly the taxi ride to the cinema. After directing my driver as best I could, unable to recall convincingly the name of the cinema (I thought that it was called ‘Cineworld’, merely that it was “in a bustling plaza, next to ‘McDonald’s’ and across from a large supermarket”, we arrived back in the main plaza of Miraflores. Yes, there was a cinema, yes, it was besides a ‘McDonald’s’ and yes, it was opposite a large shopping-mall. Unfortunately, it was not the cinema that I desired, being small and with few films on show (it had only two screens).
We journeyed onwards and it was at this point that the driver confessed that he did not know where the cinema I asked for was located, which swiftly degenerating into him asserting that my cinema did not exist, a bare-faced lie. I cajoled him into transporting me a little further, whence I recognized my surroundings and directed him the rest of the way. Arriving at the cinema, my driver asked for thirty soles: this is approximately six pounds and twice the price of a normal cab fare between Miraflores and the area in which I had first hailed him. I flatly refused this price and began negotiating. I write “negotiating”; in fact I stated a price of ten soles, adamant that I would pay no more. The driver looked mortified and began remonstrating with me. I responded in like fashion, exasperated that this man did not know his own city well enough to direct us to the largest of its cinemas. Begrudgingly, I raise my offer to fifteen, the price I would normally pay for such a ride: the driver refused and turned away from me, locking the doors (blasted central locking). He said that his “boss” would be angry with him for wasting so much fuel on such a paltry fare. I began in turn to worry that perhaps we would be paying this “boss” a visit in person and doubled my negotiating efforts. Eventually, miraculously, the driver suddenly capitulated and agreed to my price. Elated, I reached into my pocket and discovered that I did not have the correct change, only a twenty soles note. Never fear; my negotiating was so successful that the driver actually gave me back my five soles of change without a word of complaint, sowing a seed of guilt in my breast as I finally extracted myself from the taxi’s warm interior. Sighing with relief I hauled my day-pack into the cine-complex, noting the neon sign flashing the word ‘Cineplanet’ (ah) above me. Never mind that the film – like its predecessor – was a complete let-down, I had enjoyed an entertaining prelude and a vindicating moment of satisfaction. Sometimes it is the simple things, of which a favourite band of mine so tellingly sing.
¡Saludos a todos!