Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Family Ties

The bus ride from Puno to Lima was a long one; it should’ve been ‘only’ 17 ½ hours, but in true South American style, we arrived at 12pm instead of 8am. I was rather concerned: my cousin, Miguel Andres, was meeting us at the Flores terminal; I’d hate for him to sit around for 4 hours.

As we waited for our packs to be unloaded, I scanned the crowd looking for a (hopefully) familiar face – I hadn’t seen Miguel since I was 3, but thanks to Facebook, I had a very vague idea of his current visage. Jace asked me, “So, how will you recognise him?” “Hopefully he’ll recognise me,” I replied. And he did. It only took one look at Miguel’s face to see echoes of his sisters, Mariela and Veronica, who I’d seen more recently. But he was so big and tall – 6’5” at least. Facebook profile pics don’t really prepare you for height.

We kissed and hugged like true Peruvians, and I introduced Jace. Then we grabbed our packs and jumped in a cab to my aunt Gisela’s apartment in Miraflores, where we would be staying for the next 10 days. On the way, weaving through some of the worst traffic and crazy driving I’ve ever seen, Miguel told us that he had arrived at the terminal before 8am and was told, “Oh no, the bus from Puno doesn’t get in till 12pm,” so he went home and returned for us right on time. No worries.

After well-needed showers, Miguel, Jace and I walked to ‘Pizza Alley’ for lunch and watched one of the World Cup semi-finals. Then we took a long walk along the waterfront. The Pacific ocean was grey and it was a cold, overcast and windy day; typical of Miraflores in winter, and just how I remembered Lima from the last trip 5 years ago.

That night, my aunt Erika brought some tasty chifa (Chinese food) over and we were joined by Mariela (Mari), her daughter Camila (Cami), Cami’s boyfriend Pedro, and my uncle Heinz. It was a preview of what was to come: the next month would be filled with food and family.

The next five days for me were spent recovering from a bad head cold and sinus infection. Despite that, we managed to meet my cousin José Javier, who I also hadn’t seen since I was 3 and was even taller than his younger brother, and his husband Jorge, and share some great meals with the family. The most notable one was at La Bistecca, a fantastic restaurant with buffets of hors d’œuvres, entrées and salads, maki (sushi) and made-to-order pasta, pizza, stir-fries and a variety of grilled meats, plus a chocolate fountain. Heaven!

On Monday, Jace started a week of morning Spanish classes at El Sol in Miraflores, while I spent time reading, watching movies on cable tv, internetting, and doing a little study in Gisela’s cosy apartment. In the afternoons and evenings, we walked around Miraflores and had meals with the family.

Disaster struck on Thursday afternoon at Jockey Plaza, a mall where we went to buy some new walking shoes for Jace to replace his old Merrells. First stop in the plaza was the ATM and my card was retained; all I got was a slip of paper saying, “Retained for security purposes.” Of course, the Peruvian bank could do nothing for me. “I’m sorry, but you have to call your bank in Australia.” We tried to buy shoes on Jace’s credit card but he didn’t know his PIN and they couldn’t let him just sign like he does in Australia. Total fail. Back home we went.

Turns out someone had tried to spend $1 at the US iTunes store and St George had picked it up and blocked my card. This is a popular tactic amongst thieves: they ‘test’ the card and if the bank lets the transaction go through, they empty your account. So, good thing they stopped it, but very inconvenient for us as we had to wait up to 10 working days for my replacement card to arrive from Australia. Previously, Jace had accidentally left his card in Cochabamba with Piti and Grace. Fortunately, they were coming to Lima and would drop the card to us, but that was still a week away. Together with Jace unable to remember his credit card PIN, this meant we were totally out of cash. We had planned a trip that weekend south to Pisco and Nazca, which was now out the window.

Fortunately, we were in Lima with lots of family around, so we were able to borrow some money to get us through the week till Piti arrived. We postponed our trip south by 6 days and Jace signed up for another week of Spanish classes.

In anticipation of Gisela’s return to Lima, we moved to José and Jorge’s Magical House of Stuff in Surco. I think only pictures can do it justice.

Can anyone guess José's favourite film?

Ride 'im, Olive!

These are next to Olive & Popeye

And this is on the other side. Kinda looks like the Kohler crest

My favourite picture in the house

The boys love soft toys

Birds are all over the kitchen

Also in the kitchen

Vases, masks and lots of CDs

Even more CDs, candles, vases, statues, and 3 phones

Drink, anyone?

Cool mirror in the guest bathroom

José's music room

So, another 2 weeks in Lima were upon us. Once again, we spent lots of time eating with the family, including celebrating National Pollo alla Brasa (BBQ chicken) Day at Erika’s by eating, you guessed it, pollo alla brasa.

Jace travelled with José early in the morning to Miraflores for his Spanish classes, enjoying their chats and breakfast at Starbucks while doing his homework.

On July 20, we celebrated Jace’s [CENSORED]th birthday by firstly having a fantastic lunch of ceviche at Punto Azul in Surco. In the afternoon, I baked the traditional Armstrong family chocolate fudge birthday cake. (Incidentally, the recipe for ‘Crazy Cake,’ as it was originally called, was given to my mum by Mari 28 years ago.) Then we were joined at José and Jorge’s by most of the family and Jace’s classmate, Ron, for a feast of traditional criollo food (and pisco sours, of course). It was a great night!

(Part of ) The Feast

Ron, Alix, Birthday Boy, Gisela and Pedro

Birthday Boy and Heinz

Jorge and Mari

Thursday we were able to get Jace’s card off Piti – yay! our own money – and pay the family back. Then it was off to Pisco and Nazca for 4 ½ days. (For details, see separate blog post.)

We arrived back just in time for Peruvian Independence Day on 28th July and the Fiestas Patrias (2 days of public holidays). I’ll let Jace tell you about his military parade experience on the 29th, while I spent some quality time with Gisela. We all went to see Inception on the 28th as well, which I only mention because (a) it is an excellent film and (b) it was the first time we’d seen a film overseas.

Miguel, Pedro, Jace and José on the 28th

Three generations: Mari, Gisela and Cami

Gisela and Alix

The fiestas were marred slightly by discovering that nearly AU$3,500 had been stolen using my card details before the iTunes attempt and had gone unnoticed by the St George Falcon team. More phone calls to Australia and promises of moneys to be returned (yet to be seen). A few days later, 17 after my card was eaten, the replacement card still hadn’t turned up. Another call, the card was cancelled – Peruvian mail is notoriously bad and no one had asked if I wanted it couriered, I just assumed the crack Falcon team would have the 411 on mail in South America – and a replacement was sent by courier to the South American Explorers Clubhouse in Quito. (When my parents returned to Sydney after 3 weeks overseas, they discovered my first replacement card and PIN at their house. St George had not actually bothered to send it to Lima at all.)

As we had Jace’s card now anyway, we made plans to leave Lima the following week. With the clock ticking, we finally made the effort to visit a few museums. The Museo de Oro (Gold Museum), which was only 500m from our digs, has an amazing and extensive collection of pre-Colombian gold, silver, ceramics, textiles and weapons, and well as an enormous collection of weapons and armour from all over the world – over 20,000 pieces. The Museo de la Nación, housed in an interesting building done in the “brutalism” style, had a great overview of Peruvian history and art as well as a special photographic exhibition on the 20 years of terrorism in Peru by the MRTA (Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement) and the Shining Path, from 1980-2000. It was a shocking and dark time in Peru’s history, and the photos truly reflected this. Those taken of and by eight journalists murdered in Ayacucho in 1983 most affected me. Lastly, we went to the Amano Museum, a private museum, which holds a good collection of ceramics and some amazing textiles.

Just a few of the katana at the Museo de Oro

Biggest pocketknife EVAH (about 45cm in total)

Some armor


MRTA reading a statement for journalists

The Presidential Palace

Palace guards: The Nutcrackers

Last meals with the family were had at Guru Indian in Surco and Panchita’s in Miraflores (Jace’s best meal on the continent, so far), and shopping was done for replacement shoes, socks and underwear. Four months on the road wearing the same clothes week after week will wear things out pretty quickly, we’ve found.

Originally, we had planned to bus to Barranca to visit the ruins at Caral, ‘the oldest civilisation in the Americas,’ and from there to Trujillo. Unfortunately, most of the bus companies didn’t stop in Barranca on their way north and the one that did didn’t actually have any room on Thursday. Fortunately, José and Jorge (bless their stuff toys) offered to drive us to Caral on Saturday, if we would wait the extra couple of days. Uh, yeah, sure we’ll wait.

Our last night in Lima was spent with my cousin Erika (daughter of Erika) and her blood brother, Carlos (she’s adopted, by the way). We sat around, ate anticuchos, drank wine (me) and beer (the others), watched funny YouTube videos (Old Spice Guy and Train Trip Girl in particular), shared music, danced, and Carlos even treated us to a couple of tunes on his guitar. It was great way to end our time in Lima.

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