Friday, June 01, 2007

Past Vacations #19: Peru 2006 - Chapter One - Lima

Our last vacation was our best so far. Peru was life altering. I am not exaggerating. We learned so much - about Peru and about ourselves - on this trip. This trip is too much for one post so I will divide it up into several chapters. Chapter One covers our arrival and our first day in Lima, the capital of Peru.

How we chose Peru for our next vacation destination was very convoluted. I started looking at ways to visit Easter Island. After investigating flights and stuff, I decided it was going to be difficult to plan. During my investigation, my target shifted from Easter Island to the Galapagos. That too turned out difficult to fit into our budget and schedule. Then I saw a tour that included the Galapagos and Machu Picchu. This led me to look at Peru. The more I looked at Peru the more I was interested. I discussed this with the wife and the target was set. All our previous vacations had been self planned. Peru was a little too complex ... well, a lot more complex than our other vacations. We decided to visit AAA to enlist their help in planning this trip. Our AAA travel agent gave us a General Tours brochure. After looking through the Peru trips, we decided on exactly what we were looking for: Grandeur Of Peru.

The vacation started with a flight to Lima via Miami. We arrived in Lima late (10-11 PM). We met with our tour guide outside baggage claim. She took us to a van and asked us to wait as there was another party on our flight that had not cleared customs yet. After a very short wait, a family of four (Parents and two older teenage daughters) entered the van. We exchanged greetings. The wife's magic struck again when we discovered that the family was from Sioux City, Iowa where my brother-in-law lives. Later in the trip we discovered that the father is my brother-in-law's veterinarian - It's a Small World after all ...

On the way to our hotel, the guide informed us that the next morning was free. She pointed out nearby restaurants and shopping. She checked us into the hotel and we went to bed. We slept in a little before venturing out to explore the area around the hotel. The hotel was located in a nice commercial area of Lima surrounded by stores and restaurants. All rooms had views of the Pacific Ocean. It was July so it was the middle of winter in Peru. Peru is fairly close to the equator so the temperature was pleasant - in the 60s and 70s. Weather in Lima and most of the coastal areas was overcast - what would be called June Gloom here in southern California. This really didn't detract from the experience.

Early afternoon we met up in the lobby and had our first chance to meet our tour mates. Our tour group was only 20 people. It turns out that everyone got along with everyone very well, everyone was on time, and there were no personality conflicts - great. We boarded a bus where another guide took us around the city. As we drove through Lima, the guide pointed out the Spanish colonial architecture with some of its Moorish influences including the enclosed balconies overhanging the narrow streets. We visited the Cathedral, the San Francisco Convent, and the Rafael Larco Herrera museum. This was a great way to start the tour. We all had time to meet each other and the pace was relaxed. We immersed ourselves in Lima and Peruvian culture.

The Cathedral was impressive. Many of the pictures I took inside did not come out as it was dark and camera flashes were not permitted. We learned how the indigenous people incorporated their religion into the catholic religion introduced by the Spaniards. We learned about Francisco Pizarro, conquerer of the Incan empire and founder of the city of Lima, whose remains are interred at the Cathedral. A beautiful Cathedral.

Next we drove to the nearby Convent of San Francisco. The church/convent is painted a bright yellow. Cameras were not permitted inside. This is unfortunate as the catacombs under the church were fascinating. Bones and skulls were arranged in patterns. I have never been surrounded by so much evidence of death but the fascination of it all overwhelmed all other feelings.

After the convent we went to the Rafael Larco Herrera museum. The museum is full of pottery, textiles, gold, and other artifacts of Incan and pre-Incan civilizations. The warehouses full of pottery was a little surreal. It is fortunate that so much well preserved examples exist for people to study.

We returned to the hotel and that evening we had dinner together at the hotel and learned more about each other. A delightful evening of pleasant conversation and good food. After dinner, our guide told us to pack smaller bags for our trip down south to the Nazca Plain. This caught everyone by surprise. Fortunately for us, we brought two collapsible bags with us, originally intended to hold all the treasures we were going to buy, that were the perfect size for the the one night stay away from Lima. I recommend similar bags when you travel for such unexpected situations.

Here ends Chapter One. Pictures can be found here. I will add pictures as I post each chapter. I took over 550 pictures though I doubt I'll post them all. Coming up in the next chapter: Nazca and the Ballestas Islands.

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