Lima- The City of Kings

Lima was the capital city founded by Francisco Pizarro himself. He figured that a coastal capital for the Spanish rule will be far more secure than Cuzco, high up in the Andes mountains. Needless to say, Lima lies right along the Pacific coast. As our plane landed at Lima, we could see the beaches clearly and about a 100 ships and boats of all sizes, scattered a little away from the shore. It looked as it God has upturned his box of toy boats and it fell randomly along the Lima coast.

Despite being on the coast, Lima
is the 2nd largest desert city in the world (the largest being Cairo). This is due to the 2 cold currents El Nino and Humboldt, which leaves the coast dry. Summer (Nov-March) is the best time to be in Lima. Other times, the Lima sky is usually overcast and foggy. Lima gets its name from the Rimac river, a name which the Spanish corrupted to ‘Lima’. As the city is quake prone, there are no tall structures. The tallest building in Lima has just 33 floors. Surprisingly, a large percentage of the population consists of foreign nationals- mainly Chinese, Japanese, Italian, German.

In Lima, we took a guided city tour. The tours are much cheaper to book in the city than via the internet.
The tours are usually in the morning. You get picked up and dropped off at your hotel after the tour. There was another couple and a group of 4, along with our tour. Our tour was interesting. The guide talked about Politics and the popularity of the current President Alan Garcia, the economy, the weather, the food and lots more, while driving around the city.

The first stop was the Santo Dominigo Church. Most churches in Lima, like this one, were rebuilt in 1600s after major earthquakes. Hence it has the neo-classical architecture styles of the times. This Dominican church is famous for the crypts of 2 saints- St.Rose of Lima and St.Martin de Porres (the first black saint). The guide talked about the church and the interior. But a visit to the tombs of the saints was not included. So Dilip and I came back again after the tour, to visit the cloister where the tombs lay. The cloister has a beautiful center courtyard, that I loved. The walls along the corridor had beautiful European tiles. South America’s first University- San Marcos- was started in this church in 1551.

Our next stop was Plaza De Armas (or Plaza Mayor), the main Plaza in Lima. The name is because armed guards used to assemble at the Plaza, but not anymore. To one side of the Plaza is La Cathedral, a church constructed when Pizarro founded the city. The church has the tomb of Francisco Pizarro. To another side of the Plaza is the Govt Palace where Pizarro used to live and where all the Presidents live. It still has a fig tree planted by Pizarro. There are free public tours of the palace, but one has to arrange it 2 days prior. We were unaware of this and hence did not do the tour. The change of guard happens at noon. The other 2 sides of the Plaza houses important govt buildings. These buildings are painted ocre-yellow, to contrast the Lima sky, which is usually overcast.

A Franciscan monastery was our next stop. It has Baroque style altars, walls lined with beautiful tiles dating back to the 1620s and an amazing collection of old paintings, mostly of saints and their lives. The monastery boasts of a very old library which has an amazing collection like one of the first atlas of the world. To prevent accidents set off by candles, the library has huge skylights to enable the priests to read. The room where religious heads of the Franciscan order used to meet to debate important issues, is also well preserved. Below the church are catacombs, which were public burial grounds. To prevent a cave-in during quakes, the underground pillars are hollow, to absorb seismic activities. The catacombs were excavated and now all the thousands of bones and skulls are heaped into rooms. A lot of them were neatly arranged in a beautiful circular design, inside one of the hollow pillars.

We drove around more of the city taking in other points of interest . One of it was a sculpture named ‘The Kiss’. Every year at this spot, there is a contest for couples who can kiss for the longest time, in the same position as the statue. We also saw Huaca Pucllana, a pre-hispanic pyramidal structure which was a sacred burial mound of the natives. It sits squarely within the city limits.

There are 3 main museums in Lima- Museo Nacionale de Arqueologia y Anthropologia, Museo Larco (exhibiting pre-hispanic gold jewellery) and Museo de la Nacion (which has a replica of the tomb of the Lord of Sipan). After the city tour, we decided to visit the first museum, to learn more about the history of Peru. Being students, we could avail of special half-rates at almost all the places in Lima as well as Cuzco. We didn’t have an ISIC card, but our college id was sufficient. The Archaeological museum had displays of the various artifacts of the different tribes of the area like the Chimpu, Parancas, Moshe, Chachapoyas, Incas etc. It also had sections dedicated to the Spanish conquest, the Liberation of Peru and the post-independence era leading up to the 21st century.

In Lima, we also visited the Inca Markets- an entire street filled with small shops selling native artisans’ work. We ended up buying an Alpaca poncho for me and some curios. Bargaining is expected and the ‘done thing’. If we knew Spanish, we could have bargained better.

During our stay in Lima, we tried the typical dishes of Peru like the Ceviche (fish cooked lightly in lemon juice), Tiradito (again a typical fish preparation), Pisco Sour (a popular cocktail made of Pisco, egg whites, lemon etc). Pisco is a type of grape brandy, a concoction of the natives during the Spanish conquest days. We also tried a highly commercialized product- Inka Cola. It is as popular as Coca-Cola. Dilip loved the yellow colored Cola that tasted like cough syrup to me!

In Lima our stay was at Kusillus Backpacker’s Inn, in the Miraflores area of Lima. Miraflores, we are told, is a safe place with an active night life. We got the ‘Pisac room’ which was a fairly big room, with an additional covered sit-out kind of a room. The reception also had a guy who was fluent in English and could give good advice and directions. Our pick-up and drop at the airport was arranged by them.

The main roads of Lima look a lot like my city Cochin, with miscellaneous shops lining the main roads and billboards of all sizes sticking out from anywhere and everywhere. The traffic characteristics was also similar to Cochin. But unlike what I have seen anywhere, 70% of all vehicles on the road looked beat-up.

But we enjoyed our stay in the warm, humid and highly commerialised Lima!

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