Week in Lima

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September 27th 2013
Published: September 28th 2013
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Our first week in South America, Lima to be more precise, is nearing its end. We have not been robbed, and we don't even have any stomach problems so far- could it be that our prejudices of dangerous South America were just a little bit exaggerated, if not downright false? Even though, it does seem like you do have to think about where you go and when in this country. We are staying in a good part of Lima called Miraflores. According to our local host Fanny, in this area it's ok to walk to a bar in the early evening, but to come back later at night, a taxi is required. She also adviced us to return from Lima city center by 5pm. The other day we were walking in the city center and wandered across a bridge a little bit outside the main streets and squares, where it was anyway still busy with lots of people. It wasn't long before not one, but two locals came warning us not to walk further and to hide our cameras. But, it has never seemed scary on the streets here, like it did around our accomodation in San Fransisco. In fact, we have seen nothing suspicious, maybe apart from a few pretty harmless fellows trying to sell marihuana. Their tactic is interesting - they shout out something about traditional music events, but when they get closer to the potential customer, they whisper if he/she wants to buy some grass. We didn't. But apart from this, everything seems tidy. Even beggars and other unpriviledged lot seem to be few and far between; most people rather seem middle classish. Peruvians also seem friendly, and kind of low-key; not really the sparkling latinos of our images. We get by surprisingly well using a mixture of English and the few words of Spanish we have picked up so far. Few people at restaurants etc speak English, but somehow we usually manage to communicate whatever we need to.

I don't know why but we have seemed kind of tired in Lima. Must be that it's so very hard to be on a year long holidays ;D The first days we slept until around 11am despite going to bed by midnight. Then we started to feel like we are wasting our unique time in Lima by sleeping away half of the days, so we started setting alarm at 9am. It might also have something to do with the chilly and grey weather. It's now early spring time with consistently grey skies and moist air. I guess temperature is near 20 C, but it certainly doesn't feel warm. Of course the apartment has no heating, so we are sitting here with scarfs and hoodies on all the time. Then again, it's all relative; if September here is equivalent to March in Finland, the weather suddenly seems pretty good compared to the -10C Finland usually still sees in March.

So, what have we actually been up to here in Lima..well, the first day we just walked around Miraflores area checking out some shops, cafés and restaurants. On day 2 we walked to neighboring neighborhood Barranco, which is home to quite a few older and cute colonial buildings by the Pacific Ocean, as well as restaurants, cafés and bars. We still get amazed at the prices a lot of the time: is it really possible to get a lunch menu including soup for starter, noodles for main course and inka cola (=local soft drink which tastes like bubble gum but is pretty good actually) for less than 3 euros..apparently so, but you do have to watch a bit where you eat to find such deals. On the other hand, to tell the truth currently we get more amazed when a beer cost more than 2 euros - you get accustomed to cheap quickly! And I'm still mad at us for paying 4 EUROS for a beer in one bar. Gosh, that's more than a full lunch menu. We simply walked into a German pub called Treff, didn't looked at the prices, and only when it was too late, we realized the price of a beer was a rip-off of 4 euros. But that wasn't a scam, the price of 4 euros per beer was actually standing on the menu. Now we are more educated, and being frugal, always check the price beforehand.

On the third day we visited the city center for the first time. It was a bit of a hassle to find a bus going there. We had been instructed by our hosts to take bus C which belongs to the "metro" (actually it's a bus system, but Lima has no subway), but we couldn't find the correct bus stop for that. Instead, another bus stopped infront of us, and a woman working as some kind of hostess for the bus shouted at us, and when we shouted back we wanted to go "centro de Lima" she gestured us to get on the bus. The bus was of course crowded to the brim and looked rough and rusty, but somehow it managed to negotiate the chaotic traffic of Lima and take us near our destination. The traffic is really crazy; it's not only the amount of cars, but there also doesn't seem to be many rules. Seems it's ok to turn to any direction from any lane and so forth. Crossing streets requires some confidence; if you stay waiting for a suitable moment, you may as well wait forever. You just have to pick a moment and proceed, the cars will stop, but they won't give you the chance to cross unless you take it (unless forced by traffic lights, and then only sometimes).

The city center was quite impressive with beautiful colonial buildings, squares and pedestrianized shopping streets. I especially like the bright colors on buildings. Beautiful buildings painted in bright turquis is something we just don't have in Finland. In addition to gawking at cool buildings, we did visit two museums, in both of which we were gestured to join a guided tour. The first one was a combination of a church, monastery and catacombs used as mass graves. The tour guide kept pointing out tiles and carvings and telling where the materials originate from, usually from Panama - "as you can see here is veery beautiful wood, ceedar wood of coors, from Panama". The second tour guide at the Inquisition Museum was a very quiet young girl - probably she gave quite a lot of information, but unfortunately her quiet voice combined with less than perfect English resulted in at least 50% of our tour group of two (myself and Leo) not understanding much of what she said. But you can't really complain either when you get a free private tour, right?

It appears that every tourist sight and museum in Lima must be seen on a guided tour. The same happened when we visited ancient remains of the Lima culture on our last day. As soon as we bought our tickets and walked in, we were told to wait five minutes for the next English tour. This tour was far better than the two earlier ones at the museums - this guide was very informative and manage to tell a lot about the Lima culture, from their practice of human sacrifice to diet consisting of guinea pigs and vegetables mostly, in an interesting manner. The site itself was a surprisingly well preserved pyramid, or part of a pyramid, with some walls and rooms around it. These guided tours are quite essential for us non-Spanish speakers, though, because so far we haven't seen a word of English at any of these sights. Had there not been the tour, we would have been looking at piles of rocks without being able to give them much meaning.

We spent one day browsing arts&crafts market at Miraflores- I had been looking forward to getting to such a market and it wasn't a disappointment. I really like those inka style handicrafts, and ended up purchasing some too. But it's really a pity that we cannot buy more under these circumstances - the place is full of cool decoration items, bags and knitwear. I was also unsure of the correct price levels. The bargaining didn't seem to be as ruthless as in China for instance, but most of the time we could still bargain about 25% off the original quoted price.

Oh yea, we visited a small local chocolate factory as well, and now we have way too much chocolate. We bought one 500g bar of normal dark chocolate, and another smaller bar of 100% cocoa chocolate, both manufactured on site. The first one is pretty good, but i cannot say eating 100% cocoa was exactly enjoyable (it has no sugar whatsoever). Now we have still around 500g of chocolate at our hands..well, at least should be enough for a snack on our upcoming bus trip to Trujillo.

After a week in Lima we feel excited to see more of Peru. We liked the city, but it's hard to put a finger on why exactly: apart from the colonial architecture in the center and Barranco, it doesn't seem really that special, at least when it comes to architecture or specific sites. It was grey, chilly, and clearly quite polluted. Still it was exciting to be here, and image of Peru as a whole is positive based on this past week. Maybe it's the generally friendly atmosphere, or the exotic feel, but we liked this place. Certainly looking forward to seeing more of this country and continent now.


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