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Three Weeks in Peru

Author: Mike6725
Email: fenn6725@cox.net
Date of Trip: February 2006

We are (mostly) independent travelers and our trip to Peru was no different. All flights to Lima seem to arrive late at night. It took us an hour to get through immigration (59 minutes in line, one minute to get our passports stamped) and another couple of minutes to get through customs. They have kind of an interesting process for luggage clearance. You press a button and either a red or green light comes on...green and you are free to go, red...you get inspected. We were lucky and passed right through. In the crowd of limo drivers we were relieved to see a sign that gave our name. A half-hour drive later we were at our hotel.

We got up around 8 the next morning and enjoyed a nice buffet breakfast at the hotel, San Antonio de Abad. (We always try to pick a hotel that includes breakfast in the room rate.) When we asked the girl at the front desk for directions to the bus station, she got on the phone for us and arranged tickets for our next two legs -- Lima to Nasca on Saturday and then Nasca to Arequipa on Monday. They delivered the tickets while we were out sightseeing, so that bit of logistics was all taken care of.

We took a taxi downtown to the Plaza Mayor, which is pretty much the center of town. This square has the cathedral, the Palacio del Gobierno and various office buildings and shops. Lots of people were strolling around (several of whom tried to sell us things), but in all a very casual, relaxed atmosphere. The government is making an attempt to get people to use the crosswalks, so they have young people in yellow T-shirts with mime face paint acting as crossing guards.

We also noted a significant police presence in the plaza. We thought this was routine at first, and then we heard the bull horns. Pam and I can't resist a demonstration so we wandered off to investigate. It turned out to be a rather mild demonstration of health care workers who want higher wages. Nevertheless, the police were prepared. We got a close up of some of their equipment-- an interesting modification of a humvee with a cattle guard of sorts on the front and a water cannon on top. Apparently they are more concerned about civil demonstrations than about invasion from Chile.

Continuing our tour of the downtown, we visited the cathedral. We were provided with an excellent English-speaking guide who gave us quite a bit of the history of the city, the cathedral, and the Spanish conquest. The tour began with a visit to the crypt of Francisco Pizzarro, the conquistador we all read about in high school but never remembered anything much about.

An interesting tidbit: For years the wrong guy was in the tomb. In 1974 a major earthquake destroyed many of the city structures and caused a lot of damage to the cathedral and the underground tombs. In repairing the damage they discovered more than a thousand skeletons. In one grave they found a headless skeleton that, after much investigation and speculation, they decided belonged to Pizarro. It had been pretty severely hacked up (Pizarro was murdered) and they were able to put it together with a skull and decided it was the real Pizarro skeleton. The former resident of the crypt was evicted and Pizarro's bones put in his place.

Back on the street, we headed to another church, the Convento de San Francisco, which was not a convent at all, but a monastery. As we were walking the few blocks we encountered another tour group, a group of school children. Clearly they know how to keep students in line here. They have them hold on to a rope! Their teacher had them turn around and wave to us. This was not really surprising. The people are really friendly here. We were pleasantly surprised to find the local version of Spanish to be easy to understand. To me it is clearer than Mexican Spanish. Pam says some of the words are different, but it is not at all like Argentina. We are falling in love with the country after only a couple of days here.

Lima is not what we expected, at least in the areas we have visited. We think it is very similar to Madrid in terms of architecture and lifestyle. On to el Convento de San Francisco. This was a major church center dating from the early 1600's. Lima was the capital of the entire Spanish new world so there was a lot of wealth centered here. It certainly showed in the design of both San Francisco and the Cathedral.

An interesting similarity to Italy. In Milan we visited the painting of the Last Supper by Michelangelo. Here they have another version of the Last Supper with a few similarities and a few differences in composition. The location of the painting is in the monastery dining hall, just as in Milan. The difference is the painting in Lima is at the opposite end from the kitchen, so they did not cut a doorway through it like the Italians did! Other differences, the Lima version has them sitting at a round table, the room has several children (and the devil is lurking behind Judas!) and the centerpiece of the meal is Cuy! This a traditional Peruvian dish, guinea pig. We are determined to try it before we leave the country.


After a long, somewhat delayed, bus ride we arrived at Nasca. We really liked our hotel, the Hostal Don Agucho. It is a short walk from the center of town, but far enough away to give us some peace and quiet-- at least until the hotel's parrots start chattering in the morning. We arranged for a flight over the Nasca lines the first morning. We watched a short video (Discovery channel production) about the history of the lines and speculation about their purpose. It was interesting to us that they weren't discovered until 1927 when the first airplanes flew over the area. They had already constructed the Pan-American Highway through two of the figures. We then took a half-hour ride over the area and tried to take pictures. It is amazing how many lines, rectangles, triangles etc. are visible from the air. The figures of animals are a little difficult to see at first, but we did manage a few photos. Our best photo was one of the most famous figures, the hummingbird. A half-hour ride doesn't sound long, but the pilot was continually banking 45 to 60 degrees on either side so we could all get a good view of the geoglyphs. We all managed to retain our breakfast.

We loafed the rest of the day, checking out the local restaurants. We found a good one, El Porton, and had a couple of meals there, serenaded by local musicians. At lunch we listened to three young musicians who were so bad we paid them to go away. At dinner there were more proficient entertainers and we decided to buy a CD. The next day we stopped at the Cruz del Sur bus company office and bought our ticket from Arequipa to Puno, staying ahead of the game on logistics. Then we left at 3 PM on the OrmeƱo bus to Arequipa.


The coastal terrain here is amazingly dry. We are used to the desert in Southern California and Baja where there is at least some vegetation. Here there is nothing at all growing. I guess that is why the geoglyphs at Nasca have survived so long. As we got closer to Arequipa and started climbing away from the coast it was dark, which was fortunate because the road is really scary.

We finally arrived in Arequipa at 1:30 am and got to the hotel at 2 am. The night clerk let us in, handed us a key and said please register tomorrow.

The Casa de Melgar is an 18th century residence. The walls are three feet thick, made of big stone blocks our room has a vaulted brick ceiling and is pretty rustic. We love it. This place really has character. Our first day in Arequipa we found a laundry nearby and dropped off most of our clothing. Then we walked around town and decided to take an afternoon bus tour run by the city tourist bureau. It was a four hour tour of the surrounding area and we got a good idea of what life in the suburbs and nearby towns is like. There are practically no tourists here, the advantage of traveling in the off season. The weather is the big disadvantage. We have had a couple of late afternoon showers which have not been bad but the visibility is pretty poor. We haven't been able to see any of the surrounding volcanoes yet.

One afternoon we took the opportunity to visit the Museo Santuarios Andinos, home of Juanita, the ice maiden. Unfortunately, Juanita was not on view (she was undergoing the annual conservation process). However, we did see another frozen mummy and learned about the children who were sacrificed. Much of the farming is on hillside terraces which were originally constructed by the pre-Incas. Our bus to Puno was typical for a first class South American bus. Comfortable seats, movies etc., as well as the national favorite, Inca Kola. We bought a bottle of this in Lima just to see what how it tasted. In my opinion it tastes like bubble gum (Fleers Double Bubble).

One difference in this bus ride was that they asked us to fasten our seat belts. We soon learned why. Let's just say there are a lot of hills and turns between Arequipa and Puno. We climbed from 7,600 feet to nearly 13,000 feet in our five-hour ride.

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