Friday, March 22, 2013

Peru II

My next adventure was to downtown Lima, from Miraflores, where I'm staying and where the school is located.  A bit more about it later.  

Lima is BIG, there are about 8 million people in the metropolitan area.  Like Santiago, it's made up of a lot - 42 or so - smaller communities.  

(There is an Alcadesa (Mayor-ess) who is head of all the mayors who and has a staff of 39 elected deputies. When I arrived, there was a recall measure scheduled to go to vote.  Voting in Peru is mandatory, if you don't vote, you pay a fine. You also cannot buy alcohol or hold public gatherings, picket or demonstrate outside a voting place, or be arrested (unless you're caught in the act).  The process is bumpy at times, since voting is not automated in any way, and is a slow process.  In this case, it called for 40 "si o no" votes for the mayor and her staff.  The votes are also counted by hand by the 3 people who run each polling station.  

Ultimately, the mayor won, squeaking by with a few more "no" recall votes, but 20 of the deputies didn't, which means more elections...)

It's also, like the rest of the west coasts of North and South America, in a very active earthquake zone and averages a real terremoto (earthquake) every 30 years or so.  These have destroyed much of the old city multiple times, so the architecture is a mezcla (mixture) of colonial, post colonial and modern.  Many of the older buildings were painted in bright "colonial" colors, including Vatican yellow-gold and blue, like the Swiss guard uniforms, when the pope came to visit.  So it's also a colorful city.

My first real glimpse of this was the building here, which most likely was the saddest place in Lima on that day, the Venezuelan Embassy.  The pic was snapped at about the time that Hugo Chavez died, so the flag is still at full mast.  Red, by the way, is the national color of Venezuela.

This is the Peruvian equivalent of the Supreme Court, which dates to the earlier part of the 20th century.

This is actually the first great apartment building in Lima, built in the '20s in the style of the French.  It was a popular address in for many years, then lost many of it's richest clients as they moved to the outskirts of town.

The central plaza surrounded by 20th century buildings (in Vatican gold), the cathedral, the bishops palace and the presidential palace.

Another reason to like the Peruvians:  There is a national holiday on February 8 to celebrate "Pisco Sour Day".  Pisco is a brandy that's made by both the Chileans and Peruvians and the basis for one of the strongest drinks in the Southern hemisphere.  Up until this year, this fountain has been filled with Pisco on February 8.  For some reason the Alcadesa decided not to do it this year, perhaps as a retaliation for her recall action?

The guards were getting ready to welcome a guest to the palace (reconstructed in 1938).  Minutes later a motorcade came roaring in through the gates.

Interesting uniforms with braided tassels on the helmets, and they goose step march as well...

This statue is Don Jose de San Martin, one of the biggest military figures in South America's history, responsible for liberating Peru and Chile, and General of the Army of Argentina.

It's kind of difficult to see, but if you'll look closely at the female figure holding up the scroll, you'll see that there is a small something on top of her head.  It's a statue of a llama.  Okay... We all know that the llama is an Andean native, but why would it be on the head of a scroll holder on a statue?

Well... The word "llama" has 3 meanings in Spanish: the animal, a form of the verb "to call", and finally "flame".  The llama on the head of the woman was supposed to be the "llama de la libertad" (flame of liberty), but the sculptor was ill and left the finishing touches to his Peruvian assistant.  I love the fact that no one wanted to correct the mistake!

The Franciscan Church and Abbey, seat of the power of the church for many years.  Los Franciscanos were with Pizzaro from the beginning, bring God to the heathens and terrorizing the rest of the populations with their power.  The catacombs under the church were the burial places for much of the population for nearly 200 years, until they smell became too much for the monks and the church goers and they were sealed.  The first level has been excavated and is open for tours.  It's got the remains of 25,000 people in bins carved out of the walls and was for me truly horrible, a claustrophobic tunnel, filled with bones, poorly lit, underneath a huge church in earthquake country.  I've truly seen too many disaster movies and made a beeline for the cloister and fresh air.  It's a gorgeous colonial church and an active abbey with a legendary library.

One further note:  Peru is one of the few countries with 2 independence days.  The first was the day San Martin declared - Jul 28.  The second liberation was by Simon Bolivar famous for the liberation of Venezuela and Colombia.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


This is the cathedral (towers circa 1920's) in the Centro de Lima

I'm just about to the end of my visit to Peru, which wasn't on the original itinerary, but turned out to be a great adventure in the best possible way.  My first best decision was to take a tour of the city to get a feel for the layout, and that lead to a bunch of other tours to see archeological sites and museums and churches and  - ugh - catacombs as well.

Lima was founded by Francisco Pizzaro in January 1538.   Pizzaro was a conquistador in the worst sense of the word. Illegitimate and illiterate, his only chance for success was to be a ruthless  soldier of fortune.  He tried  3 times to conquer the Inca and finally made it on the last. He captured the Inca king, demanded a room be filled with gold as a ransom, then went ahead and killed him anyhow, but only after having his Franciscan companions baptize him.  

Being a successful conquistador required a place to store and ship plunder and the port of Callao and the city of Lima fit the bill perfectly.  The only downside to this location is that for much of the year Lima is covered in fog and pretty gloomy.  But there was a river (for water, because this section of Peru is a desert, and it rarely rains here), called the Rimac by the locals.  Its name was translated into "Lima" in the way people will do when it's hard to understand the another's language.

To jump back a few thousand years, you need to know that Peru has always been a hot spot for civilizations.  3000 years before Christ (about the same time as the Egyptians), the indios were building pyramids, making sophisticated ceramics and weaving cloth that was extraordinarily fine cloth, with a thread count that matches today's $1000 bed sheets.  Did I mention that cotton is native to South America?  As are potatoes, corn and tomatoes, along with various types of squashes that are commonly eaten today.  The Incas were the last in a long line of groups who rose and declined, combined, split and were at war for a good deal of the time.  The surprising fact is that the Inca Empire as we recognize it was only around for 50 years or so.

The picture below shows a piece of the Inca Road which tied the empire together.  The facts, archaeologically speaking show that the road was built much, much earlier by other groups groups.  The earliest culture started by building their own structures here in Pachacamac, and eventually there were 17 pyramids built here, at about the same time the pharaohs were constructing theirs. Over the next millennial more structures were added, until eventually the Incas built their Sun Temple on the crest of the nearby hill.  

Inca Road

The Sun Temple

Sun Temple again

The entire temple was originally covered with red plaster.

One of the ramps leading up to the temple

The reconstructed quarters of the Inca virgin priestesses, the pachamama

This pyramid is in downtown Miraflores and is being restored

Notice that the bricks are stacked like books and not right up against each other.

This provided stability during earthquakes, allowing the pyramids to flex.
It was fascinating to learn that the Indian culture was at one point on an equal footing with the European.  

There's more to come!


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Have I mentioned...

that it's really dusty here in Santiago?  The result is that most days there's an amazing sunset and I'm well placed to see it from my perch on the 12th floor.

The downside is that everything in Santiago is looking more than a little dirty and dingy.  I'm guessing that in the winter, when it rains, the city is a lot cleaner.  Meanwhile, with 90 degree temperatures and the windows open constantly, my things, along with me, are getting a bit more dusty as well.

I'm writing on the last night I'll spend here in Chile for the next 3 weeks or so.  It's been an amazing adventure in learning Spanish in a country where they don't speak much Spanish that a novice can recognize, but I find that I'm doing much better at understanding the TV, especially since most programs are made in other countries.  

What will bring Chile to mind immediately?  Besides the mountains, the Pacific Ocean, and the skyline of Santiago, I'd have to say it would be Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, the smell of burnt toast (it's made on ancient stove top contraptions), car alarms, cups full of mayonnaise on sandwiches, tons of avocado on everything (terrific!), the metro, stray dogs (an estimated 70,000 in Santiago) and fabulous ice cream.

But I do need to tell you about an outing in Santiago

This is La Moneda, the Presidential Palace in Santiago.  

Presidente PiƱera works here, but lives elsewhere. During the Pinochet coup the palace was bombed by the airforce and Allende died inside (there's still a debate as to whether it was suicide or not.) These days it's popular for:

a gorgeous underground space for art exibitions and other cultural events.

My friend Eliana and I went to see an exhibition of Peggy Guggenheim's Venice museum's collection.  Some of the artworks were old friends, I actually got one picture taken before being forbidden to photograph any of the works, the other is from my trip to Venice back in 06.

The pictures and statuary were amazing, it was good to see them in another space.

We also went to see the oldest church in Lima,  San Francisco.  Yup, the Franciscan friars were big in South America as well as Mexico and California.  The church was built early in the 17th century and has a monastery (now mostly a museum) attached to it.  It's survived countless earthquakes, probably because the walls are adobe and extremely thick.

Notice that the interior of the dome is made of wood!

Two of my favorite things about Spanish churches are their statues and their tombstones:

What cracks me up is something that isn't properly translated into
English as  "In this temple lies the rest of ..."  

Notice that the hair is real....

The church is home to a gallery of 48 huge paintings done by Chilean artists that tell the story of the life of St. Francis. All of this is is within a beautiful cloister that surrounds a plaza with trees and a fountain.

All in all, with a great lunch, and a visit to Los Domenicos (more on that later), we had a great time.  A touch bittersweet since Ellie was spending her last free time in Chile before she headed back to Petaluma CA.  

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Day at the Beach

We should have more fotos!

Stairs to the beach at Algarrobo

Main beach that's safe for swimming

Further down the beach

I went to the beach yesterday!  (apologies to all my friends who got blizzard-ed on Friday)  Mi amiga, Eliana, had been to Algarrobo many times as a child and thought it would be a great excursion.  After the initial madhouse at the bus station (summer vacation time):

 we had a great trip to Algarrobo.  There are lots of bus companies that run between most of the cities in the country, and the busses are generally clean and comfortable to ride in.  The trip to Algarrobo (wiki: Algarrobo) took a little over an hour.  

An aside (as the authors said in Victorian novels)
There are advantages to living in one of the most litigious societies in the world, one of which is that because most people in the US, if they had an accident, would sue over a broken sidewalk or an obviously neglected stretch of road.  Not here!  The infrastucture is a more than a bit crumbly in a lot of places. Vina's sidewalks had holes large enough to break a leg or an ankle with one misstep and called for constant vigilance.  But, as you might expect, the newer parts of the big city of Santiago are a lot better, which led to my complete lack of concentration in Algarrobo.  There was a large chunk of concrete buried in the sand and dirt of a parking lot entrance and I found it with my right foot.  Cut to the cartoon footage of someone flying through the air towards certain serious injury...  Luckily for me, a scraped elbow was the extent of the problem, a day later and the thing that's most painful is the slow-mo film in my head.  A kind man at the vegetable market cut a piece of aloe for me and the scrape has been healing wonderfully.  

The day was a complete delight. It was one of those perfect beach days with a breeze, some high clouds and lots of sunshine.  We had almuerzo (lunch) at a great seafood restaurant:
Our table in the corner (you can actually see the water)

After lunch we took a long walk along the seafront down to the world's largest swimming pool.  

The world's largest swimming pool
 It IS actually big enough to sail or kayak in, in fact, there were a couple of Hobie Cats sailing down at the other end.  The pool is popular because the ocean is chilly, as in really cold.  The Humboldt current comes up the coast from Antarctica and keeps the temperature down.  The pool is salt water, but it warms in the sun and is filtered.  The resort is absolutely huge. There are 10 buildings, and another under consideration because the property is so well liked.  The condos start at $200/day, but everyone of them has an ocean front view and balcony.  

The good news is that the beach in front of it is close to deserted even in the height of summer.  There's a walk alongside the pool and we strolled north, then sat for awhile and watched the water and the birds.  (those are the pics up top)

There are other beach houses and a resort further north, much quieter than the southern end of the beach.  Yikes, I forgot to mention there's a yacht club and there were a bunch of boats out sailing, even a few racing!

We took the micro (meecro) back to the bus terminal and road comfortably back to Santiago.  (I got to ride the metro again!)  Home to the view: