A half day bus journey down the coast took me on to Lima, the capital of Peru. I travelled with a small company whose depot in Barranca was round the corner from my hotel (the doorman took me there, carrying my backpack for me, and put me and it on the bus just as it was about to leave). I wasn’t too sure where I was when I got to Lima, although it seemed reasonably close to the centre, so I hailed a taxi on the street outside and gave the driver the address of the hostel I’d booked online. He then proceeded to drive around the city for an hour, stopping regularly to ask people where the street we were looking for was and pointing to random hotels and asking me if that was it. Finally, we found someone who gave useful directions and got there. The hostel was on a massive thoroughfare but I found out later that it had been renamed about ten years earlier and lots of people (clearly including my driver) still used the old name. One thing taking taxis abroad has done is really make me value the London black cabs and their drivers’ Knowledge.
Anyway, my hostel in Lima was lovely, if a bit of a hike from the historic centre; although the walk itself was interesting, passing amongst other things a huge area of second-hand bookshops and a shiny modern shopping centre which turned out to house a ticket booth for my favourite Peruvian bus company (they offer the opportunity to book vegetarian meals on long journeys).
Founded in the sixteenth century, Lima was for two hundred years the most influential colonial city in the New World. The world heritage site listing used just to cover the convent of San Francisco de Lima and that is the most impressive historical site in the city, although the other convent I visited, Santo Domingo, is beautiful too. This isn’t say that the rest of centre is unattractive, it has some very pleasant large squares and attractive buildings of various periods scattered around the place.
There was also a delightful park across the road from my hostel that contained a fabulous and recently restored gothic-moorish pavilion designed by Gustave Eiffel.
Since it was the best bit (aside from a chatty waiter with a Rolling Stones obsession), I’m going to tell you about the San Francisco convent, which is also the subject of the Lego model for Lima.
The church is Baroque, with a striking red and white interior, adorned with the usual highly decorated wooden altars and choir stalls. Under the church is a network of catacombs full of the dusty bones of tens of thousands of people (estimates vary), the last interred in the early nineteenth century. Many of the bones are easily reachable by visitors, should that appeal to you, and it is noticeable that the brick troughs nearest the walkway are rather emptier than those further away. Part way round my necklace fell off and I had to pick it out of a heap of bones.
The monastery attached to church does not allow photographs, but I did sneak a couple in the gorgeous cloisters, with their ceramic tiling, carved wood ceilings and oil paintings. The rest of the complex has an impressive library, lots more paintings and I very much enjoyed it.
Here’s the facade of the church:
And here’s the Lego model: