“Hey, are you in Peru?”
I blatantly asked my friend whom I haven’t checked in with since I arrived in South America. My 30-day visa in Ecuador is coming to an end and I need to make my next step. I thought of Couchsurfing in Lima but our Internet in Quito sucked big time. I have 4 days to plan and asking people I know if I can crash their couch has guaranteed results.
“I’m in the Philippines!”
“What??? Again??? When will you be in Peru?”
“I don’t know but let me know if you need anything!”
Yes, actually. It’s like he was reading my mind. I feel sorry for getting in touch with Salvador just now. Backpacking South America has been busy and I consistently failed to connect with friends and family while on the road. I am annoyed at myself for sucking at getting in touch. Talking and typing on the phone is not my best talent. But I know he gets it. He gets me. I mean I hope he does.
Salvador and I met in the Philippines in 2011. I just got back from studying in Italy so I tried to travel around the Philippines. At the time, he was also studying and living in Taiwan. Together with Fernando, his Mexican roommate in Taipei, they frequented the Philippines on school breaks.
Fernando and I were closer. When I met him in El Nido, Salvador was just arriving from Taipei so we bonded a bit later. Fernando is a super intelligent human being and I will always remember him as one of the smartest people I’ve encountered while traveling. He always made sense. His arguments are intellectual. When he says something, I learn something new.
“I will be in Lima in four days and I was wondering if there’s any possibility I can stay in your place?”
The conversation continued. I know he already said he’s in the Philippines (again) but I’d like to take my chance in staying for free. I remember Salvador told me he’s staying with his family (including his grandmother) so I hoped I can learn some Peruvian cooking with grandma. It’s just a few days.
He didn’t reply so I typed again.
“I am sorry for asking last minute but I planned my Peru travels rather poorly but if I can’t stay with you, I’ll find another Couchsurfing in Lima.”
When we met in the Philippines, Salvador repeatedly offered his home to me in case I go to Peru. I mentally noted that although I never imagined I will be traveling to Peru real soon. Not even in my wildest dreams. It just happened to me. I’m sure we’ve all done that when-you-go-to-my-country-I-will-take-care-of-you kind of promises because we never really know when these people are going to come. Offers like this and it stays on the table until we forget about it. Or until they eventually come for real.
But I did not forget Salvador’s offer. Ever.
“Look, my family house is a bit full right now but I have a friend whom I can ask to host you.”
Knowing Salvador, I knew he will do all in his power to do something for me. I did not host him in my home back in the Philippines but somehow, he feels indebted as, in his words, I did all the Tagalog talking when we were traveling in El Nido. That somehow has a weight in his visit to the Philippines but I never want him to feel that he owes me anything.
And that is the power of making friendships on the road. I only spent a few days with him but we paved a great road to a meaningful friendship. Through the years of traveling, I’ve developed relationships as deep as that of Salvador’s and up until today, it’s still amusing to me.
“My friend’s name is Facundo. He speaks English but very little so you may have to speak Spanish a lot.”
Salvador and I speak to each other in Spanish and I’m kind of familiarized myself with his Peruvian Spanish – he speaks 100% slangs when he talks to me as if I understand everything. Philippine passport holders are visa-free for 163 days in Peru and I plan to max that stay. That time frame will be enough for me to master Peruvian slang – challenge accepted!
I thanked Salvador for pulling things for me last minute and I started to text Facundo.
“Hola, soy Trisha, la amiga de Salvador.” (Hello, I’m Trisha, Salvador’s friend.)
To make it easier for everyone reading this, I’ll just write in English. It’s going to be very tedious for me to translate every single conversation I had with Facundo. I can speak Spanish very well but writing is still a challenge for me.
“Good to hear from you! See you tomorrow?”
Was that it? Was that all I could get from him? I normally had to put an effort into chatting with people especially strangers who are hosting me blindly. I feel like this is the least I can do since they are hosting me in their homes. But sometimes, I get so tired with socializing. This Facundo guy seems to be the quiet type so that works for me.
“Yes, see you tomorrow! Thank you so much for agreeing to host me.”
His response consisted of instructions on how to go from the bus station to his place. He told me to take the bus but I had no plans of dragging my huge backpack around Lima after a 24-hour journey. Based on my research, taxi in Peru is quite affordable so in the end, I thought, taxi it is.
My journey from Quito to Lima was a long one. I thought it would be really simple because of the improved inter-country bus travel in South America but in this trip, I had to go on a 9-hour bus ride from Quito to Huaquillas and from there, a 16-hour ride to Lima.
I opened the flat screen on my sleeper bus and tried to watch something. While there are a lot of English movies available, I chose one in Spanish to get ready for an action-packed Peruvian slang battle in Peru. After 30 minutes, I fell asleep.
Busses like this also serve meals. The bus attendant (I don’t remember how to call them but they’re kind of flight attendants on a bus and even dressed like one) woke me up to have my meal. When I purchased a ticket online, I remember I paid for two meals. Busses like this don’t stop and the road from Ecuador to Peru are filled with desserts and dry lands – there was no way I would be able to get food. It barely even stopped. As far as I am awake and remembering stuff, we only stopped once to refresh, fake shower and brush my teeth. My body was sore from all the sitting.
Until we reach Lima: dry land to the left, huge waves from the ocean to the right. It was one of the breathtaking arrivals I ever had in my journeys. I was absorbing the amazing fact that Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru are just on one island yet so different on many levels. I slowly realized that Lima was a big city with a beach right in front of it. I had a strange feeling it was going to be similar to my life in Barcelona until we reached the boulevard and saw something different.
Limeños walking to the beach, topless, shoeless with their surfboards arched to their right arm. How can they go shoeless in this heat?! People biking, couples walking their dogs, some buff iron men jogging – it was like Rio de Janeiro but on a smaller scale.
As soon as we arrived at the bus station, I hailed a taxi. Look, I don’t know how it works here (you know, if there’s a modus operandi for tourists taking a taxi) but I did not care. I cannot be bothered to commute most especially in a country I don’t know. My brain was not capable to process the routes and to be aware if I am walking the right streets. From where I was standing, Lima looks like an easy city to navigate but I can do that later. For now, arriving at Facundo’s without challenge is the goal. I can smell myself from that long journey – I really really really needed a proper shower.
While writing this now, I am realizing how the hell did I become reliant on the Internet in 2014? I mean, sure, it existed that year. But it wasn’t as accessible and efficient as today. I am saying this because the next part of this story has something to do with being Internet dependent.
In the taxi, I was fascinated by how Lima looked like at night. It was so vibrant! I paid attention to every turn until we reached Facundo’s house. I haven’t been there before (or Lima for that matter) so I wasn’t sure if that was the address. All I had to do was to trust the driver. He was pretty nice anyway. I stood at the gate, realizing I don’t have any means of telling Facundo I’ve arrived. HOLY CRAP.
Should I go to a restaurant? Should I take a taxi and go to a cafe? How will I even know where to go if I don’t have Internet? I imagined all the money I would spend in the cafe and the taxi just to get Wifi. My Internet dependency is very infuriating! I felt very hopeless and started being sad with the fact that I know nothing without Google. It pissed me off because I was standing by the closed gate, doing nothing, desperate to be connected to the Internet.
I put my backpack on the floor and sat on it. Facundo knows how many hours my journey from Ecuador will be so I was wishing he’d magically go out of the house and check if I was outside.
It sounds like a scene from a chick flick but I literally jumped to hug him. I was sitting there for almost an hour not knowing what to do then Facundo appears from nowhere! Apparently, he just got back to his house from surfing. He wasn’t even there when I arrived so thank you waves for magically gracing the Lima seas with your presence. I am not sure if that’s something to be thankful for but I really was glad he wasn’t in yet when I arrived.
He let me into the gate. It was a row of apartments (huge and nice ones). We reached his apartment and man, it looked very cool. There were posters of music artists on the wall, guitars everywhere, surfboards stacked on the floor – it was an artist’s apartment.
I’d like to believe I am good at communicating with strangers. Starting a conversation is a walk in the park for me but Facundo is a bit quiet and shy. In this case, the best way to make him start talking is to look around and start a topic about his environment: music. Or surf maybe? Or dinner? I didn’t eat yet so maybe I’ll start talking about food.
Music it is! I don’t talk about it much but most of my close friends know how I am addicted to tunes. I’d always be the DJ whenever there’s a party and that applies to all my group of friends. Facundo likes punk and the punk kid of the ’90s in me was unleashed when he started talking. The Ataris, Yellowcard, Dashboard Confessionals – we spent a whole night talking about the rock ‘n roll of our childhood throughout the night.
We were sitting on his balcony filled with plants. He rolled a J and passed it on. I’ve been told that coke was easier to find in South America (especially in these areas) but I’ve been to Colombia and Ecuador for 6 months – I was not once offered cocaine. Not that I would take it. Chemical is not something I would take. When I was young, I was told that drugs will harm my brain and that I will never ever be able to write again if I took it. I grew up and learned that it didn’t happen for Paul Bowles or the Rolling Stones. They still wrote beautifully even with the drugs but I never ever bothered to try any chemical.
The greens are healthy. I stereotype surfers would always have it but I’m amazed at how infrequent I encountered cocaine in this region. I felt like all those notorious drug cartels in the movies are fake. I’ve only seen foreigners take it but not one local friend.
We smoked, played tunes we both know and sang to it for hours. We were jamming at the terrace imitating we had musical instruments in our hands, stroking invisible strings to the tune of what we were listening to. Music, as usual, brings people together most especially if it’s a shared genre.
“What time do you go to Paracas tomorrow?”
“It’s just an hour away. I can take it anytime.”
I was only staying with Facundo for a night because I didn’t want to bother a stranger to host me for days. I can always come back to Lima because I plan to stay in Paracas for months. I also planned to sleep in that night until he invited me to the beach early in the morning.
“Do you want to go with me to the beach tomorrow? I’m going to surf in the morning.”
*Gulp. I do know how to surf. I did it a lot back in the Philippines but we were never meant to be. Surfing and I did not like each other a lot. It probably had to do something with the surfer culture that I never understood.
You know when I mentioned that sometimes I am not in the mood for socializing? This is one of those “sometimes” but I felt compelled to because he was hosting me. He didn’t have a coercive tone. I felt like it was okay to pass but still, I said yes because I also want to see the beach culture in Lima.
We woke up early the next day and I remember I didn’t eat from the previous night. Facundo made some eggs for breakfast and I dug in without shame. After breakfast, we went to the beach by foot. Lima’s roads are very walkable I didn’t have a hard time keeping up with my surfer companion. The moment we arrived at the beach, everyone was greeting each other. Facundo was giving waves here and there while putting wax on his board.
“I’m going in. Are you going to be okay here?”
I waved him off and opened the cooler he brought. There were beers. Beers at 8 in the morning? Sure. Where I am from, you are automatically an alcoholic if you do this at this time of the day but in Peru, or Latin America in general, it’s a non-alcoholic beverage.
I looked around me and appreciated the life I am living at this age. I’ve been doing it a lot but it still was crazy exciting for me to stay in strangers’ houses. At first, it was to save on accommodations but as time passed, I have developed a thirst for it. Meeting different people every day was routine. Strangers filled me with so many knowledge and excitement I wouldn’t experience if I was not traveling.
My friends and family back home always asked me why I would randomly go to people I don’t know. I return to those moments when I stayed with a Colombian family in Barranquilla for three months, when I worked in a family hostel in Quito, when I did Couchsurfing with an Irish expat in Panama. I was received in more than 100 homes through the years I was traveling Latin America. I shared their food, I spoke their language, I listened to their music, I worshipped their Gods – these people have demonstrated to me the existence of immense goodness of humanity. That is something I am proud to have achieved in this lifetime.
I had to say goodbye to Facundo that day as I needed to go to Paracas for another volunteering gig. I never had a chance to see him again despite my frequent visits in Lima but I will always cherish that night I shared with Facundo. No matter how brief, I will never omit every single person who accepted me in their homes whilst traveling South America.