Greetings from Lima, Peru! Lima is the bustling capital city of Peru, home to 10 million people. It is also said to be the food capital of South America.
22 hours after I left my house in Michigan, I arrived at 1900 Backpackers, my home for the first two nights in Peru. 1900 Backpackers is a newer hostel located in the heart of central Lima. It is in a mansion designed by Gustavo Eiffel, the man who brought us the Eiffel Tower. It boasts of marble floors, tall ceilings, chandeliers and a friendly staff. I am staying in a female dorm with 6 beds, however there are private rooms available, too. At $11/night, this has become my favorite hostel, hands down.
Breakfast (desayano) is complimentary and consists of fresh bread, real butter, strawberry jam, milk, juice, coffee and tea. Breakfast is served in a common room overlooking the grand Museo de Arte de Lima.
I was ready to begin my walking journey of central Lima. I walked a few blocks to the Plaza San Martin and was greeted by beautiful colonial and baroque style buildings that lined the green square. I made the mandatory tourist stop into the Gran Bolivar Hotel at the corner for a (pequeño) Pisco Sour at the Hotel restaurant. Three separate people (and my guidebook) all told me that I had to come to this restaurant for THE Pisco Sour. They weren’t kidding! Those suckers are strong! I practiced my Spanish with waiter Emanuel and he practiced his English. He joked about the tourists that had just come in and only ordered Pisco Sours. :). So far, I’ve met only kind and funny Peruvians.
I continued my walk on the pedestrian boulevard Jiron de la Union to the Plaza de Armas, passing the Iglesias de la Merced along the way. This church was originally built in 1541 and held the first mass in Lima. A mass began as I was leaving.
The Plaza de Armas once served as a market, bullpen and execution site. It is now surrounded by the Catedral de Lima and the Palacio del Gobierno (the Peruvian presidential palace). While touring the church, I heard music coming from the street. It was the ceremonial passing of the guard that takes place each day noon. Guards dressed in red and white (Peru’s national colors) march in time with a brass band. It was a beautiful display of nationalism.
For lunch I found a small restaurant that was full of locals. I’ve always heard that if a restaurant is busy or if there’s a line, it must be good. There weren’t any open seats so the waiter sat me at a table with a quiet Peruvian maintenance man who was quickly finishing lunch before heading back to work. I ordered aji de gallina and an Inca Kola. The Inca Kola came out first, served in a cold glass bottle. It was neon yellow, carbonated and tasted like bubble gum. When my meal came out, I first thought “Ryan (my nephew) would love Peru! All of the food is yellow!” His favorite color is yellow (as is mine). My dish was made of sliced, cooked potatoes covered in a yellow chicken and corn sauce with a side of rice. It’s a traditional Peruvian dish.
Next up, I went to the post office to buy stamps. This was a far less stressful experience than in other countries and I’d like to think that I must be learning. The true test will be whether my postcards actually arrive this time…. Good thing I’m blogging 🙂
I visited one more church, the Monasterio de San Francisco. The tour was entirely in Spanish, but I waited patiently for the best part: the catacombs. I had to ask another tour guest why the bones were under the church in the first place and why only the long bones seemed stacked together. He explained that in the 1600s there weren’t cemeteries in Peru, so the dead were brought here to be laid to rest (it is estimated that over 70,000 remains are here). The smaller bones of the body are more brittle and they have turned to dust over time, leaving only long bones. Very macabre.
The rest of the day was spent scouring the mercado central for a soccer jersey for Jeff. I couldn’t find the right one anywhere. Fortunately, I found coca candies to fight altitude sickness for when I get to Cusco. Let’s hope my work doesn’t start randomly drug testing anytime soon…
In the central market I also found stalls full of fruits that I’d never seen, spices, meats (including tripe and beef heart), and row and rows of fresh fish. I stopped for ceviche in the market. It was out-of-this-world delicious. It was served with a side of sweet potato and Peruvian corn. Again, I talked with my waitress (she was the cook’s daughter) as she practiced her English and she told me that her dream was to visit Italy. I strongly encouraged her to make it happen. (My phone died by this point and I will have to upload photos from my DSLR when I return)
I’m now back at the hostel resting my feet (but not before I tried fried donuts and sweet potato chips from street cart vendors). I had wanted to visit the coastal neighborhoods of Miraflores and Barranco but there just wasn’t enough time. I guess I’ll have to return to go paragliding off the cliffs and to learn to surf. Oh Lima, I wish I could stay longer…. I will miss you and your kind people.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s trip to Cusco.