16th July – A surprising change in the weather, overcast and misty, so we are quite pleased that we did not book a boat trip to the Ballestas Islands after visiting the Paracas Reserve. The strong sunlight and blue skies yesterday in the Reserve had highlighted the sands and sea, to visit today would make it look like a different world.
We have only just driven outside of Pisco, when we are pulled over for a police check by an unsmiling officer, so we know immediately that he will be difficult…….and he is. Once he finds our papers are in order, he informs us that our lights were not on, which requires a ticket for 300 soles. Our lights we tell him, were on and we show him the switch but he is not convinced. We fortunately don’t fully understand all that he is saying and he soon realises this….we finally get an unsmiling ‘tabien’ (OK) from him and drive on.
Fields of maize, cotton and orange groves at Chincha, another big farming area spread along the valley. All the river beds are dry as we cross the bridges, a similar story for some time now. More police by the roadside, they are out in force this morning along this busy stretch of road that will take us into Lima.
We stop for lunch in a supermarket car park where I spot a thin puppy. Bill goes back into the shop to buy him a tin of cat food for kittens – small pieces of meat in gravy, which we give him with some water. These dogs have such a hard life and there are so many wandering the streets…..it is all very sad.
Further on, long wooden sheds covered in sacking, house rows and rows of chickens raised off the ground…..also very sad to think of the conditions they are managing to survive in. The desert here is unattractive and colourless and housing is poor, many like ‘the little pig’s house of sticks’. A number of tiny, tiny brick houses are being built ,like a housing estate in the desert – just two tiny rooms each side of the door. Others are put together from simple, woven matting pieces that the wind is tearing apart. A peaje for 11 soles must mean we are now on the motorway. Chicken houses everywhere – the smell is strong, people spraying their crops without face protection….all very dismal and we are heading for the capital city which will be full of traffic, fumes and chaos. The sun hasn’t managed to break through at all today ….the sky remaining a leaden grey.
By late afternoon we have survived the sprawling, city suburbs and arrive at the Backpackers Hostel in the neighbourhood of Miraflores. This has a very small, concrete yard in which overland vehicles can park and camp.
17th – 30th July – People begin going in and out of the small gate next to us long before daylight. The morning is overcast and heavy with sea mist and the constant traffic on the other side of the wall is very noisy, fumes hanging in the air and unlikely to disperse in this weather. We are not to see blue sky or the sun again before we leave! However, the people here are incredibly helpful as always, the showers are lovely and hot and the backpackers are a really nice crowd. There is a lounge to sit in with wifi and a kitchen if required, When a huge Man truck arrives and then our South African friends with their 130 Land Rover, there are 5 vehicles and we are squashed like sardines ……. but a good atmosphere.
We soon discover that this is a very convenient place to be based, as many places are within walking distance including some of the main shopping areas. There is a convenient place to take laundry (as clothes simply don’t dry in this still, damp sea air), nearby cafes and restaurants and a very well-stocked supermarket, which I presume reflects the expectations of the local residents – Miraflores being a prosperous area in which to live. It is also only a short walk to the sea front where paragliders soar just above the high-rise flats and out across the ocean.
From the cliff tops overlooking the Pacific Ocean there are far-reaching views and wet-suited surfers are still braving the waves. We discover this cliff top walk to be a popular place with bikers, skaters, joggers or just strollers. The historic pier juts out into the ocean which has a popular restaurant specialising in seafood.
We pass the pretty Parque de Amor (or Love Park), devoted to the old Peruvian custom of courting in public gardens. In the middle of this is a giant statue of a kissing couple – El Beso, or The Kiss by sculptor Victor Delfin.
Couples can sit on a serpentine mosaic bench, embedded with names and love notes.
Further along the sea front we reach Larcomar, a very popular cliff top shopping mall with many luxury shops and excellent restaurants. From here heading away from the sea, we soon arrive at the main shopping streets and the very popular Parque Kennedy area, with many cafes and restaurants overlooking pavements lined with colourful art work and craft markets.
There are reminders of Lima’s pre-Inca past all over the city in the form of sacred, adobe huacas – also referred to as pyramids. The Huaca Pucllana in Miraflores, constructed by the Lima Culture which dominated the area from between 200 and 700 AD, is within walking distance and makes an interesting visit. We join a guided tour around this particular Huaca, which represented a large and important religious and government centre. Unlike the Inca people who worshipped the sun, these people worshipped the sea as they hardly ever saw the sun…….we know how they felt!
Much of the pottery in the little museum, showed decorations influenced by life in the sea.
An enormous amount of mud bricks were made from earth, sand and broken shells and these were cleverly arranged in a ‘bookshelf’ design to withstand tremors and hopefully, stronger earthquakes.
At the top of the large pyramid, sacrificial ceremonies would have taken place. The unfortunate, chosen person would have been given a liquid to drink from the tall cactus plant San Pedro, to induce hallucinations before being stoned and dismembered – a ritual that was believed necessary as an offering for the Gods!
Women who had already produced babies were often chosen, as this culture had a strong belief in fertility, in fact women occupied important roles in the Lima Culture. Other offerings were also made to the Gods such as frogs, as they represented moisture and humidity.
When people died they were put in a foetal position, wrapped in cloth and bound with ropes. Offerings were also put inside the burial place, as the Lima Culture also had a strong belief in life after death.
A vegetable garden showed the types of plants that would have been grown, which included sweet potato, quinoa, beans and maize. LLama, alpaca, guinea pigs and ducks were reared for meat, aloe plants for medicinal purposes and another plant for making rope. It is an interesting visit and our guide is excellent.
Visiting the main, historical centre of Lima requires a taxi however. Founded in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro, Lima is known as the ‘City of Kings’, and its main square – Plaza Mayor or the Plaza de Armas, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the largest squares in South America with many important religious and government buildings and Its colonial architecture with beautiful wooden balconies, are a distinguishing feature of the old city.
Peru is prone to earthquakes and Lima has endured its fair share over the centuries. The Catedral with its twin towers, has been constructed several times because of earthquakes.
The beautiful, yellow and white restored church of San Francisco has a monastery and a network of eerie catacombs which were used as a cemetery during the colonial period.
The original Palacio del Gobierno was built on the site of Pizarro’s adobe house but was destroyed once again by an earthquake. The present building was only built in 1938 and a changing of the guard takes place outside daily.
It has been a good stay here at the Hostel….a very civilised time, with lovely shops to look at, well-stocked supermarkets, strolls along the cliff tops and excellent restaurants, not forgetting ‘Dunkin Doughnuts’, Holly’s Coffee and being able to buy fresh fish!
The weather however, requires some getting used to. When the cold Humboldt current meets the warmer waters of the Pacific, it creates a blanket of mist that envelopes everything for days/weeks on end.
We have managed to find many things that we needed however, (some more of a struggle than others), and which only a big city can provide, some of the most important being small gas bottles, a battery for our laptop, new glasses for Bill, new jeans for me (the last shop finally came up trumps), oil and air filters for Moby and original LR brake-pads from the Land Rover agent in Lamolina.
Most important of all however, was a new set of BF Goodrich mud tyres from Casoli in Miraflores which Nikola Pachas from the Land Rover CLub of Lima helped us to get at a good price…..many thanks indeed. We can certainly recommend Casoli to other travellers. Finding 4 tyres with the same date stamped on them was no easy task, but the staff were incredibly patient and helpful, particularly Junior who was determined to find us what we wanted and finally came up with 2 tyres stamped 2011 and 2 more with a late 2010 stamp. Many thanks Junior, it was a pleasure to know you and we hope you and your family are all well.
And so Moby has his ‘new shoes’ at just the right time, as the next part of our journey will surely be over some rough roads in Peru’s spectacular mountain ranges – The Cordilleras Blanca and Negra.