It was already dark when we landed in Lima and we went straight to the hotel. The taxi ride over there was already quite something, as it seemed like 5 cars crammed on only 3 lanes all over. Our hotel was small but very cozy and with a very nice Peru flavor to it. The positive part about being in a small hotel is that you start to interact with the other guests as we had breakfast together in a small living room setting. We met a very nice group from Chile that had just come from Cusco and Machu Picchu. They gave us some very good advice that added a lot of flavor to our Cusco stay.
We had one full day in Lima and were determined to use it to the fullest. We started by taking two taxis down town and frankly speaking we were extremely happy to have gotten away from that trip in one piece.
We drove through this very crowded city, of 10 million people, like in a race. Through narrow streets that all seamed to be “labeled” for a certain purpose. One street had nothing but printing services and copy shops, the next had only bike shops and bike repair with some tire services. This was something that we saw even more of when walking through town, we went through the “glass” street, that sold nothing but reading glasses and many men sitting outside doing repairs. There was also a household street with absolutely everything for the kitchen etc.
At the Plaza de Armes (there is one of those in every city that we have visited), we witnessed the changing of the guards in front of the presidential palace. But our attention was all over the place as there was so much to take in. The first thing we noticed was the abundance of all kind of police and law enforcement people walking the streets in full armour. For us, coming from a country where you never ever see a gun, it was a bit intimidating or at least something to get used to.
Our new friends from Chile had recommended that we should see China town. So we started out trying to orient ourselves and by asking a person in a yellow west that we later found out was there employed by the municipal to help tourists and to keep, the sometimes aggressive, sales people in order.
We were equipped with a map of the city and a popular route that turned out to be very impressive. On that route we saw both some old ruins and beautiful Spanish balconies but the most bizarre place we visited were the catacombs. Apparently there were catacombs under every big church in earlier times. The one that we visited “hosted” 25.000 people but had been closed down for about 200 years. We learned that in those days people believed that if you were buried under the church your soul would be safe and go to heaven. People were indeed buried under the church but the scam was that they were buried in a way that they would decompose quickly and then the remains (bones) were removed and piled together in big compartments. The bones were sorted by size and length and now fill compartments that are up to five meters deep. Walking through the catacombs and seeing endless piles of leg bones, arms and sculls was something you do not forget.
Back on the streets we headed for China town and “what an experience”! We had to remind ourselves that this was just a normal Thursday for these people as we had the feeling of being in a celebration of some sort or something close to a Spanish feria. The noise, the food and all the endless rows of people selling stuff to each other were amazing. We had the strange feeling that we were the only foreigners there. We stuck out with our fair complexion and being absolutely the tallest people by far. When we later told about our China town experience we got the feeling that it is not really recommended for tourists to go there, as it is not considered safe. But we got back in one piece with all our belongings and big smiles on our faces.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in a park that is the pride of Lima and has received some international awards and attention. Not surprisingly as the park has many spectacular fountains that change color and shape. We witnessed also a show that involved the water “dancing” to music and with the added effect of a laser show it became really a spectacular “movie”.
Our biggest fear going to Peru had been the food. We decided to take no chances the first evening and found a very nice restaurant at the 5 stars Swissotel. It turned out to be absolutely worth it, with amazing service.
Waking up the next day, we met with a travel agent that our hotel manager had recommended to plan our trip from Cusco to Machu Picchu. This took some time but afterwards we felt this had been the make and brake of how successful that trip became. We went away with itinerary for all kinds of pickups, a whole day excursion through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, a day trip through Cusco and nearby ruins and of course everything for visiting Machu Picchu.
Late afternoon we got on a bus heading inlands with a 22 hour trip ahead of us. We have to admit that we had serious second thought about this trip and could not remember what optimistic pill we had taken when ordering it. It was though as we had hoped, comfortable seats – like lazy boy – and we drove through the night that made the trip bearable. All, but Dora, managed to sleep pretty well on the bus and we have to say that the morning drive up the mountains was very beautiful and we could adjust to the high altitude, over 3.400 m, little by little. On the way we passed many small villages, saw big herds of lamas and enjoyed a beautiful mountain view. Some of the mountains in this area are over 6.000 meters high.
We were a pretty tired bunch when checking into our hotel in Cusco. We had an early dinner and went straight to bed.