Hostal Mami Panchita, in the San Miguel district of Lima, Peru
current temperature: 23 C / 74 F
elevation: 12 m / 39 f

Monday afternoon, after disappointing the extremely excited and expectant Cody, we drove to Buffalo. Our JetBlue flight was delayed, so instead of having several hours of waiting time in JFK, it was only 90 minutes or so. I couldn´t sleep at all on the plane. I can never sleep unless I´m lying in a bed, at night, in the dark. This time I thought I´d be prepared with Ambien, but even after 10 mgs (I usually only take 5) and several glasses of wine, I did little more than dose. I was extremely uncomfortable in the middle seat. But oh well, two minutes after you land, it´s all forgotten.

After exchanging some Canadian dollars for Nuevo Soles in the airport, we found our hotel taxi, as promised, with a sign from the hotel with my name on it. Also as promised, dozens of taxis, some not exactly reputable, hawking for your business.

It was a pleasant 15-minute drive from the airport to the San Miguel district. I forced myself to try some Spanish right away, knowing that the longer I waited the harder it would get. The driver understood my meaning, and politely repeated my thoughts in more correct form. Good!

San Miguel is right near the ocean, not far from the nightlife of the Miraflores and Barranca districts, but quieter. The hostal - which just means a hotel without a restaurant - is a beautiful colonial building with an open courtyard, a bar and lounge, free internet service, and a street front overflowing with flowers. We have a large, clean room with a private bath for the equivalent of $30 a night.

Upon arrival, I checked email, and Ellen The Dogsitter had already written to say they are doing great. (Yay!) I also emailed my sister, who will relay to our mom that I am safely here. We showered, changed and asked our host about getting to Lima Centro, the downtown area.

He cautioned us about safety, as do all the guidebooks. Lima, with a huge population of poor and unemployed, and an equally huge influx of tourists, is known to be a centre of theft and pickpocketing. We are pretty savvy travelers, and naturally safe with money (and water!), but anything can happen to anyone, no one is crime-proof, and the guidebooks stress theft so much it sounds practically inevitable (which of course is not the case).

The cab ride to Centro was fast and wild - and that´s how they drive here. There are few traffic lights or street signs, no one appears to use directionals, no one stays in any given lane, if indeed there are lanes, no one allows another driver or pedestrian one inch of leeway. It was an amusing ride.

Even at a slightly inflated price, the long cab ride from San Miguel to Centro was 12 soles, the equivlant of about $3.50.

We tumbled out of the cab at Plaza de Armas, a well-kept plaza with greenery, statuary and benches, surrounded by grand colonial architecture. La Catedral is on one said. Lima was founded by the Spanish (the Inca capital was Cuzco) so the original cathedral was built in 1555, then destroyed and rebuilt after a succession of fires and earthquakes. It´s fairly stark, not highly ornate except for a few chappels and a huge carved choir. The big draw is a mosaic-covered chapel that houses the tomb of Francisco Pizarro, who destroyed the Incas. Hard to work up much feeling for his grave.

We wandered about a bit. It was still early, and the downtown was just coming to life - shops full of tourist souvenirs just opening, things not quite bustling yet. We looked in a few other churches, but opted not to pay more admission fees, as we had at La Catedral.

We had had a breakfast of sorts on the plane, but goddess knows what time that was, and we were already hungry again. It was too late for desanyumo and too early for el menu, the price-fixed lunch specials that are supposed to be the way to eat all over Peru. After passing on a few pricey but touristy-looking places, we found a little spot that reminded me of every Latin American neighbourhood I´ve ever eaten in, from Jackson Heights, Queens to the Mission in San Francisco to anywhere in Mexico. I managed to ask the host what she had that we could eat at that hour, recognized the ¨pescadora frita (fried fish) and ordered us two. A thin, crispy piece of fried fish (no idea what kind of fish, and who cares), roasted potatoes and a mug of tea. Total price, both meals, 7 Soles. That is, about $2.75. And this is in the capital city.

After eating, we wandered around downtown more, now very noisy and crowded. Wild traffic, crowded sidewalks, many street vendors and open-fronted bakeries and cafes, men approaching tourists offering tours, a few street dogs relaxing on a sunny sidewalk, old women selling slices of pineapples, men with huge sings reading ¨Compro Oro¨(I Buy Gold), crowds of uniformed kids on their way to school, horns honking - a serious urban scene. There´s virtually no litter in the Centro area. And, on a bright, sunny day, if your money is securely hidden in a deep pocket and you´re aware of your surroundings, no great threats, either.

We poked around a converted train station that´s now a learning and literacy centre, and Allan found for us (in the guidebook) a gorgeous historic church, San Pedro, built by Jesuits in 1638. It´s a brightly coloured Spanish baroque, filled with light and tilework (which I love). It´s being painstakingly cleaned right now - you can watch the artisans patiently cleaning 350 years of grime with Q-tips and cleaning solvent, and see the impressive before and after results. An incredible amount of gold is jammed into every nook and corner. I can´t help but think of what a bit of that gold could do in a country where so many are so poor, and everything the Church has done to keep them that way. But I also see undeniably beauty, and a celebration of what humans can create, and I always recognize both at the same time.

Allan and I were both fighting waves of fatigue at this point. We stood in front of La Biblioteca Nacional and watched dozens of buses and colectivo vans load up and depart, wave after wave of buses, men waving signs to direct potential passengers, people jumping on and off at the last minute, buses pulling up and departing in a seemingly endless stream. We decided that although a long bus ride to San Miguel would probably be memorable - we´ve had a few on our travels - today was not the day for that adventure. So we found a cab that (a) would go that far and (b) wasn´t overcharging. As in many cities, taxis in Lima don´t have meters, and you agree on a price in advance.

This was yet another wild ride, and the driver worked so hard to find our address - consulting our map several times, asking other drivers and driving all the hell over San Miguel - that we paid more than he had asked for and were glad to do it.

Back at Mami Panchita, the sun was blazing and the neighbourhood looked charming and quiet, especially in comparison to Centro. We walked a few blocks to the local market, a rabbit warren of tiny stalls selling everything under the sun. Including those fresh-killed chickens and ducks, hanging unrefrigerated under that sun, too. I adore markets, they´re one of my favourite things to do in any city, and this was a really nice local surprise.

We picked up some more cash, as we´re using ATMs here and traveling cash-only. The ATMS here will dispense US dollars, and all the hotels, restaurants and shops will accept them, something Allan and I both find vaguely disgusting. I got to use more of my awful Spanish at the bank and while hunting for a Peruvian form of Lactaid, which we forgot to pack for the lactose-intolerant Redsock. This was amusing, but helpful female pharmacists came through. Important phrase of the day: Mas despacio, por favor? I can comprendo quite a lot, if it´s said slowly enough.

We had another menu meal, this one an appetizer, main course and fruit drink for 5 Soles (about $1.75). I had something called ocopo, a cold boiled potato in a green sauce, then delicious pollo in sauce with white arroz. They love potatoes here, so I am happy. I never met a potato I didn´t like. We also tried Inka Kola, a ubiquitous ginger-coloured soda that takes nothing like cola. We can only drink things sin helado (without ice) because of water safety, so lukewarm is the order of the day.

This neighbourhood is really lovely, with quiet streets, lush plantings, fat healthy dogs and glimpses of colonial courtyards through iron grates. Right now Allan is snoring and I can´t be far behind. We might have to save Miraflores for the end of the trip, and do nothing but sleep tonight.

* * * *

A note about my typing. I can´t spellcheck in English on this computer. I´m struggling to correct my typing (the keyboard is also slightly unfamiliar) as I go along, but I´m sure to miss many typos. I ask your understanding until I get back and clean everything up.

And another note. For weeks I told everyone how amazing it is that Peru, on the Pacific coast, is in the same time zone as New York and Toronto. Everyone was surprised, not only geographically-challenged Americans. And it would be amazing, if it were true. But on the flight down here we learned that there´s a one-hour time difference between New York and Lima. Peru is the equivalent of Central Time, not Eastern Time - although it appears to be in the same longitude as New York. Go figure.

A few photos of Lima here.


Masnick96 said...

WOW! Fantastic Laura! I can't wait to enjoy the trip with you :-) Have fun!

Anonymous said...

Ditto - and on the vicarious travels, too! Be well!

allan said...

A good wrapup! It is 7:45 pm and Laura has turned in for the night. I´m not far behind -- we have a flight to Cuzco at 10:40 tomorrow morning. Just have to check how the Red Sox are doing in Cleveland.

James Redekop said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

James Redekop said...

For anyone following in Google Earth or Google Maps, Lima is at S12.09 W77.05 (Google Maps link). Based on the map on this site, the hotel's somewhere in this area, though I can't tell exactly where.

Those sea cliffs look amazing! Get some photos of those. I'd love to photograph the winding road going down them to the west.

Scott M. said...

menu meals sound great - that's one thing I love about Quebec (there they are called a table d'hôte). Appetizer, main course, dessert and drink for one low price. How come it hasn't caught on in English speaking North America?

Keep safe and have fun!

sedmikraska said...

love reading about travels! makes me want to go to south america someday... "sin helado" really caught my eye though - doesn't it mean "without ice cream"? (hielo - is that the word for ice?) looking forward to more peru posts!!

Wrye said...

How come it hasn't caught on in English speaking North America?

Maybe it's a British thing originally--there's definitely some cultural thing going on there.

looking forward to more peru posts!!

As are we all. It's a real pleasure to read about. Though don't neglect the sightseeing on our account, LG!

She said...

I have been lurking here for about 5 weeks, since I saw the Globe and Mail essay. I've seen the archives and feel like I know you. Hope you two are having a wonderful vacation, I'll be checking for updates.

Wrye: that's the best (hockey) baseball recap I've ever seen. Watched the game with my 7 year old last night. Your description almost had me in hysterics. I'll be checking for your comments, too!

Lisa said...

Ditto ditto, what they said, and all that. Have a great time!

This is a well deserved holiday after all that scrimping and saving and adjusting to a new country, new jobs, new house...

Keep us posted (so to speak) on the trip!

allan said...

wrye -- you are really outdoing yourself!

what is up with the baseball story?

laura k said...

You guys are so great. I can´t use italics easily in comments, so I´ll just try to reply...

Wrye, you are insane, and god I´m glad you´re part of this blog. This blog confederation, of course.

James, what a cool link! We haven´t seen those ocean cliffs yet, but will on our second time in Lima at the end of the trip. There are two cool neighbourhoods to see right on the ocean.

Scott M, I so agree, why don´t more N.A. cities do that? We ate well in Paris on the plat du jour. Figures Quebec has it too, how nice.

Hi to everyone (Hi Lisa!) and welcome new wmtc readers!! Don´t be strangers.