September 2 (Wednesday)
Peru Travel Diary Chapter 8: Huancayo / Lima
It's a fine morning in Satipo. I ask a moto driver to take me to the collectivos a La Merced and he takes me to a place different from the La Merced collectivo place of yesterday. But seems to be better. Twenty minutes later we're headed out. It's two hours or so to La Merced, travelling on a good road through jungle. I'm in the back seat, next to an indigenous mother with baby, plus the grandmother. When the baby is not sucking on its mother's small breast it's trying to eat a cream biscuit, though not succeeding very well.
At La Merced I change to a collectivo going to Huancayo. This time I get the front seat. In the back seat is a woman and a married couple with baby. Unlike in the West, in Peru there's no shortage of babies.
The trip from La Merced to Tarma is quite spectacular, rising over 2200 meters, and passing through gorges in very mountainous terrain. Again, it's a wonder that the Peruvian engineers can construct roads through this kind of country.
After passing through Tarma the road ascends gently for a long way, finally entering the broad valley of the Rio Mantana, which is mostly pasture and grassland with some hilly areas. We've definitely left the jungle far behind.
It's three hours from Tarma to Huancayo. The town is quite large, but not much different from other Peruvian towns (though the residents would probably disagree). I take a taxi to the Hospedaje Las Lomas recommended in my guide book and on Wikivoyage.org. The room is unimpressive, so I leave my bags and look for another place. I check three hotels, none of them appealing; all charging 50 soles ($15.10) per night for a room. I find I'm a bit out of breath, and have a mild headache, presumably due to the high altitude (3260 m.). I'm about to head reluctantly back to the Hospedaje when I notice the Hotel Balcones (apparently fairly new). For 50 soles it has a good room, nicely furnished, good bathroom, cable TV. It's so much better than the other places I've seen that I immediately agree to stay here. Huancayo is cool, bordering on cold, and this room, though it has an internal window, gets no sun, so is also a bit cold. I may change to another room tomorrow.
The Hotel Balcones has a grotto with an image of the Madonna, and opposite it is a very European fountain (though not working at present.)
I go out to look for a restaurant, and find one (Detrás de la Catedral) which looks OK, and it has a heating device in the center of the room. So (after getting a hot chocolate) I order chuleta de cerdo, which arrives looking good (two pork chops, potatoes and salad), but the meat is a bit tough. Afterwards I order a pancake with icecream, but the cook has no idea as to how to make a pancake. A pancake should be light, but this is not; I eat only half. The icecream is OK — it's hard to go wrong with icecream. Altogether 35 soles ($10.75), not good value.
After a quick walk around the Plaza de la Constitución, which has some good fountains, lit up at night, I'm eager to escape the chilly night and get back to the hotel.
During the night I thought a lot about when and how to leave Huancayo for Lima, and incline towards taking a shared taxi on Friday morning.
At 7 am I go for breakfast to the Coqui coffee shop next door. It's a nice place and a decent desayuno americano costs 15 soles ($4.52), but they have unappealing toast instead of bread rolls.
After getting my boots shined at the Plaza I look for a place to change US$100 and find that there's a whole street (Calle Lima, one block from the Plaza) full of casas de cambio — about 20 of them, mostly just one or two people at a counter, nothing fancy. I get a good exchange rate, 3.26 soles to the dollar, which is actually higher than the official bank rate. In dollar terms, the Peruvian peso has lost about 10% of its value in the last six months.
I walk down the main shopping street, Calle Real, looking for a light pullover, since the one I've been wearing for the last two years now has holes. I don't find one, but I do find some CDs of classical music going for 2 soles (60 cents) each. I buy three. Unfortunately, back at the hotel, I find that my CD drive can't read them.
I decide that today I'm going to visit the convent of Santa Rosa de Ocopa, which, according to my Lonely Planet guide book, "was built by the Franciscans in the early 18th century as a center for missionaries heading into the jungle to convert the Ashaninka and other tribes." Although called a "convent" there were no nuns, it was only priests, friars (and maybe monks). There are 45-minute guided tours from 9 am to 1 pm and 3 pm to 6 pm.
It's noon, and I consult my guide book as to where to find a minibus to get to Concepción (5 km from the hamlet of Santa Rosa de Ocopa), and I go to the recommended place. Just as I get there a minibus pulls up which is going to Concepción so I hop on. After about ten minutes of driving through the city I suddenly realize that the minibus will arrive at Concepción at about 1 pm, meaning I'd have to wait two hours for admission to the covent at 3 pm. Silly me! So I hop off and get a taxi back to the Plaza.
After lunch I go to the same place at 2 pm and hop on the minibus again. We pass the local shopping mall, Plaza Veo, and I make a note to check it out on the way back. We arrive an hour later at Concepción, and I hire a taxi to take me to Santa Rosa de Ocopa. The taxi drops me off at the plaza, and I find I need to walk further to the convent. Arriving there, I buy my entrance ticket for 5 soles ($1.50) and, with two Peruvian women plus the guide (who speaks no English), begin the tour. This takes us through several corridors where old paintings ("colonial religious art") adorn the walls (photos not permitted), mainly showing biblical scenes. We also enter several rooms which display old maps, documents and photographs detailing the conversion efforts of the Franciscan missionaries in the lowland Amazon jungle. There's an old panel which has mini-portraits of most or all of the missionaries who were killed by the Indians in the course of this work — 80 or so portraits. Clearly, attempting to convert the Indians was an activity highly inimical to one's health.
There are rooms containing Indian artefacts, stuffed animals, birds and snakes, and other paraphernalia brought back from the jungle by the missionaries, those who managed to survive. We enter the very impressive library, which reportedly has 20,000 volumes, many of which are centuries old. We take a look at a small chapel (which has a modern organ), and get a glimpse of the interior of the church (but don't enter it).
The room I find most impressive is one in which the walls and ceiling are completely covered by paintings of scenes showing the Franciscan friars and the Indians together living the Christian life in the Amazonian lowlands. What is impressive is that these paintings are all brightly-colored and full of complex imagery in the manner of ayahuasca-inspired art, very similar to the paintings of Pablo Amaringo. In addition to the Indians and the friars there are jungle animals, birds and butterflies, and plant life fills the rest of the space in complex psychedelic patterns. Apparently these murals were painted by indigenous people experienced in the use of ayahuasca. Curious that they occur in a Catholic convent. I'd like to ask the guide if she is aware of the ayahuasca connection, but since she speaks no English I cannot do so.
Finally we get to see the rooms where the early friars wove material, made shoes, worked metal, cooked and dispensed medicines. Tour finished, I exit the convent and there are a large number of school children and some adults about to do the tour, so I was lucky to arrive earlier and do the tour with only two other visitors. I leave the convent quite satisfied and walk the short way to the hamlet, where I am lucky to find a minibus about to depart for Huancayo.
Arriving there I get off at the Plaza Veo, which is a modern supermarket selling food, electronic goods, clothing, etc. I look for a light pullover and, yes, find something suitable in royal blue for 60 soles ($18.00), although it's a bit long (covers the back pockets of my jeans and more). I'm not sure what it's made of (the label is completely uninformative on this point), probably semi-synthetic, but feels good to the touch.
After dinner at the Coqui of pollo a la plancha I return to the hotel. I'm planning on taking a shared taxi to Lima tomorrow morning, leaving at about 8 am. After watching the morning news occasionally, which always shows criminal activity in Lima, I'm not keen to spend much time there. Using my guide book and the internet, I try to decide upon accommodation — preferably in Miraflores, which is reportedly comparatively safe, since it's a tourist area, with more police around. When travelling to a new city or town it's very important that I have a hotel or guest house to head for after I arrive. It's not good to arrive, with luggage, in an unfamiliar place and not know where to go (especially if one doesn't speak the local language well). In the worst case one has to ask a taxi driver for a recommendation, which could be anything. I spend a couple of hours on the net, and don't find anything in Miraflores which seems suitable, has an affordable private room (I don't much like dormitories) and is not reviled by previous visitors. So, since I'm sleepy, and haven't come to any decision about accomodation, I decide not to leave tomorrow morning. In fact, it's good that I stay a day or two longer in Huancayo, since I'm in a good hotel, with good wifi, and I can catch up on some email and get some work done.
I try the hotel restaurant for breakfast, and the desayuno americano turns out to be better than the one at the Coqui and a lot cheaper.
I go to the street with the casas de cambio, since I want to change a $100 bill into five $20 bills, for a reason to be given below. I ask several of them, but no takers. Finally I find one woman who has a stack of $20 bills and she takes my $100. Again, wary of counterfeit US dollar bills, I go to the man next door and ask him to check them. He says they're OK.
I take lunch at La Pergola on the Plaza — soup, a good trucha a la parilla (grilled trout) and a drink for 14 soles ($4.20). Then it's some sightseeing at last. I visit the cathedral, which has an alcove with a rather nice Virgen de los Dolores wearing a highly embroidered black cloak.
I then go to what is said to be the most interesting church in the city, the Iglesia de La Merced. It's actually not very interesting except for an alcove with another rather nice Queen of Heaven.
Outside the church is an elaborate (what I assume is a) votive offering, about 10 feet high, with a large crowned Madonna and Child dressed in white, and many flowers. Four men are needed to carry it into the church (I am co-opted for this task) and place it next to the altar. Inside the church are a couple of dozen people who take their seats in front of the votive offering. I suspect it's to honor a recently-deceased relative, and maybe a memorial service will soon begin.
I then head for the Museo Salsiano a few blocks away. This is in the Salesian School. The museum reportedly has Amazonian fauna, pottery and archaeological exhibits. At the entrance is a sign saying that the museum is open from 9 am to 1 pm and from 3 pm to 6 pm. It's now 3:20 pm, but the museum is not open. Someone who is apparently an official or employee of the School tells me that the museum is only open in the mornings.
As I walk back I come to an old man who has a street stall selling wrist bands, earrings, pendants, etc. He sits behind his stall making wristbands, which have a pattern depending on how he weaves the four or five strands.
In the evening, back at the hotel, I watch the news on cable TV. BBC and Deutsche Welle are giving much time to the Refugee/Migrant Problem in Europe, showing thousands of them camped out at the main train station in Budapest, on the march along highways in Hungary, sleeping in parks, etc. The European leaders are, rightly, panicking. The Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has said, correctly: Today hundreds of thousands, next year, millions; and Europe will be swamped by Muslims and will lose its Christian character (such as it has).
The MSM highlights the consternation among European leaders produced by this invasion, but never mentions the primary cause, namely, that the US, with the help of some European vassal states, has destroyed Libya and several Middle Eastern countries (including Afghanistan, Iraq and especially Syria), producing millions of refugees (mostly at present living in camps in Jordan and Turkey). Apparently it is taboo to mention this (since Europe is a US colony, and its MSM are under tight control). Among the genuine (that is, fleeing from war zones) refugees heading for Germany are no doubt many who are economic migrants, but it's impossible to distinguish between the refugees and the migrants. Also it's likely that the horde includes many jihadis, who will eventually bring to Europe the terror tactics (mostly bombings) now being used in the Middle East by diverse groups.
Given all the talk in Germany and elsewhere of "human rights" and "European values" (which some would call "pious cant"), there are no politically acceptable solutions to the problems caused by this invasion, and Europe is effectively defenseless. If the invasion is not stopped, the result is sure to be the destruction of Europe. Sad. But it was German Chancellor Angela Merkel's unilateral decision to open Germany's borders to anyone coming from the Middle East (including young men of military age whose only skill is the use of an AK-47) that has caused this situation. It's likely, however, that she instituted this "open doors" policy on orders from Washington, the intent (by the Americans) being to destroy Germany (thus preventing any economic alliance with Russia, what the Americans fear most).
Breakfast again in the hotel restaurant. I have a slightly sore throat. Not good, since it might get worse. Maybe it's the altitude of Huancayo (3260 m.) and the cold. I gargle with chlorhexidine solution. I decide to stay in for most of today, working on my laptop, and get a shared taxi to Lima tomorrow morning.
TV news sources say that Hungary is bussing the refugees/migrants to the Austrian border (where they can either apply for asylum or go on to Germany, where they are received with open arms), but that after this, no more buses will be provided. Hungary's strategy seems to be to pass the refugees/migrants on to Austria and Germany (and let them handle the problem) and to construct an electrified wire fence on its border with Serbia to prevent any more refugees/migrants from entering the country. This might save Germany from the worst consequences of its "open arms" policy. Or maybe Germany, intent on its own destruction, will send planes to Serbia to bring in more.
After lunch I walk around the Plaza and for the first time I notice a building with a sign saying Casa del Artesano ("House of the Artisans"). What? This probably has crafts and jewelry stalls. And, yes, it has, lots of them. I spend quite a bit of time here; there are very many items for sale, good quality and not expensive. Some of the stalls have items that I already bought in Satipo, but somewhat better. I buy three nicely-worked jewelry-like bracelets for female friends, four Huancayo-pens for male friends, and a soft woolen scarf for myself (alpaca wool, or at least half). All ridiculously inexpensive.
I go early to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. Getting a taxi to the place with collectivos to Lima is not a problem and I arrive at 7:45 am. The front seat is taken, so I get a seat in the back and soon a Peruvian couple arrives and we take off at about 8 am. The road at first passes through the comparatively flat valley of the Rio Mantana, but halfway to Oroya we enter mountainous country, really mountainous. In all my travels in Peru this is the most mountainous terrain I've passed through, at an elevation of over 4000 meters. Oroya bills itself as the metalurgical center of Peru, mainly because of its mining industry, incuding an environment-polluting smelter. The town is unappealing. Travelling beyond Oroya the terrain remains mountainous, and we even pass moutains with snow on them, so we must still be rather high. About three hour out of Huancayo we seem to have reached the peak, and from now to Lima its all downhill.
At the four-hour mark we reach Chosico. There's still very high hills on both sides of the road, which, of course, are inhabited. This is the area where, at the end of the rainy season, there were massive floods and many people were drowned, because hamlets were built in areas vulnerable to flash floods. Continuing on from Chosica for another hour we finally reach Lima.
I'm not entirely sure where we are, somewhere on the fringe of Lima. As I remove my two bags from the taxi, another taxi pulls up and my taxi driver tells the other taxi driver that I want to go to Miraflores. I agree on a fare of 20 soles ($6.25), and we're off. I'm intending to go to one of the Flying Dog hostels in Lima St. by Parque Kennedy. The taxi driver has no problem finding Parque Kennedy, but can't find Lima St., which actually is more of a lane than a street. So I get off at the main Flying Dog hostel on Diagonal. They have a private room only for one night (I'll be staying two nights in Lima) and they don't have a 4-bed dorm, so I leaave my bags there and go across the park to look at the other two Flying Dog hostels. One has only a bed in an 8-bed dorm, which looks grungy, and the other is full. What to do? I'm starting to hate Lima. I remember, from my hours of hostel reserch in Huancayo, that there's another hostel not far away, Kokopelli Backpackers, in Calle Berlin, so I go there. The ladies at Reception are very welcoming, and they have a place in a 4-bed dorm which looks OK, so I take it. It's 44 soles (plus 18%, since I've been in Peru longer than 60 days, so 55 soles, $17.19).
I have to adjust somewhat to dorm accommodation, since I haven't stayed in a dorm since I was in Cape Town, 20 months ago. But the dorm is OK and the Kokopelli is quite pleasant, and has lots of art work on the walls, plus a good book exchange (I've been carrying 3 or 4 books to exchange since I was in Chachapoyas, not having found a backpacker place to swap books since then).
At dinner time I go out to the main drag, which has lots of people (Peruvians and foreigners). I take dinner at the Rustica, which has seating near the passers-by in the street. I order Anticuchos ("kebabs"), which come with chips, but the meat, though well-cooked, is not especially appealing, so it seems this restaurant looks good but the food leaves something to be desired.
Back at Kokopelli Backpackers I start to read the Kurt Vonnegut novel I got from the book exchange, but soon fall asleep on the bed. I wake at 1 am, undress and get into bed, and sleep very well, perhaps exhausted from my four days in Huancayo.
I walk over to Parque Kennedy, a pleasant place with trees and flowers, and many cats. The cats socialize with each other, politely accept petting by humans, and otherwise just sleep. There are so many cats that this is almost a tourist attraction.
I take a taxi to the Plaza Mayor. Despite my very limited Spanish I manage to keep up some kind of conversation with the taxi driver. The sky is overcast, but there's no rain. It's that way in Lima for half the year at this time. At the Plaza Mayor the cathedral is impressive from the outside. It's 10 soles ($3.12) to enter (there's a man at the door to deter any who would like to enter the cathedral without paying the required fee). I doubt it's worth it, so I don't go in. Across the plaza is the governer's mansion, also impressive. It's guarded by the palace guard in the forecourt and by members of the policia national (carrying weapons) in front on the street.
I'm looking for the post office, in order to buy some Peruvian stamps for a friend, and I find a store selling lots of Peruvian things, clothes, souvenirs, scarves, etc. Prices are very reasonable to say the least, and I end up buying a fine pullover for 35 soles ($10.94), with a nice design but a little delicate (one has to be careful not to stretch it). I also buy what looks like a silver ring (but is actually brass with a silver coating), nicely designed and with a stone that looks like turquoise for 7 soles ($2.19), and finally a fluffy alpaca for 20 soles ($6.25). Walking around the block, I find the post office within an architecturally interesting building, and I buy a set of 50 or so old stamps for 10 soles ($3.12).
I now look for the Franciscan church and convent, a few blocks away. There's museum and a catacomb, but it's 4:45 pm and I'm too late to enter. The church, however, is open and the interior is very impressive, with many alcoves containing mostly Madonnas draped in exquisitely embroided dresses or capes. Considered simply as art, it's all very fine.
After returning to Kokopelli Backpackers I go next door to Houlihan's for dinner. Surprisingly they have Thai chicken curry on the menu, which I order, and it is surprisingly good. I wash it down with a couple of Cuba Libre's.
I awaken remembering a dream I had. I'm in a European city, possibly in Switzerland, and I'm looking for someplace or someone. A man appears and tells me he can take me to where I want to go. Next thing, we're in a railway carriage. He's sitting across from me, and over on my right, on the other side of the carriage is a girl, who is clearly interested in me. Then, on my left, she enters the carriage via the door and throws herself over my knees, apparently indicating that she wants to stay with me forever.
This is my last day in Lima and in South America. I pack carefully for the two flights I'll be taking to my destination. Kokopelli Backpackers kindly arranges for a taxi to the aiport (45 soles, $14.06), and I arrive in good time, check in (no problem), change my last 200 soles for the currency I'll be needing, and head for immigration. The security check is not too bad (I don't have to take off my boots, as sometimes occurs). I beep as I walk through the metal detector, but it's only my pen and a small compass that has caused the alarm.
I've been in Peru for almost six months now. When I entered at the land border with Ecuador in March the immigration official gave me three months in Peru, so I've overstayed by three months. In Peru this is not considered a crime. The rather intelligent policy of the Peruvian government is that, in effect, you can stay as long as you like, but when leaving you are required to pay $1 for each day stayed beyond your allotted time. In my case that's 88 days, so I pay $88 and immigration stamps me out, no problem.
My six months in Peru was almost entirely a positive experience (apart from the three nauseous ayahuasca sessions). The Peruvian people are mostly friendly, relaxed and helpful, in contrast to the frequently neurotic inhabitants of Western countries. There are lots of interesting places to visit if you have the time and money, and by European standards food, accommodation and travel are inexpensive. Surveillance is minimal, in contrast to many Western countries where you can't walk out your front door without being recorded by some 'security' camera. Crime seems to be a problem only in the non-tourist areas of Lima. And in the event of nuclear war (or multiple nuclear reactor meltdowns) your chances of survival are a lot better than in the northern hemisphere.
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