The first thing I notice about Lima is the morning fog which, like San Francisco, rolls off the sea, blocks out the sunshine and heat. At this time of year (September) it burns off by lunchtime but around dusk at 6.30pm the temperature plumets to below ten degrees or colder. This requires up to three changes of clothes or layers which can be added or removed.
All this is caused by the cold Humboldt current which shoots up from Antarctica scooping up nutrients from the Pacific Ocean floor as it goes, to feed the plankton. Consequently the seas are rich with fish and seafood. The Humboldt eventually meets a warm current travelling south at the Galapagos Islands resulting in incredible diversity of flora and fauna.
Arturo is our guide today and explains the weather of Peru to us. We are playing at being locals by jumping on one of the numerous busses which are the main method of public transport. We travel out of the suburb of Milefiori to pick up tuk tuks. They are forbidden in the posh areas of Lima. We make for the sea past expensive apartment blocks with views of the mist-shrouded sea. We travel south along the coastal road to observe that the land is indeed a desert. Nothing grows in Lima that hasn’t been watered daily – fed by reservoirs and rivers from inland rain and snow from the Andes. Because the mountains are only ten kilometres inland and extremely high, they prevent the fog from drifting inland and dispersing.
We stop to observe the Pacific Ocean. Arturo spent a few years in Aotearoa and points in a south westerly direction with some fondness. There is a statue of General Miguel Grau splattered with guano. He is one of the heroes of Peru, even though he didn’t quite win the Pacific War in 1879 when Chile invaded and grabbed some of Peru and Bolivia lost its access to the sea. Originally Bolivia asked Peru for help but later withdrew leaving Peru to put up resistance to the incursion. A story currently playing out in Eastern Europe. Below is a sea wall, which encloses an open water course in the cold Pacific Ocean. One swimmer in a wet suit is doing the circuit. There is a small boat with people fishing, but no sign of a life guard. I haven’t got my swimming gear and there seems no way down from here.
Arturo tells us about the conquest of the Inca Empire by the Catholic Church. A cross by the cliff edge includes many of the Christian symbols. Far above on the hills is a pylon-style cross which lights up at night and can be seen from afar. This was made for the visit of the Pope Francis.
Further on is a rocky promontory where a young man is struggling to get into his white monk’s costume whilst removing his red pants. Legend has it that a young monk fell in love with a beautiful girl. Her family took her away, leaving the monk so heartbroken that he jumped to his death from the rocks. Our young man has managed to remove his red pants and now stands on the rock with a knotted rope attached to him. We wait – video buttons poised. He might be waiting for the waves to be at the right level or perhaps he is psyching himself up for his dive. Whatever his motive he has created suspense and anticipation in his audience. I miss the start, but notice that he bends his knees so that his lower legs will retard his entry into the sea. A great strategy to avoid breaking his neck on the bottom. He surfaces, quickly hauls himself up the knotted rope and scampers up to collect our money. There’s a group watching from the road, so he has to get there before they all drive off in their cars.
Onwards to Horseshoe Bay, once the most beautiful beach. The mayor of this region had ambitions to create a highway right around the coast. The hillside was blown away, resulting in rocks and pebbles covering the beach. The highway was never built.
Lunch is at Tacu Tacu – a no fuss restaurant where we are served jugs of Chicha Morada and Passion Fruit juice. They are both delicious, the former being made by boiling purple corn and adding some pineapple juice. Looking like the darkest red wine you ever saw, it originates in the Andes and is now ubiquitous in Peru. Our meal begins with two traditional starters: Ceviche – made from fresh raw fish marinade in lime, with corn and salad. I’ve never liked the idea of raw fish and am unsure about large chunks of it. It was fantastic – add fresh finely sliced red chilis to give it a bite. Causa – which looks like a small cake has layers of yellow mashed potato (there are over 4000 varieties of potato in Peru) then a layer of seafood or chicken then Avocado (native to the Americas from Mexico to the Andes) and finally another potato layer. Our main is grilled fish with rice and corn with spices – a tasty way to brighten up these inexpensive grains left over from yesterday. Filling and delicious.
We walk it off through the market area bright with multi-coloured fruit and vegetables and onwards past a mansion which was, in colonial times, part of a ranch retreat overlooking the sea. Not far away and behind a grim looking brown fence topped with electrified wire is the second best steak restaurant in the world. It seems the Peruvians are proud to be second best – there is quite a list. What comes across is the politics of Spanish colonisation and the legacy of the Incas and their empire which is still remembered. Not forgotten are former great civilisations thriving around the time of the Romans. There will be more to learn I’m sure.
Another local bus takes us to The Barranco district. We are looking at a valley going down to the sea. A recent earthquake has destroyed the roof of a church on the other side and other buildings made from adobe bricks are also damaged. Many years ago, this was a route the fishermen took down to the sea. The fog was so heavy that often they could not make out the path back up with their catch. One night they saw a light at the top and followed it to find a burning cross. This was a sign and the place became holy. We follow the path to discover the most amazing art on walls. Many artists are commissioned to paint on buildings by local governments and companies. Near the top of the Barranco is the work of Jade Rivera and his studio/shop. Jade has murals all over the world – it’s evocative work and this mural is stunning – a popular location for photo shoots. The photographer and model had infinite patience waiting for a shot clear from other people.
The underside of a bridge has become a mass portrait demonstrating the diversity of people in Peru. There’s an interesting mural representing The Amazon and the drug Ayahausca – a hallucinogenic concoction used by Samans to heal. The essential ingredient is like the synthetic drug DMT and patients must fast for three days before taking it and then only under the close supervision of the Shaman, who strongly disapprove of casual use. Lastly and most importantly, the woman who multitasks and holds the rest of the world on her shoulders