Saturday, 11 September 2010

Peru Trip: Arrival in Lima

I've only been back in New York for a couple of days, but already my trip is starting to feel like a distant memory and I'm already pondering where I can go next. I'm very much looking forward to my long weekend in San Francisco in a couple of months even if I didn't manage to reserve space on the candlelight tour of Fort Point by the Golden Gate Bridge. Doesn't that sound lovely? I really liked the idea of that. Unfortunately they started taking reservations for the winter season while I was in Peru and by the time I got back it was booked solid for the whole season, however I did manage to score a Saturday night table at the supposedly amazing Flour + Water restaurant, so it's all good. I can't wait.

After spending most of Thursday unpacking and doing laundry I popped into work for the day yesterday - I know, why bother just for a Friday, but why waste a vacation day? Plus it was good to go in and ease myself back into my routine. Nobody expected very much of me yesterday and I pretty much sneaked in under the radar. I didn't really do much, just read through my emails and caught up with colleagues. Thankfully nothing imploded in my absence, it never does, although that never seems to stop me from fretting that something will go wrong despite my best efforts to tie everything up and write handover notes before I leave. I am giving myself worry lines for no good reason. Everyone in work commented on how relaxed I looked - I'm sure it won't last, although oddly I have returned from Peru with an aversion to coffee so maybe the lack of caffeine will help maintain the relaxed feeling a little longer - my boys on the other hand looked anything but stress free after 2 weeks under their own steam and they both said they were glad to have me back after having to deal with not only their own work, but also my client work and some of my management shite.

It felt nice to be missed and I brought them both back some Pisco and Peruvian chocolates to thank them for covering my vacation.

Melissa and I began our Peruvian adventure in Lima, a city given short shrift by most guide books in my opinion. Unfortunately we both paid a little too much mind to what the guide books had to say and only allowed ourselves a day to explore the capital, so I missed out on a few things I would have liked to see, like the bohemian Barranco neighborhood and the Museo Larco with it's collection of erotic pottery although we saw lots of reproductions of these pieces throughout our travels. In hindsight I would have docked our extra day we added in Cusco and added more time in LIma instead. Before we left on the Thursday night my mother called me at work to wish me a safe trip. "And what day will you be climbing Kilimanjaro?" She inquired.


"I'm hiking the Inca Trail Machu Picchu. Kilimanjaro is in Africa."

"Oh right."

Geography was never her strong suit.

We arrived in Lima at 6.30am on Friday August 27th after an overnight from New York and were at our Miraflores hotel by 8.30am after a shared airport pick up with fellow Gap traveller Anup Patel, owner of the most amazing skin I've ever seen. Despite recording temperatures in the high 60s Lima was overcast and drizzly, which is par for the course in Winter apparently with locals describing the grey skies as 'panza de buro' or donkey's belly. It was much colder than I expected and many of our fellow hotel guests had clearly equated South America with sunshine and were ill prepared for the damp climate in shorts and t-shirts. In spite of my 3 layers of clothing I shivered vicariously for them every time I caught sight of their goose pimpled flesh. Brrrrrrrrr!!!

Check in wasn't until 1p.m., so we had the hotel book us on a city tour for the morning and we were soon on a bus heading for downtown Lima. Naturally the soundtrack to the ride was traditional Andean pipe music. I tell you, you haven't lived until you've heard The Beatles' Penny Lane in an Andean pipe music style.

Now I'm assuming that Peruvian laws are in place to govern road traffic, however whatever laws do exist seem to be taken as a suggestion at best. Crossing the road in Peruvian cities is not for the faint of heart. Take my advice and cross with a local whenever possible otherwise you'll likely find yourself stuttering at the edge of the road forever. Embarrassingly on more than one occasion the locals I found myself shadowing were small school children who fearlessly navigated their way across the roads without a speck of adult supervision. Peruvians must be born with an innate sense of traffic survival, especially in the face of all those reckless combi drivers on the loose.

"We call them combi-killers, because they are so dangerous" said Rosa, our Lima City Guide, matter of factly. Good to know. I made a mental note never to cross in front of an oncoming combi. The traffic in New York seems sedate by comparison.

Female police officers attempt to organise some of the bedlam from their Inca Kola sponsored perches in the thick of the chaos.

"Women police officers are less corrupt" said Rosa emphatically. Apparently this is not just a personal character assessment, but a national sentiment with over 30% of Peruvians believing police corruption to be a major issue. According to an article I read on this blog it was decided in February 2009 that “all male traffic cops would be reassigned to desk jobs, and the streets would be run by women [because] the majority don’t ask for bribes and when offered they refuse them. And rather than letting people off with warnings, they are far stricter with drivers who commit crimes like running red lights or driving under the influence.”

So there you go.

With 8.5million residents a subway system would be a massive advantage for the worker bees commuting in Lima, however the city is built on a fault line, so developing an underground transportation system is a bit tricky to say the least, however the Peruvians are supposedly being assisted by the Japanese in trying to circumvent any seismic challenges, so a subway system may well be on the cards.

The tour bus dropped us off in the winding streets of the historic center of Lima for our first stop at the Museo Banco Central De Reserva del Peru, which specializes in Pre-Colombian archeology including the pieces below from the fabulous Hugo Cohen Gold Collection.

Funeral masks like the one shown below were "intended to protect the remains of deceased dignitaries and signal their status in their transit to the afterlife."

I'm not sure what the significance of this chap was, I just liked his expression.

Nasca narigueras such as the one shown below are "elaborate nose important element of personal adornment." They look eye watering to wear!!

After the museum we took a short walk to the Plaza de Armas, or Plaza Mayor, which was mobbed by school children on day trips. The Government Palace, Cathedral of Lima, Archbishop's Palace of Lima, the Municipal Palace, and the Palace of the Union surround the plaza, which was heavily guarded on the day we were there owing to a visit from the President of Panama. I found the plaza to be very reminiscent of the Plaza de Armas in Santiago.

Lastly we visited the Iglesias San Francisco Monastery where we admired the cloisters with frescos depicting the life of St Francis of Assisi and toured the catacombs which span 2 layers and contain the remains of around 25,000 people. Apparently until 1808 everyone was buried in the catacombs and excavations are still ongoing, so more remains could well be found. In 1808 the main cemetery opened. Unfortunately photography is strictly forbidden so I couldn't so much as sneak a picture of the inside and we didn't have much time to take photos of the building itself, but I snapped this one through the window of the bus as we headed back to Miraflores.

We had the bus drop us off to find lunch at the Larcomar shopping center on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. As shopping centers go - and I'm not a big fan of such places - it's in a nice setting and I enjoyed a traditional dish of lomo saltado, a delicious Peruvian staple of stir fried beef served with chips/fries and boiled rice - why have one starch when you can have two? - at Mangoes while enjoying the spectacular, if overcast, view of the ocean.

After lunch we walked back to the hotel via the Artisans Market for an introductory meeting at 6.30pm with our tour organiser, Ybone, and 2 of the other 4 members of our group, Jamie and Sarah, medical students from England, then dinner at one of Lima's finest restaurants, Astrid y Gaston, tucked away on a side street a 15minute walk from our hotel.

I can't recommend this restaurant enough.

We didn't have a reservation, so instead ate in the cosy bar area which offers the same menu as the restaurant and were well looked after by our waiter who, after learning we wanted to eat lightly, suggested we split both an appetizer of scallops prepared two different ways and a mixed seafood main course.

It turned out to be more than enough food and even with drinks - a camu camu sour and a glass of wine for me - I was pleasantly surprised to find the dinner only set me back $40.03. The quality and amount of food we had would have easily been double that in New York and sadly we were too stuffed to sample one of Astrid's famed desserts, but we did get to feast our eyes on a divine looking chocolate something via the guy dining at the next table.


jennieinlondon said...

Loving the trip blogs so far- it's me, the American living in London who is also going to Machu Picchu. I'll be going on Tuesday (well, leaving London on Tues., getting to Cusco on Wed morning).I'm so excited and reading your blog has me even more excited!

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Hi Jennie, thanks for stopping by. Have a fantastic time. The Inca Trail is tough, especially day 2, but you will LOVE it. I have a recommendation for you though - get yourself a headlight if you have a chance. You will find it invaluable when dealing with the bathrooms on the trail as there is no lighting and it's useful to have your hands free. Sachets of Gatorade powder are also quite useful for the achy muscles!! I also recommend hiring a telescopic walking stick from your tour organizer when you get there - just $5 for our tour - as they really help on the way down and are light enough that if you don't like using it you can throw it in your day pack. Have a great trip!!

jennieinlondon said...

Thanks! I've got a headlamp and was planning on hiring a stick. I'm not sure if we have Gatorade here to get before I leave but will get some thing similar or look when I'm there. Loving reading about the rest of your trip! I'm a bit nervous about the trail but excited too!

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Hi Jennie,

I was really worried about the trail too, but I was fine and you will be too.

I don't think they have Gatorade in England either, but Lucazade is similar, or other electrolyte replacing sports drink. Boots probably has something in powder form, if not you can buy it in Cusco, but it comes in pretty big containers. Have a fabulous trip!! I am so excited for you.

Amel said...

Finally I have enough time to blog-hop and read your adventures...LOVE LOVE LOVE your journals and the pictures, too.

OK, off to reading the other posts he he...btw, GREAT news...I just got a PERMANENT job contract!!! WOOOHOOOOO!!! :-D

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Hi Amel,

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for all the comments. I am glad you have enjoyed the posts.

Congratulations on the permanent job post, that's great news!!!