Four days was definitely not enough for Lima, which, it turns out, seems like a great city. We’d been here briefly a few years ago, en route to the Inca Trail, but didn’t realize how much we would love the city. So we scheduled four days but wished we’d had another four. Next time.
We flew to Lima from Guatemala City, traveling from the heart of the ancient Mayan civilization to the heart of the Incas and our first stop in South America since leaving the U.S. in May 2013. We have essentially three months to work our way through southern Peru and Bolivia down into Argentina; with a little luck we’ll likely get into Paraguay and Uruguay as well. I guess one of the reasons I wasn’t expecting to love Lima so much was that I didn’t realize how big it is – the third largest city in the Americas after Sao Paolo and Mexico, just slightly larger than New York City.One of the implications of being a big, international city is that Lima is a foodie’s heaven. The combination of indigenous, Spanish, and notably Japanese influences makes for a great food scene. In fact three of the top 50 restaurants in the world for 2015 are in Lima, pretty impressive when you think about how big the world is. In fact, only Paris has four of the top 50, while New York & Mexico City both tie Lima with three on the list. In other words, as a food destination, Lima is in pretty austere company. (If you’re curious, the country with the most restaurants on the list is Spain, with seven restaurants in six different cities. That’s consistent with our experience traveling in Spain, where the food is simply amazing.)
It’s worth pointing out that you don’t have to go to any of those top 50 restaurants to experience great cuisine. What they mean is that restaurants in Lima are creative and, in order to succeed, they have to up their game a bit. That was certainly our experience in the four nights we were there. Our only regrets were the many restaurants we walked past that we wouldn’t get to try in our limited stay.
Another thing we loved about Lima was the architecture. One day we took a long walk (six or seven miles) from the Miraflores neighborhood where we were staying to the old city center. Along with some of the Spanish colonial architecture you expect in Latin America I was impressed and even a little surprised by the distinct Moorish character of some of the buildings. It makes sense, given the centuries that North African Moslems ruled Spain but it was still odd (and beautiful) to see it here in South America.
The walk was interesting in a couple ways, in part of course just to watch the city and its neighborhoods change. We walked through one big olive tree park where a sign indicated many of the trees were up to or over 400 years old. Olive trees aren’t something I associate with Peru but I suppose if you’re a 17th century conquistador you wouldn’t want to be without your olives for an extended period.
One of the things you notice when walking around big, relatively poor cities is that the traffic can be hellacious and, when you think about it, how few accidents you see given how chaotic the streets can be. Well, we saw an ugly one on one of those walks.
A kid on a scooter apparently didn’t want to wait in the interminable lines as cars were backed up, and Mark saw him dart out and up the wrong lane to get past them all. Seconds later we hear an awful crash and a lot of commotion. Not only did some car hit him hard – the guy on the scooter was going the wrong way on the street and I’m sure the driver just didn’t look in that direction – but it threw him into the path of another car that ran over him and had him trapped and screaming. It only took a few seconds for maybe six of us to lift the car off him – at one point the driver tried to back up to get off him but that was only going to make things a lot worse for the poor kid. The driver looked terrified as we almost tipped the car over getting the kid out, but that was a small price to pay for getting the kid out. We were pretty sure he was going to survive but he was going to be seriously hurting the next day. And probably more careful the next time he gets on a bike.
So what were the other good memories of Lima? It’s a great city for running, with a beautiful stretch of parks along the escarpment that looms over the Pacific coast. There was something of a heat wave going on, with daytime temperatures getting up to 80 degrees or so; that was a pleasant change after all the cool weather we had in the Mexican and Guatemalan highlands. The cathedral is huge and beautiful with a lot of art all over; it felt in many ways like a great European cathedral.
And we voted! We got absentee ballots for the March 1 primary by email, filled them out, and along with signed affidavits documenting our eligibility, we faxed ’em back. Now, as a value proposition, spending nearly $10 to fax those documents probably doesn’t make a lot of sense, but we couldn’t not vote; that’s just not conceivable.
That’s it for Lima. We loved it and have placed it high on the list of places we have to go back to for a longer stay. Some day.