Editors note: This is part one of a three part series on their visit to Peru.
World travelers Marv & Carole Feldman. Photo provided by Marv Feldman.
Some 14+ years ago, we made our first trip to Andean Peru, visiting Lake Titicaca, Cusco and Machu Picchu – a fantastic trip in itself. But the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru were terrorizing and kidnapping foreigners in other parts of the country, including Lima. We chose not to head in that direction but always yearned to return to Peru. Since that first trip in 1997, we have made several journeys to South America (which we love) and it was time for us to return. The political landscape of Latin America changes quickly and for the past several years, tourists have returned to Lima and other parts of Peru.
We thought of taking a military Space-A flight, but there were none available. Once in a while, there are flights from Charleston AFB, SC, to South America (we took one to Ecuador a few years ago), but none in sight at this time, so we booked the lowest cost commercial flights available on the Internet.
It only took a few hours in front of our home computer to organize flights and an initial hotel in Lima. We planned to stay in Peru for a month, with no set itinerary but with our trusty Lonely Planet – Peru as our guidebook. With less than 24 hours preparation, we were on our way. After a two-hour drive from Jacksonville, FL, we flew out of Orlando to Lima, via San Salvador, El Salvador, on TACA Airlines – great service!! By the way, TACA’s prices were more than $500 cheaper then American Airlines!
After an eight-hour journey, with no jet lag (Lima is in the same time zone as Jacksonville), we were in Lima! Carole recently read Hammond Innes’ classic work on the Conquistadors so the Peru trip, beginning in Lima, was perfect. Just as St. Augustine, FL, was the capital of Spanish North America, Lima was the capital of Spanish South America.
On our first full day in Lima, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast of tropical fruits and other temptations in the flower-filled, open-air patio of our charming small hotel the Casa Sam Martin Miraflores. Duly refreshed, we investigated and enrolled in a one-week, 20-hour, private, Spanish-language course at a school which, coincidentally, was just steps from our hotel.
After lunch, we enjoyed a one-hour tour of the fashionable beach-side suburb of Miraflores, where we stayed. We took in the elegant residences; classical government buildings; archaeological digs dating back to pre-Inca times; and the stunning vistas from the Malecon promenade, high on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We concluded our day at dinner in a typical Peruvian neighborhood restaurant with a new acquaintance we’d just met on this trip.
Traveling further afield the next day, we took a morning tour of the city. Lima, with its population of some nine million, is a capital of “haves and have nots” – i.e.: there are magnificent areas with stylish boutiques, superb buildings, enormous parks and plazas – and then there are slums. This brief tour gave us a quick panoramic snapshot and fortunately, since we were in Lima for some time, we had the chance later to explore these areas in depth.
While on our bus tour of Central Lima, we took in the enormous main square (Plaza de Armas) with the President’s Palace, Archbishop’s Palace and the fabulous Lima Cathedral. The 16th Century Cathedral (the oldest in Latin America) was considered the “Vatican” of the Continent. Here is buried Francisco Pizarro, Conqueror of the Incas and founder of the city of Lima. While most of the Cathedral was destroyed in a massive 17th Century earthquake (which also destroyed 90 percent of the city), it has been rebuilt over the years. Its interior is filled with gold and silver and interestingly, most of the newer construction (statues, columns, ceiling) are made of plaster-covered wood, giving the edifice elasticity to survive this earthquake-prone environment.
While Peru supposedly is the gourmet food capital of South America, some of our best meals would be “executive lunches” at little nooks where locals eat delicious food about $3 (US) each. Also, no trip to Peru would be complete without drinking a Pisco Sour, a potent cocktail which Peruvians (and Chileans) claim to have invented – we downed one with gusto!
We got into the rhythm of Lima over the weekend when we joined thousands of locals (“Limenos”), enjoying the weather on a sunny Saturday. Not far from our hotel were the stunning views over the cliffs to the Pacific beaches below. We spent a few pleasant hours in the unusual upscale shopping centre of LarcoMar, carved out of the side of the cliff. Here, gourmet restaurants and exclusive boutiques sat side by side with little food courts. All of this was underground, only open on the cliff side.
Marv Feldman stands in Lima’s Plaza de Armas in the square near the Lima Cathedral. Photo by Carole Feldman.
On Sunday, we returned to Lima’s impressive main square, Plaza de Armas, for a more detailed look around the area. From the Cathedral emanated heavenly voices of the choir singing at Sunday services. When they finished at noon, the band of the guard at the Presidential Palace on the other side of the square began playing – imagine our surprise when we heard the U.S. Marine Corps’ hymn made famous by John Phillip Sousa! The daily Changing of the Guard took place immediately afterwards, with soldiers in smart, crisp uniforms, and much pomp and ceremony.
While in the area of Colonial Lima we visited a most unusual small Museum of Gastronomy and Peruvian Indigenous Foods (e.g. quinoa, potatoes, etc.). A light, entertaining contrast with the heavy and disturbing museum to follow – the Museum of the Inquisition – graphically showing torture instruments and drawings and paintings of executions by fire (autos-da-fe). Yes, for centuries, the Spanish Inquisition had a wide web which was busy dealing with non-Catholics in Peru, as well as the rest of the Spanish Empire.
Spanish Language School
For many years, Marvin wanted to learn Spanish. In high school, he took a couple of courses, but this was unfulfilling because it was insufficient for him to communicate with Spanish-speaking people. After several years of studying the Pimsleur’s CD oral/listening language package together at home, both of us mastered the basics, but still lacked the skills we wanted. In our travels to Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries, we spoke Spanish every day. GREAT! We found that we could communicate with locals. We really needed to travel to a Spanish-speaking country and take a one-week intensive private language course. On this trip, we did just that and noticed a big improvement in our skills. While we have no “bragging rights” to claim fluency, we were getting there.
Our five day, 20-hour private course was entertaining, fascinating, and fulfilling. The two teachers we had were very professional, patient and helpful and we were given exactly what we wanted. In addition, we attended cultural activates offered by the school – a lecture (in Spanish) on the history and culture of Peru and a little cooking demonstration and tasting of two local specialties (Ceviche, or marinated raw fish, and Pisco Sour).
For variety, we spent our second week in Lima in the new Ibis Hotel, in another part of the pleasant suburb of Miraflores. This hotel is familiar to us as we have stayed in many Ibis Hotels (part of the French Accor chain) around the world – a great find. We booked a “manager’s special” resulting in our paying for a stay of six nights for the price of four! Terrific value.
Our next stop was at the fabulous Gold Museum of Peru. Privately owned, the museum was once accused of displaying fakes and closed for a while, but now, all seems to be bona fide. There was no doubt that the Museum’s gold (and silver) collections from pre-Columbian times and into the Spanish Colonial period were jaw-dropping, extraordinary and exceptionally well-preserved. While it is a pity that 16th Century Spanish Conquistadors stripped every ounce of gold they could find, it was fortuitous that much of the golden treasures of Peru were well-hidden for centuries, to be admired now.
Carole Feldman among the dancers in a park in Lima, Peru. Photo by Marv Feldman.
After lunch at an atmospheric Lima restaurant, dating back to 1905 and boasting of having fed every Peruvian President since then (the Presidential Palace is just across the street), we headed to the nearby Monastery and Church of San Francisco, passing several of Lima’s beautiful 18th Century colonial mansions en route. A fascinating tour took us through this Dominican structure with 16th Century staircases that survived numerous earthquakes. We were also taken to see its remarkable library of 25,000 priceless antique texts as well as its underground catacombs (once the cemetery for 75,000 Lima Catholics) with bones and skulls neatly stacked under the entire complex – a ghoulish sight!
Before returning to our hotel, we gave a tourist policeman an English lesson and he, in turn, told us several jokes to “practice” his English.
Perfect weather continued as we kept discovering new and fascinating parts of Lima. While there are countless museums in this huge city, we chose several which were of interest to us and we were delighted. Our month long, unstructured stay rewarded us with an in-depth view of and appreciation for Peru.
The National Anthropology, Archaeology and History Museum of Peru, in a building which in the 1820’s was the home (at different times) of the country’s revolutionary/independence heroes San Martin and Bolivar, and was marvelous. Marvin particularly enjoyed the displays on the culture (thousands of years old) of the numerous early peoples up to the Spanish Colonial period, while Carole found Peru’s turbulent history since the beginnings of the Republic equally enjoyable. At a 19th Century mansion (The Pedro de Osma Museum) in the “bohemian” suburb of Barranco, we visited an exquisite collection of art, silverwork and furniture housed in a building with superb details and beautiful stained-glass windows.
We became quite adept at using Lima’s transportation. From negotiating fares with taxi drivers (Peru’s taxis do not have fare meters) to jumping on various types of crowded buses where “conductors” yell out destinations, we went on wild (and cheap) rides, entertained by loud music, and easily reached our destinations.
Two lovely districts, adjacent to Miraflores, gave contrasts. San Isidro, where many embassies, large companies and banks are located, is an upscale area with tree- and flower-lined streets, elegant boutiques and top restaurants (we lunched at a wonderful Mexican one).
After lunch, we took a stroll in the tranquil Olive Park, originally planted with olive trees in the 17th Century. At the turn of the 20th Century, the little town of Barranco was “the” place to be. Many of its grand old homes, near the elegant main plaza, have been turned into gorgeous restaurants and cafes. We even took a private ride on a tram which rumbled on tracks down a cobblestone street. Not far away, we crossed its Bridge of Sighs, popular with couples and the inspiration for many a Peruvian folk song, high over a flower-filled stairway which leads to the beach far below. A lunch stop here gave us a delicious barbecued fresh fish meal, splendid views of the ocean and hang gliders who swooped perilously low over our heads!
The view from Lima – Carole Feldman overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Photo by Marv Feldman.
Returning to Barranco on Sunday, we saw huge crowds gathered for Palm Sunday (and the beginning of Catholic Holy Week) services at churches everywhere. At the formal ceremonies in central Barranco, everyone (from street sweepers, garbage collectors, uniformed school children, firemen and police to the mayor – who wore an impressive sash across his suit – and his entourage) held palm fronds and celebrated this important day.
If anyone has any questions, we will be happy to respond to emails. Also, we have built a Kodak Internet slide show which takes about 13 minutes to view and will be happy to send this to anyone who makes this request to us by email.
Thanks again for coming along! Happy traveling!
Col. Marvin Feldman, USAF, retired and Carole Feldman Jacksonville, FL email@example.com
Reprint from July-Aug 2012 • Volume 42, No. 4