Two-day was cool…

October 18, 2008

What a difference a day makes- and also a little help from friends. Yesterday was admittedly unnerving – smog, cars, vans, people galore, buses, taxis, bicycles, smog, people, more smog. But today I started to dust off the Spanish a little bit more and also took my first real walk through Lima. It was actually a lot of the same scenery as yesterday for most of my jaunt to the city center. But little by little, the colonial architecture and grand plazas of the colonial downtown start to take over.

I took a forty minute stroll through central Lima to the Plaza San Martin and Plaza de las Armas – both lovely and large open spaces full of pigeons and tourists and police. Check out la policia decked out in riot gear.

I also loved the fancy mixed-use hotel with upscale ground floor retail. They say fried chicken goes over well in almost every country. The Plaza San Martin does KFC real classy like:

More Plaza San Martin…

The pedestrian streets leading to the Plaza de las Armas remind me of Spain’s – the ones leading from Gran Via down to the Plaza de Sol. Lots of clothing and shoe shops, telephone stores, churros stands and what not. There was also the occasional church along the way.

The best thing about the Plaza de las Armas was the hundred or so school children who’d apparently been deployed there by their teachers to practice their English by interviewing tourists. Gaggles of kids would run up to strangers in groups of ten or fifteen all shouting, “Hallo, excuse me do you speak English?!”

Plaza de las Armas Fountain

I snarfed a churro for breakfast (yummmm!) and bought a ticket to the Monasterio de San Francisco – an old Franciscan Monastery famed for its super cool library and freaky deaky catacombs. There are dozens of rooms below the cathedral – all have super low ceilings and troughs and troughs and troughs of bones. Mostly all that was left were tibias, femurs and skulls. Apparently the quick lime process melts almost everything else but those three bones – which is good because there are supposedly 70,000 skeletons stored there. Too bad photography wasn’t allowed. I snapped this one boring shot of one of the anterooms but afterwards I couldn’t sneak anymore:

After the monastery I overpaid for a cab back the the Manuela Ramos office where I was to meet Josh (another fellow) and Daniel (a Kiva employee based in Lima) for lunch. Cabs here cost less than $5 to even the furthest reaches of Lima – well I haven’t been to the furthest reaches of Lima but that’s my guess. My twenty minute cab ride should have cost around $1.50 instead of the $4 I paid; but, all taxi prices are negotiated and Im definitely an amateur.

Daniel, Josh and I met up for a ceviche lunch (adventurous, eh, mom/paul/anyone who knows me?!). Daniel is the Kiva Partner Development Specialist based in Lima which means he is in charge of finding new organizations to partner with and maintaining smooth operations with existing partners. He’s only worked for Kiva for seven months but has been in Peru for over two and a half years.

Josh has been in Peru for just over two and a half weeks now working with EDAPROSPO, a microfinance institution in Lima. He wakes up every morning at 6 to arrive at his office in the Cono Norte (Northern Cone).

A little bit about the Cono Norte… For decades Peru’s rural poor have migrated to Lima. In the 50’s Lima’s population was around one million – today it’s over 8MM. As people have flooded the city, new neighborhoods have formed entrirely of migrant squatters. As the districts grew bigger they made cone-like shapes expanding North, East and South of the city – hence the names Cono Norte, Cono Sur and Cono Este. The Conos are still growing today, although not at the same rate as before. Even still, there are no maps of these places nor any good official tracking or control of the growth. Basically a group of people from the same region will migrate en masse to the outskirts of the suburb. Once there they will organize amongst themselves to divide the land into plots. Perhaps they will even name their new community Nuevo Greensboro- in honor of the town of Greensboro that they left behind in the Andes. And as a fun coincidence, the newly formed streets and cross streets are named by letter and number – very Charles L’Enfant!

Most of Josh’s work is taking place in the Cono Norte. He says that you can tell age of a particular neighborhood section by the stage of development of the buildings. When people first move and begin constructing their new home, they start out with thatched houses. Once they make more and more money they add wood to the walls and then rebar or tin to the roofs. Finally, brick begins to replace the wood and tin. So, says Josh, a brick house in the Cono Norte is over fifteen years old while a thatch house is nearly brand new.

Another interesting tidbit I learned today is that due to people’s mistrust of the currency (Peru had a history of hyper inflation in the…. 80s?), people tend to store their wealth in goods. Makes sense right? But you’re thinking gold or jewels. Nope! Here we’re talking bricks, sand, gravel and cows. Daniel says that now that the dollar is rising against the Nuevo Sol he thinks more and more people will be keeping their savings in tangible assets. Which makes sense since is brick is always worth a brick right?  So it isn’t uncommon to see an homeowner with no current plans to refurbish his house with a piles of bricks on the roof or beside the front door.

Anyway, it was great to talk to those two guys and be led around a little. Respite from having to be the one with the map constantly. In fact, they didn’t even need maps! Niiiice. A new goal presents itself.

Lunch at the cibicheria was a new experience for me. Everything was fish fish fish and raw fish. I was totally apprehensive – but hopefully noone noticed! For fish eaters, I’m sure ceviche is totally you’re thing. It was limey and fresh and probably perfect for fish-lovers on hot days. If you like oysters or sushi or whatever, then try out this Peruvian ceviche. I personally preferred the other two dishes which were basically Peruvian versions of tuna salad and fish sticks. Both types of fish I used to partake in so they went down quite easy for me. They were good in fact! The fish salad (because it was mero not tuna) was rolled in mashed potatoes which were delicious. We also had a pitcher of sweet purple corn drink a.k.a. chicha morada. Quite yum.

After lunch we visited the EDAPROSPO office in the Jesus María district and THEN I got my first taste of the combis. Combis are either big vans or tiny buses that blast music and belch out and swallow passengers at any and every street corner. I was totally at a loss when Daniel suggested we hop on one – but now I’m hooked! They’re great! They do however require some key knowledge:

#1 – the buses are color-coded by region to which they are traveling

#2 – the names of major streets they travel down are painted on the sides of the bus

#3 – the door operator will normally tell you whether or not this bus is going where you want if you can slip in a question between his constant rattling off of destinations.

There are two things that I love about combis:

#1 – there are no set stops, anywhere along the side of the road is okay to flag them down or jump off

#2 – they cost $0.30! can’t be beat. Just can’t be beat!

So then I took my first combi to the Miraflores district after lunch. Miraflores is a fancier, more upscale and more touristy part of Lima. I found great stuff like the the “Trust Me” Hostal and also this sign for Wizards v. Hornets College Football (?!?).

Miraflores is also home to the pretty sick Larco Mar Mall – it’s an open air mall built into the side of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. If any of you urban planner types are reading this and wanting to come to Peru I recommend it for your professional appraisal. I thought it was pretty dreamy, and I’m not even that real-estatey! See below pictures of paragliders hovering over the mall. No idea where they launch from or why anyone would be so bold with their life as to flit around near a bunch of tall buildings and cliffs with the crazy Pacific winds blowing.

Here is also a picture of a delicious cookie store and everybody pray for me that this is a chain! Come on M&M cookies Trujillo!

Well one combi ride back and I’m home again at the hotel. One more night and it’s off to Trujillo. This post is extra long and hopefully it will compensate for a lag since I’ll be traveling tomorrow…



  1. Sounds like an action packed day. Can’t wait for you to show me around Lima. Trujillo here you come though!!

  2. JENNAY!!!

    Stay away from fishes/ceviches….eat cookies!!!

  3. no! fish /omega fatty acids are good for you.
    they are body/healthy friendly.

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