Peru and me: transition, acceptance & growth

Time flies and only now I’ve realized how inconsistent I’ve been with the idea of writing the blog. Sure, I’ve mentioned it in the very beginning that this might be the case, but man, I’m worst than I thought I’d be. However, this time I can say that it was not that much about my lack of commitment to writing here as it was my actual very frequent absence from my home and bunch of activities I got myself into. Finally, I’m using some free time to give you some update on…well, myself. Even though I have whole bunch of pics of places I’ve visited until now, this time i’ll keep it more personal. This is where the title of this entry comes from.

I’ve been here for five months now and I have managed to do two (for me) big things by now:

1) I finally got my residence card, so for at least some time, I’ll be staying away from all different administrative institutions. Very important yet boring fact, so no more talking about this. But worth sharing with someone. Being an immigrant’s not easy at all.

2) I’ve had some quality time with myself contemplating and rethinking my life here through various pleasant and unpleasant events, experiences and places I’ve seen. And all this has changed me in a certain way, and I can only hope the change is good.

My slightly pathetic relief

Some of you might know, others I guess not, that the act of moving here was kinda harsh for me, and that in the beginning I felt everything but fine. Now, after having spent enough time here, I can only repeat what I have said before: this is not the right place for me to be. However, I have fought my fears and concerns, resentment towards my environment….and I guess i reached the point of accepting my current situation and trying to get the best of it. Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate every experience, and here that’s the only thing I haven’t lacked for sure. I’m aware of the fact that not many people have an opportunity to do the same, and that being here has changed me for sure: things you can’t see in the developed world, completely different mentality and culture and finally all those little things that you might have taken for granted before, but once you start living without them they gain so much importance in your life.

Why Marija, why?!!

Having said that, I’d like to continue with pointing out how much I learnt both about myself and about others. I used to think I was very adaptable and flexible person – you name it, i could face it with no major problems. I still think I am like that, it’s only that now I know that I prefer certain circumstances better than others. I definitely like some cultures more than others. And for sure I like certain types of people or cultural habits more than others. Without judging anyone for what they are…I just know myself way better now.

I’ve figured out that foreigners either love or hate Peru. I’m definitely not among the first ones, but I’m trying not to be among the other ones either. Trying. Not sure yet I’m doing that well. Many would say that I’m not actually. Oh well…not getting into that topic right know. I’m sure that each and every one of us felt like this at some point as well.

My humble point of view

Peru is one of the geographically most diverse countries in the world or at least that’s what people say. Coast, desert, high mountains, jungle and everything in between. And when we come to culture and social issues  there are different languages  tribes, physically very diverse people, incredible habits and customs, vast choice of pretty amazing variety of food, extreme dedication to religion and last but not least impressive yet worrying economic differences and all consequences that emerge as a result of that. For one European, even from an underdeveloped country like myself, facing that is mind-blowing and overwhelming. And for someone who truly believes in social justice and equality of opportunities seeing all that is devastating as well. Without intentions of  getting into further analysis or details, I’ll only point out that this big differences influence general cultural and educational level in the country, form your values and morale and finally create one general image of what one country really is. I guess this is the main reason why I don’t feel too comfortable here. Culturally, I’m simply very different.

For all you possible visitors of Peru, I’d like to mention one thing that was personally maybe what surprised me most. I guess we all have certain idea in our minds when we say Latin America, and I guess that’s for a reason. Living in Barcelona, I’ve met people from pretty much every South American country, except for Peruvians and Bolivians. Leaving Bolivians aside (I don’t know them, I’m not saying anything about them), I’d like to share my impressions on how little Hispanic or Latin these people here are (with an exception of European descendants maybe, but I’m honestly not sure about that) in comparison to all other Latins I’ve met before.  Firstly, I have an impression of society here being highly influenced by Inka culture, which is good for themselves I guess because they preserved their identity, but not for me. Secondly, I feel that mostly bad things of Hispanic culture have been adopted here, which makes me quite sad. The combination of the two makes me say to myself: ” Thank you, but not my cup of tea”. However, no matter how bitter this tea might be, it has taught me a lot of things and opened my eyes.

The sunny side of life

I’ve had some truly difficult times here, and  2012 has been the year of questioning, challenges, meeting and losing people and big changes in general. However, not everything’s been so gloomy, and sometimes I think that my coming here was for a reason. Someone very special to me I’ve met not that long ago has helped me go through all this with ease and has made my stay here meaningful and more beautiful. Apart from showing me amazing places I would never have seen by myself, he’s been my constant support and reason to feel better, stay positive and try to get the best of what I’ve got here. He’s made a big difference in my life and helped me not lose faith even when I was feeling down. Even though we’ve got some time of challenge and patience in front of us, I’m not giving up. No way. And I’m absolutely sure it’s all happened because it was meant to be.

Just giving you a hint on what I've seen here not that long ago...more pics to come!

Just giving you a hint on what I’ve seen here not that long ago…more pics to come!

Anyways, the computer geek has just called me to pick up my camera which got dusty and stopped working properly when I went once to an old abandoned Inka graveyard, so I guess I’ll be taking some more pics soon. I’ve got quite a lot of writing material and some quite cool pictures, however it all depends on my free time. I hope I’ll be back soon with some more interesting stories and pictures.

Meanwhile, I just wanted to update you on how I am and what I’ve been up to recently and give you my lame excuse on why I totally neglected this page of mine. Shame on me, for sure! 🙂

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By altairvega1985

Limón? Lima! This is where I live!

Lima and it’s name (etymology)

I’ve never actually thought before what the origin of the city’s name is. For me it was something quite obvious: lima in Spanish is lime in English, so I had no doubt about that – they must have had fields of lime trees where the city appeared afterwards back in history. Well I was wrong. According to my dear friend  Wikipedia (and in the nutshell) name Lima was derived from a coastal Quechua word Limaq (a famous oracle in the Rímac valley, destroyed afterwards by the conquerors) which means talker in their language. However under the influence of Spanish pronunciation Limaq ended up being Lima. It’s worth mentioning that the city was founded in 1535 by the illiterate and savage Spanish conqueror Franciso Pizarro under the name Ciudad de los reyes ( City of the Kings), which I assume very little people or at least foreigners are familiar with nowadays. Besides what we call lima in Spanish is limón in Peru, and our Mediterranean lemon is known as yellow lemon here. And it’s one of those products that are somewhat difficult to find in Limean supermarkets.

Back to the topic with the map of all the districts of Lima! As far as I know, this is the city with all its neighborhoods located in the metropolitan area. The city of Lima are all those districts in the central part of the map with Callao being the northern border of the city (i.e. city without its metropolitan area), and in south and east….well I’m not sure yet where’s the exact place which separates Lima and its outskirts.

Districts of Lima

Miraflores and San Isidro

I live in Miraflores (pretty much the central part of the map), and very close to the Pacific Ocean. Actually when I look right (N/NW) through the window of my room, besides bunch of houses I can see the ocean and La Punta. And when I look left I can see (besides bunch of houses once again!) a huge shiny cross in Chorrillos. Nothing spectacular though, but it’s quite nice to be living by the ocean and to be able to go for a daily walk to a nice park that follows the coastline.

The sight of wonderful sunset in Lima. In Barcelona the sunset is quite pathetic, somewhere in the mountains although the sunrise is quite impressive. Some time ago my friend Eva complained about this issue commenting that it would be great to see a romantic sunset on the beach of Barcelona. Well from now on I’ll be looking towards the western horizon and its sunset, so this picture is for you my friend!

Besides Miraflores, San Isidro is apparently one of the few “good” neighborhoods to be living at, and actually the richest municipality in Lima. One can tell rich municipality from the poor one just by looking at simple things around him: whether there are parks and green spaces around, by the quantity of serenazgos (I keep calling them mossos d’esquadra although guardia urbana would be more appropriate name for them) who are actually kind of security officers who make sure that  everything’s in order 24/7 and finally, by the type of buildings or its architecture. Unlike Belgrade, where living in the city center is kind of a privilege, but similarly to Barcelona, living in the city center (historical center) is not something that anyone who’s well off would want for himself or his family. Therefore middle class and rich people live in the neighborhoods I’ve mentioned before. Besides, most of embassies are located here as well, which is another way of telling which district is rich and safe. However, I must say that Miraflores and San Isidro are possibly the ugliest and most sterile places I’ve seen and lived in by now. All buildings are alike: new and gray. No soul, no personality, no nothing. I was wandering during my entire stay in Barcelona what made Catalans abandon the beautiful historic center of Ciutat Vella/Raval (and even Gràcia) and let immigrants, tourists and everybody else buy or rent their lovely homes. At the same time they moved to the ugly neighborhood of Eixample (Esquerra and Dreta). Well the same thing happened here, although with a better reason: supposedly the Communist Party of Peru (for more information click here ) left dozens of  landmines all around the city center and therefore caused the people to flee to other parts of Lima. Nowadays, things are changing but apparently it’s too late to make a good residential zone from the historical center. It’s a pity though, because it’s colonial style beauty is something that cannot be compared with the ugliness of the current residential zone. I’d dare to say (and risk being criticized by the locals) that I even find more pleasing to the eye (at least my eye!) some of the poorer districts I’ve visited so far.

Parks and  Mr. Pacific Ocean (the Largest Ocean in the World)

Another (pathetic!) picture of the sunset and paragliders on the horizon

However, there are some really nice parts of these two districts. First of all the coastline is amazing. Even though it´s not something you might be dreaming of when you think of South America (tropical beaches with palm trees and crystal blue water and so on….ok I admit this might be more adequate description for the Caribbean but still, when you go from Europe somewhere south I guess this is what you expect!) you can just see the difference between see and ocean. It huge, never-ending and its waves are tremendously powerful even when the weather is nice and its waters are calm. In recent years (and I´m not quite sure when exactly) the city has worked a lot on greening its coastline. As I mentioned in my first entry, Lima is located in the desert, therefore its natural state of environment would be best described as dusty, yellowish and extremely dry. Nowadays the coast in Lima (or at least in its richer districts) is green and it gives you impression of flourishing and almost lush vegetation, of course given that climatic conditions are quite harsh. Actually, last week I ended up being a victim of the greening and irrigation process in Lima. I really enjoy going out for a run during late evening and I find it very pleasant to do it by the ocean, following the running track by the park. However in all that dark and shadows of bushes and trees I somehow managed NOT to see a huge irrigation hose.  I tripped over it and the result was flying Marija and impressive fall directly on my knees and wrists. I remember the world spinning around me and I imagine the sight was not much better for casual passersby. One serenazgo even approached me and asked me whether I was OK and if I needed medical help. I was not OK, and my knees hurt like hell but fortunately I didn’t need special medical attention because at the time I didn’t have any medical insurance. However I decided to continue running which probably made my injury even worse ( and what´s really dangerous is the part of not being aware of the pain as long as your body is warm) and as a result I spent entire weekend with a huge bag of ice on my left knee ( which currently changes colors from purple to dark blue to green and yellow, and still kinda hurts) and with quite impressive scab on my right knee (which i´m trying not to scratch right now!).

Maybe you can conclude from the picture above that those parks I was writing about are quite linear and follow the coast. They are long but not very wide,  something quite different from European-style parks. What brought my attention the most is so called Parque del Amor (Love Park), not only because it has a huge statue of a couple well…going into action but because it resembles Park Güell quite a lot. Might be my imagination, but have a look and judge it yourself. Obviously it´s smaller and completely different sort of park, but the mosaic work on the terrace is quite similar.

Parque del Amor which more than obviously imitates Park Güell. Or is it me who sees Barcelona in everything?

Since it’s wintertime here, I didn’t really get to see much sun since I arrived. You might conclude from my pictures that the color of the ocean is quite grayish with certain yellow/green greasy stains here and there and dirty, thick foam. Obviously gray skies and constant fog are not helping. However, I got one chance, one sunny day to witness its amazing transformation from gray to wonderfully blue color. When you see that, you immediately leave your depressive state of mind behind and everything looks much better. I must say I really am looking forward to summertime to enjoy the view of the blue endless ocean again.

Soooo…What else can you find here?

Pretty much everything. Big shopping malls, great and quite expensive restaurants, bars, food markets, Peruvian markets , really nice and colorful graffiti, old colonial style buildings (of which German style houses are probably the ones that stand out the most),  discotheques and some sort of night life which is still quite different from what I’m generally used to, crazy car drivers and even crazier taxi drivers, colorful buses and hectic traffic in general and everything else you might need to lead normal kind of life without actually leaving the district. Last but not least –  there many tourists and foreigners who live here, mostly Americans and other westerners although it’s not unusual to see Brazilians, Cubans, Argentinians and people for other parts of South America. And they’re much more than I’d ever think as the matter of fact. However the only thing that doesn’t really surprise me at all is the quantity of mixed couples. Local female community seems to be quite interested in foreigners  who live here, and vice verse I guess. And if you like to observe people and intercultural relations and differences like I do, bars in Miraflores are quite good place to do that.

What else can I say? This is not the most perfect city in the world and definitely not the most beautiful one. It can be OK if you TRY to find beauty in small things and nice spots that surround you. I cannot really identify myself with neither Miraflores nor Lima for number of reasons (some of which I’ve mentioned before) but I’m slowly getting used to it, because that’s the best thing you can do when you’re supposed to spend some time in a certain place. Just like people of Lima identify me as a foreigner constantly trying to talk to me in English, I have a feeling this city is yet another stop in my intentions to find a home.

In my next entry I’ll try to present briefly a few other neighborhoods which I actually like more than the one I live at right now.  Meanwhile have a look at the slideshow to see some pics of Miraflores which didn’t find its way to the text… 🙂

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By altairvega1985

Goodbye Europe…Hello South America!

From the very beginning I was attracted by the idea of moving to another continent and completely changing my life and my lifestyle. However,  leaving Europe and moving to South America turned out to be more difficult for me than I’d ever imagined. I left my life, my friends, my love, literally my everything in Barcelona. And to be fair, I got used to living there and I actually started to like the city. Everything would have been great except for the fact that with all the economic situation in Spain finding a decent job was a problem and good jobs were mostly reserved for the locals. And after a few very bitter situations and bunch of stress I gave up and decided to embrace another, actually quite good opportunity. Still not sure whether I did the right thing or not, but I don’t regret at least giving it a try. Europe’s not going anywhere as far as I know…

I’d like to start with blog/story here by pointing out that Barcelona and Lima are two completely different cities, in many ways. As Spain and Peru are very different countries that apart from the language don’t have many things in common. At least in my opinion. Last but not least South America is not Europe and vice versa. Now let me explain briefly why (and these are just basic and most obvious points):

1. SUMMER/WINTER

Yes, I came from wonderful Spanish summer, sunny weather, warm Mediterranean sea to something completely different. Wintertime in Lima is quite gray and humid, with weird, heavy clouds which obviously have difficulties to produce rain.  Therefore the result is some sort of foggy well…thing…with occasional  drizzle wannabe. Not really sure how to explain it, because it’s like nothing I’ve seen before. So no rain, no sun, high humidity in the second biggest city in the world that was built in a desert. Cairo would be the first one.

This is the weird sort of cloud I was trying to describe. If i were back home, this cloud would make me run away and find the closest shelter. And here I had to get used to the fact that this huge heavy cloud presents no threat. There’s no rain in Lima.

2.SIZE

I always used to say that I love big, wide cities. And when I came to Lima I had to admit to myself how wrong I was. The population of Barcelona is less then 2 million and the population of Lima is between 8-9 million which makes it the fifth biggest city in South America after Mexico City, São Paulo, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. For the record, that’s the biggest city I’ve ever been to until now (except for London maybe), and for me its dimensions are something out of this world. You can drive around for hours and you’re still in Lima. Every municipality is sort of a town of its kind and I have a feeling that you can stay in your neighborhood forever and live there without major problems and without ever wanting/needing to leave it. Actually what I consider to be a big city in Europe (and I’ve traveled around Europe quite a lot) I guess would be considered a village or smaller town in South America.  In conclusion my concept of big city is not really the most appropriate one, at least here in both Americas I guess.

Night view over Lima: maybe you can get an impression from this picture how big the city is

Dusk over Lima: view from poorer neighborhood to rich neighborhood all the way on the other side of the bay.

3. TRANSPORT

Most of my friends know that I’m a walker, and all of my close friends know that I can be quite radical about walking everywhere and anywhere without thinking it twice. Well, here it’s almost impossible to do that. There are many reasons and two main ones are the city’s size and safety. Besides, public transport is quite lousy. Many people use their cars to go around the city and the alternative is either taxi  (which is generally considered to be quite unsafe way of moving around) or bus (there are  different types of buses: mini-bus, normal bus, fake bus, big cars that pretend to be buses and so on…in general all of them almost always crowded). So yes…all of a sudden I was thrown into the city that has no means of transport I’m used to using – not much walking for me and no metro which is, you might know it or not, extremely well organized  back in Barcelona. By the way, this is one of those situations when I like being from Serbia – if you learn how to cross the streets of Belgrade, you shouldn’t have too many problems to survive in the wild and hectic streets of Lima. Otherwise, take care! Seriously.

4. PEOPLE

What surprised me most is how colonial this society remained in certain aspects of life.  Makes me really sad to see that actually. Some people have it all, others can barely survive with their salaries. Some people are privileged to be what they are without even being grateful for it, others (majority) are humble servants. Finally, some people are not even being treated like people but like objects. I could write a lot about it, and actually quite probably will in the future, but at the time being I believe you get the point. However I have to mention that I was pleasantly surprised to see some sort of middle class being created, since its existence is essential for every country’s growth. I really do hope things here will continue to move in a good direction here.

Another thing that makes me feel quite uncomfortable when I’m out on the streets of Lima is my height. In Serbia, being 175cm tall girl is quite normal and can be frequently seen in Belgrade. When you’re 175cm tall in Barcelona people tend to tell you that you’re a bit tall for a girl, but still you don’t really stand out that much. In Peru I’m a giraffe. No kidding. There’s no way I could ever look like a local being this big. My dressing style’s quite distinctive as well, my Spanish accent is very…well, Spanish,  and I cannot possibly use my mimicry skills I’ve developed so much in Barcelona. Unfortunately, I’m a total guiri or gringo here. Which qualifies me as quite suitable victim to be bullied, robbed, charged twice the normal price or simply stared at or sent noisy kisses by an occasional passersby.

5. FOOD

I love to eat! I really appreciate tasty food and unusual ways of preparing it. And if it’s spicy, there’s nothing else I’d ask from you. As such person I can only use one word to describe Peruvian cuisine…no wait, two words: FUCKING AMAZING! As I start getting familiar with all those delicious dishes, I’ll definitely write more on this topic. Peruvian kitchen is considered to be one of the best in the world because of the unusual mix of different world cuisines and believe me, it’s for a reason and a good one.

CONCLUSION

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I’m desperate and dying to get back home to Europe. I’m not, although I must admit I’m already dreaming about my future vacations and next June and my flight back to Spain. And I spent almost entire first week between being extremely happy and bursting into tears. Remembering. Rethinking. Doubting. Convincing myself. Doubting again. Being happy again. And then sad again. And happy…and so on. I’m still nostalgic and I guess it’s normal. I know that nothing will ever be the same, but I’m still hoping to see again my remaining friends in Barcelona when I get back there. Actually I can’t wait to start to work because it will distract me from thinking too much which I usually do when I have free time. I just want you to know that I think about each and every one of you every day. And I miss you all a lot!

Fortunately, I was lucky enough to meet my new friend Paco here, born and raised in Lima who was kind enough to show me around the city and take me to places I wouldn’t have seen or wouldn’t be able to reach (at least in the beginning) all by myself. Therefore, I have to thank him again – for showing me around and convincing me that this city can offer you a lot! And the good part comes with the next blog entry! 🙂

By altairvega1985