Sep 9, 2012

Lima, Peru: the beautiful and strange

There's that moment when you wake up in a strange place and you don't realize you're not in your own bed. And then something snaps you into awareness. On my first morning in Lima, it was the birds. The bizarre cawing birds, and then someone playing Björk on the stereo in the hostel courtyard just outside our room. Birds, Björk, people speaking in Spanish... and then it hit me: holy crap, I'm in Peru.

Street art in Miraflores, Lima, Peru
Lima is a city of contrast. The Spanish speaking-only taxi driver singing along to American Top 40 as he swerves haphazardly in and out of traffic lanes, the bright yellow colonial buildings of Central Lima's Plaza des Armes against the flat, permanently grey sky, the tiny empanada cart parked in front of a TGIFridays. It surprised me in many ways. Here's what we packed into our 2 days in Lima:
On day 1, we checked out Huaca Pucllana, which are 1,300 year old pre-Inka ruins (as in, 700 years older than Machu Picchu) that are basically right in the middle of the city. Here's one bizarre contrast: standing on an ancient pyramid looking out at high-rises across the street. High-rises which are also built on ancient ruins, because nobody knew they were there until 1991. Before that, HP was basically a mound of dirt that kids used for dirtbiking. Someone started digging, and soon found the remains of a ceremonial site. And the whole thing is built out of handmade clay bricks, with no mortar. Luckily Lima's in a desert - this thing would have melted in a week in Vancouver. 

Looking at ruins in the desert can make you thirsty, so we decided it was time for a beer break at our fantastic hostel, Condor's House. 24/7 bar with 3 different Peruvian beers on offer? Sold.
After some adult refreshments, the awesome/hilarious cook at our hostel, Bill, took us out for a walk along the cliffs in Miraflores, the main tourist area we were staying in. Not a bad view, despite Lima's ever-present grey sky. There are lots of pretty little parks along the cliffs and it's impossibly clean, although Bill said it wasn't always that way. There are security guards and policemen everywhere; you can tell Lima wants to keep its tourists feeling safe. It apparently also wants to keep them in shape:
We wandered up to check out Parque Kennedy, the main park in Miraflores (which has free public wi-fi, figure it out Vancouver). I didn't take any photos of it though, because I was too excited about the park next to it, otherwise known as "the cat park".
This tiny park is home to about 50 wild cats, who basically just hang out and look cute so people will feed them. They look healthier than some housecats I know, and apparently the city sterilizes them so they don't get out of control. I'm actually thinking about founding a Mount Pleasant cat park upon my return.

Later a crew from our hostel headed to Parque Reserva for one of the strangest yet fascinating tourist attractions I've seen - a nightly  laser light show, projected into a fountain, depicting all of the traditional dances of Peru. The photos didn't work out (you try being short in a crowd), but the many lit up fountains made for some other fun photo ops. After the fountains, we headed to the neighbourhood just south of Miraflores, Barranco. We crossed the hundred-year-old Bridge of Sighs and snapped these shots:

Finally, Bill took us all to his favourite bar, Sergeant Pepper's, where we watched a terrible Spanish band perform and quenched our thirst with Pisco Sours (SO GOOD) and beers.
Day two started with an amazing hungover sandwich feast at hostel-recommended La Lucha near Parque Kennedy. Sean and our new Albertan friend Evan had chiccharon (pork) sandwiches and handmade fries, which set them back a whole 12 soles (less than $6 CDN). Peru, I love you. After we filled up, we headed to Central Lima to check out some of the colonial churches and buildings.
The church in the last photo, Iglesias San Francisco, is a gorgeous building in itself, but the real highlight is the massive crypt in the basement which is home to more than 20,000 people's bones. They've unearthed one portion of it, and we took a tour through the dark, silent passageways. The bones are separated by type into different areas, and many are still intact after several hundred years. There's nothing quite like being underneath a 500-year-old church looking at a pile of femurs that belonged to 16th century Peruvians. It was insanely creepy and completely awesome. No photos allowed, but luckily we visited another cathedral nearby that had a much smaller, but equally authentic collection of bones, these ones belonging to high-ranking members of the church.
Day 2 ended with a visit to Lima's oldest bar - Bar Cordano - for some of Peru's national beer, Cuzcuena.
Cuzcuena comes in blanca and negra - both of which are pretty tasty. The negra's a bit sweet for my liking, but the blanca is a nice easy-drinking pilsner. And at 7 soles for a 650ml bottle, you can't go wrong.

Lima is beautiful & strange, and full of surprises. And the amount we were able to squeeze into two days is testament to just how much there is going on there. We weren't blown away, but we were left with the feeling that Lima has more to offer. And we'll be back at the end of our trip to find out what that is. Onward to Cusco!


  1. Great to hear about your travels. Keep the posts coming!

  2. I love that first photo. Agree with Joe, keep the posts coming!