Touch Down Lima!!

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June 2nd 2019
Published: July 9th 2019
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2ndJune 2019 – Touch down Lima.

Only a few weeks after the end of our round the world odyssey via Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific, we once again cancelled the papers, paid the window cleaner for the next two weeks and ensured all our favourite TV programmes were selected to record!! On this occasion we planned to leave our sea legs in the cupboard at home. We wouldn’t be needing them as traveling over water would be kept to a minimum. Instead we would need our altitude legs but as we don’t possess any, we had to revisit our cupboard as our sea legs would have to do. We were ready for our biggest challenge yet. Peru. Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca, both high in the Andes, where the air is pure and clean. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of it!! Mention Alpaca and Guinea Pig to most Peruvians and they’d rub their bellies whilst licking their lips!! This was our first land tour since the Trans-Siberian Express two years earlier and like our trip across Russia into China via Mongolia, what makes travel so invigorating is that we were once more stepping in to the unknown!!

We caught the twelve-hour non-stop flight from to Lima from Gatwick. To ease congestion at the gate, passengers boarded in batches. When our group was called, I was first to the gate with Roisin close behind me. I continued down the air bridge to the waiting plane but halted by the door to allow Roisin to catch up. After a dozen or so people had passed me and boarded the aircraft, I realised that something had held Roisin up. I wandered back up the airbridge and saw her waiting at the entrance beckoning me to come back. I thought to myself She has only gone and done it. She’s managed to get an upgrade to business class for us. I was half right! Apparently, on handing her boarding card to the cabin crew, the assistant told Roisin that her entertainment system was not working. She then went on to apologise on behalf of British Airways for the inconvenience and by way of compensation would Roisin like to accept an upgrade to Business Class. On hearing this news, I was almost weeping with joy as it would make the twelve-hour flight much more comfortable and the time would pass much more quickly. Then Roisin broke the news to me. I carried on weeping but for different reasons!! The crew member had said that there was only one space left so your husband would have to remain with the poor people!! If all it takes is for a faulty entertainment system to get a free upgrade, I’m going to start to carry a long-handled screwdriver in future. You get so much more leverage with one of those!!

We arrived at Jorge Chavez International Airport, named after a Peruvian aviator, at around 18:00. After collecting our luggage, we were met in the arrival’s hall by a woman with a board announcing Llama Travel. We were shown to a cordoned off area where we waited with a few other travellers (who we’d get to know well over the next few weeks). Once the Llama rep was satisfied everyone was present, our baggage was collected by a porter and wheeled out of the airport, across the busy car park to a waiting bus. This was the start of a very efficient company ensuring, logistically, everything ran without a hitch; their guests had the best time possible and got the most out of their two weeks stay in this country that had so much to offer for people of all ages and abilities. More about Llama Travel and their agents in Peru, Condor Travel, in a later blog.

The airport was approximately 7 miles from Down Town Peru and 11 miles from the area where our hotel was located, Miraflores. This should have taken no longer than half an hour but add the factor of Lima traffic and we arrived one and a half hours later!!

Lima is situated in the Central coastal part of Peru in the North West of South America. The city is long and thin stretching 200 miles from north to south with a population of over ten million making it the third largest city in Latin America behind Mexico City and Sāo Paulo! The metropolitan area of Lima is divided in to forty-two districts of which Lima is one and Miraflores another.

It was a Sunday at 19:30 and the traffic was still very heavy. Our guide pointed out that everyone was rushing back to the city before starting a new week. No one was rushing anywhere, I thought, as we had been crawling along at less than eight miles per hour for the past forty minutes!!

3rd June 2019 – Breathe normal, it’s only Lima

Excursion: - half day tour of historical Lima

This morning was spent at leisure. Roisin and I decided to walk down to the Pacific Ocean. This was only a mile or so from our hotel. We left Casa Andina Select, turned left and walked along Calle Schnell as briskly as we could (a little joke for our German readers, there!!) to the main road which was still bumper to bumper. This time the traffic seemed worse as there was the added factor of rush time buses to contend with together with road works that created a bottleneck to add to the pandemonium. The noise was disturbing as there were cars constantly beeping their horns. This may have been out of frustration but somehow, as this seemed to be the norm, were beeping out of boredom. It was the equivalent of the Mexican Wave but of noise. One car would start and would create a chain reaction that moved down the line of hemmed in motorists!! Add this to the noise of the nearby pneumatic drill and the decibels had to be nearing that of a NASA space shuttle!! **Useful tip #42** Do not use a zebra crossing in Peru. These are just for show!! Or the author of the Peruvian Highway Code thought that as you don’t get many zebras in Peru, it could be omitted!! Instead, use the controlled pedestrian crossing (because there are plenty of pedestrians in Peru!!) and cars do stop for a red light (Mostly!!) Crossing over this noisy thoroughfare we decided to head to the coast via the back streets. What a difference!! A different world all together. We passed a small well-kept park with lush green lawns and several gardeners hard at work to ensure the park remained in peak condition in order to continue to give pleasure to its public.

There are two coast roads in Miraflores, one road was at sea level whilst the one we had just crossed stood a massive 50 feet or so above the sea. Black rock cliffs sheared down to the lower coast road below. Looking down the coast and out to sea, we saw the rain as it swept near towards land. It wasn’t long before light drizzle hit. I thought back to the guide yesterday when he reminded us that Lima is a very dry city and only received approximately 7mm of rain per year. It just so happened that today was they day!!

The Faro la Marina is a lighthouse that was constructed in 1900 at a headland further up the coast but in 1973 it was dismantled and rebuilt in the aptly named Parque el Faro, in which we were now standing. Lighthouses are traditionally painted in red and white stripes. Whilst the builders had kept with the stripy tradition, they must have had a surplus of blue paint as this particular light house had been daubed in dark blue and white hoops. It stands at 72 feet tall and can be see out at sea up to 18 nautical miles. We walked through the park along the cliff edge. The next park (I say park but it is a very small area interspersed with a few patches of turf!!) we encountered was known as the Parque d’Amor (the Park of Love). Roisin immediately reminded me that some of the art reminded her of the Parc Guell in Barcelona, designed by Anton Gaudi. A nearby plaque confirmed that this park had, indeed, been inspired by the Spanish surrealist. This park was centred around a sculpture known as ‘El Baso (the Kiss) and is said to represent the sculptor and his wife having a bit of a snog!!

We once again walked up through some back streets toward our hotel. This was quite a leafy, middle class suburb. You could definitely see a Spanish influence with many of these semi and detached properties.

Our first excursion of this trip saw us explore some of the important sites of Lima that has influenced generations and have become a part of culture that has helped shape the city in to what it has become today. Our first stop took us way back in time, to an era before the Incas; 500 years before the Incas, to the ancient site of Huana Puccliana. Built by the Quechua people who thrived in these parts between 200-700AD, this sacred place was a shine to a protector deity. It is estimated that 20 million adobe bricks were used in the creation of this pyramid, layered structure. The whole structure is surrounded by a large courtyard. We were allowed to walk up to the summit of this shrine. This gave us perspective as to the size of the project in building such a structure. Even without our modern techniques, I bet these people managed to keep within budget!!

Our next stop the Plaza Mayor or the Main Square is the birthplace of the city of Lima as well as the core of the city. It is surrounded by the Government Palace, The Cathedral of Lima, the Archbishop’s Palace, the Municipal Palace and the Palace of the Union. I’m surprised nobody has thought to rename this square Plaza Palacio!!

The cathedral was built between 1535-1649. Inside the cathedral we were introduced to the bones of Francisco Pizarro, a rather nasty Spanish conquistador who led the Spanish conquest of Peru. He captured then killed the 11th and last Inca Emperor, Atahualpa. This truly pissed off the Peruvians who have never forgiven him for this act of barbarity. We were told that the skeleton before us was only a replica as the Spanish have asked for Pizarro’s remains to be returned to his homeland and every time, the Peruvian Government has refused. In order to prevent a smash and grab, the actual whereabouts of the bones is unknown. This skeleton was only a replica…or was it??! (the old double bluff trick!!)

There were a lot of riot police in Plaza Mayor. Five Police were lined up with their riot shields in front of them in the lowered position. Whether they were posing for the annual police calendar or had just seen a bunch of football referees crossing the square and were waiting for it to kick off (a little football gag now!!), we couldn’t let up this photo opportunity. They were very accommodating but drew the line when Roisin asked one if she could hold his truncheon!!

Our guide led us through some of the narrow streets of historic Lima to the Basilica and Convent of St Francisco. This is a prime example of Spanish Baroque architecture which is no surprise since it was built around the 1670s, long after Peru had been colonised.

We were led down in to the catacombs. This was optional, a choice where most decided to sit out. Four of us, Geoff, Alison, Ruth and I braved the dark and unevenness to venture down to where 25,000 bodies are said to have been buried. Whilst the passageways were quite narrow, I was surprised as to how illuminated they were. As long as we watched our footing, the route was safe and not at all scary, even when the guide revealed thousands of femurs behind a low wall. Suddenly bones were pointed out to us from all directions. In the next chamber, hundreds of skulls, all shapes (but mainly skull shaped!!) and sizes were cemented in to a wall whilst a mix of pelvic bones were strategically placed behind yet another low wall. Back to the femurs and we were ushered into a small clearing where these bones had been arranged in a series of concentric patterns, maybe in an attempt to ‘brighten’ the place up. In fact, during my short time in the catacombs I had a thought. This place would be ideal if you wanted to hide a set of human bones. Especially from the Spanish!!!

On reaching ground level again, we met back up with the rest of the gang before being shown in to the Monastery’s library with over 25,000 volumes adorning the floor to ceiling shelves. They say that one in four people own a Harry Potter book. We I can safely say I doubt you’d find The Order of the Phoenix or The Prisoner of Azkaban amongst these tomes!!

On the way out, we stood and admired the main cloister where the walls were inlaid with Sevillian glazed tiles that dated back to the 1620s. During our time in the Basilica and Convent of San Francisco we were advised of ‘Strictly no photography of any kind’. One of us managed to respect this rule, hence there are no photos of the catacombs, whilst one of us managed to sneak a shot of the well preserved and maintained court yard of the main cloister. (for Facebook purposes only!!)

This was the first time we started to get to know our fellow travellers. We all had different itineraries but with one goal; to get as much out of these two weeks as possible. Patricia and her daughter, from the West Midlands, were, for example spending an extra day in the Sacred Valley, some of our group, although visiting Lake Titicaca, would be travelling there by bus then two nights in a hotel whilst six of us would be taking the Belmond train where we would stay one night before joining up with the rest of the people. Amanda was living her own version of ‘Fifty Ways to Kill Your Mammy’ s she had convinced her mum, Lynn to hike the whole of the Inca trail. This is a trek, not for the fainthearted, as it is over four days that covers about forty-eight kilometresbefore arriving in to Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate. (More about that in a later blog!)

That evening we had a relaxing meal in the hotel with Peter and Pat, a couple from Halesowen. Yet again, they had a slightly different itinerary to everyone else. Instead of visiting Lake Titicaca, Peter and Pat had decided to visit Nazca. This excursion involved a flight over the Nazca lines where it is possible to see, carved in to the ground, outlines of birds and humans that stretch for miles. Still, to this day, it is unclear how these lines were made or what the drawings were designed for. Back to the meal and I noticed that guinea pig was not on the menu so I had to make do with Penne Arrabiata!!!

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