#37: A Week in Lima

Black and white, surfers and rocky beach.
Lima, Peru

Monday. My first surfing lesson. The shock is immediate. The rock-bedded shore, the unwieldy board, the ice-cold water (we have wetsuits, thankfully). I tire quickly. Trying to paddle feels like wading through mud. Early on I manage to catch a wave and stand for five seconds. I’m stunned at the lightness of the sensation, like I still don’t believe that this ten-foot hunk of foam sheathed in fiberglass can remain so still while there’s a crushing (by my standards) wave at its tail. I still haven’t learned to trust surface tension.

I’m unable to replicate my success the rest of the class, and the whole time I’m paddling and falling and swallowing salt water I just want it all to be over. It’s the most uncomfortable thing I’ve done in a long time, the tightness and fatigue punctuated by moments of panic, like when I get pummeled under a wave and the leash wraps around both my ankles. By the time the class is over my entire lower body is cramped, but when the cramps melt away on the walk back I feel incredible. I want to do it again.

In the evening I go to my friend’s baby shower at her in-laws’ home in San Isidro. I meet her friends, who all went to the same international high school in Lima and all speak English with a regionless American dialect. Her sister-in-law leads a ceremony in which we stand in a circle linked by a long thin golden cord wrapped once around our wrists. We go clockwise and each offer a few words, then cut our section of the cord and knot it into a bracelet. We’re to wear the bracelet until the husband lets everyone know the baby has arrived.

Tuesday. I’m sore in places I didn’t know I could be sore. Spend the day reading and writing. Go to an Italian place nearby for dinner and chat up the waiter, who lived in Houston, Texas for thirty-one years. I ask about the show playing on the TV, which I have already seen playing several times on different nights at different restaurants. It’s called “Esto es Guerra” (“This is War”), seems to run for at least two hours, and features fit, attractive, swimwear-wearing men and women on two teams competing against each other in a variety of tame watersports and games of trivia. It’s on every night, the waiter tells me. He says he thinks it’s really stupid, but he leaves it on anyway and goes back to folding cloth napkins.

I decide to go to Cusco on the 31st and book a two-week tour of Bolivia for the beginning of March.

Wednesday. Second surf lesson. Still having trouble riding the wave. It’s not the standing that’s the problem. I get on the board and every time it stalls, gets behind the wave. One of the instructors watches me then yells at me. I’m grabbing on the sides of board when I push to get up, he says. I have to push up from the middle of the board, hands close to my body. I do and the next wave I stand and ride for fifteen, twenty seconds. I swim back, excited, catch another and the same thing happens. I’m amazed at how such a minor adjustment can have such a huge impact. I want to throw my hands up in the air and yell: FRICTION!!!

Thursday. I do a lot of morning writing, freelance work. I come back to my friend’s office after lunch and her sister-in-law is there with her own four-month-old son, and together we go to her friend M’s place, which is just around the corner. M’s renovating the old Barranco-style house into a set of artist studios. My friend is thinking about moving her startup. The front door opens to a courtyard, and a group of workers are sanding and drilling in a room with a exterior wall of thin wooden slats. The rest of the space is in a old seaside colonial style; the inside of the house has carved wooden columns and a kitchen covered in large triangular tiles, alternating white and sky blue. Chopped San Pedro cactus is gently simmering in a wide stock pot on the stove. San Pedro is in a category of Andean plants and infusions, along with Ayahuasca, long used for their medicinal and psychedelic properties. M did her art school thesis on Ayahuasca, and she regularly works and hosts various Amazonian shamen, some of whom are psychologists by day and are experimenting with such plants to accelerate the recovery process in their patients. I get her card, which has a drawing of a coiled-up rattlesnake next to her contact information.

Friday. Third surf lesson. I go to a different spot this time, a different set of instructors, and immediately I’m up and gliding on the board. We move to where the waves are stronger and I get too ambitious, try to turn and control the board and fall off a number of times. I’m building my endurance, learning to spot breaks in the water, but I still tire often and need to sit up on the board and rest. The lesson is a half hour longer than the previous ones, and in my fatigue I forget everything I’ve learned and start pushing up from the edge of the board again. Back to basics, I tell myself. The last wave is a success, I nearly fall but regain my balance, then ride almost all the way to shore. My left leg cramps when I get out of the water. I get a smoothie from a jugueria I’ve been going to and it is the best smoothie in the world.

Saturday. Took a microbus for the first time to Museo Larco. I love the microbuses. They’re exactly the size their name suggests, and they’re operated by a number of different companies. Here’s how you start a microbus company in Lima: 1) Find a junker with at least 500,000 kilometers on it, 2) paint the names of the neighborhoods of your route along the sides, 3) find a driver and, 4) a ticket collector who is adept at jumping off and on moving vehicles. Congratulations, you are now in the microbus business in Lima, Peru!

Museo Larco has a collection of artifacts, mostly ceremonial vases used by the pre-Incan peoples of Ancient Peru. It also has a long-term exhibit dedicated to the erotic subcategory of these artifacts, kind of an Ancient Peruvian Museum of Sex. The peoples of those times believed in a dualism similar to some Eastern cultures, in which each thing contained within in it also its opposite: night and day, sun and moon, light and dark, two sides of the same coin. Instead of a yin-yang, one representation of this dualistic outlook was a thin-lined spiral connected to a stepped ladder, which invoked movement between the three pacha, or cosmic planes. Life was not the beginning of death, but rather, just another phase in a cyclical process, like the changing of the seasons. And the sex artifacts symbolized the cross-fertilization of the godly, worldly, and deathly planes.

I took another microbus back from the museum. The radio was blaring Motown classics, including a Spanish songstress’ rendition of “Stand by Me,” in English, with all the R’s trilled.

Sunday. Went with my friend for a late ceviche lunch, at 4pm, which isn’t even terribly late by Peruvian standards. Came back on a microbus as the sun set and saw the last shades of purple in the sky fade to black from the same spot where I sit and meditate every morning. Tomorrow is a new day, a new week.