As our plane becomes almost parallel with the snow peaked mountains surrounding Santiago, I remind myself that this vision before me is not on a television screen and I am not anticipating the next commercial break with blasting music and boring phone numbers. No, not even David Attenborough’s voice was to be heard; these mountains really were within my own eyesight, albeit framed by walls of the plane.
Santiago from the air, looked like another world. Suburbs were scattered in blocks of repetition so clearly visible from the sky. The buildings in the city were dwarfed by the monstrous mountains surrounding it, towering with such magnitude like the city were its hostage. I suspect however, the city, spoiled with such magnificent views and reminders of nature’s power, did not complain but were grateful for the beauty at their doorstep. Then we ventured to our final destination, Lima, Peru.
As the thick cloud covered lima, the city was not visible until moments before landing, only long enough to see a little of what we were getting ourselves into. I knew Lima contained roughly 10 million people with the majority living in poverty but I guess I had to see it to believe it. For miles, all I saw looked like hive nest hills with square openings replacing the hexagonal shape we typically expect in a beehive. Reflections from the glass windows, the only sign of civilization beyond giant bees, neatly and geometrically blend into the dirt landscape. Trees were unidentifiable, if they did exist, they didn’t provide enough contrast against the consistent square and rectangular mounds, some in pale blue, dirty orange, concrete or just dirt brown.
The airport, larger than at Santiago, involved walking down never-ending corridors leading us through the many doorways guarded by policia. Finally, through customs, we have come to the last leg of our 30-hour journey from Brisbane Australia. Stepping outside the airport, to breath the real Peruvian air and walking on the pavers walked by millions of locals, I thought I simply walked onto a movie set. Everything, from the sounds of car horns, the mumbles of Spanish flowing from mouths surrounding us to the high-gated buildings prettied by the low semi-manicured greenery. Then there was the bright yellow and orange paint on the pathways and roads, the beaten up cars with parts dragging underneath against the tarmac filled with potholes and lines that no-one took any notice off. I see a sea of dark hair and beautiful skin. There is no sun, just fog. Oh dear, what vehicle are we trusting our lives to? Thankfully a new van with a very nice driver speaking more than a little English.
It is cold with tiles and lino and a constant breeze flowing under the balcony doors, the highway for the fine black dust we found darkening our feet the next morning. There is a wide balcony with vertical handrails and windows that open completely, big enough for a plasma TV, without fly screens I should add or locks for that matter. I freak out about the temptation too strong for my boys, along with the bunk bed without railing and wonder how any children survive in such buildings, but they must. We take safety for granted it seems.
Nevertheless we are spoilt with comforts and finishes found in the finest hotels and resorts from home with marble, granite, timber and soft leather.
Outside the air feels moist, like it just rained, so thick you could almost watch it being sliced. The buildings, even in this up market and safe area are a mix of luxury, mediocrity and forgotten slabs of concrete. As you walk along a main street, you pass one grey slab with bite marks of neglect juxtaposed to the next shiny building displaying the finest ladies boots and handbags followed by evening wear and wedding dresses. The shoes, oh the shoes here – I have never seen such masterpieces.
Hunger pushed us to go walking at night to find either a restaurant or supermarket. We find two markets and practice our buying with new currencies (US and Soles) from both. Waiting for the cashier, the boys seem to attract some attention from a lovely Peruvian lady. We manage to communicate, mostly through guesswork, context and relying on experience from the types of questions we were asked at home. We don’t speak Spanish, we are from Australia and Loxley is two, yes he is big for two. She pulls out three kiss chocolates and I remind the boys to say gracias and when they do, the response has attracted more attention in the vicinity. Clearly pleased, our new friend pulls out another three chocolates, no doubt only to hear gracias again with an Australian accent. This same lady appeared in the shops the next day where she greeted us all with an actual kiss. The people are friendly, patient and helpful.
Exhausted from our drawn out travels, we head home to fill our grumbling tummies the only thing we found familiar enough to eat, cereal and toast. I couldn’t read the labels, an opportunity I usually prefer however considering my tired eyes, relished the unfamiliar words in this instance. We weren’t in the mood for exploring or sightseeing, not yet, not unless it was in our dreams.