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October 14th 2018
Published: October 14th 2018
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Sandra from Kaypi Tours met our now expanded group of 22 people at the Hotel Allpa for our included guided tour of Lima. Our bus was late so we began by walking 6 blocks to the Huaca Pucllana Temple built around 2,000 years ago. Lucky for us Sandra used to be a docent here so we ended up with an unexpected private tour. The entrance fee is only $1.80 US per person for senior citizens and since most of us were in that category we were moved in quickly.

Little is known about this early culture, but we do know it was built before Machu Picchu by a culture headed by women, the first people of Lima, the Peaceful Lima People. They believed the gods controlled their environment and it is now believed that this place was used as a religious site. Their temple at the top of the pyramid was built with a view of Pachimama and Coqchimama, God of the mountain and God of the sea respectively.

The structures took roughly 300 years to build using sun-baked mud bricks. We saw many with original finger prints imbedded in them. The bricks were stacked vertically like library books, to absorb the damage from earthquakes. In this otherwise rain-free region the El Niño rains came for 50 years destroying fields, making these people start all over again. The Wari culture conquered the Lima People around 600 AD and used the temple as their own, and later, after the Inca expansion, all memory of the Lima People was lost.

There are over 400 sites like this in Lima. In the 1700s the Spanish invaders created a map of all these ruins giving archaeologists a clue to work from. The first archeological digs began in the1930s. Since this pyramid was covered in dirt, undiscovered and therefore not protected, local people had used these ruins for motocross biking, horseback riding and soccer fields. Huaca Pucllana has only been protected since 2017 and is just now being restored.

Our tour bus finally arrived (waiting for traffic control seems to be a thing in Peru) so we began our 10 AM city tour an hour late. We spent so much time touring the ruins we didn’t see Love Park, but I think the ruins were a nice bonus. Here are a few of Sandra’s notes on Lima: Lima has 7 times more taxis than NYC. Uber is here and is the safest way to go. If you take a taxi, only take one with a taxi sign on top! Summer is November to April. Winter is May to November, there is no spring or fall. There are numerous varieties of potato, 400 types of avocado, great quantities of fish and colorful red, white, black and yellow quinoa from the highlands. Lima’s water source comes from the highlands supporting the 9 million people who live in Lima city. When we traveled by bus throughout Peru we saw numerous signs advertising candidates for the upcoming elections. Elections will be held in October for many of the 43 districts or neighborhoods that comprise Lima (and many throughout Peru). To further complicate things each district has its own mayor and unique tax rate.

One gets a good impression of the size of the city of Lima when traveling through the congested streets by bus. It took us a good half hour to get from Miraflores to the Historic Center of Lima, founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535 is known as the “City of Kings”. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this center is among the most important tourist destinations in Peru, boasting a high concentration of historic monuments from the Spanish occupation. According to UNESCO, “the evangelization process brought several religious orders by the end of the XVI century. They gained great recognition which translated into the construction of many churches and convents of great extension and sophistication. Also, hospitals, schools and universities were built.” It is interesting to note that many of the buildings of Spanish construction did not survive the earthquakes, in comparison to those built by their predecessors, the Inca and other ancient civilizations.

The Basilica and Convent of San Francisco, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was our first stop in this area. The impressive Moorish and Spanish designed church, the largest of its kind in this part of the world, dates back to 1673 and has survived several earthquakes, making it an exception in Spanish construction. Crossing the large open courtyard of the Baroque church, also known as Saint Francis Monastery, we saw loads of pigeons, groups of students in their blue uniforms, and Quechua women in their dark brown braids and boleros, brightly colored skirts and woven wraps filled with handcrafted gifts to sell to the large numbers of tourists now filling the plaza. We were able to bypass the sellers to enter through the doors into an arched cloister surrounding an elaborate canopied courtyard that was inspired by the renowned Alhambra Palace in Spain. The cloister was adorned with beautiful decorative tiles from Seville. The convent’s library is world renowned but it is the catacombs that we were here to see. It is estimated that 25,000 wealthy Spanish people were buried beneath this church serving as a cemetery until, due to epidemics, diseases and smells, the city cemetery was opened outside of Lima in 1808.

We walked in hushed silence through the narrow stone lamplit passageways of the San Francisco Church Catacombs viewing cubicle after cubicle that displayed thousands of neatly laid out skulls and bones. Sandra informed us that each church had its own catacomb and they were all connected underground. It is believed there were secret passageways connecting the Cathedral and the Tribunal of the Holy Inquisition. The Peruvian army has maps of these catacomb connections. There was no photography allowed so my descriptions will have to suffice. Before leaving the
Plaza Mayor in the Historic Center of LimaPlaza Mayor in the Historic Center of LimaPlaza Mayor in the Historic Center of Lima

Recent demonstrations (that were permitted) brought out a heavier police presence
church, several of our group spent time making purchases of Peruvian crafts sold in the church courtyard by those Quechua women in their colorful traditional clothing.

We traveled next to the massive palm treed main square of Plaza Mayor, the place where Francisco Pizarro founded Lima, with its many important wood balconied buildings of Spanish colonial architecture including Lima’s City Hall, the Social Club, and the Cathedral that surround the square. We began another walking tour of this historic city stopping at Government Palace, notable among these buildings in Plaza Mayor. The palace was originally the House of Pizarro. We were in time for the changing of the guard but whistles were frequently blown as those among us tried to get too close to the fence for pictures. There was a heavy presence of military style police, likely because President Martin Vizcarra was currently in residence there, and also due to the many political demonstrations in the area.

Sandra continued our walking tour passing notable buildings such as the balconied facade of the Torre Tagle Palace. We wound down narrow streets admiring the fine detail in the baroque architecture passing Bar Cordano a hangout for the movers and shakers in Lima located on Cerdado, the safe pedestrian street. Further down the same street, many of us were intrigued by the free Museo Choco where we learned about how chocolate was grown and harvested. Samples of various chocolate responsibly harvested chocolate products were made available for tasting. You could purchase a hot chocolate, which sounded lovely, but we were still on a tour and didn’t have time to relax with a drink, although many people bought chocolate bars to go.

After we got back from our city tour many of us wanted to be dropped at the Inca Market where hundreds of stalls sell everything from alpaca sweaters and hats to traditional pottery, scarves and touristy items. Dave was tired so I walked him back to the hotel and went out on my own to explore the markets and Kennedy Park (named after JFK) and the surrounding area. I had wanted a light bite at 4 PM and was drawn into the charming Cafe de la Paz facing Kennedy Park near the church. The cafe has a very European feel to the place with outdoor tables under a canopy that faced the park but inside it was warm and cozy with delicate white lace cafe curtains on the door. I sat at a window table and ordered a pot of coca leaf tea that came with a chocolate and little cookies (I brought those home for Dave). For my sweet tooth I ordered a delicious lemon meringue pie. It was a lovely way to center myself after a long and busy day.

That night we got instructions to walk to Al Fresco, a restaurant known for its ceviche and fish dishes, about 6 blocks from the hotel. Unfortunately the instructions were not very clear and by asking random people for help we spent a good half hour going in circles. I will say that the reward was sweet. I had a generous portion of traditional ceviche, the catch of the day was sea bass, a cooked but cold glazed sweet potato and cooked large kernel corn. My fish would have been better if the cuts were smaller and better marinated but it was still good. Dave had “Josper rice”, grilled scallops, octopus and shrimps, sticky rice with northern Peruvian flavors, that gave the rice a green color, and aioli. His dish was excellent. About 22 members of the The Brazil Japan Karate Club ate next to us at a long table. The club kept the servers busy bringing Pisco sours and wine refills and the room echoed with lots of laughter.

I guess we must be directionally challenged because, damp and cold, we made one wrong turn on the way back to our hotel, passing the glittering Atlantic City gambling hall. We corrected our route and after a longer walk than was necessary, we made it safely home to our warm hotel, albeit tired and cold. With little rest for the weary we began to pack for a quick getaway at 2:30 the next morning for our flight to Puno!


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