June 24, 2008
We had a meeting after breakfast on the top floor of the hotel, where Boris told us some of the history and geography of Peru. He told us about the many cultures of Peru and both he and our city guide, Sheila, said the Inca culture lasted 300 years (not only 100 as the books claim), but that the Incas really consolidated and expanded their empire in the last 100 years before Spanish conquest. Earlier cultures had the artisans who created the pottery and textiles, as well as a lot of gold and silver pieces. The Incas were pragmatists who built on what others had already created, but they also were famous for an architectural style that was functional, durable, and beautiful.
Boris had us choose our lunch preferences and sign up for an evening dinner and dance performance tonight and visit to a shantytown tomorrow. These are extra charges.
Afterward we got ready for our city tour. We walked first, from our hotel in Miraflores to the restaurant where we had lunch, Café de la Paz – the food was excellent! Boris told us things along the way, pointing out landmarks, where to find an ATM, etc.
We took a bus after lunch to the center of town, passing through several neighborhoods that Sheila explained about. Each neighborhood, or “distrito”, has its own flavor and some specialize in selling certain kinds of things or a particular profession. I could tell that Sheila is proud of her people while recognizing the poverty and problems of society. She emphasized that, while many children have to work, most people do something to make a living, whether it’s a regular job or selling something even if they don’t make much money, instead of begging.
School is compulsory through 6th grade (primary level), and optional after that – secondary school is an additional 5 years. There are more than 20 colleges and universities in Lima, a city of 8 million. 90% of Peruvians are literate, but private schools, for those who can afford them, are better than public schools, which Sheila admits are not very good.
At the Museum of Anthropology and Archeology, we saw lots of school groups. Schools are in session now, with a 2-week vacation in July. I was glad to hear this because it means we’ll get to visit a school later in the trip!
Sheila guided us through the museum with efficiency, mindful of our limited time (about one hour) there. She explained the highlights of the cultures and some of the themes that connected them, with an emphasis on religion and art (textiles and pottery).
I love the Moche pottery, so beautiful! The faces are so expressive! The Moche were a pre-Inca culture.
Religion: pre-Inca: worship of earth; main god depicted with condor clawed feet, puma head and snakes around it. Inca also worshiped the Earth (Pachamama – mother earth), but also had cult of the sun. An important god was Viracocha, god of the sun.
Gold and silver: most gold melted down by Spanish, few relics remain. Remaining pieces were gold covered by copper, which didn’t interest the Spanish – they didn’t know gold was underneath.
Gold is now mined in Peru, which has the largest gold mine in South America (and second largest in the world), but the mine is owned and operated by an American company! Only South Africa mines more gold than Peru.
These pictures were taken in the museum courtyard. These are typical plants of Peru.
After the museum, we went to the administrative and religious seat of power at the Plaza de Armas, where the cathedral and presidential palace are located. There were lots of military police around guarding the presidential residence. The changing of the guard happens every day at noon.
This military presence as well as bars on walls and windows throughout the city are vestiges of the 1980s and early 1990s, when the terrorist group Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) conducted bombings, killings and kidnappings. Fujimori really cracked down on Sendero Luminoso, and arrested both its major leader and that of another group, Tupac Amaru. Both groups are now in retreat and no longer much of a threat.
The current president is Alan García, reelected after an ineffective first term in the 80s (he couldn’t control the terrorists and the economy was in a shambles), but he was chosen over a socialist alternative.
Finally we went to the Convent of San Francisco de Asis, where we visited the catacombs as well as the church with its elaborate gold leaf ornamentation.
The catacombs were very stuffy and claustrophobic. As we glimpsed into empty tombs and areas where bones were collected, which included a large round pit where skulls and straight bones were arranged in a geometric design, I began to feel sort of queasy from the stale air and from holding my bladder too long.
(Note: The pictures below were downloaded from Google; we were not allowed to take pictures anywhere inside San Francisco de Asis.)
Next: Dinner and dance show at Dama Juana Restaurant