If you haven’t read the other previous posts, you can read about my mistakes here, more mistakes, elite status saving the day, an unexpected stop in Mexico City, a mediocre flight on LAN, the stinky Sheraton Lima Convention Center, and a review of my experience studying aboard in Peru – the primer to my return.
Coming Back After 13 Years
As my first arrival to Peru occurred, so too did my return. I walked past the two floors of screaming family members at almost the exact same time at night. The airport hadn’t changed a bit from how I remembered it, but this time I was far less overwhelmed, I knew who I was looking for, and had a phone in case I couldn’t find them.
And there was Caro… my host sister looked like not a day had gone by. I approached with my wife and daughter and met her brother who was doing the same exchange I was, but in Portland during my time in Peru.
It wasn’t more than 60 seconds before Caro had picked up my daughter and held her as we mad our way to the car. To see my daughter being held by a friend that was so close that she was like family was something that is tough to put into words. Everything had looked the same when I arrived, but now my whole life was different, and yet, as it is with old friends, it was as if I never left. It was great to meet my “new” host brother and in the way of their family, it was like we had known each other the entire 13 years.
I had known in advance of our stay that my host father had passed in January. I eluded in previous posts that we had skipped a chance to do this trip in October where I would have been able to see him one more time and introduce him to my daughter. But sadly, hindsight is a perfect 20/20 and there was no way to know that a few days into January, with his family at the beach would be the last time they would all see him alive.
The family was heart broken at the passing of my host father, understandably so, but even four months later, it was as if it had just happened. I think this speaks to the tremendous man that he was, and a character that I can only hope to achieve some day.
We were dropped at the very stinky Lima Sheraton – my fault not theirs, and would rest for the evening before heading to their family home in the morning.
The drive out to their home brought back tons of memories for me. We were passing places we used to visit (Jockey Plaza for example) and started into their neighborhood. Though the car was arranged at the hotel (a premium of 3x the normal rate for a “black car” Toyota Corolla) the driver (not using GPS) could not find his way and I had to guide him back to their house, something I had down many times some 13 years ago. When we pulled up outside there was a welcome committee of their family and lots of stories exchanged.
We spent the next few hours sitting around the house just talking. I was learning more about my long lost brother, what they had done with the family shop in my host father’s absence and how everyone was holding up.
After all those years, to be sitting in the same living room where practically nothing had changed was an amazing feeling.
Ceviche and Pisco Sour
While I had homemade ceviche one time, I was not able to (nor interested at the time) try the many different kinds and styles of ceviche. I also had not had a Pisco Sour the entire time I lived in Peru, though I have since had it in the states.
At most host mother’s insistence we headed off to a nearby restaurant that specialized in ceviche. It was buffet style but everything was fresh and updated about every ten minutes. The seafood was fantastic, but I got to try a ton of other dishes that I had not seen or heard of before.
One thing that came flooding back quickly was the absurdly large corn (yellow) and purple corn they have in Peru. The purple corn was even used as a drink which was sweet and unlike anything I had tried before.
Our daughter tried plenty, but was happy to be playing with the other kids.
The Pisco Sour(s) were strong, really strong. I was not driving while we were in Peru (perhaps a holdover from the old “4 Ds” days) and that was for the best. We didn’t get another chance at a Pisco Sour before we left so we were really glad to have that chance.
When I left Peru, I had overstayed the days I claimed I would be in the country. It was not as big of a deal as it could have been, but it required my host father to shell out $25USD at the time of my departure and though I intended to go through to the other side and use an ATM to give him the money back, I was not able to get back through.
When it came time for the check, I was finally able to repay his loan form 13 years ago with interest and buy the family dinner. My host father was a business man and I feel like he would appreciated me making good on my loan.
The tourist section of town is on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific ocean. The JW Marriott was here, the Sheraton Four Points and Club Carlson property as well, and when we return this is the area for which we will stay.
There were tons of great restaurants, shops, and of course American tourists which for some reason annoys me. I think when I travel abroad I want to pretend that I am the only American there – maybe it’s just me but I suspect that it is not.
We walked around, had some food and drinks, Lima has certainly grown up since I left. Apartments, once had for just $20,000-40,000 now rival big developments in mid-level US cities at $200,000-300,000. The view is worth it, though it is hard to imagine paying that much when years ago it could be had for so much less.
The area is next to Barranco which was one of my favorite places to go when I was there before. It’s a kind of bar district that has now evolved (as things do over a decade) to trendy independent restaurants and bars. This is worth a stop on any trip to the capitol.
One of my last days in Peru before I left many years ago, my family hosted a BBQ probably to celebrate me finally leaving. BBQs are different everywhere, but in Peru it is a procession of meat unlike anything you have seen. It rivals a chihascurria in Brazil where the sides are just something you consume before adding more steak and sausage to your plate.
In our honor they threw another while we were there. In a smoker hung half a dozen chickens and on top were pork ribs and so many sausages the lid was hard close. Then the flavors started to come back to me.
There were the same potatoes with the same sauce that I had forgotten about all of these years later. Then custom salsas that my host family members made from scratch, and now that I am older and have a palette for it, a world of spice and flavors I would not have enjoyed as much as a 17 year-old visiting for the summer.
Arroz con Pollo, Arroz Jardín
As I mentioned in my previous post, Arroz con Pollo (rice with chicken) the way my host mother makes it is distinct and delicious. Our final day in Peru, she asked that we come back out to the house (which took no convincing at all) as she wanted to make it for us before we left. Arroz Jardín was simply rice with vegetables in it, whatever was fresh, but on days that I wasn’t feeling as brave, I would eat this simple dish and I had to have it when I returned. It did not disappoint and came complete with gargantuan corn as I remembered.
A mountainous plate was prepared for us my daughter played and ate fresh fruit in the house. In the evening the whole family came out to see us off before our morning flight. They had grabbed gotten some specialty desserts from in town, including alfajores (traditional Peruvian cookie) and a warm goodbye.
As we sat around reflecting and taking pictures before we were to go, my host sister’s daughter Aranxta had some time with my daughter. They had grown close in our short time there and it was great to see that despite the inability to communicate with each other other than the word “mira” (look) they had a great time together. I spent some time helping Arnaxta learn English which seemed to complete the circle as her mother (and family) had helped to teach me Spanish.
For Those Who Studied Abroad
It’s easy to think of those friendships forged in the days of your youth as a distant memory, never to return. However, in my experience, the relationship only grew while we were apart and evolved when we were all back together. I look forward to meeting them on the beach in Tortugas, skin diving for oysters with my host brothers. To drinking beer and peeling the labels like we did when I was younger, and discussing the new way we view the world so many years on.
I used to think back on my memory of Peru as frozen in time, but maybe a better comparison would be a bottle of wine that gets better with time.