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Published: March 14th 2015
Port of Callao and Lima, Peru
We docked at 7:00 and were heading to the capital of Peru, Lima by 8:30. We first travel through the industrial port of Callao (ca-la-o) where our ship has docked. We understand the dock area is not too safe, as in many countries, (a few robberies and pick pockets) so a shuttle will take you to a shopping center a few miles away if you are not on a tour. Since we are on a tour, we hop on our bus and… what a surprise to find within a few blocks of the port, nice parks, clean neighborhoods, lots of stores, and to all appearances, a nice place to live.
Lima is the 4th
largest city in South America after Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires and founded in 1535. As we travel into the city center, we passed by many open, beautiful, green plazas-so impressive. Families out walking their dogs, people on their way to work, taxi’s (there are 200,000 of them) picking up and dropping off folks. The streets had median strips lined with greenery and trees. We were told by Ruth, our tour guide, that it is quite
expensive to keep up all the green places as Lima is in the Atacama Desert and only receives 1-2 inches of rain per year. On our way to Plaza Major we pass cemeteries with crypts and flower vendors on the streets. We see students in their uniforms on their way to elementary or high school and college students entering the many universities. People are generally well dressed, all is peaceful and folks are talking and laughing on the streets. Peru, as we may have mentioned before, is the only South American city where we routinely see public displays of affection. Mothers and daughters holding hands, boyfriends and girlfriend hugging and kissing. It’s quite nice.
We enter a magnificent round plaza surrounded by bright yellow building of the early 1900’s. They are so ornate and beautiful. Each is about 6 stories tall and they surround the plaza. Initially they were homes for the wealthy. Now, they are apartments, offices and stores. Due to the earthquakes, Lima is not a city of skyscrapers. We see buildings in the central district up to about 6 stores, but that is it.
Our next plaza is about 6 blocks away and is the
main plaza of Lima. Plaza Major. This gigantic plaza is surrounded by government buildings and the middle of the plaza is anchored by a statue of Jose de San Martin, who was the founder of the independence movement for Peru in 1821. As we stand on the edge of the plaza facing east we see behind San Martin the magnificent Cathedral de Lima. We head across the plaza, dodging strolling couples, business people in suits with briefcases and tourists from around the world taking pictures. It is a sunny beautiful day.
We cross the street and head into the cathedral. As soon as your eyes adjust to the interior, it takes your breath away. We have seen hundreds of churches and cathedrals in our time and this is one of the most beautiful. It is very large but so simple, peaceful, and elegant. It is not garish and overloaded with riches, nor is it plain.
The interior columns look like plaster; the walls look like plaster; the alter looks like painted plaster painted with gold… not so. Everything is wood and painted to look like plaster. Why you may ask ;-) Well, the first people to build the
church used local materials of adobe and built…this is the land of earthquakes, so soon the church came tumbling down. Next they re-build of stone…once again the earthquakes turned the church to ruble. Finally it dawned on them they would need something that could bend and sway with the earthquakes and this third cathedral was built almost entirely of wood. You would never guess it to look at it. The painting of the wood makes it look like plaster or gold. We look up to see the ceilings are crisscrossed with wooden strips painted in greens and golds. It is so elegant and magnificent. It is truly a peaceful place to worship.
Within the cathedral is the tomb of Francisco Pizzaro, the explorer who conquered the Incas and took over Peru for Spain. Although he is definitely not a hero to the Peruvian people because of his treatment of the Inca’s and other indigenous people, he is a part of their history, and they acknowledge that fact.
We wander over away from the plaza and over a few streets, passing by small stores with electronics, food, clothing, souvenirs, and a few restaurants. Our next stop is the Church
of San Francisco and the home of the Franciscan monks. The church has a small paved courtyard in front with a fountain. Every ledge on the towers of the church has pigeons roosting on them and the plaza is full of pigeons that people are feeding. Since this building does triple duty as a museum, a church and a monastery, we are not allowed to take pictures inside. We enter through iron gates and find ourselves in a hallway that is open on one side toward a courtyard. The hallway, or covered walk goes all the way around the square courtyard and has multi-colored bougainvillea hanging down off the roof and the floor is comprised of mosaic tiles. There are now only 25 monks in residence compared to the 100 it was designed and built for. The museum has many religious artifacts and the walls are covered with beautiful artwork made up of thousand and thousands of individually placed mosaic pieces. Off to the side of the church is a smaller but equally pretty building called the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Miracles.
We head out of central Lima and out to the wealthier suburbs. In order to do
so, we hop back on the Pan American Highway ;-) This is the 3rd
time on this trip on the Pan American Highway. We are going to the Gold Museum and the Museum of Armaments. On the surface this didn’t seem very exciting, but we’re good sports and there are always interesting things to see wherever we stop, so we’re game. We are told that in this part of town with new, higher rise apartments of glass and steel the average apartment can go in the low millions. Movie stars live here, high ranking government officials, people working for USA companies, etc. In this neighborhood we stop along an 8 foot wall and enter through some gates to a courtyard with a dozen small shops. At the end of the courtyard is the Gold Museum. Once again, no cameras.
We walked in and passed room after, room, after room of war and torture instruments dating back a thousand years. We have seen collections of firearms and antiques before, but nothing like this private collection. It was mind boggling. But we were in for a bigger surprise. We continued down some steps to the basement, past the gift shop and,
OMG, the enormous gold collection that was before our eyes were almost unbelievable. The history of Peru in gold! Gold nose rings, gold jewelry, gold coins, gold pots, gold head wear and crowns, gold hair adornments, gold animals, gold, gold, gold. And not one or two items of each but hundreds of them. All displayed beautifully behind glass, numbered and cataloged. There were explanations of what we were seeing both from our guide and in writing on the walls. Our stay of an hour was never going to do this museum justice. In addition to the gold items there were mummies that you could look at from just inches away. It was almost as though they had just closed their eyes for a little while (well, not really), but amazingly well preserved and many with material or leather still on their bodies. One woman’s long grey hair covered part of her face. Part of this collection goes on loan to other countries. We felt like we were on overload when we left this museum. Hopefully there is information and pictures somewhere on the web. Anybody want to try googling it ;-)?
By now it is 2:00pm and we were
ready for lunch! Peruvian food, here we come. We had a magnificent feast at La Dama Juana with all local foods including tamales, rice, beans, Lima beans (which should be pronounced “Leema” beans ;-), chicken, beef stew, and all kinds of salads, as well as a (yes) Pisco Sour. We are really getting to like this drink ;-).
Off now to shop….never an opportunity is missed on these tours to be able to leave some of our money with the local vendors. We stopped at the Indian Market which is an open air market with hundreds of vendor stalls selling upscale beautiful things handmade in Peru as well as the normal tourist trinkets. The market covers 6 blocks. We find high quality alpaca, leather goods, jewelry and clothing. The vendors were extremely nice and accepted US dollars. Many of them would even take credit cards. We bought some alpaca wool and scarves, some jewelry, a few trinkets and about 15 finger puppets ;-) Thank heavens this was only a 45 minute stop ;-) Next, 3 days at sea and then Puntarenas, Costa Rica.- Looking forward to great coffee!!
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