Lima, Peru: Hot and dry like Los Angeles, it even has LA’s clean, breathable air.
Unlike most of the places we intended to visit this trip, we’d at least heard of Lima, Peru. We knew that Peru was in South America, that Lima was a city in Peru, and that it isn’t pronounced like the bean. Other than that, we couldn’t tell you squat about the place. But now we can tell you squat.
To be honest, we only spent a day or so in Lima, so we didn’t get to see all that much outside of the Miraflores District, where our hotel, the Casa Andina Private Collection, was — and all tourist hotels are — located. Still, we were able to learn a few interesting tidbits about the place.
Lima — originally pronounced “Limaq” by the Quechua people (more popularly known as the Incas) — is currently the capital and largest city of Peru. With a population of almost 9 million, the Lima metropolitan area is today home to around one-third of Peru’s entire population.
Yet prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the 1530s, Lima was nothing but a tiny, fishing village. The Spaniards — being a ship-based superpower — needed a port city from which to attack and forcibly subjugate the country, so Lima was taken from the spear-toting local Quechua warriors by the armored, horse-riding, and rifle-brandishing Spanish conquistadors. The “victor,” Francisco Pizarro, re-founded the area as la Ciudad de los Reyes, or “the City of Kings.”
Since then, Lima has overshadowed and outgrown the country’s previous capital, Cusco, and is now Peru’s biggest (and smoggiest) city.
We arrived in South America around 11pm and almost immediately got introduced to Peru’s famous “Pisco Sour,” an awesome concoction made not surprisingly from Pisco, a grape-based liquor. Extremely bitter and with a kick like a rabid llama, Pisco is no drink for heavy machinery operators, a fact we didn’t discover until the next morning as we instantly found ourselves unconscious even after sleeping almost nine hours on the plane.
We woke to find the Lima sky gray and smog-ridden like Los Angeles, albeit for entirely different reasons. Apparently, a former dictator passed laws allowing the importation of soot-belching cars and trucks with no emission controls. That “brilliant” political move, combined with Lima’s near total absence of rainfall, assured that a thick blanket of soot covers everything and everyone much like we experienced in Egypt.
Geographically, Peru has three sections running North to South: the “dry” (yet oddly humid) coastal area (where Lima is); the fertile, mountainous Andes area (where Cusco is); and the rain-foresty inland area (where Amazonian piranhas and other scary creatures are).
Our tour guide, Sylvia, took us first to a pre-Incan pyramid named Huaca Pucllana that served as an administrative center for the development of society on the Peruvian Central Coast.
Then we went to a few picturesque parks, like Parque El Olivar, which has olive trees brought from Spain during the occupation. We also caught the changing of the guard at the Palacio De Gobierno (Government Palace) near Plaza de Armas of Lima (Plaza Mayor), the center and heart of Lima. From there, we walked to the Basilica Cathedral of Lima, a massive Catholic church built by the over-compensating Spanish to crush the Incas’ sun-worshipping religion.
We then climbed down into the darkest levels of hell inside the Monastery of San Francisco’s creepy catacombs. The church’s stone basement is literally stacked with the lye-eaten bones of parishioners too poor to afford a proper burial. (It even has vents to let the decaying flesh smell and fumes escape!) The place is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but amazingly not for that reason — there’s supposed to be an impressive library of old texts or something there, too.
To take our minds off the amazing, yet disturbing, scene we’d just witnessed, we went to the Larco Herrera museum, a privately owned museum showcasing many incredible pieces of pre-Columbian ceramic art. It has so many, in fact, that the place almost looks more like an art gallery warehouse. (“Gee, I really like that blue piece depicting fellatio, but do you have it in red? You do? Sold!”)
Afterward, we went to the coast to eat the delicious local seafood (and tons of it) at Portofino on del Mar which has a beautiful cliff view overlooking the Pacific ocean.
We walked around Mirafloras District for awhile and finally headed back to the hotel for a nap. We tried to make dinner plans at Astrid & Gaston — supposedly one of the best Peruvian restaurants in the world — but it was booked solid and so we decided to just get drunk in the Casa Andina Private Collection’s bar instead, a wise move as we got to try Pisco straight, and had the best Lomo Fino (beef tenderloin strips, mmm) in recent memory.
Lima is an amazing, chaotic city with a rich and tragic heritage that I’d recommend visiting. We had a good time in Lima, but didn’t spend enough time to really get a good feel for the place. On the plus side, we also didn’t spend enough time in Lima to die of lung cancer or anything, either.
The next day, we flew to Cusco, Peru.