Lima, Peru 2010

Full set of photos:

Sunday 2/14/10

Today is Valentine's Day, and since we had no other plans, El and I came down to New York to start our vacation a day early by bus. It was a completely uneventful trip. We went out for lunch at a place called Stand4 on 12th Street. We each got a burger and I got a toasted marshmallow milkshake. It was a house specialty and the subject of the conversation when I heard about the place. Truth to tell it was a good shake, but not the ecstasy I had expected. I may have preferred a great vanilla shake to this premium offering. Those close to me may have heard about my aversion to burnt marshmallows and how a childhood experience of the smell of a burnt bit caused a reflexive vomiting episode. Ironically though, I love raw and slightly toasted marshmallows. The shake was garnished with a pair of marshmallows toasted with a blow torch. Unfortunately, the tiniest bit of the toasted part looked a little too toasted for my tastes, so I gave the floaters to El to spare me and the table from certain nastiness. After lunch we headed to Crumbs Bakery to try some of their cupcakes. I got a "Butterfinger" and a "Baba Booey" (a cupcake created by Gary from the Howard Stern Show). We took them to go and headed back to El's mom's apartment. The cupcakes were OK, but nowhere near the quality of The Cupcake Cafe. We checked the weather and see that there seems to be a sizable snowstorm on its way for Monday night (when our flight leaves). We hope for the best.

Monday 2/15/10

For lunch on Monday we had planned to go to the Bronx, but decided to stay local this time and save that place for our next trip. We grabbed a quick bite at a local rib place and then walked up to Grand Central Station to buy our airport transfer tickets. The bus is twice as expensive and the employees are half as friendly, but I do prefer this method to the Airtrain network that can get us to the same terminal. Sometimes the trip to an airport can be a painless process and sometimes it can be a nerve-racking experience. Whether it's leaving without giving yourself enough lead time or long lines once you get to the airport, there is nothing worse to me to be standing in an endless line that does not move with people who do not seem to have the same sense of urgency that I do. Luckily, we left with ample time. Strike that. We left with so much extra time that our flight was not even listed on the board at the check-in counter when we arrived at JFK...and that’s OK by me. No line at the check-in, no line through security and we got to the gate about 3 hours early. Starting off my vacation on the verge of an anxiety attack is not worth the peace of mind that comes with giving ourselves way more time than we really needed. We sit at the gate keeping our eyes to the outside looking at the flurries starting to fall. We have been assured by the check-in agents that this plane is going to fly tonight, and although I doubt her meteorological background, her assurance is enough to keep my anxiety at bay. We are on our way, this year to Lima, Peru and then on to Santiago, Chile. Besides looking forward to the food, we are both excited for a ten day respite from the winter cold as we head into average day temps in the 80's. For now, we sit and wait at the gate until boarding time, keeping our fingers crossed and our eye on the flurries still dropping... Our flight did leave on time after getting deiced on the runway before taking off. Otherwise it was an uneventful flight.

Tuesday 2/16/10

We arrive in Lima and get through immigration and customs before 8:00am. We have no airport to hotel transfer set up and we are practically run over by taxi drivers all trying to pull us into their cab as we exit the terminal. Having read about the "good" (authorized) taxis and the "bad" (non-sanctioned) taxis we decide to head to the tourist info booth at the airport to ask what the cheapest method of transfer is and which are the "good" taxis. She tells us to take green taxis and that those also would be our cheapest ride. Not believing this (never saw a taxi cost less than a shuttle bus) we go back down to the arrival area and I ask a green taxi driver for his rate. He quotes us US$18. While I stay with the bags (and now my newfound taxi driver friend) El goes to the bus shuttle desk and is quoted $25 for the same ride. We tell the driver to lead the way and he takes us to his car.

Observation: at first I wanted to say that Limenos are bad drivers, but I have revised my position. This only because we did not witness one accident- meaning that there might be some method that we, as outsiders, are unaware of. But, absent any method- they are, hands down the scariest driving collective I have ever witnessed, and that includes my time in New York City and Montreal! The two most striking issues we saw were three lane highways that had four lanes worth of traffic at any one time. When a driver felt like passing, he would, regardless it he lanes ahead of him were full. He would just create his own new lane. The second thing was the intersections of two one-way streets where there was no stop sign. Just a faded “pare” painted in the cross walk that might as well have not even been there. Evidently, “pare” means hope there is no car closer to the middle of the intersection that you are, even though the Spanish to English dictionary says it means “stop”. It is about an hour drive (in the morning traffic) to get from the airport to the hotel in Miraflores. He has neither a radio nor air conditioning and my lack of Spanish prevents much conversation. I pay in US$, but realize that most of my cash is reserved for departure taxes and reciprocity fees for the rest of our trip. I am going to have to start paying in Peruvian Sols (pronounced so-lays), and soon. We go check in at the hotel, fully expecting to be reminded of the check in time, but are pleasantly surprised when they allow us to check in so early. We are both tired, hungry, and badly in need of showers. We decide to shower, head out for a bite and a little neighborhood exploring, then come back to the hotel for sleep and then out for dinner and learning a bit more about the area. We exit the hotel and walk about one block before seeing a local eatery. It is called the Tropicana Cafe and there is one other table with patrons. I order a tamale, an empanada, and an Inca Kola. The server tells us he has no empanadas. I stick with my tamale and Kola. The tamale is good, a little greasy, but that's the kind of cafe this is. It is served with crillos which is like a salad of raw onion and peppers that we will see many more times on this trip. The Inca Kola tastes disgusting. It looks like original Gatorade and tastes like liquid sweet tarts.

El pours some "liquid Sweet Tarts"

I wanted to try one because of its pervasiveness to the Peruvian culture. I did. I will NOT order another. Really not my thing. The whole lunch was Sols/12 (US$3) for the two of us. After lunch we wanted to at least find the Calle De Las Pizzas (Pizza St.) which is a restaurant row of sorts. Reminiscent of La Rambla in Barcelona, it is a street closed to traffic that has only restaurants- many of them pizzerias (hence the name), pubs, and discos on it. It is only one block long, but at night becomes a destination. A tourist trap to be sure. We didn’t have any firm plans today and we are both very tired from the flight, so we just wanted to find it. Our plan is to explore the hotel neighborhood a little, go back and nap, then go out and get a proper dinner and do some bar hopping. We realize that with no subway system, we are in desperate need of a really detailed street map of the city. We see a librerias (bookstore) and go in to buy a map. The selection is weak and the prices steep for a map. We buy one anyway and head to a place on Pizza Street called Los Incas and order a pisco sour. This is the national drink of Peru and is a frothy mix of pisco (which is like vodka made with grapes), sugar, lime, egg whites, and bitters. Having only been in the country for a mere two hours we are remembering that we are not allowed to drink the water or eat the ice as Peru does not have the water purification systems of most developed countries. I hear the bar blending some ice cubes and we run in to remind them that we cannot have the ice. They are understanding. We use the time at this place to start our travel journals and see if there is anything more we would like to do before heading for 11:30am! While we sit and look at our map that we had just bought, we realize that we must have inadvertently switched the good one for the not so good one. We plan to head back after our pisco sours and get the better map. It'll cost a little more, but we hope it will turn out to be money well spent. We have several eateries and attractions on our list to do, so we are hoping the better map will help us plot our course more effectively. By now the pisco sour has arrived. When served, it looks like a milkshake in a hi-ball glass. We get our pictures and sip. El sips and says it tastes like a margarita. I can very well taste that observation. One of the next things I want to eat is ceviche which is a process where they take raw fish and toss it with citrus juice, usually lime, and even though everything is cold, the acid in the lime actually cooks the fish by changing the chemical composition of the meat from raw to cooked. We have researched good cevicherias and plan to try one soon. Dealing so closely with raw fish and being that it is in the 80's today, we don’t want to take a chance on getting some bad clams or other sea bounty. Before we get some sleep I would like to try to arrange for a walking tour and make a cevicheria reservation. We finish our pisco sours and settle up the bill. About US$5 each. Now that I have tried an Inka Cola and a pisco sour, I am not sure what to switch to next as neither one of these will be my drink of choice on this trip (although I understand that the Chilean version of the pisco sour is a different recipe than Peru's, so I might try theirs). This whole “national" drink thing is funny because when we went to Buenos Aires the "national" drink is mate that you drink out of a mate cup using the offerers straw...and you don't turn it down when offered! Luckily, we did not get chummy enough with any of the Portenos to get the offer. We head back to the hotel stopping first at the bookstore to exchange the map. Then on the way back, we spot a knitting shop next door to a record shop. We split up and one of us heads to the wool shop and the other to the music shop. El gets a deal on some alpaca wool and I see nothing of interest at the CD store. Although our trip is mostly unstructured, there are a few places we wanted to see or do. When we get back to the hotel, we asked the desk to call a couple of restaurants for us to get reservations. Our first is tomorrow for lunch, which promises to be interesting. There is a place that was recommended to us where they say the neighborhood is so shitty that you should only arrive by taxi, pass the guard at the gate and do not walk around for fear of mugging. But, we hear the food is great and we decide to take our chances. We sleep, then head out for dinner. One of the women at work is from Peru and gave me a list of four eateries to try if I could. We take the list with us and go to Punto Azul, a four location chain that is known for its good, cheap and large portions of food. They are closed!

We continue on towards the beach and go to the second place on the list called Punta Sol. It too looks closed. We ask the man sitting on the steps what time the place opens for dinner, since it is close to 7:00pm. With no posted hours and he tells they are closed for the day. We are very hungry and want to eat soon. Without knowing the neighborhood and its streets, we decide to walk up the nearest street and eat at the first place we find regardless of location, cuisine, potential quality etc. As we walk we come upon a small traffic circle with three places on it. El makes the pick and we dine at Brujas De Cachiche Restaurante. This is a nicer local place. The place is practically empty except for a young family with a small child and a trio of business people. I wonder if we are early or late. We start with agua minerale con gas (seltzer) which hits the spot. They bring us a selection of olives, pickles, and bread. The first course is the house salad and a potato dish that we split. The house salads are corn, field greens, avocado, olives, tomatoes, radishes, carrots, and hard boiled eggs, with a house vinaigrette. The potato dish is called papa a la huancaina which is a cold dish of boiled potatoes with "creama de queso fresco". It arrives swimming in the queso sauce and also has hard boiled eggs on top. They seem to love their hard boiled eggs. The dish is good, but very heavy. Next out is our tamales criollos this is a classic tamale served without the husk. The tamale is stuffed with black olives and shredded chicken, and the criollos is the raw red onion, peppers and cilantro salsa served on the side. Too much corn meal and not enough stuffing, but then again, we do have main dishes on their way. For the lack of other patronage, our waitsaff seems a bit slow. As the meal progresses it looks like a long night ahead of us as the place begins to fill with other diners. For my main dish, I order “El Gran Tallan”. This is a house invention and is sautéed chicken with vegetables in "special sauce" served with a tacu tacu which appears to be a creation of rice and beans and spices rolled into a log and then baked or seared. I slice it and it is good for soaking up the sauce. The whole dish tastes like a fajita. I would like to be more specific about these dishes, but frankly, I am a bit surprised by how little of the menu we understand. Even El is having a tough time with some of the offerings. She has a dictionary, but the size of the menu prohibits looking up everything. We are far too full to get dessert now, so we decide to walk around a little before finding a cafe for after dinner drinks and sweets. As we ready to leave a quick look around sees many tables full and a bustling waitstaff, who, with the exception of the water pourers, never got around being as attentive as I would have liked. Although at one point, I did think that with the heaviness of the food, maybe this is a normal pacing technique. We'll see how it works in other places.

Observation: on this trip we find most of the restaurant food is very salty. Or at least much more salty than we are used to. In Lima we noticed that there were no salt shakers on the tables. In Santiago, however, every restaurant had salt shakers on the tables. From what we could taste, we could not figure out who would actually need to salt any of the food in this country any more than it already is. We walk back to Pizza Street which is now way more hopping than when we had our pisco sours here several hours ago. I heard of a nearby heavy metal bar called Zarco Bar. We walk up and down the street and are being hustled into every place on the block from karaoke bars to steakhouses. Looking lost, I ask a guy who tries to pull me into his electronica bar if he knows where Zarco Bar is, he is of no help. On our way we were able to find a door with no sign and no posted hours. One girl we asked about Zarco pointed to the closed door, but admitted she did not know if they were still in business. As I was trying to answer my question of not open yet tonight vs. closed for business, a young man started speaking in Spanish. When I had a blank look and probably mumbled something in English, he asked me, seemingly confrontationally, "what's your problem?" I assured him there was no problem and for a split second hoped this was not the beginning of a physical altercation. I tested the waters by asking if he knew where Zarco Bar was and thankfully, it turned out he was an employee waiting for the owner to arrive to open for the night. Now I am sure he was meaning to ask “what are you looking for?” instead of the potentially more sinister "what's your problem?". El jumps in because his English is worse than my Spanish (if that’s possible) and she is able to find out that they will open later and we should "come back for rock and roll". In the meantime, El picks a place that has music that is not too bad for us. We walk into The Old Pub with Lenny Kravitz on the PA followed by Counting Crowes (who I cannot stand), then Dire Straits. Compared to the salsa and dance music coming from other doors, this is the best for now. We each get a pint of the local brew, called Cusquena. At s/11 a pint it really is pretty drinkable. The beer is cold, the music is loud, the company is good, and I'm not in a rush to go anywhere. I expect to stop back at Zarco Bar on the way home though. Some comic relief as the Olympics play silently on the big screen TV and the table of seven young men next to us is comparing the women's speed skating all covered in uniforms vs. when they finish and take their hats and glasses off to reveal a more accurate depiction of beauty. The collective groans from the table represent when a skater should have left the accessories on and left more to the imagination! I am ready for another pint now, however the music here is taking a downward slide including dance mixes and The Cure, which is enough to drive me from most any place. I'll give it another pints' worth and hope to leave on a high note. Nope, the music turns into a sad mix of bad 80's and worse dance tunes. We head back to Zarco Bar. We walk in and we are the only patrons. The bartender smiles as he recognizes us from earlier. The current music is the Doors and the CD selection behind the bar includes AC/DC and Metallica. We order dos cervezas, but, when they bring out two 1.1 liter bottles of beer, we amend to just "uno cerveza, por favor". Black Sabbath "Supernaut" follows the Doors. Then Motley Crue circa Dr. Feelgood. It's enough to keep us here to catch up on the journals and play a game of Scrabble. El points out after looking at the receipt that without a sign we did not realize the bar is no longer called Zarco Bar, but is now known as Crypto Metal Bar (which may help to explain why even the employee seemed a little stumped when we asked for Zarco Bar (but assured us his bar played Motorhead and Slayer). The beer is Cristal which is really not that good. I liked the Cusquena much better. I know that, for the most part, El just humors me with the metal music, so I don't plan to stay all night, but if I have to catch up on my journal, I’d rather do it to the Ramones than the Pet Shop Boys! I think our next stop will be at a cafe for coffee and dessert before heading back to call it a night. On the way back to the room we stop at Cafe De La Paz for a coffee and dessert. I order my regular "cafe con leche, mucho leche" and we order a Suspiro a la Limena to split. It is described as a Peruvian favorite and is caramel custard with cinnamon meringue and it arrives in a martini glass looking like a soft serve ice cream, but has the consistency of mousse, a little gritty and not cold like ice cream. When the server brings the coffee, it is in a container the size of a creamer, while the leche arrives in a coffee cup. Oh, if only they all did that! As I sit here I realize that my lack of solid sleep is catching up with me and I am ready for bed! We pay the s/23 check and walk back to the hotel not forgetting to buy a bottle of water to brush our teeth with tonight. We are beat and call it a night.

Wednesday 2/17/10

We wake early from a good night’s sleep. We breakfast at the hotel and take a taxi to Plaza Mayor s/10 and take some pictures.

We walk to Iglesia de San Francisco (which closes from noon to 4, so going after lunch is not practical), but it is early and they have not opened yet. It is 8:45am, and the catacombs do not open until 9:30. We wait and mill around the fountain. At one point we notice a man in uniform and confirm the hours of operation. He proceeds to give us about 20 minutes of suggestions of things to do while we wait for the church to open. As we begin to walk away, he casually asks where we are from. "New York”, we reply. Well, this began a very one sided conversation where we got the history of every relative this guard ever had that at one time in their lives had some experience with New York (literally, at one point he told us a story about his cousin-in-law and how he was cheated out of a days’ wage on a job he did for 7 days when he lived on Staten Island and worked in New Jersey sometime in the 1980's). We were indulging the seizure of his opportunity to practice his English. He did give us a detailed a map of the local area and pointed out the points he had told us about before the genealogy lesson. We thanked him for his time and by now the museum and catacombs are open. We buy our tickets s/5 and wait for the English tour guide who arrives in a few minutes. As we start the tour, we are reminded that, by the request of the Franciscans who oversee the church, there is no photography at all on the tour and I confirm this includes the catacombs. The tour moves very fast and that is fine with us. I want to get information fast and then ask questions when I want more details. We saw the meeting halls, the 1656 painting of The Last Supper (complete with guinea pigs and chili peppers on the table), catacombs, original organ and prayer rooms, convent gardens and finally library complete with spiral staircases that look like something straight out of a Harry Potter movie. The library is still in use today, but only by special permissions. Most of the tour discussion was centered around the devastation that had been caused by the earthquakes as recently as 1974. After the quakes, parts that had been damaged were restored making portions of the church look much newer than the older, not as affected parts. Some of the 1/2 hour tour highlights were seeing the catacombs with an estimated 25,000 skeletons and seeing the portions of the compound that were affected by major earthquakes, but did not fall, which left them with significant twists when you look down a hallway that was constructed straight. After the tour El goes into the church portion while I journal. Ironically, you can take pictures in the main room. We then head towards one of the places that our new friend told us about. It is called the Parque de la Muralla. We did not understand what he was explaining, but it was something having to do with a river, a bridge, and houses. We walk a few blocks and come to a little plaza that overlooks a river. Across the river is a community of pastel colored houses built on a mountainside. If one wanted to go get an up close look at the houses, you can walk across the river using the access bridge. We took some photos, but did not feel the need to get any closer without a tour guide. We start to walk towards Chinatown, but pass La Cathedral on the way. This is where Francisco Pizarro is buried. El opts to go into the cathedral while I wait on the steps and figure out our route to lunch. I see on the map that “Chez Wong” is about half way between here and the hotel. We paid s/10 for the taxi here, so I expect s/10 or less to get to the restaurant.

Now, negotiating a taxi on these busy streets will be a challenge. We were told that reservations are required to get into “Chez Wong” and when we called, they said they were full for lunch, but told El to come in around noon and they would see what they could do for us. So, I write down the address on a paper and take it to a taxi driver who reads it and quotes us s/8 for the trip. We arrive in good time as it only takes about 20 minutes to get there by taxi. It is now 11:45am and we drive up to the door of “Chez Wong”. First, by all accounts is that this is a very rough neighborhood (Barrio La Victoria) and we have been told to only take a taxi to and from the door. Second, we are told there will be a security guard in front. Third, we are told reservations are essential. We stand on the curb as our taxi pulls away and contemplate our next step. There is no sign other than a 114 on the wall next to a gated door. I pull out my paperwork to see if there are any further instructions for getting into the place. At some point El takes the papers and starts reading these same papers. She asks where the information is that I am looking for, so I point. She exclaims that this is NOT the place she tried to get us into yesterday! Now what? We are standing in front of a door (looking very much like tourists) in a rough neighborhood without a reservation to a place where they are required. Uh Oh! I spot a store with a public phone and suggest we try to call and see if we can get a reservation for today. What’s the worst that can happen, they say “no” and we find a taxi to go somewhere else. El makes the call and is able to communicate enough that we can get in at 1:00. This is great! Now we just have an hour to kill before we can get in. With our touristy backpacks in tow, we head down the street looking for a bar...every seedy neighborhood has a bar right? Well, we couldn't find it. We walked a bit, checking both sides of the street for a bar, no luck. We turn around and pass by more tire and rim retailers than we have ever seen collected in one place, anywhere. We then walk down the other direction. After several blocks with no bars, we see a Chinese restaurant and go in to sit in the shade and order some bottled waters. We catch up on journals and wait to head back just before 1:00pm.

On a funny note...or not. As we sit in the Chinese restaurant drinking our waters I start to play with El's iPod that has a tour guide of Peru on it. As I read about Lima, it specifically cites the barrio of La Victoria as a generally UNSAFE area and does not advise spending any time there. As I sit here in La Victoria, I am wondering how we will get back to the relative safety of Miraflores. In all fairness, we were similarly warned about the Boca section of Buenos Aires where we did not have any issues. I remain optimistic we will be trouble free. ...and we were.

One of the best dining experiences we have had in a long time. Sankuay is the name of the restaurant, but people who dine here call it “Chez Wong” after the chef Javier Wong. The place is a small restaurant with no sign and only 10 tables. They are only open from 1:00 to 4:00pm and there are 5 people involved in the operation. The doorman, the waiter, the dishwasher, the check keeper, and of course Chef Wong who has a chest cooler with fresh caught whole flounders. When you ring the bell, the doorman welcomes you and directs you inside, the waiter seats you and takes your drink order. He relays the order to the chef and the check keeper so that he can get it added to the correct bill. The chef just starts making the dishes. There is no menu, just ceviche, hot dish, and cold dish. All chef’s choice based on freshness of ingredients. Every few minutes, the dishwasher brings a fresh cutting board to the chef and removes the used one to be washed. The chef stands in the same room as everyone is eating in. Everything is prepared to order and there is a wok set up in the back, but still within view, where he cooks the hot food. The dishwashing sink (and restrooms) are all within arms reach of the wok setup. We are among the first to arrive and order. By the time we left, every table was full ordering dish after dish sending the chef and check keeper (not to mention the waiter) into action. It was fast paced. And every time he used up a flounder, he threw the carcass into a basket under his work station and grabbed another from the cooler. Everyone was taking pictures and even getting pictures with the chef. We were no different. He did scold me for using flash though. The waiter told us it was so that it doesn't distract him when he is using the knife which I understood completely. He was still cool with pictures and El even got some video of the chef in action. This was a very fun experience for us and we are glad we did it. First course was a ceviche.

Simply, raw flounder fillet cut off the fish in front of you, some chopped steamed octopus, onion, shallot, salt, lime juice. That is it. The dish is served with a side of minced hot chili peppers. We added the hot chilis and ate a most fantastic tasting national dish of Peru. Next we are asked if we would like a hot dish or cold dish. We opt for hot and then are asked if we preferred a “sweet and sour” or “other kind” (which I expect would be a flounder stir fry). We chose the sweet and sour. The chef then cut more flounder for us, threw in some mushrooms and zucchini and then mixed the sauce with pineapple chunks. A quick trip to the wok and a generous splash of Coca-Cola and the dish was done.

It was very tasty, although a lot of sauce and no rice was a little different...then again, sweet and sour flounder is not something I would get at any Chinese restaurant ordinarily. Next up, we choose the cold dish. This is similar to the ceviche as it is a sliced filet of flounder but this time, topped with sesame oil and chopped walnuts, then covered in lime juice and scallions.

I think that the ceviche preparation had more flavors making it easily my favorite of the day. The bill was s/165 (US$58). After lunch we decide to try taking a bus back to Miraflores, but we are unfamiliar with the routes and there are no signs or schedules posted. We skip the bus idea and took a taxi direct to Huaca Pullana. The site is a sacrificial temple that was built over many hundreds of years and stands in the middle of a residential neighborhood. We got the English tour and our guide did her best to explain what the purpose and significance of the site was, but it didn't come across that way. I had no idea what she was talking about most of the time and I really have no idea if what I think I understand is correct. The tour lasted 40 minutes and ended as abruptly as it began. I heard a lot of repetition in information from the guide and it seems like not that much is known about the temple in that much of what we heard was speculation regarding who was sacrificed and why. It was on our list of things to do, but I would recommend that others put it closer to the bottom of their list than the top. After the tour concludes, we look at a map to see how to walk back to the hotel and maybe hit a pub or cafe or something. We find a gelato/coffee shop called 4d. I get the assorted three flavor cup and choose coconut, chocolate, and coffee. I get a cafe con leche mucho leche too. It is very strong coffee and even though I am not generally a fan of gelato, this was pretty decent. We rest for a little and plan to keep walking back towards the hotel and I hope to stop at a pub for a beer on our way back. I think we will rest a little and then shower and go back out tonight. I have a couple of recommended eateries near the hotel that we will try to eat at tonight. I would like to see if we can get onto a city tour tomorrow, and besides a 9:00pm dinner reservation we have no other commitments. There is an archaeological museum called Museo De Sitio Huallamarca that gets good reviews that we may try for.

Observation: I think we saw more sweeping being done in Lima than I have seen in the past year collectively. There are people whose job it is to sweep the highway, and I don't mean in construction zones…but, the shoulder of the eight-lane highway! Everyone sweeps their driveways and sidewalks constantly. Businesses are always tending to the area in front of their establishments. And the ultimate in sweeping that I witnessed was a guy who was sweeping his sidewalk and saw some leaves in his flowerbed and walked onto his lawn and started to sweep the dirt in between his flowers! Now that is a man dedicated to the art of sweeping!

After our walk back towards the hotel in the midday heat, I am hot and cranky. El wants to check Facebook and post some pictures. We also want to find postcards which are s/92 (US$32) for 15 postcards with stamps. First we hit Starbucks for free wi-fi, then The British Pub for beer, then dinner. Our restaurant pick turns out to be closed, so we stop at Tascabar for a half pint of Cusquena. They serve tapas, but we are looking for something more substantial. It is a small place that caters to the hostel crowd (which there seem to be a lot in this town). El takes the lead and chooses our next shot for a place to eat. It is a bar called Entre Copas and it is across the street from the place we ate at last night. It is a little bit of a walk, but it is not uncomfortable. We find it and they are still serving food. The menu is mostly Japanese and again, even El is having trouble with some of the menu not recognizing the words. I order a glass of house white wine and something called a Tori No Kaarague. I saw pollo in the description and chose it. Unfortunately, I have no idea what it comes with or how it is prepared. In fact when I ordered it, the waitress asked if I wanted pollo or carne. I think I played it safe with chicken. Fast forward to the meal delivery. Let me put it this way, when you order solely based on knowing the word for chicken, sometimes you’ll get served chicken Kiev and sometimes you get stuck with chicken feet! One of the downsides of not being able to speak the language. My dinner, it turns out, is bits of chicken parts deep fried in pork fat. It is served with two dipping sauces that are not very flavorful and the chicken has no seasoning at all. It's like sweet and sour chicken without the sweet and sour sauce. Thumbs down from me. On the walk home, El concurs this was not her finest pick, although she liked her choices. On the walk back towards Pizza Street, we stop at Vivaldino Cafe for a slice of cake and a coffee. This is the third or fourth time I have seen this, where they serve the coffee in a small serving vessel and serve the steamed milk in a larger vessel allowing me to mix the two myself. I like this method. The cake is OK at best, but hits the spot after the disappointing dinner. Afterwards we are both tired and decide to call it a night. We get back to the room around midnight.

Thursday 2/18/10

Today is our last day in Lima. With the time needed to get to the airport, we will not have time to do much of anything except get to the post office before we leave tomorrow. This trip for us is only about Lima- meaning that we have no plans to visit any of the surrounding towns or other cities in Peru. There are some museums and sites farther afield that are recommended, but they are out of the city and we choose to save them for some other time. As for today, we will start by going to the local ATM which oddly offers to serve cash in either Sols OR $US! The US dollar is widely accepted here, in fact more so than MasterCard which has been turned down at a few restaurants and museums that we have gone to. Next we will head to lunch at one of Millie’s restaurant recommendations, then Love Park (Parque del Amor)- a park reminiscent of Gaudi Park in Barcelona.

Well, things started in the right direction. Went to the ATM and got the cash for the day and then walked down to the restaurant Punta Sol, but again they are not open. It is just 11:00am and we thought they would be open by now. We ask some of the workers what time they open and are told 12:30. Since we haven’t eaten any breakfast, we aren’t sure that we want to stick around that long to wait. We head down to Love Park and get out pictures then head back to Calle San Martin to try another place that was closed yesterday.

Observation: while we were in Lima, there was an exhibit going on called the Parade of Cows. We did not know this and I was certainly thrown for a loop the first time I saw what looked like a “cow crossing” sign in the middle of the big city. Come to find out it was a collection of 80 fiberglass cow sculptures all uniquely decorated and set up for display in different parks around the city. It is a project that travels the world where they auction off a bunch of the cows to benefit local charities. Some of the cows were cleverly and humorously made up and attracted much attention from passersby. I don’t know how long the cows will be on display, but they made for some extra entertainment while walking through Parque Kennedy, Parque del Amor, and Plaza des Armas. Our favorite was the Elvis cow.

We get up to San Martin and this time Punto Azul is open. We split a mixto ceviche with fish, shrimp, calamari, baby octopus, caracol (snails) and I get an Arroz Punto Azul which is cilantro flavored rice with mixed seafood on top in a cilantro cream sauce. Heavy, but excellent. I am not able to finish the mountain of rice, but figure I am good until our 9:00pm dinner reservations. As we exit, I make a most embarrassing faux pas. When we were finished with the meal, we asked for the check which came to s/72. I had just stopped at the bank and knew that I had a new stack of bills totaling 200 sols in my wallet that had been dispensed as two 50 and five 20 bills. I threw down the cash and asked El to add some more to cover the balance and tip. Not requiring change, we got up and walked out of the restaurant without waiting for the server to return to the table. As we left and rounded the corner, one of the waitstaff came running after us. Thinking for a split second that we may have left a camera or a bag behind we see him waving the check and our money. Before I had a chance to process what was happening, he fanned everything out to show that I had left a 20 and another 20 plus El's change. This means I had left s/40 for a s/70 bill. Apologizing profusely, I opened my wallet to realize that even though I did get the same ATM dispensing today, I also had 20 left over from last night which I grabbed thinking it was a s/50 note. I quickly whipped out a fifty and refused when he tried to return the 20 that was left in its place. I hate the fact that they could think I intentionally stiffed them on the bill, but I am glad they caught up with us to get it made right. We are within walking distance from the hotel, so we plan a pit stop to pick up a bottle of water and ask the desk about directions to San Isidro as we hope to catch a combi or collectivo bus today. The combis are popular mini buses that drive up and down major streets and are Lima's closest thing to a subway network. Everyone seems to take them and they are these, in most cases, beat old buses that play loud salsa music with a hawker/money collector/conductor standing in the sliding door who yells to the people standing on the curb to announce where his bus is going so they can pay their s/1 (US$.35) for the ride.

The buses do have street names painted on the sides, but we are not familiar enough with the system to know if we will get where we need to go. El stops at the desk and asks them and they assure us we would be better off taking a taxi and refuse to sanction a guest taking the combis. They do not understand this is something we want to do and eventually say that we can get where we need to go and tell us to make sure the money collector knows what stop we want. We walk up towards Av. Pardo and a bus is there with the word Arequipa painted on the side. We want Av. Arequipa and ask for Av. Prada. He confirms and asks for s/1 each. We sit and pull out the guide book to follow the map and locate streets as we pass them by. Eventually (even though we know we are close), the conductor yanks my shirt and points to Av. Prada. He yells to the driver to pull over and let us off. We are now in the middle of the San Isidro section. One of the attractions is the Museo De Sitio Huallamarca. Like yesterday at Huaca Pullana it is sort of odd to be walking through a modern neighborhood to come upon a pyramid whose history dates back to before Christ! Anyway, we walk around to find the entrance and are greeted by a security guard who promptly runs into a part of the museum leaving us to look around for a ticket booth. We find the booth with no one in it. Before we can investigate, the guard returns with a woman (who I guess was on lunch break). She sells us our tickets and asks El about a guided tour. Before we can answer, an ambitious young woman springs up behind us and asks if we need a tour in English. In the absence of self guided audio tours, we agree to be taken around by the young lady. She starts the tour off by apologizing for her English!

Actually, it was pretty good, but still a funny way to start the tour. She takes us through the one room museum giving all kinds of historical information and then to the one room tribute to the archaeologist who discovered and excavated the temple in the 1950's. We continue up to the pyramid which you can walk up to the top, unlike yesterday at Huaca Pullana where you could only walk half way up. The view was not very good and the entire exhibit was mucho disappointing. I told El that both here and at Huaca Pullana, it seems almost like they looted part of these ancient temples, put a couple of artifacts in a room and called it a museum as a way to charge tourists a few dollars. The one saving grace about this museum is the inclusion of a real mummified burial which remains surprisingly well preserved. The whole tour took about a half hour and we were once again strolling the streets of San Isidro. We stopped at a grocery store to buy some more bottled water and headed back to Av. Arequipa to catch a bus. On our way, El recognizes a park from the guidebooks and points us into the Bosque De Olivar which is a city park filled with 1500 olive trees that had been transplanted from Seville, Spain hundreds of years ago. Some of the trees in the park date back to that time. We find a shady bench and catch up on our journals. Also, the midday heat is exhausting us and we take advantage of the cool bench location to rest before moving on. El thinks she would like to go to another neighboring barrio called Barranco, but it looks doubtful that we can find a combi bus to take us direct from where we are now, so we may have to take two. After relaxing in the olive garden, we walk back to the Av. Arequipa and stand on a corner heading back into Miraflores. As the first bus comes by, we ask for Parque Kennedy (near the hotel), the conductor affirms and we jump in paying our s/1 each for the ride. Before long, he motions for us to get out, and as we exit the bus, we are stood on the end of Parque Kennedy. Now we need to walk several blocks to get to Av. Panama where we will try to catch a bus into Barranco. We have no sights in mind in this area, so we are just going to walk around and explore a little. I look at the map and see a landmark of Parque Municpale to ask the conductor before we board. On the way El spots another wool shop. This time, they sell only wool, as opposed to the other shop that sold mostly made clothing with some wool. She looks around the small shop and buys some more wool. We press on towards Av. Panama. We stand on the corner waiting for the buses to stop. Within seconds three buses are at the corner screaming for our attentions. I say "Parque Municipale" and the first conductor shakes his head. I repeat to the second and she waves us in. I wind up in the seat right next to her armpits, that...shall we say smell like they have been working very hard all day! It makes for a rough ride. At some point though as we are stopped at a light in a construction zone which forces all traffic into one single lane, we hear a police siren. The driver sees that the ambulance is coming right behind us. With nowhere to pull off, our driver takes off, racing the engine just as fast as it will go. With the ambulance, in effect, chasing us, we speed along several blocks, scheduled stops and lights be damned. Finally, the road fans back out into two lanes in our direction giving the ambulance a chance to show that we were still going too slow. At first opportunity the bus pulls over to let off all people whose stops were missed in the commotion, including us. We are let off and the driver actually points us down a street towards Parque Municipale. We are here, but have no destination in mind. We walk a few blocks through Barranco and don't see anything of significant interest. We pass a few bars that we could stop and have a beer in, but it is getting close the 5:40 and if we are to make it back before 6:00, we need to find a bus soon. We head to Av. Grau, which, unfortunately, is different than the Av. Grau near the hotel. We find a street on the map that we can walk to the hotel from. Our first bus turns out to be one we can use. This one charges us s/1.5 each and drops us exactly where we expect. We walk back to the hotel to nap before packing and getting ready for dinner at Restaurant Rafael Osterling tonight at 9:00pm. We take our naps and wake to get ready for dinner. We have arranged for a taxi to the airport at 8:30am and plan to have a late night, so we pack most of our stuff before heading out for the night. We walk to the restaurant and are seated immediately. For first course I get a salad of roasted lobster in confit garlic butter, liquefied coral aiollo and crispy natives potatoes.

My entrée then, is crispy confit suckling pig, “mikakami” juice (no idea what this is!), foamy root vegetables puree and deep fried Jewish (Jerusalem) artichokes. For my dessert, I chose the “Nutella Fantasy”: crispy churros with a smoky Nutella sauce; decadent truffle-Nutella tart; and berry sorbet. The dinner is really fantastic and we both leave satisfied. Really, a nice meal for our last night in Lima.

After dinner we walk to Bobo Bar just off the corner of Banilla and Lorco. I read that it is an “80's music bar”. Well, we walk in and we are the only ones in here. The music ranges from the Clash and Duran Duran to dance remixes of INXS and Queen. I get a whiskey which is on promotion tonight and El gets a pisco sour. Not wanting to make it too late of a night, we stay for the one drink and head out. By this time, there is only one more patron in the place. The drinks are expensive, we are tired, and I did want to try to hit one more bar tonight, called La Noche. I have the address, and even though I have seen the street name, cannot remember how far it is. We start walking towards the street it is on. After walking several blocks I state that if our street is not next, we will head back towards the hotel for one more stop before the night is out at one of the places we know. At the next crossing there is no street sign, so this could be or might not be the one we want. We turn down it and find it is not the one we were looking for, so it is on to plan B. I suggest The Old Pub that we have been to a few times. As we are getting closer, El points out the Crypto Metal Bar from two nights ago which now has several more people in it than the first time we came and we choose it for our night cap. I order a Pilsen Callao beer which is a little better than the Cristal that I had here before. I work on drinking the beer so we can get to bed, although the music is better tonight than the other day. Tonight Sepultura, then a video of the Wakken Metal Festival from Germany as the customers request their favorite songs or band be put on next. We catch up on the journals and split the beer. After a while, I think El has probably had enough and tell her we could leave. To my surprise, she is deep in journaling and tells me she will be a little while before she is ready. I don't dare get another beer (remember, they are 1.1 liter bottles), so I just sit and enjoy the music and people watching. In due time, she gives me the sign and we bring our glasses to the bar and wave goodnight. We walk back to the room and I am ready for bed.

Observation: I am all for historical pride and naming public places after important people. However, as an outsider, for the most part, I am completely unfamiliar with people important to South America, Peru, and Lima. Therefore, when I visit and have been given an address of 154 Benavides, I have no way to know whether it is 154 Av. O. Benavides or 154 A. Benavides. It would be like having two streets in the same town called Roosevelt. Also, while I am at it, different sections of the same city should not have two different streets with the same name (referring to Av. Grau in Barranco and Av. Grau in Miraflores…which are NOT the same). I could even handle it if one was Avienda and one was Calle, but no, they are both Av. Not easy for the tourists.

Friday 2/19/10

We get up at 7:15 allowing us enough time to finish packing, shower, eat, and checkout. Our taxi is called for 8:30, however we get a call at 7:45 that the driver is here. I explain that we still need to eat and checkout before we will be ready closer to 8:30. The driver agrees and we continue with our morning as planned. The breakfast is the same as the other day. Not knowing when we will eat next, I opt again for the omelet. We don't rush, but don't take our time and are out to meet the taxi around 8:15. We confirm the agreed upon price of s/60 and we are off to the airport which is the same hour plus ride as when we arrived. This taxi is the nicest we've been in as it is a "radio taxi" that gets called for a pick up instead of a "green taxi" that roam the street at all times to be hailed. We have read and heard mixed reports about the taxis in this city, but frankly we had no problem with any of them beyond the feeling that sometimes you got the short end of the haggle. We make it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. No problem checking in and no problem with security. We have to pay our departure fee before heading through security. Today it is $31 or the equivalent in sols. I am prepared with the US cash and with the exception of s/25, have spent all of our other money. We make it to the gate and wait for boarding. There is free wi-fi in the terminal, so we check emails and catch up on FB. Our flight to Santiago is at 12:30pm and so far it on time. The flight goes without issue and we head for Santiago as planned.

I have been thinking about how to sum up my thoughts on our visit to Lima. Did I like it? Was it what I expected? Would I go back? And the answer is “yes” with some qualification. As we were on our layover in Lima after flying in from Santiago I was approached by a young lady from the Peru tourism center who is hired to ask tourists about their experiences in Lima. She asked if I had visited Peru this trip and I explained that I was on a layover today, but had spent three days in Lima about a week earlier, and that I would answer the questions if that was acceptable. She asked many of the same questions that El and I were asked in the Santiago Airport as we waited to leave Chile. Mostly, they wanted to know why we chose Peru for vacation and how we learned about the country. What kind of lodging arrangements we had and what we did while we were there. Then she asks me the question that I was a little hesitant to answer…”would you recommend Peru as a vacation destination to others?” At first I told her that I would not recommend it and that I thought the people and the food in this city were fantastic, however, I did not find Lima to be a very tourist friendly city. Any city without a metro or a darn good public bus system gets major points off. We find taxis to be a very impractical method of transport when you just want to get out and explore a city. For example, we went to Lima center to see the Iglesia de San Francisco and had to leave before we saw Chinatown. If there was a metro stop in the city center, we very well may have made it back, but to taxi back did not seem practical for us. Another downside to visiting this city (as in Santiago) was the lack of English in tourist areas. Let me clarify. When I go to a tourist attraction, be it a church or a museum, or an archaeological site, I am there as a tourist. I am not sure how many Limenos visit these places, but the fact is that I don’t speak Spanish. I could speak six different languages, it doesn’t mean that Spanish will be one of them. And when we go to these attractions, there are no brochures in other languages and there is no English (or any other language) written on the displays. This makes it hard for someone like me to get the most out of the attraction without hiring a English speaking tour guide- which was not available at all sites. And those that did not, also had the Spanish only displays. I summed my thoughts on Lima as such; if a friend of mine told me they were going to Peru, I would give them plenty of suggestions for things to do to make the most of their time in Lima. However, if the same person asked if they should go to Peru, I would probably tell them that Buenos Aires or Santiago are more visitor friendly cities.