Lima, Peru has a population of around 10 million, or about one third of the entire country. We flew from Madrid into Lima, and spent 3 days there before heading up to Cusco. Our plan was to take one demon on at a time: first jet-lag (seven-hour difference), and then altitude (11,200 ft).
Have you been to Lima? Let me describe it for you: Take a piece of paper and a good #2 pencil. Write the word LIMA, all in caps. Write it big, maybe using balloon letters that you fill in. Lima is a big city, so you need a big word.
OK - now... take a different pencil. Look in the back of the junk drawer in the kitchen for an old pencil with teeth marks all down it, and a hard white eraser with almost nothing left on it but the metal edges. Now erase the word LIMA. It's not going to really erase, cause you're using that crappy old pencil eraser. Instead, it's going to smear the paper all dark grey and smudgy, and wrinkle it, and tear it in a few places, until you can still see the word, but just barely, and the whole page is a complete mess. Now - take the paper outside and let a pigeon poop on it, and a homeless guy pee on it. That's Lima.
Not that Lima doesn't have redeeming moments. I had one of the most wonderful lunches of my life in a hip Milaflores restaurant called La Mar. The place is renowned. It's owned by Gaston Acurio, the most famous chef in Peru. One cab driver told us that this guy is more famous than Peru's president.
The ceveche at La Mar was so wonderful that I swooned in my chair. The cancha corn was hot, salty, and completely addicting. The service was perfect. The Pisco Sour was strong and frothy. Here's the best part: Totally by random fate, the place was a block from our hotel, which, by the way, was an absolute hell-hole. I get to say it - because I booked it. Everything in our room just smelled. The bed linens smelled. The towels smelled. The woolen blankets hadn't let go of their of their Alpaca ancestry.
Here's something I've learned in a year of sleeping in strange places: bath towels have history, and that history unfolds to you as you wipe your wet self down in a steamy bathroom. You never know just what smells will emerge from your towel. Stale cigarette smoke is so common that at this point it's almost an old friend. Sour left-in-the-wash smell, and mysterious cooking food smells are both tough. The towels in this hotel were singular. At first bloom I caught the smell of public swimming pool. Right after that I smelled something fruity and overripe, like mango or papaya one day too late. Before my imagination could run wild I made my decision: "This towel," I decided, "has been washed in a weak bleach solution, and then dried with a fabric softener called Tropicana Fantasy." It was complete fallacy. That towel hadn't touched fabric softener in years, much less bleach.
Such is travel. There's the surprising and delightful gem, and the inevitable gross-out, often in the course of one day. You get used to things that you never thought you could. We've turned it into a game of sorts. It's pretty fun when you get the mindset right. Next time I'll tell you about our place in Cusco, where not only our mindset, but also our health and safety are challenged on a daily basis. We're loving it. Mostly.