The Metropolitano in Lima is much more than just public transport – if you let it, it can carry you from dream to reality and vice versa. It is truly a bargain.
You set out walking towards the Metro station that is only a few blocks away from the heart of Miraflores. Beautiful people abound in Miraflores; the sound of heels clicking resounds as people go from cafes to restaurants to shops with smartly-attired canines. Lovely old couples dance in the main park amidst well-fed stray cats that stretch and preen.
Tourists saunter around staring at the world through the screens of phones and cameras. Verdant trees line the streets with leaves that flutter in the breezing that is blowing off of the Pacific. Luxury cars emerge from towering walls topped with electrified barbed-wire.
You stop for a coffee and overhear two American girls talking and staring at their phones.
“Ugh look at this guy – Pedro – he just superliked me. Uhhh BYE.”
“How are you even on Tinder right now? The WiFi here sucks. This site says that the Art Museum is cool.”
“Yeah, but it isn’t here on the list of the top five things to do in Lima.”
A few stops away and you enter reality. As you step off the train people look at you strangely; you can tell that you are out of place. A few of them will stop to tell you that you will be robbed. Most people hurry about with their purses or backpacks clutched to the front of their bodies. Trash blows around on the greasy streets or lies heaped in piles. You try your best to keep your wits about you, while at the same time avoiding tripping on any crumbling sections of sidewalk or inexplicable gaping holes. The people whose office or shop is the street look out at you from weary eyes set in faces that appear to have long ago tired of this place. The sidewalk and road are used as shops with cars, bicycles, televisions, and appliances in various states of disassembly or repair strewn about. You have to step over mangy dogs and parts as you walk. The air is filled alternatingly with smells of frying food, urine, truck exhaust, and trash rotting in the sun. Reggaeton blasts out of cars and stereos as bottles of beer are passed around. When you ask for something specific you are told, “Hay de todo” and then are told where it can be found.
You sit on a bench eating popcorn and watch the world go by. You reflect upon your life. How are the hands that some people are dealt so different from those of others? How nice are the bed time stories that we are told about equal opportunity, fairness, and justice that let us fall gently back into our dream. An elderly lady frying dough hands gifts you a heaping plate smothered in honey saying that she wants you to have nice memories from Peru. You think about how the current president of Peru, under threat of impeachment for receiving bribes in order to steer a contract to a Brazilian construction company, just brokered a deal to pardon a former president of the opposition party that was convicted of “serious crimes against humanity” in order to avoid being removed from office. The former president oversaw death squads that killed thousands of indigenous people in horrific ways and directed the forced sterilization of over 300,000 women. He was just released.
You have dinner later with friends. The topic of Peru’s independence from Spain comes up. You say the following:
“I am pretty sure, like most independence movements, it was powerful people looking to get more power, control, and wealth for themselves. The revolution happens, but the same power structures stay in place. I imagine the people of Spanish descent continued to control the land and wealth of the nation, but they simply no longer had to pay taxes to Spain. But not much changed for the poor or indigenous people. That is how the revolution happened in the United States as well.”
A very well-educated and clearly wealthy Peruvian girl responds in perfect English:
“That is not how it happened here in Peru. It was for the benefit of all Peruvians since we don’t have racial groups or classes like that here – we are all of mixed descent.”
She looks nothing like the people without electricity or running water in the mountains. You don’t say anything because you don’t want to make a scene in front of a group of people that you have just met.
You are a gringo.