My nose knows first-hand (or should I say first nostril) that Asia has the world’s share of memorable smells. Durian, toilets on the border of Vietnam, hot pots, and the smoking lounges in lung hospitals were some that my nose can’t erase. But Peru may give Asia a run for its money.  If you visit Lima, Peru, you’ll be treating your schnoz to some of the best –or should I say most memorable sniffs.

10. The Ocean

The view is insane of Malecon (Spanish for breakwater) is worth cashing in some of your flyer miles. As much as I complain about this city’s shortcomings, one look or sniff of the ocean is nasal dementia. You’ll forget everything you hate about the city, including the chaufa (Peruvian-Chinese food fusion) that gave you food poisoning a few weeks back. You will taste salt on everything, just like when you were a kid and would lick your arm for kicks. The ocean is the color of your dad’s old bottle of Aqua Velva but tasting–and smelling better.

9. Fish

While Lima’s big fish market is in Chorrillos district, most mercados have a fresh fish section. The fish is better quality than China as it’s caught in the ocean instead of genetically engineered in a lab. Still mercados in Lima lack ventilation, as they are not outdoors. The fishmongers may have Jesus looking over their shoulders pinching his nose. 

8. Dog er uh…

Dogs are popular here. The ankle biters. That snarling hairless one that you see in countless memes.  While most owners are considerate, you will slip on the occasional poop bomb on the sidewalk, so be thankful that Clifford the Big Red Dog doesn’t live here. You’ll see bottles of water lining the streets of froufrou areas of Miraflores. They are to deter dogs from peeing on the buildings. I’m really not sure how the bottles work. May they are a do-it-your-self Bichon Frise bidet. 

7. Coffee

Here’s one souvenir better than an overpriced LIMA coffee cup from Starbucks. You can get a kilo of freshly ground beans for about ten bucks. There are coffee shops everywhere, from the mundane chain to the funky, their rich aromas hypnotizing. I still prefer the coffee shops of Vietnam to get a frosty kick of caffeine. I haven’t found a favorite coffee shop in Lima yet, but my nose is enjoying the search. 

6. Fresh Bread

If you didn’t make it to the bakery, the bakery will come to you, the fresh smelled bread leaving you in a trance. Local peddlers have an array of croissants, some filled with a caramelly manjar blanco. WARNING: you can get fat here really quick. Most chain grocery stores have in-house bakeries with a variety of fresh pita-like breads, ciabattas, and naan-like things. 

5. Cannabis

It’s illegal but the skunky odor is prevalent around Kennedy Park.  Maybe that’s why the cats are so chill. But honestly? I’m leary enough to purchase a tamale from a street vendor. Who on earth would risk smoking/purchasing street drugs in a foreign country from a guy with shifty eyes and an ill-fitting T-shirt? There is even a television show on Lima Airport Security.  The government doesn’t mess around with drugs, which is why it is so difficult to mail letters, postal workers searching for a smuggled coca leaf. Your fingerprint, passport, photo, and four bucks are needed, plus an ungloved equivalent of a rectal exam of your envelope.

4. Bus Exhaust

Since anyone can drive a bus, the regulations on these vehicles are a bit loosey-goosey. Mufflers are optional, the ancient engines coughing mushroom clouds of exhaust. The smell will stick to you like flypaper.  

3. Guano

 Guano—or bird poop—has historically been one of Peru’s top exports. Just south of Lima. there are islands covered with it. Tourists can’t visit the islands and nor does the pungent smell migrate to where I live. However, there is a fertilizer factory near the airport in the Callao district where they make fertilizer out of fish and the smell does make it to my classroom every morning. I guess there is one smell worse than middle school boys. 

2. Sweat

Expect to bump into a runner or two along Lima’s Malecon. Yesterday, a barrage of Kenyans blocked the narrow pedestrian path as they prepare for the Lima 42 K Marathon. Exercise is huge here, along with huge waistlines. But if you think you’ll developing a muffin top, you can weigh yourself about anywhere.

1. Bananas 

Bananas are everywhere. Chifles are banana slices wishing they were potato chips. They miss the mark for me, the crunch being a bit too thick for someone who was raised on Ruffles. You can find bananas of all sizes and colors, but my favorite find? A banana mooncake 月饼. One of my students, a teen from China, brought me a fusion of Peruvian Chinese cuisine that stole my heart—or should I say tastebuds. A traditional mooncake, a specialty during the Autumn festival filled with banana instead of pork or egg. In Kunming, this delicate pastry is often filled with rose petals. The banana filling isn’t too sweet, Yummers!

AQI 76

Air quality is moderate but the blend of the desert climate on the ocean front can throw your nose a curve. While everything is humid, your nose can still feel dry.

What are some of your favorite wanderlust smells?

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