Upon arrival I was shown to a taxi by a conference organizer. Both the greeter and the taxi driver instructed me to put my purse and camera on the floor where they were not in plain view and checked that my door was locked. We ventured out into the heavy traffic. Conversing with the taxi driver, I found him eager to tell me about the city - he said my Spanish was good, but I didn't tell him that taxi chatter is my strong suite, I don't go much beyond that! He suggested the beach drive to Miraflores. Although tropical trees and flowers lined the city streets, the cliffs along the beach were surprisingly brown and dry. Lima is a consistent 80F degrees and humid - it's always summer, the driver proudly explained. The pounding surf of the Pacific and endless waves stretching to the horizon were a welcome sight. Cafes and shops along the beach road signaled our arrival in Miraflores. We climbed the steep hills back to the urban world and found the modern hotel.
A walk around Miraflores revealed a lively city life, modern and Spanish colonial buildings, newsstands and vendor carts, crowded minibuses with men leaning out the doorway calling out destinations (as in Guatemala), green parks full of people and the ever present American fast food chains. I found my way to the Indian market (not called indigenous here, unlike Guatemala): shops and stalls of crafts and paintings, Alpaca wool clothing and blankets, and abundant silver jewelry. The conference reception at night introduced me to the favorite Peruvian drink and appetizer I would enjoy every night of my visit: pisco sour, a sweet yet powerful cocktail, and ceviche, raw fish in a pungent lime juice, served on the half shell. Although there were presenters at the conference from Europe and Canada, I was introduced at the opening session as the participant who came the farthest, so everyone knew who I was and it was easy to meet people.
Sunday morning I hopped a tour bus to the excavated ruins of Huaca Pucllana, "place of games", a ceremonial and administrative center from approximately 200 to 700 A.D. The terraced pyramid structures within the city were undoubtedly surrounded by housing now covered by the homes and businesses of current day Lima residents. Tall apartment and office buildings towered in the distance over the pyramids. Under a propped open wooden door laid a shallow grave with the bones of an adolescent girl sacrificed to the gods in what is believed to have been a common ritual of the time.
The traditional city park square and surrounding government buildings and church in the center of downtown Lima reflected the Spanish beginnings of this city. Two boys selling yarn doll pins launched their sales pitch with diligence - I raised my camera to take their photo and they immediately posed for me, waited for the image to be captured, and then ran up to me for their reward. I didn't have one soles for a pin, so I gave them a 5 soles coin which bought 6 pins. I gave 5 of them away to other women in the tour group. Dodging the horse and buggy rides and taxis circling the square , I made my way to the fountain in the center, where several hot Limans splashed water on their hair and faces to cool off. The imposing national palace was guarded by officers in brightly colored uniforms standing perfectly still.
Walking a few blocks from the square, past the yellow train station with a large white clock face at the top flanked by muses or perhaps saints, the vendors followed describing their wares as we walked. The San Francisco Monastery houses lovely tapestries, religious statues and paintings, a serene open courtyard and garden, and monks still practicing their austere, contemplative lifestyle. Before we entered the mysterious catacombs, the tour guide cautioned that anyone who was claustrophobic should leave this part of the tour.
Descending the stone stairs lit by torches, we walked past bins and more bins that previously held layers of bodies buried centuries ago. Two more floors below this one held the remains of poorer residents. In the 1920s, researchers separated and sorted the bones that were still intact - there were bins of tibias, bins of fibulas, bins of skulls, etc. A round bricked ceremonial structure resembling a well displayed skulls and bones arranged in a circular pattern. Looking up through iron grates, the Sunday morning worshipers were visible on the main floor, standing by their pews and singing, oblivious to the activity below. A narrow stairway connected the catacombs with the library, where large beautiful handwritten and painted manuscripts were displayed.
Outside the monastery, a loud boom went off at somewhat regular intervals causing flocks of birds to take flight and circle around the tourists and vendors. I flagged a taxi to take me to the airport for my afternoon flight. The taxi driver leaned over and rolled up my window as we drove through a poor neighborhood called Chicago. He tried to explain to me why it had that name but I was having difficulty understanding, until he said "Mafia" and "Al Capon-e". As if to compensate for the speedy drive through the city, he pulled over by the huge statue of the Madonna and child not far from the airport so I could take a photo, not the best spot for the shot but I expressed my appreciation nonetheless. In the soft light of a sunset, the flight touched down in Panama in time for me to change planes.