Going to a 3rd World country is an enlightening experience. It serves to remind us that the wealth and freedom we enjoy in North America and Europe and other major economic powers is not universal. It reminds us that there are cities where 1 percent of the population controls over 90 percent of the wealth and the rest of the people just do their best to eek out a reasonable living. It catapults us in to the past because countries that have not grown economically tend to have backwater areas where people live the same today as they lived a hundred years or so ago and that’s where the real beauty and wonder comes in.
I had my first experience grappling with the language barrier immediately on boarding the plane in San Francisco. I got to my seat and a woman was sitting in it. I looked at her and said, “excuse me but I think that is my seat”. I was in “C” which is on the aisle and she was on “A” which is the window.
She looked at me and said “A”.
I said, “Yes – A. That’s by the window. I’m in “C” and I pointed.
Her response was “C”.
“Yes – “C”. “A” is over there” still pointing.
And then I got it. She wasn’t saying “C”, she was saying “Si”.
As I took the window seat I looked at the people in the row behind us and remarked, “At least we know “B” will get it right”.
Our first stop was Lima which is a modern city full of high rise buildings and cars. So many cars. Many of those cars have stickers on them proclaiming they are a Taxi cab. For many of them the bumpers are falling off, the windshields are cracked and at least one door is held shut with duct tape. I wish I had taken pictures of these things but alas, I didn’t. The other interesting thing about these cabs is that the drivers would pull into a gas station and get just enough gas to keep going. Gas was quite expensive there and these guys would ask for 8 Soles of gas. That’s about $2.50. The cabs were mostly these tiny Daewoo cars so I suppose less than a gallon of gas would last for a fare or two.
The drivers in Peru make drivers anywhere else look like little old ladies. Lane lines? Mere hints. Stop signs – nice idea if it works out for you but honking the horn as you barrel through the intersection is usually okay. Honk the horn when someone is going too slow. Honk the horn when you think a person might need a cab. Honk the horn if you think someone might cross the street. Honk the horn because you are bored. Drivers in Lima honk their horns about 40 times an hour. It’s a very noisy city but the cabs are so cheap! You can get across the city for about 3 bucks. You just tell the cab driver what you are willing to pay and they either take your business or they don’t.
We stayed in the Miraflores district of Lima which is one of the most upscale places. Our hotel, the El Condado had huge rooms – they were pretty much suites. We got there after midnight but before we could go to sleep we needed to get some bottled water and some money. As luck would have it we were right across the street from the 24 hour grocery store. I paid for our water in dollars and got change in Soles. When I got back to the room I discovered that I had been shortchanged 10 Soles. Welcome to Peru. Fortunately 10 Soles is about $3.20 so no big deal but lesson learned – count your change. At that point we were exhausted and very happy to hit the pillows. And then the car alarm across the street went off. It was one of those that has 5 different sounds – Bwee Oooo, Bwee Oooo, Bwe Oooo, Waaaaah, Waaaah, Waaaaah, Hoooonk, Hoooonk, Hooonk.., you know the kind. It went off about every 10 minutes so we did not get a good night’s sleep.
No matter. We woke up the next morning excited to check out the city. At first we just walked around and then headed into Central Lima to see the Place de Mayor (the Main Plaza)
We were hoping to see the changing of the guard but due to some politico being on the scene all we got was this:
It failed to satisfy but what can you do?
Our next stop was the Cathedral de San Francisco where they have creepy catacombs. I’d never been in creepy catacombs before so I just had to go see. The English speaking tour wasn’t happening until 3:00 so we just tagged along on the Spanish speaking tour. It did little for our understanding of the history of this place but we still got to see it.
On closer inspection you see this:
The place is a pigeon condo!
What I really wanted to see, though was this (note – this photo was taken on the QT because you are not allowed to photograph inside the cathedral:
You can read more about the cathedral here if you like.
After visiting the Cathedral we walked quite a distance and into a sort of sketchy part of town to visit the Museo de Arte which was a small museum with some really beautiful pieces in it. One of our favorites was a diorama of the Last Supper with a little twist
Unfortunately I’ve cut off Jesus’ head but hopefully you can see that he is holding a hot dog as are some of the disciples. On the plates on the table are fillet of cuy, known in the states as guinea pig. In Peru guinea pig is an important ceremonial food. Hot dogs are not. One can only assume that the artist had a little ax to grind with the church.
There is a bit more to our first day in Lima but I still don’t feel that great and I need to get to bed so this first installment is a bit short. I’ll try to be more concise in future installments but hopefully I’ve given you a little flavor of the impact Lima had on me.