Our first day in Lima could not have been any better!
We woke up relatively early so that we can get breakfast and get our day started. By 9 am, we were ready to set off for the short walk from our B&B to Larcomar, a shopping center nearby that makes for an unlikely tourist attraction due to the fact that is carved off the cliff and cannot even be seen from the street.
Our walk took us along Miracon de Miraflores, this district’s main drag. We passed several parks that provided gorgeous views of the sea below and the coastline. People were out jogging or walking, and Lima felt like any other cosmopolitan city in the world. The sky was overcast like it normally is this time of year but the temperature was a balmy 71F/21C and we were getting excited about exploring everything Lima has to offer.
We got to Larcomar just in time to get on our Turi Bus – so cliche, yet such a great way to see a city, especially with our tight schedule. And as if our cameras and the bright yellow double decker we were on were not screaming “tourists” loud enough, our guide gave us big yellow stickers saying “TuriBus” to wear on our clothing, and he walked around the city waving a yellow TuriBus flag around to make sure we didn’t lose him. He kept walking up to us on occasion to make sure that his English was up to par and to ask if he’d made any mistakes.
Our first stop was in the nearby district of Barranco. We visited Iglesia de la Ermita (Church of La Ermita), the oldest one in the district. Local legend says it was built there after a miraculous vision of Christ on this very spot.
Right beside the church is the Puente de los Suspiros – The Bridge of Sighs – a pretty wooden bridge that crosses the gully that leads into the ocean. Our guide told us that if we walk across the bridge with our eyes closed and hold our breath, all of our dreams will come true. As silly as that was, we did it anyway – I mean, you never know, right?
We got back onto our bus and visited many other sights – Lima is full of squares and palaces and churches and museums, but we only got off the bus for the highlights – Plaza de Armas (also known as Plaza Mayor), the Government palace, the Peruvian House of Literature and the Church of San Francisco. The only other place I wish we had time to visit was Huaca Pucllana. It’s a clay pyramid located in the Miraflores district of Lima – the one we were staying in – and is built from seven staggering platforms. It dates back to the Lima Culture – a society which developed on the Peruvian central coast between 200 and 700 AD. We got a good view of it from our bus but I thought it would have been neat to walk around the grounds, which include a plaza and some smaller clay huts and structures. Alas, we were on to some of the sights Lima is world famous for.
Lima’s Plaza De Armas, also known as Plaza Mayor, is the birthplace of the city of Lima. The founder of Lima, Francisco Pizarro, established this location and built a palace on the North side of it – this is now known as the Government Palace and it’s were the Peruvian president lives. The Government palace has been rebuilt many times since its original construction in 1535, and the current mansion dates from 1930. The Plaza de Armas and the Government palace are both part of the Historic Center of Lima, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. The place was busy but not brimming with tourists, and we took some great pictures there before heading to the Church of San Francisco.
The church of San Francisco was probably my favorite on the tour. It’s one of the best preserved churches that the catholic congregations built in Lima. The church was built in the late 1600s and in addition to its architecture, is most famous for its catacombs, which we got to tour. The catacombs were part of Lima’s original cemeteries, which were built under churches. Tour guides say that there are over 75,000 bodies buried under San Francisco alone, and many of them are exposed in stone pits. Our tour of the catacombs made even me nervous – just the sheer number of bones was disturbing, and the narrow alleys that we had to duck in and out of didn’t help. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures down there, but a quick Google search should produce some good image results for those who are curious.
Our next stop was just around the corner – it was Lima’s original main train station and was built in 1912. Converted in 2009 into The House of Peruvian Literature, it now houses temporary art exhibitions and a library. From the grounds of this building we could get a glimpse of the shanty towns far up on the hillside. In Lima, the poor have to settle for property high in the hills where oftentimes, the slopes are so steep that you can´t even get there by car. It’s strange to think that the hills of Lima would not be desirable for wealthy Peruvians who want to enjoy marvelous views of the city.
After that, it was time to call it a day and head back to our starting point at Larcomar in Miraflores. Whether we were in Miraflores, Barranco, downtown or elsewhere in Lima, color was all around us. Buildings, railings, fire hydrants and bridges were all painted in bright, vivid colors. Even buildings that were obviously in need of some TLC were bright and inviting. The city was quite clean despite the fact that we didn´t see many trash cans, all thanks to a small army of city workers who were sweeping and picking up trash from day till night. Traffic was heavy but you could still get around, and even though pedestrian traffic flights were mostly absent – you´d have to check the traffic light for the cars before deciding whether it´s ok to cross or not – doing so was not a dance with death. The parallels I´d seen between India and Lima were quickly disappearing in this part of town.
Next was lunch. We decided to go to a spot that we´d seen high up from the Malecon de Miraflores. La Rosa Nautica was built right off the beach and promised great views of the ocean and of Miraflores from its patio. Our table did not disappoint, and the food was amazing as well. We both got the catch of the day, which was seabass, but mine arrived on a sea shell and covered with pastry. We also ordered the traditional Peruvian dessert, turron, and sipped on espresso. The walk down to this place from the cliffs of Miraflores was definitely worth it.\
We made one final stop before going back to the hotel – El Parque de Amor, The Park of Love. It´s surrounded by walls of romantic quotes scripted on mosaic tiles, and there is a sculpture of two lovers in a warm embrace in the center of the park. I could see why this was a favorite place for Lima couples who, we heard, would compete in front of the statue for the longest kiss, or would come to this park to watch the sunset.
After a brief stop at our hotel to make some arrangements for our travel the next day, we headed to Kennedy Park to do some shopping at the nearby Inca market and to meet up with a friend of mine from my undergrad Alma Mater.
Daniel got to Averett shortly before I graduated in 2003 but ended up returning to his native Lima after finishing his MBA there in 2010. He managed to get off work early from his job at Ernst & Young and hung out with us for dinner and drinks. We talked about how Líma´s grown so much since he left back in 2002 and is now home to 1/3 of all Peruvians – very similar to Bulgaria, where 1.5 out of 7 million people live in Sofia. We grabbed some dinner nearby and finally got to try ceviche – raw seafood served with lime juice and onions, and corn and sweet potatoes on the side. We also got a couple of other seafood dishes, which were both delicious.
Then, we went to a local bar called Ayahuasca. It takes its name after a vine native to this part of the world, which is said to be able to heal anything from alcoholism to cancer.
The bar itself is an old mansion that belonged to a family; each of the rooms in the house is decorated differently and is quite quirky. There was a room full of plastic containers that were full of different fabrics from all over Peru. In another room, there was a ridiculously big replica of Cleopartra´s chair, and in yet another one there was a shelf full of colorful bottles. The place was slow on a Tuesday night but it allowed us to take a tour of all the rooms and snap photos at will. Its no wonder that it was named one of the top 35 bars in the world by Conde Nast Traveller magazine. This place also had an extensive Pisco Sour menu so we tried the traditional one, as well as sours flavored with mandarine and orange, and coca leaves. Coca leaves are used throughout this country to combat altitude sickness, and seeing that we were going out to high altitudes the next day, we got a little plate of coca leaves to chew on straight up. Without the pisco to mask their taste, the coca leaves got bitter very quickly. We shall see if they actually bring some relief from the lack of oxygen in the Andes.
As we sat there and talked and laughed and our heads got hazy from the pisco, I felt like my everyday life was a million miles away. If someone had told me three months ago that I´d be sitting in a quirky bar in Lima drinking grape brandy and laughing with friends new and old, I would not have believed them. I don´t know if it was the pisco or the coca leaves or the laughter or the intoxication that comes from having a completely new, exciting experience in another hemisphere, but at that moment, for a little while, I felt as happy, content and fulfilled as I can remember.