It is always a little strange to wake up to a new day in a new country. After sleeping in, we grabbed our map and guide and headed off into the great unknown of Lima.
Sundays are usually slow days in Peru, as many, if not most places are closed. We set off to walk to the main plazas in the downtown area. Along the way, it seemed that everyone we passed was walking in the opposite direction. Even stranger, they were all dressed in red and white colors. What was this strange procession? Where were all these people going?
It turned out that the people were heading to the National Stadium to watch their national soccer team play against the team from Brazil. The colors, we found out, are the Peruvian National colors. This was to be the big event for the day, but as it happens, Peru lost the game.
Most cities and towns in Peru are arranged around Plazas. Generally, the central plazas in all the towns are called the Plaza de Armas. This is true here in Lima. Around the plaza are the Governor's Palace, municipal offices, a large Baroque style church and a statue of everyone's favorite conquistador - Francisco Pizarro.
The week before we arrived, the Peruvians had their election for President. This was a run off contest, and hotly disputed with lots of allegations of fraud. The current President, Alberto Fujimori, was reelected to an unprecedented third term as president.
When we were walking around the Governor's Palace, we saw evidence of some of the post election demonstrations. Groups of riot police were stationed around the plaza - in case of violence (there was none), and there was lots of graffiti painted on the walls of the palace. There was also something that we did not expect.
Around the Palace is a large wrought iron fence. Like what we would find around the White House in Washington, DC. Well, on the fence we could see evidence that the police had spread grease on the bars to prevent the protesters from climbing the fence onto the Palace grounds. Yet other than a couple of armored personnel carriers parked around the building, everything looked peaceful. The Plaza itself was full of local residents enjoying a quiet day in the city.
Walking out of the Plaza de Armas, we continued on the Jiron de La Union. This is a pedestrian only street, which connects to the Plaza San Martin. The focus of this Plaza is a statue of General Jose de San Martin. (You can tell they like statues in Peru.) The General liberated Chile, Argentina and in 1821, Peru from Spanish rule.
The churches in Lima, as well as in the rest of Peru, were built in a very ornate style. Most of the original buildings, churches included, have been damaged or destroyed by the many earthquakes that occur here. One of the oldest buildings is, of course, a church. This is the Franciscan Church and Monastery San Francisco. Built prior to 1687, it has withstood all the earthquakes, although it has sustained damage.
20 years ago, after one such earthquake, it was discovered that over the centuries, fresco upon fresco were painted on the walls of this church. The earthquake had an unexpected effect when it knocked some plaster off the walls. Presto, like magic, fabulous, antique frescos were discovered on the walls beneath the plaster.
One of the highlights of our tour of this church was a visit to the Catacombs dug beneath the building. The Catacombs are the site of the original burials for the residents of Lima. Before the church stopped this practice in the early 1800's, between 25,000 and 70,000 people were buried here. In fact, as we walked under the church, we could still see crypts filled with bones. Very bizarre! Then the people forgot about the
catacombs until they were rediscovered in the early 20th Century.
There is an organization in Lima that helps travelers and explorers in South America. It is called the South American Explorers Club (SAE). We made sure we joined as members before leaving for Peru. While we were in Lima, we stopped at the clubhouse to avail ourselves of their help and information. The SAE has an extensive library of books, maps and travel reports prepared by other travelers. These reports are filed by region and date. We were able to read reports on travel and jungle lodges as well as getting info on the other places we intend to explore, like Machu Picchu.