Exploring Central Lima Part II

Lima gets a bad rap in travelers’ circles. It’s seen as ugly, aimlessly sprawling — a stopover point for excursions to much more picturesque spots like Machu Pichu or the Amazon rainforest. People typically spend a day or two here and then move on.

But after three weeks here I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface of what this city has to offer. The weekend marked my second trip into the city center. There’s so much to see and do there that I’ll be making plenty more trips there in the months ahead.

I went there with one of my roommates, and we packed a lot of sightseeing into one day. I went to several museums, the highlight of which was the Museo del Banco a couple blocks off the main square. It houses Inca artifacts in the basement, including the civilization’s exceedingly rare gold jewelry and medallions (the Spanish melted down nearly all the Inca gold and shipped it back to the motherland). Upstairs is an art gallery exhibiting Peruvian art through the generations. It was fascinating to see how the artwork changed over time, with staid portraits and vibrant religious scenes prevailing in the colonial era, and sometimes hyper-realistic but more often abstract portrayals of indigenous peoples coming into fruition in the 20th Century.

The lowpoint of our museum tour was a bizarre collection of stones and unmarked artifacts beneath the Presidential Palace. A heavily armed but amiable guard named Arturo stationed outside the palace told us to head down there for a look, free of charge. We wound up in a maze of hallways, with artifacts placed haphazardly on steel shelves. When we finally got out we weren’t quite sure what we had just seen.

The Basilica Cathedral of Lima, the grand cathedral off the main square originally built in 1535, was well worth a look. The place was full of artifacts from the history of Catholicism in Peru. Most interesting, though, was the tomb of Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador who brutally subjugated the Inca Empire and founded Lima in the mid-16th Century. We were the only ones near the tomb for awhile, and it was strange to be alone and so near such a ruthless albeit legendary historical figure.

After the museum tour, we headed to Chinatown for lunch. The place was hard to find, but once we saw the imposing red gate and the line of meat markets and chifas (Peruvian-Chinese restaurants) we knew we had arrived. Starved, we stopped at one of the first chifas we saw and ordered a fried rice dish, some wontons and our waiter’s recommendation — a delicious beef stir fry dish with a savory brown sauce.

Back at the main square, the roads were blocked off for a religious procession. We watched among hundreds of onlookers as participants carried two ornate relics down the street, accompanied by a brass band. I managed to grab a quick video before they headed off down the street:

So all in all, it was a good day. I’m headed out on a week-long trip to Arequipa — Peru’s second-largest city down near the Chilean border — tomorrow. I’m not sure what kind of Internet access I’ll have down there, so it may be awhile before my next post. Until then, this is me signing off.