Lima – Royal capital city of Peru
The moment my business trip to Lima got finalized, I immediately rushed to the World map hanging in my bedroom. How far Lima is from Bangalore and what air route should I take to reach this far away destination? I finally decided to take the Bangalore – Dubai – Sao Paulo – Lima route which consumed the least journey time (approx 30 hours) and return from Lima via New York and Dubai, which was also for the same duration. This trip broke 2 of my travel records a) the farthest journey ever undertaken by me and b) the longest nonstop flight (15 hours from Dubai to Sao Paulo). However the thought of visiting this exotic South American capital city made me feel very excited, since this was my first visit to Latin America. On breaking this news to my friends, almost everyone suggested that I also visit Machu Pichhu, which was recently declared the new 7th wonder of the world. Who knows when I will get another opportunity to visit the Land of the Incas, located about 18,000 kms from India!!
With a population of over 8 million, Lima the capital of Peru is the 5th largest city in Latin America behind Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Buenos Aires and Rio. It is a city of contrasts since Lima is surrounded by shantytowns where poverty is rampant and yet many of its suburbs are rich and prosperous. Its business district boasts skyscrapers and its shopping malls are ultramodern. I stayed at The Westin, which is the tallest skyscraper in Lima with 30 storeys offering a great view of the city from the hotel room. Lima is located on a desert strip on the banks of the Rimac River close to the Pacific Ocean shoreline. Lima is the richest city in Peru and is the financial, cultural and educational center of the country.
Interestingly I started on a Monday morning at 4am from Bangalore and reached on Monday night at 11:30pm. While returning from Lima, I started on a Sunday night and reached Bangalore on Tuesday evening. Peru is 10.5 hours behind India and here lies the answer. My first impression of the country is always the International airport and the Jorge Chavez International Airport at Lima did not disappoint me although the immigration process took me about 45 minutes to clear despite landing at 11:30pm from Sao Paulo. In contrast the Sao Paulo airport was very small and very ordinary looking compared to Lima. As I came out of the Airport exit I heard young girls shout aloud as if they were welcoming a hero or rock star. It was not me of course but the local Latino all girls pop band called Pandora, which arrived at the same time. I reached the Hotel around 1am after 45 mins drive and was surprised to see many guests waiting to be checked in even at that hour. Mining lies at the heart of Peru’s economic boom of the past decade and the country is witnessing lot of business interest from across the globe. Lima boasts some of the finest cuisines in South America, the fusion of Inca, European and Asian cuisines have created an eclectic, yet excellent cuisine especially the seafood.
Lima has enough museums, churches, colonial houses and pre-Inca ruins to keep any visitor busy for weeks. However I had very little time to explore the city since I had planned a trip to Cusco and Machu Pichhu in my cramped schedule. However I was fortunate to find my friend Luis at Lima, who had just relocated here from Paris about 6 months ago. Being a Peruvian and a Lima citizen for a long time, he knew the city like the back of his hand. He insisted that I see Lima at night and I agreed to a short tour of the old city. The highlight of this trip was a heavenly experience at Huaca Pucllana, a celebrity restaurant located in a breathtaking setting within the ruins of an archaeological compound built between 200 and 700 AD by the early inhabitants of Lima. Their cuisine is a reinterpretation of Peruvian Criollo tradition and features dishes like ceviche etc. I ordered Paiche fish dish (Amazonian River fish) with potatoes. I also tasted the Pisco sour, which is the National drink of Peru. It seems the Peruvians are so passionate about their Pisco, that they could go to war with Chile, who claim the drink to be their own.
Lima is a city of 2 extremes like Bombay, with the richest and the poorest living close to each other. On one hand you can see swanky apartment complexes and on the other hand you can also see buildings which are not even plastered by cement or small shanties on hill tops. Peru, unlike India does not live in villages and bulk of their population is settled around Lima and modern cities. You will see some of the best road infrastructure and in some pockets the worst. I was however impressed by the dedicated Bus lane created within the city limits to compensate for lack of railway or metro system in the city. However like India, the road discipline can be at its worst with lane cutting and honking being the rule of the day. Lima has very few 2 wheelers and 3 wheelers and hence traffic is not as chaotic as in Indian cities. But the traffic jams could get worse during peak hours. I was amazed to see few Moto taxis (3 wheelers) popularly called auto rickshaws in India. These moto-taxis are manufactured by Bajaj, India and I happened to see couple of Bajaj showrooms on my way to office. I was later told that Mahindra also has a large presence in Peru. Most of the cars on the Lima streets like Alto, Swift are also India manufactured. In the IT world, TCS already has a major presence at Peru. There are couple of Indian restaurants in Lima city run by Pakistanis, which are apparently popular with the local crowd. Soccer is the most popular sport of Peru but their National team is not very strong compared to their other Latin American counterparts
Look wise the people of Peru are very similar to Indians. No wonder when Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas in search of India, he mistook the locals as Indians. Except for hotels and offices, I could hardly converse with locals since they speak only Spanish. Most of them mistook me to be a Peruvian and when introduced as an Indian, people immediately co-related the Oscar winner “Slumdog Millionaire” shot in India, which was a big hit in Peru. I hope the Peruvians have not generalized India after seeing this movie, as an impoverished nation. Like most Indians, the staple diet of Peruvians is fish, rice and potatoes. Most of the vegetables and fruits found in India are available in Peru and I later realized that potatoes, papayas etc had in fact originated from the Inca land. I was surprised to find mangoes, that too in winter. Being in the Southern hemisphere, it was winter time in June and they celebrate the shortest day (22nd June) in praise of the Sun God. The weather in June is typically cool and sunny (about 20-25 degrees Celsius) but one can expect cloudy weather although it rarely rains here. Lima lies in the high seismic zone and mild tremors are often encountered. While I was in a meeting with the Client, there was an earthquake measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale and the whole building shook for a few minutes. I was surprised to see not one person move away from the meeting room while remaining very calm. For them it is a very common occurrence.
Peruvians are very friendly people but the only challenge is the language to converse with them. I would not recommend a lonely trip in a cab or otherwise, unless you are accompanied by a local. I had a tough time with a local cabbie about the currency note I handed over to him at the end of the trip. He seemed to accuse me of giving him a fake note, which I understood much later as both did not understand each other’s language. I pushed the note inside and walked away hurriedly into the office premises. I was severely admonished by my office colleagues for taking the risk of hiring a public cab. For rest of the days, one of my office colleagues would come and pick me up from the Hotel and drop me back. In the office, people generally speak English but most of them do not. While visiting the client for a presentation, I witnessed that their Meeting rooms are equipped with a small sound proof glass box which seats a translator. This translator is well versed in English and Spanish and can amazingly translate the discussion with a time lag of just few seconds. It was a very interesting experience for me. The actual local language, Quechua is spoken by very few Peruvians and Spanish remains the official spoken language in this country. By contrast I felt Indians still speak the ancient languages and use them predominantly in day to day life while English is spoken as one of the languages. We should in fact thank the British for not destroying our ancient culture while Peru was not so lucky under the Spanish rule, which was extremely ruthless in comparison.
Peruvians love their local beverage called “Inca Kola” which even beats Coke or Pepsi in sales. Throughout my stay in Peru, I preferred to sip this tasty Kola. One thing that intrigued me at Lima, was the fact that people rushed to brush their teeth after every meal. I later came to know that this practice is extremely essential since the cost of dental treatment is quite exorbitant in Peru. Peruvian Soles is the official currency but US dollars are widely accepted. 1 Soles = 22 Indian Rupees. The currency is very strong and the cost of living is high. An average meal for 2 can cost anywhere between 150-200 soles. Real estate is booming in Lima city and many claim to have seen their investment double in just a few years.
Peru was plagued by terrorism in the 70s and 80s and they have come out of it successfully. Earlier people could not venture out of their homes after sunset but now it’s a vibrant city that never sleeps. People are still in awe of ex President Fujimori who ruled Peru from 1990 to 2000. He is currently in prison on charges of corruption. Fujimori ushered in lot of reforms, brought change in the Peruvian society and also eliminated terrorism. He put Peru on the global map and is today one of the fastest developing countries in South America, thanks to the booming mining industry (gold, silver and copper) ; popular tourism destination and heavily promoted by the government as the land of gastronomic delight. Despite being separated by thousands of miles, Peru to me was more like a neighboring country. With increased trading ties between the 2 countries, we should be able to get closer to Peru in years to come.
Date Visited: 18th June to 25th June 2012