Longing for the Living Daylights in Lima
Depressing is the first word that comes in my mind when I saw Lima. The sky was dark grey and the sun is nowhere in sight all through the day.
At the airport, I took the Urbano Shuttle Bus to a three-hour trip to my hostel at San Francisco, at the historic center.
The air is sooty. People all wear either black, dark blue, dark brown, and grey warm suits.
The weather in Lima is something peculiar. It’s just 12 degrees above the equator and yet it exhibits the characteristics of a temperate climate where Manila and Bangkok, at 14 degrees above equator, simmer all throughout the year.
Something like a “Weirdeterrenean” climate, it is hot in January and now, pushing to winter in June, the weather is cold and damp in the night and early morning. The surrounding area is marked by deserts. In fact the landscape of coastal Peru, north to south is powdery Martian, dumped by an endless sea of barren soft and smooth, flat to cresty dunes, a couple of cactus sprouting here and there complemented by the murky grey sky.
Although not as dry and harsh as southern Peru, in fact it is even oasis-like. Still, I should have brought tons of lip balm for my cracking lips before I embarked on my journey to this country.
Drivers here are probably the worst in the hemisphere, battling it out with the Mexicans in a neck-to-neck race for the title. I had not warmed up my feet on my first day, just as I turned at the corner, I heard expletive “Madres” spurted out from both ends of the almost colliding cars on a screeching stop, trying to outmaneuver each other.
I made sure I turned to my left whenever I cross the street on the corner. Even if the pedestrian green sign is on, drivers turning right make it clear that they have the supreme right of way. They don’t care if pedestrians land on the pavement first.
The rule of the jungle prevails in the streets – survival of the fittest. Pedestrians and motorists challenge each other’s wits on who’s the smartest and sleekest.
The police force, mostly women, are rendered helpless and powerless by the anarchy in the intersections. The city might have installed them there to dampen the severity of the situation although there’s nothing much solution they can offer. I guess they were props to give the city an impressive progressive face, a welcome respite of display of femininity, sporting uniformly a Mestiza face, identical black straight hair in buns, very tight, pocket less rear, second skin trooper pants, and dominatrix-high black boots.
|The Cathedral’s Sacristy|
The two best places to hang out and relax the eyes are the Plaza de Armas and San Martin Square.
The Plaza de Armas is very colonial Peru. Church and state converge here – the cathedral on one side and the Presidential Palace on another. A World Heritage Site, the plaza, highlighted by a fountain in the center is completed by mustard colored super grand and elegant colonial buildings with their extraordinary bookshelf-like balconies crafted from solid dark hardwood, some finished with Moorish screen panels.
The palace offers a tour of five rooms – the Press Room, another Press Room, the Art Nouveau Foyer, the Ceremonial Room designed and crafted in France after the Louvre, and the Banquet Room, locally Peruvian in style with distinctive dark hardwood composing the balcony and dining tables. A 2-ton crystal chandelier hangs in the center.
The president is not residing there, preferring the suburbs, a tradition copied from other world leaders who breaks tradition by initiating tacky austerity measures in their policies, not wanting to be associated living in palatial accommodations.
Nevertheless, this mistaken sense of good government doesn’t work well with practically all Peruvians. A Quechuan, he is unanimously rated low among the Peruvians I have met, Quechuan or otherwise, for screwing up the economy. Loosely and no-holds barred, they call him imbecile or the heroic Pachacutec wannabe know-nothing incompetent. They prefer Fujimori.
After the tour, the guide led us to the courtyard where a spectacle is about to commence – the changing of the guards at noon. Toy human soldiers in their bright blue and red uniform emerged on each side of the Palace like German clock cockatoos marching and playing music ranging from the romantic to the somber highland Peruvian. It was a 20-minute show.
Plaza San Martin is very Parisian. Grand buildings topped with numerous finials surround a square where the statue of General San Martin, the initial liberator of Peru, mounts a horse, stands in majesty.
The two squares are connected by the pedestrian mall Jiron de la Union, a nice wide esplanade flanked by low to middle end clothes shops, fast-food outlets, department stores, a bank, a grand colonial church-convent (La Merced), Las Vegas style slot machine salons, and tattoo and internet shops. Internet and moneychanger touts vie ferociously for customers.
There are plenty of churches in Lima. Among the impressive are is the cathedral, which has numerous side altars, carved altar seats, and a museum. Its ecumenical art collection includes Philippine icons indicated by two ivory crucifixes holding a Chinese-looking Christ.
The San Francisco church is a must-see. It has impressive red-gold hardwood retablos, a convent with an interesting dome-ceiling, an ancient choir, and catacombs. The bones are arranged neatly and the smell down under is musty and rancid.
Another church worth one’s while is the Jesus Maria with its retablos and wall paint decorations. Santa Rosa Church is simple and elegant at the same time, while the San Agustin Church near the Palace warrants a visit, if one’s purpose is to see the peaceful cloister where Saint Rosa of Lima and Saint Martin de Porres are interred. A saint’s skull and relic is displayed in the right side altar of the Church.
Human head trophies and sex-themed potteries are featured. The Moche culture’s centuries-old Huaca Cao pyramid featuring naked prisoners sporting Viagra-enhanced penises is replicated, a favorite photo-op spot for giggling girls.
I wonder if they already have Viagra during that time since I gathered that the Peruvians are advance even in the skill of brain surgery when Europe was still eking it out with magic potions during the Dark Ages.
The highlight is the Incan section showing the scaled models of the city of Cuzco and Machu Picchu, and even Choquequirao – the next big sensation. The guide told us, it takes seven days to trek to the site and the world’s curiosity and imagination hasn’t picked up yet.
My last day was dedicated to exploring Miraflores. Fed-up of taking a taxi every trip this time I tried bus. It’s just S/.1.00 (nuevo soles) to get there and I went straight to Larcomar Shopping and Food Center by the cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Looking over the deck, it was a frightening desolate sight. Haunting images of the movie “Perfect Storm” or the stormy shores of Scotland brings to mind. The ocean looked treacherous and angry, veiled by a curtain of low mist. There was no life and activity in the horizon, actually there is no horizon at all!
On the way back to my hotel, I walked, connecting the towns of San Isidro and a few others, a stretch of roughly 15 kilometers along Avenida Arequipa, Lima’s answer to Los Angeles’ Wilshire Boulevard. It is marked by a leafy wide island. Embassies and government offices lined the long thoroughfare.
Lima vies second after Cuzco for its tourist pitfalls. Returning to my hostel, I was recalling the incident I had a few days ago coming out of the airport on a return plane trip from Arequipa. A taxi driver offered me a S/.15.00 (nuevo soles) ride. Midway, he reminded me that the fare is in US dollars not soles. That was the most frightening experience I had, never expecting this deliberate dirty scheme, Furiously, I demanded to be dropped off at no cost on my part. Fortunately, another taxi rescued me.
On the morning of my departure, I plugged a taxi and explicitly stated that I will pay in soles and not in dollars. The driver quoted me S/. 8.00 (nuevo soles) for the airport ride. He got me to the airport safely and without incident, and I paid him exactly S/. 8.00 (nuevo soles). Eight soles to airport? Wow! That’s very upbeat!