Seeing the Sights in Lima

Miraflores, Lima, PeruOn Thursday we slept in and got up around 10 am. We had a bit of breakfast and hung out with Mariana, who doesn’t start work until 2 pm.

A few comments about where we found ourselves at this point. Lima is a large, modern city with corporations, malls, expressways, etc. The population is approximately 8 million, many of whom live in normal middle class homes, and many more of whom live in poverty on the outskirts of the city. The friends I have in Lima are educators at private schools and come from established families in Peru, so our experience of Lima was solidly the former rather than the latter.

The home that we were staying in was large and lovely. The front area featured a formal living room and dining room with amazing wood floors. There was also a bathroom and bedroom on that level, as well as the kitchen area. Upstairs were several bedrooms and a bathroom. On the first day we woke up there, we realized that the house kept going on and on. There were parts of the house we never actually saw – there was a staircase down to the bottom level where there seemed to be a garden, a servants’ apartment, and the garage. We felt very comfortable and very at home with Ana Maria and her family. All of them speak English rather well, so Dave was able to communicate when he needed to, though I often took advantage of the opportunity to talk to them in Spanish so I could get some practice.

While we were sitting in the kitchen chatting with Mariana and trying to figure out what to do that day, we heard voices in the street. We walked out to the front room and saw people marching. Mariana told us that this sort of thing happens every so often – the lower classes marching in demand of more pay, health care, or something. The march frequently goes past their house toward the government buildings downtown.

We finally got ready to go out. Lima doesn’t have a subway system, and the buses are pretty crazy, so Ana Maria had insisted that we take taxis everywhere we go, and preferably to call the taxi company that she has an account with. Mariana called us a taxi and we headed out around 12:30 pm.

We got to Lima Centro and were about two blocks from our destination when the taxi got stopped in stand-still traffic. He explained that the protests were taking place in the block in front of us, and he could go no further. He told us it would be best if we got out here, and that we should have no problem walking through the protest in order to go straight through to where we were going. We thanked him and paid him and got out of the cab into the streets of downtown Lima.

I suggested that, rather than walking through the protest, we go a block out of our way around the situation. At that point the protest seemed like pretty standard chanting with little sign of violence, but we didn’t want to get involved. So we enjoyed our stroll in the other direction for a bit. The sun was actually shining (not a given in Lima during the winter months) so it was pleasant.

By the time we got back around the block to the same street where the protests had been taking place, we saw a huge cloud filling the block where the protesters had been, and all the people in the street (passers-by and tourists, police, everyone) were covering their mouths and noses to try to avoid inhaling it. Apparently the police had decided that the protesters had had enough, so they sprayed tear gas. It was vile.

We arrived at the Church of San Francisco, a monastery from 1673 where we intended to tour the catacombs. It was a relief to get off the street – away from the dispersing tear gas – and into the building. We asked about the tour, and they wouldn’t allow us to pay in dollars. We hadn’t yet had a chance to get Peruvian currency (the Nuevo Sol, or “soles” in plural), so we were back out on the street in search of a bank.

Peru CongressWe headed another block away from the tear gas, and found ourselves walking along a park. I wanted to check out the park a bit, but Dave kept us focused on our mission to get some currency. We got to the end of the park and then turned back in the direction of downtown. As we walked, we found ourselves in front of the Congress building, where there were more demonstrators standing with signs, etc. Fortunately we also found a bank.

We walked in and asked if it would be possible to exchange traveler’s checks. It turned out to be something of a production – the bank manager had to call some phone number to get it approved, and they charged us some significant amount of money as a fee. We ended up waiting there for a good 20 minutes, watching the strange infomercials they were playing on the swanky flat screen TV that faced the waiting area. At the end of it, we didn’t care – we were just glad to have soles to spend, so we took the cash and headed back out.

Parque de la MurallaWe went back the way we came, so we spent a few minutes checking out the park that we’d seen. It turned out to be the Parque de la Muralla, which features the wall built in 1686 when Lima was founded as a colonial city. In addition to the excavated features of the original city, there are now modern fountains and bougainvilleas, as well as a charming restaurant. It was a peaceful place to wander after the craziness of the protests and everything just a few blocks away.

We headed back to the Church and joined the tour. The tour group was larger than I would have expected (maybe 12-15 people) and quite a few of them were clearly North American, probably there on an evangelism trip (I surmised from their T-shirts). A number of them didn’t speak Spanish, which was a hardship considering the tour guide gave the tour only in Spanish. They did have a translator with them, who at times was louder than the guide, which I found annoying.

Church of San FranciscoThe church was very cool, and featured art from the 17th and 18th centuries in its various chapels and hallways. It was originally a Franciscan monastery, so there were many murals of St. Francis of Assisi. The climax of the tour was down in the catacombs beneath the main sanctuary (occasionally you can look up through the ceiling in the catacombs and catch glimpses of pews and stained glass windows). It was amazing to me that there were so many piles of bones. The group was discouraged from taking pictures of the remains, but of course people did anyway. There was one part of the catacombs that was shaped like a well but was filled with artistically piled skulls. I suppose that’s an irresistable photo if you’re in to that kind of thing.

It may come as a surprise that after seeing 300 year old bones we would want to have lunch, but we were rather hungry by this time, having eaten very little all day. We wandered a bit through the downtown area and came to a tiny lunch place. They of course had a World Cup game on, so we watched that (along with a couple of businessmen and some other young men who were probably cousins of the people working at the restaurant) while we ate. The food was very good and extremely cheap for the amount of food we got. Dave had what was basically chicken fried rice, and I had meat and potatoes (I believe it was goat meat). I think we paid about 4 dollars total, including the Inka Kolas we drank.

We walked around the Plaza de Armas a bit, which is where the cathedral and the Palacio de Gobierno face. The latter is presumably where the president lives, though I’m not sure that he actually does. Apparently it’s quite a sight to see the changing of the guard there, but we were a couple of hours too late for that.

We walked along a pedestrian mall, where Dave was accosted with religious stickers by a very small girl, to whom we then had to give money. We ended up at the Plaza San Martin, where we took a few pictures and then hailed a cab and headed off to another neighborhood, Miraflores.

Jenn with JFK in LimaMiraflores is a lovely neighborhood, filled with cute cafes and restaurants, good shopping, and scenic landscaping. It also borders the beach. It’s hard to say if this is the reason why it’s touristy, or if it was touristy first and became cute and scenic. In either case, it was a good place for us to visit. We got there around 4 pm and wandered around the two small parks found in the middle of the main area – Parque Central and Parque Kennedy. I was thrilled to find the bust of John F. Kennedy in the middle of the park.

Ana Maria had recommended that we take the Mirabus, which was a double-decker bus tour through the neighborhood. It started at 5 pm and it turned out to be the perfect thing. We sat on the top deck of the bus and had an amazing view during the entire ride. The bus took us all around the residential parts of the neighborhood, some pre-Columbian ruins, along the coast – which had some amazing parks, past a battlefield where Peru had fought Chile in the late 1800s, then back through the more urban parts of the neighborhood.

Miraflores Municipal buildingWhen we arrived back to the Parque Central, we got off the bus and took a few more photos. We noticed a small art exhibit on the back end of the Miraflores Municipal building. The exhibit was free, and our curiosity was piqued because the subject of the art was George Washington. It was very strange art, featuring the founder of the United States in various surrealist situations.

We then caught a taxi back to Ana Maria’s house. It was a crazy ride because it was rush hour – but, like all taxi drivers, the goal was to get us to our destination as quickly as possible. We held tightly to the door handles and made it home in one piece.

We were the first ones home, and gradually the family started arriving. Ana Maria had arranged for us to go out to a show that featured music and dancing from all over Peru. The group was to include us, all of Ana Maria’s family (4) plus her nephew, plus my other friend Marisa, plus another American named Chris – a teacher from Manhattan who had been in Peru for a couple of weeks with a group of junior high students building houses in one of the impoverished areas.

It was probably a good couple of hours before the group was finally together and we could all head out. We piled into Ana Maria’s and Marisa’s cars and drove to the place. Fortunately it wasn’t too far away.

Brisas del TiticacaThe name of the show was “Las Brisas del Titicaca” (breezes of the lake Titicaca, which is shared between Peru and Bolivia). The ticket said the show was to start at 8 pm, which was clever of them, because it didn’t actually start until 9 pm. (We arrived around 8:30 pm.) It was a dinner show, so we were all seated at long tables and were able to order food while enjoying the spectacle. Ana Maria took charge of ordering different dishes and beverages so we could taste different kinds of typical Peruvian food. It was all delicious – seafood, meats, potatoes and yuca. We also had our first Pisco Sour, which tasted something like making a Whiskey Sour with tequila. It was pretty yummy.

Brisas del TiticacaThe show was amazing. There were several different musical groups that played music from different parts of Peru. Peruvians typically think of their country in three different parts – coast, mountains, and jungle – and the show was more or less divided along those lines. The musicians were very good, but what was most entertaining was the dancers. They did dance after dance from the various departments (similar to states in the U.S.) in the different costumes worn by dancers in those regions. It went on for hours. Finally, they came to a point where they invited all visitors to join the dancers on the dance floor, so Chris and Dave and I were pressured to go out and ended up in a long chain holding hands with dozens of other people just making a big amorphous rhythmic shape around the dance floor… picture the Hava Nagila but less geometric and with Peruvian folk music instead of Hebrew music.

At this point – it was around midnight – we thought it was over, but then a whole new band came out and started playing, and then more dancers began new dances. Ana Maria asked one of the employees what time the show was scheduled to be over, and the answer was 2 am! That was too late on a Thursday night for people who had to go to work and/or school the next day, and of course Dave and I were also exhausted. So, we headed home around 12:30 am.

When we got home, Ana Maria and Ricky brought out some pannetone to celebrate Mariana’s 26th birthday, which had commenced as of midnight. Mariana was so excited to have been able to go out with her family and some new friends on the eve of her birthday. We stayed up and had tea with the dessert, and finally got to bed around 1:30 am.

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