Weathering Lima, Come Cloud or Shine


As winter kicks into high gear here on the other side of the equator, my kitty has found a new best friend: the heater.  Though Lima is the second most populated desert city to Cairo, the coastline humidity can lace the air with a bitter chill, tickle the throat into a cold or even speckle your walls with polka dotted mold.  With no indoor climate control, each of us here in Lima finds a way to fend off our own particular seasonal grievance, taking refuge in heaters, dehumidifiers, sporadic trips to sunnier grounds or an extra dose of vitamins.

Usually taking place in May, the onset of winter is unmistakable. Rolling in virtually overnight, the local drizzle known as “garúa” casts a dank glaze over the city and we wake up to an all-consuming cloud that hangs around until November. Day in and day out, the city’s hubbub marches on against a backdrop of varying shades of grey.

For non-natives, this weather is somewhat of an anomaly. Though the foggy mass takes the sky hostage, it never unleashes its fury. Only on occasion does it squeeze out a wet spittle too feeble to wash the city soot off my plants’ leaves.

Certainly, not having to battle against the elements has its perks. Gone are the days that I have to wrestle with yet another umbrella that’s been suctioned into a useless skeleton by Manhattan’s turbo winds.  And I no longer have to carefully plan what shoes I wear before hitting the streets.  The only damage leather will see here is the mold it accrues from the clammy air that seeps into your closet.

All in all, Lima has a mild climate (excessive humidity notwithstanding). Parked just 12 degrees latitude south of the equator, sunny summers are tempered by cool oceanfront breezes and winters stay well above freezing.  Though we get periodic visits from El Niño and a ground-shaking temblor, weather phenomena such as hurricanes, tornadoes or even thunderstorms or are utterly unheard of.

In fact, so uneventful are local conditions that it’s rare to come across a weather forecast when scanning the news.  It’s simply not an important variable in planning your day, which is why many Limeños don’t give weather a second thought – quite the antithesis of the U.S. where we have an entire channel dedicated to 24-hour updates and commonly echo the folksy slogan, “if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes.”  As a reality that significantly impacts our lives, it’s inculcated in the American psyche.  Just consider its influence on our language – ‘the calm after the storm,’ feeling ‘under the weather,’ having a ‘fair-weather friend,’ ‘weather permitting.’

With the weather chip deeply imbedded, I went through a kind of withdrawal on coming to Lima.  It took me years before I could confidently dress myself in the morning without first having some data on the outside environment.  Ridden by doubt, I felt unable to make an informed decision.  Long or short sleeves? Heavy or light sweater?  Scarf or pashmina?  This perplexed my husband, who for a long time thought I had an inexplicable and uninteresting fetish.  If he happened to step out before me, I always asked, “what’s it like outside?” – to which he’d huff, “the same as it always is!”

Even my small talk was affected.  Less than agile in social situations, my icebreaking chitchat was reduced to a static grey blob – not exactly the kind of stimulant you hope for when trying to jumpstart a conversation.  After years of odd looks and people shying away, it finally caught on: weather is simply not a normal discussion topic here.

Ironically, even the stability of Lima weather can give rise to culture shock.  On the one hand, not having your day decided (or ruined) by weather is liberating.  But as it happens, there’s a downside to predictable conditions: monotony.  In summer this is less of an issue – it’s hard to be offended by consistent sun and a gentle ocean waft.  But the winter perma-cloud that refuses to do its business and withdraw?  It’s a bit of a downer.  Despite my attempts to pretend it’s a rainy day, turning on lamps and cozying up at home, it still gets repetitive and I find myself itching for an atmospheric change.

But this is me.  In reality, the local climate impacts people differently.  As if exposed to an experimental drug, some are perfectly fine while others show clear signs of adverse side effects.  After living here, I tend to lean in favor of four seasons – there’s just something about marked changes throughout the year that’s energizing, like having a fresh start.  But as long as I’m Lima bound, I will continue to bask in umbrella-free bliss and indulge in fabulous leather and suede.

Unlike in the U.S. the weather in Lima is quite predictable. The same as it always is’ says our columnist Kelly Phenicie’s husband. Read her newest post about the bright and dark side to Lima’s climate.