In an attempt to make my well of a bucket list a bit less deep in 2019, next on the travel agenda was Peru. This was another #OryxLiveYourDreams inaugural trip, this time with a new member of the Oryx team, Dan Søby, leading it. The travel kakis on this trip were Shobs (surprise, surprise), GC and another old friend, Shiv.
The western region of South America is probably the farthest away one can be from Singapore. [Note: I checked – Bogota in Colombia is the city farthest away from Singapore – 19,317km, with Lima, Peru coming in second at 18,808km.] The non-stop almost 16-hour flight from Singapore to Los Angeles was comfortable enough and surprisingly didn’t feel that long – there was time for a couple of movies – Captain Marvel (which was fun), The Favourite (which was weird), a documentary on Bowie (back to fun) and a good 7 hours of sleep.
What we weren’t prepared for was the immigration queue at LA. It took two and a half #%^*!* hours to clear and by the time we got to the hotel and went to bed it was past 3 in the morning. [Note to self : when travelling to South America, do NOT go via the United States.]
I woke up later that morning feeling hungry and looking forward to breakfast. Then I remembered…American chain hotel, and tempered expectations…which was a good move. It was paper plates and utensils and a generally underwhelming heart attack inducing breakfast. Welcome to America. The staff were lovely though and check out was quick; we were soon back at the TBIT (Tom Bradley International Terminal, not some variant of a TBT exercise routine) for our flight to Lima. There was a moment of low-level panic when GC’s name couldn’t be found on the check-in list, but it eventually was and all was well.
Immigration and security clearance (complete with sniffer dogs and passengers having to walk in twos at a Homeland Security officer’s ‘go’ command) took a while but was slightly less traumatic than the previous night’s experience.
The LATAM flight was comfortable, and the food and movie selection pretty decent. Finally watched Bohemian Rhapsody (excellent – made me want to go listen to all the Queen CDs again) and the sweatypalm-inducing Free Solo.
We got in to Lima just after midnight on Monday 3rd June and were greeted by Dan. I think I speak for all of us when I say our first impression of our photographer-guide for the next two weeks was excellent – it was a good vibe 🙂
The two most important things we needed to know were that tap water shouldn’t be drunk, and…toilet paper can’t be flushed down the loo and had to be be put in waste bins. This is going to be interesting.
We were in Peru! For now, it was shower and bed; tomorrow we’ll go jalan-jalan in Lima.
A Lazy-ish Day in Lima
We were glad for an itinerary-less first day in Lima. After a leisurely breakfast (a much improved version compared to the US one), we met up with friend of GC’s at the hotel before wandering out.
First impressions of Lima – street art on every corner, many very elaborate. It was a very grey day and the streets appeared quite nondescript. We eventually got to the Larcomar after a helpful local pointed us in the right direction. The Larcomar is a Chilean-owned shopping mall by the sea – the various high-end shops selling alpaca products and the super expensive (and meltingly soft) vicuña apparel were the only reminders that I was in Peru.
Dan had recommended lunch at Tanta which was in the Larcomar, so that’s where we went. We managed to get a corner table by the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
The food and service were fab – the ceviche was especially yummy as were the various desserts; my favourite was a chocolate-local fruit concoction…it tasted like jackfruit and condensed milk/caramel. I suspect this is going to be a high sugar trip.
It was a slow walk back to our hotel, the Casa Andina in the Miraflores district. The jet lag was beginning to hit all of us and we were happy for a couple of hours rest before meeting Dan for dinner.
Dinner was at Isolina. The portions were huge and 2 mains were all that were needed…and there were still leftovers. We had a lomo saltado and a short rib stew – both delish. Peru is not known for its wines, so on Dan’s and the waiter’s recommendation we went with an Argentinian red which was great.
Over dinner, Dan asked us about our photographic ‘expectations’ of this trip and what cameras we used – to the latter question, it was a wide-ranging reply – Olympus, Canon, Nikon and iPhone. Dan himself uses a Nikon – and a recently acquired Huawei.
As for expectations, I hadn’t quite concretised my ‘KPIs’ for this trip yet, but thinking about it later that night, the three for this trip were:
- To get one good image of Machu Picchu.
- To not fall off a mountainside
- To not have altitude sickness.
Pisco Sours, Protesters & Pelicans
The following day was ‘city tour’ day with Dan. Another grey day – apparently this is Lima during the winter months – how depressing.
First stop was a local market – which was very much like a wet market in Singapore or Malaysia, with stalls selling fresh produce and cooked food. Cheeses featured prominently too.
On one of the streets there was a newspaper stall – it had the front pages of various newspapers displayed so that passers-by could read the front page news without necessarily having to buy the newspaper. Interesting concept!
On our walkabout we came across a street protest. It was all quite peaceful despite the banner-waving locals and policemen in full riot gear. The policemen appeared quite relaxed, with some seeming to have a catch up chat with friends.
Groups with banners posed for us and as I took a photo, one of them asked us to ‘tell the world’ about this protest (!). The protest was to do with judicial reforms – the President was seeking the support of the Congress (which is controlled by the Opposition) to push through his proposed reform package which included measures to remove the immunity enjoyed by lawmakers, and to clean up how political campaigns were financed – all good things by the sound of it. The street protest was actually in support of these reforms. The Congress was discussing and supposedly deciding on these reforms today.
On one of the streets nearer the Congress building (or palace, as it is called), there were one or two women with bullhorns shouting into the faces of the policemen who remained impassive. Some distance from the human barricade formed by the policemen, a group of suited men walked past – the bullhorn women’s shouting increased at this point. Apparently the President was among the group; they were walking from the Congress back to the President’s office – no decision had been reached yet.
Surprisingly, photographing policemen is ‘allowed’ in Peru. So, it was quite easy to get some policemen pics for a friend (who shall remain unnamed).
Lima’s population is about 10 million with the average income per person about USD500. From the city, we could see colourful homes on a mountainside – Dan said these were where the poorer segment of the population lived…in some other countries, this might be sought after real estate.
On the agenda today was the 17th century Church of San Francisco and a visit to its catacombs. Unlike the ones in Rome, these were well lit and did not feel so claustrophobic (though there was a ‘disclaimer warning’ at the beginning of the tour, which was cause for some concerned looks to be directed at me). The guide explained that wealthy Lima-ites paid a premium to be buried beneath the church. What they didn’t know was that they were buying an apartment-type plot – as subsequent equally wealthy people who died (and had paid for the privilege) were buried on top of them.
Bones were grouped by type…skulls, femurs, sacrums (sacra?), in rather bizarre festive arrangements. No one could explain the reason for this (other than to say, it looked ‘better’ for the visitors to the catacombs). The catacomb caretaker was very free, izzit??
Outside the church, some time was spent paying homage to puddles of water as we received tuition on ‘reflection’ images. When not kneeling in puddles , we attempted bird shots as the hundreds of pigeons outside the church flew on cue each time a local tour guide made a loud sound (precisely to make them fly).
There were two food stops for today – lunch was at another Tanta, in the old part of Lima. Food was still good though the highlight was the Pisco Sour which made the day slightly less grey. The second was at the old Biblioteca or library – where we stopped for coffee and ice cream 🙂
Next stop was the fishermen’s wharf at Chorrillos. As in Lake Chamo and Lake Turkana, where there are readily available fish, there are pelicans. Some of them were ginormous!
We met Manuel who, too old now to go out with the boats, repairs the fishing nets. He was most interested to know we were off to Cusco and Machu Picchu – he’d never been and asked Dan to bring him something from Cusco.
When we’d driven in from the airport we’d seen a faraway Christ the Redeemer-like statue lit up in neon lights on a hill. We went up the hill today to get a closer look. This statue was apparently funded by a Brazilian construction firm that was subsequently mired in a corruption scandal. The locals aren’t impressed by it – either wanting to tear it down or keep it there to remind them of the corruption that could so easily infect their lives. It is known (quite sacrilegiously) as Christ of the Corrupt.
The statue (just a tad shorter than Rio’s Christ the Redeemer) is also criticised for its looks – especially the neon lights at night. Interestingly, I thought the face on the statue was more ‘streetwise’ than serene…a reflection of its funding source??
Near this controversial figure is a giant cross made from pylons that were blown up during an attack by the Shining Path – the Peruvian terrorist group. Somehow, this structure seemed far more impressive
It was an early dinner back at the hotel and an early night. Tomorrow we leave for Paracas – and Dan promised, blue skies.