06.11.2009 - 10.11.2009 22 °C
John:....I mentioned the comfortable nature of Miraflores, the district we have been staying in for the first part of our stay in Lima, Peru. There is an uneasiness underneath that. Many of the houses in the area have high walls, thick steel fences and, in many cases, electric fencing along the top of the walls. The presence of police and security staff, often armed, outside the banks and out on the street suggests strongly that there are things here to protect and people around who may want to take them away. Reportedly Peru has changed out of all recognition in the past 5 years to all but the poor, who continue their hand to mouth existance. There is quite a lot of begging on the streets, even in Miraflores, often young women with small child in tow. A huge influx of people from the countryside has seen the population of Lima increase by several hundred percent in recent years with housing and infrastructure failing to keep up.
The national economy has improved considerably and the country`s infrastructure developed alongside the economic improvement. Nowhere is that development more marked than in the Miraflores district. A new rapid transit system is being built along the Avenue de la Republica, a fine shopping and dining complex has recently opened atop the cliffs looking out over the Pacific and even though many of the drivers are certifiable, the roads are in very good condition. Above all else it feels safe to walk the streets....but it is very clear from excursions through the town to the docks area and towards metropolitan Lima that outside districts like Miraflores life is very tough and can be brutal. We saw a lot of evidence of just how tough on our journey to Cajamarca
The climate here is comfortable, short sleeves and no hair is comfortable although waiting at the bus station for the bingo bus to Cajamarca it was bordering on the humid with the temperature up around 27 degrees. Having just come to the end of ´the dry season´ (no significant rain here in Lima for many years) it was interesting to see what the north of the country had to offer when we got there. Being inland and,therefore higher up than we are in Lima may drop the temperature enough to send one towards a warming glass of the local spirit ´Pisco Sour´ or as the tour guide described it ´The World Famous Pisco Sour´. I may try one but definitely not two. Its reputation is fearsome.
Inside the hostel Christmas has come late; well later than New York where it started some weeks ago. The staff have put up the Christmas decorations. An eclectic mixture of large painted clay houses with wise men, manger, donkeys, shepherds along with the main cast, sitting next door to fluffy snowmen, Santa Clauses in bright red hats, fir trees with twinkling lights...the whole lot. In a city where there is rarely rain let alone snow, a snowman looks a little incongruous although I suppose that is no different in Christchurch in 28 degrees of glorious Canterbury heat. Oh and there are elves, many of them.
We found a great place to eat near to the hostel. A Hare Krishna cafe-restaurant where they do interesting things with brocolli and spinach. These are the only Hare Krishna people that I have seen in a building that isn´t an airport and I must say that they are a very agreeable bunch. Peaceful and courteous and clever at cooking sans meat. I once bought a book from a Hare Krishna person, allegedly endorsed (the book that is, not the person) by Stevie Wonder, George Harrison, Carlos Santana and a number of other notables. When I get back to New Zealand I´m going to see if the brocolli recipe is in it although I suspect it deals with higher things than that.
Unlike other parts of the world there is no celebration of bonfire night this week. It is also Emma Gribble`s birthday and Jackie and I were the only people drinking her health in Lima. I`m sure there are those in Ripon, North Yorkshire who are having a great time!
Enough of this. We headed to the Cruz del Sur coach station to catch the 16 30 coach to Cajamarca (Kaha-mark-a). We got there a little early and checked in the baggage. We had protected our gear as best we could, using a Pak Safe each on our main luggage and padlocks on the smaller bags. Anything valuable stayed with us. We need not have worried though. Our luggage check in was just like going on a flight (but more efficient), we were issued tickets for our bags and watched them being loaded on the coach before we embarked. As we were all seated a security person came and photographed each of us. We weren´t sure if this was about security or passenger recognition if the coach was involved in an accident. The coach was a double decker with reclining seats, hostess service, hot dinner and light breakfast, Video programmes and.....Bingo. Our seats reclined almost flat...this was the luxury coach no mistake. Just as well, as the journey to Cajamarca is 15 hours, most of it through the night, arriving in the mountain town at 07 30.
The first thing of note as we moved out of the coach station was the safety video. None of your humourless ´pay attention or you´re in trouble´ stuff. These people knew well how to get your attention. The hostess they chose to film was stunning, made up to the nines and had all the non verbal powers of seduction you could imagine. She twinkled her eyes, smiled in that way and I knew that she was only talking to me, nobody else. For her I checked my seat belt was on properly several times and took special care to put my take-on luggage in a safe place. Had she instructed me to check my inflatable life jacket I would have done.
We left on time (and arrived at our destination 4 minutes early - very good indeed). We rolled out in to Lima´s early evening Saturday traffic and slowly inched our way towards the Pan-American Highway that would help us to race up the coastline. The route to the P.A.H was through the outskirts of Lima; at first the main city then through mile after mile of communities consisting of poor or slum housing. The houses lining the freeway out to the PAH were mainly brick built,single or two floors with steel reinforcing rods up into the air hoping for another flimsy floor to be added. Given that this is a major earthquake zone it is unsurprising that on every major quake in the region the death toll is so high. From time to time we drove past small hillsides with shanty town housing perched on the sides.
Scenes of struggle over adversity were everywhere. A policeman on point duty on a dias under an umbrella controlling 6 lanes of freeway trafic at a junction with arm gestures and a whistle: he was in charge and nobody argued. This was the impression through the outskirts of Lima. Whatever had been thrown at people through life there were countless games of 5 a side footbal, small outdoor theatrical stages with rows of plastic picnic chairs and against the lines of brickwork houses flourescent posters advertising boxing, concerts and the like. Above all the impression here, as elsewhere in Peru, was of a nation proud but also humble and resilient.
In the midst of all this were several huge shopping complexes with footbridges stretching across the freeway from the housing developments and hundreds of people streaming to and fro. This was the Lima that we wouldn´t have seen if we had flown to Cajamarca. Even as we drove through, it seemed far away as we moved at increasing speed towards the PAH. On two occasions we spotted ferris wheels rising out of the housing, washing out on the roof tops drying in the smog. Past a shanty town with a proud sign proclaiming (I think this is right) ´AL CAMPO FERIAL - LAS MALVENAS´. Rather like the ferris wheels, church towers rose up, offering elevation of a different kind. Despite, or because of the obvious poverty the ubiquitous casinos still obvious, SUN CITY; traffic jammed heading into Saturday night Lima. Battered Toyotas, Daewoos and Nissans, Toyota mini buses, luxury coaches like ours and Moto taxis, motorbikes converted into taxis with three wheels and covered-in convertions for two or three passengers.
By 18:30 we were rolling up the coast and into the night. Desert around us suddenly as the shanty towns cam to an end. We were served a hot meal after watching an excellent Jodie Foster movie about a hijack attempt on a plane. Following the film we were invited to participate in Bingo (the hostess became the bingo caller) but despite our best efforts and the handy positioning of the phrase book we quickly lost track and failed to register on the scoring sheet. I suspect we were looking for the spanish for twenty two while the hostess was calling ´2 little ducks´. We didn´t sulk but did recine our chairs to the sleeping position and began a fitful sleep. Catching glimpses of toll gates on the PAH and small, barely lit towns with a cafe here, a bar there lit with single bulbs and then darkness as the desert stole back the night. Some more sleep and then, after about 8 hours of driving north we turned in towards the Andes.
I slept through much of the trip, just catching glimpses of small villages as we drove through. The road was tortuous as the coach made its way up the foothills
and into the mountains. Fortunately we couldn´t see the road and the steep, long drops off the roadside (that was saved for the return journey a few days later). As we climbed the moutain towards Cajamarca we crossed the 2 500 metre threshold past which altitude begins to give some physiological challenges. We climbed to just over 3 200 before the short descent into the town. The last half hour of the trip saw us with a breakfast of a muffin and a cup of sweet tea.
On arrival at Cajamarca we were picked up by Bessie and driven the short distance to out accommodation where we met the elderly, short, visually impaired and utterly delightful Leoné who looked after the place. We had a snooze before venturing out into this wonderful little town.
Some advice for those reading this blog who are planning to travel to Peru;
1. If you can, it is well worth getting the best quality transport you can afford. Even our VIP coach only cost 40 dollars; not bad considering that this includes over night accomodation, and evening meal, a couple of movies.....and bingo
2. Don´t make the mistake we made and by a Spanish Phrase Book. Buy a Spanish for South America book ( The Lonely Planet books are quite handy). The Spanish left here centuries ago and the language has developed a lot in South America since then. Many locally specific things (like food) are not in the Spanish books.
Lots of love and best wishes to family and friends. The next blog will describe the lovely town a Cajamarca and our daytime and sometimes ´thrilling´journey to an equally lovely town Trujillo from where this blog is sent.