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Back in Lima

Written on: Friday November 30th, 2007

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Lima, Peru

Author: Julie

Hola! 

We had debated leaving Huacachina one day later but decided against it knowing that we had only 2 days to visit Lima and to get a refund on our one-way tickets that we had been forced to buy before leaving Ottawa. Lima, nicknamed the City of the Kings, is the capital and the largest city of Peru with one third of the Peruvian population (7.8 million habitants) living within its borders. We hopped on a bus from Ica and 4 ½ hours later we were in Lima. We could tell we were getting closer when we saw the Pacific Ocean appear to our left and the barrio tenements were to our right.

We arrived at the bus terminal located in the district of San Borja and for 10 soles headed off to the district of Miraflores, established in 1857 and now know as an upscale area for its shopping areas, flower-filled parks, beaches, theatres, cinemas and art galleries. We hadn?t booked a hostel ahead of time but crossed our fingers that we could find something at a decent rate. Our first stop was Loki Lima, located across Kennedy Park, since we had really enjoyed our stay in their sister hostel in Cusco. They had a matrimonial room available for the first 2 nights but not the 3rd, we would have to bunk in a small dorm room. Next order of business was food, we were starved and Miraflores was full of fast-food franchises from home including McDonald?s, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Burger King. Kevin made a bee-line for McDs with me not trailing too far behind. A Quarter-Pounder, Big Mac, and Chicken McNuggets never tasted so good. We didn?t speak a word to each other the whole time, just savoured the moment. After three months of grilled chicken, grilled beef, spaghetti, noodles, and rice we were ready for a taste of home, even better if it was the most un-nutritious but oh-so-good food we could find in Canada. Even after all the food we had ordered, we were still hungry so we stopped at their ice cream stall and ordered a chocolate sundae and McFlurry. All we have to say is: Oh My God!!

The next morning we hopped in a taxi to the Air Canada office. We weren?t sure how easy it would be to get our refund but we crossed our fingers that in the end we could get our money back without hassle. It was a big enough amount and we had carried the cost of it on our credit card for the past 2 months. We didn?t want to pay it off, get a refund then end up with a credit on our card for two reasons: 1) if our card was stolen, that was money lost and 2) we didn?t want to take that amount of money out of our budget since we rarely use the card while travelling. The office, located in a quiet residential neighbourhood of Miraflores, was plastered in Air Canada office supplies. The chairs, mugs, file folders, letterhead, pens, filing cabinets, glass partitions, cubicle walls, everything was grey and red with the logo. We never felt more at home. Our refund was quickly processed without an argument with a few documents needing to be filled and a promise that our credit card would be credited within 7 work days since it needed to be processed from the home office in Canada. I hope everything works well and that I don?t need to be on the phone to Canada next week.

The afternoon was approaching and we were starved. After being dropped off in front of our hotel, we made our second fast-food stop at Pizza Hut for a meat-lovers pie. Again, food never tasted so good or dripped with so much grease. It was fantastic! We spent the remainder of the afternoon walking around the neighbourhood of Miraflores with its shopping malls, cafes, bars, restaurants, and modern buildings. We stopped in at a couple of large department stores looking for jeans for me (I can?t stand wearing these green pants almost every day) and a hat and belt for Kevin. He was lucky but I didn?t find anything that fit me. The women of Peru are much shorter than me and have no hips to speak of, so nothing fit my North American body. I?m thinking of having my old jeans shipped to me from home, it would cost the same for the shipping as buying a new pair.

The next day was our last day before flying out of Lima to Cusco to continue our trip towards the south Peru and into Bolivia. We caught a taxi for 12 soles to downtown Lima (El Centro) to visit the Plaza Mayor and the old colonial building. Our taxi ride reminded us that Lima with its huge population boom was not the safest place. The taxi driver told me to put my bag on the floor between Kevin and I and to roll up our windows for security sake. The drive took us along the main highway that cuts through town and we saw many international companies like Scotiabank (which is ubiquitous in South America), Deloitte and Touche, and Virgin International. We were dropped off at the Plaza Mayor with its central bronze fountain erected in 1650. It was in this exact location that Francisco Pizarro found the city of Lima January 18, 1535 as the City of Kings. It was also the site of site of execution of the condemned until death by the Court of Santa Inquisición, as well as in 1821 where the Act of Indepence of Peru was proclaimed.  To the left of the 16th century Cathedral was the Gobierno?s Palace or also known as Pizarro House, the home of Peru?s president. Due to the high number of coups in recent years, the palace was surrounded by army tanks mounted with huge Tommy guns and soldiers with AK-47s. We stopped for a moment near the entrance to consult our map and we were asked politely by one of the guards to move on. There used to be a bronze statue of Pizarro riding a horse, but the clergy had it moved after taking offence to having the horse?s butt facing the Cathedral.

We decided to visit the Cathedral, which was begun in 1535, the same year was founded. It was destroyed during the earthquake of 1746 and was re-built and remodelled. Just before entering we were approached by an English-speaking man offering his city tour guiding services. We though about it for a few moments and knowing that we had this one day in Lima to visit the sights we agreed to it. Juan took us for a 3-hour tour around the declared UNESCO World Heritage Site of the historic center. We began with a walk around the Playa Mayor, then walking west we stopped at the main river that bisects the city: Rio de Rimac. It was a very dirty river, mostly brown in color with loads of garbage along its shores and floating in the river. In the past, the river flow was 3 meters higher but hydro-dam projects to the north has reduced the flow to a slow, brown sludge.

The third stop was the Santo Domingo Monastery built in 1606. We entered the main cloister with hand-made and hand-painted Sevillan tiles. Above the tiles were paintings discovered during the 1974 renovations depicting the life and death of Saint Francis de Assis. The cloister has 44 columns that surround a large courtyard with a central fountain and beautiful garden. We visited the large church with its various altars dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary and Saint Martin of Porres. They had just celebrated the fiesta of the Lady of the Rosary and her procession shrine was on display where we could see her skull. From the church we descended into the crypt dedicated to these two saints. There were a couple of worshipers praying and touching the tiled images of the saints. As they prayed in quiet devotion, they would hold their hands over the painted hands of the saints, as if they could feel a source of energy. I felt a little uncomfortable that I, a tourist and non-practicing Christian, was obviously interrupting their prayer and quiet time, out of sheer curiosity during a tour. Lastly, we visited the main entrance room where the monks receive visitors. What made this room so special was the intricate ceiling made out of 15000 pieces of wood and held together by sheer pressure without nails or glue.

Along the streets of Central Lima we walked, stopping at the Torre Tagle Palace, a mansion built in the 18th century, originally owned by Don Bernardine Jose of Tagle Portocarrero, fourth and last Marquess of Torre Tagle. The building now houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Peru. What was interesting about it was the two balconies on the exterior. During the construction of Lima in the 16th century, the Spanish heavily influenced by the Moors, built large wooden balconies on the exterior with intricately hand-carved designs which hid the occupants (usually women of the household) while allowing them to be able to look outside. Over 1600 of these balconies were built in Lima, but none as perfectly. In order to retain their conservation, the city of Lima has invited individuals and companies to adopt a balcony and help retain a unique aspect of old colonial times of Lima.

Next we visited the Mercado Central, in the heart of Lima. In 2003, a large pack of fireworks were accidentally lit in the market and a large fire broke out. Over 280 people lost their lives that day when the firemen arrived over 2 hours later because the roads were too congested with cars, stalls, and pedestrians. Since then, the roads around the market are closed off to automobile traffic as well no merchant can set up stalls. Inside, there was a butcher?s area, a fruit and vegetable area, a hardward area, a spice and baking supply section, a whole floor for cooked foods, and an area for every day knick knacks. We walked around and this is the first time we were in a market that smelled nice and was clean. I almost wanted to buy meat, almost.

The 6th stop on our tour was an outside view of the Congress building. Tours were not allowed anymore since 1985 when the Shining Path terrorist group seized the building and kidnapped many officials. It took almost two months of negotiations before everyone was released and the terrorists surrendered.

To the left of the Congress is the Inquisition Museum, located inside the original Inquisition building. We took a quick tour, seeing the gruesome means of torture used to extract confessions from the falsely accused, as well the original sells where they were held while they awaited sentencing by the Royal Inquisition Court. Original walls have been preserved behind glass with engravings done by the accused asking for forgiveness and stating their innocence. We also saw the Inquisition Courtroom, and as horrible as the history is for this room, it is amazing beautiful with another intricately carved ceiling with 33,000 individual pieces of word, held together by pressure and no nails or glue.

Our last stop and where we parted ways with Juan was the Church and Convent of San Francisco. It was built in 1672 and is known for its large library as well its catacombs. There are currently 35 monks who reside there but it can accommodate up to 130 men. Our tour took us through the entrance and up the main stairs which is capped by beautiful wooden dome built in 1625 from cedar wood imported from Nicaragua. It was severely damaged in an earthquake both in 1940 but it was restored in 1969 by master-craftsmen who studied the old methods to reproduce exactly the same result. Next we visited the Library, which contains 25,000 books on subjects of religion, mathematics, biology, geography, English, Quechua, and most importantly Latin. In the collection is a bible from 1571, as well as books printed by the first printer in Italy in 1440. Near the library we passed by the 4 procession shrines including the largest and most ornate one which is taken out on the 1st Sunday of November and is made of 1 ½ tons of silver. It takes 32 strong men to carry it. Lastly we saw what most people come to see: the catacombs. In the old days, the population believed to ascend to heaven they had to be buried under their favoured altar. The catacombs are built directly under the church and are constructed of bricks made from lime, sand, water and over 500, 000 egg whites. There are two floors but only the first floor has been excavated and opened to the public. From 1672 to 1808, over 25 thousand people were buried in these catacombs. In 1808, the mayor of Lima, realising that there was a health risk had cemeteries built on the outskirts of the city, but still many continued to be buried under the church till 1821 when the catacombs were finally closed. In 1947, the monks excavated the catacombs and found thousands and thousands of bones and opened them to the public in 1950. In the beginning, the bodies were buried one on top of another, separated by sand and lime with each grave being 5 metres deep and containing 5 or 6 bodies, in the later years they were buried inside wooden coffins. During an excavations in 1947, the monks moved the bones around and we mostly saw large piles of leg bones in one place then arm bones in another and finally thousands of skulls. There are also 5 wells inside the catacombs, about 12 meters deep, that were used not for water but to absorb seismic shock waves during earthquake. Nowadays, the wells are piled high with bones and skulls arranged in fanciful patterns. We spent about 15 minutes walking around, looking at pile after pile of bones, being careful to not hit our heads on the low ceilings, and keeping an eye on our guide in the dimly light tunnels. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures so you?ll just have to take our word that it was slightly grisly being there knowing that so many souls had found their final resting place under and beside where we were walking.

 

From Crystal Rockburn on Dec 27th, 2007

I am so amazed by your stories and pictures... you are LIVING the dream ... CAPE DIEM