05.05.2013 - 05.05.2013
We started the morning with breakfast in our room as we watched the outer islands of the port of Callao (Lima), Peru, drift into view. Our arrival was heralded by dozens of huge jellyfish (Chrysaora plocamia) drifting below our huge window. The ship was guided to a dock in a rather industrial port area. Once we were tied up, the announcement began to advise passengers they could disembark to explore on their own or to call us to meet in the auditorium to get tour tickets. Jerry and Michelle opted to look into the city at their own pace while Susie and John jumped on a bus for a guided tour of Lima.
It was cloudy and gray, but the capital city of Peru is full of classic and colorful buildings to brighten the day. As we traveled to the central square of the city, we passed buildings new and old, many in bright shades of yellow, blue and pink.
The Government Palace occupies the north side of the Plaza de Armas, Lima's central square. Pizarro, the conqueror of the Incas, liked the site so much that began constructing the first Spanish palace there in 1535. Since then, it has been rebuilt many times. On the other three sides of the square are the Cathedral of Lima and the adjoining Archbishop's Palace, which were originally built during the 1600s and the Municipal Palace (City Hall). All the structures sport the intricately carved wooden balconies complete with wooden “screens” to allow ladies to view the plaza without folks below gawking at them. Today at noon would be the changing of the guard, so many tourists — including families, school children, and musicians — were beginning to mill around the plaza.
The bus made it’s first stop nearby so we could visit the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo, which dates back to the end of the 16th century. It is most renowned as the final resting place for three important Peruvian saints: San Juan Macías, Santa Rosa de Lima and San Martín de Porres (the continent’s first black saint). The convent – a sprawling courtyard-studded complex lined with baroque paintings and clad in vintage Spanish tile – contains the saints’ tombs. The convent's two cloisters are decorated with hand-painted tiles imported from Spain in the early 17th century. The stately library holds 25,000 antiquarian books.
Leaving the convent, we took a walking tour through a few of the streets, past restaurants, bars and shops. Entering one end of a gated alley, we found ourselves in an open air market and as we stepped out the other end we found ourselves at our next destination: The Aliaga House.
The Aliaga House is as old as Lima itself. When conquistador Francisco Pizarro founded the capital city on Jan. 18, 1535, he gave the plot adjacent to the Government Palace to his trusted ally Jerónimo de Aliaga, so they could be neighbors. Eighteen generations of the Aliaga family have resided in the same mansion ever since — it's been renovated continuously, but it's the oldest house in the Americas. Jerónimo's descendants currently live in a modern annex, but much of the original main house is on display. We were greeted by servants who served us soft drinks before our tour guide led us through the house and its wide-ranging collection of Peruvian art and artifacts going back centuries.
Back on the streets, we continued our walk through the Plaza, past the Government Palace, and onto the patio of another church (occupied by a swarm of pigeons and vendors selling bags of seed to passersby to keep the birds coming). This is the Church of San Francisco, one of the best preserved in Lima. Built in the late 1600s, San Francisco has several gilded side altars and an impressive lattice dome. The adjoining monastery has a superb collection of ancient religious texts, some of which were brought over by the first wave of Spanish priests after the conquest of the Incas. Most people go to San Francisco, however, for its catacombs. The catacombs were actually part of Lima's original cemeteries, which were built under churches. It is estimated that 75,000 bodies are buried under San Francisco alone, and many of the remains are exposed, stacked in strange patterns in circular stone pits. Although we did not tour the catacombs, we were able to peer down through lattice work in the floor to see some of the remains.
Leaving the church, we boarded the bus once again to head for the up-scale Miraflores district. On the way, we were able to see one of the vestiges of Peru's ancient civilizations. Lima has a large number of historical ruins, known locally as huacas. One of the major excavations is of the Pucllana Temple, or Huaca Pucllana. This adobe ceremonial center was likely built around 500 A.D., during the cultural height of Lima's history. Much of the site has been restored and excavations continue to uncover artifacts and the occasional mummy.
Lima has always been known as the Garden City, and no district rivals Miraflores when it comes to parks. The El Malecón is a six-mile stretch of parks situated along the cliffs high above the Pacific Ocean. Perfect for jogging, biking or simply taking in the view, walkways through the Malecón are dotted with statues created by famed Peruvian artists. One of the most famous works of sculpture is Víctor Delfín's massive carving of a couple in deep embrace, the central piece of a section of the Malecón known as Parque del Amor (Love Park). At this point, we all stepped off the bus for a photo op...and a warm churro (a long filled pastry). While we munched and snapped pictures, paragliders sailed off the cliffs nearby.
The remainder of the tour took us through more of the many streets of Lima and back to Callao and our ship. We spent the rest of the afternoon resting up for our night tour of Lima with Jerry and Michelle.
Now, having spent four long and quiet days cruising across the South Pacific with little more to excite us than finding out the “drink of the day”, we were due for something to shake up our complacency. As it turned out, hooking up with our tour guides for the evening was the necessary adventure. To briefly set the stage, we had booked the evening tour in advance of the trip—from the Mpls-St. Paul airport the morning of our departure, in fact. This was to be a private (and somewhat spendy) tour in a van for just the four of us. The other factor that you need to know is that our ship was docked in a gated and secured area of the port. To get in and out, every vehicle was inspected by guards at a barred gate.
So...our tour confirmation stated that the tour guide would meet us at 6:30 p.m. at the port. Realizing that he would not be able to drive directly to our ship (and seeing other guests boarding buses to take them to the port’s main gate), we jumped on a shuttle bus shortly after 6:00 to head up to the gate. When we arrived, we could see various buses, vans, and taxis coming and going just outside the gates. As we approached the gateway, we were stopped by a security guard. He spoke Spanish; we spoke English. Between all of us gesturing and jabbering, we finally made it clear to him that we were to meet a tour van at the gate. And he made it clear to us that we could not walk out through the gate until the tour operator (or someone) came to the gate to vouch for us. Watching the continuous comings and goings of throngs of vehicles and people on the other side of the gates, we managed (I think) to express our uncertainty that our tour guide would find us. The guard reassured us with a halting, “They will come. They will come.” But they didn’t come. After waiting for 15 or 20 minutes, the guards offered us a room to sit in while we waited. And still they didn’t come.
To make a long story short (about a long, long wait), as we continued to wait and they didn’t come, Jerry and I started standing watch out through the gates and at nearly 7:30 p.m. we saw a cardboard sign held up by a young woman outside that was printed with “BURNS”. We shouted that we were here. Once the van pulled in to pick us up, we discovered that the tour guide (and his girlfriend/assistant) had come — and had been waiting for over an hour outside for us while we were waiting inside for them; they didn’t seem to understand why we didn’t come out...we didn’t understand why they didn’t come in. Oh, well, we were finally ready to roll.
The tour around the city was a visual delight, as we drove past many of the sites we had visited earlier in the day but now they were bathed in spotlights. The climax of the evening was a visit to a park on the edge of the downtown area where we watched a fantastic display of dancing water and lights — more than a dozen fountains sending water shooting into the air, choreographed to music and light. The Magic Water Circuit (Circuito Mágico del Agua) also included graphics and videos projected onto large “screens” of water and mist created by the fountains. The effect was awesome and we thoroughly enjoyed the show. It was a remarkable finish to a wonderful day.
After our return to the ship, we said goodbye for now to Jerry and Michelle. They were scheduled to return home on an early flight the next morning. We parted with handshakes, hugs and promises to see each other soon back in Minnesota!