We hopped off the bus at St. Francisco Square and were greeted by a group of three teenage girls with cell phones in hand and stop watches hanging around their necks. They ramble on about their cell phones as you pass by. It is the only place on earth where I have seen people renting out their cell phone for use on the street, with a stop watch no less! We walked to the main plaza which was full of thousands of little school children dressed in their formal school uniforms. One by one each school (segregated into boys and girls schools) marched passed the main stage in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral. We inched our way passed the crowds (which were full of mothers and fathers clapping for their sons and daughters) and enjoyed our last meal at Jack’s Cafe. I ordered a fresh lemonade blended with mint leaves, a plate of bacon, beans, almond and apricot muesli with yogurt banana and honey and two chocolate chip cookies. I waved down the Australian owner and chatted with her for a few minutes about how difficult it is to run a restaurant in a third world country. She told me it took her a few years to understand how the food suppliers work here. Much of the food is also seasonal and seeing that she runs a gringo cafe many of the items on the menu are not traditionally eaten by locals.
Sarah and I walked back to the square and glanced at the two small rooms which house the Municipal Contemporary Art Gallery. The center of the Municipal building features bronze water fountain in a tranquil courtyard. We walked around the square shaped second floor before running into a legion of army personnel. Apparently some sort of election was going on inside as I saw a few reporters and every so often the men in fatigues would pick up their instruments and play a very patriotic and up beat tune. After staring at a few more paintings we walked back up the hill to our hostel and spent the next few hours napping and laying in hammocks reading our books. We spent our last evening at our favorite couch spot, Los Renos. I enjoyed a glass of Chardonnay Semillion from Argentina (again) and a platter of chicken rolled in pepper and Parmesan, served on sweet potato chips with sweet chili, ginger and yogurt dressing. I felt compelled to order the huge platter of various stuffed wontons. They were delectable. We packed our bags and headed to bed early as we had to wake up once more at an ungodly hour (this was the third day in a row!)
My alarm started beeping at 5am. I didn’t have a functioning flashlight so I had to use my excellent sense of touch in the pitch black to find all of my things. I dropped my bags outside of my room and stared up into the star filled sky. I do have to admit waking up to views such as this make the sleepless nights much more tolerable. We hopped in a taxi to the airport and stood in the check in line for our Aero Condor flight to Lima. I looked up at a balcony on the second floor and noticed a few rather drunk men screaming at a police officer at the airport police station. One of the men was actually dancing and throwing his hands about, a very talented man. We finally got through security and I noticed several gringos with the new Harry Potter book. Our flight was delayed an hour which was rather irritating. The terminal was somewhat of a chaotic mess as they changed the gates that several flights were leaving from. Several old little ladies looked like they may fall over from confusion. We flew over the Andes mountains on the 50 minute flight into the capital.
Lima is considerably colder than Cuzco and Puno. It is located right on the ocean and was built right in a desert. Hopping off the plane I through on my sweater and stared up at the mountains along the horizon and the dark clouds covering the heavens. We walked to the turnstiles to grab our luggage and were a bit taken aback by all of the posters and notices about taxis. In the Lima airport each turnstile has a huge sign that says “Do not take any taxis outside of the airport, only use designated professional services at the Taxi Service desk.” Clearly this city is as dangerous as people say. The problem is, many people take the taxis outside as they are only ten dollars into the city. The Taxi service desk said they were going to charge us twenty three USD to get to our hostel! That is a ridiculous amount of money for South America (to put it into perspective, it cost us three dollars to get to the airport in Cuzco).
After leaving the luggage area we found a legit taxi service directly outside of the gates. It was half the price so we hopped in the car and sped into the city. Our drivers name was Angello and his wife is from Toronto. We instantly struck up conversation with him. We drove through the cities shanty towns and I locked my door and held the handle tight in case any random thug tried to open my taxi door at a stop light. Throngs of people stand on the side of street intersections and jumped onto the road at red lights. They sell bottled water, gum, little candies and toys you would never ever want to purchase. Angelo could tell I was a bit shocked by the intensity of the people here and said “Lima will kill you.” That was our first bit of advice in Lima, that the city would kills us! Our hostel is located in the nicest part of Lima, Miraflores. On the way to our hostel we stopped off at the bus station and booked ourselves on a “26 hour” bus ride to Guayaquil Ecuador for the following day. The city of Lima is like a small Las Vagas strip with row upon row of cheesy casinos. The Loki Hotel is located directly across from a full service shopping mall, McDonald’s, Cineplex, KFC, Burger King and Pizza Hut! We had not seen American style eateries or conveniences in weeks. We felt the need to stop at McDonald’s and indulge. We checked into the Loki Hostel which has a brilliant view overlooking the main square.
We walked about three blocks down the road to the cities famed Indian Market. You know you are heading the right way when you see gringos with their hands full of shopping bags. Several knock off markets such as the “Inca Market” are a sour attempt at copying the original and massive Indian Market a few blocks down the street. The faux “Inca Market” actually has a man dressed in traditional festival clothing screaming at you to come into his market. Many tourists don’t know the difference and never end up visiting the actual Indian Market. Once arriving at the Indian Market we were happy to see several tourist police. The market is three blocks by two blocks. It is a huge area full of typical indigenous rugs, blankets, hats, mitts, jewelry, statues etc… After noting the prices I was so glad I had bought all of my gifts in Boliva. Peru is significantly more expensive than Bolivia when it comes to markets AND the people don’t barter to the extent that the Bolivians do. Which for me, takes all the fun out of the experience. After an hour or two of market moments we hopped in a broken down cab with a driver who had no clue where he was going. He stopped several times to ask for directions. We were headed to the countries most famous museum: Museo Larco. On the way there we drove past the beach front where we saw several para-gliders flying over the highway. The surf was also spotted with several surfers. We had to drive half way across the city to get to the museum which is located in a rather dodgy part of town. The houses are all covered in barbed wire and electric fences.
A man in a black suit opened our car door and motioned us to walk up the steps to the museum ticket office. Walking up to the museum is a pretty little climb as beautiful wild flowers hang over the stone walls. A few words from the Museum brochure: Founded in 1926 by Peruvian archaeologist Rafael Larco Hoyle, the Larco Museum showcases remarkable chronological galleries providing an excellent overview on 3,000 years of development of Peruvian pre-Colombian history. Located in a unique vice-royal mansion of the 18th century, built over a 7th century pre-Colombian pyramid, is surrounded by beautiful gardens. The museum features the finest gold and silver collection of Ancient Peru and the famous erotic archaeological collection, one of the most visited Peruvian tourist attractions. For an unforgettable experience, Larco is one of the few museums in the world where visitors can also choose to enter the storage area with its 45,000 classified archaeological objects. In the gardens you will find Cafe del Museo, led by the most prestigious Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio. Its museums are considered world wide icons of Pre-Colombian art, after being exhibited in the world’s leading museums.
We entered the first gallery and stared into glass cases full of ancient stone sculptures. We passed into a one foot thick door vaulted room full of sparkling gold and sliver masks and stone turquoise jewelry. I expect this room alone has a value greater than I can ever imagine. We then walked into the largest room of the museum which is full of ceramics and pottery. I found the most interesting part of this gallery to be the showcase of pottery “gone bad.” Several masks and bowls were warped due to improper heating techniques. It goes to show that even the Inca’s made mistakes. I was astonished at some of the decorative masks and bowls as it is rather eerie to stand in front of the face of a man who lived 1000 years ago. The gallery has a small room which explains the use of textiles in Peru (the Bolivian Textile Museum in Sucre goes into far more detail). We have seen several dolls at markets that sort of look like voodoo dolls. They are incredibly creepy as they have triangular heads. It was interesting to see the originals in a museum which date 600 years ago. We walked into the temporary exhibit which featured an incredible array of Gold and Silver Ceremonial Jewelry. In huge glass cases I gawked at marvelous golden head dresses which had been designed for Peruvian royals thousands of years ago. The most interesting part of this exhibit was the glass case full of facial jewelry. The Incas used to pierce their cheeks and pass golden decorated chains through their mouth and attach them to their head dresses. It was almost like they wanted the elaborate head dresses to become part of their bodies. Most disturbing were the implements used for the ear lobe. These pieces of silver jewelry were as thick and long as a cucumber! All of these rather daunting bodily fixtures were necessary and glorified in the community when performing religious rituals.
We then walked into the museums famed storage area. Apparently most museums only have about 20 percent of their artifacts on display at one time. This museum is very unique as it allows visitors to walk through the artifact saturated storage area. Sarah and I could not get over how many artifacts lined these hundreds of halls. From floor to ceiling the storage facility is organized by type of artifact. At one point we were surrounded by ceramic bowls covered in bird design. Several storage shelves had little ceramic statues of slaves with their hands and arms tied with rope. I could not get over the size of this archaeological maze.
We left the erotic gallery to last as it was in a separate gallery located on the other side of the gardens, past the restaurant. These erotic statues are world renowned and are the only account of sexual practice that historians have for this part of the world, it’s not like they had websites like m-porn.xxx back in those days so they had to have some way of recording sexual acts back then and the statues seemed like the best way in which to do so. I have never seen so many creepy little statues of couples having sex, every which way you can imagine. It is somewhat daunting to see an entire room full of phallic jugs used to carry wine and coca tea for religious ceremonies. The most famous piece in the gallery is about one foot tall, a dead man (represented as a skeleton) masturbating. I have no clue why any artist one thousand years ago felt compelled to spend hours designing this morbid erotic statue. After pointing and giggling at all of the ever so interesting sexualized Inca statues we walked past the glamorous white leather couch filled Museum Restaurant. I checked out the menu (which was rather expensive) and was glad to see that the chef had created a menu with dishes from regions across the country. Before leaving the museum we walked into the gift shop where I was shocked to see Erotic Statue replicas for tourists to take home. I am not sure what kind of human being would want a replica of a masturbating skeleton but I’m sure they are an interesting lot.
Our taxi drove us through the cities posh area and we hopped out a block before arriving back at our hotel so we could walk along the street and enjoy artists selling their many oils on canvas. I noticed the park is now blocked off to pedestrians and is full of municipal workers who are putting up huge speaker systems and a sound stage. As we walked past several artists Sarah and I both noticed two teenage boys eying our bags. We instantly stopped and moved to the side to let them pass us. We were not about to get robbed by teenyboppers. We walked back to the hostel as it was getting dark and the streets were packed with locals heading home from work. We decided to eat at KFC, an establishment I have never actually eaten at back home. We chose the “Mega Promotion” which consisted of 8 pieces of chicken, 10 popcorn chicken, 2 large fries and a coleslaw for 6 USD! We walked up the street and enjoyed the bustling nightlife of Miraflores as the speakers in the park blasted Classical Opera and Orchestra down the street. We both picked up a chocolate dipped cone for 50 cents and stopped on a park bench in front of a few trees overlooking a pink colonial building.
We spent the next two hours sitting on a couch in the hostel bar drinking one dollar liter beers and devouring our greasy meal. We jumped up and stared out the window which overlooks the square as several fire works blasted into the night sky. We chatted after dinner as the DJ played a mix of euro funk music. We ran over to the cineplex at 10pm to watch Oceans 13 for a measly three dollars. We both thought the film was horrible. I decided that Brad Pitt has more craters in his face than the moon. We jumped into the streets at midnight and had to avoid walking in puddles as it had apparently been raining throughout the movie. The rain pattered down on our faces and we were a bit astonished that the square was still full of people and busy traffic. Even at midnight in Lima the streets are gridlocked. The municipal workers had been busy all day and before we hopped into our hostel beds we stared out over the park and noticed a street lined with banners and flags.
The following day we walked down the street and saw many locals with painted faces, flags in hand standing by the street for the parade which would take place at 2pm. We finally found out what the parade was for! A man told us it was Peru’s Independence Day! No wonder they had gone to such trouble. We walked down Avenue Larco to the cities famed Larcomar. Larcomar is a fantastic outdoor mall complex built directly into the beach cliffs overlooking the ocean. We found a Starbucks and ordered two Mocha Frappe’s. I found it interesting that the Starbucks here in Lima has an informative display on the coffee beans grown here. The Larcomar has great views overlooking Lima’s waterfront as well as some very high end stores and restaurants. We walked back up the main street and popped into the cities largest supermarket to buy a few items for our long bus journey to Ecuador. We picked up our bags at the hostel and hailed a cab to the bus station. We waited around for a few minutes which allowed me to finish my current read. We checked in our bags and walked up to the huge double decker bus. Before stepping into the bus I closed my eyes, crossed my fingers and hoped to God this wouldn’t be the worst experience of my life.