After a four hour flight from Santiago de Chile, I arrived in the capital of Peru, Lima. This was a considerable change of culture. There is so much more of the good and the bad. More colors, churches and food variety. More traffic, pollution and crime.
As for the latter, local people avoid the city center after nightfall. At least, this is what some of the Peruvians I met, stressed to me. They genuinely seem to be concerned about the tourists safety and are very eager to share tips which areas to avoid at which times. As a visitor spending only little time in places, I never know whether I should trust such information or not.
Most of the time, I have the feeling that the scares are media-generated and some people seem to actually boast about their place being the “crime capital”. South-Americans seem to love the television documentary series, where camera crews follow police officers during patrols and other police activities. I can see these omnipresent shows anywhere in shops and restaurants. Sometimes, they are part of the regular news program.
No wonder, that people from Lima fight over the title of the most dangerous place with people from Santiago de Chile, Mendoza and Buenos Aires. The heavy police force in downtown Lima would make me think, that the Peruvian capital wins this dubious award. But that can be a misleading indication and personally, I felt very safe when I visited the area.
On a more general note, Peru has over 2000 varieties of potatos. There’s the all important scientific center for the potato (Centro Internacional de la Papa), based in Lima. Obviously, I was a bit excited to try new kinds of potatos. But so far I couldn’t spot any “papas fritas” (French Fries) with a truly different taste. Probably I shouldn’t have chosen McDonald’s for this research.
Besides veggies, there are other star attractions in Lima. Notably there is the biggest collection of pre-columbian erotic ceramic, which is housed at the Museo Larco Herrera. There, a unique collection of over 40’000 ceramic pieces – most of them belonging to the Moche culture – show very expressive motifs about may aspects of life.
A lesser known Peruvian record was established by the bus company “Expreso Internacional Ormeño”: They do serve the longest international overland journey, which starts in Venezuela and links Chile and Argentina by going through Ecuador and Peru. This bus route is 9’000 kilometers long. Well, I am quite adventurous – but somehow I did resist to try out this mammoth trip.
My hostel in Lima was located in the barrio of Miraflores, a safe and beautiful part of the capital city. Located near the beach, this area gets the most attention by tourists and locals. One thing that I kept noticing were the big green “S” stickers next to some concrete walls in many buildings. They denote the safe area, in case an earthquake occurs. Looking at the history of Lima, these safety precautions do seem to make sense. Founded in 1535 as La Ciudad de los Reyes (City of Kings), earthquakes flattened most buildings in 1687, 1746 and 1940.
Nevertheless, there are still remnants of the early building periods which are both colorful and photogenic. As most other cities on the South American continent, Lima also has to have a Plaza de Armas, with the usual suspects of infrastructure at its four sides: A Government palace, a cathedral, a municipality building and some local businesses. Well, maybe I am worn out to this kind of city planning, because there is rarely something unique or surprising. After having seen the n-th Plaza de Armas, I am definitely getting cynical about Spanish city layouts. Just arrive in any city in South America, pop out of the bus and ask for the directions to the Plaza de Armas. There’s a 99% chance that one is there, with the above mentionned buildings at its side. This reminds me a bit of China, where the city layout are standardized as well.
To be fair, however, it is in the details where lies the difference – and this is where Lima shines. The Iglesia de San Francisco is a wonderful piece of colonial architecture. Its underground catacombs has over 25’000 real human skeletons that were buried between the 16th and 19th centuries. The bones are arranged in artistic patterns. Since the church also contains a library with oversized books and spiral staircases, this place probably appeals also a lot to Harry Potter fans.
Besides sightseeing, I used Lima as a base to get things done: Trip research, Internet and laundry. Especially I wanted to have my bath towel washed.
There is nothing that I hate so much these days as my bath towel. It stinks after only using it once. It even stinks when it’s dry. I know, it has to suffer a lot, because most of the times, I have to pack it moist, because a lot of transportation happens just after the morning shower. Clever readers will point out that I should shower in the evenings instead – giving my poor little towle much needed time to dry. Nah! I wouldn’t dare sleeping in some of the beds with a clean body. A good morning shower gets rid of most bed bugs and other little beasts. But that leaves me with a wet towel. And although I try to hang it as soon as possible somewhere during transport or upon arrival in a new hostel, my little towel still has that mildew, musty smell. I hate that smell, I hate my towel.
Moreover, nobody can really explain, why any of my t-shirts seem to cope better with humidity than my towel. My t-shirts can get wet from rain or sweat and they don’t complain back to me by stinking mildew. Let’s face it: Bath towels are supposed to absorb water without stink. So why doesn’t mine absorb? I went so mad one day, that I wandered around the dormitory sniffing at other backpacker’s towels hanging over their beds. Which was a revelation: Their towels also stink. Especially the super absorbing hi-tech microfiber towels. I couldn’t establish a clear ranking, but I think my stinky little towel isn’t that smelly after all. But the other people in the dorm now think that I am weirdo who is hooked on towel sniffing. I could live with that stigma – if only my towel didn’t stink.