Lima, Peru
12° 3' S 77° 3' W
Sep 30, 2009 21:51
Distance 1102km

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Blog 37 - Lima (Miraflores)


Taking the advice of our previous taxi driver and the Lonely Planet, we had decided to book ourselves into a hostel in the Miraflores district of Lima which is not only supposed to be much safer but is effectively the new city centre. We later discovered that following a massive influx of ‘peasants’ from the countryside to the original city centre, the gentry of Lima had promptly moved out and created new homes in the wealthy suburb.


The down side of this, we discovered was that even a hostel with shared bathroom in Miraflores cost more than a room in the Gran Bolivar in the city centre. Still, we did seem to be able to walk around at night without fear of crime. Like Santiago, the city of Lima is governed by local district councils and mayors and in the wealthier areas – as with every country – the police and security patrols seem to be just a bit more frequent and earnest.


Walking into central Miraflores we came across an open air market of artists displaying their paintings for unbelievably cheap prices. After a bit of half hearted haggling I picked up a decent sized watercolour of Cusco for $40.


Walking down towards the sea, we came across some extremely hardy surfers swimming around in the highly polluted Pacific below a recently constructed area of parkland. The cliffs above the beach seem to be formed of a very unstable looking agglomerate yet several high rise hotels have been built on top of it and even a new shopping centre built into it.


Setting my geological fears behind me, we braved the shopping centre to discover a semi-subterranean series of shops, amusement arcades, restaurants, bowling alley and even a twelve screen cinema. Unfortunately, we also discovered that except for the summer months Lima has an almost permanent smog lying over it.


With sunbathing off the options list, we decided to spend the next two days exploring the shops, playing the amusements and watching films in the cinema – for the first time in weeks, if not months, it felt as though we were actually on holiday rather than having an agenda to meet.


Despite our less than impressive ‘city tour’ in Cusco, we opted to try again and booked a tour of Lima. This time, we were actually taken on a tour of the city and gained a wonderful insight into some of its history. Having been transported around the affluent areas of Miraflores with its $1M houses, picturesque olive grove parks and slightly out of place colonial buildings, we were taken back into the original city centre where, amongst other things, we discovered how the Gran Bolivar hotel gained its name.


Apparently the then president of Peru ordered it to be built to host a meeting of world leaders and demonstrate the hospitality that the country could offer. Wanting to reflect his country’s history, he ordered it to be named after the site of a great colonial battle. Unfortunately, the battle site had been named in Cheqhuan, the language of the original native inhabitants and being a Spanish speaker, he was unaware that he had just opened a hotel called ‘the place where many people died’. On having his error pointed out, the hotel was immediately renamed to reflect Peru’s gratitude to Simon Bolivar of Argentina who had helped Peru win its independence from Spain.


Despite the impression given in Cusco and other areas whose tourism industry depends on the Inca heritage, Peruvian native culture has a much more impressive and far greater reaching history. For at least two and a half thousand years, there have been tribes of warrior engineers who have learned to use tools and construction methods to carve a living from what is naturally a very arid and inhospitable country. Many parts of it, including Lima itself are technically desert environments as a result of the almost non-existent annual rainfall.


In the city centre, an old bank building - which complete with massive walk-in vault, is only missing Butch Cassidy et al to complete the scene – has been converted into a museum exhibiting gold and silver relics from the country’s past.


Taking a short walk into the Plaza de Armas, we discovered that the bronze fountain in the centre of the square is almost considered the spiritual centre of the city. Indeed, one day every year, the water in it is replaced with Pisco, the local alcoholic spirit, which results in a massive party and some rather unsteady pigeons.


Behind the Peruvian President’s official residence, the original city railway station still stands forlornly, having no longer any contact with any railway lines. For some reason we never established, the country seems to have no remaining rail network and in fact the only form of public transport within the city are small privately owned buses which have a series of destination names painted on the outside of them and a man hanging out the door shouting at passers by. Judging by the many scrapes, bashes and copious use of horns, the drivers of these buses also seem to have learned their trade at the Asian school of taxi driving.


Having been interested in the other ancient cultures of the country, and having heard a little of the Nasca Lines – ancient but as yet undeciphered markings in the desert, we decided to try the country’s long distance bus system and booked ourselves a three night stay in Nasca.


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