Friday, April 18, 2014

Lima, Peru

It is really interesting to see how other countries are different from our own. I have been to two very different countries and each has given me a greater appreciation for how the United States operates.

How it all began: 
I wanted to go back to Japan and visit some friends and was going to travel a bit (about a week by trains) to see northern Japan), but my dear friend found out she was pregnant and the time I was going would be about a month until her due date, so we thought it best to wait (Congratulations my Japan friends!). So, I remembered that one of my husbands top places to ever visit was Machu Picchu and began doing research on how to get there. I found a company called Latin America/Peru for less (PFL) and began to chat with a travel agent. After many back and forth emails, I settled on an itinerary and received a quote; it was a nice chunk of money, but I already knew it would be and had saved for such an adventure. I was going to keep it a surprise for my husband and just tell him to pack and he will see, but after much debate within I decided to tell him and let him also have a choice on where to stay and things to see. So, the emails to my agent began again asking about a Galapagos tour and two Incan treks. One trek was hiking four days or so from one spot and ending at Machu Picchu. The other was hiking from lodge to lodge with the same ending point. All were a bit out of our budget, but our biological minds really wanted to see the Galapagos and my husband really wants to go back and hike the Inca trail. My husband chose two different hotels from what I had chosen, a five star in the Sacred Valley and a five star in Machu Picchu. They were phenomenal hotels, but more on those later. The itinerary even needed to be changed so that we could get our preferred hotels, but that worked out to our benefit anyway considering the altitude differences. So, we made plan, bought our plane tickets and prepared for an amazing adventure. This would be the second time I have ever flown (the first being to Japan, but my husband is a seasoned flyer) and this would be the first time both parents would be leaving their beautiful daughter back in the States, but in capable and trustworthy hands. I was a bit stressed, as one could imagine, but I prayed and asked for prayers and in the end, all was happy and healthy. 

On April 5th, early in the morning, we prepared to leave. Our flight left around 9:30am and arrived in our first location of Lima, Peru around 7pm. We were met by a PFL representative and the driver, who would take us from the airport to our first hotel in Mira Flores, Lima. The different areas are considered neighborhoods in Peru, where we would consider them different counties. 

Some facts about Lima, Peru:
  • Lima is the capital of Peru.
  • It is the largest city in Peru.
  • Population is almost 9 million people.
  • There are no skyscrapers.
  • The tallest building is 34 floors. 120 meters - Westin. That is as tall as they will make them because of the earthquakes that occur.
  • Driving in Peru is scary!!! I mean, bumper to bumper, driving over lines, passing all the time, people fighting to be first - very aggressive driving. This may sound like here or in big cities, but multiply by 10. Seriously, no joke.
  • Lima reaches from the mountains to the sea cliffs.
  • It is relatively clean (at least where we stayed).
  • People jump off the cliffs and para glide with motors attached. 
  • The beach is not really for hanging out and relaxing in this area. People drive to another beach an hr or so away for beachy activities. 
  • Surfing is a big thing.
  • Their tsunami evacuation routes are right next to the ocean :/
  • There are ruins within the city.
  • There is a 'Cat Park' - seriously, there are cats everywhere. Probably the only place they can feel safe because the country has a huge community dog population.
  • Service at restaurants is not as quick or thoughtful as in America
  • Water is not drinkable from the tap.
We arrived at our hotel after an astonishing drive through the city, checked in, and walked to a cliff/sea-side shopping and dining area that sold anything from Prada and Ugg to local shops and food that consisted of American dining such as TGI Fridays, to more local fares. We chose TGI, for comfort food. 

The next day we had our first tour. Someone met us at the hotel to take us to a larger bus to begin our tour. 
These ruins are 900 years older than Machu Picchu. 

The second tallest building in Lima.
This was once a palace, which has now been turned into apartments occupied by lawyers.
 This is Jose de San Martin the Liberator was an Argentine general and the prime leader of the southern part of South America's successful struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire.

The United Nations building.
 Most of the above were taken as we were driving to the Plaza de Armas. Once on site at the location, we were able to see a huge Catholic church, a mountain in the background with a cross on it, the presidential building in which the president can hold the office for five years. Beside the church is a red and cream building which houses the arch bishops and others. The fountain in the middle was made completely out of bronze in 1861. 

While we were at the Plaza de Armas, there was a type of catholic parade going on, where they carried a tall float with what looked to be a mourning Mary, mother of Jesus. The church bells were also going off. 
Once we had a nice half hour to walk around and then boarded the bus again to head to another area that contained a church with some of the oldest known catacombs. The church was built in 1674, which also had a monastery attached to it. In the monastery, the ceiling has had to be replaced three times because of earthquakes and the fact that they were made of wood. The entire second floor was open to the elements, so that also contributed to the refinishing of the ceiling. The second floor also accommodated friars and monks, a total of about 33-35 monks. 
Out of the entire place, there was one area that had me in awe; and of course there were not pictures allowed. There was a library, the San Francisco, with two, small spiral staircases one either side with old, I mean old, books. It was blocked off from entering, but in the front they has two big, old Bibles and a Gregorian chant choir book. It was lit by natural light coming from the ceiling and the side windows and was just beautiful. Something from a movie or story. My husband bought me a magnet that showed the room, but it does it no justice. Follow the link to see it:

Once we were done with the monastery and church, we headed down to the catacombs. Dum, dum, dummm.
The catacombs consisted of roughly 25,000 bodies; we did not only see bones layed in an array, but they were also buried underneath our feet. There were gated off rooms where bones of the less important were just thrown in. When the catacombs were found, the important ones were enshrouded with 3-4 bodies per wrap. There were wells with skulls set in the sides of the wells and the rest of the bones set in a circular pattern. These were the most important. As I mentioned before, we were not allowed to take pictures, but we had an awesome tour guide who told us, that "you are not allowed to take pictures, but if you were going to, this would be the time and place to do it." I jumped on the opportunity and here are two:

Once we arrived into the above air, we continued to tour the church where there were carvings and paintings of all the saints. There were carvings of Saints Andrews, Thomas, Simon, Peter, James the Elder, Paulo, Bartholomew, Matthew, Philip, Thaddeus and the paintings consisted of Saints Peter, Paul, Matthew, James the Youngest, Matthias, Thomas, John, James the Elder, Judas Thaddeus, Bartholomew, Pedro, Augustine, Ambrose, Andrew, Anthony from Padua, Diego from Alcala, Simon and Philip. 

There was also a garden, which we could not enter that consisted of tiled pillars brought over from Spain. There were also paintings on the walls that had been covered up, but are being restored as much as possible. 

Once the tour was over, we headed back to our hotel, but we met a very nice Canadian couple who traveled with us for about four or five days, though through a different travel agency. We found that she was a travel agent herself and had bid on the trip they were on for a much better price and more things to see. I will refer to them as Miss Travel and Mr 'Eh' (seriously, he said it a lot and it was awesome). We thoroughly enjoyed their company and will work together to share pictures that we took of each other during our times together. Me and hubs look forward to staying in contact. 

As we neared our final destination to get back to the hotel, our Canadian friends and us decided to be dropped off at the shopping area near the ocean to grab a bite to eat and a few pisco sours (a popular alcoholic drink in Peru). We took our first photo together and shared many fun stories. 

Then we walked around, ending at the Cat Park, serioulsy cats everywhere, and then was kindly and forcefully dragged to a club which contained maybe 6 other people and danced for about an hr and then headed back.
So ends our first two days in Peru; Lima to be exact and the next post will be about flying to Cusco for the rest of our trip! 

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