Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sex, drugs, and Carmelite nuns

One day after we got into Lima, Ross came down with a fever. We tried to ignore it, not wanting to make a big deal out of nothing, but pesky thoughts of dying of malaria kept popping up, since we'd just been a delicious dinner to ravenous mosquitoes in the jungle and, most likely, to deadly bacteria in the Amazon river. (Ross was secretly hoping it would be the plague, of which there has been a recent outbreak in Peru. It's the perfect disease - easily treated with penicillin, but bragging rights for the rest of your life.) Dying of malaria would be very inconvenient because we had plans to go to Bolivia after this, so we decided to go to a hospital to make sure that our plans would not be hampered by imminent death. I'm glad that we turned out to be in Lima when we were in need of a hospital instead of a more remote part of Peru. One guide told us that, in very rural areas, some indigenous people who don't have enough money for healthcare treat themselves using guinea pigs instead. In case you haven't heard of this method before, here's what they do:

They take a live guinea pig and rub it all over their body. (If you've never had anyone mime 'rubbing a live guinea pig all over your body,' you truly haven't lived. It's exhilarating.) The campesinos (farmers or peasants) believe that by doing this, their disease will be transferred into the guinea pig, so they cut open the guinea pig to diagnose themselves. If they find something wrong with the guinea pig, they believe that indicates what was wrong in their own body. (Only black guinea pigs are used as medicine. The other unfortunate souls are enthusiastically eaten all over the country as a dinnertime treat. Guinea pigs suffer so many indignities at the hands of the Peruvians.) However, for some reason, guinea pigs are not seen as a suitable treatment for children, so for children they do the same thing, but with eggs. This makes even less sense to me - how are you supposed to make a diagnosis using an egg? They don't even have body parts! The way the guide explained it, "They don't have enough money for medicine, but they already have guinea pigs and eggs, right?", with which I had to agree.

So I was pretty happy to find that we didn't see even one guinea pig scampering around the hospital. I did see an egg, but only in the form of my sandwich. The hospital was quite professional; in fact, the experience was quite a bit more enjoyable than a typical Emergency Room experience in North America. A+++, would visit again!! $300 worth of blood tests later, we discovered it wasn't malaria or the plague, it was just a regular old flu that happened to strike at the moment we'd be most paranoid about it. Damn sneaky viruses. 3 days later I also came down with a fever. We briefly debated going to the hospital for tests again, because what if we let our guard down, assumed it was the same flu, and at that exact moment, malaria made an ass out of u and me? How absolutely ridiculous would we feel THEN? But we're too lazy to be that paranoid, and I'm still alive, so I think we made the right choice.

Another happy coincidence was that we got sick in a hostel that is as cheap as it is bizarre. Our hostel is what would happen if you crossed an old Colonial mansion, a museum, and a zoo (Ross tried to capture some of the weirdness in his first ever youtube video). There is pre-Inca pottery lining the front desk. Roman statues hide in the corners, and every corridor is peppered with religious Spanish paintings. Getting to our room is like walking through a labyrinth. You walk up one long regular staircase, then one spiral staircase. Then you pass a rooftop patio in which you encounter several budgies, 3 turtles, a cat, a dog, a parrot, and what we have only been able to guess is a macaw. One more spiral staircase later, and you finally arrive at our room, where we spent a week in bed, trying desperately not to wake up when the macaw and parrot began squawking every morning ("Hola!" the parrot would shout hopefully, over and over again). Sleeping through all of that might have been possible except on top of that, every morning at 9am, the restaurant on the patio blasts music for their breakfast customers. And by "music," I actually mean, one very worn album of French love songs from the 50s, each song indistinguishable from the last, played over and over again until my ears would start to bleed. I spent every morning in a rage, wondering if the entire city of Lima was just some cruel, psychopathic joke.

In the last few days, I have finally been able to ascertain that it is not, in fact, a cruel psychopathic joke. Instead, it is simply an absolutely chaotic whirlpool of 8 million people squeezed into a city with the infrastructure for about 13 people and a llama. Areas of devastating poverty surround quite lavish neighborhoods filled to the brim with historic landmarks. Traffic is an unbearable mess - getting from one side of the city to another can literally take several hours during rush hour, as we found out while trying to get back from the hospital. Cabbies will routinely simply refuse to go to Central Lima during this time. Because many huge intersections lack street lights, cars just dart out into oncoming traffic with no understanding of "right of way" and honk angrily when they find that other cars are - surprise, surprise! - in their way. Not to mention the daily parades, which aren't actually an election quirk as we thought, but actually just a favorite national pastime, akin to reading or playing Backgammon. If the government spent half the money on street lights as it spent on parades, I think Lima would probably not have earned the nickname "Lima, la horrible" from noted Peruvian essayist Sebastian Salazar Bondy. (He was actually referring to the weather, but I'm sure he'd say the same thing about the traffic, were he alive today.)

Nevertheless, once we were healthy enough to say our tearful goodbyes with the parrot, we actually found that we enjoyed exploring Lima quite a bit. One of my favorite parts happened our first night out. Still in somewhat of a flu-y haze, we chose to go to dinner at a restaurant that our guidebook said was run by French Carmelite nuns. Walking up to its exterior, we were greeted by a closed gate, with a sign saying "We're open! Ring the bell!" Hmmm. We rang the bell and waited. Finally someone answered, "?" I wasn't quite sure what to say. "Uh... para cena?" I stammered ("...for dinner?"). I suppose this was the right answer, as we were quickly buzzed in. Puzzling.

We were further confused as we were led to our table. "Bon soir!" they greeted us in French. Except my brain, which has been struggling to think exclusively in Spanish for the last 2 months, interpreted this as complete gibberish. She may as well have squawked at me like the parrot. The whole night, none of us could decide which language to speak in, so every conversation was conducted in a mix of French, Spanish, and English. The problem was that some of the nuns spoke Spanish but not much French, while others would address us mostly in French and a bit of English. I only speak some Spanish and no French at all, while Ross has no Spanish but a tiny bit of high school French. And everyone, trying to be polite, tried to speak the other person's preferred language, but nobody could decide what that was.

"Ready? Ça va?" approached a nun.
"Oui, merci," Ross responded, while at the same time I answered, "Sí, gracias!"

This continued the entire night, every interaction ending in laughter as the nuns tried to engage us in conversation and made fun of our stumbling around at every opportunity. I never knew nuns were so cheeky. (By the end of the dinner we started throwing some German and Russian into the mix, just for fun.) The food was outstanding - in fact, it was the only truly amazing meal we've had in Lima, despite our guidebook raving about this city as the "gastronomical capital of Peru." (I don't buy it for a second - even a gastronomical capital can't salvage the horror that is Peruvian food.) After dinner, the nuns gathered in the dining room to sing Ave Maria, all facing a picture of the Virgin Mary (which I'm sure the virgin appreciated). They handed out little cards with the lyrics printed in French and Spanish and invited everyone to sing along, but I didn't, because they sang in French, and it was a different version of Ave Maria than I was familiar with. (Neither of these things stopped Ross though. Perhaps his religious fervor was just too overpowering.) It was quite a touching moment and a perfect way to end a very bizarre, but absolutely lovely, dinner. The only better way would've been if I could've taken one of the nuns home with me to be my grandma. So cute!

To now turn in a completely different direction: Several weeks ago we promised that we would go to a museum filled with pottery made by the Moches, one of the most insane cultures that has ever lived. Artifacts that have been found from their culture suggest that the Moches were obsessed with sex and death (Freud's predecessors). For example, they would make 2 warriors from their culture fight it out to see who would be sacrificed. The loser would then be 'cleansed' for sacrifice by being forced to take San Pedro for a week straight. (Normally I would be all for that sort of fun, but to be on a hallucinogen for a week before being killed would probably be a bit of a downer.) Then he would be ritually anal raped and decapitated, after which (according to one theory) the priest would drink his blood. And that was only the beginning of the fun - their pottery frequently shows women being raped by pumas, women having sex with corpses, men with venereal diseases, and lots and lots of anal rape all around. So of course we were excited to go see this museum. And indeed, their pottery was more grotesque and fascinating than anything I've ever imagined. Observe:

Aaaand I think that is a good note on which to end. For more pictures of Lima, including many, many more pictures of pottery with cocks on it, click here.


  1. haha, parrots and cocks. Why am I not there with you?!
    Are you completely better now? Still in Peru? (been avoiding facebook like, well, the plague so a bit out of the loop).
    Bolivia next you say? Any thoughts on where you might be say . .um, December 20th?! ;) xx

  2. Why are you not here with us - That's exactly what I was wondering too. Ross suggested we send you a postcard of one of those lovely pottery pieces, but now you've already seen them on here, so I feel it wouldn't be quite as shocking.

    We are completely better now, and we're still in Peru until tomorrow - on Sunday we'll be in Bolivia, but only for a week or so, and then onto Argentina. I was wondering how well your facebook embargo was going. Glad to hear you've stuck to it so far.

    Wait... What's happening on December 20th? Am I forgetting something totally obvious? We will probably be either in Argentina or in New Zealand, I'm guessing, depending on how much we like Argentina. Were you going to come meet us somewhere? :D

  3. haha, you can never have too many cock pictures!

    Glad to hear you're better. Can't believe you're still in Peru, but that's great! Safe travels to Bolivia!

    No, you're not forgetting anything obvious. I'm actually thinking of taking off for a week and have been talking to mom about options. I need a flippin' holiday before going back to hell for another 6 months. I was thinking if you guys were anywhere in Central America, I could possibly meet you. Unfortunately Argentina is likely too far (i.e., pricey), and NZ certainly is haha. (on a side note, NZ will probably be quite the culture shock for you after the past 2 months!). Fancy Costa Rica?! ;) Meh, I'll just have to convince mum to take me to Cuba or something :)


  4. hmpf, apparently it didn't like my last comment about me having to sell my ovaries to afford CR, or my idea of smuggling myself into sketchy Guatemala instead. Sorry blog if I offended you. Wait . . have you seen what your creators write about? (Marina, that's you . . not God the creator ;)

    Good Lord I need to get my work done instead of talking to myself on your blog.

  5. Dude... you have apparently gone insane. I like it. Hahaha. Or the other option is that the blog has achieved self-awareness and has decided it doesn't like your snide comments about Guatemala. Either way, I'm excited to see how this ends.

    Yeah, no plans for central america, unfortunately. But Cuba with mum sounds like a good scheme! We have been a bit sick of Peru the last week or so, to be honest - we spent about 2 weeks longer here than we anticipated due to our flus in Lima. So we're gonna try to do Bolivia fairly quickly to make up some time.