Lima, Peru - City Tour - January 29, 2015
We set our alarm for 5 am this morning to allow time to enjoy coffee and to do an exercise walk to the beach before meeting our tour guide, Rolf, at 8 am. The morning was pleasant and the street we chose for our walk, Avenue Jose Pardo, was wonderful. I wish, oh how I wish, we could change Roswell Road into something like this street. It had two lanes of traffic going in both ways, but the street was divided by a green space between the lanes of traffic with trees and a wide brick promenade for bicycles and pedestrians. Because most of the automobile traffic was heading the direction of the walkway, we could walk many blocks without ever having to stop for intersections or traffic lights. Along this beautiful street were pretty residences, and a few nice shops and restaurants.
We did not actually walk to the beach. We walked to the parks that sit on the cliffs high above the beach. The actual beach itself is perhaps 500 feet below the street level of the town. The view below and outward is spectacular though. At this place we think the sunrise can be seen in the morning and the sunset in the evening. We watched the sun come up between two tall buildings. We hope to make it back to the ocean this evening for what we think might be a pretty amazing sunset to the west.
Our tour today was scheduled for 4 hours, from 8 am to noon. We finished at 1:30 or so. Rolf is a very likeable and extremely knowledgeable tour guide. We actually had a good time with him. He was a passionate storyteller. He makes history fun and relatable. He painted a vivid picture of the ups and downs of Lima´s fairly recent (1970 to present) economic and political history that caused Lima to be the city it is today. Much of the story is sad. Basically, only a few extremely wealthy families controlled everything until the people revolted in about 1970 and the country of Peru was overtaken by a military regime. Important industries like agriculture, fishing, mining and petroleum were nationalized. Many wealthy families lost their income and those in powerful positions in the government and military took over. In 5 years, these industries were bankrupt. Because Lima is the principal city of Peru, it´s impact was felt much harder. The formerly wealthy people left their beautiful homes in the city for more affordable areas like Miraflores. Country folk came to the city looking for a way to survive and became squatters in these lovely homes. These people had no money for utilities so they squatted in the homes and burned furniture, balconies, doors, any available wood work for cook fires. They had no running water so the streets became the toilets. Much the loveliest areas of the city went to ruin. I repeat this was as late as 1970!!!! In the eighties a new president was elected who made the important industries private once again. Yes, Lima is reviving and restoring. It´s current economy is very strong, but the damage was done.
We learned that Peru is one of the richest countries in the world. It has a vital fishing industry exporting both fresh and canned fish. It has top producing gold and silver mines, and it has huge deltas with splendid climates that produce two and three crops per year of rice, vegetables like avocados, asparagus, and artichokes as well as all other vegetables and an unbelievable array of fruit. Today mostly because of the division created by education or the lack thereof, once again history repeats itself. The great wealth belongs to only a few families!!!
Rolf also took us to the Monastery of San Francisco where we saw among other things, the oldest library in all of Latin America (which certainly outdates anything in all of North America) and the catacombs. Yeesh!! At some point in early times when the church and monastery was first built, the church offered its "basement," the catacombs, as burial grounds for those who could afford it. Approximately 30,000 people were "buried" here. Once laid to rest there, the soul was promised to be given first rights to heaven.
Actually, the body was given last rites then chunked through a beautiful door to the catacombs and put in a stall with hundreds of other bodies on which thick layers of lime was spread. The body soon began its rapid but sure decaying process. Thousands of years later, only skulls and femurs exist. For me it was quite a unnerving sight!!
We also visited Museo Larco. What a mind boggling experience!! We saw pottery and tapestry artifacts in perfect condition created by civilizations from up to 3000 years ago. For perspective purposes, the Inca civilization existed only about 350 years between the times of 1200 and 1550 AD. These artifacts were not primitive items. The thousands of pieces of pottery we saw were artfully and skillfully well-crafted. This pottery art and the tapestries that we saw obviously were created to tell stories or were a fine form of expression. Some, especially the tapestries, must have taken generations to create. Some pieces of fabric contained over 300 stitches per square inch with threads only one-third the size of a human hair. The colors remained vibrant after all these centuries because they were made of cotton that naturally grew in the color presented. (We saw samples of naturally grown cotton in shades of brown, pink, and green that is grown here even today - amazing!!! Who knew??) As we observed these beautiful works of art, we´d ask ourselves over and over, how, why, what does the story tell? These ancient peoples had no written language -- everything was in the pictures reflected in their pottery or other crafts. The answer to our questions will forever remain a secret.
Rolf finally dropped us off at guess what?? The Mercado No. 1. We met Deborah, our driver from yesterday, and we all sat down at the small El Luciano counter and enjoyed the ceviche that we thought about yesterday. Yes, the chickens with heads and feet were still there in the next stall and a bin of fish, octopus, calamari and crabs stood open right next to our table, but the ceviche was the best we have ever tasted! And we´d go back tomorrow if we could. We also had a seafood broth with lime and hot, hot chili sauce and rice and seafood dish, a little like paella. These things were wonderful as well. After our meal, Deborah took us through fruit and vegetable stalls in the market and explained the name and nature of beautiful and curious exotic fruits and vegetables—some from farms; some from the jungle. Beautiful, beautiful sights!
Tomorrow we are off to Puerto Maldonado and the Amazon Rainforest, a two-hour trip up the river by motorized canoe to Posada Amazonas. This trip is sure to hold some interesting stories and sights but it is likely that Internet will NOT be available, so we may need to see you on the flip-side, about February 2.