To reach the Galápagos Islands from Sydney, one must fly to Santiago, through Lima to Quito. Faced with a six hour stop-over in Lima, I decided to add a brief stay in the city instead.
Santiago to Lima is a four hour flight, but is like stepping back through decades.
Santiago, despite or because of Pinochet, is now a thriving economy; Lima is a developing country whose population has exploded without jobs or infrastructure to support the inflow of people from the hills. The trip from the airport was slow, with street vendors walking between the lanes of traffic selling water, soft drinks and ice cream. Buildings are shabby, bags of garbage clutter the streets, yet signs welcoming Papa Francisco are everywhere- looking fresh and new although he has already been and gone.
There is a constant tooting of horns, which seem to mean anything from “I’m coming through” to “don’t even think about stepping off the pavement” and “I can see you and I know you have right of way, but I was here first.” Or maybe it’s just “I have a working horn in my car.”
I was staying in Miraflores on the coast, which people had told me was a good choice. Despite the plethora of surf schools, the surf looked choppy and uninviting, the beach grey and pebbly. And sea mist hung over everything, as it does all summer.
But this cleared in the afternoon and it was hot when I visited visit the pre-Incan ruins of Huaca Pucllana , then walked among the Saturday afternoon strollers. In the park, a crowd and music revealed a group of seniors dancingin an amphitheatre – not very energetically – but with great enjoyment.
I left downtown Lima for today, starting with the Museo Larco. This amazing private institution was founded in the 1920s by an enthusiast who bought up collections of pre-Columbian art to protect them, and went on to research the many civilizations that existed in Peru before the Incas. The exhibits were well- curated, with explanations in six languages, showing everything from ancient ritual vessels, to delicate fabrics and elaborate gold armour. The post colonial era was not overlooked with some interesting religious art – with an indigenous twist.
The museum is also famous for its gardens – bougainvillea and geraniums in a riot of colour, cacti – even a few eucalypts. There is an elegant restaurant/ cafe, as well as a separate gallery of ritualistic erotic art.
I decided caffeine was more important than the latter. And not wanting to miss Lima central, I only saw a few reproductions in the gift shop.
My taxi driver was waiting as arranged, and he took me to Central Lima, dropping me off outside the Cathedral, and pointed me to the tourist office. Sadly his directions (or my understanding of his limited English) were wrong, and I did my usual wandering around in circles, trying to make sense of of street names and relate them to my map. I came to the magnificent Santo Domingo church, but decide to bypass the catacombs. Heading back to the main square, I found the tourist office, and received advice on far too many museums to fit In in one afternoon.
My primary goal was to visit the sanctuary of Santa Rosa, Lima’s patron saint, for my neighbour who shares her name. The church promotes Rosa in many ways from its dark pink walls, to the roses In the gardens. There is a museum telling her story, with a delightful priest outside. I read what I could – most was in in Spanish – and took photos of the various statutes of Santa Rosa.
I bought a small picture of Santa Rosa from the priest – and showing my protestant ignorance, didn’t know why he asked for it back. Of course, he needed to bless it. “mi no Catholic”, I offered in explanation in goodness knows what muddled language.
Back in the heart of Lima with its colourful Colonial architecture, wooden balconies and crowds of people. There were banners for Chinese New Year, an alley full of stuffed toys for Valentines day, apparently guarded by a soldier with a gun, and police lounging everywhere. Strolling balloon sellers, invisible under their helium filled load. And round very corner, or down a passageway were shops selling colourful Peruvian fabrics, hats, and stuffed lamas of all sizes.
Don’t walk faster than the natives is advice I have been given for hot climates. But when many of the natives seem to have some physical impairment, or are aimlessly strolling to fill in a Sunday afternoon, this advice is best ignored.
I would love to see Lima on a working day instead of a weekend, to see how different the city is. But my current impression of crazy traffic, poverty, churches, colonial architecture and parks, and friendly people immensely proud of their city will have to suffice.