Today was quite the experience. We entered Lima, Peru early this morning in a shroud of fog. They said the high was going to be 73 degrees. Darn! The weather so far hasn’t been as hot as I was expecting – and hoping for. We are approaching winter here, but for gosh sakes, how cold can it be around the equator? I’m happy to say that the fog burned off and we had a beautifully warm day. If it was only 73, the sun must be a lot more intense, because Emma got a nice little sunburn, and we certainly were perspiring.
They keep telling us to use 90 – 100 sunscreen, which I have been doing; Emma, however, is very concerned about her makeup in the way that only a 14 year old can. Sunscreen doesn’t work with a proper beauty regime. Yet she doesn’t want a sunburn. With only 8 other teens on the ship, and they can’t seem to be found, I’m not sure who she is worried about impressing. It takes that child longer to get ready than George and I both put together. We leave her in the stateroom getting ready and go have breakfast. When we get back, she is still hard at it. I’m so happy that I am not 14 and don’t have to worry. I sure don’t try to impress George. I had my hair dyed the day before we left, and the hairdresser accidentally made it too light. George blinked yesterday and said “You got your hair dyed – you’re a blond!” It only took a week for him to notice. He’s improving!
Emma and George were both grumpy this morning. Oh boy, this will be a good day. Emma didn’t want to get up and be off the ship by 9 am. Her idea of early is noon. George was tired out from Piscu and he wasn’t keen on the idea either. I bit my bitchy tongue until it bled and cajoled them both off the ship.
We didn’t have an excursion planned, but they were running a free shuttle to town. Somehow, I was envisioning Lima as a comparable city to a lovely city in Spain. I’m not sure why, but clearly I was wrong. First off, Lima has 10 million people. No exaggeration – the population is 10 million. Oh my. There are traces of Spain in some of the architecture, but it is distinctly it’s own style. Sort of a Poverty Nouveau motif.
They had very clear warnings about not wandering alone and if robbed, hand over valuables and be happy you are still alive. And if taking a tour, make it a reputable company. Okay, we had planned to use a Hop On Hop Off bus to get an overview of the city and hop off at some historical places. These busses seem to be in every major city in the world. Except Lima – but we didn’t know that yet.
We hopped the ship shuttle and it drove to the Plaza San Miguel, which is located in a “major shopping district.” The first thing we noticed was the poverty of the city near the port. This isn’t unusual; ports are industrial areas and not residential areas. The buildings were very run down and many of the top floors of the buildings were missing. This is an earthquake prone area, and I’m assuming that they have shook down or perhaps just fallen in. Rebar sticks up through the walls into the air, like they are waiting to be added onto, or repaired. Debris is everywhere, and piled on the roofs, as well. There are residents living on these broken tops, with sheet metal roofs and plywood walls to create a sad little house. The lower floors appear to be lived in, with these mangled top floors. For an artistic flair, some of the houses have glass bottles, filled with water, lined up along the edges of the broken roofs and balconies. I’m not sure if they are anchored. If not, look out below!
I figured the poverty was just the area we were in, and I’m sure this is probably part of it, but over the course of the day we traversed a good portion of the city and many areas were very poor. I’m sure there are many lovely areas of Lima; we just weren’t near them. They were definitely correct about not wandering alone, especially at night.
When the bus stopped at the Plaza San Miguel, a devastatingly handsome young man jumped in the door to address us. Emma kept pulling my arm and whispering “He is SOOOOOO HOT!” In my ear. I was distracted (and she was right…) and didn’t hear all he was saying, but he did say something about staying safe and be careful who you hired as a guide – and something about the people outside the bus were okay. What? People outside the bus?
We stepped off the bus into a MOB of 50-60 people, all holding city maps and insisting on guiding us about the city to see the sights. They tugged, pulled and every one acted like all the others were crooks – except them, of course. It was rather terrifying!
I grabbed George and Emma and marched away from the frenzy, but of course some of them followed us. I was looking frantically for the Hop On Hop Off bus (this was before I figured out they aren’t in Lima). Then I looked for any type of tourist bus that looked legit. These guys all had their own cars, some were licensed as taxis and some were not. I thought we could retreat to the shopping mall across the street so we could sit down and figure it out – but was told they wouldn’t open until 11 am. The good shopping district turned out to a mall, everything else around it was a fast food place. There was a Burger King, a KFC, a Chili’s Restaurant – everything we have at home. We ran across the street to a Burger King (could you believe the one time I wanted a McDonald’s, there wasn’t one?). Alas, it was also closed.
There was a bank on the corner and George decided to get some local money. The ATM however, only distributed dollars. The “guides” were all charging varying rates to take folks around, and I quickly realized some were licensed and some were not. Also some had taxis that appeared to be real, and others just had their own cars. George was hot to take the one that a guide said was a Yellow Cab. I pointed out that this was written on a piece of paper with a marker, and there probably wasn’t any such thing as a Yellow Cab Company in Lima. While not a guarantee, it seemed to me if they were licensed, we had a better chance of not getting ripped off – or worse.
It was so crazy that we were almost ready to go back to the ship. We had stepped away from most of the frenzy, and a man walked up to us and asked if we wanted a guide. He had a kind face (as do most serial killers), a taxi license around his neck and a cab with a real taxi sign on it. He said he would charge $20 per hour. I had noticed most of the other ones were bidding by the person, which was adding up to quite a bit more for the locations we were looking at.
His name was Jose, and we decided to go with him. The only problem was his English was on the same par as my Spanish. But with a map, a lot of hand gestures and smiles, we ended up doing okay. We spent six hours and he took us to some of Lima’s highlights and a terrific lunch, which he explained was “traditional.” This was one of his dozen English words, which was six more than I knew.
George, who sat in the front with him, kept trying to keep a running conversation going with Jose. It went something like this:
George: “How is the economy in Lima?”
Jose: “Traffic crazy in Lima.”
George: “What do people pay for rent to live here?”
Jose: “Traffic crazy in Lima.”
George: “There was an election in Lima, how are politics here?”
Jose: “Traffic crazy in Lima.”
Jose was correct, the traffic was incredibly bad. Everyone honking horns, swerving around cars and pedestrians. We had seatbelts securely fastened and just tried not to look. I asked for his map, so I could try to figure out if he was driving us an abandoned location where tourists are murdered, or take the long way and charge more money. I quickly gave up trying to figure it out, but hoped he got the idea that we didn’t want to be ripped off. It turned out he really was a nice guy, and didn’t overcharge us at all.
In a modern Lima version of the Mad Hatter’s Ride, he drove across town to the old historical center, which consists of the first cathedral, and President’s palace, the city municipal buildings and a fountain from the 1600’s in the middle of the square. All very beautiful.
We took a tour of the cathedral and archbishops palace, while Jose patiently waited for us. The body of Pissaro, the Spanish explorer who “discovered” Peru and founded Lima, is enshrined in the cathedral. There is a large exhibit that appeared to show they had identified Pissaro by matching his historically documented body wounds and set up this shrine to him.
Mostly I was interested in finding the bathroom, or banos (sorry, don’t know how to add squiggly lines above the “n”). This is one Spanish word that I do know. Fortunately, the cathedral did have one, so the day was saved for me.
George’s feet and legs were swelling, and he made through the cathedral, but decided to sit outside with Jose while Emma and I toured the Archbishop’s palace. It was pretty amazing, boy the archbishops that lived there certainly lived there in style. There was a private chapel, all done in gold leaf. Emma, who is not Catholic and not familiar with the practices, found the beautiful marble basin of Holy Water and was busily dipping her hands into it to get cool water. I had turned to get a picture of her as she climbed the steps; I gasped at the sight of her, and we had a quick lesson on church practices and etiquette…..
We were all starving at this point. George and I had grabbed a very minimal breakfast and Emma was so busy painting her face that she had missed it all together. Jose was hell bent on taking us to the catacombs (another word he knew), but we finally made him understand we wanted food. Ah yes! He asked if we wanted traditional chicken. George jumped on this one and kept saying Po-lo (shades of our last foray at McDonald’s), which totally confused Jose.
Jose would say “chicken” and George would say “Po-lo.” I don’t eat chicken and wanted fish. I said “ceviche,” which is the traditional fish dish, and Jose nodded enthusiastically and pointed down a street, repeating “traditional.” We obligingly followed and many blocks later he directed us to a very nice restaurant, situated next to the old original walls of Lima – or the ruins of them.
It was a great place, and we had a beautiful lunch. Trying to order was an adventure. Nobody spoke English, and Jose ended up the expert. He kept muttering “traditional” and we ended up with four kinds of ceviche, a fried fish dish, the most amazing crab cake thing that I have ever eaten and Jose had a big plate of beef.
He ordered a fruit drink for Emma and I and a Piscu Sour for George. This is their famous alcoholic drink of locally made liquor. Whoa, sour is right. George manfully drank it down, but I could tell he wasn’t enjoying it much. Our son Adam, who travels a great deal, had sent him a message that he had to eat ceviche, that it was the specialty.
Now, George does not do raw fish. The only sushi he will eat has to have been killed and fried. And he still turns it sideways to make sure it looks dead and well-done. He was enthusiastic about trying ceviche because Adam said to eat it. I decided not to mention that it was raw. It is marinated and sort of cooked because of the citrus acids, so it doesn’t look exactly raw. And it is very tasty. I had eaten it in Pisco the day before, but I don’t think he connected the two meals. So he was eating it and then I could see his brain working. Something wasn’t quite right here. So he quietly put his fork down and nibbled on Emma’s fried fish thereafter. That meant I ate four kinds of ceviche (each in a different sauce) and the crab cake. Plus the fruit juice, which had to be half sugar. When I went to the restroom, Jose ordered a “traditional” lemonade, which was frozen and super delicious. And more sugar. No points in this meal.
Poor George was really having trouble walking. He forgot to take a diuretic and his feet and legs were quite swollen. Jose was incredibly nice and concerned, and kept trying to help George out.
After the meal, we went to visit the catacombs, which turned out to be a tour of the underground of a church, where 25,000 people were buried. Well, sort of buried. In the 1950’s they discovered all these bodies hidden in large wells under the church, so they dismembered all their bones and then separated their bones into rows and rows of bins. Femurs in one box, skulls in another, pelvis….well you get the picture. For five dollar apiece, Emma and I got to walk in claustrophobic tunnels and look at dusty boxes of bones. George was not feeling at all well by this time, and he had sat with Jose. He suffers from claustrophobia, and finds bones a bit disconcerting. It was a good thing he didn’t go. He would have ran screaming out of there. I thought we were going to see the tombs of the priests and local celebrities of Lima. No idea it was going to be the bones of 25,000 unknown citizens.
This is a Franciscan church, which I found interesting. In Rome last year, I visited a Franciscan church that is famous for their human bone art. All of the monks who served this church from the 1500’s until the 1800’s were buried for 20 years, then dug up and their bones used to decorate the church. Candelabras, walls, pictures – all made from human bones. It was very disconcerting, and I left there very unsettled and had more than a couple of nightmares. Now, here I am again at a Franciscan church with even more bones. While the bones in the 1950’s were laid in the boxes in patterns, at least they didn’t make wall art out of them. If you want to see something creepy to give you nightmares, just picture an entire wall made up of skulls, with a nice little rib candelabra to light the room hanging from the ceiling.
This seemed like a good note to end the day upon, so we had Jose take us back to our shuttle bus. He wants to take us to new sights tomorrow, but I’m not sure George is up to it – or we will have sufficient time. We will have to see in the morning, but I’m sure Jose will have some more “traditional” places to take us in the crazy traffic of Lima.