Suitcase and World: Greetings from Lima!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Greetings from Lima!

....I know I said I wouldn´t be updating the blog on my trip but I have free web access from the hotel so I can´t resist! The only struggle has been to figure out how to type in English on a Spanish keyboard and translating brower commands from Spanish. Where´s Kathy when you need her :-)

I finally arrived in Lima after a very long but uneventful travel day. By the time I cleared immigration, got my bags and went through customs, it was barely 6am. I had arranged for pickup through the tour company and the driver was there to greet me as I exited customs and immediately headed for the hotel. With the exception of the drive out of Reagan National Airport, I have never been on drive to/from any airport that was scenic and the drive out of Jorge Chavez Int'l airport was no exception.

My immediate impression of Lima, which has since been affirmed, is that it is a heavily populated, congested and polluted city with more than its share of poverty - reminds me a lot of what I saw when I first went to Cancun and the Yucatan 20 years ago. There are signs (grand avenues and buildings) that the city was once very properous but has since slipped into a difficult economic times. I don´t know what the average income here is but I cannot imagine that it is much.

There is no subway here and so the streets are crowed with buses of all different sizes and they all appear to be packed with people going about their daily lives.

.....and there are taxis and taxis and taxis and more taxis! I asked someone about that and they said that it so difficult for even the most educated of persons to find a job in Lima that those who opt to say in Peru (versus going abroad) often end up driving cabs to make a living. Very sad.

Everywhere you go, there are people trying to sell you things - they even zigzag between traffic while it's moving! For sale is every item imaginable under the sun - from the kitschy stuff to toys for kids to fishing rods! The saddest sight is always seeing the kids begging - I had a small gang of them follow me into a store and they wouldn't leave me alone until the storekeeper sternly told them to go away.

Like many cities outside the US, there don't appear to be any zoning laws here - reminds me of Malaysia. As a result, businesses pop up in the most unlikely of neighborhoods e.g., there was a tire repair shop just a few feet from the city's oldest cathedral! .....and like Malaysia, any concrete wall can be turned into a billboard - even if it's the wall that circumvents your own home. The "homegrown" billboards are quite a sight to see!

The people are ever so friendly and helpful - everyone is always saying "buenas dias" the moment you find yourselves seeing each other eye-to-eye.

I have had to remind myself (as Carmen did as well) that "spanish" time is not the same as "american" time. I´ve learned that 10 minutes here might actually translate to 30 minutes, 1 hour....or effectively, whenever the person has a chance to get around to you! You definitely need to be very patient here which as it turns out has been a good thing for me because it´s forced me to slow down and enjoy my vacation days!

The weather has held true to all that I´ve read. It´s cloudy all day and humid but it never rains. The vegetation is a strange mix of what you would find in the tropics and the mediterranean e.g., palm trees growing alongside olive trees!

I'm staying in a hotel in Miraflores which is the "high end" of town....which is all relative but it is definitely the bustling part of the city - full of shops and restaurants. On the way from the airport, I noticed a shop selling native goods and made a mental note to return back to it later in the day.

Despite the early arrival time, the hotel had a room available and they just needed a few minutes to clean it up. While they were doing that, I had breakfast and with everything else going on about me, I didn't realize just how hungry I was.

With Carmen's help translating to/from Spanish, I had signed up for a tour of the city before I left but I did it at such a last minute that I wasn't sure that I was indeed going. The receptionist was really kind and called the company to check. By 10am, I was heading out on my first tour.

The tour was a half day tour and we started out at a couple of the main plazas, including Lima's Plaza Major which houses the Presidential Palace, City Hall and the city's oldest Cathedral which was originally built by Francisco Pizarro in the 1530's. We also went to Plaza San Martine which is named after the liberator of Peru. Both sites are UNESCO World Heritage sites and as result the buildings are painted in a mustard color which is apparently one of the colors of colonial Peru. Furthermore, all building signs - including those for nearby commercial establishments - must be painted in black so as not to detract from the overall historical "look and feel" of the buildings. It was very strange seeing a KFC sign, with a logo of the Colonel, all painted in black!

From Plaza Mayor, we walked two blocks to the San Francisco monestary which was founded by the order of Franciscan monks centuries ago. Beneath the monestary is a complex of catacombs that once served as THE cemetary for the city of Lima. Archeologists estimate that some 25,000 plus bodies are buried in the various chambers and wells, strewn about the catacombs. In some parts, there were private crypts for the wealthy and in other parts, massive wells and rectangular tombs where people were commonly buried. It's a very eery sight to see and I can only imagine what the stench must have been like when the cemetary was activly being used! The monestary also houses a libary of antique books though all of the truly "priceless" tomes were long removed to be housed in Peru´s museums where there is proper climate control needed to preserve the books.

After the visit to the San Francisco monestary, we had a bus tour of some other sights in the city - including a drive through some of the wealthier neighborhoods. At first, I thought it was a bit of an odd thing to do....tour through a neighborhood but I guess it's sort of the Peruvian equivalent of going to see the houses in Beverly Hills!

After the tour, I went back to the hotel, unloaded all my "tour stuff" (i.e., water bottle, camera) and headed out for the arts and crafts markets that I had spotted earlier in the day. There´s a large variety of Peruvian handicrafts to be had - everything from woollen goods (this is the land of the llama and the alpaca) to pottery, to leather goods and silverware. I had decided not to buy anything so it was just window shopping for me and after about an hour or so, I had enough sensory overload to call it a day! On the way back to the hotel, I came across a small mom and pop type convenience store and stopped in to get some bottled water, picked up some cantaloupe (which are about the size of grapefruits here) and some crackers. I went back to the hotel, with the intention of catching a quick nap and then heading out to dinner. Well, I must have been really tired because I remember laying down and then waking up to realize that it was the next morning...which is today.

Today (July 28th) is Peru´s Independence Day. The Peruvian flad is being flown everywhere - a nice sight to see. I was originally scheduled to take a tour of some Incan ruins on the outskirts of town but that was cancelled at the last minute because it is a national holiday today so I have the day to wander the city. Not sure what I willl see as I´m expecting many establishments to be closed. I´m thinking of exploring the neighborhood, on foot, heading towards the Pacific Ocean - apparently, there are some nice parks and shops :-) along the way.

I´m signing off and heading out the enjoy the day. ´later.