In the Bleak Midwinter
22 June 2012
I left the Northern Hemisphere just as summer was beginning and came to the Southern Hemisphere just as winter is beginning — this made for an interesting contrast to my trip here in January, when I left the Northern Hemisphere in the winter and traveled to the Peruvian desert in the midst of summer. But Lima doesn’t feel all that different. It remains overcast, as I saw it in January, and the temperatures are mild. Although Lima isn’t on the equator, and is far enough off the equator to experience some predictable seasonal variation, it is close enough to the equator to not experience a dramatic seasonal variation. In other words, it is a city of the tropics.
In addition to being a city of the tropics, Lima is also an oceanfront city. But Lima does not have that pervasive oceanfront ambiance that one finds, for example, in Rio. Walk a few blocks inland, and you would never know that you are in a city perched on the Pacific Rim. But walk to the edge of the continent and you will have sweeping views of the sea and there is no mistaking where you are.
I wrote above that Lima is “perched” on the Pacific Rim, and “perched” is the right term: Lima sits on a high bluff overlooking the ocean. Fronting the top of the bluff is a long and very nicely kept oceanfront promenade, Lima’s Malecon, where the residents of the city come out to enjoy themselves and the vantage point afforded by their city. There are joggers, parents playing with their children, newly married couples having their pictures taken, parkbench romantic trysts, skateboarders, physical fitness enthusiasts who use the exercise equipment installed along the walkway, dozens of tennis courts (many of them surfaced in clay rather than asphalt), many people walking their dogs, and every other conceivable urbanite passing their tropical days in appropriate languor.
As I walked along the Malecon I eventually found a stairway down to the ocean itself — I was looking for just such a stair, and I expect that there are several of them — and found at the base of the bluff supporting Lima those Limeños who come to the ocean to enjoy themselves. The beach itself is a pebble beach, and it has that distinctive sound of pebble beaches that is familiar to me from Oregon. This sound always reminds me of the line from Matthew Arnold’s poem Dover Beach, where the poet speaks of, “the naked shingles of the world.”
There were a lot of surfers in the ocean. As in Oregon, the Limeño surfers wear wetsuits. The wetsuits has presided over a quiet revolution in watersports in those places in the world where the ocean is not warm enough for swimming with a swimsuit alone. If you swim in a swimsuit, the longer you stay in, the colder you get. If you swim in a wetsuit, the longer you stay in, the warmer you get, which creates an incentive to stay in the water. When I was a child, one never saw surfers at Oregon beaches, and now the sight is common. I expect the same thing is true of Peru’s coast, because while Lima is in the tropics, the cold Humboldt current circulates water from Antarctica, and this makes for a cold swim.
Because of Lima’s commanding situation on its bluff above the ocean, if there ever comes about significant rises in sea levels due to climate change, Lima will be safe. The Pacific would have to rise a hundred feet or more to swamp the city. Lima is similarly safe from all but the highest tsunami waves, though everything at the base of the bluff would be washed away, and there were warning signs for tsunami escape routes along the waterfront.
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