OK, I’m sufficiently recovered to talk about Peru. A couple of days of antibiotics has put me on the road to normality and I’m all caught up on laundry. Yep, vacation is definitely over.
But let’s jump in the way-back machine and start with the chaotic and intriguing city of Lima.
We got there at around 10:30 pm, after an 8 hour flight, arriving at the busy airport bleary-eyed and confused. My adorable travel buddy XFE (sorta) quickly located our driver and we were off on a terrifying, death-defying ride through Lima.
It was supposed to be about a 40 minute ride to our hotel, the Westin Lima Hotel and Convention Center, but the Lima traffic and a slight miscommunication that took us to the entirely wrong part of town meant we didn’t get to our room until after well after midnight.
Quick discussion about Lima traffic: it’s kray-kray. It was just unbelievable. The only thing I can compare it to was Thailand, but it was actually even more undisciplined. The painted lanes meant absolutely nothing. The shoulders of the road were just considered another driving lane. I rode the entire time with my eyes cast down and my hands clenched.
Our driver explained that the population of the entire country of Peru was around 30 million and Lima’s population was 10 million. This is because in the 1980s and 1990s, there were two major domestic terrorist organizations in Peru that wreaked havoc out in the countryside, causing a large influx of country people into the city of Lima, which was perceived as slightly safer since it was the capital. This was a false sense of security. In 1992, there was a bombing in Lima that killed 25 and wounded 200.
Pretty crazy recent history. I’m sorta embarrassed to say I had no idea that all of this had gone down. Also: Peru’s recent presidential history, which includes not one, but TWO exiled presidents who were totally corrupt and stole money from aid organizations, like the World Bank. And they keep trying to sneak back into the country and run for president again! It’s madness, I tell you. Madness.
All of this goes to explain the other main observation I had about Lima: there are gun-toting, bulletproof vest-wearing security guards EVERYWHERE. Especially, obviously, at the banks. But lots of other places today, including the main square, the Plaza de Armas, which we visited on our first full day there.
The Plaza has been used for everything from a market to a bullfighting ring to a place for public executions. The Spanish Inquisition was quite active here in Peru, a Spanish colony, and the square was used to burn heretics.
Lima’s historic center is beautiful, surrounded by bright mustard yellow Colonial buildings with arches and wooden balconies. The Government Palace is also located here, and a very fancy Changing of the Guard occurs at noon every day. There’s also the Cathedral of Lima, which we did not go in.
Instead, we went to the Monastery of St. Dominic, which houses two of Peru’s three saints, including Saint Rose of Lima. She was a pretty extreme chick who cut her hair and smeared pepper on her face to make herself less attractive to potential suitors. Ironically, we were on a tour of the monastery with an entourage of three men, including one young gentleman who was wearing a Mr. Teen Peru sash. He posed for many, many pictures throughout the monastery and did not smear his face with pepper at all.
The other really beautiful part of Lima is Miraflores, which is an upscale neighborhood overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It’s full of parks and shopping and restaurants and is quite chi-chi. It’s also very safe and full of tourists.
The Larcomar shopping mall has a lot of great shops and restaurants, including a place we stopped for our first lunch in Peru, Mangos. It was a great place that was full of locals, and had a pretty damn good buffet, plenty of ice cold Pilsens and Cuzquenos, and ocean breezes. Service was indeed slow, but who’s in a rush when the view is that great?
We spent our final day in Lima walking around Miraflores. About 10 blocks north of Larcomar and the JW Marriott are a bunch of artisan malls/shops up near Kennedy Park. There is also a food market, Mercado Surquillo, that’s fun to walk around, and has a huge variety of fruits and vegetables. Fresh juice places were also pretty popular in there. I guess I should have had one of those instead of the coconut paletta of death I had later on.
As we picked up our rental car for the next leg of our journey, I wrestled with my feelings about Lima. It seemed like an incredibly vibrant city with lots to offer. I even felt a twinge of regret when I saw a poster advertising an art exhibit featuring Picasso and Banksy.
But while I felt like I had barely scratched the surface, I wasn’t really sure I wanted to know more. We had driven past so many rundown neighborhoods and seen so much poverty in a city that was obviously still struggling to absorb its massive population influx and recent violent history.
Lima definitely piqued my interest to learn more.