It’s public transportation day! Hoorah! But even with that, we still got 17K+ steps in.
I am a big fan of good public transportation systems. This comes from years of living in NYC and the joyful, highly bearable lightness of being that comes from not owning a car. Or buying insurance. Or fixing your brakes. Or getting crumbs in it because eating an everything bagel in your car is really fun and relieves the drudgery of being in your car.
Figuring out public transport is pretty much a joint effort for me and the Huzbando. I do the research, he deals with the details of where exactly we need to go, which line we catch, which stop we alight from. I used “alight” in a blog post! You don’t see that every day.
The Metropolitano is a joy and a wonder, truly. It’s a giant bus that travels in pretty much a straight line through Lima. And you see all these people in cars just sitting in the parking lot that is the freeway going in and out of Lima. Meanwhile, you are zooming up or down your own Metroplitan dedicated lane. It is awesome.
10K Steps Lima: Breakfast in the Plaza des Armas
Our first stop was a tour of Casa Aliaga, which I had read about in the 36 Hours in Lima feature from the NYT. But first, breakfast. The Casa is just off the main Plaza des Armas square in Peru, so we basically parked in the first friendly cafe we could find. Plain croissants are not quite so big here like they are in Buenos Aires; neither is avocado toast. But this campesino bread (campesino means peasant/farmer, which is exactly what Bauer, my last name, means in German, so shout out, campesinos!) was perfect. Especially along with this giant papaya jus.
The Plaza des Armas is beautiful and airy. Lima has these wonderful breezes from the sea that make the blistering heat from the sun quite bearable. That said, the sunlight is super intense, which is one reason the square’s pretty empty at 10 on a Friday.
10K Steps Lima: Casa Aliaga
So we headed over to the Casa Aliaga, which is the oldest intact colonial mansion in Peru, dating back to 1535. That’s honestly pretty crazy, when you realize in the US, a building from the early 1900s is considered pretty old. (Click that link if you want to see really beautiful pix.) And the crazier thing is, the same family still occupies it. We had reserved a tour in English. Then we saw this big massive group of people, so we figured, ok, we’ll tag on. But then this guy, named Pancho, stopped us.
“Your tour guide is stuck in traffic,” he said.
“Ok, so can we just join this one?”
“No, I’m your tour guide.”
We ended up with a pretty entertaining, if quick, tour of the mansion in Spanglish. It turned out the other group was actually going to have lunch at the Casa. Maybe they were even meeting the current Mr. Aliaga, because, well, royalty’s gotta eat, too, I guess.
I was especially knocked out by this atrium. I’ve also loved Andalusian style, from the time I was a little kid; I think growing up in California, surrounded by Spanish names and architecture, you get a leg up in loving it. That is not Steve, by the way. That is some old guy.
10K Steps Lima: The “Changing” of the Guard
From here, we had a little extra time before our next Scheduled Appointment, which was a tour I’d arranged through AirBnB of Lima Centro. This was good news, because I had heard about the changing of the guard, everything from that it was a bit chaotic to that the band played “El Condor Pasa.” And of course, I know that for the same reason everyone from the US who knows it does, which is that it was on the “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album by Simon and Garfunkel. I also, incidentally, still know all the words to “Baby Driver.” That stuff you hear before you’re double digits tends to imprint pretty hard.
Well, we just kind of walked around, seeing what there was to see. And what should that end up being but…the Peruvian National Marching Band! or National Guard, or, well, I don’t know their official name. In the background, you see a Lima slum climbing up the hill. That is not part of our trip, but that is reality for way too many Peruvians.
These guys had to march in very hot midday sun around to the front of the presidential palace. So we parked there, finding a shady spot on the Plaza. You watch the whole thing through bars, and it starts right up at noon. The guys we had seen come in, and they do this arm swinging thing, and the unison is pretty commendable.
Then some other guys come forward from inside the building. And the band plays this very solemn BOOM ba ba ba Boom ba ba ba Boom ba ba ba ba ba ba, BOOM, which if you say that to yourself strictly adhering to my fabulous transcription job, you will see sounds an awful lot like Ravel’s Bolero. THEN the church in the plaza starts playing “Ave Maria” on the bells. Yeah, it’s a bit of an odd combination when backed up by the drum. But it’s also weirdly pleasing, just because—well, who thinks of that?
There’s a lot of kicking, and some of the men can really kick high, no mean feat in a big heavy uniform with this metal thing on your head that looks boiling hot. No guards change. The tubas played for maybe a minute; otherwise it was the just the Bolero drums. The people who weren’t kicking or playing stood really, really still. All in all, way more entertaining than the one in London. Despite the gravity, it felt honestly a little jolly, what with the high kicks, the bright red pants, and the distance built in by the gates so you could really see what was going on. Also, check out Manuel Noriega patrolling the front of the gate.
10K Steps Lima: Limboland
Next stop was to meet our walking tour guide back at Plaza San Martin, a very leisurely 10 minute walk from where we were. We found the street where all the money changers work. Those include people wearing yellow vests. Apparently, they’re licensed to change money right on the street, which seems kind of like an odd thing for a government to do.
We went into the Hotel Bolivar, only to find out that our 1 o’clock appointment would not be arriving until 1:45. Honestly, there was a little bit of a snafu with our tour communication; this was an AirBnB arranged one, and the woman who we chose based on her video kept texting me these sort of mildly scoldy notes that were…oh, it’s just boring. The hotel guy at the door was very nice. And, we honestly didn’t mind just sitting after walking around all morning.
Right at 2:10, when we were about to just blow it off, this young Peruvian guy with the unlikely name of Jean Paul—”I don’t why my mom gave me a French name,” he said, with a charming shrug—came up to us. “Nan and Steve?”
10K Steps Lima: An Unplanned Diversion
We followed him to the San Martin plaza, which is quite pretty, and stood under a fountain. There’s a statue in the plaza of a woman with a llama on her head. It’s a very small llama, but it was, Jean-Paul told us, a nod to Peru’s indigenous culture. “I’m indigenous on my mother’s side, Spanish on my father’s,” he said. He went on to say that, while not against the Spanish, it might sound like he was as the tour went on. The Spanish did pretty much destroyed the indigenous culture when they came—easy to verify if you read, oh, a page or so of history on the conquistadors. (And it’s not like the British were so blameless of doing the same thing in what would become the US.) By sticking a llama on this statue’s head, they were kind of trying to make up for it. Baby steps.
We started exiting the square and were about to turn up the same street with all the money changers that Steve and I had walked down a little more than an hour earlier. Suddenly: Pop! Then pop pop pop pop. And if you’ve ever heard real gunshots fired, you will know that what is so surprising is how fake they sound, until after about two of them, you think, shit, someone is firing. Without losing a beat, Jean-Paul just said, “OK, this way.” Two of the people on the tour raced away in the direction he indicated, but he was calm, and I figured being calm was probably better. So we followed Jean-Paul up another street, while a few more shots were fired.
Jean-Paul showed us a couple of good local restaurants where you could get a full meal for about three bucks US; I could find them again if I were back near Plaza San Martin, but we weren’t hungry so I didn’t note them. We talked a little bit, as, if you take many of these tours, you end up doing; the guides typically walk for a ways with all the different people on a tour—there were about 6 others on this one—to give them a chance to talk. He told the group about the lack of social welfare, which is why you see a lot of blind people with signs asking for money—because that IS the social welfare system.
I asked him if that had ever been better and if Fujimori had made things worse. From there, it was a pretty quick jump to the Shining Path years, which he remembered vividly. He’d been young, there were blackouts, it was scary but you kept putting one foot in front of the other. He told me he was impressed we’d made it Casa Aliaga, one of his favorite places in Lima. He marveled that, after 16 generations, it’s still owned by the same family.
“Of all the tourists I talk to, maybe 3 out of a hundred get to Casa Aliaga,” he said. Well, given how I love a nod of approval, I will admit to feeling a tad bit puffed up. Sure, I may be a little nutty on research, but it does pay off when you get a chance, however brief, to talk to a local and have them say, yo, you actually bothered.
10K Steps Lima: The Pisco “Museum”
So we went to something known as the Pisco Museum. Quite frankly, that should be the Pisco “Museum.” It’s a lovely bar on the corner of the Plaza des Armas adjacent to the “Museum” of Chocolate. And you know, whatever works if it’s helping Peruvians capitalize on the tourist trade.
We sat around a table and drank Pisco sours, and, well, those little devils are just delicious. A wide-eyed young woman across from me was still a little shaken by the gun incident. “In Denmark, we have one shooting about every five years,” she said. I told her, truthfully, that that must be amazing.
A TV screen played above our heads. The robbery showed up as breaking news. The target was a legal money changer—”a really dangerous job,” according to JP—the criminals were on a motorcycle, and a policeman was shot in the process, but I don’t think he was killed.
Outside the door, a horse-drawn carriage, a bicyclist, and a car all stopped at a traffic light.
10K Steps Lima: The Church of San Francisco
Next stop: the church of St. Francis, where no pictures are allowed. Although, of course, you can take one from the outside. Over on the left of the picture, you can see a little excavation. One reason so many of the colonial structures survive Peru’s earthquakes—Lima had two within minutes of each other in 2007, the first a 7.9 and the next an 8.2—is because they sit on top of the extraordinary Inca foundations. The current excavation is focused on more Spanish bones, though our visit to the catacombs made us wonder….do they need more?
Inside, the church has a beautiful cloister and lots of tile. There’s a pretty intricate ceiling in the walkway surrounding the cloister; JP explained that’s it’s all tongue and groove, no nails, so if one of the carved squares is removed, the whole ceiling will tumble down. But meanwhile, it’s proven wonderfully flexible during the earthquakes.
From here, we followed a few hallways and entered the low-ceilinged catacombs. I’ve gotten a little better at managing my claustrophobia over the years, but I did have a moment where I thought, do I really want to hunch over and go into this underground set of tunnels just to look at a bunch of bones? One woman opted out. But I thought, ok, you can do this. So in I went.
Rich people paid masses of money to be interred in the catacombs. Today, there are just big piles of bones, all femurs—”way too long to be Peruvian,” said JP—with the other bones underneath. Apparently, after a generation or so, the monks who lived in the cloisters needed to get fresh donations in the tombs, and ended up throwing the old bones down a cistern. Please, just cremate me.
Back in the fresh air, we could go into the church, which is really quite beautiful. There are lots of signs that say no cell phones, but it seemed to mean “don’t talk on them.” Because everybody was taking pictures with them, and I just said, when in Lima….
10K Steps Lima: Central Market
Well, traipsing around old churches is all well and good. But now the fun started. We headed to Lima’s Central Market. Guidebooks always tell you to go to the big markets of any city, but I always find them really confusing and overwhelming. So JP led us past all sorts of wild places. I’ll spare you the meat and dead chickens, though the fish counter was something to see.
But of course the real star is the vegetables. Well, and the fruits, though I told you about them yesterday. In addition to the zillion varieties of potatoes and peppers, check out the corn. The kernels are like giant Osmond teeth.
From here, we took a walk through Lima’s Barrio China. We’d heard of a restaurant here where they serve chifa, the hybrid Peruvian Chinese cuisine. But, well, we could’ve used a guide, because we had no idea what to get and just stuck with fried rice. I mean it was fine, but honestly, fried rice is fried rice. But we had another stop.
10K Steps Lima: No Tourists In Sight
Now Steve is really good at reading maps and getting us places. JP had told us, just take this one street back to the main street and catch the bus to your next stop. Steve, meanwhile, studied his map while we ate our lackluster meal and said, let’s go down this street. And I got all wary, big city veteran as I am, and said, Really? We have NO idea what’s down there.
Well, Huzbando was just as confident as usual, so I said, oh what the hell. And off we set.
We found ourselves on streets wall to wall with people. I figured I’d used my tall, pale gringa status in the only way I could: To cop a Brigitte Neilsen-esque hauteur, all sunglasses and cheekbones and good posture, hopefully conveying that I was not one to be messed with. As I told Steve earlier, look, we have big targets on our backs already. We really don’t need to light them up in neon.
Honestly, it was not that fun. And yet, when you walk down streets no tourists walk down, you definitely see some cool stuff if you keep your mind and eyes open. This WTF mural, for instance, with a woman selling barbecued beef hearts on skewers, called anticuchos, right in front of it.
Or this distinguished gentleman, who seriously looks like every mysterious business man I’ve ever seen in a South American movie. You know he’s got an awesome deep voice like the narrator on Jane the Virgin. Those people in back of him are standing around looking at a man with a whiteboard, and I have no idea what he was doing. Selling some sort of pyramid thing? Teaching English? There was support for both ideas, but I was already feeling like I had to be a little sneaky with the camera, so no pix for you.
And then, there was this little girl, who completely stole my heart. Little girl, you are a badass. I will not forget you, and I wish you an awesome life.
10K Steps Lima: Los Circuitos de Magicos
We were heading to the Circuitos de Magicos, a park full of colored-water spewing fountains, which sounded absolutely divinely, fabulously kitschy. We got there and ….. what the hell? The line stretched about half a kilometer around the park. Well, after trudging through the mean streets and pushing our way onto a bus, we were not going to turn away. So we joined the back of the line.
The line did move really quickly, and this very lovely family of four in front of us decided to adopt us. We conversed in our not so hot but surprisingly serviceable Spanish and found out that we had decided to visit the park on Ladies’ Day; no women paid because of the International Day of the Woman. So I went into the park with the mom and sister, and Steve went through the pay line with the dad and brother. We parted in the park, but we all hugged each other first. Peruvians seriously rock.
Dusk was quickly approaching, and the fountains were already spraying elaborate light patterns. There are bunches all over the park, but the one that puts on a choreographed show is already pretty amazing even before the show.
Then 10 minutes before the show, words project onto the fountain: 10 Minutes to See the Amazing Show! Then, 5 Minutes to Awaken All Your Senses! Then this dramatic music like in every training sequence from an 80s movie you’ve ever seen. And there are some kind of mostly silly graphics projecting onto the fountain. Then the fountain does all this light show rainbow magic while classical music plays. Oh, this was after a bunch of shots of women visiting the park were super-imposed over the water while John Lennon sang that “Woman” song. Which, incidentally, I’ve always found mildly annoying.
The show is a total kick. The absolute best part is to be the only gringos in the place. We watched these Peruvian families and couples and groups of friends just kicking back, having a ball. We had one too. And honestly, the best part is the pre-show.