Our first week in South America, in Lima the capital of Peru, is over, and fascinating & challenging it was too! Lima is enormous, think of London and double the size & population; then quadruple the noise & traffic congestion (& pollution). For us it was hot & sunny, and dry, although it’s said to be humid, although it hardly ever rains – water is a massive problem. There’s some pics below, click to enlarge.
We stayed in a small hotel on a main street running through the neighbourhood (or ‘barrio’) of Peublo Libre, which turned out to be 8 lanes of almost constant traffic. It was about 7km south of the main airport, with Lima central a further 7km to the east of us, and Miraflores the prominent tourist & middle class barrio that runs down to the sea, some 8km further to the south. Pueblo Libre is described by the ‘Rough Guide to Peru’ (2014, p76) as ‘relatively insalubrious’, in fact it’s a largely aspirational working class area, with some middle class parts to the east around the Museo Larco & Avenida Bolivia, and some other parts of absolute poverty. To the west of us was the barrio of San Miguel, with a huge new shopping ‘mall’, equally mixed & aspirational. Staying here was in fact a great introduction to the reality of life for most Peruvians, and we are glad we didn’t cop out for the easy life of staying in Miraflores – where many tourists go & don’t venture out of.
We saw no other tourists (or ‘gringos’) in Pueblo Libre, and the vast majority living here were darker skinned (ie indigenous), but we generally passed by uncommented on, and felt fine, although we did watch our walking routes after dark. By being based here we were forced to use the network of micros & combi-collectives (minibuses & small busses of 8 to 34 seats + same amount standing), which in general got us everywhere we wanted for about 2Soles a journey (£1 = 4.1Soles) in around 1 hour, compared to say a taxi which would’ve been maybe 20+Soles. The micros & combis are a thing of beauty, thrill & terror, where every ride feels like it could be your last, and we were never 100% sure exactly what the route was – you need some Spanish & a decent idea of the city geography to use them, so naturally the first few days were a real challenge, as was trying to get off the crowded vehicles when you half-recognised the stop! Generally people on them were friendly, if a little surprised to see us, and the conductors were quite helpful. The website ‘Ruta Recomendables‘ gives some insight, espcially the ‘combi jargon‘ section.
7 days in Lima was just a drop in the ocean in terms of getting to know the place, indeed we traversed no more than a quarter of the city, and got nowhere near the outer regions where millions live in poverty in shanty towns. But in just the fraction we saw, the historic & extreme wealth inequality present in Peru was there for all to see, as were the class & race divisions in who did what work – the lighter your skin, the more ‘Spanish’ you were, and the further up the ladder you went, right to the very top. This of course is also true right across Latin America. Lima is also full of history & culture, with improved technology revealing more and more about its pre-Spanish, and pre-Inca, stories.
You can learn much about a place by just walking around & sitting in public places, observing & interacting, Lima is also full of fascinating places to see. Here’s the 3 we enjoyed most in our short stay: Museo Larco – less for its ceramic pottery, more for its introduction to the tribes of what is now Peru, dating back to around 2000BC; Huaca Pucllana – a pre-Inca admin, ceremonial & burial site dating back to around 500AD and still being excavated; Catacombs of Iglesia de San Francisco – no zombies thankfully amongst the 25000 followers of St.Francis buried under the church up until 1820. The later 2 offered good tours in English, while the Museo had multi-lingual displays.
So yes do go to Lima, with your eyes wide open, and be prepared to get out of the tourist ghetto to get a real feel for the place!