Big Gate, no Roof

Perhaps the best place to get over jet-lag is a resort in what these days passes for paradise. On my last (and only other) trip round the world, we spent a few days in Fiji at just such a resort, surrounded by other jet-lagged tourists, waited on by staff trained to deal with jet-lagged tourists.

The logistics of this trip made that impossible, and so Beloved and I found oursleves, confused, tired and with several days to kill before heading up into the mountains, alone in a foreign city. As we had booked our hotel as part of a tour, I´d expected it to be a tourist hotel, or at least to contain other tourists, probably including a few Brits who’d spend their time telling us about their other foreign trips, complaining about the State of England and discussing the weather (not that there’s much to say about the weather in Lima – see below). I was initially quite relieved to discover we appeared to be the only English people in the district of San Isidro. However, we may also be the only English-speaking people in San Isidro, and as my Spanish is limited to ordering drinks and apologising, this has made even simple operations such as buying stamps or getting the laundry complex and embarassing. The nice people of Lima would like to help me, they just can’t understand a word I’m saying.

So, cowards that we are, we’re spent some of the time when we could be getting to know this vibrant and fascinating city just sitting in our room reading. However, whilst said hotel room is large enough to host a minor sporting fixture, it is less than luxurious, and there’s something about the sand-yellow and bottle-green  colour scheme with ‘matching’ orange and green tartan soft furnishings which drive us out onto the streets every few hours. Such exploring as we have done has been under our own steam. Not that there isn´t transport. Buses, in all shapes, sizes and colours, make up a significant proportion of the insane rush of Lima traffic. However, though some sport the names of districts of Lima in florid script on the sides they run to no discernable route or timetable. Taxis are even more common, but even assuming we could negotiate price and destination with no common language, we´d be risking getting robbed, or worse, as most are unlicensed. That doesn´t stop them wanting to pick us up. In fact the drivers seem to assume that any tourist not currently in a taxi must, perforce, be looking for one. To make sure we don´t miss out on the chance of a ride they perform emergency stops whilst leaning on their horn whenever they see us (and we´re easy to pick out, being the only white and badly dressed people in the district). We´ve tried walking on the other side of the road, but then they do U-turns.

Still, arguably the best way to see a new place is to walk. If you don´t have a map it´s certainly a good way to get lost. We´ve often ended up at the sea, partly because we like the sea, and partly becuase it´s big and easy to find. The clifftops of the better districts are given over to public parks with scultures, seats and gardens (my irony was particualrly aroused by seeing icons from the Nazca lines picked out in 1 to several hundred scale in marigolds). From these parks we´ve watched the good people of Lima utilise the thermals from the Pacific to launch kites, radio controlled aircraft and themselves into the air.

We´ve tried to stick to the areas where tourists are not considered a delicacy, but we´ve still seem plenty of poverty. At one point, we had on our left an estate of pink and orange houses, each with the ubiquitous yet uniquely sculpted ironwork which covers all ground floor openings in every residence we´ve seen. On the right, where the ground fell away to the sea too steeply to build on, a shanty town had grown up, the houses in their way as neat as the richer ones, and with power – we kept having to duck under the lines running from the overhead cable into the valley. But they were made not of brick and glass and iron but of wood and breeze-blocks and palm thatch. They had rooves of fabric or palm, or no roof at all. In Lima it never rains, and the tropical sun rarely breaks through the grey cloud cover, so whilst the rich feel the need to bar all windows and doors, rooves are optional.

We made one excursion outside the city on a tour, passing many more shanty settlements on the way. Some of them were built on steep, dusty hills of loose soil. If it ever rains, a lot of people are going to be in trouble here. Our destination was a far older city, the ruined temple complex of Pachacamac. The site, out in the undulating desert, looks like it is disolving into the dust, an effect not of rain but of centuries of earthquakes which have shaken the mud-brick platforms and ramps into ruins. It´s huge – we had to get around by mini-bus – but only the latest part, the Inca temple at the highest point, still has any significant structure standing. The traces of the red plaster which once covered this temple to the Sun are the only colour until you climb to the highest point and look down over the fertile valley below and out to the edge of the world, where the green-grey sea meets the blue-green sky.

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