This past July I got a chance to travel to a place I've wanted to visit since I was young. Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Inca. Perched high in the cloud forest in the Andes it was abandoned before the Spanish arrived in 1532. They never found it. Except for the locals, it was unknown until 1911 when Hiram Bingham, with the help of local guides and farmers "discovered" the city for the western world. As a youngster I encountered images of Machu Picchu. To my young mind it seemed like an ancient castle in the sky. It has stayed on my list of places to visit during my lifetime since.
The chance to visit Peru happened quickly. The subject came up just eight weeks before the trip actually took place. We thought about it for another two weeks, made the decision to go and then six weeks later we arrived at LAX, tickets in hand, bound for Peru. Our destinations: Lima, Cuzco, the Sacred Valley of the Tambo and Machu Picchu.
Although I went to see Machu Picchu, what I found was a vibrant culture. Full of color, music, dramatic history, prehispanic ruins, cold foggy coastlines and clear mountain skies. For me, Peru was a land of extremes.
When we left Los Angeles in late July it was summer. Peru however, being in the southern hemisphere, was obviously having winter. The weather looked similar to LA's winters. Cool days but with colder nights than we get here in LA. So we boarded the plane dressed for cool weather. On our way we had to switch planes, with a one hour layover in San Salvador, El Salvador, where we were greeted by hot humide weather. It felt like 100˚ and the thick air hit you like a wall. As we were wearing long sleeves and fleece jackets it was very uncomfortable.
Lush tropical jungle surrounded the airport, like a rain forest. But despite a hard search we could not find water for sale anywhere in the terminal. The heat droned on.
I'm sure El Salvador is a wonderful country, I love Pupusas, so I know the food is great, but we were happy to be on our way and escape the humid heat of the tropics. As our plane climbed skyward the classic cone of the San Salvador volcano, or Quetzaltepec, hovered in the distance. We headed southeast. The sun slipped below the horizon.
when we landed in Lima at 8:30 local time it was dark, cold, and cloudy. Lima is a big city. Like all big cities there were people everywhere and cars zigging in and out of traffic. The taxi ride from the airport to the district of Mira Flores took about 40 minutes. The streets were busy and full of people. American business reared their heads in the form of McDonald, Starbucks, KFC, TGI Fridays and from the UK was there with Burger King. It's always somewhat of a disappointment to travel somewhere and find exactly what you left behind.
We were surprised to find that gambling is legal in Lima and we drove past many gaudy casinos. As we got closer to our hotel in the Mira Flores district, the streets got quieter and quieter. A light drizzle began to fall. For Lima this is a major "rain" event. The city, although right on the Pacific coast, is in a desert and receives only 1/4" of rain on average each year.
We arrived at our hotel, checked in our room, and then checked out some local stores, an upscale market and had a nice quiet dinner nearby. The next day we explored further.
The first place we visited was Kennedy park in Miraflores. It was named after JFK, our 35th president. The "city" of Lima is made up of several towns, of which Lima is just one of the. Miraflores is another. It has it's own city government.
Next to the park was a church. My understanding is that Peru is 80% Catholic, but I get the sense that there is a strong practice of the older indigenous religions that predate the Spanish. Very much so in the highlands.
Church near Kennedy Park
Detail of church
As we left the area on Kennedy Park we spied one of the few cats we saw in Peru, sleeping on a grate next to the church.
The next place we went to was the Artist's District of Miraflores. This was an area of several blocks that had little malls full of small shops, or stalls selling everything from textiles to jewelery, art, silver pieces and even musical instrument. We had been told that most of the stuff was not of the best quality, and it was recommended that we wait until we get to the highlands for better stuff. So I didn't buy the long belt shaker I saw hanging from the ceiling of one stall. I never saw another one the rest of the trip am and still bummed that I passed on getting that one.
The inside a mall in the Artist's District
Outside the Artist's District
THE PACIFIC COAST
The building in Miraflores were all painted in pale pastels, adding a bright counterpoint to the gray skies that constantly hung over the city. The clouds were dreary in general, but more so once we walked down to the coast. From Kennedy park it took about 20 minutes to walk to the coast. Lima sits on the Pacific Ocean, but is in the same time zone as New York City.
Lima-Miraflores sits on the Pacific Ocean
In Miraflores there is a new "American" style mall called Lancomar which over looks the ocean. While there were some local stores, many of them were U.S. chains. Nevertheless the view from the mall was very nice.
View from the Lancomar Mall
There were lots of locals at the mall and in the strip of parkland that extended along the top of the cliffs next to the ocean. For a price you could go Para-gliding in the constant breeze that swept the coast up the cliffs. Not a price I would pay...
Next to Lancomar was Lover's Park which was dominated by a huge statue of a couple wrapped in embrace.
"Get a room!"
For me the highlight of the park was the tile benches that snaked along the sides. Done in a style reminiscent of the work of Gaudi, there were quotes about love set in the tile mosaic.
In my next post about Peru we visit two local markets, including a fish market right on the coast. Things get lost in translation, but it's all good. Plus I break out the video camera...
Continue to Part 2