Month two of Remote Year took us to Lima, the capital city of Peru, which saw us encounter debatable weather, another dodgy political situation, lots of illness, mad driving, and some pretty damn good food. The best way to position this blog is: What is there to do in Lima if you don’t go to Macchu Picchu? And the answer is, actually, quite a lot!
Just to recap briefly, in case you’re reading this and wondering “what the hell is Remote Year?” Just over two months ago I quit my comfortable job, walked away from nearly a decade of working in London and packed my bags to travel the world. I’m doing so alongside 25 other people with similar ambitions of seeing the world and working without being tied to a desk.
Catch up on my first week in Santiago here, with more from the first month to follow soon.
We flew out of Santiago on 28 September and jetted into Lima, where the first impression was… well… grey and gloomy. Apparently, it’s not as polluted as it looks – the jury’s still out on that one – but the city does have this natural grey haze. We hopped onto a minibus to our apartments then headed straight out to a food market called Mercado 28 to get our first taste of the infamous Peruvian cuisine.
And the first taste more than lived up to the hype. Mercado 28 offers up a range of different food choices, from Peruvian themed Sushi and street food to really tasty Amazonian food, awesome Shawarma, and ice cream. It also has a bar selling artisanal Peruvian craft beers.
This gave us a chance to get to know our new local team, Corey and Johanna, who were straight back at it in the morning. That’s because we had to be up bright and breezy for a 10.30am welcome session at Molly’s, an Irish bar close to where we were staying in the Miraflores district. After that, a few of us walked down to check out the seafront and beach – which were all rock/pebble beaches but beautiful all the same.
We were planning to watch Lima’s ‘El Clasico’ between Universitario and Allianz Lima that evening, but no-one had the energy for a Sunday night and we all crashed out.
Political tension in South America
Having experienced a bit of political tension in Santiago the month before, we started to get the feeling that it was following us as chaos erupted in our first couple of days in Lima. Long story short, the President shut down Congress, which prompted protests during which a politician had a traffic cone thrown at his head, and we were warned not to go near Downtown as foreigners aren’t allowed to participate in protests.
We then discovered Peru has a long history of shady Presidents – although the current one is apparently alright – which makes for very interesting reading, should you wish to check it out. Interestingly, I got chatting to a – admittedly very drunk and likely fairly crazy – Peruvian guy in a bar who was telling me all about the problems Peru has faced, from politics to drugs and more. He also claimed he was part of an uprising against a former President, which I’m not really sure was true but was very interesting all the same.
Exploring a new district
A fun day out saw us explore the neighbourhood of Barranco, which borders Miraflores further along the seafront. I walked along the coast and arrived in Barranco early to have a look around, and got a bit lost because my pre-saved Google Maps journey deleted itself and I couldn’t find our meeting place – which made me realise I needed to buy a local SIM card.
When I did find it, we met at a cool little restaurant in the middle of a market with a crazy long line of Peruvian people – which, we were told, is always a good sign. We were given a series of local dishes to try out, including the local delicacy of ceviche, which I’m not massively keen on as it often involves raw fish.
Corey and Johanna then led us on a really interesting walking tour around Barranco, including some cool examples of local art, graffiti, and some delicious ice cream to finish. We then headed to a bar called BarBarian for a few beers before going out for a few drinks later in the evening.
Duning in the desert
The first couple of weeks in Lima were a bit of a write-off as I got really sick and spent days in bed sleeping, in between trying to find more work and working on the projects I had in progress.
But a particular highlight of the month was taking a four- to five-hour bus ride out to Huacachina in the Ica district. It’s essentially a huge desert composed of a mass of sand dunes, through which we whizzed around on sand buggies and threw ourselves down hills on surfboards.
It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. And the views across the desert and watching the sunset will definitely be one of the strongest lifetime memories I’ll take away with me at the end of this trip.
Visiting an Inca ruin
No, not Machu Picchu, I couldn’t afford it! But, while half the group was away, I did take some solace in visiting an Inca ruin of my own by walking through Miraflores to Huaca Pucllana. The ancient Inca site was built with bricks positioned vertically which, according to our tour guide at least, meant that it was able to withstand the earthquakes that struck Peru and remain standing to this day.
The tour was fascinating and they’re still making discoveries there, it’s just a shame that the original Inca site has been drastically reduced in size down to the current remaining section. Oh, and they had a little mini zoo with llamas and guinea pigs – which they joked were being farmed for food – and a little herb garden, which included psychedelic cactus San Pedro.
Getting my tennis fix
One of the first things I saw on the first day in Lima was the impressive looking Club Terraza clay tennis courts that intersect two roads leading down to the seafront. And I thought, “If I do one thing here, I’d love to play tennis there.” But it was going to be difficult as they were strictly for members only.
Bizarrely, the wish came true as Kim, one of the girls in my group, landed a date with a Peruvian doctor who just so happened to be a member of the club. Rather than playing against him in singles – which would probably be a weird first date – she invited me and Laura, an Australian girl from the group, to play doubles against her and Francisco. It was really fun, the club is amazing, and it’s easily the best place I’ve played tennis. So many thanks to Kim for that!
We also played tennis two more times through the month, once at a nearby club that was right on the seafront and another time in Surco, which is west of Miraflores. So there are plenty of options for tennis lovers in Lima!
Stepping out to explore ‘real Lima’
Living in the touristy, very westernised hub of Miraflores it was easy to get stuck in its luxuries. And all the locals I’d met had lambasted me for not exploring ‘real Lima.’
So, on the final Saturday in Lima, I decided to head out on my own and walk into the city’s downtown area for the first time. It’s a two-hour walk from Miraflores, during which I stopped off at an array of local markets selling everything from traditional Peruvian garments and Peru football kits to tourist tat. I also called by the Estadio Nacional – making it two national stadiums from two countries!
When I eventually arrived in downtown it was worth the two-hour trek. Firstly, Plaza San Martin is pretty impressive, then the narrow streets of Lima – filled with lots of people trying to get you into their tattoo shops, then instantly offering you marijuana or coke – lead up to Plaza de Armes. It’s a hugely impressive sight, with the somewhat Buckingham Palace-esque Congress in front of you and bright yellow buildings surrounding the wide-open square.
I pressed on past the Congress building and discovered a Choco Museo. They were giving away free samples of all sorts of fancy chocolates as well as a really tasty cup of chocolate flavoured tea. I bought a little box of berry-filled dark chocolates, which were especially delicious.
I kept moving towards the impressive San Francisco Church, which reopened after lunch at the very second I walked up to its main doors so I was the only person in this big church for a good couple of minutes. But, the main reason for the trip was to head down below.
That’s because, after a fairly interesting tour of what I think is still a Monastery of sorts, we were taken down into the Catacombs – which were just as creepy as they sound like they should be. The highlight was walking through the very low ceilings of the catacombs, seeing bones laid out on display in open boxes, then lurking in the cold eerie darkness as a wedding got underway in the Church above – which was a very strange experience!
I ended up walking 17 miles that day and, while there’s not a lot between Miraflores and the downtown area, I do recommend giving it a go.
A perfect final Sunday
Despite living only a 15-minute walk from the seaside I’d only been down to the actual seafront once, mainly because there’s only one pathway to it. I’d run and walked along the impressive coastal road – the Malecon – several times, but not down to the actual sea.
But on my last Sunday in Lima, I took the pathway down to the sea and enjoyed a relatively rare afternoon of sunshine. There’s something really soothing about sitting on the pebble beach and listening to the sound of the waves pulling the pebbles away with them. So I did that for a while, explored the tiny pier, and walked along the seafront. Here’s the proof!
Lima can be pretty tough to get around due to its lack of public transport. So, if you can’t be arsed to walk places and don’t want to pay the very cheap Uber fares, what do you do? Well, one option is to take advantage of the hundreds of electric scooters you’ll see around the city. Or, “scooter ganging” as myself and Joe have affectionately termed the pastime.
Did I mention I’m actually working while travelling the world? Oh yeah, sometimes it’s easy to forget! But, the good news is that I have been working hard on one writing project and trying where I can to source new projects to build my freelance career/business. All of that at the same time as writing this music blog and trying (and failing) to put some time into a book idea I’ve been wanting to work on. Which is, after all, the main reason for doing this trip.
I leave Lima with a little regret at not doing more, but my financial situation kind of saw to that. I don’t have any real regrets about not going to Macchu Picchu, but I do wish I’d been able to see the Amazon and explore further down the coast outside of Lima.
And one more word of warning/encouragement. The traffic and drivers in Lima are pretty crazy, including these weird little buses with dudes shouting random stuff at you. Avoid the buses, but embrace the craziness of the roads! Either take your scooter on the road, or just walk as the Peruvians do and start pushing your way through.
Peru highlights were definitely the amazing experience that was Huacachina, getting into tennis again, exploring Inca ruins in the middle of Lima, and heading down with the ghosts in the Catacombs.
Next up… is Medellín in Colombia, which I am super excited for!