Escape Lima

By Johnny Parsons


Alarms are one of two kinds; nuisance or welcome.

Day-to-day, dragging us from the land of dreams, to the reality of another day, (depending whether or not you like your job! You may spring out of bed full of beans, or hit snooze so many times that you are late before you get up).


Alarms of a welcome nature, the weekend, travel, an adventure in the offing...

As I lay there, it was hard to decide which kind I had just experienced.
Had I actually been to sleep? I certainly was in my pit and had a fuzzy, confused feeling!
I live in Lima, Peru (for my sins) and one thing that I cannot get used to, even after 5 years here, is the noise. My neighbour had had a party. It started at 11pm and was still going on, it was 4:30am. I'd knocked on his door to ask him to turn the music/racket down at 3am, but he obviously got confused by my Spanish and turned it up, indeed the music and shouting were still going on now.

Hit snooze and try to get some more restless beauty kip? No way Jose (my neighbour's name, coincidentally), the hills were-a-calling...

All my gear was ready from the night before, like an excited schoolboy, I had laid out my clothes, shoes, food and beverages ready. Simply a case of getting dressed, a cup of Yorkshire Tea (only 18 bags left and 48 days until my next batch, we all have problems!) A quick stretch, past the 5am fiesta and out into the inky blackness of a Salamanca pre-dawn, what lay ahead?

From my house, it is a 2 mile concrete maze to the hills. In Lima you will never, ever be the last to bed (as my neighbour displayed), nor the first one up. Quite simply, the city (or its occupants) never sleep...

Lima dawn is not a very dramatic affair, it is winter here now, so the city is cloaked in a perpetual grey cloak of misty clag. It never really rains and it never really shines, but it always threatens to do both! Dodging the early Sunday morning commuters and hawkers, I snake my way across the city to the dusty "cerros" and after 15 minutes of rutted concrete and ducking a barbed wire fence, I am on the hills!

By now, the night is swapping guard with the day and a diffused dawn changes the sky from black to grey by the time I reach the first (unnamed) summit, I call this "Huachiman Hill" after the poor bloke assigned to guard the mobile phone installation on the summit. Sharing the shifts with another colleague, he will see little evidence of life up here, bar the once-weekly passing of a scruffy, lanky English bloke huffing-&-puffing by...

The first peak is the first of a horseshoe circuit I call "Doubtful Round", purely in that when I first started running here, I didn't know if all the summits were joinable. The thing is that not many people run up on these tops. There are paths, but they are just for people crossing the tops to get from A-to-B in a direct line, so although I am not the first, it does have a pioneer feel about it. Nor are there any maps, (bar Google maps), so on a claggy day like today, I have to keep my wits about me.

The best thing of all about this temporary escape is the silence, or semi-silence. Whilst the hills are not giants, like their Andean cousins inland, they are high enough to rise above the car alarms, horns and general chaos building up like a pressure cooker below. Below is where I am heading, for I have to cross one road on this round and it is probably the most dangerous part! The hills are dissected by "Avenida Raul Ferrero" and the summit pass is on a blind bend. it is the only "safe" place to cross as any lower down the cars would be going too fast, hence my 4:30am alarm. I scuttle across unscathed and begin the haul up Cerro Sentinela, dodging the two ferocious junkyard dogs who have produced two not-yet-ferocious junkyard puppies since my last time here.

The going is good here; firm sand. The route varies between solid rock, sand, fine dust, technical boulder fields and the trickiest part which is akin to ball bearings, usually on bare rock, usually on the slopes! Twenty minutes later I am on the top, with an all-round 360° view on a good day out to the Pacific, not today though for I am still in the murkiness. Somebody once started to build a house on this summit, the foundations are here and what a place to live, but despite asking everybody and doing research, I never found out the story.

Down, down, down, losing all the altitude gained to lower slopes and shoes full of sand, use the pylons as a guide, don't take the wrong spur (and end up in the military base, like last time!) Up to now, I am using memory and also my footprints from previous outings. In this bizarre microclimate which is actually a desert zone, by the sea, where it never really rains, footprints last for ages.

A rocky switchback takes me over 3 small peaks and then a l-o-n-g haul up to "Pamplona Alta II" a shantytown high in the hills. Although I have never had any trouble here, I am always on my guard. People here (in Lima) are somewhat suspicious of others and wouldn't you be suspicious of a dodgy looking bloke lumbering past your village at dawn?!

The sound of a generator, a car alarm (the ubiquitous 5-tone type), a bus honking its horn and highlands "huayno" music all swirl around in the mist. The music sounds like a race between a flute, a harp, panpipes and an accordion! The race results in a dead heat. The cloak of mist blocks my view whilst also giving me cover, I shimmy past the shantytown due east to hit "the wall". Not "the wall" people talk about in marathons and the like, I have scoffed two bananas already and feel good, this "wall" is a huge source of discussion in social circles.

The wall separates the "haves" and the "have nothings", on one side is the salubrious area of swanky million dollar+ mansions with fierce looking armed guards and on the other, shacks made out of plastic sheeting and rough timber, no facilities/amenities, with fierce looking snarling hounds!

With me in the middle, using the wall as a handy navigation guide in the fog, from here on it is almost impossible to get lost, (although I did manage it once). A few months back a short, stubby cross appeared on the path. To the right is the wall and to the left a long drop over chossy crags. I am not superstitious, but trampling over a tomb/grave doesn't feel right, so a bit of loose scrambling is in order. Who was buried in this mysterious grave? How did they perish? Questions I will never know the answers to...

It is now 7am and I still haven't seen a soul on the tops. They are either hiding in the fog or all still in bed. More P&Q for me! No views yet, but all of this is a release from the tensions of the week. Roughly halfway round I am out of mobile reception reach here, so if anything did happen, despite being able to see the city below, I would be on my own if anything happened...

Plodding up "TV aerial hill" (due to the cluster of unofficial antennae on top) the light suddenly changes, it seems that the murk is getting thinner, but even on the top I am still in the clag. Will I get a view today? Ducking through a hole in the wall, I cross to the other side, high above the shantytowns below but still able to clearly hear the booming disco below battling against the singing of the choir in Sunday mass in an unseen chapel.

A snarl of hounds (plural) snaps me back to my senses! There is a "Huachiman" tower on the other side of the wall (the "haves" side) and although I can't see them, the dogs can smell me (not surprising, I'm sweating cobs!). I scurry on upwards... Dead cactus and thousands of snail shells litter the next summit, where again the sun wants to break through the cloud, but the cloud wins. I have been on the go for 2 hours now, not pushing it, not slouching. The weather is perfect for running, despite the lack of views. Lima has year-round humidity, it is sweaty in summer and cool-but-not-cold in winter, there are no extremes.

Apart from an extremely steep and dusty climb up to my last peak that is! It is a slog and a half. Here is where the magic happens, what I had been hoping for all along. This is the highest summit at around 3500ft, the dusty hills of these parts don't rise too high, but it is a switchback of climbs, so I get in plenty of ups and downs.

Through sporadic gaps in the wall, the wind whistles through at a rate of knots, creating an eerie atmosphere but as I rise the sun battles harder and just before the top I get my reward and break through the cloud! On top of a sea of white, only peaks of a loftier nature stick out here and there are plenty to the east, which I will hopefully explore, some other day, but not today. Down below the city is veiled in white/grey, up here I am on my own, in my playground.

No noise, no blaring music, no traffic, no stress, no people.

THIS is why we do it!

It more than makes the 4:30am alarm worthwhile...

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