Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Plaza Mayor Fountain Lima

I have good memories of Lima. About four years ago, I joined Eric on an alumni trip down the Amazon on a 'floatel'. Our tour began and ended in Lima and we stayed in a particularly lovely part of town called Miraflores. We were walking distance from a 'huaca', a pre-Incan adobe temple, which seemed so out of place in this very vibrant and modern neighbourhood of Lima. Eric and I had the time to visit the ancient archeological site, which was intriguing and quite a contrast to the colonial centre we visited, and our subsequent trip up the Ucayali and the Marañon, the sources of the Amazon, and then down the big river itself.

Internet Moment Airport 5 AM

I have heard few positive comments about Lima. It was once a very dangerous city, but has improved significantly over the years. It is a huge metropolis of over nine million inhabitants, spread out lengthwise over a hundred kilometers along the Pacific. It feels modern and civilized and distinctly European, especially in the parts that I have seen, and this visit reinforced those impressions. Our hotel was again located in Miraflores, just a few blocks from 'Larcomar', a massive, many- tiered shopping/restaurant/entertainment complex hugging a cliff looking out over the ocean. We left Quito obscenely early, arrived in Lima in the midst of morning gridlock , and drove through several neighbourhoods for almost an hour until we reached the Pacific shore. The cliffs down to the ocean were brown and devoid of vegetation, and the 'beach' appeared to be landfill, with several trucks working on transporting material to reinforce the shoreline. The sky was foggy and grey and the air was heavy with moisture. Lima is located in a desert, and it rarely rains, but it is humid and the city has gardens and flowers everywhere. The city is divided into neighbourhoods, each with its own mayor, and every year there is a competition as to which community has the best garden.

There is sun each summer for a few months (summer is December and January, as it is the southern hemisphere), but most of the year it is drearily devoid of sunlight and the air is heavy and opaque. It was surprisingly cold. Limeños paint their houses in bright colours to combat the incessant grey, and stave off depression by living intensely. There are restaurants everywhere, and Peruvians are very proud of their cuisine. The flavours are quite different than those in Ecuador, although there are similarities in the Andean dishes. Cuy is a specialty, but not prepared as it is in Ecuador. Ceviche ( raw seafood mixed with lemon and seasoned with chili, salt and pepper) is the signature dish, and I tried it for my first meal in Lima. After we registered at our hotel and dropped off our bags, we walked along the Avenida Larco. I was planning to find a restaurant at Larcomar, with a view of the ocean, but we stopped before we got there, and ate at a Mediterranean establishment, where we were entertained by Egyptian waiters throughout our meal. They took a keen interest in Maya and charmed her with all sorts of antics, including writing all our names out in Arabic, and posing for photographs. Sherry and I tried 'chicha morada', the national Peruvian drink, made with blue corn and consequently a deep purple colour. After lunch, we wandered toward the cliff to look out over the ocean. There was no view because the air was so thick and misty. We watched the surfers, for a while, and then looked for a taxi for the half hour ride to a pair of museums about pre-columbian Peruvian cultures.

Larcomar Shopping

There were yellow and white cabs lined up at the curb. A compact woman with bottle-red short hair accosted us and offered us a ride in her yellow vehicle. She informed us that the white cabs were illegal and were in competition with the registered and law abiding yellow ones.
They may charge less, but they were undermining those who followed the rules and we were advised not to aid and abet them. The city of Lima is so spread out, that cabs are essential to get around. We had decided to go the Archeological/Anthropological Museum in an area called 'Pueblo Libre'. She offered to wait for us after our museum visit, since there were few cabs around and we were vulnerable without transportation. Not knowing any better, we elected to have her devote her day to us.

The museum was old, with displays that have probably not changed for fifty years. We chose a guide to direct us, which was helpful, because the museum covered the entire history of Peru, from paleolithic to Spanish conquest. I learned that as in Ecuador, there were many pre-columbian indigenous groups, and a wealth of cultures and art throughout Peruvian history. The Incas came along in the last couple hundred years before the Spaniards, and although the Inca Empire was magnificent, there were many impressive cultures that came before them. I realized that there was much to see in Peru, and that our visit this time would just scratch the surface. Our focus would be the Incas in Machu Picchu and Cusco for the next few days, and I will have to return to direct my energies to so much more to see and do in the country during a future visit. I was amazed and overwhelmed and excited with what we saw. I had not expected such a wealth of artifacts and cultures and history.

Mochica Ceramic Head

Nazca Ceramic

Inca Quipu

Last Supper with Cuy

The Larco Museum was nearby. It is a private museum, built on an ancient 'huaca' acessible by the original ramp, with a much more sophisticated presentation, and an amazing collection of mostly ceramics from the major civilizations throughout Peru's history. The Mochica ceramics were most impressive, but I learned about the Wari and the Tiwanakus and the Chimu and the Nazca and dozens of other cultures that predated the Incas. The Incas borrowed from those who came before them and improved on what they learned from their predecessors. Exposure to the prior cultures certainly gave me some context and understanding of who the Inca were and how they evolved into the empire-builders they became.

Larco Storerooms with Thousands of Artifacts

I could have spent more hours in the museums, but my companions were 'museumed out'.
Although they would have been perfectly content to return to the hotel (especially since we had woken up before 4 AM to catch our plane and had been up over 12 hours already!), I insisted we visit the historical centre. Our energetic taxi driver fought the considerable traffic to get to Plaza San Martin, where we alighted as day turned to night (there was no sun and no sunset, but grey turned to darker grey and lights went on to indicate nightfall) and we strolled down a pedestrian walkway to the Plaza Mayor, which was the main square of the original city.

Pizarro had chosen to build the capital of his new conquest in Lima, which he designed to be grander and more imposing than Cusco or Quito. Everything about Lima is bigger than Quito. The main plaza is four times bigger than the Plaza Grande in Quito, the cathedral, the government palace, the surrounding structures are all of a grander scale. The city had been destroyed and rebuilt in the 17th and 18th century after experiencing devastating earthquakes, so the only original structure in the main square is the central fountain. We arrived at the Plaza de Armas after dark, so we could not enter the buildings. 'Tanta', a restaurant nearby, had been recommended for its Peruvian specialties, so I tried 'ahi de gallina' with a traditional sauce, and pumpkin soup, and ordered far to much to eat in one meal, but everything in the menu looked so interesting and quite different from anything I had tried in Ecuador, and therefore exotic and irresistible.

Our Peru trip had been organized so that we had early morning wakeup calls every day, and so tomorrow was another 4 AM breakfast and ride to the airport to get on our Cusco flight, so we had to forgo Lima nightlife and try to rest in preparation for our next travel day. There was heavy traffic throughout the 25 minute ride to our hotel in Miraflores. Lima was gearing up for the evening as we tumbled into our beds.

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