Hello and good day!
The last several days, I have been writing a series called from Columbus to Fortunato. My goal was to list the historical events that led to the founding of our company, going back about 550 years. I started with the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabelle, and I was working my way through the founding and conquering of the Americas by Spain.
However, I got some feedback that the series was getting a little dark, what with all the pillaging and killing. Unfortunately, you can’t go too far in human history without coming across violence and rather unsavory activities.
Several readers missed the more positive, folksy, everyday people emails that I usually send. So, in the name of doing what people want, I am going to take a break in the Columbus to Fortunato series for a couple of days.
To be honest, that is just fine by me. I’m in Peru now and I’ve been keeping my eyes and ears open and I am learning a lot.
We spent a good amount of time in Lima at the beginning of our trip. We don’t usually do that. Normally, we stay in the Lima airport and take a small domestic plane to our next destination. However, on this occasion, we stayed in a hotel and spent time driving around the big city.
I didn’t expect to like Lima as much as I did. I’m usually not a big city person. I love nature and the countryside. We live on a lake in a forest in Washington state.
But I’ll be darned if Lima didn’t win me over. In the nicer parts of Lima, for example in Miraflores or San Ysidro, I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen a lovelier city. Lima is a big place, with about 10 million residents. Many of the districts are very poor and dangerous and gritty. We drove through a few coming and going to and from the airport to our hotel.
Even in those rougher places though, where you see beat up old rectangular brick apartment buildings, with clothes lines on top of flat roofs for drying clothes, and litter in the street, and dogs everywhere, and police on every corner, there is a certain unique vibrance.
Here is my takeaway from Lima. Peruvians in general have excellent taste.
It is not a rich country in terms of GDP per capita. But in terms of people who know how to live and eat and talk and laugh and choose good music, Peru can’t be beat. In the nicer parts of Lima, there are gardens and beautifully designed and manicured parks all over the place.
In the center of one district was a park called “Olivar” which was filled with old olive trees as far as the eye could see. That’s it. That was the whole park. And olive trees are very attractive and stately trees, with their pale green leaves, and dark purple fruit.
To my mind, a people who would put a park filled with olive trees in the middle of their neighborhood, and approve public funds for the maintenance of it (there were about twenty gardeners working on the trees), has a very good sense of what it takes to make life pleasant.
There were too many good-looking restaurants and bakeries to keep track of. I went into a random bakery and ate a spectacular coconut macaroon. Out in front of that bakery was a clean, well-stocked, fruit cart. We bought a watermelon and the pleasant woman working the stand cut it into slices for us.
We stood in the street and ate watermelon from the fruit stand and chatted with the proprietor. She told us about her two daughters, one of whom is in college studying biochemistry to work in pharmaceuticals.
The sky was cloudy, and it was hot out. Neighbors walked by and said hi as they passed. We had watermelon juice dripping down our chins. All the houses and apartment buildings had gardens out front with gardeners watering and tending to them. There were sidewalk cafes all the way down the block.
In a Peruvian neighborhood where the people have money, the taste is exquisite. It isn’t pretentious. It is simple and delicious and calm and natural. I hope that wealth from these enclaves will continue to spread from the more affluent areas to the rest of the city. With resources, Peruvians have the taste to create truly unique neighborhoods.
All that being said, when I traveled out of the city and into the mountains where my wife is from, something dawned on me about the difference between cities and the countryside.
While cities can be fun and enchanting when they are put together well, nature is big and raw and powerful.
Nature is big. Human things are small.
Driving through the Andes, looking out on the rolling, round, green grassy hills, I reflected back on a mall that we visited while in Lima.
The mall was an engineering marvel. It is built up on a cliff that overlooks the beach and the Pacific Ocean. The cliff that the mall is built on is up about 500 feet. There is a walking path built on one side of the mall with a guardrail where you can stand and look out at the view.
From the platform you can also look down and see the sheer cliff descending strait down to a road far below. We were there at dusk, and we got to watch the sun go down. Off to the right, there was a huge island, with craggy ridges going up and down on the top of it. The orange sun was going down behind the island and the blue sky was being illuminated orange.
I looked back at the city behind us and it was covered in grey, overcast clouds, but over the ocean, the sky was blue. Off to the left, there was a peninsula running into the ocean that ended in a tall dirt, mountain.
The city had put all of the cell phone towers on top of the mountain. On the side of the mountain there were very poor shanty houses built on top of dirt. This mountain is called, “El Cono”, The Cone.
As an aside, the city of Lima has a soccer league in which all the districts of the city compete. El Cono has the best team even though it is by far the poorest district. In Lima, as in many other places in the world, athletics is a path out of poverty. The players living on The Cone play for their lives.
Anyhow, I was standing on this pathway looking out on the ocean, with the orange sun setting behind the island off to the right. The sky was blue, and orange and I followed the ocean out to the horizon with my eyes.
It struck me that humans can only ever see to the horizon. And the ocean is too big for the human mind to truly comprehend.
“How far does it go?” I asked myself “Too far to think about,” I responded.
Then I looked back at the mall. What had once seemed fun and a tremendous feat of engineering, now seemed small, and frankly trivial by comparison.
Commerce is a human thing. Malls are a human thing. Bakeries and fruit stands are what humans can do.
Only something much, much more powerful can bring the sea into existence. I remembered that thought driving through the Andes. Then it dawned on me that nature, being out in the country, makes you think about big, expansive, things.
Everything around is you is so big and goes out so far. And that is only what you can see. You know that beyond the horizon, the oceans and the mountains keep going and going.
It triggers a sense of awe and reverence that all the eating and sightseeing in the world just can’t match. That is my opinion anyhow.
As I write this, I am sitting in my father-in-law’s garden. From here, I can see a big hill. I asked earlier how tall it is. I was told that at its peak, it is 800 meters tall.
And it is a throwaway hill around here. There are so many hills and mountain ridges out here that this big old hill doesn’t stand out as interesting. But the biggest building in the United States is just 541 meters.
The biggest building in the world is 916 meters. T
here is a small mountain back where I live in Issaquah, WA where people hike. It peaks at 1,000 meters. Issaquah isn’t known for its mountains and yet we have a mountain bigger than the tallest building in the world outside our little town.
Mt. Rainier is 4,394 meters tall. The highest peak in the Andes is 6,768 meters. Mount Everest is 8,849 meters tall. And these mountains are vastly wide. Skyscrapers are skinny.
Here is what I have concluded.
If you want fun and relaxation and a light good time, go to a city. you want a reverential experience, if you want to be in awe, go to the country.
Thank you so much for your time today. I hope that you have a truly blessed day!
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