11 June 2014

Peru: Day 2: Lima & Arequipa

This morning, after a fitful night's sleep, I got up and went for a run. The neighborhood where our hotel is, Miraflores, is close to the ocean, and I found a path down to the beach. 'Down' is accurate, as the beach in Lima is lined with 80-meter cliffs. The beach is rocky and desolate. There are plenty of surfers and some well-heeled restaurants, but mostly it's kind of ugly and is just used as an express lane for cars shooting north and south along the western edge of the city.

At 10:00, we checked out of our hotel and met Nancy and Wilfredo. N was our guide for the day, and W was our driver. First stop was Huaca Pucllana, an ancient temple shaped like a pyramid with a flat top. The flat top was used for rituals and sacrifices. N told us that Peru is lousy with these ancient sites, most of which had been built on top of over the centuries. Peru has only taken an active role in archeological preservation in the last few decades, so many newer structures were allowed to be built on the ruins.

From there, we took a roundabout route back to downtown, where we visited with G last night. As we walked along the streets, N told us about how so many of the buildings are centuries old and are only recently being renovated. We walked into the courtyard of an old mansion. The mansion was now a shoe store. The former house of one of Peru's most famous poets is now a place to buy designer jeans. Capitalism pays.

The Plaza de Armas, which was crazy with traffic last night, was much quieter today, as vehicles were banned due to a pensioners' protest. Only protesters were allowed in, but N had her official tour guide card, so we got access as well. We watched the changing of the guard at the president's palace (the band played the first section of Orff's Carmina Burana).

We went inside the mayor's office, which was as beautiful as any municipal building in Paris. Once again, N got us access due to her guide pass.

As we were walking, N talked about how Peru was a conservative country. S asked how the civil union vote had gone the previous day. N quickly figured out that we are pro-CU. We quickly determined that she was not. We all changed the subject.

We dropped into the Hotel Bolivar, where G told us last night that the Pisco Sour was invented. N corrected us: the cocktail was invented elsewhere in Lima, but it was perfected at the Bolivar. The bar inside was beautiful, but since it was before noon and I would have been the only one drinking, we decided not to stop for a cocktail.

On to the monastery of St. Francis, which had a number of beautiful cloisters and stunning catacombs. Unlike Rome, where the catacombs are scrubbed pretty free of the remains of the dead, this place was full of bones. Femurs were arranged artfully in cases. Skulls stared at you. Photos were prohibited.

Peru has come a long way in the thirty years since poverty and terrorism threatened its foundations, but there are still big gaps between what I've seen in the historic sections of the big European cities and what we saw in historic Lima. It's not uncommon to see a two-story building where the ground floor houses a tidy shop and the top floor has busted-out windows.

After our walk, we took lunch at a seafood restaurant near downtown. This is one of the only cevicherias in downtown (most are in neighborhoods closer to the ocean, and it has only been open six months. I had ceviche and chicken salad wrapped in potato. S had a cilantro paella. There was a Papa Johns across the sidewalk. We made the right choice.

Then, back in the van with W and on to the airport, where we grabbed a coffee, practiced our (terrible) Spanish, and hopped the 60-minute flight to Arequipa. Arequipa begins the high-altitude portion of the trip; it is approximately the same altitude as Park City, UT. We'll be here for a few days before ascending to Puno, where the altitude matches the summit at Copper Mountain, CO.

Once we hit Arequipa, we met up with Roberto, who has been our contact as we've been putting the tour together. R picked us up at the airport and delivered us to the hotel. S settled in while R and I went for food. Empanadas and beer in hand, I returned to the hotel to dine and chill.

The hotel here in Arequipa is stunning. It's in the old section of town, in an estate house that used to house a mint. The reception area is right off the courtyard, and our room is a good size, and very well-appointed. We're in the hotel now, relaxing, adjusting to the altitude, and checking email.


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