Pickpocket Land

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
Trip End Nov 04, 2008

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

If one arrives at Lima and stays at Miraflores (at the coast and 20 minutes away from the centre by bus), or if one just stays in the Plaza de Armas next to the Cathedral, Lima really looks like a beautiful city with gardens, fresh air, nice coffee places and shops.

But, if one walks outside that area... Lima is a hell of a dump. An interesting dump, but a dump nonetheless.

Pickpockets, beggars, no-go areas, rubbish and chaos are some of the elements one can find, and we saw them all. "Been there, done that"...goodbye to Lima with a smile on our faces, and if you see our travel pattern you can identify that we have been in pretty rough places so we are not just posh travellers complaining.

Sufficient to say that it is the first time that we have left our hostel leaving credit cards, passport, etc behind and just taking a photocopy and cash. Even the guide book and local tourist information state you should not walk around and take taxis as often as possible.

We also had a bad "reception" at Lima yesterday. The bus stations are always full of "jaladeros" which are normally taxi drivers which not only overcharge you (we paid 20 Soles instead of the 12 Soles which we were told is the maximum - 5 euros instead of 3 euros) but they also try to take you to hotels which they know (and which they say are much better) in order to obtain a commission.

We had already booked a place but the taxi driver insisted in taking us to 2 other hotels first so we could compare. He insisted that ours did not have private rooms and that it was out of the safe area. It was funny as we knew we had a private one booked and it was right next to the one he took us to compare! Even tourist information here states that most taxi drivers are con artists (not in those words but close!). The funniest part was when we arrived at our hostel and he asked the owner for a commission...when we had booked directly. He was politely shown to the door!

Anyway, for a bit of information on the place. We took a bus early from our hostel in Miraflores to the centre of the town (Plaza de Armas) and walked around the squares and cathedral. As it was Saturday we were lucky to see the Change of the Guard by the young Air Force troops and their band. We keep bumping into marching bands on weekends, so it is obvious that they are very much appreciated in these areas.

After the music we walked to the "Puente de Piedra" (stone bridge) which is supposed to be a tourist attraction. We are still wondering why. Its a modern bridge immitating a roman construction, and safety warnings if you cross to the North side...too dangerous for tourists due to muggings and pickpocket.

Another few hundred metres from the impressive non-attraction of the Stone Bridge took us to China Town. That was quite good fun and lots of buzz to it. We even indulged in a huge Chinese lunch for the astronomic amount of 8 Soles (2 euros). We previously left 2 other chinese restaurants as they charge the rip off amount of 4 euros per menu! Unacceptable...

A classic sign in the Chinese restaurant where a ceiling was low said "Seņor Cliente, Columna Baja. Tome las medidas oportunas para evitar accidentes. Gracias" (Dear Client. Low Ceiling. Please take the necessary measures to avoid accidents. Thank you). "Necessary Measures"! We could only think about lowering the head, but perhaps they do the conga dance in some of these restaurants to pass under low ceilings...

Yes, we are struggling with all the price issues and it is obvious we have adapted to local pricing. In Europe no one would argue for a 4 euro set menu in a Chinese restaurant (especially with good food and lots of it), but here it is above the usual price of 2 euros, so we struggle to accept it and take it as a tourist rip-off or an expensive place.

We also had problems deciding on which bus to take to Trujillo tomorrow. Most bus companies travel for 35 Soles (7 euros) for a 8 hour bus ride over 600 kilometres. However for security and comfort we went for the 75 Soles (15 euros) bus which is similar to "business class" with a meal included and toilet on board. Again, in Europe it would be a joke if one felt bad for paying 15 Euros for 8 hours on business class with meal and higher security, but here it is a lot of cash. In any case, security first for us (we even booked the day trip to avoid night travel and its added risks).
During our walk around Lima centre we not only saw pickpockets in action several times (they are only too obvious if you look carefully), but we also suffered 2 attempts to take stuff out of our backpacks.
Being "wise travellers" and Marcos having visited the Rastro flea market of Madrid many Sundays (where the gypsy networks do their best work!) we dont actually carry anything in our backpacks, and its just a decoy for the pickpockets. Twice we found the back zips of the bags undone after passing crowded areas. Quite amusing.
Marcos has decided to put a decoy wallet on the back part of the backpack with a note inside which says: "Seņor Carterista, muchas gracias por su servicio. Mejor suerte la proxima vez y recuerdos a su Seņora Madre" (Mr Pickpocketer, thank you for your service. Better luck next time and regards to your Dear Mother").

So after all this "rough" tourism, which is probably similar in many parts of the World but especially obvious in Lima, we decided that we needed some cultural oxygen and tonight we have obtained some tickets for the last theatre play of Mario Vargas Llosa (Next to the Thames). Its about 2 peruvians that live in London and meat and share experiences. What a better place to see it than in Peru?

Probably no entry until Monday as we will be travelling to Trujillo all day tomorrow. We are looking forward to some walks along the northern pacific beaches of Peru (now low season).

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