South America Diary: Day 8

Friday, 22 April, 2011. 11:49. Lima.

Lima coast We’re having a short break after a morning spent walking down to the Larcomar Entertainment Centre at the west end of Avenue Jose Larcos – the opposite direction to the way we went yesterday. This is a large complex of shops, cinemas, video game arcades, restaurants, and other amusements on the cliff top overlooking the rocky beach and ocean far below. We took some photos of the mist on the sea, then browsed the shops for a while. Later the mist cleared enough to barely make out the horizon and a stretch of coast to the south appeared, curbing around to an imposing headland with an enormous hill of exposed rock and dirt on it. The hill dwarfed the houses which clung to its lower flanks. The really amazing thing was how bare it was, with not a single bit of vegetation visible on it.

After spending an hour or two there, we walked the few blocks back to our hotel. The plan is to go soon to get a simple lunch of bread, salad, and fruit from the supermarket, then pick up our laundry and wait for the beginning of the tour meeting at 14:00.

For breakfast today we began with our first malaria tablet, since we head into the Amazon jungle tomorrow. We washed it down with cereal, yoghurt, bread, and fruit.


Us at Larcomar We’ve just gone to get some bread rolls, cheese, more water, and some plantain chips. We ate simple sandwiches in a small mall near the supermarket, fending off pigeons as we sat on the bench. We got dark rye rolls, which were good, and wholemeal rolls, which were very crunchy and not as good. I don’t know what sort of cheese it was, but it came in 7 or 8 slices for 5 soles – it was nice. We also got some small biscuit-like rolls, which M. declared almondy and good – I’m saving mine for later.

Walking back to the hotel, we popped in at the laundry to pick up our clothes. It was just before 13:00 and our receipt said to pick up at 13:00. I figured it would be ready, but the guy said, “Cinco minutos!” So we waited a bit and the clothes came out still hot, so I guess when the ticket said 13:00, it really meant 13:00.

At the hotel, we bumped into Edwin again – he remembered our laundry and commented on the bag we were carrying, “You have clean clothes now!” He asked if all had gone well yesterday and if we’d enjoyed the Museo de Oro. We said yes and thanked him again for his help.


Basilica de San Francisco, Lima It’s been an action-packed afternoon! We went down to the lobby around 13:30 to meet our tour group and leader. We were a bit early for the 14:00 meeting and met some other early-birds beforehand. Our guide, Alejandrina, arrived and assembled us in the restaurant for the introductory talk. Our group is 12 people: me and M., Zaina and Zeeshan (young sisters from Sydney), Andrew (a hockey player, also from Sydney), Lyn and Gary (from London), Phan and Jian (from Kuala Lumpur, mother and son), Dan-yi (a.k.a. Olivia, from Vancouver, originally China), and Laura and Kim from Halifax. We actually found out over dinner later, Zaina lives in Wollstonecraft, just a few streets from us! Amazingly enough, not a single American in our tour group again.

The meeting went for about 1.5 hours, with Alejandrina explaining everything we’d be doing, then going over safety precautions in detail. She is a native Quechua-speaking Inca descendent from Cusco, working her dream job as a tour guide – she told us quite a bit of her life story and asked us to call her Ale (“Allie”).

Catedral de Lima At 15:45, we assembled for a taxi trip into central Lima. Ale negotiated prices with drivers she hailed on the street and piled us four to a cab, instructing the drivers to drop us off at the catacombs of San Francisco. Twenty minutes later we discovered that the centre of Lima had been blocked off to all traffic and our driver wanted to let us out with a burst of Spanish, of which the only word I understood was “dos”, and I guessed he meant the catacombs were two blocks away and we would have to walk. Nobody else in our cab spoke a word of Spanish, so there was nothing for it but to pile out and begin walking. We were with Lyn and Gary, and we discovered that the reason for the street closure was that Good Friday services were in progress and the streets were packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people! We realised finding the catacombs would be the easy part – what would be harder would be finding the other members of our tour group, who would be arriving in two or three other taxis and be dropped off somewhere a few blocks from our designated meeting spot, and most of whom spoke no Spanish whatsoever.

After asking a couple of police/security guys, we successfully located the entrance to the catacombs, though the last guy was initially insistent on telling us that they weren’t open today, rather than where it actually was. The entrance was inside the courtyard of a large church – the Basilica de San Francisco – which was thronging with people. We staked out a position, then I went for a walk around the area to try to spot any of our other group members. Miraculously, I found Laura and Kim, and Phan and Jian, then went to retrieve M. and Lyn and Gary, so we could wait outside the churchyard, where it was a bit less crowded. With no other real option, we just waited there with our eyes peeled for a few minutes until Ale appeared and exclaimed how good we were to have found the catacombs. She’d left the others back where the taxis had dropped us off, and took us back there so we were finally all reunited.

Good Friday in Lima Ale then led us to the Plaza Mayor – the central square of Lima. This was packed even more densely with people, all facing the main cathedral which fronted the square. A couple of minutes after we’d arrived, cheering broke out and we looked to see a large gold and wood icon or reliquary appearing on the steps of the cathedral, being carried out of the doors. It was an amazing spectacle and we were fortunate to be in the city at exactly the right time and day of the year to see it: Good Friday in a strongly Catholic country.

We made our way slowly across the middle of the square, keeping careful eyes on one another to avoid getting separated in the pulsing crowd. Somehow we managed it, reaching the far corner where a procession of idols and a large reliquary was slowly making its way on a circuit of the square. We crossed behind this and walked along a street until we emerged at an open area beside a river, with a wide concrete bridge across it. Ale said not to cross the bridge, as the far side was a very bad neighbourhood and we would probably return with no clothes! Above this dangerous area rose a large hill, the highest point in Lima – it was bare and brown, with nothing growing on it but clusters of houses on the lower flanks. Near here were numerous street vendors selling various sweets. Ale had said that tradition demands worshippers eat a special series of items on Good Friday – six different savoury dishes followed by six different sweet dishes. The vendors provided a wide selection to satisfy this need amongst the thousands of people. We found a vendor selling arroz con leche, rice with milk, and arroz zambito, the same with brown sugar plus a thick goopy fruit jelly substance that was dark red in colour. We tried all of them within our group at a cost of 1.50 soles a cup. I had the brown sugar rice and tried a bit of Phan’s jelly. It was all pretty good.

Easter Celebration That done, we walked through the crowded streets again to Plaza San Martinez, where we entered a fancy looking bar tiled with marble to get some drinks. Ale said we needed to try the pisco sours, which came in two sizes – Classico, which was a smallish glass, and Catedrale, which was a large cocktail glass that held maybe a bit more than two Classicos. Most of us ordered Classicos, except Jian who got a Catedrale, one of the Z. girls who just had water, and Laura and Kim who said their heads were still hurting from ones they had at lunch and got beers instead. This pisco sour was much, much stronger than the one I’d had at Luigi’s two nights ago. Ale said the tradition is to tip some of your drink on the ground for Mother Earth first, however this place was fancy enough, with marble floors, that we weren’t allowed to do it.

Tacu-tacu con mariscos and spinach ravioli After finishing as much of our drinks as we could manage, we left to get taxis back to Parque Kennedy for dinner. Ale hailed and negotiated prices with them, but the second one she hailed ended up running afoul of a transit police officer, who was ushering traffic along and was not happy with the taxi stopping to pick up passengers. The officer even checked the driver’s licence. After that, no taxis would stop for us there, so Ale walked the four remaining members of our group 20 metres or so – enough to be away from the transit police – and stopped a cab there. She was deep in arguing a price with the driver when a cop saw us and there was a burst of furious Spanish between Ale and the driver and then she said, “Everyone in! Quickly!” We piled in, including Ale, making a squashy four in the back seat, and the driver quickly sped off before the cop could stop him.

At Parque Kennedy, we reassembled again, with little drama this time, and walked the short distance to one of the restaurants behind the main church there. There we had our first group dinner, covered in the cost of the tour. The waiter brought complimentary pisco sours(!), smaller than the Classicos earlier and not as strong. Ale suggested trying either the ceviche or tacu tacu con marisco, being both seafood, since we were near the coast, and specialties of Peru. I tried the tacu tacu, M. got some spinach ravioli, and Zeshaan actually tried a dish with alpaca meat. She let me try some, and it was a bit gamey like venison – nice. The tacu tacu was good, a mix of seafood in a slightly spicy sauce, served with rice and beans, mixed together and served in a moulded shape of a fish. Following this, several of us had dessert, some of the others had crepes or cake, while I had a sundae which was okay – average ice cream really.

After dinner we walked back to our hotel, stopping for a few minutes at the supermarket to let some people buy water, then it was straight to the hotel to sleep for about seven hours before an early start to get our flight to Puerto Maldonado tomorrow.

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