Review of "Lima"
Hope everyone is well...writing elsewhere these days.
It really shouldn't be possible to visit a country's capital city, twice, even briefly, and have virtually nothing to say about it. Yet, strangely that is the situation I find myself in with regard to Lima.To be fair, I'm not entirely sure we'd have bothered at all but for the fact that the tour designers probably thought it was de rigeur. Or maybe it's just that if you're flying in from Europe you're not going to want to go any further today, so why not break the journey and at least take a bit of a look…?
All of that is by way of context. This does not purport to be a full and detailed review of Peru's capital. It's more of a 'what you might stumble across if, like us, you're really just killing a bit of time at one or other end of a holiday that's taken in much more of the country.
The BasicsAny decent guidebook will give you the basic low-down on Lima, along with its own recommendations and prejudices. For those who aren't yet even committed enough to the idea of Peru to have got as far as sneakily reading the guides in the local Waterstones, here's a few starters for ten…
The modern city was pretty well sketched out by the conquering Francisco Pizarro as his 'City of Kings' early in 1535. At that point there was already a sizeable local population. 200,000 according to Lonely Planet: but I'm not entirely sure what they're counting as the local area in this context. It sounds extremely high to me.Whatever the truth of the numbers, a couple of hundred years saw the development of a vice-regal capital with a grand port to harbour the ships capable of taking away the spoils back to a silver-hungry Europe. Earthquakes took their toll, as they still do throughout the country, but independence also hit Lima hard. Other provincial cities flexed their own muscles drawing away investment. Then came the Chileans (War of the Pacific 1879-1883) who at least showed somewhat more discerning tastes: they took most of the national library as well as the usual loot.
Still the city struggled onwards. Into the 20th century, it took its design inspiration (who didn't?) from Paris… but again the elegant boulevards would face the shaking of the earth.As the 1900s entered their latter half, the main challenges faced by the city would be those of rapid population growth. Approximately 660,000 inhabitants in 1940 had shot to 8.5 million by 2007. That's going to create a problem.
Shacks and shanties and poverty. If you visit Lima and don't see them, you're not looking closely enough.And it is entirely possible to visit Lima without looking closely enough. We did.
Geographically, the city is about half-way down the Pacific coastline of the country. It spreads across the valleys of the the valleys of the Chillon, Rimac and Lurin rivers.Nowhere in Peru is particularly flat, but this is as near as it gets. Over the spread of the city you'll get from sea level to about 500 metres above in the outer reaches. That in itself is a good enough reason to spend a day or so to catch your breath after the flight, get over the long-haul dehydration and catch up on sleep before you head on to the higher altitudes.
As for the weather, it is determined by the impact of the Humboldt Current. This upwelling, cold, low-saline current flows north along the coast of South America, preventing coastal temperatures rising as high as they might otherwise do. Its other effect is to ensure that Lima spends a great deal of its time shrouded in England-reminiscent greyness. It never rains in Lima except for today (which would the mantra for our first day there) but skies are generally overcast. The constant greyness seemed matched in the temperament of the few locals we met. Overboundingly joyful they weren't.The city is made up of 30 municipalities, so if you want to fully explore it, be prepared to spend some serious time here. That was never our plan. We stuck to a quick sprint around a tiny taster of the historic heart in Lima Centro, a wander down into the outer suburb of Barranco, and incidental wanderings in our base area of Miraflores.
A lot of Miraflores is residential. These streets themselves are worth a wander, if only to check out where Peru has come from (some gorgeous colonial buildings are still in familial use) and where it's going (the upmarket apartment blocks that wouldn't look out of place in western Europe or the States).Beyond that the most likely things to catch the visitors attention are:-
PARQUE DEL AMOR: the park of love is small cliff-top enclosure that in many respects wouldn't look out of place on an English prom. Ok, it would look VERY out of place on some English promenades – but not on others. It was opened on Valentine's Day in 1993 as a riposte to the violence of the times.Small areas of greenery and floral beds are bounded by meandering walls, encrusted with mosaics immortalising the names of lovers and their romantic messages to each other. Some of these are the usual (famous) suspects – others one suspects are locals who simply got in on the act. I hope so anyway.
The centre-piece of the park is Victor Delfíns massive sculpture of a couple. Perhaps in salute to Rodin it is, of course, called "The Kiss" – but it has a lot more humour about it, and is therefore somewhat less sensuous as a result. That didn't stop it courting controversy when first unveiled, but now it seems as unregarded as any other piece of public art. The locals ignore it, the tourists ponder it briefly.AVENUE JOSÉ LARCO: this is the main drag of the suburb, full of shops and restaurants. It's probably not where you're going to get the best deal for your dollar or pound, if that's your intention, but in terms of enjoying what my mother would have called "a good scrounge round the shops", it's worth an hour or two. There's a good mixture of tourist-trap enclaves and proper aimed-at-the-locals stores. This was the first place I came across proper book stores in Peru, but it does look like they only have the one chain. English language offerings were in short supply, and there was nothing in my desired genre of local fairy tales.
WONG: If you head up to the top of the Avenue from the coast, then hang a left and a left (cutting off the bottom end of the Parque Central – which frankly we did – it didn't look worth the effort of lingering) you'll find yourself in the Diagonal. Sadly not as exciting as Diagon Alley, but the location of the Wong supermarket. I heartily recommend you visit Wong. Preferably upon your return from the outer reaches of the country. This will give you the clearest guide you could ever want for the differences between the poor and the rich in Peru.Wong looks more than anything like a Tesco Superstore. It has everything you'd wish for in a food supermarket – including a whole section to satisfy my gluten-intolerant travelling companion – and then stretches into the kind of department store that deals in flat-screen TVs and fancy cookware.
Setting philosophical questions aside: they've got a fabulous salad bar that operates on a system that's really hard to figure out – but in principle you can fill your boxes and pay for them at the café counter and then eat-in. I think. It's what we did. I'm not sure how you pay if you want to take them home with you. The café itself has a diet-busting gorgeousness of cakes on offer…!
A little way along the coast from Miraflores is the suburb of Barranco. It's worth a walk out from Miraflores, purely to look at the architecture. There's the MAC (museum of contemporary art) and the Museo Pedro de Osma, if colonial art is more your thing. I can't comment on either of them, nor on the Tram Museum. We simply walked out for the pleasure of it, had a coffee in a dubious bar almost-overlooking the harbour and walked back again. It has a kind of degraded glamour about it, that I'd maybe liked to have had time to explore a bit more of.
Lima CentroWe scarcely touched the centre of Lima. A need for fellow-travellers to sought out their cash (given erroneous pre-trip info by our tour company!) limited the time we had available. Then again… we didn't actually feel we were missing anything.
The PLAZA DES ARMAS (also called the Plaza Mayor)* is the usual flower-bedded, fountained, square, surrounded by the usual colonial buildings that are now either government offices or banks, and overlooked by the Cathedral, the Archbishop's palace and the presidential palace.The changing of the guard at the presidential abode somehow didn't register the same level of interest at Buck house's version tends to do.
None of the buildings date back to the origins of the square itself, the oldest thing around is the central fountain, thought to be from the mid 17th century.*Every town worth its salt in Peru will have a Plaza Mayor which will just as likely be called the Plaza Des Armas. I'm not sure what the truth of it is, but Plaza Mayor is obviously just the "main square" and we were told that they were generally called Plaza Des Armas because in revolutionary times that was where the show of force was generally made.
THE CATHEDRAL is worth a visit, but bear in mind that Peru does tend to fall down occasionally. The baroque façade might have some age, but the last major restoration of the building as a whole was in 1940. There are numerous chapels, every one in a different style, all of them impressive in their own way. Of course the treasured centre-piece is the tomb of Pizarro. His tomb has been here for some considerable while, but in 1977 a discovery in the crypt called into question exactly what was in this vault. The latest battery of tests in the 1980s "confirmed" that the new finding was the real Pizarro and the revered remains in the chapel belonged to some unknown official. The head and body of Pizarro were duly reunited in the chapel tomb.Our guide didn't seem entirely convinced. ''There are as many bodies of Pizarro as there are pieces of the true cross. And it probably matters as little.''
Much less austere and in many ways more interesting is the MONASTERIO DE SAN FRANCISCO. Sadly time prevented us from exploring the geometric artistry of bone display in the catacombs. I'm having to rely on hearsay, guidebooks and my grotesque imagination for what that might involve. We were treated to more the sedate pleasures of the moorish architecture, the calm of the inner courtyards and the disdainful consideration of the resident vultures. A highlight I could have spent longer lingering over is the library: dark and musty and smelling delightfully of old books ~ some 25,000 of them, many pre-dating the Spaniards.~
There's much more to Lima than this obviously. We just didn't get around to it.
Not on this trip.
~I passed through Lima on a Ramblers Worldwide "Six Faces of Peru" tour in Sept/Oct 2013.
© Lesley Mason
hiker @ ciao.co.uk
Product Information : Lima
Manufacturer's product description
Listed on Ciao since: 18/01/2001