seeing south america : lima

Winter Break 2016 saw me go to South America, to explore a continent I had never been to and to interact with a metaculture that I had just started to become familiar with. The first portion of this trip was in Peru, and we’ll start with Lima. Let’s just say that quickly into the trip I learnt I can’t travel in South America the way I’ve been familiar with so far – I was about to be schooled.

Lima

Lima is the capital of Peru. When I talk to other SA travellers a lot of them mention how less alluring of an option the city is compared to other Peruvian wonders, but I’ve come to disagree. Lima has a rich past and a promising future, and that energy is something different that can be tapped into when you walk the streets. Historically, Lima also was a huge strategic city for the Spanish Conquistadors, who play an important role in most of my trip, and a good entry point to understanding Peru and other parts of SA. Lima is a lot more of a collective of districts, rather than one big city, and exploring these districts provide a lot of diversity and wholesomeness to the traveler’s understanding of Lima.barranco

One of the more iconic districts is Barranco. Located in the south-eastern part of Lima, this district is known as the Bohemian District and has played host to the inspiration of many Peruvian creatives and intellectuals. Its colourful baroque buildings stand out and encourage you to consider indulging in your own creative moment. There are many beautiful graffiti pieces and architectural sights to look at as you walk through this district.

bridge

One of the more iconic parts of the district is the Bridge of Sighs – a beautiful wooden bridge that overlooks a deep ravine (Bajada de los Baños) and puts you in the heart of what Barranco is. Come here for some cool views.centrohistorice

If you want to see the historical (Spanish) part of the city, you have to take a 20 minute drive up away from Miraflores to the Centro area, which is essentially downtown Lima. Here you’ll find the Plaza de Armas, which is the main city centre for most Spanish cities, and a lot of beautiful Spanish buildings. Almost every Plaza I’ve seen has a Palace and a Cathedral almost assured, and the Spanish don’t hold back on the beauty of these structures.

miraflores

Of course, Miraflores is where most tourists go to in Lima, and that’s because of the beaches, backdropped by tall cliffs and sights of the district behind you. I was lucky enough to be brought to a private beach which had sand on it, but some of the public access beaches are rock beaches so take your pick. There are also some pretty sweet spots amongst the cliffs if you look online for you to catch the sunset. They call some of these ‘Lovers Area’ because of the obvious connotation but the sunsets from Lima are amazing so you should go there even if you’re by yourself. ceviche

Onto food. You’ll hear it again and again. Lima is the culinary capital of the Americas. There’s not only direct access to a rich diversity of ingredients here, there are unique flavour profiles and cooking methods that really push the boundaries of good food. One of the things you must try is Ceviche – cured fish (or other seafood) with lime zest and spiced with aji, a Peruvian take on chilli. If you like sushi or sashimi, ceviche isn’t that far off, and Canta Rana in Barranco comes highly recommended for its local focus, so no touristy overpricing, and community vibes.

maido

If you want to Fine Dining anywhere in South America, you have a number of options. Don’t let Lima slip away. Maido is an amazing Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant that offers stunningly exquisite dishes. If you want to try the kitchen’s best, go for the Nikkei Experience, a multi-course menu that takes you on a journey of Peruvian ingredients. My favorite was this reduction of a shrimp based broth over spices and herbs from the Peruvian jungle. It was eventually served a baked cod belly, and was absolutely mind blowing.

luquma

And don’t do yourself a disservice by not trying the fruits. Luquma is a sweet and addictive fruit that is served best when mixed with milk (so ice creams or yoghurts) and is readily available. This picture is also from Maido and shows a Luquma ice cream in a chocolate shell and served with milk foam.

Here are some general travel tips for Lima:

Location to stay in: Miraflores and Barranco are your go-tos. Miraflores if you want access to the beaches, Barranco for the beautiful bohemian district and bars. I stayed in a hostel called Family Backpackers Club. It’s a pretty no-frills and reliable hostel (6.5/10 from me) but don’t expect to leave feeling anything special about the place.

SIM Cards/ Data: Avoid getting a SIM Card in the airport. It’s overpriced and not worth it. Go into the city centre and get one for 10 soles (~ 3 USD) and add money to your account and purchase a data plan for around 25 soles (~8 USD). That should set you up for at least a week.

ATMs: Don’t be tricked into using any regular ATMs. Peru has ATMs that don’t charge local withdrawal fees like Scotiabank and a number of others. Save up to 8 USD per transaction by using these

Transport: Uber is available and super cheap in Lima. Try to use it wherever you go and avoid getting your directions misinterpreted.

Crime: Not as present. I’m sure there’ll be regular pickpocketing if you don’t keep your wits about you, but I didn’t feel unsafe in Lima at all.

elna

I have to thank Elna for showing my around this beautiful city and telling me about what it has to offer. She was also such an amazing person in providing me tips around Peru in general and bringing me to some local haunts. People like Elna are hard to come by. Thank you!

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In the next post, I’ll cover Nasca and Cusco so look out for that! Till then,

hooah.

 

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reflecting sunior year

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I think it’s safe to say this year has seen me develop myself. Doing a 3 year program means that I’m cramming two years of experiences into one, alongside pursuing my passions and maintaining that tricky 3.8 GPA. Sometimes I’ve asked myself if I’m cheating myself of a proper undergraduate experience by giving up the fourth year to pursue a Master’s instead, but looking back at what I’ve done, I think I’ve done as much as I could to have the best damn time.

Freshman year was all about finding my place in this school; about finding my families and friends. This year was about finding my purpose. I naturally got drawn to work on communities, to see how to build them and make them more cohesive. My experience with The Hidden Good had exposed me to the power of community activism, and I was excited to get back into the fray of finding ways to improve the way some of our communities function. My work on IFC saw me vastly transform the notion of community and how we need to educate ourselves on topics related to it. Mayfest allowed me to be part of one of the biggest community building events of the year.  ISO gave me the platform to set the stage right for the international community as they entered into Northwestern. And there’s so much more – either in the works or under wraps – that I’ve been found myself working on, that I truly feel like I’ve identified my purpose on this campus.

The concept of purpose is a complex one. Most would identify purpose as a milestone i.e. my goal is to become a lawyer. In college, that’s all too common. Many are here to strive for the degree, and eventually get a job. But purpose in that form does very little for the soul. The soul is an engine, full of fiery powers that connect to adrenaline, lust and happiness among others.  Purpose is the fuel. Good fuel is purpose identified as a state of being i.e. my purpose is to build communities.  With that, there’s always some new way to achieve the purpose even as multiple milestones are hit. It’s also more connected to your daily habits and ultimately, your values and principles, effectively molding you into a better person. This past year helped me realize that.

I think this year also saw me vastly reconsider how I approach friendships. While I love meeting people and growing my circle, I’ve found myself developing multiple core friend groups that I’ve just wanted to stay strong and secure in. I’ve made an effort to appreciate the people in my life, and I’ve felt the love back. Through the work I’ve done talking to seniors and alumni, what I’ve learnt is that keeping those core groups precious is extremely important, because those are the people you’ll want to remember past college.

One of my few grievances of the past year has to be with how little I’ve seen my family and how much of a crucial year I’ve missed. My siblings are going through transformational stages of their lives and I’m limited to how much I can be a big brother to them because of distance and time. More than once now, I’ve not been able to make it to family gatherings around the world simply because of logistical frustrations. It’s difficult, seeing friends who are from the US, constantly go for dinners with their families, when I know I have wait a whole year before I can experience that.

My biggest joy for the year past though, is how much I’ve developed my photography skills. I started photography as a hobby to complement the videography I wanted to do for The Hidden Good. Yet, over time, I learnt I had a natural eye for settings and also a tendency to put myself in dangerous but prime positions for amazing shots.  I loved being able to capture a mix of emotion and reality in a single frame, and translate that into beauty that I could reflect on. I’ve gone out on multiple projects just to keep the trigger finger happy, but every time I’ve completely enjoyed being a witness to the world around us.

So much has happened this past year. And yet there’s so much more I want to do. Senior year is next. And you know I’m not going to let it rest.

hooah.

 

 

Chicago Baby! – My Crazy Travels

I’m Back! It’s a bittersweet feeling back after being away for so long. I love the adventure and novelty of being overseas , yet I’m always attached to the things I hold dear. At the end of the day, I still care about Singapore dearly.

From Mid- December to End December,  I visited the United States for various reasons – mainly to visit Northwestern University and have a good post-ORD holiday. It’s also very likely the last family holiday my family has in a while because my brother is starting his A Levels next year and I’ll be matriculating in September.

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One of the  biggest things I was looking forward to was finally seeing snow  – I was going in the winter and the weather forecasts were promising chilly winds in Chicago. I don’t know what was wrong with me but I was actually excited for this. Worst Thing to Look Forward to but more about that later.

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When snow first started dropping, my heart jumped out. We were going to be spending Christmas in New York later and I was really looking forward to a White Christmas (it didn’t play out …) . Snow is  cool, because it’s so delicate and just flutters around. It’s not like rain which just punches through your skin, snow is actually beautiful. You can also observe really interesting designs on snowflakes. But with great wonder comes its fair share of difficulties. 40% of our luggage to the US was actually Winter Clothes. My family adopted the philosophy that since we have never been to a winter climate as a family before we better overprepare rather than underprepare. Ya, we had like 10 luggages guys.

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That’s me rocking the winter gear. Nothing much there.2013-12-16 20.39.27

One reason why I was really looking forward to coming to Chicago is the fact that this was a monumental city. Famous people did amazing things here – and the first skyscraper was built in Chicago as well. I’m an architecture fanboy when it comes to beautiful buildings. I find it delightful how people craft things out of thin air – and I imagine the tireless effort it took to construct such things. Chicago is also where a lot of famous actors like David Schwimmer made their break.When I was in Italian Village, a really good authentic Italian restaurant, I saw them showing off all  the famous people that had come there, including James Gandolfini, Rahm Emmanuel and Jerry Seinfeld. Wow right?

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The cityscape was just breath-taking to wake up  to each morning. It was almost like you’re an ant, crawling amongst giant buildings.

Ok now onto the important stuff : Food. Everyone  has asked me what’s the must-eats in Chicago. First thing first : The Chicago Dog. Now American hot-dogs are nothing crazy by themselves – it’s like our version of the curry puff, a cheap accessible snack.  What’s really good about the Chicago dog is the variety of flavours on it : there’s a dill pickle, a tomato, relish, mustard, ketchup and my favourite : a pepper. It’s easy to find it in any public location .  I didn’t really enjoy it too much – it was an interesting concoction but beyond that I missed a good regular hotdog with good relish.

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Of course, when you think of America, you think of burgers as well. I didn’t try many burgers while in the US (which I regret , but there was really too much to try) but I did try the burgers from Five Guys which is a chain here. They really grill their burgers well and the meat is fresh. Oh man, I loved this burger. Been craving a good burger since.

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What’s Chicago without the deep-dish pizza eh?  The pizza is basically a pie where the bottom is a huge layer of dough and cheese. I personally liked the BBQ Chicken Pizza , but my family said the Meatball was better. I’m weird. We ate ours at Giordano’s which is apparently the best pies, but there are reputably better ones with better crusts / flavours. I’ll be studying here for the next four years so I’ll give my review then 😛

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Now when I hit Chicago, there was one place I wanted to go the most. Harry Caray’s Steakhouse. It’s reputably the best steakhouse in town.  I had a 12oz Dry Aged Steak – which was pure heaven. The steakhouse is a real chill place with all sorts of memorabilia. There’s also Morton’s in the US for those who want to try those , but I was insistent on the local favourite.

We visited the Sears towers (now the Willis Towers) to check  out the view . I wasn’t disappointed. The Willis Towers was the tallest building in the World for some time, especially since it was intentional to show the prowess of Chicago after the great Chicago fire which wiped off the whole downtown of the city. Now if that’s not a comeback story to inspire you,  I don’t know what is. Hearing the determination of the people behind the tower, I felt compelled to dig in deep when I felt exhausted by my own worries. There’s big things waiting.

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Of course, I took a trip to the main reason behind the whole trip. We went uptown to Evanston where the winds are colder and the houses are beautiful to visit Northwestern University. I could say a lot about my college – but I’ll only say this. I can’t wait to go in. REALLY!

There are plenty of cool things to visit in Chicago itself . I loved the Bean which is the ultimate selfie prop. It’s a huge reflective art-piece where you can see yourself and everything around you. I like how you feel like you’re staring into an abyss at certain angles. A friend of mine challenged me to try taking a picture without anyone else inside  – that’s pretty hard. You guys should try it yourselves.

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The Field Museum is a must visit. I actually enjoyed this museum – it was grand, and had artifacts that were actually interesting. SUE is the star of the show though – most of the bones in the skeleton are from actual excavation. It’s very grand and reminds you that you’re very small.

My dad got super excited to visit Moody Bible Institute as well – started by DL Moody , one of the biggest Christian Educators in the world who has inspired so many people to take up the cross and grow deep in the word. Inspiring people make big differences in turning points of our lives.

The Art Institute of Chicago was swanky as well – it was HUGE, I gave up after 20%. But the artifacts and paintings that I did see – oh wow. Below is one of the exhibits in the room of miniatures where the artist organised the construction of finely detailed miniatures. My trip to the US surprisingly grew my appreciation of the finer things like art, theatre and music.

The Navy Pier is a to-go in the summer. Unfortunately in the Winter, it was closed and looked pretty dreary. Damnit.

In addition to shopping, eating and visiting the sights – Chicago is simply a beautiful place to visit. The Winter is killer but truly a sight. I met Laura in NY and she showed me some of the same pictures I took but in Summer and it’s a whole nother set of sights on its own. I”m looking forward to coming here soon – will be posting my travelogues on NY and Vietnam soon!

Till then,

Geronimo