First Impressions of Lima
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For some reason, Lima has a pretty negative reputation. My guidebook, other travelers in Internet forums and Latin Americans have all said things like, "Well, if you absolutely have to go there, I guess you can survive two days or so."
Consequently, before I got here, I was under the impression that Lima was dirty, dangerous and slightly boring.
My personal experience of Lima has been totally different from all that.
Sure, the air is so polluted I constantly taste exhaust and, yes, the traffic is completely insane. BUT there are beautiful colonial buildings everywhere, and, even better, beautiful people. Many people have been so friendly and sweet here, from the first second we arrived and someone chased a strap that had fallen off of Patti's backpack, running all the way down the luggage carousel to retrieve it for us.
My experience at the post office yesterday is the perfect example of the lovely attitudes here.
I wanted to mail a box home with some tourist brochures, tickets stubs and a few light souvenirs. All in all, it was a small and light bundle of objects, so imagine my shock and horror upon discovering that it would cost the equivalent of $50 USD to mail it home from the post office in Iguazu. The price seemed totally ridiculous to me because I've mailed small packages like this home from all over the world, and its never cost more than $35 or so (and that was from New Zealand, halfway around the world!) Plus, things are supposed to be cheaper here. What on earth?
I decided to try again in Peru.
The bad news is, it cost me 145 soles (like $52 USD) to mail my stuff home. The good news is, everyone was so sweet and helpful that I didn't mind hemorrhaging a sum that would've bought me three-and-a-half nights in a hostel. A woman next to me was packing a box full of perfume wrapped in diapers (a really smart idea). She found me some bubble wrap (and only charged me $1 for it), plus some old envelopes to scrunch up and fill the box. The guy behind the desk lent me scissors and passed over some scrunched up memos to further fill the box. He was very patient as he walked me through the process of shipping something out of Peru. I had to put a copy of my passport and my fingerprint on the box.
We've mostly taken buses to get around the city, with the exception of coming in from the airport, and coming back from the grocery store with approximately 25 lb of bottled water and groceries.
The buses have been quite an experience.
For the most part, the "buses" are actually more like large vans, and they race up and down the streets, criss-crossing each other, laying on the horns, and stopping whenever anyone flags them down or yells that they want to get off. Besides the driver, there's a bus attendant whose job it is to lean out of the open door and scream the bus's route to people on the sidewalk. These guys (and a few women) talk so quickly that their sentences become one long word, like auctioneers. If you raise your arm or yell or in any way indicate that you want to get on, he bangs his fist against the side of the bus and the driver pulls over. At the stops, men selling drinks and ice-cream hop onto the bus or just wave them in the windows, which is convenient.
To be honest, it feels sort of dangerous to ride these things, but it's also pretty funny and I don't know that a taxi would be any safer. I've heard the buses are pick-pocket havens, so I've kept everything valuable in my moneybelt and my hand clamped over the zipper to my purse, but I haven't had any problems so far. In fact, the other passengers have been very polite. Guys have given up their seats for Patti and me, and the people I've sat with have said, "Permiso," (excuse me) when they wanted to get off.
Ok, so on to what we've seen and done so far.
Thursday was occupied with my post-office adventure and wandering around the downtown area, admiring the pretty buildings. We also had lunch at a chicken restaurant called Norky's. Part of me felt guilty for eating fast food in a country renowned for its cuisine, but another part of me (the part that won) argued that a) I was hungry and it was there and b) fast food can be culturally revealing. I decided that I could eat Norky's if I made an effort to eat quality Peruvian food for my next meal.
Norky's was huge, with three floors of seating for hundreds of diners. There were two lines of counters, one for roasted chicken plates and the other for fried chicken plates. Patti and I both went for the fried chicken (obvi), which came with French fries, a cup of Inca Cola and a small plop of lettuce for 10 soles (like $3.50 USD) each.
The chicken was decent - probably what you'd expect from KFC - and the fries were good. The Inca Cola, however, was revolting. I don't like the taste of soda, but if it were the last drink on earth, I'd choose Sprite. Following this logic, I chose the yellow Inca Cola. Ugh, it was sickly sweet and not very fizzy and totally disgusting. I didn't try the lettuce because you have to be careful eating fruits and veggies that have been washed in the tap water here. Plus, I watched them squirt Ranch dressing onto it from a giant, un-refrigerated container. That being said, given the price and the flavor of the food I did eat, I'd say Norky's was a good deal.
On Friday, we went to the Larco Museum, the full name of which is the Museo Arqueologico Rafael Larco Herrera - woo!! The Larco has the largest collection of pre-Columbian art anywhere, which is pretty impressive since it's a private collection. Most of the pieces come from the Moche dynasty, which ran from 200 to 700 A.D.
There was an interesting exhibit on human sacrifice, which featured pottery depicting the act itself, knives used to kill the sacrifices, and ceremonial goblets used to collect the blood.
The most visually stunning exhibits displayed the fantastic gold and silver headdresses, breastplates, earrings and nose ornaments worn by the elite members of society. They displayed many of these on mannequins, which made it easy to picture a real person wearing them. It must've been pretty impressive (and intimidating) to see someone dressed like this, standing on top of a pyramid invoking the gods.
Of course, the Larco is most famous for its collection of erotic pottery. I'm not going to post many pictures here because most of the pottery was downright pornographic, but I'm sure you can look it up online if you're curious. The pieces in the collection depicted everything from huge genitals to the act itself to people with STDs. I've never seen anything like it. Some of the less crazy pictures I took are below.
As interesting as the exhibits were, the museum itself was a very relaxing place to spend a few hours. It's housed in an 18th century colonial building, with gardens and flowers decorating the central courtyard and walkways. It's like a breath of fresh air in the middle of the crowded, polluted city. There's an expensive, but beautiful, cafe and a small gift shop on the premises, as well as an upscale jewelry store. The only downside of the Larco is its admission price - 30 soles ($10 USD), which is pretty expensive for Peru, but what can you do? It's an excellent museum that you can't miss.
After the museum, we went to Antigua Taberna Queirolo for a late lunch. Our hotel recommended the place, and it seemed to be a real locals-only type of restaurant. We were the only non-Peruvians there, except for a few Japanese people, but they might have been Peruvian too, since there are tons of Japanese and Chinese immigrants here.
Patti enjoyed tiradito depescado, a Peruvian take on ceviche. Ceviche is raw fish and shellfish marinated in an acid (lemon or lime juice) served with raw onion, corn and a slice of purple sweet potato. We had it in Chile and it was pretty good, but everyone makes it a bit differently, of course. Patti's tiradito looked pretty similar to ceviche, except that it came in a lemon chili sauce.
I had escabeche, a fish dish with peppers, olives and onions. I've read that it's also supposed to include eggs and prawns, but I didn't find any of those.
For our drinks, we couldn't pass up a couple of pisco sours. Pisco (white grape brandy) seems to be as big of a deal here as it was in Chile, but it tastes different. Our cocktails were way strong. We only had one each and my head felt fuzzy.
On the way home, we stopped at a giant grocery store with an amazing selection of products. I even found stevia there (of course, since Shelley is bringing it when she flies down here in two days!) Technically, stevia was also for sale in Chile, but I only ever found one small (empty) shelf of stevia and approximately 40 choices of chemical artificial sweeteners. I never found it in Argentina at all, except for one store that sold a large liquid bottle of it, which wasn't very travel friendly.
In addition to the stevia, I've been really surprised how many foreign products are available in Peru, since I'd heard it was such a poor country. There are Nature Valley granola bars and Always products, Listerine mouthwash and Neutrogena face wash. Globalization, darling.
We're staying at the Posada del Parque, an adorable 1930s mansion that's been converted into a hotel. The Posada is located on a tranquil cul-de-sac alongside other beautiful homes and trees. Inside, the lobby, living room and dining room are decorated with hundreds of pieces of artwork. There's fast wifi and satellite TV (helloooo "Ghost Whisperer" and recent episodes of "Grey's Anatomy!") Also, the front desk staff is kind and helpful. They gave us a free bottle of Chilean Merlot as a present for staying longer than three nights.
The room cost us about $38 USD per night (which we divided two ways). That's considered the "moderate" price range in our guidebooks. Sure, we could've stayed in a hostel for half the price; but, I've found that when I visit a more challenging city, paying a little extra for a lot more charm can significantly improve my experience.
That's exactly what happened here. It was so nice to return to the Posada, tired and slightly grimy from a long day of sightseeing, and totally relax in this quiet, peaceful setting. I know the Posada is a hotel now, but I really felt like I was staying in someone's artistic and elegant home. This is the high season and the place was pretty empty, so if you know anyone who's heading to Lima, tell them to come stay here.