My time in Lima was full of all sorts of interesting new facts and information. While it was just a quick stay, our guide, Omar did a great job teaching us about Peruvian culture and kept us laughing too. At one point while he was talking in the front of the bus he fell almost into the drivers lap. "Sometimes it happens," he replied and barely missed a beat in his talk about all of the varieties of potatoes found throughout Peru. Since I am on the topic of potatoes, there are over 3,000 varieties! Who knew? Also fascinating was that there are over 300 different types of corn. I was able to sample a couple while I was there including the purple kind that makes a lovely drink called chicha morada.
Culturally, there is a quite a diverse mix of people who live in Lima. Mestizo, or mixed race people make up the majority of the population here. There is also a large population of Chinese immigrants who have had a significant influence on the cuisine. Chifa, a Chinese/Peruvian restaurant is commonplace along the city streets. The influence is so strong in fact that there is no Chinatown because there is a complete integration into the culture.
The rest of the day was full of a trip to a history museum, the St. Francis Museum/ Church, and the Convento de San Francisco. And this was all before lunch! The history museum was like most museums full of artifacts like pottery telling the stories of a civilization long extinct. Omar's stories helped paint a picture of what the Incas were like and how advanced their society was. More on all of that in the Cuzco post. The church, which didn't allow pictures, was eerily beautiful. The ceiling was a series of wood carvings that fit together like a puzzle. The center courtyard was a rose garden with tiled columns all around the outside. Frescoes lined the upper walls while white mosaic spanish-style tiles line the mid and bottom parts. As I walked through admiring the architecture, the smell of sautéing garlic filled the air. I then walked through a couple of rooms past an alley way painted red with red pots lining the walkway. I then wandered into a room lined with gilded icons of saints. Each one had a story, and it made me wish I had paid more attention in my religious eduction classes as a child.
The most disturbing but fascinating part of the day was the walk through the catacombs. Again, no photos were allowed, so I'll do my best to illuminate the experience. Into the underground crypts I went ducking my head so as not to smack my forehead on the very low ceilings. The light was minimal, and the smell was appropriately musty with a hint of death. Around each corner was a different display of various bones. I came to find out that approximately 25,000 people had been buried here. I use the term buried very loosely though because there are just piles and piles of bones just out in the open. They are just grave-like holes full of leg bones. How this is a tourist attraction or "decoration" as it was called; I'm not sure. Walking through more creepy low tunnels past empty candelabras I came upon an image that will stay with me for a very long time. There were skulls arranged in concentric circles connected by femur bones. It looked like something out of a medieval secret society meeting.
The rest of the day involved lunch at a seaside mall called Larcomar in Miraflores which was just a couple short minutes from our hotel. Later on we headed over to JFK park to see all of the stray cats that just hang out there. Apparently it was the place to take a cat that was no longer wanted. There were so many cats just lounging in flower beds and chasing each other around. I had never seen anything like it before. Walking around the city at night was peaceful and beautiful, but I definitely recommend walking with a group. There is so much more to see and do in Lima, but for one day I truly felt like I was beginning to understand what a special country Peru is.