Best route for us to western South America is through Lima, Peru. Our last few long trips we have been taking a ‘pause’ in transit to our destination, say 10 to 12 hours of flying time from home, and then continuing on our way. We are not so wasted when we reach our final destination and, what the hell, the places on the way should be interesting as well. Spent very little time on this continent so why not take in a bit of Lima in transit.
The flights into this city seem to arrive in the late evening or early night. At 11pm Lima’s airport is crowded but the place is set up for the rush and we are on the Peru side of customs in a flash. There is a service called Taxidatum, I think similar to UBER, where you can order a cab on line and the driver will be waiting for you. There it is my name in bold letters shining toward the arrivals lane. It was that easy.
The Gran Hotel Bolivar is truly grand. It was THE HOTEL in Lima through most of the 1900’s until Peru was put on the tourist map and large chains arrived with their brand of opulance.This place reminds me of the Chateau Lake Louise, or the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff Park, Canada. It is one of the iconic buildings on one of the cities major plazas.
The interior is a little worse for wear but the philosophy is different than say Canada. This place has as many original fittings as can be saved. They have not replaced the toilets, for example, with new modern ones. The cans are very old and I guess if they still work they are kept. So the place looks a little ‘tired’ but if you stand back and really look, it is as grand as it has always been but not in the style you would expect in a modern 5 star hotel. The reviews are very mixed on this place, I think people used to upscale places come there expecting the Hyatt and this it not that. We took a chance and are glad we did. It is a chance to live a in a bit of old world luxury. After all Julio Iglasius, Robert Kennedy and Carlos Santana can’t be completely wrong.
Today is our day to do the central part of Lima. Plaza San Martin to Plaza de Armas de Lima. Our first steps out of the hotel and the vision is arresting, it is one of the main squares, Plaza San Martin and it is suppose to be. The buildings around the square are brightly painted and imposing. I start snapping pictures before we even get to the curb. All of the reading we have done has said Lima is a not so safe city so we are on guard from the start.
The fellow at the front desk of the hotel gives us a photostated map with how to traverse the area and we walk down a pedestrian street towards the Plaza de Armas. It is relatively early and it is still quite busy. On the way we detour to a Bank of Nova Scotia to utilize the ATM. The street we walk down has traffic on it and the sidewalks are narrow, typical for a city that not built for autos I suppose.
The entrance to the city’s main plaza is as halting as when we stepped out of the hotel. There are quite a lot of folks about and the buildings here are even more commanding. The Palacio de Gobierno, guarded by machine gun toting policia, Palacio Municipal de Lima, Glaeria Municipal Pancho Fierro, and the church in Lima, Catedral de Lima.
Again it is a busy place but this time there are as many tourist as locals. Funny how even tourists can pick out tourists. No matter how I plan I cannot look like a local in any place but Alberta???? Could be the Tilley hat or maybe it is the camera? Either of which I could have at home and still not look like a tourist.
A few blocks more and we find ourselves at the Mercado Central, central market for those of you who don’t speak Spanish. Ha, like I do? It is like most markets in the world with about anything you want to buy in small stalls arranged in very long, very narrow aisles.
The vegetables are piled high, and the meat and fish are open to the air on reasonably clean counters being butchered right there. Today we eat lunch, fried chicken and chips, at one of the food stalls. This is when we find we have taken out far too much money from the ATM and will have to figure out how to change it back before we leave. Lunch cost us $3Can. I think my budget was for $30. Oops.
As we continue to walk up this street and down that one we note many of them are closed to vehicular traffic. Discussing this point we think there are must too many pedestrian for the aforementioned small sidewalks. The solution is to convert them to pedways. By noon these storefront to storefront sidewalks are busy. The city was built as a whole, that is not ad hoc. So it was planned on the model of the great cities of Europe with the plazas as focal points, and grand avenues to connect them. These pedestrian streets traverse from plaza to plaza and somewhat do what the planners intended so many years ago.
As we walk and get comfortable with the place, we find the tales of street crime, so prevalent on the web, are far too many compared to the hospitable place we experience. I’m sure there are places to get into trouble and one could go there by accident but being travel aware is half the battle and Lima seems tourist friendly so far.
Tonight we venture out. In warmer climates the evening and early night is the time to be out. Spring is on it way and the people are ready for summer. The Circuito Magico del Agua is our goal. It is maybe a 1/2 hour walk to the park but we go a zig-zaggy route and it takes a bit longer. The fellow at the front desk of the hotel told us there is a ‘show’ that starts at 7 and repeats every hour. As we approach the park and walk down the long shuttle set up for a queue I realize there is fee to see this show. The sign says S./4, so I fish out a S./10. It is the first place I have been where the locals pay to get in, albeit about $1.25Can, and it seems the tourist don’t as We get to the gate and the lady hands back our money and passes us a ticket marked 0.00, Free.
The show is a combination of lazer images on fogged water and dancing fountains. Quite impressive really. As we tour the other waterworks there are kids playing in the spray park fountains and they are soaked. It is not summer yet, we are talking 18C here, by the end of the night they will be frozen.
We are here one day and already we are eating like a South American. Because we went to view the fountains and if we had tried to find dinner at 5.30ish we would have missed them so we waited till after. 8pm and we walk into Norky’s, a chain chicken joint. Paid S./32 for a 1/2 chicken, fries and a salad. Too much food really but it has been a long time since lunch and we are hungry.
Day one of our stop over in Lima, rest is a good idea. It is an easy way to get an extra bit of touring in on a trip to elsewhere.