Peru, Part 2: Gatos in Gardens, Drowsy Dogs in Doorways

This is Part 2 of my series on Peru. For Part 1, click here. Enjoy! – Sarah

As we made our way into Lima, where we spent the first two nights in Peru, Sara pointed out to me that there were several cats loitering in a park we passed.

“We have to find that park,” she said, in true cat lover fashion. I’m a dog person, so I understand loving animals. But I like cats the way cats like people: very discriminately. And I’m wary of strays of any kind, especially in large groups. Sara and I were nearly mauled by a pack of wild dogs in Costa Rica three years ago, so I think I’ve earned that wariness. But this is all fodder for different posts. Since it was dark and we drove for a while to get to our hotel after passing the park, I didn’t think we’d come anywhere near the cats.

The next day, we had a morning tour of the city: saw a cathedral with catacombs*, went to the square near the president’s house (Lima is the capitol of Peru), and visited a few other historical sites, including ruins that only recently have been excavated. They left most of what they uncovered as they found it, but restored part so visitors can see what the ruins looked like in their heyday. We had the afternoon free before we met for a pre-dinner de-briefing and meet-and-greet.

These were the first ruins we saw, right in the middle of Lima. The line between restored and untouched is just to the left of the tree.

These were the first ruins we saw, right in the middle of Lima. The line between restored and untouched is just to the left of the tree.

Convento de San Francisco, Lima, Peru. Museo y Catacombs (Museum and Catacombs)

Convento de San Francisco, Lima, Peru. Museo y Catacombs (Museum and Catacombs)

Bird bath in the square. I just loved the energy of this shot.

Bird bath in the square. I just loved the energy of this shot.

Lima is at sea level on the western coast of Peru, so Sara and I decided to walk along the waterfront and (I hoped) stick our feet in the Pacific Ocean. One thing I’ve really missed living in Minnesota is the ocean. We couldn’t figure out how to get down to the actual beach, so we stopped for empanadas at a little shop near Lover’s Park, then looped around a lighthouse before heading to a market in the opposite direction of the ocean. We popped down a side street and saw a little plaza no bigger than the infield of a baseball diamond.** It was covered in cats. Covered. In. Cats.

Pacific Ocean, Lima, Peru.

Pacific Ocean, Lima, Peru. So close and yet so far.

Sara and I in Lovers Park. We do love each other, but not romantically.

Sara and I in Lovers Park. We do love each other, but not romantically.

Or maybe we do? Sara, being seductive.

Or maybe we do? Sara, being seductive.

The neighborhood of Lima where we stayed was called Miraflores or "Look at the flowers."

The neighborhood of Lima where we stayed was called Miraflores or “Look at the flowers.”

“This is my heaven!” Sara squealed*** before stalking each cat in turn.

This is my nightmare! I thought before avoiding each cat in turn. I counted 18 and then I stopped counting.

But I did manage to snap a few photos of Sara in total bliss, so it was worth the risk of fleas and/or mange. We found out later that people know they can bring cats to the park to offer them up for adoption****, and park patrons know that any cats are “free to a good home.” ***** The cats did seem very docile, mostly sleeping curled up in little balls all over the lawn. I didn’t even see any play or interaction of any kind between cats, let alone hissing or fighting.****** I barely managed to pry Sara from the plaza before we crossed into a larger, cat-infested conducive park, the same one we had passed on our way in the city.

Sara, looking happier than I think I've ever seen her.

Sara, looking happier than I think I’ve ever seen her.

I also touched a cat, one that Sara named "Oscar" and later stalked. It was okay.

I also touched a cat, one that Sara named “Oscar” and later stalked. It was okay.

I named this cat Squinty, for obvious reasons. I think it's also obvious why I was less than thrilled about touching these cats. I'm pretty sure Squinty had a weeping infection and would kill me in my sleep.

I named this cat Squinty, for obvious reasons. I think it’s also obvious why I was less than thrilled about touching these cats. I’m pretty sure Squinty had a weeping infection on his hindquarters and would kill me in my sleep.

I let this cat walk over my lap. See? I can be tolerant.

I let this cat walk over my lap. See? I can be tolerant.

“I’m just going to keep walking,” I said after Sara kneeled and squealed over a calico lounging near a garbage can. “You can catch up.” After wandering around, finding the market, spotting a ninja*******, and passing through the cat park again, we headed back for our meet-n-greet and further information about the trip.

It was really interesting to meet everyone. There were a few couples our age (or younger), one of which had been on three trips with the same travel agency, Gate 1, prior to this one. There were a pair of law students celebrating passing the bar before starting new jobs, a mother/daughter pair, and two sets of friends, one foursome from Texas and one fivesome from Florida, who were my parents’ age. The foursome were originally from Taiwan, and the fivesome were from India. There was a couple from New York, another from California (where the law grads were also from), and a couple from Canada. Sara and I were the only Midwesterners. It was really fun hearing everyone’s stories.

The best part, though, was: Jesus was our guide. I mean, his name was Jesus (pronounced Hey-seuss), but I took that as a good omen. We got our first taste of pisco sours (a local drink), and Jesus gave us a really good suggestion for dinner, a place called Panchita, which did not disappoint, despite the fact that the power went out shortly after we ordered. Their appetizers were amazing and the two entrees we had were delicious, even in the pitch dark. Our waiter asked me where I was from, and when I told him “Wisconsin” he looked at me funny, so I said “Estados Unidos.”

“Oh, I thought you were European,” he said. “Americans are always screaming at each other.”********

The next day we put our bags outside our hotel rooms for pick-up because we flew to Cuzco and then bussed to Urubamba and the Sacred Valley. It was really fun to see more of the Peruvian countryside: farmers plowing their fields, women carrying large sacks full of potatoes (native to Peru, we learned) or alpaca sweaters or corn, the kernels of which were the size of my big toenail. We saw a weaving demonstration and a ceramic demonstration along the way, which I’ll describe more of later, and made it to our first big ruins, Ollantaytambo. It was breathtaking–literally: the altitude made it much harder to climb anything. But it was also amazing to think of the Incas carving and moving all the stones hundreds of years ago. It was a nice precursor to Machu Picchu.

Sites from the bus.

Sites from the bus.

First rest stop on the bus ride. Yes, the sky was that blue.

First rest stop on the bus ride. Yes, the sky was that blue.

Alpaca yarn from the weaving demonstration. All natural dyes.

Alpaca yarn from the weaving demonstration. All natural dyes.

First ruins to climb: Ollantaytambo. It's almost 9,200 feet in elevation.

First ruins to climb: Ollantaytambo. It’s almost 9,200 feet in elevation.

Can you see the profile of a man's face (facing left) in this rock?

Can you see the profile of a man’s face (facing left) in this rock?

Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo.

Ceramics demonstration.

Ceramics demonstration. That is Jesus on the left.

We ended the evening with a pisco sour demonstration and dinner (with pan flute music). Let me tell you, “El Condor Pasa” never sounded so haunting. Speaking of haunting, if cats were the pet of choice in Lima, dogs reigned supreme in Peru at-large. They slept in dusty streets and skulked through alleyways. But mostly they drowsed in doorways, dreaming of guinea pigs, no doubt. But that’s for next week…

This was a shot from a market in Lima.

This was a shot from a market in Lima.

This is one of my favorite shots from the trip, taken in a square in front of the president's residence. I've titled it "Guard Dog or Dog Guards?"

This is one of my favorite shots from the trip, taken in a square in front of the president’s residence. I’ve titled it “Guard Dog or Dog Guards?”

*It was basically bins of bones stacked up like silverware behind what appeared to be sneeze guards, like in a salad bar. I could have reached down in the space between the glass and the side of the bins and taken–or at least touched–the bones. I did not.

**It is still baseball season, so I’m trying to relate and be seasonal.

***Or as much as Sara squeals.

****I didn’t see any adoption papers, nor was anyone conducting background checks on the people. The cats did seem really docile, they just slept curled up in little furry balls, but I think they knew they were on display for adoption. They were too well-behaved, if you know what I mean. I’m guessing shortly after you would take them home the crazy would come out.

*****Or any home. But in all seriousness, if you like cats, this would be your heaven. They were mostly healthy-looking, beautiful, soft cats that seemed really sweet and affectionate.

******I guess cat fights are a myth, huh?

*******This guy popped his head up from a guard tower and I swear he looked like he was wearing stereotypical ninja gear: black face mask, black clothes, hair up in a top knot…he ducked down before Sara saw but popped it back up again. Unfortunately, by the time I took a picture he was wearing regular guard clothes (jacket, button down, etc.). I guess he was just cold? It was their winter while we were there, after all.

********Um, thanks? And sorry!

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  1. Peru, Part 3: I Ate The Whole (Guinea) Pig!* | Sarah in Small Doses - September 12, 2014

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