From Hate to Love

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November 8th 2014
Published: November 9th 2014
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Tuesday morning was an early start. I had to leave the hotel before breakfast so by the time the plane took off from Santiago airport, I was starving. Of course, breakfast was served on the flight and I ended up having a nap. It was quite pleasant to wake up with only twenty minutes of the flight left.

The plane landed in Lima, and without too much hassle I was on my way. One interesting point to note was that for the first time ever, my bag was on the carousel before I got there. I don’t know if that says good things about the Lima baggage handlers, or bad things about the immigration checkpoint. It didn’t seem like an overly long time though.

I was picked up at the airport and we drove to my hotel. The drive took almost an hour because traffic in Lima is terrible. There’s only one freeway in the city, and there’s 9 million people living there. Anyway, I soon arrived at my hotel in the suburb of Miraflores. Fortunately my room was ready, but despite still being tired, I didn’t want to sleep yet. I hadn’t had time to fully adjust to Chilean time yet, and Peru is two hours behind Chile so I knew my body clock was going to struggle.

I decided to take the advice of the lady at the hotel and go for a walk down one of the main streets of Miraflores. There was a fancy shopping centre at the far end, so I figured it would be a reasonable place to get some food and some Peruvian Sols (ie money). Now, I admit I was a bit paranoid after receiving many warnings about pickpockets and so forth, so I was probably expecting the worst. No sooner had I walked out of the hotel than some guy asked me if I speak English. He started off talking about tattoos and gave me some pamphlet. When he pulled out a friendship bracelet to put on me, I firmly refused and he got a bit agitated. Then he asked me if I smoked weed and I said no. He then said something about me being really boring and walked off as I agreed with him in his assessment. Further down the street he waited for me and then tried to sell me some necklaces that he claimed to have made. When I said no, he said something about needing to eat and I just shook my head and kept walking. He said something in Spanish, which I suspect may not have been complimentary towards me but fortunately the encounter was over.

Worried now that the next five days was going to be full of this I started to miss Santiago. Further along though, an older fellow walked past me and said “Welcome to Peru”. At last, I thought, this is the Peruvian hospitality I had also heard about. At the next cross street he started talking to me, claiming to want to practice his English. To be honest, I wasn’t in the mood for chatting but I didn’t want to be rude. Anyway, this guy proved to be hard to shake. He wanted to help me, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. In the end he got pissed off at me for saying no when he asked me to give him some money. This put me in a foul mood. Having withdrawn some Sol from an ATM and eaten some food, I retreated to
Gran Hotel BolivarGran Hotel BolivarGran Hotel Bolivar

Notice the KFC sign
my hotel for the rest of the afternoon. I found myself hating Lima and dreading the next 3 weeks in Peru, but really I knew it was just because I was tired.

I had dinner in the hotel restaurant because I didn’t feel like going out, and then I redeemed my complimentary Pisco Sour from the hotel bar. Pisco is a Peruvian spirit, similar to rum but made from grapes. A Pisco Sour is a cocktail made from Pisco and other ingredients including egg white. I had been told by a number of people to try one so I was glad to have one for free. It was pretty nice and while in the bar I had a pleasant conversation with a couple of retired Swedish guys. I ordered a second Pisco Sour and by the time it was two-thirds gone I had to agree with the warnings not to have too many… they are potent drinks! Feeling quite tipsy, but in a better mood than earlier, I retired for the night.

Despite a latish night and the Pisco Sours, I didn’t sleep as well as I would have liked so I was lacking in motivation in the morning. Eventually I got going though and decided to head into central Lima for a look around. Getting around Lima is not the easiest, and unfortunately Miraflores is too far to walk so I grabbed a taxi. It took about 40 minutes to get downtown and I started off in Plaza San Martin. I figured it would be a good place to look around, and then walk down to the Plaza de Armas, the main square in Lima. For whatever reason, I started walking down what I assumed was the correct street but after about ten minutes I wasn’t so sure. I double-checked my guide book and sure enough, I’d missed the detail about the street I wanted being a pedestrian-only avenue.

I backtracked and quickly found the correct street. This part of Lima has some really beautiful buildings, but it is all mixed in with various shops and fast-food outlets so the photos aren’t the best. Both plazas were also having big stages set up for some sort of festival or event, which kind of got in the way. No matter, the buildings around Plaza de Armas were even more spectacular than
The City HallThe City HallThe City Hall

Near Plaza de Armas
those around Plaza San Martin. The main Cathedral, the City Hall and the Presidential Palace all surround the plaza. When I was sitting down looking at my guidebook for what was what, I was approached by a group of young people. Although I was suspicious at first, it turns out they were English students and they asked if they could take a video while they asked me some questions in English. I was happy to help out and I was reminded of the small kids who had been given a similar task when I was visiting Nara in Japan.

I then walked around the plaza taking photos before deciding to head into the Catedral de Lima. This is the main cathedral in Lima and although the current one is the third to be built on the site, it is very impressive. It is also the final resting place of the conquistador Francisco Pizzaro, the man who conquered the Incas and founded Lima. I bought a ticket to go inside and spent a good amount of time taking photos of the impressive artwork, and the cathedral itself. Before leaving I had a quick bite in the coffee shop and headed back out.

By this stage it was getting late in the afternoon, but I figured I could still get a bit more sight-seeing in. I walked past the presidential palace, and after checking with the many policemen out the front, took some photos. You can never be too careful with places like that. Apparently in Bolivia you can get your camera confiscated for taking photos of the wrong thing. After a bit more walking and photo-taking, I decided to head back to the hotel. Unfortunately it was now 5:00 and while I expected the price of a taxi to go up, I didn’t expect to have so many taxis refuse to take me to Miraflores. Eventually I found a taxi stand and the guy at the front said he would take me. I was a bit dubious because the car didn’t look like it would last the distance. But beggars can’t be choosers so I hopped in. There was no seatbelt, and the peak hour traffic was pretty hectic so it was a bit of a crazy ride. But I sat back and enjoyed it for what it was and after about an hour (and some directions from me) we made it back to the hotel safely.

In the hotel I talked to the lady who helped me on the first day. I was curious about how difficult it would be to get out to an Incan site just outside the city. She told me of the tour company the hotel uses and said she would organise a half-day tour the next day. She also suggested a night tour of a park in Lima with fountains – the Parque de la Reserva. The two tours nicely dovetailed into each other so she booked them both for me.

On Thursday I didn’t have much to do until I was to be picked up for the tour at about 2:00. However, based on my experience with the Lima traffic I figured there wasn’t much point trying to see much else so I decided to have a lazy morning. I headed down to a nearby supermarket to get some water and snacks because I wasn’t going to be able to eat dinner until I got back from the second tour.

I was picked up for the tour and taken to some place in Lima where the tour company does the thing where everybody gets off the bus that picked them up from the hotel and gets onto the correct bus for their tour. There were six of us heading out to Pachacamac. Three of us were English speakers, and there were three Spanish speakers so it was a bilingual tour. For some reason we started off with a twenty minute walking tour of the Barranco district in Lima. Apparently it is the bohemian district, home to many Peruvian writers and artists. It was interesting but in all honesty, I would have preferred more time at Pachacamac.

The bus then took us out of Lima through one of the poorer districts. I don’t really enjoy poverty tourism, but I guess it was good to see how many people in Lima live. Interestingly, because suburbs like that don’t have very good infrastructure and many of the people don’t have cars, the poorest people live in houses that are further up the hills. I couldn’t help but contrast it with people back in Sydney who pay millions of dollars for views from high up.

Then it was on to Pachacamac. Although Pachacamac was an important religious and administrative site for the Incas, it was actually an important religious site well before the Incas. As such there are a lot of temples and pyramids on the site. We left the bus at a couple of the temples. The first was a newer one which was where the Incan maidens lived before they were chosen for sacrifice. I asked our guide if the girls knew what was going to happen but he said they didn’t. I followed it up by asking how they didn’t know seeing as the poor girl would be taken by a priest and never come back, but I got the impression that this was too much for his English skills.

The next temple was at the top of the largest hill on the site, which we had to walk up. This temple was where the actual sacrifice happened. We walked around the outside of the temple because it is an active archaeological site. On the other side were impressive views of the Pacific Ocean. We didn’t have long to look though, before we had to walk back down to the bus. We concluded the visit with a drive around to have a quick look at some of the rest of the site. I was glad I did the tour, but I really could have done with more time.

When we arrived back in Lima I had to transfer to another bus for the fountains tour. I had brought along my tripod in the hopes of being able to grab some nice night shots in the park, but based on the experience with the Pachacamac tour, I figured I wouldn’t have the time. This turned out to be true, but I was happy with the photos I was able to get without the tripod. On Wednesdays to Sundays the fountains in the park are lit up with coloured lights and it makes for a beautiful walk around the park. Three times a night there is also a light show at one of the fountains, which was better and longer than I was expecting. There are 13 fountains in all, so we didn’t have a lot of time at each one and a few times I almost lost my tour group because I was taking too long to take photos. In the end, I got back to the hotel about 9:00 thoroughly starving. But it was worth it.

On Friday I was hoping to spend the whole day at two museums. I was expecting to have a meeting with my tour group for the rest of Peru at 6:00pm. However, a notice at the hotel said the meeting would be at 4:00pm instead. I didn’t notice this so I had been a bit lazy in the morning. I also underestimated the traffic again so I didn’t get to the Museo Larco until almost midday. The museum is a private museum of pre-Columbian artwork. It was an impressive collection and uniquely they also allow you to enter the storeroom where they keep everything that isn’t on display. The amount of pottery that isn’t on display was absolutely staggering.

From the Museo Larco it was a 15 minute walk to the National Museum of the Archaeology, Anthropology and History of Peru (Museo Nacional de Arqueología Antropología e Historia del Perú). Obviously it is a well-trod path because they have painted a blue line on the footpath between the two museums so it was easy to find. Unfortunately by the time I got there I only had an hour to look around. While the collection at the Museo Larco was probably more impressive, I think the National Museum would have been a lot more informative. Well, it would have been if you could speak Spanish. There were some signs with English translations, not all of them were (unlike the Museo Larco). Even so, one hour was not enough to see everything. I did squeeze in time to buy a replica Incan stone hatchet from the gift shop… hopefully I don’t have any problem bringing it back to Australia.

I grabbed a taxi and headed back to the hotel for the tour group meeting. At the meeting I met our tour leader Cristina, and an older fellow from Sydney called Barry. They both seemed nice. The third member of our tour group hadn’t yet flown in so we didn’t meet her until Saturday morning. The meeting just went over what we would be doing for the 18 days of the tour and afterwards Barry and I had dinner at a nearby café.

On Saturday the tour began with a trip to downtown
A MarketA MarketA Market

Near the Presidential Palace
Lima. As I had been there on Wednesday I didn’t take many photos but it was good to have Cristina tell us some of the history, and what some of the buildings I had seen actually were. The one place we went into was the Franciscan monastery, which fortunately I hadn’t visited on Wednesday. The monastery and the church were beautiful, but unfortunately photos aren’t allowed. The highlight of the tour was the catacombs underneath the church where an estimated 300,000 people were buried when it was the main cemetery in Lima.

As we had started early, we finished the tour at lunchtime. I think it was only meant to be a half-day because it was expected that people will have flown in to Lima on Friday and would need to take it easy. So I spent the rest of the afternoon procrastinating over my Lima travel blog entry, but eventually I got it done. Tomorrow we leave really early for Paracas and Nazca.

So after hating Lima when I first arrived, I find myself really liking the place. Besides not being jetlagged and tired, I think I have become more in tune with the vibe of the city. I wouldn’t want to live here, but I definitely wouldn’t say no to coming back!

Additional photos below
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