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Tonight, I'm leaving Lima for Easter Island. Here's what I've been up to in the past couple of days.
On Sunday, Patti and I took the suckiest guided tour ever with the LimaVision tour company.
The brochure stated: "Our tour will start at the Pacllana temple, built in the IV century and A.D., an ancestral and ceremonial site dedicated to the local divinities."
I don't know about you, but that sentence implies to me that we'd go inside. Not so. What actually happened? The driver pulled up to the ruins, told us we had 10 minutes to wait for another bus, and suggested we go look at the ruins. We went to the gate and discovered that we couldn't go inside without a guide. We went back to the driver and got on another van.
The main event of our tour was Pachacamac, a cluster of ancient ruins in the Lurin River Valley, 40 km southeast of the city. There are 17 pyramids on the site, dating from 800 to 1450 A.D and overlooking the ocean. Many more are buried underneath the desert and neighboring houses. The most important pyramids are the Shrine to the Sun God, the Temple of Pacha Kamaq (the creator) and the pyramid where an oracle sat, reading the past and future and advising pilgrims.
I was particularly interested in the Palace of the Virgins of the Sun, home to elite Inca courtesans, as well as the girls who would become human sacrifices. Sometimes, the girls volunteered themselves; other times, they were chosen for their beauty and talents. In the Larco Museum, I saw several exhibits on the male human sacrifices. What a counterproductive idea it is to sacrifice the best and brightest members of society. And what a terrible concept of religion it seems (to me, now) that the gods would want people murdered to keep them happy.
At the snack shop/souvenir store/tiny museum by the ruins, we found some truly ugly but sweet-tempered hairless dogs. I hadn't seen one before and I was afraid to pet them, but they seemed happy enough to have me do it. I had too many pictures to fit in this entry, but there are two pictures of the dogs below.
In the end, our guide gave us a bit of information, but none of it went beyond the information provided in English and Spanish on plaques around the site. The real disappointment of the tour was that it had promised a "walking tour" of the Barranco neighborhood that turned out to be a five-minute walk to a bellavista over the ocean, during which the guide told us that wealthy people had built their summer homes there. Fascinating.
On the way back to the van, we stopped at a bridge that I later found out was called the Bridge of Sighs (no idea why). Our guide said nothing, but a street band targeted an elderly couple in our group and sang them a couple of songs. Then, we got back in the van. Tour over. Sigh.
On Monday, we took it easy since Shelley had gotten in at 5 a.m. We wandered through some parks near the hotel, ate delicious fried pork sandwiches at a little hole-in-the-wall called Biale, and watched "Grey's Anatomy" on satellite TV. The episodes airing down here are from the current season, which is such a treat.
Today, we attempted to catch the free walking tour of Lima but were too late because our stupid hotel in Oruro (Bolivia) was giving us problems with our reservation. We're headed there for Carnival in a couple of weeks, and all of the hotels in Oruro demand up-front payments via Western Union. We did this correctly, but by the time they got around to looking for the payment, the triple we'd requested was gone, and they wanted to charge us extra for two doubles. Grrr.
Anyway, after all of that, we headed into Lima. The walking tour had already left the meeting point at the Plaza Armas, so we made our own walking tour.
First, we visited La Iglesia de San Francisco, a pretty church and monastery with catacombs underneath. Apparently, the bodies were laid down in the catacombs whole until they decomposed naturally or with the aid of lime. Then, the bones were kept together in a pile until the catacomb became too full, at which time the old bones of many different bodies were thrown together in a pit. Today, the bones have been separated into types by archaeologists. Instead of finding the bones of individual people, we saw pits full of femurs, skulls, etc. Down a circular pit that looked like a well, long bones (maybe arms and legs?) were arranged facing outward in a circle with a pile of skulls in the middle. It was gruesome and creepy, but pretty much what I'd expected.
As we left the church, I ran into a tour group that contained some William and Mary alums! Unfortunately, they were moving and had to keep up with the group, but it was nice to visit for a few minutes.
In front of the church, we watched a film crew rehearsing at the church's main entrance. Actors clothed in traditional peasant dress led llamas across the area, while others carried sacks of grain into or out of the church. Two fake monks stood talking by the front door. This explained why I'd seen a "monk" sitting on the side wall of the courtyard inside, swinging his feet back and forth. His casual attitude had thrown me off; but, then I'd thought, "Well, I guess it's his house, so he should feel comfortable." Mystery solved! It was pretty cool to watch the scene because it transported me back in time. It was cool to see what the entrance must've looked like hundreds of years ago.
Leaving San Francisco, we walked a few blocks over to Chinatown, where we had dim sum at Salon Capon. Lima has tons of Chinese immigrants, which explains the "chifas" (Chinese restaurants) I've seen on practically every corner. But if you want dim sum (brunch), you have to go to Chinatown. At Salon Capon, you check off your order on a list, rather than than the more typical method of choosing it off carts rolling by. The list was challenging since I don't speak Spanish and the girls had no clue what anything was; plus, the back page of choices was totally in Chinese. Luckily, the waiter helped out and we ended up with some decent (if not amazing) sticky rice, tasty rice noodles filled with shrimp, sauteed veggies, won tons, pork dumplings and spare ribs. In general, our dim sum wasn't as flavorful as the stuff I've come to love in Philadelphia's Chinatown, but it was pretty good. The egg tarts we had for dessert were excellent, with a flaky crust and light filling.
Once we were stuffed, we wandered around a bit and found the Museum of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chile, totally by accident. We saw the sign and it was free, so we went in. It turned out to be a good find. They've left the bank teller cubicles on the ground floor intact, filling them with antique coin displays from as far back as the 16th century. I thought it was funny to find a coin worth 1/8 of a sole, and some of the coins were just plain beautiful.
Downstairs, silver and gold artifacts were displayed inside the old vault, which had a very impressive, thick door with lots of gears and mechanical bit and pieces. Also down here were whistling pots, which actually whistle when you pour liquid from them.
Upstairs, there was a small collection of paintings with very detailed explanations of the artistic style of the period. Piecing them all together, it was possible to conceptualize the basics of Peruvian art history from the 18th century to the present.
Leaving the museum, we walked up to the Plaza San Martin, another beautiful plaza named for the general who liberated Peru from Spanish rule. Between the Plaza de Armes and the Plaza San Martin, I don't know why so many people call Lima ugly. Both squares are surrounded by ornate colonial buildings with fountains and trees in the center.
My favorite part of the Plaza San Martin was the lady with the llama on her head. There's a statues of Gen. San Martin in the center of the plaza, and part of it was supposed to show a woman with a crown of flames on her head, symbolizing freedom. The story goes that similar vocabulary words for "llama" and "flames" plus the Peruvian accented Spanish, (and maybe a disinterested project supervisor?) caused the lady to end up with a small carved llama on her head.