August 14, 2018
I’d planned to visit Huaca Pucllana (who-wah-kuh pook-yawn-ah) today, but the pre-Inca ruins were closed for reasons unbeknownst to me. The guy at the gate promised it would be open as usual tomorrow, so I decided today would be the day I visited La Plaza de Armas. Here’s the deal with Lima: like New York City, it’s divided up into barrios. La Plaza de Armas is in Lima proper. The hostel I stayed at is in Miraflores. Huaca Pucllana is in San Isidro, which is in-between the Miraflores and Lima; it was about a fifteen minute walk from the hostel to the ruins. La Plaza de Armas was a tad bit farther–so far that my map had an arrow pointing off the edge of the paper and the words, “to Lima, 5 km”. On the flip side was a map of Lima, but I didn’t know how long it would take me to traverse the supposed five kilometers before the second map started up. It was suspiciously easy to get there–I just kept following Avenida Arequipa in a big, long line, avoiding the congestion the best anyone could. I asked some locals to make sure I wasn’t doing it wrong.
“Perdón,” I’d say. “La Plaza de Armas es en este dirección, ¿sí?”
Every time, the answer was the same. “Oh, no no. Es muy lejos. Demasido lejos.” It’s too far to walk; take a taxi. I nodded and smiled and kept on walking. A 5K didn’t sound so bad to me–though, as it turns out, it was a heck of a lot farther than that. I looked it up on Google Maps later; it was 9.2 kilometros each way–that’s almost six miles. I did the non-fish version of what Dory recommends: just keep walking, just keep walking. There was no free wifi to check where I was going, so I just stayed on Avenida Arequipa and stopped in a KFC (most American chains are everywhere here) to use the free-but-disgusting bathroom.
The second map picked up about a mile from la Plaza, near the Lima Museum of Art. I considered going in, but the entrance fee was kind of pricey even with a student discount. As someone who is too poor to take a taxi all the way across the city and as the sort of person who saves half of the hostel’s bread-and-jam breakfast for lunch, I decided to keep the money. Besides, if I paid to go in, I was going to be there all day, and I wanted to take the walking tour of la Plaza and the surrounding area. Instead, I took a short break on the steps of the museum, watching people stroll through the park that surrounds the building, but it was cut short by a woman who was very concerned about my soul and needed desperately to give me a card about Bible lessons.
I followed the map as best I could, but the Lima side was not nearly as good as the Miraflores and San Isidro one. I pranced around Plaza Miguel, looking at the statue and the snoozing homeless man, trying to figure out where I was on the map because the plaza, while a big deal in the real world, was not there. I crossed the street in Peruvian fashion (run and hope the drivers miss you) to la Plaza Central. I admired the justice building and some other fancy architecture before wandering my way into some kind of above-and-underground shopping plaza. I found a table and borrowed the Sheraton’s free wifi to text my mom and tell her I was still alive. Then I used Google Maps to figure out how to get to la Plaza. I jotted the directions down in my handy dandy notebook and set off on my next adventure.
To put it plainly, Google Maps was wrong. The paper map was flat-out confusing, as not every street that actually exists was marked on it. So I followed the thickest flow of people, which happened to sweep my by a sign for tourist information. I popped in. The women there didn’t speak a lick of English, but their Spanish was slow and clear, so I was able to understand every word. They gave me a much better map and even highlighted the route I needed to take. I easily found my way to las Plazas de San Martin and de las Armas. It was almost three in the afternoon and all I’d had to eat was some bread, so I bought lunch in a restaurant near la Plaza. No one had ceviche, so I settled for chicken. The waiter was very nice and found my Spanish amusing. He couldn’t talk at any speed slower than way-too-fast-to-understand, so I ended up with a surprise meal and a mystery drink. All the options were chicken, and this one came with maíz and papas fritas. The drink was purple and sweet, but thinner than wine (also non-alcoholic) and the wrong flavor for grape juice. I figured out later that it’s called chicha morado and is made from the purple corn that grows in the Andes Mountains, which explains why I couldn’t identify a fruity flavor.
I ended up on a different tour than the one I’d planned on joining, but this one was much better than the Barranco one. I was a bit late because this one started earlier than the one I’d planned for, and the two women already on the tour were from Argentina. They were very nice and the guide knew everything about everything. The tour was entirely in Spanish, but every so often the guide would check to make sure I understood the gist of what he was saying, sometimes summarizing in English. I got about 1/3 to 1/2 of what he was saying, enough that I can now sound like I know what I’m talking about.
We saw the Cathedral, went into two churches, and past the skulls of several saints. One belonged to Santa Rosa, the patron saint of Lima. There are all kinds of stories about her protecting the citizens during storms and enemy attacks, and the church has survived earthquakes that took down every other building on the block. One of the churches has catacombs beneath it, and so we got to look through a grate in the floor and see the skulls and other bones of long-dead clergy men. We went by the oldest school in the Americas (est. circa 1500), el Palacio del Gobierno (the changing of the guard is every day at noon, which I wanted to see but missed because I was walking six miles to town), and a chocolate store. We were able to sample raw cocoa, cracking open the cocoa beans ourselves, and chocolate Pisco. I translated a little for a family of tourists who sounded very American and were not getting anywhere by pointing at things. Across the way from the chocolate shop was a library/train station that was named after the orphans who used to play on the steps before the founders of the chocolate shop adopted them. Only in Peru would someone think to put a train station and a library together–la biblioteca ferrocarril! I’m not so sure about the combination, but it was interesting to see. The library had about as many books as I own (not enough!) and was dedicated to a famous Spanish author the Argentinians got excited over but whose name I didn’t recognize. The train was at the back of the building, and it’s used to cart minerals down from the mountains; it only takes people for a ride once a month.
We ended the tour in an Inca-themed shopping maze. The guide led us to a small liquor store, where we got to sample four more types of Pisco. The first was straight Pisco and it tasted the way rubbing alcohol smells. The second was mango-flavored and very sweet; the third, a creamy, caramel-and-milk concoction, was my favorite. It’s called Creme de Pisco. The last one was a Pisco Sour, and we got a mini lesson on how to tell if the Pisco Sour is genuine based on the appearance, consistency, and the way it smells when rubbed on the back of your hand (sort of like yeast).
The handle on my Nalgene snapped earlier that day, so I bought a llama mochila from the shopping maze before setting out for Miraflores. I didn’t make it back until well after sunset, but strolling along the well-lit streets listening to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was pleasant. My feet were less pleased with the excursion, and reminded me with every step that I walked over eleven miles that day. I still didn’t have a tareja de SIM–get this, the guide said that there are stores that sell them around la Plaza, but in order to be put into the Peruvian system, I have to register at a store in Miraflores–but after last night’s adventure, I knew where I was going. I barely checked my map, and maybe that’s why some Spanish-speaking-but-not-local women stopped me to ask directions. I explained to them that I’m a foreigner, too, and showed them my map. It was kind of flattering, and hilarious.