On the day I left Lima after living in Peru for nearly a year, the sky was an opaque whitewash, an expressionless expanse of slate gray that seemed to make the cement buildings blend seamlessly with the horizon. Except for a few brief moments where the strong equatorial sun managed to break through the thick ashen blanket of clouds that was draped over the city, I had pretty much been living in a perpetual fog for the last five months. Limeños have a name for this oppressive weather condition – La Garua.
Even though I’d read about La Garua during my research prior to moving to Lima, I’d brushed it off, thinking that it couldn’t be any worse than the dreary summer skies I’d grown up with in California. I was wrong. Along the coast of California, residents regularly contend with “June Gloom,” a weather pattern caused by the formation of stratus clouds along the Pacific coastline. At its worst, though, June Gloom starts to clear up toward the end of July, with exceptional weather and wave conditions occurring in August, September and October, making it a particularly pleasant time to be a surfer in California. Lima is different. Even though the city is technically located in a subtropical desert region, its proximity to the ocean leads to consistently mild temperatures, with a persistent drizzle and overcast sky that can sometimes stretch from late-May until early December. And wouldn’t it be my luck that the year I decide to move to Lima, the city has its coldest, dampest winter in 30 years.
When I first arrived in Lima back in January, the weather had matched my enthusiasm for living in a strange, new country. Bright, clear skies and warm weather were complimented by frequent and fun-sized south swells. My nose was sunburnt and my shoulders taxed. I met new friends to practice my Spanish with in the line-up. I drank Pisco Sours with my girlfriend on our terrace overlooking Parque Kennedy. Every experience was new and stimulating and exciting. Then one day, without any warning, the sun went away and didn’t come back for almost half a year.
Under this omnipresent cloud cover, the novelty and buzz of living in a foreign country began to give way to apathy and indifference. The stimulation and thrill of riding a public bus through Lima’s packed streets was replaced by a burning hatred of car horns and the blatant disregard of traffic laws. Instead of noticing the colorful examples of traditional Peruvian art that adorned garage doors and street corners throughout my neighborhood, I became increasingly aware of trash, drug transactions, and homeless beggars. Those fun south swells were replaced by a disappointing winter of cold water and marginal surf. I started to identify with people in places like Seattle and London who were sometimes struck by Seasonal Affect Disorder. In a way, the dismal backdrop that was La Garua had begun to permeate into other areas of my daily life in Lima.
As the plane sped down the runway and quickly gained altitude, I stared out of my window at the bleak landscape below that had been my home for the past 10 months. The sky was as drab and gray as it had ever been, but as so often seems to happen when you leave a place after spending a significant amount there, I felt a twinge of nostalgia for the good times I’d experienced in Lima–the amazing friends I’d made from all over the world, the incredible places I’d been like Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and the Amazon River, the epic two days of surf I’d lucked into at Chicama, and the surf communities at Playa Makaha, Playa Redondo and Punta Roquitas, which had welcomed me at their home breaks with open arms.
Although I was glad to be going home to family, friends, better weather and better waves, I realized how fortunate I had been to be able to experience life in a foreign country not as a tourist, but as a member of the local community. Because of this, I was able to get a realistic flavor of what daily life was really like for Limeños. The good and the bad. The cheap, delicious food and the shitty, crumbly waves. The long, depressing winters and the exuberance felt when a ray of sunlight manages to fight its way through La Garua for a few fleeting moments. To borrow a quote from a Tom Cruise movie (don’t judge me), “The sweet is never as sweet without the sour.” Just then, the plane broke through the cloud cover engulfing Lima, and as far as the eye could see were sunny, clear-blue skies.