We arrive at Lima Airport, Peru. The airport is in the north of the city and we have a 40 minute taxi ride south to the area called Miraflores where we are staying. Our first impression is how Americanised the city is. This is a place that McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks and other US chains have colonised. I imagine that if you were an ex pat US person sent to work in Peru you would not feel that you had been sent to the end of the world. On a more depressing note, the city is also bursting with Casinos and other gambling joints.
We are staying at The Inca Frog, a $44 a night B&B that has the luxury of hot water, soap and plasma TVs. But no heating. It is late Spring here and, once again, we have to dress for bed. Debbie notices that the one blanket covering the bed barely reaches the sides and, thoughtfully, demands an extra blanket so that Sven can enjoy a modicum of warmth in the night and avoid another fight for the bed clothes.
Saturday 19th September
We decide to visit the old part of the city to the north of our residence. While in Quito, we were not brave enough to travel on a local bus but here, you either taxi or bus it as the distance is too great to walk. We jump on a bashed up metal tube that has benches that pass for seats. The locals must have small bottoms because we struggle to sit side by side as the bus lurches along. The driver either has his foot floored on the accelerator or floored on the brake as Sven, now sitting in the front seat, finds himself on several occasions, feet from certain death. Drivers have no qualms about cutting each other up in the fight to get to the side of the road to compete for passengers and, no matter where the bus is headed, the ‘conductor’ tries to convince every waiting body that his bus is going exactly where they want. The half hour journey costs us 3 sols for both of us (about US$1).
After alighting, calming down and thanking the Almighty for sparing our miserable lives, we head for a bit of culture. However, all the churches are shut to faithful and unbelievers alike so we wander some of the streets.
This old, colonial area of the city contrasts with the modern suburb where we are staying. It has old buildings, full of character and dilapidation. There are the old churches and cathedral dating back 400 years, the ‘palace’, the old railway station and restaurants that are open-fronted hole-in-the-wall style that seat maybe 20 offering local dishes. Shops are grouped together so that all the shops selling glasses are in line, adjacent to one another. The next street is full of shoe shops, the next wedding outfits. The only streets that have an eclectic mix are pedestrianized but are full of western style outlets that we do not need to experience.
Arriving at the river, a surprisingly small stream that is barely running, we join a happy throng of Revolutionaries who are protesting about 5 Cubans imprisoned in the United States. The protest takes the form of a concert with a number of different acts following one another. It’s not rock music but rather local dirges sung to a guitar, sometimes with someone banging a speaker with their hand for an accompanying beat. ‘Free the Five’ they shout in between turns.
As a revolutionary myself, I introduce myself as the Chairman of the Cobham Revolutionary Apathy Party (or CRAP for short). They seem strangely non-plussed about my doctrine. Is it that they fail to grasp the mental rigours of Revolutionary Apathy or do they not care? If it is the latter then they are natural followers and I am speaking to the converted. I imagine myself on millions of tee shirts: Che Sven inscribed below a youthful picture of the young, good-looking chap that I am. Debbie interrupts my dreams by suggesting we leave before we get lynched. Reluctantly, I drag myself away whilst at the same time engaging myself in the highly intellectual argument as to whether it is against the doctrine of apathy to be bothered to attempt to convert people in the first place.
We arrive at the Church of San Francisco, the founder of the Franciscan religious movement founded 800 years ago next month. It is another place of questionable doctrine but well worth a visit. The church has extensive catacombs where thousands of people were laid to rest. Apparently, some time ago, everyone who died in Lima was buried in the catacombs of one of the many churches in the city. The poor were unceremoniously chucked into a well beneath the church, whilst the better off were laid one on top of the other in one of the numerous vaults. No one is quite sure how many dead are in the Catacombs but our guide claims (a conservative) 25,000 dead. The bones have been rearranged and are neatly stacked in a mass of tibia, fibula, scapula, skulls and various other body parts. A good second hand bone shop! The roof of the catacombs have grills that form part of the floor of the church and, we imagine, that the smell must have been very unpleasant. Next to the church is the monastery that has fabulously carved seating made from Cedar wood brought from Central America. There is also a library with books that are nearly 500 years old. Regrettably they sit in an area with windows open to the outside that can do the old tomes no good whatsoever.
Walking back through the main square, we happen across a wedding party arriving at the Cathedral. We decide to gate crash the ceremony and, despite obviously not being dressed for the occasion, we are not forcibly ejected. To our surprise the music is familiar: Here comes the Bride, as she glides, swan-like toward to poor chap in front of the altar who stares at her with terror.
Spurning our chance to join the reception, we jump on another bus back toward Miraflores where we are staying. The conductor has not told the whole truth about the destination because we suddenly veer off in the wrong direction. Intrepid explorers that we are, we jump off and make our way to Parque Paseo de Aguas where there are numerous fountains. It has gone dark now, being 6.30 in the evening and the fountains are lit up with different coloured light. Music is playing through speakers alongside each fountain but the water jets dance to their own tune and it is not clear which of them is out of step. Some of the displays are open to people to walk through, which is fun, and one in particular invites onlookers to dodge water jets that spring from the ground to get to the centre and back.
At various times, the water traps those within it until an opportune moment comes for escape. Lots of local kids play in this fountain, most of whom are soaking wet, whilst stern looking, yellow suited, fun killing security guards blow angry whistles at them. Debbie egged on poor Sven to give the water dodging a try but, after a pathetic 10 feet into the wet area, a column of water scores a direct hit at the base of the neck to give an early bath. Unable to stop, Sven stumbles into the centre whereupon he is trapped by a rising wall of water. The soaking wet kids splash each other with much of the water flicking on to our poor hero. As the wall of water subsides, he makes a dash for safety but an evil water jet has other ideas and an accurate shot from the ground to the groin gives Sven the look of incontinence. There’s no fool like an old fool!
We retreat to an Argentinian restaurant that also serves fish (for Debbie) where the waiters eye Sven suspiciously. Does that wet crutch indicate a problem customer? Should they place a protective cover over the seat and on the floor? Or do they want the money? Cash, as always, is king and dinner is served.
Sunday 20th September
A lazy morning that rolls into the afternoon as we fill our blog. This is incredibly time consuming and requires great thought and consideration: today we have had some 600+ photos to go through from the Galapagos to chose the best for you!!
So, in desperate need of a break we’ve taken a short walk down to the beach – it is windy and cold. We visited an exhibition on ‘Oro del Peru’ that is showing pieces of gold and other precious metals, jewellery and artefacts belonging to the pre-Columbian cultures that developed in the North of Peru.
A walk around the coast-line back to the hostel has bought our short trip to Lima to an end – we are off south tomorrow (Monday 21st) to Nazca – we have seen most of what Lima has to offer so it’s time to move on. No sightings of Paddington as yet!