Brown is the New Black
August 25, 2022
Miraflores, Lima (Peru)
Midway through the flight, everybody suddenly got very sleepy and ALL the window shades were spontaneously pulled down. (Maybe they piped a soporific through the ventilation system.) Everyone had a nap, despite the fact that it was legitimately 2 in the afternoon (and not that weird “What time zone am I in anyway?” version of 2pm). But eventually there was a common consensus and window shades went up.
Out the window—were those fluffy white clouds in the distance? The view below us was coastal; the plane was over the ocean, but the beach was right there. We were way up there, obviously (how high?? THIRTY THREE THOUSAND FEET!), so there was no detail to be seen, but from my seat, it looked like we were flying over Mars. Flat. Brown. Empty. Unloveable. Don’t have a shipwreck on that coast; you’ll definitely starve to death unless you can digest rocks.
But those clouds in the distance; did they look like mountain tops to you? The couple in front of me asked the Hugely Chatty Flight Attendant if we were seeing the Andes. Oh no, he said. From where we are now? The Andes are another 500 km inland.
As soon as he got into the metric measurement, I was lost, of course. All I thought was—oh. They’re clouds. The Andes are far, far away. So I stopped looking at the surface of Mars and went back to my book (Randy Rainbow’s autobiography, which is charming and also made me cry).
When I looked again, the clouds had formed definite peaks. There’s no way they WEREN’T mountaintops. The Hugely Chatty Flight Attendant didn’t know the metric system either, because THERE THEY WERE. The Andes Mountains, which form the “cordillera”—the spine of the continent. They go underground about Central America but pop up again in North America with a norteamericano accent, where they’re called the Rockies.
And the rocky flatness of Mars had turned into…
…okay. There’s a fabric. It’s not satin, but maybe it has a satin finish. It’s been deliberately crinkled into endless wrinkles. Have you seen this fabric? Maybe in a topaz brown? Twig didn’t know the name of this cloth, which makes me wonder if I made it up, but I’m sure I’ve seen it. In hippie clothing. Broomstick skirts. Like that.
Anyway, some alien or long-dead god shook out massive bolts of this possibly-made-up fabric (I mean, wrap-the-planet-like-Christo-bitten-by-a-radioactive-interstellar-spider huge bolts) and left it crumpled and wrinkled all over the Pacific coast of Peru. Even from that high up, the valleys and hollows and watersheds and peaks and saddles and humps and ridges of these mountains…it was mesmerizing. Unknowable. Terrifying. Glorious.
And then in the long valleys, carved by long-gone glaciers moving to the sea, there were signs of determined life. People had farmed in the valleys and made them into long, skinny ribbons of green holding back the destructive chaos of topaz brown. Not very MANY ribbons of green—but enough to know that someone was doing some small-scale terraforming, like in Aliens. I took many pictures, trying to capture it. You can judge the less-than-thrilling results for yourself.
We flew in over Lima and the dominant color was brown. Brown houses. Brown earth between brown blocks of low apartments. Or freight yards filled with boxcars (mostly brown). From the air, Lima looks like the disaster hit last year and they haven’t quite recovered yet. Once on the ground, we hired a taxi (for less than $20US) to take us to what we were told is the nicer part of Lima—called Miraflores.
The driver did his best around the rush hour traffic, but we were inevitably trapped in bumper-to-bumper, in a part of the world where those lines painted on the road are simply decoration; six cars abreast in a three-lane section means the tour bus is free to wedge in there. From the street, Lima looks like a third-world nation. I rode along trying to NOT look wide-eyed at the crowds of people darting between onrushing tour buses and motorcycle delivery drivers. My expectations were wrong; I thought Lima was just a city like every other city. The road from the airport would be airport boring.
But no. My innocence was exposed by the—what? It wasn’t dirty, per se. It wasn’t ruined. It was just extremely crowded, extraordinarily urban, filled with the ingenuity of determined poverty. One guy on a motorcycle had welded a huge cart in front of his bike for deliveries; no way that vehicle could be considered roadworthy in another place, but here he was just a guy going busily about his business.
So it was even more of a shock when the driver finally broke free of the traffic jams and got us to the coastal highway and we got to Miraflores. THIS part of Lima looks like the Galleria. (Which Galleria? Any Galleria. Once I say it looks like the Galleria, you know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you?) Palm trees, ocean view, posh stores, chrome and neon, wealth on tap.
Now we’re sitting in our hotel—it’s just a Marriott, but it might as well be the Ritz—and (as Rusty said) feeling over privileged and guilty at how successfully we’ve insulated ourselves from The Real World. This bathroom has more toiletries available than any hotel I’ve ever stayed in, anywhere. What poverty? What determination? What are you talking about? Look at that view!
We grabbed dinner in the (very elegant) bar downstairs—supple, lovely sushi and clean/wild ceviche, plus various cocktails and mocktails to bring our long day to a close. Theoretically we’re supposed to have a COVID-testing team knocking on our doors between 8 and 9pm; set up by Lindblad. But it’s now 8:45 and Twig has already texted to say they’d better knock loudly because she’s falling asleep. Apparently time is less restrictive here in Peru; we worry less about how long things take. The nice taxi driver pulled over two minutes after he picked us up, dialed someone (his wife? His dispatcher?) and had an extremely long and peaceful conversation with her (in Spanish FAR too rapid for me to follow) while sitting on the side of the road with his fare. When he eventually hung up, I asked if everything was okay; he was surprised. “Certainly,” he said. And on we went.
So it looks like the COVID-testing window of “between 8 and 9pm” might just be open to interpretation. At what point do we put up the Do Not Disturb sign and pull up the drawbridge?