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Published: July 20th 2019
Yay! Greetings from Peru! I have arrived safely, and have had an amazing first few days in this magical, mysterious country.
On Wednesday early afternoon, I boarded a British Airways flight direct from London Gatwick to Lima, Peru, for what was really quite a long 12-hour journey. I was really very fortunate though, as two people who were sitting in two seats right at the back of the plane, just opposite from me (I had an aisle seat in the middle group of seats) were somehow bumped up a class, leaving their two seats vacant. On what seemed otherwise a full flight, I ended up switching to these two seats, and had them both to myself for the whole 12-hour flight! Perfect! I had no-one behind me (I’m not the most patient of passengers when there are legs against the back of my seat…), and was able to lie down for much of it. I had also never flown across the Amazon part of South America before, and this flight flew over a huge swathe of it as it travelled from Guyana across much of the Brazilian Amazon before heading over the Andes and landing in Lima
at 8pm. Sadly the sun had set by the time we actually flew over the Amazon River and the Andes themselves, but I did manage to catch a glimpse of the Rio Negro, a major tributary of this mighty river. Although the flight was long, I couldn’t grumble at my fortunate seating arrangement, and I loved being able to see out of the window going over what is often called “The Forgotten Continent”.
It was also fairly simple going through immigration and customs, and another stroke of fortune meant that at the exact same spot I arrived at the baggage carousel, there was my very own backpack just sat there waiting for me! What a lovely journey! The only slight mishap was after my airport pick-up gentleman had met and taken me to his vehicle, it wouldn’t start, and he had to arrange for a parking attendant to jump-start it! If this was the only tricky part of the journey, then I have nothing at all to complain about. An hour later, driving from the airport to Lima Centro, the historic centre of Lima, I had checked into my hotel and settled into my room for the evening at
the Hotel Continental Lima, and my first night in South America on this trip. I noted that for the first time in as long as I can remember, I begin a long journey not baking and sweating in the usual tropical heat I choose for my journeys, but actually being quite chilled and requesting two extra blankets for my hotel room. It is currently winter in Peru, being south of the equator, and the daily average is around 17 degrees centigrade. I’m also thankful I had the insight to pack a fleece jacket which I am currently making good use of, as well as my thermal underwear, which I am sure will come in handy as I venture deep into the Andes in Ecuador in a few weeks’ time.
It always feels a bit strange arriving in a new place late at night, as you have to go to bed and get a night’s sleep before you begin to find out anything about this new place you have arrived in. The first night seems a bit strange, with new sounds outside the hotel window – in this case, cars honking and traffic constantly moving. Still, I got a good
Me, gazing towards the Pacific Ocean
night’s sleep, and was very ready to explore the historical centre of Lima the following morning.
And thus yesterday morning I spent doing just that – exploring the historical centre of Lima. I chose my first hotel in this city in the area where Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro first laid out the boundaries of the Spanish capital of the newly conquered Incan lands, initially called “Ciudad de los Reyes”, or “City of Kings”, in 1535. Pizarro used it as a base to subdue and conquer the Inca Empire. It then became the centre of the huge Viceroyalty of Peru from 1542 to 1824, governing much of the western part of the whole continent of South America, until independence movements in the early 19th
century led to the separation and creation of the countries of Panama, Guyana, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and of course, Peru. Quite an important city really, although sadly many of the original buildings have since been destroyed in numerous earthquakes which the region is prone to. What remains are various reconstructions which have been built over the centuries, and still makes for a fascinating exploration which I took up yesterday.
London to Lima
Arriving over the continent of South America, over Georgetown, Guyana
in the Plaza San Martin, just a block to the south of my hotel, and headed up the pedestrianised Jiron de la Union, towards the Iglesia de la Merced. This church was built in 1541 upon a site where the first Latin Mass in Lima was held in 1534. My visit had also timed itself perfectly for the beginning of mass, and this was a superb start and a real blessing to begin my first day with on this journey. After mass, I high-tailed it northwards to the city centre’s showpiece, the Plaza de Armas, hopefully to arrive in time for the daily Changing of the Guard ceremony at midday, but found it barricaded off by police. Upon asking one of the policemen, it seemed that a demonstration was planned for that day, and there would be no access for at least a couple of hours. What a shame! Just as I had sat down on a nearby doorstep to contemplate my next move, I ended up talking to a security guard also on the doorstep, who said he could sneak me in through his building – and lo and behold, that’s what he did, and I emerged on the
London to Lima
The Rio Negro, the largest left bank tributary of the River Amazon, flowing through the Amazon jungle just north of Manaus here
other side and on the southern end of the huge Plaza de Armas! There still seemed to be a number of people there, I’m not sure how! Whilst you could walk along the perimeter, the actual square itself was still barricaded off by the police, although I could see on the far side of the square that the Changing of the Guard was taking place, with a brass band and pomp and ceremony – I just wasn’t sure how to get there. I made my way around the perimeter of the Plaza, towards a small chink in the barricade where the police seemed to be letting some people through. The policeman I spoke to wouldn’t let me through though. After a bit of sweet-talking on my part (I think it was sweet, at least), he eventually relented to letting me through. Ok, so this is how it goes in this country – I will keep this in mind! After a final passage through a final barricade, I joined a group of tourists who were standing in front of the Palacio de Gobierno watching the brass band and goose-stepping guards in their ceremony. It was really quite impressive, and I loved
the piece that the band was playing – it was similar to a theme from the Final Fantasy series (the “Red Wings” theme from Final Fantasy IV, if anyone’s interested…!), and sounded very powerful. It gave me the impression that Peruvians are really very proud of their country, and I have continued to garner such an impression since. After the ceremony was over, I took a few pictures of the Plaza, the famous Palazio Arzobispal and Catedral on its east side, before all the tourists were ushered out of the square by police with riot shields (!). What a bizarre experience! At least I was able to see these main highlights of Central Lima from the oustide, but under the circumstances I wasn’t really able to visit any of them…
After lunch, I continued my tour by visiting the nearby Monasterio de San Francisco, with its famous bone-lined catacombs containing the remains of around 70,000 people (in colonial times it was apparently easier to bury people in the crypts of churches than in purpose-built graveyards), and finished at the Parque de la Muralla just to the north. By this stage, around 3pm, the jet-lag was really catching up with
me, and I planned to just return to the hotel for the rest of the day and evening.
After a short rest in my room, I fortunately got a second wind as the sun set, and thought it would be just perfect to visit one of Lima’s more recent attractions, the absolutely stunning “Circuito Magico de los Aguas”. Created from a reclaimed public space in 2007, the park is home to 13 absolutely amazing water fountains, each really quite unique and with its own lighting. The highlight was the laser light show at the 120-metre long Fuente de la Fantasia, with more powerful music and typical Peruvian images, again confirming to me that Peruvian people are really very proud of their country, culture and history. The whole park was a real treat and pleasure to explore, and the whole thing cost only four soles (about one pound!). After this, it was a taxi home, for dinner at my hotel, and a very well-needed night’s sleep.
And today, my second full day on this journey, has been equally enjoyable and interesting, with the added bonus of feeling a little less jet-lagged! I had booked for the morning a half-day
tour to the nearby important Incan archaeological site of Pachacamac. Together with a visit to the exquisite Museo Larco in the west of Lima in the afternoon, I have learned today much about the pre-Colombian history of Peru and the Inca Empire. Pachacamac is Lima’s answer to Cuzco’s Machu Picchu, but really has nothing on the latter’s majesty. It is still a very interesting archaeological site though, and was once an important Inca site and a major city when the Spanish first arrived here. Many of the buildings and temples are no longer standing, but there are remnants of the “Templo del Sol” which we climbed to afford amazing views over the surrounding desert, and towards the ocean on the one side, the Andes mountains on the other.
The site also preserves part of one of the numerous Inca trails which criss-cross the Andes and which were the Inca’s main form of communication throughout their huge empire. It is said that messages could travel along hundreds of kilometres of the trails in a matter of days. At every 8km or so was a messenger station, where runners would stay and wait for communications. When one was received, a messenger
View from my hotel
would run the 8km to the next station, fuelled by coca leaves for energy and the high altitude, where another messenger would take the message onwards, and so on. It was really quite an ingenious form of communication. It is said that when the Spanish unexpectedly ambushed and seized the Inca ruler Atahualpa in 1532, in Cajamarca in the north of Peru, news of the ambush had spread to Inca settlements in the south of the Empire 400km away within five days, whereas it would have taken the Spanish about three weeks to communicate across such a distance, even with their horses. The small on-site museum also housed a number of “quipu”, ingenious Andean recording devices fashioned from strings and knots. The Incas used them for collecting data, keeping records, and even for military organisation. I remember first learning about these “talking knots” from the amazing “Mysterious Cities of Gold” cartoon I watched as a child, and our guide actually referred to this cartoon series when explaining the meaning of “Pachamama”, the “earth god”, regularly referred to by the children in the programme (Esteban, Zia and Tao) – ah, the memories! And what a theme tune too! It is currently
View from my hotel
running through my head as I explore these Inca lands…!
After the tour, I took a taxi westwards to the afore-mentioned Museo Larco, for even more informative education on the Incas and pre-Colombian Peru. Said to be one of Lima’s finest museums, it was a delightful little place to discover. After enjoying a delicious lunch at the onsite café (I absolutely love Peruvian cuisine by the way – I first encountered it in Paraguay, and am so excited to be able to enjoy it again in its place of origin!), I explored the artefacts housed in a lovely 18th
century viceroy’s mansion, set amidst gardens of flowering bougainvillea and beauty. The museum’s collection is vast, with one room simply filled with shelves upon shelves of pottery. Highlights for me were a really informative video on the Inca Empire (known as Tawantinsuyo, or the Land of Four Quarters, in Quechua), more amazing “quipu”, and learning about the Inca form of human sacrifice. After visiting Aztec and Mayan lands in Mexico and Guatemala three years ago, Inca human sacrifice seems far more genteel, as far as the barbaric practice goes at least. Whilst the Aztecs and Mayans sacrificed thousands at a
View from my hotel
time, in the most gruesome way possible, Inca sacrifices appear to have only been one at a time. The victims were either conquered opponents in war, or young girls specially prepared for such an eventuality. With the latter at least, I learned that as with the Mesoamericans, to be sacrificed was actually desirable, as it ensured greater prosperity in the next life. The top of the Templo del Sol back in Pachacamac was a preferred place for it, and after the throat was cut, the victim’s blood was collected in large vessels and bowls, to be drunk by the priest (!). Barbaric indeed, but still rather genteel I feel compared to back in Mesoamerica…!
After a couple of lovely purchases in the muesum’s quality on-site gift shops, I took another taxi again through the gnarly Lima traffic and back to my cosy hotel once more back in Lima Centro.
It has been a really wonderful first few days on my South American journey so far, and my jet-lag has done little to mar my enjoyment here in Lima. Tomorrow I head southwards by bus to a small, coastal town called Paracas, which I aim to make my base
for four more nights. From there, I’m planning three day trips, one of which excites me the most I think – a flight over the mysterious Nazca Lines. I hope to be able to write up my next one from Paracas, with perhaps a few more tales to tell and adventures having been had, in a few days’ time.
So until then, thank you for reading, and hasta la proxima!
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