June 6 marked the 7th anniversary of the day I first stepped foot in Peru, and I am feeling nostalgic.
Peru is a country that has always surprised me, beginning with our first encounter. I had read in guidebooks before my arrival that Lima was a dirty, dangerous city that travelers were advised to skip in favor of the more beautiful regions of the country. As Lima was precisely the city that I had signed up to spend six months in, I was pretty intimidated.
But I loved Lima, and it quickly became not only my favorite city in Peru, but also one of my favorites in the world. And seven years later, I am still here.
One of the best parts of living in Lima for all this time has been the opportunity to see development take place in hyperdrive. Sure, when those guidebooks were written, even a year or two before my 2006 arrival, Peru’s capital may have been a much dirtier and more dangerous place. But the city is changing faster than the books can keep up.
In the seven years since I first arrived, I have seen Lima transform. I watched while Miraflores pumped money into its parks, making the Malecon one of the best places in the world to take a sunset walk. Campaigns to keep the city cleaner have been slowly making a dent in the amount of trash (and, therefore, the smell) on the streets.
Peru’s gastronomy has shot to fame, and the burgeoning fashion industry has set itself up to do the same.
Being able to see Shakira in concert in Lima back in 2006 felt like a huge deal, but now international superstars make regular visits.
Foreign investment has been pouring in, bringing more flights, jobs and even shops. Malls and real estate are popping up in places where poor security was too big of an obstacle only a few years ago, and all over the city, what were once abandoned, graffiti-covered buildings are now new apartments and clinics. I have stepped through many piles of dust while roads have been repaved and new businesses constructed.
Free trade agreements have been signed, and grocery store shelves have begun filling up with products from around the globe (seven years ago, I would have fainted in gleeful shock to find Bailey’s coffee creamer in the refrigerated aisle at Wong). Young people have taken up the movement to promote organic and eco-friendly products, and I have found it easier and easier to find (and afford) some of my own healthy staples, like whole wheat bread and pasta and brown rice.
Traffic in the capital is slowly becoming less chaotic (though, I admit, some of the attempts to reign in the pandemonium have felt like using a butterfly net to control a school of sharks). Seven years ago you couldn’t have paid me to get behind the wheel of a car, while today I often happily do just that. And now I am driving alongside an influx of Porsche Cayennes, BMW 6 series, Mercedes C-class and even the occasional Lexus, cars that I never saw when I first arrived in Peru.
And while public buses were once a transportation system used only by those willing to put their lives in danger, there is now not only an organized bus system, but also a public train that moves people around the city in record time.
Seven years ago, I become friends with some Starbucks employees who told me about how the American coffeehouse chain had taken a risk to enter Peru just a few years earlier because a culture of cafés and casual coffee drinking in public places didn’t exist. Now, not only can you find Starbucks spread out all over the country, but the coffee culture boom has also made way for dozens of small local shops to open up around the city, a trend that I have gladly invested in by feeding my own caffeine (and bubble tea) addiction.
Though my experience has been centered on Lima, I know that the rest of Peru is also in a state of rapid transformation. Poverty levels have taken steep drops, and the middle class is booming. More and more people are leaving behind the black market and becoming incorporated into the legal system, a once-difficult barrier to breach that has now become the norm.
I don’t deny that there are still problems. Corruption, violence, poverty and crime of all sorts still plague not only the capital but also the rest of the country.
But to see such tangible change in such a short period of time is encouraging. Lima, and all of Peru, still have a long way to go, but I am honored to be able to witness this whirlwind of growth that continues to surprise me, seven years later.