A luxurious day in Lima

Trip Start Feb 26, 2010
Trip End Feb 26, 2011

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The alarm woke us up at 5am – it felt like we had only just got off to sleep. I forced myself to get up as I had to start to clean up all the stuff that had exploded in our bags due to the gain in altitude on the plane yesterday.  Fortunately everything that had exploded was in plastic bags so all our clothes had escaped a soaking – saying that the damp smell of the jungle seemed to have got in to everything (even the clothes that we didn't actually take in to the jungle proper) so they would need a wash anyway (more expense).  Most of the insect repellent had gone over everything so I washed all the other bottles in the sink while Andrew found his feet, feeling a lot better today thank god, and started to pack up his things too.  By 5.30am we were in the hostel reception waiting for our taxi and watching all the early Cholita’s carrying their stock ready to set up their stalls for the day.  We arrived at the airport, checked in, paid the international departure tax of 25 US Dollars each – ouch – and settled in to Subway to have a coffee (somehow we ended up with two chocolate cookies too but I still don’t know how – I could lie but my Spanish still isn’t that great).

The flight to Lima was on time and again we flew over some amazing scenery – the most impressive was a perfect conical volcano covered in snow with an amazing crater –awesome.  We arrived in Lima at about 9am and our guide for the day who we had booked online, Renato (limaperutaxi.com), was there to meet us with a big sign with our name on it.  As we were only going to be in Lima for one day, with our connecting flight leaving at 1.30am the next morning it seemed the best way to see the city in the short time that we had.  Renato seemed great and spoke excellent English, he had lived in New York for quite a few years and had come back to Peru 11 years ago for a slower pace of life.  A girl approached us off the flight and asked us about buses to the centre to which we were stumped – Renato told us  later that there isn’t such a thing and that even the locals in their right minds wouldn’t take a bus especially in to the centre.  We looked around but she was gone.  Welcome to Lima! (Andrew Edit – Rorie and Emer if I recall were first given a map of no go areas which was most of the city! We had bartered the guy down on the e-mail to a still expensive but not such a rip for over 12 hours of about 35.

Our first stop on the tour was Callao the neighbourhood surrounding the airport.  It reminded us a little of La Boca in Buenos Aires as the mayor had introduced a law whereby everyone had to paint their houses two bright colours.  We also visited the beach, a pebble one (my kind as I hate sand), where people were sunbathing and swimming in the extremely cold ocean, brave souls.  Renato explained that this was a cheap area to live, despite its’ ocean front location as the tsunami threats are very real and keep costs down as insurance is very expensive, not legally required and is therefore very rare.  The properties were in some cases huge and very impressive – to think that they stood a chance of being destroyed seemed criminal but I guess mother nature just doesn’t discriminate.  Here we also passed the Spanish fort designed to keep out any other would be marauding looters out, hmmm.  Next we travelled through San Miguel another district to get to the real down town area.  It was as we were on our way that we firstly got a feel to the actual scale of Lima (it is massive (Andrew edit – about 9 Million people kind of massive!) and also how well kept it is – the green space was lovely and considering that this place has no rain and it all has to be watered either by hand (mostly) or irrigated it was quite amazing.  We had heard that Lima was a bit ugly from quite a few people but our first impressions were turning out to be very good – it was lovely.  Maybe it just depends how you go about seeing the place – maybe our trip was being well orchestrated to see the best parts.

We then came to the downtown district, real Lima, 12km from the airport, where we were able to visit the amazing Monasterio de San Francisco.  This place really blew us away and we would suggest everybody who visits Lima should go here.  Entry was 7 Soles with a guided tour and well worth it.  The 17th century church is one of the best preserved churches in Lima and the adjoining monastery used to be home to an order of Franciscan monks – who now live in the private monastery next door.  We were shown around the building with its’ beautiful wood carved ceilings created without the use of nails or screws and its’ ornate plaster reliefs.  The original monastery houses a library (which is as every library should be – complete with a pair of exquisite spiral staircases no less) which contains thousands of antique books dating as far back as 1400.  We were then shown in to a room which was home to a collection of Rubens paintings and then on to the church itself which has an exquisite choir with the images of saints and religious icons carved in to the Nicaraguan imported wood.  The most impressive part of the tour though was when we were taken down in to the catacombs beneath the church and monastery – the only of its’ kind in Peru.  The catacombs were the only official free burial place for the people of Lima and it is estimated that at least 70,000 people, between the building of the church and the 1800’s, were buried within them.   It was a bizarre experience as archaeologists have excavated some of the area and uncovered bones and then displayed them in intricate ways.  We saw a number of burial wells where once the bodies had decomposed within smaller graves in another room the bones were thrown along with everybody else’s to save space.  We got to see many bones and skulls that remain in the wells and even some whole skeletons the remains of an important benefactors family in an open crypt beneath the church.  Unfortunately there are no photographs as we weren’t allowed to take any – so you guys are just going to have to go for yourselves! (Andrew Edit – Erica is completely right when she says it blew us away, it kind of reminds you of a POW place just so many bones and skulls everywhere, I kind of thought that despite people wanting to excavate to see what is there surely graveyards should just be let be, the archaeologists had 'arranged the bones’ so none of them stayed with the rest of the remains to allow easy counting, and this was the work of the church! For me the most impressive thing was the fact that the whole place was done around the san fransiscan part of the catholic church, which for most people including us means nothing, in fact it means it is a living monument to Saint Francis, the only saint we have ever seen, who is still stored in that glass box back in India, oh so much time ago but my word how much we have seen since!).

Renato then took us to the largest food market in Lima and Andrew was in his element.  Everything from meats, fish, vegetables and fruit and everything in between!  So many fruits and vegetables that we had never seen before and those that we had were so much bigger than our versions – it’s amazing what a bit of sun can do!  (Andrew Edit – The thing that always impresses me with places like this is that unlike our home country, the whole animal is eaten and therefore less life wasted, they have stalls that specialise solely in offal with livers kidneys, tripe, hooves, faces, tongues and god knows what else all available (saying that, try getting me to buy a pig face at Bury market in March.... No chance, but the theory is great). Next was China Town with its many malls and the ubiquitous restaurants.  Here they had floor tiles that people could buy and engrave a personal message in for weddings, birthdays or any special occasion – bless.  We then went to the Plaza de Almas, Lima’s central square and home to all its’ most important buildings (Presidential Palace, Municipal Building etc) – many of these were built on Incan temples and mansions and they are all painted a sunny yellow colour (complete with the famous dark wood ornate balconies).  The fountain in the middle of the square used to pump water directly from the river to all the homes in central Lima as the water from the river was at that time pure and suitable to drink – since then the water now comes from the sewer network – note to self do not stand down wind of it again!

We were then taken to the main post office in Peru (which was a huge and impressive building) where all mail ends up at some stage – and Renato bought us a postcard of Machu Picchu – only to turn it vertically for us to see a man’s face in the mountain range – think it’s been digitally altered a bit but I will take a picture on the next blog to show you – amazing!  We got back in the car and drove towards Miraflores, the tourist Mecca of Lima and a expensive neighbourhood to live in.  Some of the houses around ‘Olive tree Park’ were straight out of Grand Designs absolutely stunning and very contemporary.  In direct contrast to the shanty towns that we had seen on the hill looking over Lima centre.  We went to a park above the ocean which was home to the cheap mans ‘Nazca Lines’ (the original are a long way south of Lima and cost a small fortune to fly over).  The grass has been designed with borders of flowers which are replicas of the hummingbird, the condor, the tarantula, the fingers and the monkey. 

Our next stop was Lovers Park which is so called because every 14 February, Valentine’s Day, hundreds of couples who can’t afford a wedding of their own can come here and a priest will marry everyone together for free.  There is a huge statue of a couple passionately embracing right in the middle and the surrounding area is designed in steps like a amphitheatre.  We were feeling hungry after just eating on the plane so Renato took us to a chicken restaurant where between the three of us we ate a whole cooked chicken, chips and a side order of avocado – it was delicious – expensive for us at 14 for three– but delicious all the same.  Interestingly, or maybe not, the car park in this shopping mall (which was entirely underground) where the chicken restaurant was which was very posh (and overlooked by the Marriot) had parking spaces that had lights above them – red meant that the space was occupied and green that it was free.  You could see the lights from the end of every row so you didn’t need to waste town looking for a space if there wasn’t one there!  Genius!  Why haven’t we got that at home?  It would save a lot of frustration and car park rage!

Next we went to the pier at Chorrillos to see the fish market.  The place was winding down as it is obviously busiest early morning but there were still lots of people eating at the restaurants, fishing on the pier and hanging around.  (Andrew edit – As our guide headed off to repark the car in a ‘safe spot’ we were quickly approached by four guys who drunkenly staggered over shouting the predicatble "hey gringos" before started to kiss Erica and constantly shake my hand, it went on for a little too long and got very uncomfortable but thankfully our man shouted and we were able to split without being further followed). We wandered through the market and a few cheeky birds flew in and would steal fish from stalls – it was not until we got to the edge of the sea that we saw the majority of the birds waiting for scraps including – Pelicans and lots of them!  They were incredible.  We then went to the very end of the peninsula to the cross high up on a hill (the highest point in Lima) and where we were able to look out over the whole peninsula by now lit up in lights.  The sunset was beautiful, the sun a bright glowing ball of orange, sadly we missed most of it on the way from the market but we got to see the very end which was lovely.  Our last stop of the day was Barranco, the bohemian area where we walked across the only original wooden bridge in Lima and had a walk from the plaza through some of the quaint streets full of galleries and restaurants.  Sadly our tour was at an end but for 30 Pounds for the day we felt we had thoroughly got our monies worth.  Renato had been an excellent guide and a really nice guy too.  He dropped us off at the airport, we said our goodbyes and we went inside to check in for our flight.  (Andrew edit - Having maybe squeezed in 1 hour sleep last night the poor guy probably thought we were the living dead by the end of the day we could hardly keep our eyes open! The sunset though was brilliant taking in the cross and the vrigin mary with the most most magnificent sky behind was awesome, also the favela crawling up the hillside right at the very edge of the most exclusive areas in Lima (try 10,000 $US just as a joining fee for a social club plus annual memberships of $4000 per year in fees for a tennis court and private beach, for us brits its madness, but then again lima golf club in the middle of the city also costs a 'bob or two'!).

It was only then that we noticed on our flight tickets that my name was down as Erica Stephenson – oh shit (Andrew Edit - After a serious proposal this is how she greets her future name, no wonder she has been trying to delay the wedding).  We were told that the airline couldn’t change them – what?  Even Easyjet will let you change a name for 10 quid.  I was told to simply tell immigration that it was my married name (although this is almost true I was still cacking my pants going through security – I had my boarding pass hidden in one hand and my passport in the other – immigration asked for the pass and I sheepishly handed it over looking the other way.  I was worried that it wouldn’t work and that Andrew would be able to get on the flight on his own (maybe he did it on purpose and that was the intention all along) but nobody said a word and I was able to board the 5 hour flight to somewhere where we had always wanted to go but hadn’t dreamed possible (made affordable by our cheap LAN South America air pass) – we were bound for EASTER ISLAND!!!
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