Arriving to San Salvador, El Salvador

The arrivals terminal was outside. This is Central America after all and it’s humid. I walked out of the sliding glass doors, past the young guy and girl security guard testing the metal detector over and over again. I scanned the crowd for my name on a placard. I couldn’t look at the faces of any of the people because searching, anticipatory looks—those looks of anxiously waiting for your loved one to arrive from travel—always make me cry. I found my name written in black dry erase on a small white board carried by a not so small Salvadoran man. We made eye contact and I nodded my head up acknowledging him. He smiled and unhooked the canvas belt that corralled people. Without thinking I handed him my luggage and he said bienvenida (welcome).

When I was a kid I was fascinated by those signs. I was always greeted by family when I went to visit so being greeted by a stranger who doesn’t even know what you look like, that you have to identify yourself to, always struck me as odd but I’ve come to enjoy the anonymity of it. 

We walked along and I asked his name. Emilio, he told me. Nice to meet you, I replied. 

Your flight was delayed, he told me. As if I didn’t already know. I laughed politely and we walked on in tired, reverent silence. 

He asked me to wait while he went to get the car. Latin music softly played from a car parked in front of me and two young cops stood lazily at the entry of the VIP parking structure. 

I don’t like arriving to new places at night. Come to think of it, I don’t like arriving to old places at night, either, but that’s neither here nor there. We drove from the airport to the center of the city in the pitch dark but I could tell that San Salvador is lush and green. 

We passed fluorescent-lit–what I assumed to be–food stands. Lime and magenta colored and I couldn’t help but smile. I love the colors of Latin America. I will get y’all photos at some point but I couldn’t at night. I asked Emilio what typical Salvadoran food was and he said pupusas. I made a mental note to find a similar brightly-colored stand for pupusas while I’m here, I thought. There will be a future post dedicated entirely to pupusas but they are Salvadoran thick cornmeal flatbreads filled with cheese and sometimes also beans, pork rinds, squash, etc.

We made small talk as we approached the capital. I could tell because there were increasing lights shining in the horizon. I was tired from a long day of delayed flights and lack of sleep having attended so I took a sigh of relief when we pulled up to the hotel. I thanked Emilio and beelined straight to my bed to rest after checking in.

Taxi ride in Santiago

He was a talker. Busy. Anxious to please. He saw me lift my sleeve up and pull it back down, he didn’t know I was checking on my eczema. He thought I was cold. He turned his head around quickly and saw I was wearing a turtle neck. He didn’t know it was a turtleneck tank top. “Are you cold?” he implored.

“No.”

“I can turn the air off.” he asked.

“No no, I like it.”

“Oh ok. Yes. Good. Because it’s really hot down there.” (By down there be meant in the city.)

“I am Alfonso. Anything you need I’m at your service.”

“Thank you, Alfonso.”

It was quiet again and that made him unstill.

“Do you have a sore throat?” he asked, looking at me through the rear view mirror and touching his throat.

“No.”

“Oh. I thought. You were—“

“No no I’m fine.”

Again, quiet. But he wanted to talk.

“Are you here on vacation? Work?” He asked.

“Work.”

“Are you Central American? You have an accent like you could be…Guatemalan, Colombian…”

“No I’m North American,”

“North American! And you learned Spanish?”

“Yes.”

“And I’m Alfonso, did I already tell you that? What is your name?”

“Sally.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Sally. Anything you need you just tell me. Any questions, anything.”

“Thank you, Alfonso.”

He picked up his cell phone and spoke to it, giving it the address of my hotel. The female machinated voice started to give him directions in Spanish. He updated me: “24 km. Or 22 minutes. We will arrive at your hotel at 11:24.”

“Thank you.”

Alfonso proceeded to give me a demographic and geographic report of his country. I nodded along. After several minutes of talking he asked if I had ever been to Chile. I told him I had. And he laughed out loud, “so you already know all of this?”

“I don’t remember all the details, please continue.”

He told me about all the provinces in the country and the neighborhoods in Santiago. He told me the area I was staying in was very safe and I had nothing to worry about.

“There are places that really respect health. To include that you can’t smoke outside. Wait. Do you smoke?” He quickly turned around thinking he may have offended me.

“No.”

“Good.” He sounded relieved, “Then you won’t have any problem. Because there are neighborhoods that you can’t smoke and if you do you’ll be fined.”

He went on, “You’ll be safe. For example. If someone says to you, “what a beauty!” We call that a cat call and you can’t do that. You can file a complaint. You are safe here. But it won’t happen so don’t worry.”

He asked me what I thought of Chilean people and after I had given my opinion he shared his opinion of his country and I loved that. He was proud.

We pulled up at a stop light and he pointed his finger out of the passenger side window, “you’re American! That’s your embassy.”

There was a sky-rise with a window cleaner halfway up.

See the window washer on the right about halfway up? And sorry for the white van…it pulled up just as I was snapping the photo!

Alfonso told me how different he thought Donald Trump and Bill Clinton were. How he thought that the quality of life in Chile was excellent. How their economy is doing really well right now and they have a lot of immigrants.

When we pulled up at the hotel he said, “It’s been a pleasure. May I give you my card? If you want a ride back to the airport when you’re leaving I’m happy to take you.”

He handed me the card and explained what each phone number meant. I tucked it in my purse and got out of the car. He jumped out after me. He was disappointed that the bell boy at the hotel had already gotten my one piece of luggage.

As I walked away he called after me, “Enjoy Chile!”

Adventures in Beirut, Lebanon

I’m in Beirut for my cousin’s engagement party. (A cousin from my mom’s side, not to be confused with the cousin from my dad’s side whose wedding I attended last month in Texas.) After two days of festivities and partying—the first day was the “official proposal” with families, etc. involved and the second day was a big formal engagement party—everyone went back to work. My mom and uncle and I decided to go up to Mount Liban to visit the hermitage and tomb of Saint Charbel. The hermitage is about a 40-minute drive from the city. Saint Charbel was a Maronite monk and priest from Lebanon. He is famous for preforming numerous miracles and many sick people come to seek intercession for healing. People come from far and wide to pray and visit and there are numerous letters from over ninety different countries from people writing the monastery seeking help and healing.

There is an important point here, people of all faiths seek healing from him. The point I argue is the truly faithful do not distinguish by religion, they believe in God and thus they have faith. When you visit holy Christian sites in the Middle East you find just as many Muslim visitors as Christian. The point is the faith not the man-influenced religion. If you believe something you are giving it power. More on this concept later but I want to draw your attention to this because people have such a skewed—if not negative—view of religion. I won’t deny that there is a lot of negative done in the name of religion but faith should not be lost in the bastardization of religion by humans who are innately flawed. That comes with the territory of being human.

Back to our adventure. I first had to run an errand at the post office so my uncle swung me by Liban Post and I experienced another foreign post office. I really encourage you when you’re traveling to do quotidian things to see what life is like elsewhere, i.e., go to the super market, post office, take the bus/metro, etc.

We got on the road to the church of Saint Charbel and as is tradition for my uncle, we stopped at Sea Sweet for knafeh bl jibne. Knafeh bl jibne is a sweet cheese pastry famous in the Levant. It is made of a finely shredded and ground wheat stuffed with cheese and dripping with orange blossom sweet syrup. It is originally from Nablus, Palestine but the whole region is fascinated by the sweet and makes it, too.

You see my uncle doesn’t eat sweets but he stopped for us because knafeh bl jibne is my mom’s favorite. Knafeh bl jibne is made in a big round tray, served on a plate, and eaten with a fork but the Lebanese have created their unique way of eating it in a sweet bun. This way it can be eaten as a full breakfast alongside a cup of strong Arabic coffee. We pulled over on the side of the busy highway and got a knafeh sandwich to share. The dish is always served warm so that the cheese is stretchy and melted and dripping with just enough syrup to make it perfect. I snapped some photos for you all and I hope you enjoy although I greatly apologize that you cannot taste the delicacy yourselves. In the future I will include a recipe so you can make it from home.

Knafe bl Jibney sandwich

We kept driving. I sat in the backseat and just listening and observed my mom and her brother chat. The relationship you have with your siblings is so special. I saw these two grown adults as children, their love for one another and bond so apparent and beautiful.

We stopped at another roadside “snack.” That’s what it’s called. A little old lady has built a roadside rest attached to her house for travelers visiting the hermitage to stop and have a rest. She cooks flatbreads on the sajj—a dome-shaped hot surface with the heat source inside/underneath, used to mainly cook breads. We placed our order and then walked around observing. A souped up SUV pulled up flashing it’s police lights (fake). The guys told the little old lady that they were very busy and could she do their order first. The little old lady asked my uncle if it was OK if she did their two sandwiches before ours. Fine, he said, unconvinced. As we sat around waiting, the order of two sandwiches grew to 3, 4, 5, 6…my uncle lost his patience and politely told the old lady we were also in a hurry and could she cancel our order. Back in the car he told us that he was teaching her a lesson…you serve people in the order they came.

We drove to the next snack and ordered sandwiches on the sajj. The woman serving us had a lisp and was very sweet. She brought us our kichk flat breads along with watercress sandwiches, piping hot off the sajj. She brought homegrown lemons to squeeze on the watercress sandwiches. She was captivated by my mom (who isn’t?) and as we were leaving she asked me in Arabic if that was my mom. I said yes and she said, with a wave of her arms, quelle maman (what a mom!).

a bread being cooked on a sajj

A watercress sandwich

We continued. We got to the church site and went in to visit. I always get very emotional at holy sites. I have bawled my way through countless churches, monasteries, etc. I don’t know why I do but I’m incredibly moved at these places. I’m not upset about it, I believe that we ought to feel our feelings and let the tears out if they want to come out.

One of the churches at Mar Charbel hermitage

Dahlias outside of the church

I urge you to visit holy sites if you get the chance. Or maybe even seek them out, go out of you way. Even if you don’t practice a particular religion, I find it to be a lovely place to contemplate, meditate, or just be. I feel that it’s so powerful, how many countless people came before me to this site seeking something, a cure, a solution to some problem, or in thanks.

 

**a much shorter version of this story was originally published in my column Postcards from the Kitchen in the Cedar Street Times on 17 August 2018 

The Oasis on Lake Travis — Austin, TX

The day after my cousin’s wedding, a lot of my side of the family decided to go to The Oasis at Lake Travis in Austin, about an hour and fifteen minutes northeast of San Antonio.

It was a long drive and my cousin’s car doesn’t have the most reliable air conditioning (read, it turns off randomly) which made the two hour drive in 102˚F plus 80% humidity less than enjoyable (read, miserable). Ok, I’m being a bit dramatic, my aunt, who is one of the best cooks I know had freshly made shawerma (gyro) sandwiches in her purse (naturally) and I ate one and wrote down the recipe with a blissful heart and belly.

When we arrived, we put our name down for a party of 20 for “first available” but really just wanted to sit inside. We were told it would be a two hour wait so one group of us went and found refuge from the heat and coffee at a nearby shopping center. I guess that’s what people who live in really hot places do, go hang out at Safeway. I’ve actually heard of this phenomenon, Safeways have Starbucks in them and they keep the store really cool so you just bring your laptop or a book and have coffee and sit in the lobby of Safeway, passing the July Saturday. Man are we lucky in Monterey.

The Oasis is known as “the sunset capital of Texas” and the building is a multiple level restaurant overlooking Lake Travis. Everywhere you turn there are funky statues and quirky signs. All along the rails throughout the restaurant there are hundreds of locks and it is referred to as “Lovers Lock Lane.” There’s a sign saying:

May your love live forever at the Sunset Capital of Texas.
Lock your love with your soulmate,
family member or friend.
Personalize your love lock and toss
your key into the fountain.

Locks available for purchase in The OASIS Gift Shop.

I think the last line says it all. I also hope your love endures past the Sunset Capital of Texas.

The kids (ages 20-30) were assigned to sit at one end of the table while the adults sat at the other end of the table. We all shared food and drinks and just hung out, it was lovely. We waited for the sun to set and snapped group photos. It was a nice way to spend the last day in Texas and the day after a long weekend of family time and a big wedding. If you find yourself in Austin, and you like quirky places, lakes, and people, head over to The Oasis. In the meantime, enjoy my photos!

 

View of Lake Travis, note all the locks hanging from the fence

My aunt and mom posing with the old lady statue–one of the many quirky statues around the grounds

My dad, my baby cousin, and my dad’s baby brother

Nachos!

Chicken enchiladas

The sun setting over Lake Travis

Me!

Sunsetting over Lake Travis

Boatrides at dusk

The entrance to the Oasis, note the statue

Serendipitous Airplane Seating Arrangement

I was flying home last night from San Antonio, TX. I was coming back from my cousin’s wedding which also served as a family gathering/reunion. I met some extended family I had never met before and was so happy to have grown my clan with such lovely people.

For my San Antonio-Phoenix flight, I had a middle seat–I had given my aisle seat to my dad who recently had knee surgery and needed to extend his leg. I really don’t like center seats. I am fiercely independent to include a dislike for asking for permission to stand to use the restroom during a flight. I don’t think of this as claustrophobia which is the fear of confined spaces but more of a fear of a stifling of my freedom. Maybe you could argue that they are related. Anyhow, I am not a psychologist so I will not spend more of your time pondering such things.

The man on the aisle was tall and very friendly. As the plane boarded I commented that maybe the window seat would be empty and I could move over there so we would both have more room. He said, “they said it was a full flight.”

“They lie,” I responded.

He laughed. I am somewhat cynical about airlines and what they tell you.

A gentleman approached and pointed to the window seat, “I don’t mind body surfing so y’all don’t have to get up.”

We got up anyways because I don’t think it would have been too polite to have this guy body surf to his seat.

The man in the aisle seat extended his hand and said his name was David, what was mine? I told him and we introduced ourselves to the man in the window seat who turned out to be John.

We began chatting, it started with the typical airplane banter, “is San Antonio home or are you flying home? Do you have another flight? Etc.” But it slowly got into deeper subjects to include politics, relationships, etc. They told me about their daughters, we talked about our jobs, and what we want out of life.

When the flight attendant came by we all ordered drinks and said a toast together. John showed me photos of his adorable grandson and David told me a story about finding the guitar he had always wanted but the moral of his story was ask and you shall receive. I guess that’s the biblical version that I am most used to but the contemporary philosophy is called the “Law of Attraction Theory” which is the premise of the book “The Secret” and follows the mantra, “ask, believe, receive.”

This came up because I said I had just gone to a wedding and they asked if I was married. (In case you don’t know, I am not.) David asked if I minded if he shared something with me and I said of course I wouldn’t mind. He told me to ask for exactly what it is I want out of life. Don’t focus on what you don’t want, because then you get what you don’t want. You give what you don’t want energy. Rather, focus on the things you want and they will come your way. When I told him I had a full-time job but freelance wrote on the side he repeated this “ask, believe, receive” mantra saying I was focusing too much on the notion that the writing was my side gig and not my passion that I ought to focus on.

Now I don’t like center seats but this was the most lovely Sally sandwich. These men were two of the most kind-hearted people I have had the pleasure of meeting. As we deboarded the plane, David told me we were all meant to sit next to one another on that flight. I was meant to hear what he had to say. He gave me his business card and told me to call him if I ever needed encouragement or a persistent push for “ask, believe, receive.” I found my mom and David said, “hi mom!” My mom bashfully smiled, she is very shy, and asked what that was all about. She had heard me talking on the plane, surprise, surprise, and wondered what we were all discussing. I told her and she loved it.

So as you go through life, focus on the things you want. Ask for what you want and don’t give energy to the things you don’t want or dislike. Focus on your dreams, your passions, your desires and they will come to you. Or so I am told. And always be kind to the person sitting next to you on the airplane, you never know what they might teach you.

Machu Picchu

I woke up at 4:30 knowing I needed to start moving. I had initially thought I’d walk up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes, it’s about a 2 km walk with another 2km altitude gain but everyone kept telling me to take the bus up and walk down. My independent, adventurous self was mad at my other self for not strapping on the headlamp and climbing the mountain.

I went downstairs to breakfast. I was the only person in the breakfast room. I had café con leche, breakfast, and packed myself a couple small sandwiches for the day.

Breakfast room at my hotel…mama, do you see the Milo!?

It was still pitch black outside. I walked to the bus stop which was just about 3-4 blocks up the street and found the line. Then I walked about a quarter of a mile to the end of the line!

The guy who got behind me in line had been sitting across the aisle from me on the train yesterday. We struck up a conversation, he was also traveling alone.

The seemingly endless line at 0545

We only waited about 15-20 minutes in line until we got on board the bus and started the incline up the mountain to Machu Picchu. We were dropped off at the entry also the front entrance to Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel on the grounds of Machu Picchu and sells for $1700/night in the off season.

Line to get into Machu Picchu

There are so many people here it’s unnerving. I was recently at Zion National Park and I felt the same way. It makes me think of when Kramer (from Seinfeld) quits swimming at the gym because it’s like a “flabby arm spanking machine.” That’s how this feels, wading through thousands of tourists from all over the world. And it’s unfortunate that Americans have such a bad rep because I have met obnoxious people from everywhere. There was a group of Australians taking photos with the ruins in the background and they were jumping, you know, like those photos for social media. A tour guide said “please sir no jumping” to one of them. You know what he responded?

“That’s stupid. Why not?”

There were obnoxious Koreans, Brazilians, Spaniards, British, Canadians, etc. The common denominator is that there are obnoxious people. There are also really lovely people from everywhere so let’s not stereotype. And let’s not be obnoxious when we travel…or ever.

The ruins at Machu Picchu

A llama

flowers 🙂

I hiked down the mountain passing many people on my way down. It was basically all stairs and predominately switchbacks. I crossed the bridge and found “Casa de la Mariposa, ABIERTA” (house of butterflies, OPEN). So I walked through the garden and found a sign for a coffee shop. Woohoo! An old man unlatched the gate for me and we chatted about plants and he told me the patio here was a good place to watch birds.

By this point it was pouring rain so I sat under the tin roof and he brought me a book about the birds of Machu Picchu. He brought me a menu and I ordered a pisco sour. He told me they were out of pisco. So I ordered a passionfruit juice and read through the book while looking out over the river at the birds. I recognized the swallows and the hummingbirds but there were many I didn’t. Several colorful ones perched at the bird feeder the old gentleman had built. Another bigger white bird with a black head flew over the river and landed on the rocks. It continued to pour. I got hungry and went to order something to eat. The young man behind the counter hadn’t stopped cooking since I had walked in. I asked him what the empanadas were, he told me pork, cheese, and pineapple. Like Hawaiian pizza…without the tomato sauce.

An old Mayan legend says: when you want happiness and to make your desires reality, whisper it to a butterfly and give her your love and freedom. Grateful, she will fly and the happiness and love will arrive…

The river, the mountains, the clouds

Milenka and La Lucha Sanguchería Criolla

Milenka and I decided to meet up on Friday night. She asked where I wanted to go and I told her I was a little hungry and I just wanted to eat Peruvian food. Peruvian food is amazing. There is good food everywhere and the presentation is always thoughtful and beautiful. Even cheap food or street food is delicious and beautifully presented.

We decided to meet at the same place that we first met the other day, which was 2 blocks from my hotel. I got there and stood looking for Milenka. I realized I didn’t know how tall she was because I only met her on a bike before. I stood at the crosswalk surveying people coming from the left, and the right, crossing the street toward me when suddenly I head “Sah-Lee”–soft a soft l. 

“Sorry I’m late. I stopped at the pharmacy to buy some medicine, I have a cold.” She said after a kiss and a big hug.

She wore a turtleneck sweater and a jacket and told me how freezing Lima is. A lot of the Limeños I’m talking to tell me Lima is freezing right now and the weather is just intolerable. It’s been in the low 60s but for a place with temperate weather most of the year, the low 60s and heavy fog/mist is too much.

We decided to go to La Lucha Sanguchería Criolla, a very famous sandwich shop in Lima. There were two within walking distance and we picked one and walked and talked, getting to know one another.

Milenka is from Cusco but moved to Lima for work after college, she’s a fashion designer and started working at H&M in Lima a few years ago when they opened a big store in Peru. She wanted to work retail and learn about the fashion industry from that perspective. She hated retail but learned a ton. After two years she quit and worked as an independent fashion designer selling her collection at independent shows and markets for young designers in Peru. Now she works part time at a fitness clothing store and spends the rest of her time designing clothes.

She is a passionate human and we talked for what felt like hours over my sanguich, french fries, and maracuya sour (passionfruit and pisco cocktail).the potatoes they used were not what I am used to back home. The context of their starch was different, thicker which made for different fries. And my sanguich–pavo a la leña (turkey cooked over firewood) and criolla salsa which is a salsa made from thinly sliced onions, aji (a yellow pepper), cilantro, olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.She had a coffee since she’s got a cold and no appetite.

The counter at La Lucha, it looks like an old diner…I think it is!

My sanguich and french fries

We talked about love and heartbreak and all of the things we had in common. Her sweetheart had recently moved back to his homeland of Spain and she was working through those feeling  We laughed and encouraged one another to take the risks and follow our hearts. This, and these relationships, I believe are what make life worth living.

We took a selfie and walked out of the restaurant. Milenka wove her arm in mine and we walked back to my hotel saying over and over how this had been a magical meeting and we are certain we will see one another again, this friendship was sent to us.

Back at the hotel I tried on one of her shirts, I had picked one out that I wanted to buy from her from her Facebook page. I loved it and it fit me perfectly. It’s so Milenka’s style and every time I wear it I will think of her.

-:- Mile and me -:-

We parted ways, not wanted to stop hugging or tell one another how magical our meeting had been. Friendship and personal connections are magical. We ought to be open to them and seize them when they present themselves. Milenka told me she had been having a crummy week and this had totally turned it around.

Early morning at the Lima airport

I woke up at 12:47am. I had only gone to bed at 10:30pm–after having dinner with Milenka! more on that later. I had planned to wake at 1:00am but there I was. I turned the bedside alarm off, and the alarm on my phone, and the second alarm on my phone. I took a shower and finishing packing up my things. The wake up call I had scheduled with the hotel rang on the phone. I thanked them and hung up. I went downstairs and heard music blaring from the basement…there was a wedding! How fun.

I made myself a cup of tea, checked out, and dragged my things to the taxi who was waiting for me outside. The fog was down to the ground, practically raining and it was so humid you feel like can’t escape. There was nobody on the street at 1:30am so the ride to the airport was quick. I chatted with the taxi driver a bit, he was very nice.

We got to the airport and he asked where I would like to be dropped off, national or international flights? I told him national but I needed to drop my bag off for storage. He dropped me off and gave me directions. I followed the sign for “luggage storage” but there were cones and caution tape blocking the way, and a crew mopping the floor. I asked the guy who seemed to be in charge how I was to get to the luggage storage he directed one of the ladies to move the cone out of the way for me and I walked slowly on–probably ruining–the freshly mopped floor.

I found the luggage storage and the attendant wasn’t at all surprised that I wanted to leave my suitcase for a few days. Why would he be? He does this for a living. Sometimes I get in my head. 

I left my bag and checked the time. It was 2:00am. My flight wasn’t until 5:14. Well there’s a lot of extra time. Everyone had said it takes a long time to get to the airport, well maybe at rush hour…not at 1:30 in the morning! And nobody else was in line to drop off their luggage, anyways.

I walked around and looked in a few stores, Kuna that sells baby alpaca fur clothes, and H. Stern the Brazilian luxury jewelry store. The easter lilies in the store were gorgeous, oh, I guess they had nice jewelry, too.

After 3 minutes of window shopping I was tired of it and decided to go find a place to park it…but first I had to go through security.

The guy at security asked if I had a computer, I did and he gave me a box to put it in. He said, “where are you going?”

“Cusco,” I responded.

Vas solita?” (are you traveling alone?) 

“Si.”

De dónde es?” (Where are you from?)

“California.”

También hablas Ingles?” (Do you also speak English?)

“Si.”

I thought about the interaction, I guess it’s fascinating to people to hear multiple languages, especially when you think in your head what a person should sound like. It makes me think of a Korean comedian and this great skit he does. Anyways, it’s just to say that we have these expectations of how people should look or sound and we can be surprised. I mean, obviously a common language helps a lot for communication but is not necessary nor should you think that someone who doesn’t look like you doesn’t speak your same language.

Milenka

I walked to work alone this morning. As I stood waiting for the crosswalk to turn, a girl on a white bike rolled to a stop to my right. I pointed–like a child points at something they want–and said me encanta tu bici! (I love your bike!).

She pulled her headphone out of her left ear and I repeated myself. A big smile came across her face, “thank you! I’ve had it for years!” He voice was sing-songy and sweet.

“And your basket.” She basked had a basket in front of the handle bars with her purse and a folder in it.

“You need to get yourself a bike so you can bike to work!” She told me.

I was dressed for work, obviously, and walking to work.

“I have one! It’s just at home, I don’t live here.”

“How long are you in town?”

By this point we were in the middle of the street, she was biking really slowly a little in front of me and I was crossing the street behind her.

“I leave Saturday for Machu Picchu.”

“I’m from Cusco!”

[You have to fly to Cusco to get to Machu Picchu.]

“How cool! I can’t wait to visit.”

She opened her purse up and pulled out a card, “here’s my card with all my contact info. Write me and we’ll chat more!”

“Thank you! I’m Sally,” I took her card.

“I’m Milenka. Gracias.!” 

I walked down the street and she crossed the other street, I watched as she rode her bike in the bike lane and I missed biking. And I promised myself that when I was home I would get myself a bike that I really like. I’ve had this bike for years and it’s fine but it’s not very comfortable.

The exchange made my morning. I walked to work happy, she was so sweet and so genuinely happy to meet me. I added her phone number to my contacts and sent her a message on WhatsApp. She told me we should meet up for drinks and get to know one another. Turns out she’s a fashion designer and an illustrator.

She invited me to an art opening this evening and I hope to go. It’s amazing to meet people, all over the world, and find out that you have similar interests. In other words, we can make friends anywhere we go if we just live life heart forward.

Museo Larco–Lima, Peru

One of the things I’ve learned from traveling in Latin America is that Latin Americans are fiercely proud of their heritage and culture. Whenever we are planning our workshops–typically 5 day workshops in country in partnership with the host nation–the hosts always insist that one afternoon is a “cultural day.” That is, they want to have an afternoon, if not an entire day, dedicated to taking their foreign guests around town showing them the capital building, local museums, a typical lunch, etc. This is diametrically opposed to the fly in on a red eye for a 2 hour meeting and leave for the airport after the meeting. I’m sure you can imagine what camp I fall in.

One of my colleagues brought his father and brother, a friend from graduate school and his father. They invited me to join them exploring a little of Lima when we had some free time. In fact, our host country partners will usually bear more of the burden of work in order for us to have time to explore their beloved country. I just love that and really appreciate it.

We grabbed two taxis, our driver was fascinated by the height of my colleagues’ father who is 6’4″–you don’t see too much of that in Peru. We were headed to Museo Larco and then to lunch. The taxi driver was quite the character and kept telling us things we had to try: pisco sour, ceviche, chewing coca leaves if we were going to high altitudes. He told us about the Inti Raymi festival, which is a festival in the month of June for the Incan sun god.

The grounds of Museo Larco are gorgeous, the building itself is white and brick and there are bougainvillea and geranium, among other flowers in bloom everywhere. The building houses tens of thousands of pre-Columbian art and artifacts and gives a really nice history of Peruvian civilization, both pre-Columbian and post.

Museo Larco

I will be honest, I’m not one of those people who can spend hours at a museum at the exhibit. I get tired, my back hurts, I get hungry, but worst of all my brain is hyper-stimulated and I need to write. So often when I go to museums, I’ll do a lap or visit one part and then take a break at the museum café for some sustenance and to digest what I have just seen in my journal. Or write out what came to mind, invoked by what I just saw. So I did just that although I didn’t sit in the café, I found a bench among the flowers and wrote.

Flowers everywhere!

After everyone had their fill of museuming, the friend who was leading the group asked if we would prefer to walk to lunch or take a cab. The lunch place was 1 mile away. We all opted to walk and we moseyed through a cool neighborhood stopping to admire the architecture and flowers.

Lunch was at Antigua Taberna Queirolo an old cantina (f. 1880!) and pisco distillery. We ordered drinks, I had the maracuyá sour, a passionfruit and pisco cocktail (see photo below). And we ate family style, ordering 2 each of lomo saltadocausa de pollo, steak, and stuffed potatoes.

Maracuyá sour

 

The dining hall of Antigua Taberna Quierolo

Causa de pollo

Papa rellena

Apple pie!

After we finished lunch and were sufficiently stuffed, we headed over to the distillery to check out the pisco selection.

It was a nice partial day jaunt around Lima before we had to get back to work.