Coordinates: 12°2′36″ S 77°1′42″O
When the plane started descending, through the window, we could see the Andes Mountains conquering the clouds. Closer to the landing strip, a few miles from the coast, the image appeared to have been pulled out of a National Geographic magazine: almost twenty cargo ships anchored near each other. The vessels beautified the greenish blue sea with their red, yellow and purple colors. On the shore, at a considerable distance, two and three-story buildings painted in pink, orange and green shades were seen; like bright earrings adorning a teenage girl’s visage.
For our Christmas vacations, we planned a 14-day trip to Perú. We were anxious to arrive, not only for the essential visit to Machu Picchu, but to delve into the literary map of Lima and Mario Vargas Llosa. We wanted to walk the streets of the Miraflores Neighborhood and recreate La ciudad de los perros (“City Dogs”) in our minds.
Miraflores and Vargas Llosa
On the way to our first lodging, Casa Andina Hotel in Miraflores, the driver told us, certain of what he was saying: “It doesn’t rain in Lima… that’s why the roofs are flat”. We wondered why the roofs are flat in Puerto Rico… the truth is that the logic behind the flat roofs in our tropical island has always been a utopia, thus the eternal filtration problems. But, Peruvians obviously know a better construction formula.
Although it doesn’t rain in Lima, the sky is completely gray at all times, as if a storm were approaching. The last time Lima clouds wet their soil was during the 60’s, since then, not even a drizzle or garúa as they like to call it. Looking up, everything was opaque; the contrast to the array of colors that filled our view from the plane was obvious. The excess of gray shades and absence of greenery evoked a sadness in the environment. The lack of light “darkened” us temporarily, perhaps because we were so accustomed to the luminous stars in our island.
Little White Store
We arrived at the hotel and settled in. Then, we went about curious to explore the Miraflores district. We made it to the Miraflores Oval and there we found La Tiendecita Blanca (Little White Store); where the novel Travesuras de la niña mala (“The Bad Girl”) came to life. In addition to its famous tea, in this restaurant we tried the European recipe for turnovers, among many other breakfast, lunch, and dinner platters.
We crossed the Miraflores Central Park to continue on our pursuit of the literary route. The also known as Kennedy Park is home to the Paseo de los Pintores (Painters Way). There, local artists and artisans present their work for sale. Cake and dessert carts park in every corner. The smell of sweets and just-baked bread flood the air in this park. Vargas Llosa’s fictional characters also walked through this park in many of his works.
We walked and walked until arriving at Salazar Park. The amazing view from the pier to the Pacific Ocean made evident why Vargas Llosa chose this place for his characters to fall in love. The afternoon cautiously peeked over the sea and the sun hid timorous before the gray sky. It looked as if we were watching the magical view through a blurred lens, which was part of the charm. The beauty of the landscape impregnated with nostalgia. Our literary tour ended here. However, the government of Lima developed a literary tour (literatour) that thoroughly details the most important places where Vargas Llosa’s works are framed. We moved towards a more commercial area in Larcomar, and of course, looked for a bookstore.
Larcomar, Overlooking the Pacific Ocean
This outdoor shopping center is nestled on a huge rock that rests on the ocean waves. Larcomar has several floors and what seems like an infinite amount of stores. We went straight to Mango’s restaurant for dinner. As we were already aware of the Peruvian gastronomic delights, it was imperative we tasted everything that was set on the table. The food was exquisite. We were able to understand the reason why World Travel Awards named Perú The Best Gastronomic Destination in the World.
Because we were a big group, we had the opportunity of ordering a wide variety of plates and tasting a little bit of everything. As an appetizer: anticuchos (beef heart), huancaína style yucca, trout kebabs with Parmesan cheese and capers, as well as prosciutto kebabs with spinach and blue cheese. Among the entrees: ceviche and mushroom salad, fish soup, chicken fajitas with guacamole, and lomo saltado (marinated sirloin tips). The Pisco Sour was never missing on our table.
Before heading back to the hotel, it was necessary to stop by the bookstore to grab a copy of Jose María Arguedas’ Myths, Legends, and Stories of Perú. Mission accomplished. After a half hour long walk from Casa Andina to Larcomar, on our way back to the hotel we decided to take a cab.
A Park of Poets and Truncated Ruins
We had reserved an excursion through the city, so the next morning we were ready to go. Our first stop was Amor Park; right on the Miraflores boardwalk. Its style is influenced by the works of Gaudi, and the monument to the kiss by Peruvian artist Victor Delfin stands out amongst the beauty of the park. On the walls of the park, we were able to appreciate quotes of famous Peruvian poets:
"You are above the endless sea", by Augusto Tamayo Vargas
"My remembrance is stronger than your oblivion", by Carlos A. Salavery
"My dream is a lost island", by Alberto Vega
After a romance and poetry filled visit to Amor Park, we made our way to the Huaca Pucllana temple. Huaca means ceremonial center or sacred place. The pyramids were built to be close to the sky and the gods. These edifications are solid, truncated and staggered; they are not cemeteries, or hollow on the inside. They were built on adobe because it never rains (this fact is mentioned frequently) and every brick was made by hand.
We continued our excursion to Plaza de Armas of Lima or Plaza Mayor, located in the historic center of the capital city and surrounded by the Government Palace, the Lima Cathedral, the Municipality and the Club de la Union.
The Cathedral is of baroque and classic style. On the inside, classic vaults complement its beauty. The building was reconstructed using wood and stucco due to the many earthquakes that affect the area. Despite being made out of wood, it does not rot because of the lack of rain (once again the recurring fact). The cathedral is austere, it doesn’t have much silver or gold, as others do. Peruvians call it chanfainga (which in Perú is a plate that has a little bit of everything) because of its many styles.
The Spanish sculptor, Pedro de Noguera, carved the choir on the altar of the cathedral. Fifty three sculptures represent martyrs and saints. On the ends of the wooden chairs, located at both sides of the altar, stands out the sculpture of a naked pregnant woman: Pachamama, the Mother Earth. Syncretism was very common in the colonial era, when elements of the catholic religion were mixed with the Incas’.
On the different vaults, located at the ends of the old building, various saints are presented: Saint Martin de Porres, the first Peruvian saint; Saint Rose of Lima, of Puerto Rican heritage; and Saint Turibius of Mogrovejo, Spaniard adopted by Peru. In the Cathedral there is also a chapel decked out in colorful mosaics. In it was found a leaden box, storing the skull of Gonzalo Pizarro. This Spaniard conqueror was decapitated and, according to common beliefs, people who are killed in this way can never rest in peace. His skeleton is in a tomb located in the chapel, under a “sleeping” lion, not “dead”.
María, José, Luis and Carmen
Upon returning from the excursion through the city, we had dinner at a restaurant named Haiti, located by Kennedy Park. It is a popular gathering place for many residents of Miraflores. From the bar, we heard what had happened to María, José, Luis and Carmen, as they recounted stories of their daily life. It was interesting to observe the similarity of day to day situations in a city so distant to ours.
Visiting Lima was an experience to enrich our palate and enhance our intellect; a place with literary wealth, no rain and lack of roof leaks. On the following day we were taking a plane to Juliaca, to go to Puno and discover the floating islands of the uros .
(This article is the first in a series of stories of Perú)
Conscious Travel Practices:
1. Learn about the art, history and culture of the country.
2. Support the economy by sponsoring the local lodgings and restaurants.
3. Enjoy the historic places without leaving trash behind.