Wednesday, December 30

A day in Lima

After making it safely to Lima around 11:30 am, the next bus for Huaraz didn't leave for another eight hours. We took the opportunity to explore the capital city's downtown and catch up with one of Sergio's cousins.

Lima is a sore on the eyes, for the most part. A gray cloud (a mix of ocean fog and trapped pollution) hangs over the city. Author Mario Vargas Llosa once called Lima's sky la panza del burro or the mule's belly. Lima is a desert surrounded by desert hills, and supported only by the Rimac river that passes through it. Francisco Pizarro first called this capital he founded La Ciudad de los Reyes (The City of Kings). Looking at it's environment, I really can't imagine why.

Actually, at the height of Spanish colonization, Lima was the center of the Spanish Viceroyalty in the Americas. Then, when Peru won independence in 1821, it became the country's capital. The city maintained a colonial beauty renowed across South America until an earthquake in 1940 destroyed a large part of it and pollution and congestion started to clog it.

Today, the city is home to 8 million people, 30 percent of Peru's population. Most of the city's inhabitants came in waves of internal immigration from the highlands. Driving into the bus terminal, we saw the outer suburbs, most of them once pueblos jovenes (shantytowns) that have now been officially incorporated. Even further outside of that is a ring of shantytowns, houses made with spare tires, plywood and fenced in by a square of small rocks.

I spent one day in Lima on my arrival to Peru, but I only visited the nice coastal parks. This time, we went to the central plaza. While downtown was definitely more orderly than the city's outskirts, I could see a contrast between the Spanish legacy and globalization's influence.

A few blocks away from the plaza we found this giant supermarket...
...and just caddycorner from it, a worn-down colonial-style building.
On the east side of the Plaza de Armas itself is executive building, La Casa de Pizarro, where President Alan Garcia watches over his country.We took a rest downtown at a pollo a la brasa chain called Norky's. Peruvians love their chicken with french fries, as Norky's industrial kitchen shows:After lunch, we caught up with Sergio's cousin Yanira and followed her to Callao, another important area of Lima. Originally, it was the city's port and a wealthy area. Some parts of Callao are still nice, but like many port towns, not all of it is safe. Yanira told us that a few years ago, no one went to Callao because the drug-related crime was rampant on the streets.

Just before getting on the bus at 10 pm, Yanira took us to see the movie Avatar for $1.30 each at a pretty nice theatre--a tenth of what most Americans surely paid to see a huge box office hit. To be fair, though, I watched it in Spanish without subtitles.

We'll be back to Lima on Friday, January 9, to pick up my mom and head back to Arequipa. In the meantime, though, I was happy to get out from under the mule's belly and into the fresh mountain air of Huaraz.

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