Thursday, 17 September 2009

Fending Off The Locals (Men) In Lima

It's sunny in the North of Peru. It's blisteringly hot in the South; in the centre of the country, it's shitty in Lima for 6 months of the year, when a blanket of grey covers the city, hemming in the smog. Think Manchester, but warmer. But it's a nice place, one I hadn't really been looking forward to after my brief stay en route to Bogota from Colombia; I'd only seen it from the windows of the bus transporting us to the Sheraton, and we'd gone through some dodgy neighbourhoods with vagrants and ne'erdowells hanging around shadowy street corners at 3am.

It's large, and spread out...the two key places being the old city, and the newer, shinier area of Miraflores where we opted to stay. Alighting from a very comfortable Cruz Del Sur bus (we took the first class seats, with waitress, leather seats and movies) taxi drivers swarmed around us like the proverbial flies. Now taxi drivers fall into three categories in South America: morose, silent types with scars who you think may rob you; chirpy, happy and chatty types; and chirpy, happy and chatty types who are only like this because they want to get something out of you. Ours fell into the latter category. He chatted away about his love for English football, in particular Newcastle United because of Nobby Solano. Meanwhile he took us to a completely different hostel, telling us the one we chose was miles away from town. We insisted, and conversation understandably dried up. He pretended to call our hostel, and then said it was full until tomorrow...we said we'd take a look anyway. Naturally, we arrived and they had room for us. Lying shit. As Garfield and Speckled settled in, I checked mails on the computer. The owner approached and asked if the taxi driver had recommended Inka Wasi Hostal? I told him No, and explained what had happened. It turns out that the cheeky bastard, after us not going to the first hostel he obviously got commission from, had decided he'd tell our man that he'd brought us here, and earn that way. He was still outseide, demanding his fee. You've got to admire his balls. Not literally, of course...that would be horrible.

First morning there I met a friendly Dutch fellow I’ll call Gene Wilder, as he was the spit of the Willy Wonka actor. I originally thought of Mick Hucknall but, not only was this quite insulting as the man is a tosser, but the Gene Wilder thing came to me in a flash when we were out for a pint one evening. The funny thing about Gene was that, despite being fluent in Spanish after 9 months on the road and a few years of study back home, he didn’t have the nerve to chat the local girls up. They are all happy to talk to you, but it helps if you speak their language, as a lot of them don’t speak ours. If myself, Speckled and Garfield had had his linguistic skills, we’d probably still be in Lima, no doubt happily shacked up. There was one waitress in a bar he was mooning over, and was too scared to say anything…we all found this hilarious. She was smiling and giving us all the eye as she passed, but he bottled it again and again. Deary me.

I had more trouble fending off the boys. Deciding on a haircut in the Larcomar Mall, I was guided to a seat by a handsome young lad I quickly assessed was gay. My Gaydar works just fine, and the coy smiles as I told him what I wanted (haircut-wise) told me everything I needed to know. This and the fact that the head massage, as he washed my hair, was completely over the top. They’re usually quite relaxing, but this lad was obviously enjoying rubbing my jaw, neck and even rolling my earlobes between finger and thumb. I’d have been reaching for the Mace had he gone any lower than my shoulders. He didn’t speak a word of English, but I managed to tell him how I wanted the wig adjusting…and we had a good chat about Lima, travel, England and the like. Good practice in Spanish for me. He asked if I was single, and told me he didn’t like women. No…really? We shared similar tastes in music, and he told me about a club called Downtown I should check out if I wanted to escape the ubiquitous Reggaeton.

Speckled had a date one evening, with a girl he’d met in a club after myself and Garfield had headed for home. Garfield had been chatting to a very sexy young woman earlier, and had been invited to another club. Her disapproving friends had other ideas, and disappeared with her when he went to the bathroom. He was downcast, and the girl I had been chatting to had left after giving me her number; so no point either of us hanging around. So the following evening, we hit the town on our own as Speckled went on his date (met her at McDonalds…who said Yorkshire folk have no class?). Having no joy on the decent music front, we elected to head for Downtown. Once inside, we had a quick wander. Lots of people introduced themselves and asked where we were from. We decided that the place was a bit of a Sausage-fest, but had a good atmosphere. On heading upstairs, we quickly understood why. A couple of girls were snogging the faces off each other on the balcony, and I just people-watched for a while. It was only when I saw the cloakroom queue that the penny finally dropped: young lads were checking their t-shirts in and walking around bare-chested. Ah…so that’s why it’s my hairdresser’s favourite club?

The only problem you have in Lima is with the beggars; usually women with semi-drugged kids. We’d wandered into an ice-cream parlour one day for Garfield to get his fix. We sat and watched Speckled, who is the softest touch you can imagine, handing some change to one of these wretches while he finished a cigarette. Well that was it…there were five of them swarming around him, outstretched hands in his face. He escaped into the relative safety of the café, but they followed him in. A burly security guard threw them out. “See what you’ve done, Jim?” we chuckled. The next thing we knew, there were hands thrust through the bars in the windows in our faces. Security man was straight over, slamming the blinds one by one. It was like that fairground game where creatures pop up out of holes, and you have to bash them with a mallet. “Your fault this, Jim” we sniggered to a red-faced Speckled, who grinned sheepishly.

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