At first glance, Lima looks nothing more than a sprawling city clinging precariously to dusty cliffs, engulfed by the vast shanty towns that overspill into the surrounding hills.
It’s for this very reason that most travellers simply pass through the city. Thankfully we were stranded there over the weekend in order to get our visa for Cuba which meant that we were forced to peel back the layers and enjoy the many different areas beyond the usual historic centre.
The Spanish founded Lima in 1533 naming it the City of Kings; making it their viceregal capital. Strictly speaking they re-founded it since there was an adobe indigenous settlement of over 200,000 people prior to their arrival. However as you can imagine given the importance of the city, a series of mud shacks simply wasn’t the correct image, so the city was completely rebuilt with some of the finest colonial squares, palaces and mansions.
Despite being devastated by multiple disastrous earthquakes as well as being ransacked by Chile during the War of the Pacific (1879-83) it remains truthful to the image its founding fathers had aspired it to be.
Luckily for us it was the city’s 479th anniversary that weekend which meant the Plaza de Armas transformed into an explosion of colour and music demonstrating Peruvian culture at its best.
In an attempt to be more factually correct, it was really only lucky for Andre and Helen since I was sick in bed for the best part of 48 hours, missing the entire celebrations thanks to a seafood Chinese meal at one of the many chifa restaurants in Chinatown.
To be fair, the food was actually amazing and cheap as chips; it was simply a bad judgement from my part to go for the seafood.
Since the city is so huge, getting around by foot is impossible (outside of the historical centre); with taxi rides being quite pricey we were delighted to discover a brand spanking new train line which was completely free in a bid to get the locals more familiar with using it. Given the novelty of actually using a train the locals seemed to ride it just for fun, taking pictures along the way, which obviously included pictures with the 6’5 blonde gringo that has hair on his legs!
The instruction leaflets handed out when you entered a station were equally amusing.
The city is playing catch up with its infrastructure since its population has dramatically ballooned from 600,000 in the 1940s to over 9 million today. A result of the influx of poor rural families seeking a better life, explaining the huge shantytowns that hold this otherwise beautiful city to ransom.
The area of San Isidro is home to just about every embassy; as with most other cities this area was like being in another country, full of modern buildings and beautiful country clubs with a thriving (and clearly wealthy) expat community.
The areas of Miraflores and Barranco which hug the cost line feel more like L.A than Peru. Obviously where the rich and famous live, these areas are full of swanky Michelin restaurants, clubs and shopping malls to appease the sea-view penthouse types as well as the American tourists!
The city is also rich in culture with hundreds of museums and galleries that can rival any other major city in the world.
Our favourite was the Museo de la Nacion which housed one of the most moving exhibitions I have ever been too; a must see for anyone going to Lima.The building itself is a great example 70s architecture with the harsh concrete rooms of the 6th floor being a sobering backdrop for the permanent installation called Yuyanapaq.
With most of our time sent in the above mentioned districts it’s easy to forget that Peru is still one of the poorest countries’ on the continent with the average Peruvian earning a mere $2 a day. Yuyanapaq brought the harsh reality of Peru’s tragic resent history crashing home. The name comes from the Quechua language meaning “to remember”and is a photography exhibition created by Peru’s Truth &Reconciliation Commission as a tribute to the internal conflict between 1980 and 2000.
It was the first symbolic reparation which played a significant role in the long road to national reconciliation. Any community that comes out of a history of violence faces, several dilemmas, one that is inevitable and radical:to remember and forget. However the expression on most rural people’s faces leads me to believe that things have not yet been forgotten and the 70,000 people who died have left behind a legacy of widows and orphans that will forever remember the atrocities that occurred during that period.
If you have been completely oblivious to Peru’s very recent history; which I was, I urge you to do some research on the origins of the conflict. Even after learning about it as I have, I find it hard to draw any conclusions or opinions as to who was is the right or who was in the wrong. It’s a complex and delicate history that is born from the discrimination of the indigenous people who although started with the most noble of intentions ended in tragedy for everyone. The sad thing is that in spite of all the bloodshed this discrimination is still ever-present in Peru today.
On a more lighter note the other standout museum was the MALI (Museo de Arte de Lima) which had a particularly insightful exhibition by Fernando Brice called drawings of modern history.
If these establishments weren’t enough to appease our thirst for culture enlightenment, our hostel (Hotel Espana) felt like a museum since it is an old mansion stuffed full of baroque art and the most stunning garden roof deck with what seemed like a whole zoo running around freely