Saturday, 5 February 2011

Lovely, languishable Lima

Feeling that we were still running out of time if we ever wanted to make it to Argentina and Brazil before our departure date, we decided to skip the rest of northern Peru and to instead join the gringo trail starting with the very likable city of Lima.

But isn't Lima far away from Mancora and the Ecuadorian border? And isn't Peru a rather huge country, bigger than we had ever imagined?
Yes, indeed! This is where I fell more or less in love with the Peruvian buses. I think they must be the most comfortable and clean buses that I have ever travelled in. Ok, not all admittedly, but we decided to splurge a bit for this 18h bus ride and went for the top of the top, Cruz del Sur and were very happy with our choice as the 4 movies shown, the food (as very economic flight food of semi-good quality) served, the comfortable seats that actually allowed us some 7h of sleep, and the magic landscapes outside of the windows made the trip pass fairly quickly. I have been missing this company ever since. Once you taste quality and comfort it is so much more difficult to go back!

I have read and heard quite a few very negative accounts of Lima, including in a book by Lydia Laube, an Austrialian travel writer who seems fairly well-travelled (but then again, she also completely warns about Cartagena and we loved that city), about how dirty, dangerous and unfriendly it is. But I really liked it. It was probably the first metropol during my 5 months of travelling where I felt that I could really live and work for a couple of years (Havana came close but it feels like it would be impossible to get a job there). This huge city approximating the population of Sweden at around 9 million people lies between the surrounding desert and the pacific ocean, with a lovely colonial old town and areas with beautiful views of the ocean and sunsets.

Don't take me wrong, I do understand that Lima has quite a lot of problems as some neighbourhoods where we were warned not to walk through, not even during the middle of the day, are clear evidence off. And it was indeed dirty in some places, and highly polluted everywhere (but then in what big city in Latin America do you not walk around choking on the exhaustion fumes?). But for me it felt good.

I liked the dynamic feeling of the city. I loved the closeness to the ocean. I liked the temperature, warmer than all the highland cities that we have visited (it seems like many of the most important cities in Latin America are built high up - probably to get away from the sometime crushing heat of the lowlands, but with the result that you freeze your arse off most of the time), but less hot than up in Mancora for example.

I guess I like metropoles and cities which many people seem to dislike. Before going to Athens for the first time, I was warned about how dirty that city was - but I feel instantly in love with it. The same thing before going to Beijing, another place that a lot of people really seem to dislike and where I was left wondering how I could find a job there for a couple of years as I truly fell in love with this huge, polluted, overpopulated but beautiful Chinese capital.

Perhaps the fact that we stayed in one of the nicer neighbourhoods, Barranco, in a French-Peruvian owned hostel (so, I was easily understood for once), a place where it felt safe to walk around quite late at night and which was close to the ocean, perhaps this helped colouring my view of the city. But then again, the place was probably coloured a bit more negative as Nuno got sick as we arrived and stayed sick for the short two days that we had in the city (and on for more than two weeks after, to be followed by me 3 days later - surviving Central Americ, Colombia and Ecuador without any problem, it was highly touristy and more developed Peru that finally got us, and the bug continued all through Bolivia as well).

The first day therefore started with a slow walk around Barranco, before we dared to venture onto the public transportation system (it was really quite an easy experience as they have something like tram-buses running on a dinstintive road, much like in Quito) and go into the centre of the city.
SantaClaus trapped in a buiding

A slow walk around the old town later, we hopped on a minibus up to El mirador del cerro san cristobal (the neighbourhood between the old town and the mirador is one of those that should not be tried by tourists on foot) for a beautiful view over the whole city. And with a bit of luck timing-wise, we got there right in time for the sunset!

An absolut must when visiting Lima, although the following hour standing in line to get a seat back down again (for some reason the buses up were less in demand than the buses down) could have been skipped, but feels like a fairly normal occasion in this region where things rarely run according to plan.

Due to this delay, we never made it to a park where a fountain light show is shown every night, but rather flagged down a taxi to bring us back to the hostel for a nice night's sleep in a real bed.

The second day was spent exploring our neighbourhood of Barranco and the next-door neighbourhood of Miraflores (one of the most wealthy neighbourhoods in Lima) and there beautiful ocean views a bit further. Walking on the cliffs above the coastline, I used the time dreaming abouth which of the apartments for rent might suite us the best ;)


Our walk brought us to a fairly bizarre concotation in Miraflores. A kind of super US-inspired shopping mall with all kinds of fast food chains, a big cinema complex, huge rooms filled with computerised gamed and all kinds of 'Western-brands' shops. But all this was set in this beautifully located building climbing up the cliff side, overlooking the ocean and one of the best views to see the sunset in the whole city.

So we enjoyed the sunset, enjoyed looking at the free demonstration of how the local women weave their clothes in one of the main shops, and enjoyed a donut with loads of toppings from Donkin' Donuts - a very popular chain across Latin America.

A very short stay in this big city, but a lovely stay albeit all. 

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