How did I end up living in Lima for so many years? Some people have asked me that question over the last couple of weeks. I guess it has to do with my passion for travelling which began when I was very young. My first trip abroad, was to Austria when I was seven years old. I remember we flew in a Sabina DC3 to Ostende in Belgium and then took a steam-train through Germany to the Tyrol.
By the time I was ten, I had planned my future dream trip to Istanbul. I knew all the towns on route, and all the roads and intersections. There were no computers in those days so this involved studying the Atlas, and taking books out of the local library.
My first independent travel abroad was when I was 16. I hitch-hiked with a friend around Belgium and Holland. This was in preparation for the Istanbul trip which I was planning to put into action the following year. Hitching was good and easy. We could see that it was going to work.
Taking on the World at Seventeen
The year passed rapidly. I worked stocking shelves in the duty-free shop at Gatwick Airport during week-ends in order to get the money together. Finally the school holidays came and it was time to leave.
Six weeks later we arrived back in England, safe but skinny. We made it to Istanbul via France, Italy, Yugoslavia and Greece, and then returning through the then Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe. Our best ride was from Munich to the the UK on our return journey, in a brand new BMW. Last year I went back to the Balkan countries re-tracing some of my historic route …… ah, the memories of youth! This time I was able to enter Albania. We did get as far as the border during this first trip but were turned away, as Albania was then a closed country.
My reflections on this epic juvenile trip.
- I was so incredibly naive at 17. Too naive.
- I learnt how to survive with virtually no money.
- I had some beautiful moments that I have never forgotten.
- I found that most people are incredibly, amazingly kind and friendly.
- I had some really hair-raising experience.
- I found that a very small minority of people can be potentially harmful.
- I KNEW from that moment I would always be a wondering wanderer.
So I then studied at University and became a teacher, but never stopped travelling. In the long summer holidays, I was off … around Europe, S.E. Asia, North Africa etc. However, after a few years my feet were getting pretty itchy for something more.
South America, Here I Come!
It was now 1978! I was 24 years old. It was now time to resign from the world of work and get back on the road again, floating like a feather in the wind. This time it would be South America. I had made enough money to cover a one star hotel and a plate of chicken and chips each day for at least a year of wandering around.
The first stop, was Quito in Ecuador. All was going to plan. The small towns, the mountains, the snow- capped volcanoes, the markets and most important of all, the many interactions with the local people met on the way.
I eventually crossed the border into Peru and began travelling down the coast, Tumbes, Piura, Colan, Talara, Trujullo . It was there I had my first problem.
The Inca Quickstep or Montazuma’s Revenge
I started to feel tired, I was sick every time I ate and had constant pain in the stomach with regular bouts of diarrhea. I decided to head for the big city to see a doctor and to hole up for a week or two until I felt better. I made my way to the bus station in Trujillo in order to take the Roggero night bus to Lima.
The Unbelievable Meeting
To my utter astonishment, turning a corner I came face to face with two old friends. I had last seen Dermot and Anne in Switzerland a year before. I remembered them vaguely saying that they were thinking of joining an archeological dig in South America…..and here they were, in front of my very eyes. They told me that they were working on the ruins around Chan Chan and were travelling to Lima to attend a friend’s birthday party, They were travelling to Lima on the same bus.
Side note: This is just one of the many weird coincidences I have experienced since travelling, but that is another story. The World is a small place!
On arriving in Lima they kindly directed me to a cheap backpacker’s hotel, the Hotel Europa. They had already asked the hosts if I could accompany them to the birthday party in the evening.
I was travelling ultra-light, basically with only a small bag, now known as a “personal item” by the airlines, which contained a toothbrush and a change of clothes. As the clothes in the bag were dirty, and the ones I was wearing, even dirtier, I decided to take them to a local laundry. At 7.00 in the evening I went to collect my clean “party” clothes from the laundry. I had made the assumption that they would come back nice and dry. They weren’t! Facing whether it would be more embarassing to turn up to the party in dirty clothes or wet clothes, I opted for the wet option. Surely they would dry out on the way there in the bus. They didn’t, which meant, on arrival at the plushly decorated flat, I had to do a fair bit of standing around rather than risk leaving a tell-tail damp mark on the upholstery.
The Wrong Song
Someone started talking to me about music. I mentioned that I was a singer/ guitarist too. I was surprised when he then produced a guitar and placed it in my hands. Unprepared for this, I foolishly decided to play the George Melly song “The Peanut Man”. After all, it had slways gone down well in gigs back in the UK. The song goes like this”
Nuts, nuts, whole nuts. Get them from the peanut man. / Nuts, nuts, whole nuts. Get them when you can. / See that man over there, / He got small nuts but he don’t care.
After a few verses and a loud dramatic and energetic finale, there was a polite but subdued patter of applause. My guitar friend then suggested that for the next number, they would all sing me a song. I can’t remember the name of the classical piece they sang but it was a perfect, powerful, beautiful, harmonious and professional rendering. Yes, they were all members of a renown national choir. I stood in my wet clothes. I wanted to disappear. I couldn’t decide which was most embarrasing, my inappropriate, irreverent jazz song, or my wet clothes.
However, all was not lost. After some more rapturous singing, (by them, not me) the atmoshere relaxed with guests chatting and dancing. A charming young lady tried to teach me how to dance “Afro” which basically meant wriggling and twisting my body in one hundred different directions at the same time. My inept “gringo” moves, created much amusement adding yet another embarrassment to the already long list.
However, maybe out of either pity or simply faulty judgement, my dance tutor offered to show me around Lima the following day. About a year later she became my wife and our union lasted for twenty-five years.
So that was how my passion for travelling evolved, and explains how I arrived in Lima. The first film we saw together was “One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, In Spanish, this title was translated as “Atrapada Sin Salida” (“Trapped Without Exit”) Was this then to be my fate? Would I survive in this new environment? Would I get to travel on the road again?
This and more will be revealed in the next Episode!!!!!!
Here, a link to my post on my visit to the Balkans last year revisiting places from the above mentioned trip. It appears I was safer on the first trip!
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