We eventually touched down in Lima just before midnight and we were met at the airport by a lovely young university student who was working as an English guide while he studied music – the driver couldnt speak English so we needed two people to take us to our hotel apparantly. We had just been to four countries in one day – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and now Peru. We were both near comatose but Max filled us in on what we needed to know for the next day as we only had one day in Lima before heading up to Cuzco and the Andes for the week.
Well as I said before we had heard alot about Cuzco and Macchu Picu but no-one had told us that Lima was pretty interesting too.
For starters there was actually surf there. The water was a bit brown but the two breaks we could see from the cliff face in Miraflores (the suburb we were in) looked pretty popular. Secondly, there were over 10 million people that live there – it is apparently the second biggest city in South America. This meant that there was again a diversity of living quarters and again, a high standard of living, against a very poor population that live in “shanty towns”.
On the day tour we visited pre Inca archaeological sites, numerous neighbourhoods, town squares and finally a church/cathedral with rather large catacombs housing the bodies of over 25000 people underneath – so researchers say. We meandered through underground to be confronted with thousands of human femurs and skulls arranged in earthquake proof tanks (an amazing feet according to researchers) and 10 metre deep hollows. The design was so good that it has been able to withstand some serious earthquakes. This little side tour was disturbing and facinating – the locals and elite all buried under the church to be closer to God. The spanish stopped the practice in the early 1800’s apparently as fear of disease had spread. This cathederal church also housed a massive library with books from the 16th Century onwards – we could look but not touch or photograph inside anywhere here. We both would have loved to pick up a book and open it but had to be satisfied with the two large latin books on display.
Upstairs in the Church people were lining up to touch a statue of St Jude – patron saint of the impossible – I guess everyone has an impossible wish they wouldnt mind fulfilling – there were hundreds of people lined up and you can only do this at certain times of the year so that was interesting too. Personally I found the vultures prched high on the steeple and the bats in the belfry the most surreal parts of the this massive structure. It seemed like something out of a horror movie! We dont have vultures in Australia (to my knowledge) and I couldnt help but wonder if they didnt start hanging about here centuries ago when all the dead bodies were being piled up.
On a lighter note, we also saw some celebrations in the main square where people from different parts of the country come at different times to parade and celebrate their specialties. This time they were clearly from mining towns so the bright coloured dresses contrasted beautifully with the men in hard hats who had painted their bodies brown and dirty. Plenty of music and dancing as the parade passed by.
All in all Lima proved to be a very interesting city and worth a visit for sure. Late in the afternoon we are finally off to Cuzco. Due to the fact that I have a respiratory infection of some sort I feel it is necessary to start the altitude sickness preventative medication although I have ummd and ahed about it for some time due to other potential side effects. As you might imagine the plane takes off from Lima goes up up up and then lands! Not really but not far off.
Night one in Cuzco – we had dinner in a small place which for me consisted of Quinoa soup and Pisco Sour (complimentary) and husband had lamb stew and beer (and complimentary pisco sour.) There is great rivalry between Peru and Chile as to who owns the Pisco sour – each claiming it is their countries national drink and that their recipe is better – I dont mind the competition – if they are complimentary they are great! The waiter was friendly (not all that common in South America) and the atmosphere was great with a young girl dressed in traditional attire meeting people at the door (sin smile) and a whole bunch of locals enjoying their meal on the table next to us.
Back at the room I am struggling to breath, the ache in my chest from coughing and the seeming lack of oxygen makes me wonder if I can make it through the night – even taking pain relief makes me sick. I go to sleep half sitting in bed with husband wondering if I am actually dying or just overreacting and having some sort of panic attack! The fact that my lips were a strange mix of white and purple or that I couldnt breath when I lay down did not seem to phase him! Either way it was not a pleasant way to go to sleep on our first night let me say – but I am pleased to have awoken this morning able to breath and I have continued the anti altitude sickness medication in order to not bail out now on this grand adventure. I admit I am not in peak condition but with a portable medical cabinet and a positive attitude I think I can survive and enjoy this visit to the Andes. And besides, we are staying in the most beautiful hotel we have ever seen – Hotel Aranwah – a converted Spanish Mansion – complete with antiques in every nook and cranny and courtyards everywhere. Just magnificent!
It was a lazy Sunday morning except for the fact that we kept hearing loud banging noises from our room that sounded not unlike canons going off nearby. So we headed down to the main square which was only two blocks away and to our surprise discovered a massive parade and military celebration of some sort. Guns blazing in salute and fireworks in the middle of the day – not unlike Graduation day at Ashgrove except for the guns!. The locals were all out in the best black suits money could buy and, listening to the presenter, it reminded me of Moscow 20 something years ago when perastroika presentations were being made. We have no idea what was going on but it was impressive – except when a whole line of soldiers were pointing their basookas our way! We wandered about and bought a can of oxygen just for the hell of it (and to ensure I didnt suffer the same inability to breathe later in the day).
As we wandered the streets of this beautiful city we came across celebration after celebration. Sunday is obviously party day. Opposite the cathedral a band played, couples danced and a cute little boy grooved to the rhythm. There were bottles of beer lined up on the footpath with the odd flagon of wine and bottles of whiskey or something like it – and this was only the morning. These people know how to party! Husband wants to live here!
We had to be back at our hotel by 1pm for a tour of Cuzco so we sat in a cafe, drank coca tea (apparantamente the stuff cocaine is made from but used here for altitude sickness) and ate empanadas to ensure we would have the energy to be tourists in this high altitude city. Back at the hotel we could still hear the fireworks (along with the odd American discussing the downfall of the republican movement as they sipped coca tea)! Turns out the military procession happens every Sunday in Cusco – along with hundreds of other celebrations. So far all is well in the Andes!