I’m sure it’s just me, but I get the sense that Peruvians really like to partition their map into smaller and smaller divisions. With a similar population to Canada, but within a much smaller land mass, Peru begins by dividing the map into Departamentos (which by the way is also the word they use to describe an apartment that one lives in), or what we call Provinces. The Provincias are then broken down into Distritos, which are in turn subdivided in to Comunidades, not to be confused with the actual towns and cities.
I get that everyone has their own way of organizing the books on their bookcase, but it makes for a very convoluted bureaucracy, with multiple, overlapping levels of government, all within a relatively small geographical region. I gather that the geography in combination with the largely rural nature of much of the country, and poor roads, are primarily responsible for this, and even though, those modes of communication have improved greatly it still remains that the greater the physical barriers the more likely that the various regions will develop autonomously and the resistance to remain so, is likely very strong. I was told that one such Departamento has over thirty smaller Provincias.
Then we move into Lima. Did I mention that it’s a huge city? I believe I did. First, you have to get a handle on the use of the different words used to describe the various levels of municipal divisions, then it takes a while to incorporate the names of the different areas into the vocabulary and finally, it’s a question of visualizing them on a map, to get a better sense of where you are and where you need to go.
What we in Toronto or New York City call boroughs, they call districts, however, they are administratively completely separate from each other, right down to police and fire services and even each district has smaller divisions which are vestiges of what were once colonial Spanish “fincas” or estates. The current count puts the number of autonomous Districts within the Greater Lima at over fifty.
Something I find really neat, although I don’t know that it makes finding an address any easier, is that each city block is numbered, so that if you provide your address as say 456 Avenida Grau, everyone knows that you live on the fourth city block of that street. Question then becomes, starting where. Is it always from a major street, but what if there’s a major street at either end? Or is it away from el Rio Rimac, where the old historic Lima is situated, or is away from the coastline? What about the compass rose, does that come in to play?
The answer is that there is absolutely no consistency. In fact if a street runs through several Districts the numbering begins a new each time, in one example coming from one end and the other, the opposite end. What this means is that it’s not good enough to provide the street name and number, but that you have to give the District Name. To top it off, as the city expands, people squat on surrounding lands and the streets have no names. There’s a song title in there somewhere! We had to visit several such locations but fortunately either the Taxi Driver or Annie, knew where we were going.
My home base, while in Lima, has been Miraflores and between me and the CUSO offices, which are up the coast in Magdalena del Mar, I have to cross through San Isidro, the patron saint of Spain. Heading down the coast is Barranco, and heading inland to the historic centre of Lima, I need to cross through Jesus Maria, and just in case you’re wondering that’s not what you yell at the woman that just stepped on your foot.
I spent a wonderful day on Good Friday with Annie, Jorge and Javier, getting a personal tour of the historic centre of Lima, which we started by having a Pisco Sour at the Gran Hotel Bolivar. Originally built as a luxury hotel for visiting royalty, heads of state and famous celebrities, the hotel is a beautiful example of the grandeur that befits it’s intended purpose. Pisco, by the way, is a fortified wine derived from white grapes and is served in combination with every type of fruit juice imaginable. What that means is that you could have a different Pisco Sour each day of the week for a month and never have the same one twice. We only had four all day.
My day ended on the rooftop patio of a CUSO volunteer that lives in Barranco, who had invited some friends over, before heading out to a dance club. You meet the most interesting people where you least expect it. I spent a good hour talking to three young woman in their early twenties, from Germany, who had attended school together, where they had completed studies in Graphic Design. The way I understood it, it’s encouraged that before starting work, students travel abroad to get a better understanding of the world around them, only that abroad might mean within Europe.
They, however, decided to take it more seriously and traveled to Tierra del Fuego, on the southern tip of Argentina, and are hitchhiking their way up the length of the American continent and couch surfing along the way. The plan is to continue through Central America, up the west coast of the U.S. and then into Canada. They weren’t clear on whether they would visit anywhere in eastern Canada, but I left them my business card and made a pitch for visiting Toronto. One of the woman said her parents fully expected her to meet with an unfortunate death along the way. You’re probably asking yourself how we communicated, and that’s where languages come in really handy.
Join me by raising your Pisco Sour to wish these three gutsy young woman safe travels and much adventure along the way.