We were very glad we had taken a day off to see Lima instead of going straight to Cusco. That would have meant sleeping on the airport after a 7 hour flight which did not sound like a good idea. Also it was Sangita’s b’day and we definitely wanted to make sure she had a good time! We had breakfast at the hotel consisting of Peruvian bread and jam and eggs. There was also a crystal jar with thick dark brown liquid which looked just like maple syrup. Imagine our surprise when it turned out to be very strong coffee! Also it seems it is impossible to get regular milk in Peru – every time we tried to ask for it we got some very sweet thick liquid that was more like creamer! We were not sure how warmly to dress – it being winter but Lima is on the coast, and not too far from the equator. We stepped out and found it very pleasant. By 10.00 we were ready and right on time Alonso and Sandra our local Peruvian friends (guides) showed up. We had arranged for a 1/2 day walking tour with plans to spend the evening on our own. We started off by taking a short cab ride to Barranco which is a beautiful bohemian type suburb. It is striking for its beautiful architecture with brightly colored buildings and narrow cobbled streets. We were instantly transported to Europe! We got our first experience of the Spanish plaza – which is such a fixture of all Peruvian towns. The bridge of sighs was cool – we had to hold our breaths while crossing it and our wishes would come true. Sangita and Sabrina raced across the bridge while I sauntered across taking pics and holding my breath. I wished that we would all stay healthy on this trip – and it worked – well almost! But more on that in a later post. The bridge takes you to the first church which is pretty much in ruins. The roof has caved in due to a previous earthquake and has become a home for vultures. The facade is still brightly painted. A small path next to the church leads past small boutique restaurants and opens up to a patio overlooking the Pacific. The view is gorgeous and we were serenaded by musicians playing local tunes. Lovely start to the day! Next we were to take a public bus to the center of old Lima. For this we needed change. I had withdrawn a few hundred soles from the ATM but it spit these out in 100 soles notes. No one in Peru seems to have change for anything larger than a few soles it seems. We ended up buying a toothpaste from a pharmacy to get the change. The bus plows a newly constructed central bus lane and is a very well run operation. It is important to have exact change for the bus (I believe it was only around 1.5 soles. We passed the soccer stadium on our way and saw thousands of people wearing the same T-shirt as the one we picked up yesterday. It turns out the next day was the day of a World cup qualifying match between Peru and Columbia and the whole city was going crazy about it. The #6 jersey is worn by Juan Vargas their captain who also plays for Fiorentina. Suddenly the T-shirt meant a whole lot more! Coincidentally Sabrina was wearing the T-shirt today. Once we got off the bus in Old Lima, we made our way to the huge Plaza San Martin with a statue of Peru’s liberator Jose de San Martin. On one side of the plaza there was a huge Coca-Cola display. Fans were pasting ribbons with good wishes for the soccer team. These would be released like confetti at game time. We also did our part. As Sabrina wearing the #6 jersey was pasting a ribbon a local newspaper reporter sniffed a great story and took her picture for the local newspaper. Sadly we left Lima too soon to see the newspaper the next day. The plaza itself is dominated by the statue and on one side of it is a 5-star hotel named after Simon Bolivar who along with San Martin liberator Peru from the Spanish. Next we made our way to the Plaza Major passing streets with exquisitely carved balconies. These are supposedly a representation of Arabian influence on Spanish architecture. Interestingly one can find very similar balconies in parts of India especially Rajasthan.
These were designed so women of the royal family could look down into the streets without anyone seeing them. While the colors are different the resemblance is striking. Along the way we also visited a museum displaying the ceramics from various times in Peru’s history all the way up to the Waris and the Incas. We also stopped at the San Francisco Convent which stands above the Catacombs. The place is worth a visit for the some of the beautiful paintings and intricately carved furniture. No photography is allowed inside. The next stop was the Muralla park where you can see the old walls of ancient Lima, a shanty town on a hill on top of which stands the newly constructed statue of “Christ of the Pacific” that resembles the “Christ the Redeemer” in Rio.
By now we were famished and tired and we stopped for a bite to eat. We had concerns about finding vegetarian food easily but this was not a problem. We discovered that Peru has amazing varieties of potatoes and also discovered “Tacu-Tacu” which we fell in love with. Needless to say, I also sampled my first Pisco Sour. Pisco is Peru’s national drink and is >40% alcohol. Pisco Sour is made by blending together Pisco with egg white and lime and topping it off with some cinnamon or bitters. Peru is in a perpetual fight with Chile re’ where Pisco originated and who can claim rights to it! Tacu tacu is a mixture of lentils/beans and brown rice and served with salad. It looks very similar to the Indian dish of Vaghareli (Fried) Kichhadi. No wonder we loved it! Since that first taste we looked for Tacu Tacu everywhere in Peru and luckily found that Bembos the local fast food place had it (just ask for the sine carne version). Altogether it was a great experience to complement a get Lima tour. But we were not done yet! We did some shopping for Peruvian handicrafts and found a nice chess set with the pieces representing the Incas and the Spanish armies. Finally we made it to the Plaza Major which has the Palace and the cathedral. We were just in time to witness the changing of the guard. It was already well beyond the 5 hours of “half-day” tour. Alonso and Sandra had waited for us while we visited the Catacombs and also had eaten with us. We asked their recommendation regarding what else we could do on our own. Since it was close to evening they suggested seeing the Magic Circuit of Water – the largest fountain park in the world. Since it was quite close they graciously accompanied us to the park and we saw some amazing dancing fountains. After a laser show featuring popular Peruvian dances, we headed back to the hotel for a very well deserved rest and sleep.
We were incredibly happy to have experienced so much of Lima in one day thanks to our terrific Peruvian Local Friends. We will always remember Sangita’s birthday!