We loved Lima.
Of all the places that we plan to visit, Lima was reputedly the most dangerous one. We had debated skipping Lima but since it was halfway between Piura and Nazca, we had decided to spend a day there just to break up our journey and rest a bit. We ended up staying two extra days because we couldn’t get enough.
Like all colonial cities which once were part of the New Spain, Lima’s downtown is centered around the “Plaza de Armas” with the cathedral on one side and the “Palacio de Gobierno” (Government Palace) on the other: the two authorities which rule everyday life. Lima’s downtown is gorgeous.
Lima was founded by Francisco Pizarro who arrived from Spain in 1532. Pizarro arrived in Peru just as civil war in the Inca Empire was coming to an end and he quickly took advantage of the weakened state of the Inca army. By all accounts he was a ruthless and cruel leader. Pizarro was assasinated by his own men and his remains are kept in the cathedral.
During the colonial period, the “Holy” Inquisition was very active in Lima and we visited the building which used to house it and is now a museum.
We visited the “Museo de la Nacion” and learned about Peru’s very rich history. Specially striking is the exhibit dedicated to the two decades (1980-2000) of fight between the government and the terrorist organization “Sendero Luminoso” (Shining Path). Ever since I first learned about it in grade school, I have wondered how such a beautiful name could house such horrors. It was very difficult to listen to the taped testimony of people who lost sons and daughters, spouses, parents, loved ones. Alejandro cried at the pictures of hung dogs and maimed children. It was Alberto Fujimori who was finally able to dismantle this organization. Unfortunately, he allowed (and some say incited) many abuses against the poorest people to take place during this time. It was Ollanta Humala who stood up to Fujimori and almost threw him from power back then. How ironic that it is precisely Humala who beat Fujimori’s daughter Keiko for the presidency this time. On July 28th, Peru celebrates its independence from Spain and it is on that day that Ollanta Humala will be sworn in as the next president of Peru. In talking to many different people, we noticed a trend. It seems that middle and upper class people think that Fujimori did what was necessary and voted for Keiko. Poorer people believe that Humala will give them a better quality of life. What is common to all is a sense of impatient expectation for what the future holds.
Lima is divided into neighborhoods. San Isidro is the financial district and it’s full of shiny and modern buildings. Miraflores is the touristy area with a myriad restaurants and bars.
We stayed in Barranco which is a bohemian type of neighborhood. It is quiet and beautiful with great views of the ocean. It was a bit far from downtown but we enjoyed it, specially at night. On our second night there, the boys choose to stay in the hostel watching a soccer match between Argentina and Bolivia with other young people while Fernando and I walked to the Bridge of Sights to enjoy the nightlife.
At no point we felt unsafe in this beautiful city. We left very early (4am) on our 4th day on a bus bound for Nazca. We were there by noon. Nazca is a tiny little town smack in the middle of a desert.
Its only claim to fame are the famous Nazca lines. The lines were made by removing the sun-darkened rocks and exposing the lighter soil underneath. I wondered if they’re given maintenance or why is it that the exposed soil doesn’t get darkened; but the sad thruth is that people here are so focused on providing the flights that no one gives out any information other than where they are and how much it costs to see them. It would be a more rounded experience if some background history were given while we were waiting our turn. The guesses surrounding the meaning of the lines are many and quite varied, from landing strips for UFOs to an agricultural calendar, but there’s no proof for any of them.
We took a half hour flight in a tiny little plane to see them.
After our flight we took an overnight bus to Arequipa. Arequipa is a UNESCO World Heritage site and quite deservedly so. Most of its buildings are made of “sillar”, a white volcanic rock, and thus nicknamed The White City. It is charming.
We visited the Santa Catalina Convent which is literally a city within a city; the convent was created by erecting walls arround several blocks of the old town.
Arequipa is set at 2335mt (7661ft) above sea level and Fernando had been feeling ill all day with what we think was altitude sickness. He was quite sick by the time we took the overnight bus to Cuzco.
Although he did get worrisomely sick, he’s doing much better now and I’ll write all about it on our next post.