Commentary: What’s It All About, Lima?

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Lima is on the Pacific coast—and the views are spectacular. Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

BROOKLYN, NY. As I sit in a little-too-trendy coffee shop on Atlantic Avenue, with Taylor Swift blaring and people, walking, running, biking and driving (rationally), my thoughts turn for a moment to Lima, Peru. Having not so long ago returned from a week covering the 2019 Pan American Games, now seemed as good a time as any to put an exclamation point on what was a memorable experience.

If you’ve never been to Lima—and, let’s face it, how many of the tourists who flock to Peru for Machu Picchu take in the sights of the country’s vast capital—first, learn Spanish. I am not kidding. Very few people in this city of 10 million inhabitants knows English, and, why should they? Those American tourist dollars typically go outside the city.

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Catholic icons are everywhere. Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

As my luck—or cavalier foolhardiness—would have it, many of the folks at the Villa María del Triunfo Athletics Complex were incredibly helpful, and I give them full credit for my coverage of men’s and women’s water polo at Pan Ams. One particularly helpful individual was Luis Enrique Olaya Ravenna, a journalist covering activities at the pool for Panam Sports. Luis not only gave me a quick lesson about Peru’s history under former president Alberto Fujimori, he was invaluable in translating for the many coaches and athletes who spoke no English.

Luis also produced a compelling interview with Gilberto Caceres, head coach for the Venezuelan women’s team; it was a moving due to the palpable emotions Caceres exhibited about his country and his sport.

[On The Record with Gilberto Caceres, Director, National Water Polo Federation of Venezuela]

There were so many staff at the venue who were incredibly gracious with media arrangements, and—when I couldn’t link up with Uber drivers who spoke no English—sent volunteers out with me to hail a cab.

Then there were the coaches and players from teams from the Southern Hemisphere, most notably Augusto Otero and Nizerrat Gauthier-Asmat, players from the Peruvian men’s and women’s teams. It was inspirational to speak with them and see the sport through their eyes—especially from Nizerrat’s perspective, who is 15 years old and is excited about the sport’s future in her country. With a fantastic new aquatics facility in Lima’s Cono Sur district and the leadership of Prime Minister Salvador del Solar—who captained the country’s national team in the 80’s—there’s a real possibility that polo in Peru takes a great leap forward between now and the next Pan American Games, in Santiago, Chile in 2023.

Not just water polo after all

Much as I wanted to stay focused on the sport in the pool, I could not be oblivious to my surroundings. Getting around Lima was possible because Uber truly works everywhere. Once I got into the rhythm of daily traffic, it was possible to make the trip from the Milaflores district I was staying in to the Villa María del Triunfo area in about 20 minutes.

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Alternate feed does work… usually… Photo Courtesy: Greg Mescall

The traffic could be totally crazy; there were highways, dirt roads, winding alleys, etc. The Uber guys would confidently navigate a chaotic sea of cars; what amazed me is that (mostly) everyone respected the alternate flow of traffic. Once, when this did NOT happened, the traffic snarled and we moved one block in 30 minutes—a sign of just how bad things could get. Except it didn’t (I don’t think New Yorkers would be so considerate…).

Parts of the city were quite fashionable, but the area where the pool was located is desperately poor. Sadly, I didn’t think it wise to walk around (even though there was a direct train line from where I was staying that would have gotten me within a 10-minute walk of the pool). The downtown area was lovely, and you cannot beat the ocean views, which were spectacular. Still, I was left with a sense of a bifurcated city; affluent in some parts and desperately poor in others.

What’s it all about, anyway?

For a sports tourist—I mean, that’s a big part of what I do—Lima was eye-opening. I’ve been to other parts of the world similar to what I encountered; what made this trip different is the high level of support available that made it possible to comfortably take in a massive metropolis.

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Inca history preserved in a kola

I would therefore say that the 2019 Pan Ams were a shining successful. Not in the number of medals awarded or the level of competition—that was certainly not the case in water polo play. But, in creating a great atmosphere for athletics, and bringing together teams from all over the hemisphere, the Games could not have been more better. That, and the residue—the shared athletic experiences, the venues built and the logistical accomplishment; Peruvians should be extremely proud of what they have wrought.

2 comments

  1. avatar
    JVW

    Lima is indeed a magnificent city: great museums, beautiful boulevards, excellent food, fantastic pisco drinks, and friendly people. As you note, it would be a shame to travel to Machu Picchu and Cusco without having spent a couple of days in the wonderful capital city.

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Hi:

      Thank you for your comments. Sadly, I did NOT get to partake in much of the life of the city b/c I was so focused on what I was covering (and that was disappointing).

      I appreciate your perspective; I saw so much good in what I did get to experience, and (I hope!) my experience with so many great people are what made the trip enjoyable (and, frankly, possible).

      Your correspondent