Days 6-10 Loose in Lima aka the Great Escape

I must apologise, dear readers, for leaving you stranded in Arequipa. I finally feel able to put fingers to keyboard to relate what happened next. By Friday morning it was clear that my body could not cope at 2000 metres above sea level. All the remainder of our trip was to be at this level or considerably higher, so the common sense thing to do was to go home. We bade a fond farewell to our fellow travellers and got a taxi to Arequipa airport. It was all a bit manyana but eventually we took off, heading back to Lima. I start to feel a bit better, which was a relief. This was the easy part. We reclaimed our baggage and my case appeared wrapped in a polythene bag. The zip had come apart a little but it seems nothing was lost. We spent half an hour queuing and another half an hour at Lima airport’s Latam desk, trying to rearrange our flights home. There were no spaces before Monday. We needed to find somewhere to stay until then. Our guide had given us the name of a suitable hotel in case of this eventuality but neither of us could remember it. My internet security refused to let me access the airport wifi so I could look for something. A random taxi driver offered to take us to a hotel. It transpired he was one of the unofficial drivers we had been warned about, although not as unofficial as one we encountered later. He did at least have an ID badge and a certificate of something or other in his car. His choice of hotel would not have been ours but we were exhausted by this time and couldn’t think how else to find a hotel with vacancies. He also charged us significantly over the odds for the journey.

The one advantage of the hotel was that was cheap; our stock of sols was running low. We did have a travel card with US $ on but access to funds relied on us finding a reliable ATM, unlikely in this decidedly dodgy part of the city. Yuri’s comment that 9% of Lima’s population are criminals was ringing in our ears. Have we been sold into white slavery? Are we staying in a crack den? We have three days to spend skulking here. There is an on site ‘restaurant’. We do eat there on the first evening. Once was probably enough. No one spoke English and the menu seemed to be chicken, chicken or chicken. We had chicken. We feel it was probably purchased from a market similar to the one in Nazca. The hotel seems to be used by Peruvians on their way to and from the airport. They arrive and depart at all hours of the day and night, loudly. Some are unpleasantly unwell during their stay; those are the ones in the neighbouring room. Soundproofing is not a strong point.


From the Window of the Dodgy Hotel

We are by a main road and the hooting from the cars is constant. It is 32 degrees outside. We could at least open the window and the air conditioning was noisy but efficient. The hot water was slightly more reliable than in some of the more up-market hotels we had stayed in. We knew we needed water and food. We weighed up the twin hazards of braving the back streets and abandoning our belongings in our room. We hastily sneaked round the block and found a small food store. We were looking for things that were recognisable and not likely to give us food poisoning. We purchased a stash of water, Ritz crackers, cereal bars and wrapped cake. There was no fruit in sight. We lived on these for three days of our incarceration. Sufficient to say I probably don’t want any more Ritz crackers any time soon. Night three in this ‘delightful’ hotel and there was a distinct smell of burning. We were on the fifth floor. The chances of there being any kind of fire escape were somewhat less than nil. The hotel did not seem to be on fire.


I played endless games of patience, did a bit of proof reading and sorted out my holiday photos. There was intermittent internet access but the single plug socket was too far from the bed, which was the only place to sit. The plug socket also sparked alarmingly when it was used. There was a seriously unpleasant smell at night. Our room was not cleaned during our stay, remember what we are doing with our toilet paper in a windowless, fanless ensuite. To be fair, the smell probably wasn’t coming from our room. I am glad that the miasmic theory of disease has been discredited. We dream of Hotel Antigua Miraflores and realise how dependant we have been on our wonderful tour guide Yuri for keeping us safe.

I tried to check in for our rearranged flights online. It seemed that there was a problem. We have been recorded as US citizens. This despite my handing over our clearly UK passports. We hoped that this wouldn’t lead to yet more days stranded in Lima. Finally, Monday arrived. I must say that, for all its faults, this establishment did seem to have a more reliable hot water system than some we have stayed in and the towels were slightly larger. ‘Larger’ is a relative term. All the towels we have been provided with in the hotels here barely reach round me and I am hardly huge. In our haste to escape I forgot to apply deodorant. Not the best idea when I had 48 hours in these clothes and the first twelve were in a hot country. We mimed ‘taxi to airport’ at the front desk. This resulted in some passing chap off the street loading our cases in his car. Fortunately the zip on my case seemed to be fixed. We arrived at the airport in one piece and began the ten hour wait for our flight. We decided the airport was preferable to yet more time in the dodgy hotel and we also had the check in problem to sort out. Thankfully the mistaken nationality was not an insuperable problem and we watched the world go by, playing yet more games of patience. Our day was enlivened by the appearance of the bomb squad and explosives dogs. We were herded to one side of the airport and a fuse was laid in case the suspect package needed to be blown up. The dog gave it the all clear and we managed to retain our hard one seats, which are in short supply.

7pm and with great relief, we watched the lights of Lima recede into the distance. One skill I have acquired on this trip is the ability to get at least a little sleep on a long haul flight. This time our enforced sleep began at 10pm Lima time. Seven hours later we were allowed to wake up. A lady a couple of rows in front of us had problems with her Latam breakfast. She hadn’t worked out that she had been given a packet containing what passes for cutlery. She was using her fingers. That worked well for her toasted sandwich thingy but yoghurt – more tricky. Ah, she solved it by using the little stirry stick thing that she had been given for her coffee. Numerous games of Bejewelled later and we were at Madrid airport. The pilot said it was 45 degrees outside but it certainly wasn’t.

Then the joys of automated passport control. I have to take my glasses off to be recognised by the machine. This means that I then can’t read the instructions but we passed through unscathed. It was then time to get on the coach from Heathrow. I had rebooked this using the erratic hotel internet. I had no way of printing the ticket so I precariously waved my laptop under the nose of the driver. He peered at the teeny tiny print and informed me that in my stress I have booked us on a coach that goes …… tomorrow. I looked pathetic, I begged. He has room, he took pity on us, we were on our way. 1am and we were at home at last, five days after we left Arequipa. I slept until 9.45am! 9.45am! This is unheard of, I also slept through the night without waking, something I have only ever done a handful of times in my life. I did still have falling bejewelled jewels before my eyes but it was good to be home.

Intellectually and as a spurious geography teacher, I knew what I thought Peru would be like but you really do need to see it to comprehend just how different it is. Our tour was designed to give us an impression of the real Peru and was endorsed by National Geographic, as it supported local communities and industries and it was interesting and informative. Now I am home I am truly thankful for many things: a clean water supply, living somewhere where air con is not necessary, being able to understand what I am hearing/reading, rain, being able to cross the road in relative safety, the fact that I no longer need to continually apply hand sanitizer, silence! Do I wish I’d stayed at home? No. Would I go somewhere ‘adventurous’ again? Probably also no but it has been an experience. Next stop New Zealand!


Day 5 To Arequipa or toilets we have known

Today is the long drive south-east to the mountains of Arequipa. We set off at 6.30am. On leaving Nazca we see an Incan fort, marking their occupation as far as Nazca, where they benefitted from the Nazca people’s hydrological engineering expertise.

We learn that, in 1575, Spanish was made the first official language, with only Quechua, of the native languages, being allowed. It is still spoken. We see a windfarm. This and Hydro-electric power from the Andes make electricity very cheap. A home for four people pay the equivalent of about £10 a month. There are three main train lines in Peru, constructed in the early twentieth century. As they lacked suitable wood for railway timbers fast-growing eucalyptus trees were introduced for the purpose.

Most people have begun to take their altitude sickness medication, which is a diuretic, making frequent stops necessary during our twelve hour journey. The first is by a street olive stall, free samples are offered. Some of the olives have been stuffed with chilli. Brian discovers this the hard way. The olive trees were introduced by the Spanish and some of the trees are 400 years old. We purchase some honey coca sweets, allegedly helpful with altitude. Coca is the plant from which cocaine is derived. We are encouraged to chew the leaves but somehow sweets seem more innocuous. Our first toilet experience leaves some of us confused as the toilet paper is situated outside the cubicles. It helps to be aware of this before entering the cubicle. Not everyone was.

Most of the traffic on this stretch of the Pan-American highway is heavy commercial vehicles. There are a fair few hairpin bends and sheer cliffs but thankfully not quite as bad as the extreme roads television programme. We are assured that this is the ‘straight bit’. There are political slogans painted on the cliff sides. Toilet stop two incorporates ice cream eating. Ice cream, like ice and salads is something else you have to take care consuming here. We are opting for wrapped, branded ice cream and are surviving so far. So, this stop’s toilet – well there is certainly a toilet bowl. It and the accompanying basin do not however appear to be connected to any kind of water supply. Outside is a hose and bucket. Periodically, someone fills the bucket and flings water down the toilet bowl!

DSCF0207[1]We encounter toll gates along the Pan-American highway. We are pulled over by the police and our driver has to rattle off the nationalities of all on board. That seems to satisfy the officer and we are waved on our way. There is definitely more vegetation now and even rice fields, irrigated by the Cotahuasi river.

We stop for a lovely lunch, which is our reward for enduring such a long journey. It includes fritters, plantar (a type of banana, which tastes a bit like parsnip) and delicious cake. There are fully functioning toilets here. As we leave the coast, there is more vegetation and we see our first cows and sheep. Volcanic ashlar has been used for construction here. Arequipa is known as the white city, partly from the use of white ashlar and also because there were many light skinned people, due to intermarriage with the European settlers. It was founded in 1540 by Garci Manuel de Carbajal and is now Peru’s second city, having been the capital for part of the nineteenth century. At our final toilet stop we pay 1sol to be issued with our toilet paper; randomly, some of the cubicle doors don’t fit their respective door frames. We cross a bridge designed by Eiffel, of tower fame. We are now officially ‘at altitude’, as Arequipa is 2335 metres above sea level, although we will be going much higher. My chest is beginning to hurt. We reach the hotel, our second in the Casa Andina chain. I scoff a double dose of altitude tablets and drink quarts of the complimentary and seriously revolting coca tea. I had been warned that I might feel as if I was having a heart attack. In the hopes that I am not actually having a heart attack I settle down for the night. I am not scheduling this post ahead of time so, if it appears, I survived!

Day 4 Nazca

A helpful receptionist connects my laptop to the internet. The electricity supply to our room is dependent on our key being inserted into a slot by the door. This means I can only charge my computer when we are in the room, which is a bit inconvenient. Most of our party are on a flight to view the Nazca lines but we have decided to obey the British government’s travel advice and give it a miss. Later, our fellow travellers suggest that we haven’t missed much and we are £100 each to the good. We sit by the pool. The water is a tad chilly but I briefly swim about a bit. I lounge back on the white plastic lounger, sat delicately on my new purple towel. It turns out that I have inadvertently turned the lounger purple. I saunter away nonchalantly, hoping no one will notice. The wooden railings outside our rooms are being coated with a powerful smelling varnish, which is a little off-putting.

Taking our lives in our hands, we wander round the town, chaperoned by Brian and Pam. We take a look at the square, it is just that. In the market, meat and fish products are on sale on marble slabs but the ambient temperature is about 75 degrees. Yellow, corn fed, chickens and mullet are on sale, if you can spot them under the pile of flies. Talk about salmonella on a plate. We return to our room to find that the ‘helpful’ cleaners have thrown away our empty plastic bottles that we were saving to decant water into. Bother.

Our afternoon trip is to the ancient pre-Inca desert cemetery site of Chauchilla. On the way we pass many roadside stalls and travel on the Inter-Oceanic Highway. Our guide for the afternoon, tells us that eighty percent of Nazca was destroyed by an earthquake in 1996. We see the replacement adobe dwelling, constructed from mud bricks. This is the second driest place in the world after Chile’s Atacama Desert. On average, they get half an hour’s rain every two years. Prickly pears are grown, partly for their fruit but predominantly because they are used as hosts of cochineal beetles, which are collected for dyes in cosmetics and textiles. Chauchilla means white hill and the sand dune is allegedly the biggest in the world.

DSCF0178Along the track to the cemetery, we are excited to see burrowing owls. They do look jolly like rocks but can just about be spotted when they move. There was also another well camouflaged nesting bird and swallows swooping above the cemetery. We are here to see 1500 year old mummies. On a windy plain we see the twelve tombs that remain. It is estimated that there were originally 400-500 burials on this 1km x 250m site but the tombs were destroyed about 70 years ago by robbers looking for grave goods. This is fascinating but I must say it was a bit like death by mummy. It isn’t exactly seen one seen them all but…. The people were buried in a foetal position, mostly facing east and wearing many ponchos. These are made from the traditional Peruvian brown cotton. The corpse was then put in a woven basket and buried with items needed for the afterlife, including shells that were used as currency. The skin was rubbed with resin to preserve it and herbs were put in the basket to repel moth. Fragments of bone are strewn about the site. Our guide draws various styles of tomb in the sand for our edification. Each tomb has a shelter erected over it. Termites are making short-work of the uprights to these shelters.

Next stop is artisan’s pottery workshop. The original owner spent twenty five years experimenting in order to replicate the traditional Nazca pottery. The third generation are now demonstrating the techniques. The items have three purposes, some were used as part of religious ceremonies, there is domestic ware and items that are purely decorative. There are also impressive pottery instruments including very loud trumpets, pipes and ocarinas. Original 2000 year old pots are passed round. Fortunately we don’t drop any. Llama bones are used as tools to shape the clay. Minerals create the colours, including kaolin, manganese, iodine and copper oxide. These are painted on using brushes made from hair taken from a baby’s first haircut. There is a single firing. The coloured pots are not glazed but get their shine by rubbing a polished quartz stone across the oils on the forehead and then rubbing the pot.

On our way back to town the possible purpose of the Nazca lines are discussed. There are three main theories. One is that it is a form of calendar, as at the solstices and equinoxes the patterns are aligned with the sun. Others believe that they were created by aliens and another theory is that they had a religious significance, probably connected to sacrifices. Some of the creatures depicted are not native to this area, suggesting that the peoples travelled.

We drive a couple of miles up a rutted track to an isolated hotel in the middle of nowhere. Here we have a dinner that has been cooked using the thousand year old pachamanca tradition. The food has been cooked in a pit using the warmth from pre-heated stones. It is accompanied by a ceremony to thank the earth mother for providing the food. Chris and I volunteer to scatter the coca leaves and wine as a thanks offering. It is an early start and a long day tomorrow so we do not stay out late.

Day 3 Ballestas and Beyond

We arrive too early for the official start of breakfast at 6.30am but are able to eat none the less. Removing the butter from its packets is a challenge. Today’s cooked offering is fried fish and pancakes. The yoghurt here is sweeter and the coffee undrinkably strong, even considerably watered down. We sneak some fruit for later and return to our room to find that there is no water. Unlike some of our hapless travelling companions, we showered early enough to be clean, so are not greatly inconvenienced.

DSCF0077Our tour has a special ‘beat the rush’ boat trip to the Ballestas Islands, hence the early start. The islands are known as the poor man’s Galapagos and we are hoping for wildlife. We set off in the Carol 1, which is a speed boat but the shelter of the Paracas peninsula makes for a smooth trip. We spot a colony of pelicans, followed by Turkey Vultures, the only birds on the islands that do not eat fish. There are also Chilean Grey Gulls and Elegant Terns from further north. We stop to photograph the 170 metre high Candelabra geoglyph, carved in the hillside. It may be attributable to the Nazca civilization but others believe the style suggests it is post-Hispanic i.e. after 1532. We see some of the 20,000 seals that inhabit the islands, their pups were born a couple of months ago. Humbolt Penguins waddle along the cliffs and there are Inca Terns, with their distinctive red legs and beaks. Ballestas means ‘arrow slit’ and there are many crevasses and arches in the rocks. We also see large colonies of Boobies. There were those amongst our parties who had different expectations when these were mentioned. A rare Red-footed Cormorant is also spotted.

The islands are famous for their guano, which is still a valuable product. Years ago, many Japanese and Chinese came to harvest the guano. It is still collected every six years and the stench is impressive, as are the deep cries of the sealions. The islands are now a national nature reserve, with four resident wardens. This was a highlight of our trip and the many boats heading for the islands as we leave, underlines the wisdom of our early start.

We hear of more immigrant groups who have come to Peru, including Africans who arrived as slaves and who have influenced the music of this region. 16 July is a festival, when the Afro-Peruvian community eat cats. We learn about a traditional offal based dish that the native Peruvians devised in the times when all the better cuts of meat were consumed by the Spaniards. Pecan nuts, mangos and avocados are grown here.

We are heading towards Nazca. The Nazcan people worshipped the algarrobo, or carob, tree, whose 20 metre roots allowed it to grow where there was insufficient water for much else. We continue along the Pan-American highway, which is strewn with litter. We enter the wine making region, where there is a better water supply. An Augustinian order set up a communion wine producing business here.

We arrive for a tour of the El Catador vineyard, where wine and pisco is produced in artisan fashion, by stamping on the grapes with bare feet. The 160 year old wine press is striking. The traditional amphorae are carrot shaped, as they used to be ‘planted’ in the ground. They are about three feet high and weigh 100kg when full. These are now prized as the potters no longer make them. The wine ferments in them for a week and then the amphorae are sealed with clay or, traditionally, banana leaves, for a further week. Pisco is up to 48% proof but we test five varieties that are around 17%. The pisco sour was invented in the mid-nineteenth century in Hotel Bolivar, Lima, when the bartender ran out of whiskey sour.

DSCF0146After a tasty ice cream our journey continues. We pass a cart loaded with seaweed. Three different types are used for fertilizer, food and cosmetics. The next stop is Huacachina, an oasis in the middle of the Ica district desert. We are here for an ‘optional/compulsory’ ride in a sand buggy. These take eight passengers and career hectically up and down the dunes in an alarming fashion. Nothing ventured, I rashly agree to try these. My judgement may have been clouded by the amount of pisco I had consumed. I wedge myself in the back row between Chris and another sturdy gentleman of our party.  Maybe sitting in the back row was not so wise, as it seems that this is where you experience maximum bounce. I have my arms stretched out and am gripping the bar in front of me as if my life depends on it. Oh, hang on ……. My feet are braced. Occasionally I open my eyes and I am flung up and down in the air as we hurtle up and down the dunes at about 30mph. Believe me, it felt considerably faster. We make a few stops to photograph the view and the oasis below. Some of our party sand board down a couple of dunes, to be collected at the bottom. In places the gradient is 1:2. I wonder if this is a good point at which to mention my heart condition. Disconcertingly, the driver periodically gets out of the vehicle to fiddle with it and add more fuel. I don’t contemplate what happens if we break down out here. I mentally debate if this is more terrifying than being on the back of a Skidoo for 2½ hours at minus 23 degrees in Finland – it is a close run thing. At the end of the journey my fingers have to be prised off the bar. On balance, I am glad I went, although I am not likely  to repeat the experience. I should point out that I have never been on a roller coaster, which provides a similar ‘experience’ and I have only been down a playground slide a handful of times, so this was definitely out of my comfort zone. We have a very pleasant lunch in the hotel and paddle in their pool. Ok, so I had chicken and chips but it was lovely. This was accompanied by a complimentary pisco sour. I have probably had more alcohol today than in the past year.

As we near the city of Nazca, the road becomes steep and twisting, with sheer drops and ineffective looking crash barriers. Fortunately we are still on a two lane road and I am furthest away from the cliff edge. We stop off for a chance to see the Palpa geoglyphs. These are unusual because they are human representations. They are likely to have been created between 200BC and 700 AD and were probably linked to human sacrifices, possibly as a plea for water. These etchings are only about 10-15cm deep. There is an opportunity to climb a rickety looking metal tower in order to view them more clearly. I decide to remain on terra firma. The Nazca people produced beautiful pottery but had no written language, so the purposes of the carvings are a matter for speculation. A famous German mathematician, Maria Reiche, spent a lifetime trying to understand the significance of the Nazca lines. A little further on is another tower, where we can view part of the Nazca carvings. One of these has been bisected when the highway was constructed. Now all historic monuments are in the care of the National Institute of Culture. Again I remain on the ground but there is something special about photographing the sunset over the Nazca lines.

We arrive at Hotel Casa Andina in Nazca. It is a pleasant hotel but the rooms are arranged round an open courtyard, reminiscent of a prison. Time to collapse, rather irritated that I can’t access the free wifi.

Day 2 South to Paracas

In the spirit of adventure I try the traditional Tamales for breakfast. This is dough wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. There is no indication as to how this should be eaten. I glance round surreptitiously but no one else is tackling these to give me a clue. Does one just cut through the banana leaves? Does one unwrap it first? I am pretty sure you don’t actually eat the banana leaves. In the end I hack at the leaves a bit and extract a small morsel of the dough. The dough can be mixed with a variety of things. In this case it is fish – probably. Despite the fisherman of my acquaintance, I am not a great sea food eater and I don’t think I am going to be a great Tamales eater either but at least I gave it a try. Said fisherman has selected a slightly more recognisable tea this morning.

We have enjoyed our time at Hotel Antigua Miraflores, with its armies of cleaners and we will be returning at the end of our trip. We assemble at the civilised time of 11am for our journey south. My body is still somewhere in British Summer Time, so I have been awake since 2.30am. As we set off, Yuri asks us to ensure we have our passports. I search frantically through the many pockets of my bags. I confess that I can’t actually locate mine. The minibus swings round the block to go back to the hotel. It turns out that I have not forgotten my passport, so after the slight detour we are on our way. I now feel about five years old. You know that thing about not being fit to be let out.

We pass a street juggler on the middle of a zebra crossing, holding up the traffic. Today’s journey takes us along the Pan-American Pacific Highway, which stretches 19,000 miles from Alaska to Argentina, allegedly with a small gap called the Darien Gap. It is a good but fairly monotonous road with the Pacific on our right and mostly desert on our left. Every now and again there are river estuaries allowing cultivation but much of the landscape is barren, with numerous shanty towns springing up. Houses are built piecemeal for financial reasons so most dwellings everywhere seem unfinished. We learn that it may be possible to bribe your way out of a motoring offence, unless you encounter a female police officer. Not that we tried this I hasten to add.

On the way, Yuri tells us more about Peru. An important industry has been mining, for copper and for gold. Oil reserves have been exploited using foreign investment. Fishing is also crucial and sea food is very popular. Farming is more difficult because of the lack of rain, made worse by global warming. They produce quinoa, asparagus, coffee, cotton and non-native pineapples, amongst other things. There are many chicken farms, as rotisserie chicken is the ‘fast-food’ of choice. We also see a few herds of large goats. Food habits have been influenced by the US and turkey has now replaced guinea-pig as the traditional Christmas dinner. An extensive guano and salt petre industry, the latter used, as we seventeenth century types know, for gunpowder, was based on islands that were lost to Chile in the Chilean war, in the early nineteenth century. Peru also lost territory to Brasil and Ecuador. Peru is part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

We hear more of the political machinations and the militant communist Shining Path group. There have also been problems with hyper-inflation and organised cocaine rackets. Things are comparatively peaceful now and the people are optimistic, despite a change of President just last week, when the previous incumbent was found to be using his own road construction company for state purposes. It is hoped that the new President will be less Lima-centric. For example, currently, all overseas travellers have to fly into Lima airport.

Peru is the country of biodiversity and contains 84 of the world’s 104 ecosystems There are 1800 native birds; so far I have photographed two! We are now in the last month of summer when the humidity is less intense.

We arrive in the fishing village of Paracas, just south of the city of Pisco. Pisco was founded in 1640 and is now the main port for the international exportation of oil. A pre-Incan group settled on the Paracas peninsula c.700 BC – 200 AD. They were influenced by the Chavin culture, contemporary to Paracas, who populated the north. They were known for their textile work with Peruvian cotton, this would be dyed using the cochineal beetle. Archaeological evidence has been found for successful trepanations using obsidian. Paracas means sand storm and certainly there is a welcome breeze. General Don Jose de San Martin landed in the Bay of Paracas, with his liberating troops, beginning independence from Spain. He took inspiration for the red and white stripes of the Peruvian flag from the flamingos and I do glimpse some flamingos from the coach window. Paracas is also  known as the Cradle of the Flag.

We are staying in the Hotel Emancipador on the Avenida Los Libertadores. Our room has a balcony with a sea view. It seems a shame not to avail ourselves of this and the small shady swimming pool but we are here to see the village. We set off with our guide to explore Paracas. Many of the single-single story, flat-roofed dwelling have cages on top, which contain roosters bred for the popular (well popular here) sport of cock-fighting. My travelling companion is very interested in the fishing boats, which are particularly wide-beamed. We manage to purchase hats that we are clearly going to need. To be fair I did try to buy one before I left home but it is winter in England; sunhat selling season has not yet begun. We manage to source hats at a ridiculously low price. 20% of the likely English cost but the intrepid Brian insists that we should barter, as the items are not priced. He manages to bring the price down even further.

DSCF0033For our evening meal, I settle for a not very adventurous vegetarian pizza. Chris has sea bass in chilli and lime sauce. It really is too hot to eat much. We pay a sol (about 25p) to watch the sunset. We debate what happens if we do not pay – does the sun not set? It sets very quickly just after 6pm and the bay is beautifully peaceful. We have an early start in the morning so we settle down early. It is quite noisy outside and we can hear street musicians but this quietens down but about 10.30pm. We are keeping a tally of how many times we have to fish toilet paper out of the toilet.

Day 1 Surviving Miraflores

Today is officially day one, so that the diary coincides with our official itinerary. We awake to the sounds of strange bird calls. I hope we can see some of the wildlife. We follow a circuitous route to the restaurant for breakfast. Breakfast is the only meal that we are assured of each day but if they are all like this one we won’t starve. It is now over twenty four hours since we last ate, as we were too tired to seek food last night but surprisingly, I don’t feel particularly hungry. I sample some lovely fruit juice, natural yoghurt that is beautifully un-sweet and a rather dry granola that is probably better for me than the granola I have at home but not so pleasant. This is followed by fresh fruit and a cooked dish. I pass on the weird textured scrambled egg, which my companion assures me was very nice but I try the ‘fries’ which are sweet potato, this is served with cold ham and cheese and red pepper salad with cold mushrooms. There are also rolls and jam and I brave the very strong but lovely, caffeinated coffee, resolving to ration myself. My companion mutters about the lack of black pudding and bacon. I do sympathise with him over the ‘tea’ that he chose though. It was hardly traditional English breakfast tea.

To be honest, I would have settled for a relaxing day in the shade of the hotel but my intrepid travelling companion is of the opinion that we should brave the streets of Lima and who am I to gainsay him. We walk four blocks down to the clifftop overlooking Lima Bay. Miraflores appears to be one of the better cared for districts but each property has massive security gates and we spot discarded syringes on our walk. There is a pleasant park along the cliff top, with large numbers of dogs, mostly of breeds that are recognisable to us. We have been told to avoid dogs on account of deciding to forego rabies vaccines. Fortunately none of them seem to be foaming at the mouth or out of control! The park is set up like an outdoor gym, with appropriate equipment and there are plenty of joggers and a couple of exercise classes going on. One of these appears to involve waving unsheathed swords about. A man is hanging upside down on some parallel bars in a very insecure fashion. Underneath his head is solid concrete! We spot some drab birds with shrill cries and enjoy the warm temperatures. The cliffs are covered with purple morning glory. We chat to a retired American teacher who appears to now live in Lima, then it is back to the hotel.

008 1 April 2018 Mosaic at the parkOur Australian friends, with whom we are sharing this adventure (we are blaming them for everything!), arrive. They have already spent two months in South America. We stroll back down to the park in the afternoon. There are street sellers trying to con gullible tourists; we do succumb to an official looking ice cream salesman, who is unperturbed by us paying with a 50Sol note. The lollies were unusual but refreshing and the ‘choc-ice’ was ice cream sandwiched between bourbon like biscuits. The extreme gymnasts and joggers have mostly given up due to the heat but there are tightrope walkers who have strung ropes between the trees. I have already developed some interesting blisters from my first walk in sandals for six months.

At 6pm we meet the rest of our select group of eleven and our effusive tour guide Yuri. I am thinking of renaming this blog ‘How to kill yourself in Peru’. We are on a G Adventures tour and I am trying to embrace the ‘adventures’ part, honestly I am. Poor Pam and Brian are having to act like nannys. I was feeling proud of myself for remembering to don factor 50 before our afternoon walk. I haven’t worn sunscreen since our neobuild adventure several years ago. Our insect repellent is not compatible with the sunscreen, so we will have to choose between sunburn and being bitten but there are no bitey things here. Then it turns out I shouldn’t have been drinking the tap water or cleaning my teeth with it. I do feel a bit naïve. I guess I thought that in an immaculate looking hotel in the capital city we’d be fine. Actually, to be honest, I hadn’t thought at all. There are warning notices everywhere but not one that says ‘Danger of death – don’t drink the tap water’. Does this means you can’t lick your arms after having a shower? Not that I do lick my arms – why would you? – but you get the idea.

Then I got locked in the toilet in the hotel lobby. Fortunately my banging and cries of help brought rescue. You know that thing about me not being fit to be let out! Yuri takes our party to a local open air restaurant El Parquetito. I judge that I haven’t eaten outside in the evening for more than 40 years. The musical accompaniment relies heavily on 1970’s British pop. It is very agreeable and we get to know our fellow travellers. Mostly of early retirement age, there are three are from Canada, two from the US, an Estonian, a Swede, Pam & Brian from Australia and us. We are given a complimentary Pisco Sour, the national drink, which is a brandy like spirit, with lemon and egg white. It tastes good but we are normally very occasional drinkers, so it will probably make the walk back to the hotel interesting. I resist the unadventurous temptation to order lasagna from the menu and go for something that is basically chicken and chips in a tomato and onion sauce. It does at least have a foreign sounding name. It is certainly edible but it is late for eating by our terms and our bodies still think it is 2.30am, which makes it even harder. Chris opts for a beef thingy.

We have been warned that we have to use copious amounts of hand-sanitizer so we don’t get something dire. We have no hand sanitizer. I have an allergic reaction to hand sanitizer, my hands will be raw by the end of the holiday. I guess raw hands are preferable to an unpleasant illness so we stop at a late night shop to buy some hand sanitizer and some water. There are several ‘flavours’ of hand sanitizer but the shop assistant makes the choice. I am given ‘Exotic Romance, Sensual Beauty’. I can’t read anything into this. The male American ahead of me in the queue has been given the same. Allegedly it is coins that are the danger. I resolve to let my travelling companion be the keeper of the coins. Why can’t we adopt the seventeenth century custom of passing them though buckets of vinegar in times of plague?

Day Minus 1 Part 2 Miraflores

I have split this post into two, as it really is too much for one. The taxi driver has a very firm handshake and impeccable English – phew. It is 22o. We are dressed for 1o England. The driver tells us he was an ice road trucker in the US for years. The minibus is comfortable, although it isn’t exactly comforting when the driver says he has been awake for 23 hours. We have a 9km drive to our hotel, with a running commentary on the way. The driving is, as expected, ‘interesting’, although our driver seems very competent. The technique at junctions seems to consist of hooting loudly and hoping everything gets out of the way. I am not sure if anyone should have priority but clearly all that is forgotten and the most aggressive wins. Almost every vehicle had dents or scratches down the side as a result of these encounters. At every set of traffic lights on the main three lane highway, black economy street vendors accost the car drivers, attempting to sell ice cream, newspapers and other goods. To accomplish this, they wander between the lanes of traffic and hopefully get out of the way in time when the lights turn green. A bin van passes with operatives hanging off the back with no regard to health and safety. They can also be seen, in the back of the van, rifling through the sacks they have collected. We also see a van that has been involved in a funeral, which is decorated over the outside with flowers.

A third of Peru’s population live in one of Lima’s 43 districts and outlying shanty towns are gradually being serviced with electricity and running water. Each district has its own characteristics and some are clearly better cared for than others. The initial impression is of a run-down fiesta. There is plenty of razor wire and randomly curling electricity cables are festooned like garlands across the street. Our driver attempts to explain the problems with the previous political regime and issues with what he calls terrorists but which sound more like the mafia. There is major reclamation work going on in the bay as Lima continues to build its tourist industry. There is an opportunity to leap off a cliff in weird sort of hang-gliding bicycles – may give that a miss. In fact I have already resolved that wherever we go tomorrow, it needs to not involve crossing any roads. Easter is taken very seriously here, not surprisingly. There are many visitors to Lima from other parts of Peru for the holiday. Those from different regions can be distinguished by that traditional costume.

The View from our Window

I can tell you, basically because I am capable of using a search engine, that the Hotel Antigua Miraflores, where we are staying, “represents the rich cultural heritage of post-colonial Peru at the turn of the 20th century. The hotel’s centrepiece is a Spanish-colonial style mansion, or ‘casona’, built in 1923, a true heirloom that preserves an amazing piece of Peru’s unique traditions. The spacious family home’s original structure; tiled floors, stunning chandeliers, and woodwork are all well preserved.” We have an unusual, irregular five sided room, which pays tribute to the history of the building and overlooks a courtyard with a fountain.

“Avenida Grau, on which our hotel is situated, was the path pre-Colombian Incas used to reach the ocean from their nearby temple, the Huaca Pucllana. The land on which the modern day neighbourhood of Miraflores stands was historically cultivated by the Incas since 200 AD and became the Tomas Marsano hacienda in the mid 1800s. The old casona that now makes up the Hotel Antigua Miraflores was built on a property originally urbanized by Don Tomas. In 1916 it was sold to Carmen Toranzo de Perez by Don Tomas. Don Reynaldo Garcia then purchased the property from Mrs. Perez in 1922 and started construction on the Casona in 1923 using the services of a foreman named Máximo Chavez.” The room has internet, I’m happy. No tea and coffee making facilities, which is a shame but there is always water. I do have to report one weird Peruvian custom. You do not put toilet paper in the toilet. It has to go in a bin provided. When in Lima and all that. It is going to be interesting when we forget though!

We wash and change into clean clothes, ones more suited to the climate and recuperate after our 36 hour journey.