Sunday, 27 April 2008

The flight to Lima was uneventful, once we got on it. We spent a little too much time working on the computer and playing games, not realizing the security gate had been opened, and once we boarded our plane, just fifteen minutes before takeoff, it was almost entirely full. We made it, that’s all that matters! Once we got to Lima we met Betty, our guide for the city tour. We passed through what she called a “shanty town” as we drove away from the airport, made up mostly of immigrants from the mountains of Peru, living in humble homes that were half finished and poorly constructed. She explained that these immigrants often start making money by selling things in the streets, once they make some money they might buy a car or bus to taxi people through the city. There is no public transportation in Lima, they rely entirely on these privately owned taxis and minibuses to get their eight million citizens around.

She lamented the road construction which seems to be going on throughout the entire city, in preparation for a huge meeting of leaders from many countries that border the Pacific. It seems they began these preparations a little too late and are now scrambling to get things done and put their best face forward. Betty explained that Lima was once a very dirty and dangerous city. As we drove through the downtown area we passed condemned building after condemned building, pretty colonial storefronts or hotels or homes that are now boarded up with broken windows. This downtown area was once a place where tourists stayed, but there were many street vendors just outside the hotel doors, and then criminals. It got so dangerous, the tourists wouldn’t leave the hotels, they eventually had to close.

Things are on the upswing, the previous mayor began cleaning up the city, forbidding street vendors in the downtown areas, encouraging people to plant flower “billboards” on the sides of highways, corporate names emblazoned in pansies or vinca, and bringing life back into the old, colonial buildings. The history of Lima is interesting, while Cusco has many Incan descendents still inhabiting the city, the city of Lima was colonized by the Spanish and was not an important Incan stronghold. Most of the current residents are descendents of these Spaniards, Lima was once a very important city due to its port. One of its main exports? Guano, bird poop. Peru exported it by the ton to other countries, which used it for fertilizer and making gunpowder.

We drove around the city, listening to the history, stopping in the main square where music blared from a nearby club and families congregated to stroll. Some of the buildings bordering the square were painted bright gold, one of the buildings was adorned with intricately carved enclosed balconies. This is something Lima is known for, these beautiful balconies, it is one of the things the previous mayor restored in his efforts to revive the city’s beauty. The kids hung in there, gazing out the window in the back seat of the van, in a travel stupor.

We pulled over at a private residence, Betty lamented again and again the disappearance of these old homes which are being replaced by condos and apartments to house the growing, landlocked city’s population. This home was very fine, Betty called through the intercom and an iron gate opened to give us entrance. We stepped into Mrs. Luna’s home, a gracious women who allows tourists with Lima Tours access to her home and its eccentric collections. She had ancient Incan vases and pre-Incan tapestries displayed, but her claim to fame is her collection of over 2,000 nativities. We were totally blown away by this collection, they filled several rooms. Each was unique, one room housed the Peruvian nativities, other rooms housed the ones from around the world.

There was one made from the horns of animals, another from reeds, one from the rocks of Lake Titicaca. Some were no bigger than a button, some scenes were carved on the sides of gourds with hot nails. Mrs. Luna would walk to an intricately carved wardrobe, open the doors, and reveal hundreds of colorful nativities inside. One of the most poignant was a nativity made from cardboard, created by soldiers in the Kuwaiti desert who wished to find some way to celebrate Christmas.

Alayna was in heaven, especially enthralled by the miniature scenes of baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. I liked one that portrayed one of the shepherds asleep, his head resting on the top of a pot, while behind him everyone celebrated the birth of Christ long into the night. Clay and I kept our hands on Nate and Benji’s backs, carefully directing them through the highly destructible displays. I only gasped a little when Benji reached for Joseph, carved from an animal’s horn, and hissed “Don’t touch!” in his ear. We thanked Mrs. Luna profusely for her hospitality, it was such a treat to get a few moments in her home and access to her amazing collections.


Monday, 28 April 2008

After spending our one night at the hotel in Lima, we were just packing up and getting ready to head back to the airport when we got a call, our flight was delayed 4 hours. The hotel was very sweet about giving us a late checkout, but I was determined to get the kids out of their hotel room and the lure of the TV for a little while. They needed to burn some steam before getting on another plane. Clay decided to take it easy in the hotel room and try to get all caught up on pictures on the site.

We got in a taxi and headed to a bookstore where we hoped to find books for Alayna and Benji, Nate’s still chewing on a massive Susan Cooper book that’s five books in one. Our driver recommended a place, I told him it sounded great. We made arrangements to be picked up in an hour and a half (most things I read said don’t hail your own cabs in Lima, let your hotel call one for you and schedule a return pickup). Willy, our driver, was a great guy. He handed me a card and told me we could pay when we got back to the hotel. Within fifteen minutes we found Alayna two books (Jane Eyre and The Scarlet Letter, I was stoked she was finally going to give one of the Bronte sisters a try), and Benji a massive dinosaur book. It must weigh at least eight pounds, but it was the only one in English, and I knew it would last him through the end of the trip. Lots of pictures and explanations.

We then had about an hour to kill, and we found a most delicious way to do so. We found an ice cream parlor that looked over the Pacific Ocean and while the kids ate their way through gigantic sundaes, I nabbed as many bites as possible while still looking innocent. After finishing up, I let the kids run and bounce their sugar rushes off until it was time to meet Willy, who was at our meeting spot right on time. He took us right back to the hotel, I was so grateful for a good guy who didn’t try to rip us off, drive us around town just to jack up the fare, or kidnap us and demand an exorbitant ransom. God is good, I gave Willy a great tip.

We boarded our plane at 4:40 with no hitches. We were running on our breakfast and ice cream sundaes, but it was enough. We saw some beautiful cloudscapes as we flew from Peru to Ecuador.