The Gap Year: Lima

I have been dragging my feet to write this one.

I think it’s because this trip, this place, this experience, was so monumental for me that I just don’t want to condense it to a few paragraphs. It doesn’t seem right, or even possible.

If you’re wondering why Lima, Peru was the cornerstone of The Gap Year, I suggest you start here and here. It was about learning and connecting and understanding where half of me comes from. It was, truthfully, world-rocking. From the happiest moments to the scariest, Lima built up a new little piece of my heart.

So, let’s get into it. My mom went with me for the first week of what was supposed to be a two-month trip to help me get settled in, reconnect with her family, and learn the area a little before I was on my own. Unfortunately, I made reservations on Airbnb for what looked to be the sweetest little apartment in what turned out to be the roughest part of town. Our flight got in extremely late at night, and when the cab finally rolled to a stop in what turned out to be the apartment, my mom was… displeased. The cabbie was even worried about us. The cabbie.

The neighborhood was in shambles, with some buildings boarded up or collapsing, it was nowhere near Miraflores, the part of town I was told was within walking distance, and there was a rager of a party going on across the street. Since I was going to be there for so long, we had several large suitcases to haul inside, and my mom couldn’t move fast enough. I thought there was someone after us, the way she was tossing luggage inside the door.

The instructions we were given to get inside the apartment didn’t work, so we had to bang on the door for what seemed like an eternity until my new roommate (unhappily) woke up to let us in. The air conditioning that had been promised was broken, and with the stifling January heat, we had no choice but to sleep with the window open. We were serenaded by the sounds of drunken partying until 5:30 AM, when the party finally died down, only to be replaced with the sounds of store owners and merchants opening up business for the day.

My mom spent the entire night fuming, whisper-yelling (so as to not wake up my roommate) that I absolutely could not stay here, and contacting my dad back in the States begging him to find other accommodations that I could move to. I spent the night sweating from the heat and trying to suppress a panic attack, knowing my mom was absolutely right but not seeing how we could do anything to fix the situation.

The next morning, my mom’s cousin and husband and my aunt and uncles picked us up to have brunch. They also insisted that I couldn’t stay in that neighborhood, letting me know that they had almost been mugged a block over by a motorcycle gang about a month earlier. Oh, I thought, oh my God. I cannot do this.

But as a testament to how unbelievably incredible, wonderful, and loving my family is, by the end of the day, I was safely unpacking my things in a quiet B&B in Miraflores, with a beautiful view, my own bathroom, housekeeping, and breakfast service.

The memory of my mom and me practically tossing my luggage out the window of the Airbnb and diving into my cousin’s car before peeling away from that sketchy neighborhood is one I will never forget and one that my entire family still laughs about.

Ultimately, my trip got cut short. I contracted salmonella, and about every two days I would be resigned to my bed, writhing in agony and trying to keep anything more than just water in my system. I have extremely sensitive skin, and after a weekend trip to the beach, I also developed a severe reaction to the sun that left my eyes swollen shut. I kid you not, I could not completely open my eyes for hours. One night in February, after being paid a visit from a doctor while I tried to keep from puking on my aunt’s couch, I accepted that my health was at risk. My parents were worried about me, and truthfully I was worried about me too. I knew the only option was to cut the trip short and come home to heal.

Telling that part of the story always makes me sad though, because it gives the impression that I had a horrible time. Let me make it clear: I DIDN’T. I had the most amazing time, and I miss it every single day (well, once I could keep food down I began to miss it every day. There was about a month of recovery when I got back to the States).

I connected with my family, I ate good food, I went to museums, I swam in the Pacific, I ate the best bread I have ever tried, I spent quiet evenings watching the sunset over the ocean from the most beautiful clifftop park, I improved my Spanish substantially, and I learned more about my heritage than I could have ever anticipated.

I learned how to be alone and to be truly independent. My family spent a lot of time with me, but there was a lot of time in between adventures where I was just living in Lima. I went for walks, I went grocery shopping, I went out to eat, I explored new places to take pictures, I went to malls, I read at the park, I went to my favorite coffee shop, and I cooked in the B&B’s communal kitchen all for myself. Sometimes it was lonely, but it was always gratifying. I have never felt so capable as I did in Lima. I miss that.

Takeaway: I will never be able to adequately explain what my time in Lima meant to me. It’s just impossible. But I can say that it changed who I was when I came home. I left a little bit of my heart there and I like it that way. I had expectations for my trip to Lima before I left, and what I realized was that those expectations were all shattered and destroyed, because that month was bigger, more important, just more, than I could have expected.

Love you, Perú.

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