On our first full day in the city we hopped on the obligatory double decker tourist bus, to gain a sense of proportion of the enormous city of approximately 10 million and to gain a brief introduction to a few of the main historical and cultural high points. The dual Spanish/English guide was notably effusive in his mother tongue and rather shorter on verbiage directed to those of us from el Norte. After listening for 5 minute bursts of enthusiastic Spanish which seemed to reveal notable and extensive detail my expectant ears were met with English lines such as, “yes my friends we have now entered a most pleasant part of the city, note the square and its many historical buildings” and then bursting into the next lengthy Spanish description which seemed to include the names of all of Lima’s architects past and present, the 20 year history of the district, the schools where building designers had received their training, and that day’s weather forecast. Nonetheless, the five hour tour was enjoyable and provided a great moving vista from which to absorb the sensory bombardment the city offered up. On that point, Lima drivers seem to avoid indicating turns in favour of small horn blasts making for a steady symphony of noise from the teeming autos, buses, trucks and small motor bikes. As for visual stimuli, the older parts of the city abound in picturesque views every few moments. The various districts are punctuated by large and handsome squares in the Spanish style. Every time I see this urban form I am puzzled why it is that North American city builders do not realize the benefits plaza’s afford, namely space for citizens to display art, pursue political expression, and provide awfully pleasant places to stroll.
Our bus also offered great views of the beautifully carved balconies that adorn whole blocks of the city. Such marvelous built heritage is incomprehensibly abundant in this former colonial capital. The highlight of our bus package though was a guided tour through the San Francisco cathedral known for its centuries-old stone work, wonderfully wood carved details and vivid catholic iconography. The place abounded with murals, stately portraits and thousands of seriously impressive, centuries old books. Interestingly, both these types of art works were in open air conditions. To a Canadian, flaunting anything that old by allowing it to be in contact with the normal atmosphere is a bit of a shock. Treasures of that vintage in our country would be in a climate controlled vault only available for viewing by the suitably somber of tone and behavior. Here in Lima, kids scampered past, pigeons whizzed by and the damp, rather polluted air of the city was allowed to waft among the visibly aged tomes and wall frescos. The cathedral is also famous for housing tens of thousands of human remains, made up primarily of the poorest parishioners of the 17th and 18th centuries. The kids were a bit horrified but also immensely curious to look at the skeletal remains buried within a series of catacombs deep under the church. Walking through the dark, narrow, stone floored tunnels was exhilarating and rewarded with grim glimpses of skulls and splayed femurs.
Before saying goodbye to our quaint guest house in the bustling Miraflores neighborhood and flying to the Andean town of Cusco, we had a lovely time at chocolate making class. Here we were guided through the history and intricacies of creating one of the world’s favorite confectionaries. The kids really seemed to enjoy the process of peeling, roasting, crushing, blending, and finally cooking cocoa beans into smooth delicious chocolate. They especially liked pouring their concoctions into molds lined with crushed cookies, salt, nuts and a range of other tasty bits, producing a tray of custom treats. After the class and some small samplings of chocolate inspired spirits, jams and foods, we finished our day with an ocean side meal high atop the 100m cliffs that sweep around Lima. The restaurant sat at daunting heights and provided splendid views of the twinkling barrios in the distance and the rushing surf below. We had our first taste of Peruvian cuisine and all left the restaurant feeling content and joyful about how much we were enjoying our first stop in South America.