Friday, April 11, 2008

My Peruvian Spring Break Part One: Lima

Our Spring Break excursion started out with class and, once it got rolling, never looked back! On Thursday after lunch we got picked up from the Casa by Remise, a kind of taxi that you can order before hand. We stepped out the door to see 4 jet-black vehicles with our sunglassed and suited drivers awaiting: we felt like we were being driven to the airport by the secret service! The flight itself was uneventful, thankfully, but we did have some trouble in the Lima Airport connecting with the van that was supposed to take us to our hostel. Usually you get something arranged beforehand because the Lima airport is notorious for having taxis sitting outside with bad intentions… We made it safely to our hostel and collapsed into our small, but comfortable beds.

Also important to note, we withdrew some Peruvian currency in the airport. They are called “Nuevo Soles”, or just “soles”. Singular it’s “sol”, or sun, which sounds very similar as one might imagine to the English “soul”. The rest of the trip was filled with puns about people owing each other their souls, or how the dinner cost me my soul. Very entertaining!

The next day we woke up and took a taxi downtown to the main square, Plaza de Armas, and toured the area. We paid for an English tour of the nearby Franciscan Cathedral which is also famous for the catacombs that lie beneath the building. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an actual human skull in real life before and I couldn’t help but shudder when we were taken by a neatly arranged pile of them. After that we walked back to the Plaza to await the changing of the guard which happens everyday at noon at the government palace located on the main square. Looking around at some of the other churches, we ran into the rest of our group which had stayed in a hotel the night before. The fanfare that goes into the changing of the guard is pretty extensive and I am amazed that they do it everyday. A band comes out and plays and the ordeal involves many soldiers in historic garb high stepping to the beat of the drums. It was also interesting to see the contrast between the historic soldiers and the actual military/police in camo that were guarding the politic area.

For lunch, we walked down toward the Plaza de San Marin looking for a restaurant serving ceviche, or cebiche, a famous Puruvian dish made from raw fish essentially “cooked” or pickled in lemon juice. We found a restaurant on the square itself serving an entre and an appetizer and drink for 6 soles. The fish was very good but had an interesting texture considering it isn’t cooked. After our food adventure, we took a taxi to the Museum of Art. The way they had it displayed was very interesting: you enter to see the pre-Colombian art first and move through history. As the Spanish conquered the area they forced their artistic ideas upon the native artists completely changing their form of expression from ceramics, metal work, and textiles to painting. It continued into modern day artists and it was very cool to see actual works from Peruvian painters.

Once outside, we were greeted by the chorus of car, taxi, and bus horns that were our constant companion while in the city of Lima. I’ve mentioned this before, but the traffic of Lima is supposed to be the craziest in all of Latin America. It was here that we witnessed a man try to slash the tires of a taxi next to him on the road…while driving! Another funny site to see in the streets were human traffic lights. A person would sit/stand on a platform at an intersection and actually direct the traffic.

Later that night, after returning to our hostel for some relaxation before another planned gathering with the entire group, one of my friends, Sarah, and I went out for a walk along the ocean’s edge. Now I didn’t say “beach,” because the shoreline of Lima is kind of interesting. The buildings and path on which we walked are above the beach on a sort of bank. The beach in the Miraflores area (the neighborhood that we were in) is also made entirely of small stones, very different than any other ocean shore I’ve ever been to. As we walked we were able to see surfers in the waves, parachute ride things, a famous park with “Love Mosaics”, and some pretty cool statues. The sunset over the horizon was very beautiful and it was hard to pull ourselves away to go to the next thing.

For dinner we caught a taxi to the hotel our friends were staying at downtown and walked to a nearby Chili’s restaurant for dinner. You have no idea how much people can miss chips and salsa when you go out to eat, but let me tell you, once you don’t have it for 3 months, it’s pretty nice. The food was very good and the atmosphere very conducive to conversation and having a good time. Then, my roommate Mark has a tradition of taking pictures at Starbuck’s coffee shops that he finds in foreign countries that he and his parents travel to. After that, it was back to the hostel for a much needed night of sleep. However, to our dismay, it was even hotter than the night before, and sleep was hard to come by.

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