I landed in Lima at 5am. Walking to customs and baggage claim always feels exhilarating after sitting so long on an international flight. I was happy to be moving my legs.
I exchanged money, the Peruvian currency is called a sol or soles (plural) which means sun in Spanish. I really like that. However, I did look up the origin of the word and actually, the sol comes from the Latin word solidus which means solid and referred to gold coins issued in the Late Roman Empire. The Peruvian currency was called sol from 1863-1985 at which point it was replaced by inti which is the word for the ancient Inca Sun God. In 1991 due to terrible economy and hyperinflation, the government abandoned the inti and the currency was renamed sol. There is a bit of continuity here, although sol comes from solidus it also means sun as a tip of the hat to the inti, the sun god.
I waited for my luggage. The conveyor belt was so slow and maybe being tired made it feel slower. I watched the same lonely yellow bag go around at least 15 times before my bag appeared. The man who had been seated behind me was also waiting for his luggage. We recognized one another, it’s like there’s a somewhat intimate connection with someone you sit so close to for several hours and even shared a few meals with. Or the mom who asks you to hold her infant so she can use the restroom, it’s an instant bond unique to travel.
I got my bag and a lady, dressed officially asked to see my bag tag—the one they gave me when I checked my bag. She verified that I had picked up the correct bag and I passed through customs.
I found the taxi window that I had been directed to via email from the hotel. A nice man greeted me, “Señorita Sally?”
He took my bag and instructed me to wait inside until the driver showed up since it was raining. A gate opened and a black KIA Optima parked. The man who had taken my bag walked to the car and peered in the window, the driver jumped out of the car and ran around to open the trunk. He hadn’t realized I was waiting.
I got in the car and he asked if I would like the air conditioner on. He sat on a beaded seat cover and spoke very delicately and politely.
“It looks like today is officially the first day of winter.”
He asked how long I would be in town and was happy to hear I would be here for sufficient time to try all his favorite Peruvian dishes.
“If you like seafood, you have to try the ceviche.” I thought of my dear doctor friend (infectious disease specialist) and my mother’s warnings about eating raw meat.
He commented about the highly congested traffic in Lima.
“Why?” I asked.
“The economic situation is stable these days so everyone has bought a car.”
He told me about a rule the government had implemented (pico y placa literally “peak and plate”) where cars with certain license plate numbers were permitted to drive on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and the others on Tuesday and Thursday in an effort to minimize traffic but he said people just bought second cars. I had heard a similar thing about Mexico City.
He took me down to the coast, explaining there are no stoplights and very little traffic that way. I was delighted when I saw the Pacific Ocean crashing on the shore. Only 20 hours ago I was 4,446 miles north on the same coast.
He pointed out the surfers and I thought about how there’s more than one way to identify with another person. Of course there’s religion and race and nationality, common language, etc. but I thought of my friends who surf and how they would immediately have a connection with a Peruvian surfer for the simple fact that they share a passion. I thought maybe we ought to emphasize similarities based on passions vice similarities based on nationality, language, and religion. Here I go philosophizing again.