Between junior and senior year of college, I studied abroad in the rainforest of northeastern Australia. I spent four weeks living in an open-air cabin in the middle of the forest learning about and aiding local reforestation efforts…the experience of a lifetime. Afterwards, I spent six weeks traveling in parts of Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, my first stop being Sydney. Accompanied by five other students from my program, I spent my first night in the city participating in a pub crawl. The $35 fee covered a ride on the party bus (complete with disco ball), a drink or shot at seven different pubs, and a t-shirt! It sounded ideal to a 21-year-old who had been living a sober existence in the middle of the rainforest for the past month. Although I recall very little from this night, I am told that after the 5th stop, my friends found me sitting next to a tree alone outside one of our stops, crying. Apparently I drunkenly blubbered about how sad I was to be out of the forest. “The city, it’s so loud!” I slurred, “You can’t see any stars! The trees are growing out of the cement, not the earth! There are more buildings than animals! The ground is so hard!”
In recent years, for reasons such as this, I have written off drinking shots under any circumstances. Although lately I’ve found myself feeling those same sentiments. Along with many firsts (first time not working, first time living in a Spanish-speaking country, first marriage, etc.), this is my first time living in a city. I have always enjoyed going to cities to visit friends, tour museums, and experience a different culture, but living in one is different. I’m lucky to live across the street from a park the size of a city block. I frequently find myself getting as close as I can to the middle of it, closing my eyes and blocking out the sounds of the cars. I try to pretend I’m in the middle of the woods. Every other day I walk down to Lima’s beautiful coastline, sit in the well kept parks and imagine there is not a road behind me.
Fortunately, this past weekend, Charlie and I had two excellent opportunities to escape the city. I had been researching day trips and told my friend Gaby what I had found She suggested that instead, we go to a club about an hour outside the city. Her father is a member and with a signed letter of approval and our passports, we could spend the day. Club del Bosque turned out to be like a mountain resort. Everything was green! We arrived in the afternoon and started by taking a nap on the grass under a big shady tree. We had a late lunch, swam in the pool, then went on a short hike to a beautiful overlook. This being our first close-up look, we were surprised to see the mountains right outside of Lima so dry and barren of vegetation…especially as we were enjoying them from a beautifully green resort. The resort is in a riparian zone, fed by Rimac River which runs all the way to Lima. It felt like we were in a desert oasis. The trip was a wonderful escape. Thanks Gaby!
On Sunday, I arranged for us to take a four-hour boat tour around the Islas Palominos off the coast of Lima. Charlie and I have been wanting to check out activities we can take our visitors to do (eh-hem) and this turned out to be an excellent choice! The boat toured San Lorenzo Island, the second biggest island in the country, currently a Navy zone. Next we passed Fronton Island, also known as “prison island”, which housed the most dangerous criminals and terrorists in the country until is was bombed in 1986. We also viewed Cavinzas Island, a popular hang out for sea birds, who produce the treasured guano. Guano is bird excrement, used in making fertilizer and gunpowder. This is a highly sought after commodity imported by countries including France, Germany, and the United States. This particular island is protected heavily from fishing and other disturbances and mined every eight years for its “goods”.
When I was making arrangements for the tour, I read that swimming with sea lions was a possibility, but had no idea what I was getting into. As the boat approached Palominos Island, the guide told us it was a natural residence and refuge for more than 8,000 sea lions! As we got closer, the smell of guano became overpowering. Then we began to hear them…barking, roaring and screeching were thousands of sea lions covering the small island. The guide explained that the noises they make are their way of defending their territory, then gave us life jackets and told us to jump in.
Although Charlie was, of course, one of the first ones in the water, I was hesitant. Male South American sea lions weigh up to 770 pounds and their territorial noises felt uninviting. Initially, I used the excuse of taking pictures to avoid joining them, but Charlie talked me into it and as usual, I’m glad. I jumped into the freezing water to join my husband and the lions. The guide said that if we didn’t want them to touch us, we should move our legs around. Charlie stayed still in the water and one of them swam up against him. I’ve never kicked harder in my life but they were still swimming within five feet of me. Yikes! Due to much stricter rules, you would NEVER be able to do this in the States!