13/08/12 – 16/08/12 – Lima, Peru
Peru has a capital city and it is Lima. Lima earned itself a rambunctious reputation in the 80’s and 90’s as a bit of a terrorism hotspot no thanks to the Maoist commy group ‘The Shining Path’. Generally their attacks including disablement of infrastructure, a few assassinations and several bombings. Their leader Abimael Guzman was captured in 1992 and thankfully activity has declined since then. Even still, Smart Traveller wants you to be wary, highly cautious and keep your eyes out for petty crime as well. Generally travelers go to one of two places, Downtown or Miraflores. Downtown is your historical district, gritty, warts and all and full of interesting things to see.. but potentially dangerous at night; particularly on the other side of the river.. we kept hearing. Miraflores is a bit of an anomaly, people stay here because it has a reputation for being quite safe, if not slightly over sanitised.
We arrived late from Nazca, pushing through the atrocious traffic to the Cruz Del Sur terminal. Additionally we’d been warned about taxi’s as well. Evidently Lima had no ‘official’ taxi’s so be careful when picking one out of the seemingly thousands on the road. Exiting the terminal we found a crinkly faced old man who smiled and said ‘taxi’.. The ultimate deception I thought, get an old man to front up to the tourists, get them in the taxi and then mug them for everything! Slightly paranoid I thought and we negotiated a fair price into Miraflores. He nodded knowingly as if to say ‘of course’ when I said Miraflores.. typical he must have thought. Quite a comfy ride in, some broken conversation and some Peruvian marching music.. loud… REAL LOUD.
But we got to the hostel, checked in and went for a walk, on the look-out for dinner. Miraflores has a bit of a ‘Stepford Wives’ things happening. It is very clean, some nice buildings here and there and some flashy casinos. All amongst tree-lined boulevards. The suburbs are littered with lovely clean blocks of houses and apartments tucked behind high-walls with electric fences and swept clean daily by a uniformed sanitation department. High-rolling Peruvians walk their fluffy little dogs along the pristine streets to the beachfront cliffs where, perched some 100 meters above the waves crashing below, lattes can be sipped at Starbucks, some Italian food ordered at Tony Romeos or some Havianas purchased. It’s really quite nice, a little disarming but nice. The one constant reminder of chaos is the choking pollution and density of traffic everywhere. Add to that, the Peruvians, or at least the Limanese (right..?) love their car horns. Irrespective of who might be walking right in front of them, they’ll let they 136db car horn off just to let you know they’re there. They do.. they really do.. when you turn around, a taxi driver will be looking at you, eyebrows raised in the vague hope you’ll look at him and go ‘Sir! Thank you! You saved my day.. I’d like you to drive me to Patagonia’ .. It never happens like that, I don’t know how they stay motivated.
Did you know there was a horrible earthquake in Lima? There was. In 1746. It leveled just about everything. Anything of any real historical draw, is aged from then on; with the exception of some Incan ruins scattered here and there. We got a taxi into the historical area, starting at Plaza San Martin and walking the pedestrianised mall stretch to Plaza De Armas / Plaza Mayor, which is tourist ground zero. It’s a very impressive central square, surrounded by Lima’s finest buildings. The iconic La Catedral de Lima on one side, the government palace on another. We arrived in time to watch the changing of the guard. A tourist draw-card, tourists in their hundreds RAN over as soon as the horns sounded the start of the process.
Nearby, the Monesterio de San Francisco, a beautiful early colonial church with a famous catacomb system hiding away some 70,000 burials. Closed when we visited but we could marvel at the interior of the church, whose walls were lined with biblical depiction’s. We’d commonly seen this sort of representation throughout South America but they were particularly unusual here, they almost look like mannequins of biblical notables. We recognised Peter, John, Jesus and Mary of course, but then you’ll have the local church representatives thrown in there as well. With their spectacles and the like.
Back in Miraflores, we took in the local eateries, many of which flank Parque Kenneddy and it’s thriving population of local cats, always up to no good. I caught one that just wouldn’t let this woman leave without first attempting to climb into her handbag. It must have watched an episode of Jersey Shore or something and have seen what all those spoiled LA kids are doing.
Anyway we had some really good middle eastern food. Scoffing shwarmas was a great change to the typical South American fare we’d been used to. But we were both fatigued of dust, dry, altitude and desert and keen for a change of scenery. We left Lima on a cama bus, and spent a good 19 hours locked up in a small cabin with two morbidly obese gents who were seemingly having a sleep-apnea competition. I don’t know who won.. but I know who the losers were.