Posted by: Jessie Kwak | November 13, 2009

Learning Lima

Familiarity with a city grows organically in my mind. Neighborhoods are muscles, the streets veins, the routes along them the tendons that tie it all together. As Rob and I have revisited some of Peru’s more chaotic cities like Lima and Trujillo, I’ve found myself reflecting on how I’ve come to know them.

A row of buses in Lima Peru

I love the feeling of pride that comes from the first successful navigation attempts. When I first moved to Seattle I got to know only a few districts—Queen Anne, Downtown, Fremont, the U District, Ballard. I would take buses there, or get rides with friends, and so I began to form an image of the city, and though I could find my way around a particular neighborhood, the way between them was a mystery.

Gradually I began to know the bus routes, the ligaments and tendons that linked the various districts. The bus may not have taken the most direct route between neighborhoods, but it introduced me to the interstitial areas that blurred their borders, Westlake Ave with its marinas, Denny Way with its garages and construction, the hospitals of First Hill.

When I got a car I began to find shortcuts. I learned which streets turned into each other, which were one-ways, which ended inexplicably in a park or a dockyard.

When I started riding my bike I began cataloging other sets of roads: those with the least amount of elevation change and those with the fewest cars.

Then I started dating a bike messenger, and I got to know the city like I’d never known it before.

I could feel those beginning stages the last time we went to Lima. We learned Miraflores, Barranco, San Borja, el Centro, San Isirdo. During our last visit we found ourselves needing to travel to three or four distant neighborhoods in one day, something which would have destroyed our budget had we relied on taxis.

So we bought a map and began to take the bus. Lima buses are painted with the names of destinations on their route, which helped us connect the bones together. “Tacna, Todo Arequipa, Miraflores, Larco Mar.” It tells you that these places are linkable, they make sense in an ordered chain. Whenever we got lost we would study the passing buses. If most of them said “Brasil,” then that was probably the street we were on.

It would take me quite a while to get comfortable enough for driving, and I think riding a bike in Lima is probably out of the question. But we’ve spent hours walking, and that helps to solidify a city like nothing else.

I look forward to returning to Lima in December and showing my parents the ropes. After all, teaching can be the best way to learn something yourself.




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