Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Peru: Lima is for (Art) Lovers

"El Beso" ("The Kiss") by Victor Delfin dominates Lima's
oceanfront Parque del Amor (Love Park).

"El Beso" is basically a copy of a sculpture at Delfin's home. 
We were told by Delphin's daughter, Lilian Delphin, that the mayor of
 Lima asked Delfin to make a larger version and to design a park around it.
 Delfin modeled the small park on Antonio Gaudi's Park Guell in
 Barcelona, complete with curving concrete walls decorated with mosaics.
 We got to meet Delfin , still very active in his 80s, and to see his
 studio when we stayed at his oceanfront Barranco home, part of which Lilian
 has turned into an art-filled bed and breakfast called Second Home Peru.
 Click HERE for its website. 
You may notice that the mayor gets more credit for
the park than the artist who designed it.

Lima was not the point of our month-long fall 2014 trip to Peru, which began with curiosity about touring Peru's part of  the Amazon aboard a riverboat.  But you cannot go to Peru without passing through Lima, and a bit of research convinced us that it deserved at least a few days. As it turned out, we had four distinct stays in Lima, starting with three nights at the new Hilton Miraflores (click HERE for website) when we first arrived in the country.  After 12 days in the Andes and elsewhere, we returned for one night at the Swissotel (click HERE for website) arranged by International Expeditions prior to our seven-night Amazon cruise.  The Swissotel is in the San Isidro financial district in a gated compound that must date back to when Peru was dealing with the Shining Path terrorists. After the cruise, we were back in Lima for one night at Second Home Peru, in the somewhat bohemian Barranco district, before going to the beach town Paracas for three nights, after which we returned to Second Home Peru. This B and B is mentioned in a photo caption above as sharing the home of the artist Victor Delfin.
       During our first stay we found our way to the Museo Larco, a museum devoted mainly to Pre-Columbia pottery (click HERE for earlier posting).  This is the one must-see destination in Lima.
       That evening, a Friday, we walked a few blocks from the Hilton to Jazz Zone, a second-floor music club (click HERE for website) where a ten-member band cranked out loud and lively salsa. It was amazing to see how dancers of all ages could practically twirl their rear ends.
Lima's Chinatown. 
      The next day we sought out a recommended "Chifa" (the Peruvian term for Chinese cuisine) restaurant in Lima's bustling Chinatown. The streets leading to it were lined with bazaar-like complexes selling everything from motorcycle parts to quinoa to toys and clothes. And the streets themselves were packed with vendors, too, so it seemed to take forever to walk to the restaurant, Salon Capon.  The expansive menu was entirely in Spanish, and when we asked if there was an English menu, we were given one in Chinese.  Nonetheless we managed to have a splendid meal.  Most of the other diners appeared to be members of Lima's sizable Asian community; they were almost all having Inca Cola with their meals. Inca Cola, the best-selling soft drink in Peru, is a very sweet bubblegum-flavored yellow carbonated drink.  I thought it was awful.
    Another highlight of our first stay in Lima was a visit to Huaca Pucllana, a huge adobe pyramid in Miraflores built by what is called the Lima culture between 200 and 700 A.D. You can tour the structure, which is in the process of being restored or at least preserved, only with a guide (included in the entrance fee; click HERE for website).  There's a similar but smaller pyramid in the San Isidro district called Huaca Huallamarca. The guide explained that in the Lima culture, whenever a new ruler took over, the previous center of government would be covered with soil and a new citadel built atop it. Each ruler wanted to be closer to the heavens than the previous ruler, leaving today's archaeologists a layer cake that traces the history of the people there.  The guide also explained that Lima's original residents didn't put roofs on their homes -- with less than an inch of rain a year, there was no need. Although Lima can experience humidity and even misty conditions, it's essentially a city without rain. Things can get kind of dusty, but ancient adobe structures are not likely to disappear due to erosion, either.
    When we were next in Lima, almost two weeks later, International Expeditions took our riverboat group on a tour of Central Lima and its Plaza Major, home of the city's cathedral and the nation's presidential palace (not open to visitors), before we flew northeast to the Amazon.  The cathedral is the burial place of Franciso Pizzaro, the Spaniard who made the Incas cough up a room full of gold to ransom their emperor and then killed him. (Pizzaro himself was eventually assassinated by one of his countrymen.) We also visited the 1500s convent San Franciso (no photography allowed) and its bone-filled catacombs, similar to but smaller than the catacombs in Paris.
This is a detail of a very large work at MAC.
It consisted entirely of white men in military
uniforms and other costumes that conveyed
authority throughout Peruvian history,
 all saying "Tomorrow." 
    During our final stay in Lima we were based in Barranco.  We walked north toward Miraflores along the mirador (a promenade overlooking the Pacific) from our B and B for about an hour to reach the Love Park. It's near Larcomar, a shopping mall built into the side of the cliff below the Marriott Hotel, which seems to be where most Americans stay in Lima, Larcomar has a lot of American businesses -- TGI Fridays, KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Chilli's, Nine West, Gap -- along with the top retailers of Peruvian alpaca and llama goods.
     On the walk back, at the border between Miraflores and Barranco we visited the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, known as MAC (click HERE for website).  There was more humor and joy de vivre in the works we saw there than we see in contemporary galleries in the U.S.  The next day, back in Barranco, we visited a very small museum called MATE (click HERE for website), set up by the Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino and devoted entirely to his work, including photos he took of Princess Diana in what turned out to be her last photo shoot. One of the gowns she wore is also on display.
    What else to say about Lima?  There are a number of good handicraft shops in Barranco, higher-end shops are in Miraflores, taxis are cheap, you don't need Yelp to find a decent meal, and you're not likely to feel unsafe in the evening walking in Miraflores or Barranco.  Even with a population of 10 million, Lima is not a "world city" like New York or Paris or Buenos Aires, but it is a vibrant, sophisticated urban center with a lot to offer visitors.
A cascade of flowers leads to the gift shop at the Museo Larco.
A man works on preservation at Huaca
Pucllana, an adobe pyramid in Lima built
between 200 and 700 A.D,

The gleaming new glass-covered medical center on the left offers a

contrast with the nearly 2,000-year-old Huaca Pucllana,

These are reproductions of mummies that
 have been found throughout the pyramid. The dishes
represent foods and other goods that would be needed
in the afterlife. Some of the mummies have been
those of babies, apparently sacrificed to guide adults
to the afterlife. 

The pyramid is made of thin adobe bricks arranged loosely in rows
 like books on a shelf. Our guide explained that the bricks were 
given space to move during earthquakes without collapsing, a neat 
solution to building in an area that has some 
sort of tremor almost daily.
The Basilica Cathedral of Lima dominates  the city's main square,
the Plaza Major.  Inside is the tomb of Francisco Pizzaro,

A painting in the Lima cathedral depicts the
Spanish dominating the naked indigenous people.

We caught a glimpse of a wedding in a chapel
at the Basilica Cathedral.

One of many ornate side chapels in the cathedral.
This sculpture is Victor Delfin's original  "El Beso." It
is on a terrace outside his art studio window and just below our
room's deck at Second Home Peru, the B and B at his
 oceanfront home in the Barranco district of Lima.