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October 06, 2003


I arrived in Lima in the middle of the night, after a pleasant flight next to a very cheerful Mexican nun, who helped me practise my Spanish. She asked me whether I knew any Australian Catholics who might want to give her money, and told me I looked like Princess Diana. When I got off the plane I headed to the well-appointed apartment of Nano, a friend of a friend who had kindly agreed to put me up and show me around.

I bowled in at midnight with my backpack and my weighty supply of literature, and Nano was sitting up with his friend Mario, drinking and answering the cell phone, which rang non-stop. His bachelor pad is so funny because he has hardly any stuff and the windows are still covered in brown paper because he hasn't gotten around to furnishing the place, even though he moved in two years ago - Nano sort of seems to be camping there. Decorative quirks notwithstanding, the apartment was the first stop in the evening's revelries, and soon enough more men started showing up. I had brought a bottle of tequila with me from Mexico, which they utilised with some enthusiasm, while they poured me a steady stream of pisco, the local poison.

Nano is 32 and works for a US bank. My friend Emilio, an Argentinian who lives in New York, introduced us over email. Emilio used to live in Lima and recommended Nano as excellent company.

Indeed, all the company was excellent on my first evening, with all the fellas happily answering my questions about Peru and eagerly filling my glass. I was particularly fascinated to learn that all these blokes still live with Mum and Dad despite the fact that they're in their thirties and have perfectly good jobs. Apparently it's normal and it doesn't drive anybody mad. In fact, Nano said his mother was most disappointed when he decided to move out. I asked them how they managed their sex lives under these conditions, and they said they managed - that's all. I guess hotels do a particularly good trade with the locals. Later Nano explained that hardly anyone lives together before they're married, and the culture is still extremely conservative and Catholic when it comes to this sort of thing. He said he wished it weren't so, and I'm sure I'd feel the same. Several of Nano's friends were well-informed about travels, as they'd been reading my diary in advance of my arrival, which I thought was very sweet of them.

We went out dancing after a few drinks, to a bar right near the ocean. The waves came crashing right up to the glass windows, and there was a DJ and lots of hip young Limeņos grooving around. We stayed until about 3 - Nano left early and left me in Mario's care. Mario is from Chincha, 200 km south of Lima, and was staying with Nano for the weekend as well. He was suffering from the pounding house music and both of us were hungry, so we went out for some chicken then went to bed.

The next day Nano had to play sports with some colleagues, so after waking at around midday, Mario and his friend Carlos, a lawyer from Lima, took me into the centre of town to look around.

Lima's Plaza de Armas is very grand. The cathedral is painted yellow, and the cardinal's palace next door boasts an impressive set of those shuttered wooden balconies for which Lima is famous. They are made in an ornate Moorish style, and modest ladies could look out of them at the passing crowds without themselves having to suffer the gaze of the plebs below.

The square was full of Limeņos just wandering around, enjoying the scenery and the plaza's lovely big fountain. The weather was warm but overcast, which is a perculiarity of Lima. The sky is low and permanently grey, but it never, ever rains. Well, perhaps it rains three days in a year, but not more. Limeņos must be used to it, but I think it would make me sad. The presidential palace occupies one whole side of the plaza, and is a very ornate, regal affair, with a couple of snazzily dressed guards out the front.

We were starving, so the tour was pretty brief. Lunch was at a Chilean restaurant owned by a friend of Mario's. We drank four or five bottles of wine between us (delicious Chilean stuff) and I had the most delicious ceviche I could ever have imagined. It was so tender and perfect and I wish I could describe it.

I was practising Spanish all afternoon because Mario and Carlos don't speak English. But they were so friendly and warm, and so eager to feed me and make sure I drank as much wine as possible, that we had no trouble getting along despite the conversational difficulties. We rolled out of the restaurant at around 5 and headed to Baranco, the bohemian end of town, for a beer. I was well and truly finished by this time, so we all went home for a nap before heading out in the eveing, but unfortunately, we didn't wake up until the next day. There was no sign of Nano and I bade farewell to the excellent Mario, and took myself off to meet Sara for our Peruvian adventure.

I saw Nano again after my return from Cusco, as he had very kindly and warmly told me his house was mine. He was in bed with a hangover when I showed up after saying goodbye to Sara and the Pirate and the others, but he was rallying for his next outing. His cousin Hugo showed up and we didn't have far to go, as there was a party on the roof of Nano's building, and all his neighbours, including his sister and her husband, who live on the second floor, were all up there eating barbecued venison and drinking pisco. I gained further insight into Peruvian social mores from Nano's brother-in-law, who said "We are machistas - if my daughter grows up and does what you're doing, I don't know what I'll do." I raised my eyebrows but he just laughed and said he couldn't help it. His daughter is only two so she has plenty of time to wear him down, I guess.

The next day Nano took me to his family's place for the customary Sunday lunch. It's lucky they have maids, because the Sunday lunch is no small affair. By the time the enormous amount of food was ready, there were around 25 hungry people there. Nano's father's brothers, who all look alike and smile a lot and are superfriendly, were there with their wives and kids. Nano's mother was equally delightful, and so were his aunts and sisters. There was excellent food, including this cool Peruvian mashed potato surprise called causa - it's like a mashed potato mountain with sliced egg on top and avocado and tuna buried underneath.

Everyone was very welcoming, and I sat in the sun (this part of Lima is less cloudy, for some reason) chatting to Nano about Peru and his family. Nano said he'd like to go into politics some day, but his father was a congressman and retired from Fujimori's government disillusioned with the intractable corruption. Nano says corruption makes everything difficult - he'd also like to be an entrepreneur but says it's almost impossible to be an honest one. It's the same in nearly all the countries I've visited down here - everyone finds it so frustrating but nobody knows how it is to be stopped.

I flew to Buenos Aires the next day, and I bade my delightful host goodbye. He said I could come back whenever I liked, and I hope Nano visits me somewhere some day.

Posted by Sarah on October 6, 2003 04:49 PM
Category: Peru

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