To me, airport arrival halls always resemble that classic opening scene of Love Actually, where people wait eagerly for their loved ones. So, naturally that was what I was expecting when I arrived at Lima International Airport. Instead, I was in for a shock. I was greeted by a loud sea of people, standing anywhere and everywhere, with balloons and large signs welcoming people and taxi drivers barking at me in Spanish from every direction – in between all this were weary travellers. It was chaos and I was lost in the middle of it.
It was one of those moments where I was questioning what exactly I was doing here. South America has been one of those places that I have always wanted to visit. I remember as a kid that my Peruvian babysitter returned from a visit to her home country with a little Peruvian doll for me; which was beautiful and so different to anything I had seen before. Then years later, after hearing about the adventures of a friend who undertook a volunteering program, Volunteach Peru, it was set – summer 2016 would be the summer that I finally went to Peru!
Luckily, I was soon rescued in the airport and was then speeding along a highway towards central Lima, stopping frequently at crossings to be directed by little men with lightsabers (an interesting equivalent to traffic lights). Finally, after what seemed like the longest journey of my life I had arrived at my host family and my new home for the next 5 weeks.
The first couple of days were a whirlwind, introducing me to the highlights of Peruvian life as well as the lowlights. The food was extremely tasty; although, interesting at times. Pork belly for breakfast anyone? I was lucky enough to get to try the acclaimed Peruvian dish – ceviche. Although, I’m not sure I would choose to eat it again! The freshly squeezed juice for breakfast every morning was a firm favourite and starting to rival my usual morning coffee. And then there is ‘Inka Kola’. At first I was put off by its fluorescent yellow colour; but after my first sip I was hooked onto this highly sugary fizzy drink. Coca Cola better watch out!
Whenever you go somewhere new, it takes a little time to adjust to the place. The big adjustment for Lima was in terms of safety. I knew that the city was unsafe and that there was a high crime risk, especially for female tourists. Nonetheless, it brings it to a new level when you physically aware of these things – the security guards at the doors to buildings, the locking sound in the car as the driver repeatedly checks that all the doors are locked, just incase you get robbed by someone as car are constantly stopping and starting in all the traffic. The sheer volume of traffic was another surprise, as well as the sketchy driving that I witnessed.
Yet, after these initial impressions, Lima was growing on me. Although, it was a chaotic city: it was also a vibrant city bursting with life. No street was empty, buildings came in every colour, shape and size and everything was in constant movement. At first, everything seemed the same and I was lost in what was Lima; but slowly the city was opening itself up to me. The turning point was a visit to the district of Barranca – a small bohemian, artsy, romantic neighbourhood. It is one of the smallest districts and had a very relaxed feel to it. I felt safe walking around it to discover it’s quirkiness – like the bridge that when you cross it for the first time you must hold your breath and make a wish for it to come true.
Earlier in the week, I met the British Ambassador of Peru – Mr. Choudhury, who was extremely personable and interesting to talk to. One thing that really struck me was how passionate he was to make Peru a bilingual country; as he felt the knowledge of English is an extremely powerful tool. I have always agreed with the view that knowledge is power; but never considered how specifically the knowledge of a language provides somebody a simple way of bettering themselves. He talked about trying to take the emotion out of English, making it an integrated part of the curriculum opposed to an optional language. His perspective on the power of the English language reinforced how lucky I was to be a native English speaker as well as the positive impact the work I do here will have.
Maybe, the arrivals hall was so daunting as it was so unfamiliar and foreign compared to everything else that I had experienced up to this point. Maybe, it was just Lima. Or maybe it was the jet lag. But, no matter how lost I feel, there’s nothing that beats the start of a new adventure.
All imagery credit: Nuala McBride