I am now in Arequipa, recovering from a near-death experience (in which I wanted to kill myself) while hiking down and around the Colca Canyon, but more on that later. It is a parable that we all will benefit from.
So. Lima. Every time I visit a new South American capital city, I am more and more impressed. Lima was no different. We arrived by night bus from Trujillo, and took a taxi early in the morning to my friend Ariadne’s mum’s house. Ruth (Ariadne’s mum) is a dynamo, and one of the most amazing women I have met. She kindly let us stay with her, and I will shamelessly admit that I really enjoyed having a Peruvian mum for three days. She showed us around Lima, and we were astounded by its diversity and beauty. My cousin especially, who didn’t care for it when she flew in there (she described it as a city that a bomb went off in), fell in love with the Bohemian neighbourhood of Barranco with its Bridge of Sighs and its old Republican homes.
The city is Miami meets Mumbai meets New York meets Madrid meets London meets Santiago de Cuba, and yet it is so quintessentially It, if you know what I mean. A city by the sea, sections of which run along steep green cliffs. Broad avenues lined with palm trees. A ritzy mall built into the wall of a cliff that faces the sea, promenades along the water, old colonial mansions, grand plazas, wrought iron doors and windows. Other sections that walked out of Wall Street. In the historical part of the city, I felt as though I were spinning through space, as though I were in many different places at the same time. There were areas with bruised, crumbling colonial houses where people chatted by doorways, and the narrow streets of Lima’s Chinatown that suppurated with diesel spewing cars and people rushing about their individual ways.
We saw the changing of guards at the Governor’s Palace and it was a beautifully executed demonstration done to the tune of Orff’s ‘O Fortuna’. We visited the 16th century Monasterio de San Fransisco with its ancient catacombs full of skulls and bones and its old wooden church in which thousands of prayers had been sent up to the arching vaults these years gone by. Even the monks’ cloisters had their stories to tell: strange blank spaces peeled off old frescoes where faces one were. It made think of Robert Browning’s poem, ‘TheSoliloquy of the Spanish Cloister’ in which we learn about the hypocrisy of religion from the internal monologue of a really jealous monk.
We also met a couple of really cool Indian guys at a cafe in Lima. The manager, who found out we were Indian, saw them walk by and shouted tothem to come to his cafe, where some ‘Indians’ were. Vasanth and Uday are from Madras and Coimbatore respectively, live in Atlanta, and were in Peru for exactly a week, to visit Machu Pichu. We arranged to meet later that evening, and went to Zenobia’s favourite place, Barranco, where we found a really nice drinking spot and shared a few stories, met some interesting characters, and had a really fun evening.
But the highlight for us, really, was spending time with Ruth, hearing her stories about the city, about the rebellious history of this great country, and its ongoing rivalries with Chile, who claim ownership of the Pisco grape.
We spent much of our time feeling citified, drinking tea and Pisco Sours in pretty Parisian-style cafes in Miraflores, and eating in old Art-Deco restaurants like Bar Cordano, a wood-panelled restaurant lined with bottles and staffed by old men in food-stained jackets. We then headed to Paracas and Nazca, which I will update you on next time.