Saturday, September 8, 2007

Lovely Lima

Sally says Lima has been the biggest surprise of the trip. That may be because her guidebook misled her by suggesting it was a dangerous place with little to see. It may also be the result of staying one night at the Hotel Lima Country Club, perhaps the nicest hotel of our trip.

Unfortunately, our flight out of Buenos Aires was delayed 4 hours. As a result, we missed the afternoon tour of the city that had been arranged through the hotel. But we managed to join a night tour, which although probably not as good, did allow us a brief glimpse of a few areas of the city. We particularly enjoyed San Isidro, where our hotel was located, and Miraflores, with its outstanding waterfront parks and elegant homes and shops. These were once small villages, but today are two of the main residential and tourist neighbourhoods. They are where you want to stay.

We also saw some of the historic centre, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The highlight was the Plaza Mayor or Main Square, laid out in 1535 by Lima’s founder Francisco Pizarro, and bounded by The Presidential Palace, the Cathedral, Municipal Offices, and a club. With its brightly painted yellow ochre buildings, and 17th century ornamental bronze fountain, it was most impressive.

A few interesting facts that I picked up on the tour. Lima’s population is over 9 million and the region is divided into 43 municipalities with 43 mayors. There is a large Chinese population which migrated to the country in the 19th century. There is no subway system; no streetcar system (since the tracks were removed years ago); just buses and unmetered taxis. Every fare has to be negotiated.

Our tour started around 6:30 which is in the beginning of the rush hour. The traffic congestion was horrendous, despite the efforts of traffic police in bright green gloves perched above many of the key intersections.

Adding to the congestion were jugglers and acrobats who wandered through the traffic, performing for a few centimos or sols. There were also a variety of vendors selling everything from stuffed animals to food and magazines. At least I didn't see women running out into the street on red lights holding up advertising banners, like they have in Buenos Aires!

I didn’t remember much about Lima's history from high school. But it's a very old place. Some of its archeological sites date back to 200 BC. From the 16th to 19th centuries it was a Spanish Colony, gaining independence on July 28, 1821. Local citizens remember the date since one of the city's streets is named Avenue July 28. Naming streets after important dates is quite a common practice throughout South America. Perhaps Vancouver should have a street commemorating its date of incorporation. I think it’s in May.

Following the tour, the eight of us were taken to a restaurant for dinner and a show. We expected a large venue, but were surprised to find a small restaurant with few other customers. We were seated next to the small stage, and the next thing we knew, the show began. It was a one hour extravaganza with a Peruvian band, and a very unusual variety of native dancers, acrobats, scissor musicians, and showgirls.

The food was very good as well, since it blends a lot of different cultures. We enjoyed some Pisca Sours, Peru's national cocktail, but didn’t try the local wine. Yes, there is a Peruvian wine industry, centred in the area where the recent earthquake hit.

While it was all quite entertaining, we were pleased to leave around 10 and return to the luxurious surroundings of our hotel. It had been a long day, what with the delay at the airport, and a two hour time change, and we were happy to sink into a king size bed in a king sized room ( 675 sq.ft. I measured it!) We slept quite well, despite the effects of the altitude sickness pills Sally insisted that we take to prepare us for Cusco, our next destination.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the Peruvian Gold Museum, which I had been told was a must, nor many of the other museums and grand colonial buildings. I suspect Sally’s guide book was correct in that relative to other major South American cities, there is not a lot to see, but much of what we did see was quite lovely. If you are coming to Peru to see Machu Picchu, it is worth staying over for a couple of days. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll be back too.


Brenda said...

Welcome home! Hello from the world traveler in Iowa! It was so nice to meet you on the night tour in Lima -- loved your blog and photos of the dinner show! What a memorable evening. I very much enjoyed our conversations, hearing about your world travels and sharing an amazing dinner! Glad to hear the rest of your travels went ok and you made it home safe and sound. I am sure it has been quite and adjustment getting "off the road." My Russian friend, Alyona, and I had a wonderful trip ourselves to Machu Picchu, the Amazon and the Galapogas Islands. it all seems so surreal to now be back in Iowa!

I would love to keep in contact and hear more about home swaps as well. Do let me know if your travels ever bring you to Iowa (you will always have a place to stay!) Keep in touch and glad to have met you somewhere in this small world!

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