Monday, April 16, 2012
Not many people like Lima. When I told my friends that I was traveling to Peru, they all advised me to skip the capital. From what they said, Lima sounded like a dangerous place with nothing to do and see. But I’ve heard the same thing about other cities, and I’ve never found it to be true. I had a feeling that Lima would impress me. And it did.
I already knew about Lima’s reputation of having the best restaurants in South America. I also knew that the pretty Miraflores neighborhood showed the city at its best. But there were other things to learn, and I was lucky enough to have a native limeño as my guide.
The PR director of Inca Rail, with whom I had enjoyed lunch in Cuzco the prior week, happened to be in Lima while I was visiting. He generously offered to take me around his home city for the afternoon, and I happily took him up on it.
As soon as my flight from La Paz landed at the airport, I took a taxi to the main park in Miraflores. There I met my guide, who walked with me to the nearby cliffs. Pretty parks and gardens, including the famous Lovers’ Park with its sculpture of a couple kissing, overlooked the Pacific Ocean.
After walking by the parks, we hailed a taxi and took a tour of some of Lima’s other waterfront neighborhoods. First we passed through Barranco, a lovely area to the south of Miraflores. It was dotted with historic homes and several museums. South of there was Chorrillos, where we drove up a steep hill to a vista point that overlooked all of Lima.
From the top we could see the entire urban area, which sprawled in every direction from the ocean in the west to the mountains in the east. With only one day in Lima, there was no way I could see it all, but I was happy to settle for the highlights.
One of them was the next stop on our Lima tour: a waterfront restaurant called El Salto del Fraile, or the Friar’s Jump. Apparently the place was named after a friar that jumped to his death in the Pacific from the rocks next to the restaurant.
We went to to El Salto del Fraile to watch another friar jump to his death from the high rocks above the ocean. Or at least we watched a guy dressed in friar-like robes jump off the cliff into the foaming water below. He did it for tips. We obliged.
From there we drove back into Miraflores to go to another dining establishment. Las Brujas de Cachiche was one of the best restaurants in Lima, and its buffet lunch was the perfect way to taste food from all over Peru.
Making several rounds at the buffet, we tried everything from fresh ceviche and tiradito de pescado (fresh fish with yellow sauce) to aji de gallina (a spicy, creamy chicken dish) and tacu tacu (rice and beans).
We samples tamales, arroz con pato (rice with duck), yuca balls, chicharrones, and my favorite, chicha morada. It was a purple drink made from corn, and it was delicious.
While we were eating, the godfather of modern Peruvian cuisine himself walked into the restaurant. Dr. Cesar A. Alcorta y Suero came by to say hello, and told me about his philosophy of staying true to the roots of classic Peruvian cuisine while enriching it with traditional family recipes.
After lunch we needed something to lure us out of our food comas. This came in the form of espressos at a famous coffee shop in Lima called Haiti. Located right across the street from the main park in Miraflores, it was the perfect place to people watch.
But looking at people wasn’t all we had in store for the afternoon. Soon we were off to the Mercado Indio market to view all of the Peruvian handicrafts for sale. When we arrived, my guide informed me that the market sold everything that all of the other markets around the country offered, but at lower prices.
For the next hour I lost myself in the maze of stalls, awestruck by the gleaming silver pieces, colorful woven goods, and beautiful beads. Tiny finger puppets waved their knitted hands as stuffed guinea pigs, llamas, and alpacas surveyed the scene with watchful eyes.
It was about time I surveyed my watch with watchful eyes, too. My flight to Madrid was due to depart that evening, and I needed to wrap up my Lima tour to travel back to Europe. I thanked my guide, without whom I wouldn’t have had such a great time in the city, and hopped into a taxi to go to the airport.
And so I said good-bye to South America. My 10 days there were far too short to explore everything the region had to offer, but long enough to fall in love with the landscapes, food, people, and culture. The same went for Lima. After learning not to listen to the naysayers, I left even more impressed than I suspected I would be. But now that I knew that the city had so much to offer, I was sure I would come back someday to see the rest. And the remainder of Peru and Bolivia. And all of South America…