Living life in La Punta
Living life in La Punta
By- Rick A. Griffith
Millions of thoughts raced through my head as we waited for the correct mini-bus to arrive. My new friend Patricio, a Chilean from my hostel, and I were making out way to the La Punta area in Lima. Was this a bad idea? After all I barely knew this guy and now I was hopping on a VW bus like vehicle, through the rough end of town. “I like you, most Americans are too scared to go out to these places, it’s good you have an open mind.” Patricio said. Shit maybe there’s a reason for this fear, I thought to myself. Oh well, getting robbed might make a good travel tale, let’s do this.
I wanted to see the real Lima, not shown on the first page of Google images. I was more interested in mindless wandering than sightseeing. Every few seconds a new mini bus would pull up with an employee hanging out the window calling out the route.
The warnings from home were still fresh in my mind. I imagined a bus full of gang members pulling up, throwing me in their van and driving off, while simultaneously harvesting my organs. Thankfully my illogical daydreams were interrupted by the arrival of our bus.
In general, the people of Peru are much smaller than Americans. Being a big guy by US standards, I stood out on this Peruvian mini bus like Shaq in a soccer game. The amount of people squeezed into this bus was amazing. The frustration of the old woman sitting next to me was palpable in the exhaust filled air. She was wedged between a local man and this huge gringo like a sardine. I think we got to at least second base inadvertently.
The ride to La Punta was quite a site to take in. This dilapidated, dusty neighborhood was clearly poverty stricken. Yet the community functioned amazingly well, everyone working in cohesion to survive. Each corner we passed had small corner stores, auto shops, street vendors and car washers. The functionality of this place reminded me of an assembly factory, each station completing its task, yet all working toward the same final product.
Our driver weaved through traffic avoiding a myriad of pedestrians, and buses all crisscrossing around each other. More than a few times I felt like an accident was unavoidable, yet to my surprise our driver swerved just in time to avoid danger. Keep in mind this is all occurring with an employee hanging out the window calling out the route to locals on the sidewalks. I’d have to say that If I am ever in need of a getaway driver, I’ll be heading to Lima to recruit a mini bus driver, hands down.
We arrived at Fortaleza del Real Felipe, a historic fort on the water’s edge. For 6 soles (maybe $2.50), we toured the site for a few hours. I received a crash course in Peruvian history from my personal translator. Patricio explained the rift between Peru and Chile and how he had been nervous to come to Lima. He was amazed by the overall friendliness of the people and the cleanliness of much of the city. It appears that I wasn’t the only one who had been fed false information by uninformed know-it-alls.
Leaving the majestic waterside site, we searched for a restaurant for lunch. We settled on Mateo, a few blocks from the waterfront, serving a selection of meat and seafood. The meat was amazing and the conversation was even better. In just a few hours I felt like I knew Patricio better than many of my friends back home. I made a mental note to open up to my friends and share more than just opinions on Pac 10 basketball.
There’s something about travelling that makes complete strangers open up to each other like old drunken pals. Maybe this is why travel is such an enticing proposition to so many people. An automatic bond is forged with complete strangers whose paths have inconceivably crossed.
After our meal, Patricio invited me to stop by his city on the coast of Chile the following weekend. Having built a friendship in our adventure, I accepted. A weekend in a coastal town sounded much more appealing than melting in Santiago for a few days in the dead of summer. An ocean breeze and a lesser known destination seemed like a perfect fit. A unique experience, in an unknown place, being led by a local is just what I was after.
The rest of the day flew by as we explored La Punta. We spoke of women, our travels and dreams, all while catching motor boat tours and checking the beaches for pretty girls.
Near dusk we decided to make the responsible choice and call it a day. After catching a bus back to the hostel, we went halves on a pizza and a 3 liter bottle of Sprite. For reference, Lima is the only city I’ve found in South America that has good Sprite. I can’t tell you why, but it’s a fact (I recently learned Buenos Aires also has good sprite). As we ate a new guest arrived in the pleasant form of an Argentine girl. Patricio and I took notice and after her hostel tour, she came down to the bar and grabbed a beer.
With my inability to carry a conversation in Spanish, I let Patricio take the lead. We learned that she was born in Argentina, but had moved to Caracas, Venezuela. After a minute or so of trying to decipher the conversation while exchanging anxious smiles, I excused myself and headed upstairs to my bunk. My presence would be a distraction, and I wasn’t about to cock block my new friend.
In the end neither of us got lucky, and while it may have been an amazing end to such a great day, I knew that plenty of Argentine girls awaited me in Buenos Aires, where I’d be living for two months. Before falling asleep I moved learning fluent Argentine Spanish to the top of my to-do list…