LIMA

I opened my eyes and looked up towards where I knew the ceiling would be. It wasn't there. "Ah," I thought, now begining to regain the senses and alertness of a person who is awake. It's dark, too dark to see anything, in fact. I don't feel tired, but the darkness must mean that it's still only the milkman hours of the morning. Now, adding hearing to my collection of waking faculties, I realise that the rumbling drone of cars outside is not akin to that of early morning. I swing my hand outward from my side toward the table and, fumbling through the mess which must exist on top, I lift my watch. It has a built in light that allows me to see that it's eleven thirty. I feel as if I've had more than two hours sleep and now I'm thinking along the right line.

As I start to shuffle about, I hear Brad start to stir, and with a heavy Ozzie accent with Monty Python undertones, he hits me with a "buenas dias" (or "good morning"). More like "Bway-nose-dizziness"!

Our room has the strong musty odour that you would expect of a room without any ventilation. The only saving grace from our feeling claustrophobic was the somewhat battered door in the far corner. There was no light in our room and when the door was closed you could simulate nighttime at any time, the sleepers paradise. We opened the door and sat on our beds talking of our coming afternoon. We studied the multi-lingual graffiti scribbled on the wall that gave the room its only colour. It almost seemed as if the patches of peeling and faded paint, leftovers of once painted walls, were the only real pieces of vandalism. The floor had little mounds of wax on it everywhere; the remnants of many a good night's reading were on the tops of the bedside tables.

Nothing like a good refreshing shower to revive the spirits, we thought, so with towels and soap, and wearing thongs so as to guard against hook worms and other exotic foot diseases, we made our way to the amenities area. The whole area looked like a mad scientist's testing ground for new bacteria and fungi.

The sign above the toilet was in English and said, "Please place used paper in the bin," which meant that as we used the toilet paper we should not flush it down the toilet bowl. No wonder the place has such a stench about it. But, I realise, there is always a reason.

We know that we can only get a hot shower in the mornings between six and nine, but the prevailing warm weather makes cold showers a pleasure. There will be no joyous singing in the shower this morning, though, as I am very careful not to swallow any of the water. We have read that the water here in Lima is some of the worst we'll encounter. Hepatitis and typhoid being real problems. How am I to brush my teeth?

Staying in the centre of the city in a cheap hotel we can't really expect to get away from the noise of the traffic. But the overall combination of sound is very different to those city noises we'd heard in Honolulu or Los Angeles. The normal combination of the cars, trucks and motor bikes were accentuated somewhat by the narrow streets, but there was still something incongruous. We must go exploring.

After some time pounding stone pavements, dodging the noisy madness, it occurs to me that there are obviously few to no regulations on transport here. The noise and fumes are excessive. Mufflers seem to be an extravagance. It also occurs to me that the standard practice must be to remove the brakes and replace them with an extra horn. They certainly use their horn more than any other part of the car. The common sight was to see the driver lean forward slightly for a better view when approaching the corner, and honk the horn. Never any question of slowing down. A system is in place!

I look around and listen to the harmony. There are people yelling out everywhere. Paperboys and shopowners, the Indian lady dressed in multi-layered skirts selling coca cola, and still others whose reasons I couldn't work out. Maybe they were like me and just felt like yelling.

Then, the noise of metal wheels racing along the cobblestone street. It's a loud noise. Distinct. Over the coming months I am also to find it a popular noise. A sad noise. From my vantage point on the narrow footpath I watch as a young boy weaves in and out from between the parked cars along the street, skillfully dodging the oncoming cars as they zoom by him. Occasionally, when the cars pack up he will lift his hand up to their window and beg for something, I imagine probably anything.

He has a small square of timber with four wheels attached to the bottom. A multi-directional skateboard! The rubber worn from the rims that now act as wheels. Moments later, as if to etch into our minds, and confirm that we are not in Australia any more, we stand with numbed feeling. Another guy, who I imagined just didn't have the means to get the timber and wheels, comes dodging towards us. Dragging himself forward using two wooden pegs in his hands. He would use a skiing motion to jab the pegs into the cracks between the cobblestones and then pull himself forward, the lifeless stump at the bottom of his torso protected with a thick but torn wrapping of hessian cloth. One street. One small section of Lima, of Peru, of Latin America. How many others?

The days ramble on; we're awake early enough for a hot shower, but it seems there's no hot water. Lots of decorative and encouraging signs reminding us of the exact time we can catch this third world luxury, but alas, not today, nor tomorrow or the next! As the days unfold, it seems possible there never was hot water to come gushing steamily outward, to wash away the sweat and grime. We put it down to some strange sense of humour the management must have and how they delighted in seeing another dirty "gringo's" face turn to despair. It was a service we never gave thought to in our own countries. Eventually, I started to ask myself of the need for hot showers anyway. Was I becoming a hardened traveller, toughened leathery mind and a glint in my eyes...... all after one week in Peru.

We've now become accustomed to walking the streets of Lima. The endless car noise, the pollution, the filth and grime of a city in disrepair; despair and desperate fortunes. Our most stressful part of the day is buying food, stumbling through dictionaries and phrase books and a nervous lacking in the animation of our sign language. I feel major success, overwhelmed, as if a thief escaping with his haul, at buying some cans of tuna, spaghetti and tomato paste. We pass a blind man busking; eight bottles arranged in a line, tuned to the notes of a scale with the right quantity of water inside. With two spoons he beats out the classical greats. We sit and listen and are amazed at his dexterity and skill. A dollar for the pot of endeavour.

We walk all one morning trying to find the Australian consulate, but it seems as if they've moved, leaving behind no onward address. Everything seems taxing on us. Negative and just plain hard! This wasn't fun, this was experience.

Even walking had its moments. It was hazardous to your health! Without constant surveillance of where you were walking you could end, as did Brad, having your stride consumed by some pit or hole, knee crashing painfully into the angled corners of cement. There were holes in the footpaths and holes in the roads. Wherever you walked you would be foolish not to expect a gaping mouth in the pavement ready to have you drop into it. Mostly they were a result of stolen covers for underground electrical or sewage inspections. The covers would make excellent hotplates, instant stoves for the wood fueled kitchens of the suburbs. Threat to pedestrians, lethal for cars.

We manage to buy outbound bus tickets for the trip to Huaraz, a little town at the base of the Peruvian Andes, an area they called "little Switzerland". Heading back in the general direction of our hotel we see a large coliseum and make our way towards it. At the back of it, on the outside, are lots of basketball courts converted to mini soccer fields, and a few games in progress. Mostly played with shirts or cans acting as goal posts. We sniff our way towards the solitary basketball game in progress.

It didn't take long before the two lanky Aussies were in a pick-up game starring as the Dr J's of Peru. (Dr J - alias Julius Erving - was one of the greatest players in American pro basketball's history). We were average height in our own country, but here we were towers; Kareem Abdul Keelan's without the darkened pigment of skin.

We played long and hard and felt that a small barrier had been broken. It was a nice change from the alienated feeling you get, following undetected calls of "gringo". It's not just the word, but the tone of voice accompanying it. Usually a degree of dislike, even hate, to it. I guess we all looked like Americans to them and Peruvians hated Americans.

Afterwards we find that the Peruvian national soccer team will clash with Romania in the closing rounds of the World Cup qualifying tomorrow. Our new-found friends would help us get tickets. We re-booked our trip towards Huaraz.

We had to crouch over as we walked down the centre aisle of the bus. Were we growing or had someone lowered the ceilings? No matter about the lack of leg room either, because we were both happy to be leaving Lima. Lima was a place for experiencing and learning rather than enjoying or relaxing. Such a dour face, the markings of history both past and present, of pillaging by the Spaniards, imperialism from the North and of in-bred corruption. Fueled by greed and perpetuated by the will to survive. They won the soccer. Something to latch on to, something to believe in. The alternate Latin religion. We absconded, northward.