Saturday #13: Thank-you, Jessica

I had four goals for Saturday #13: (1) Walk from Barranco to Lima’s upscale Miraflores area; (2) buy a camera (replacing a Burning Man fatality and the iPhone that is no longer in my possession – more on that later); (3) buy new jeans (replacing my badly torn pair); (4) get good and lost in a metropolis of 9 million inhabitants. Within two hours I was able to claim success on every front.

It was just after 10 a.m. when I set out in the general direction of Miraflores. The business and upscale shopping district was said to be about an hour away on foot. I tracked north and west and about an hour later I was standing in the main square, which is known as Kennedy Park. Mission #1: Accomplished. Now to find a department store.

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After watching kids play with some of the dozens of stray cats who spend their time sunning themselves in Kennedy Park, I looked up to spot the ‘Saga Falabella’ department store right where I figured it would be – directly across the street from the square on some of the most expensive real estate in the city.

And as I had hoped, Falabella had an entire floor devoted to men’s casual wear and a half floor of the latest electronics. I was able to pick up a Nikon Coolpix similar to the one that got pooched at Burning Man and it set me back no more than I paid at Henry’s in Toronto in 2010. Mission #2: Accomplished.

Shopping for clothes at Falabella was a pleasure as well. Jeans were arranged both by style in various sizes and by size in various styles. I quickly found my size, picked out a style, and was out of the change-room within minutes. The selection at Falabella would put all but a few Canadian department store locations to shame. I can only imagine what a resident of Lima would think if they walked into The Bay store in Winnipeg, as I did in July. I’m pretty sure Soviet-era stores in Bulgaria would have compared favorably to The Bay’s Portage Avenue dumping ground. And better yet, jeans were priced from 75 to 225 Nuevo Soles, or about $28 to $85 U.S. If anything, Falabella was cheaper and better stocked than your average Canadian department store. Mission #3: Accomplished.

At a nearby café I had a quick lunch of scrambled eggs, ham and toast with crust removed and cut into perfect squares. It wasn’t the grilled cheese with bacon that I ordered but unilingual English speakers can’t be too picky in Lima. After lunch I headed toward the beach with a plan to follow the coastline back to Barranco. At least I thought I was headed toward the beach as I was walking into a stiff breeze that seemed to be damp. I don’t know where I went wrong – although if the goal was to get lost, then I didn’t actually go wrong – but I was soon totally and hopelessly lost.

I had a small tourist map in my back pocket and the compass that friends Warren and Faun had given me as a going away present was clipped to my backpack. I just didn’t want to use either device until I absolutely had to. My mission was to find my way ‘home’ using nothing but my powers of recall, deduction, common sense… the location of the Big Dipper in the night sky, or whatever it took with the exception of help from a stranger or a map and compass.

I fondly recall the time when I was about 5 or 6 and my father used his smarts to locate Hollywood Park. Despite never having been to LA, not consulting a map, and ignoring my mom’s increasingly worried pleas to stop and ask for directions, my dad drove from our hotel on the northern outskirts of Los Angeles directly to the racetrack in what seemed to be a logical route.

It wasn’t until many years later that he revealed his secret to navigating LA’s confusing mix of expressways. When we were leaving a coffee shop just north of LA he noticed four Hispanic men getting into a nearby car. All of the men were around 5’ tall, athletically built, dressed in sharp suits, and piling into a Cadillac Fleetwood. He gambled that at least one or two of them would be Jorge Velasquez, Laffit Pincay, Jr., Angel Cordero and Braulio Baeza and if so, they had to be car-pooling to the track. The only downside was that we arrived at the stable gate a full two hours before post time.

When it comes to travel, I generally don’t pre-book hotels or hostels and I rarely ask for directions. I’d rather just “wing it” and see what happens. I acquired my stubbornly independent streak honestly.

Unlike my dad’s lucky break, I didn’t spot any backpackers or obviously Bohemian types who I could tail all the way to Barranco. And unlike Toronto where most streets run parallel to each other for miles, few streets in Lima run in any one direction for more than a few blocks. Think spaghetti-like warrens interrupted by ravines, a minimalist approach to street signs, and any signage you do come across is in a language you barely understand.

Just when I thought I might have to consult my map, I overheard a shop-keeper say to an English speaking tourist, “Of course she’s corrupt, but she does things for us.”

I happened to know that all 43 of Lima’s districts are currently in an election campaign and I reasoned that Barranco would be the only district liberal enough to have a female incumbent mayor.

I instantly knew I was in Barranco. The rest was a snap. Thank-you, Jessica.

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