Car alarms go off with regularity. Just walk by a car and it starts honking or ringing in ear-splicing decibels. Also, drivers honk persistently at other cars that have no place to move and at pedestrians attempting valiantly to cross the street. Bunches of pedestrians stand on corners and in some unspoken agreement, begin to cross. Some cars keep moving and then slam on brakes inches from you. A totally unsatisfactory situation.
Before arriving I planned to rent a bike, seeing bike paths mapped out. This idea quickly evaporated as I viewed the Peruvian driving habits. People do ride but it must be horrendously nerve-racking. Putting two feet on the sidewalk wins hands down.
My homestay building has little street appeal. Its lobby, like many buildings is almost bare. A doorman sits behind an old wooden counter. Behind him, mail boxes line the wall. Not locked, but rather wood frame cubbies akin to the boxes where keys and messages are kept in hotels. Part of the lobby holds a couch and two chairs. However there are no lights on and it seems never used. No extravagances.
Breakfast today consisted of a 5-inch round of pocket bread, apparently the tradition in Cuzco. With it were two slices of avocado and a wee orange. And the usually hot chocolate. I was starving in an hour so bought packets of nuts to keep in my bag. Great mid-morning snack with the weak coffee at school. Not getting fat on this trip. Dinner improved a bit. Whole wheat noodles with herbs, an omelet and red pepper-cabbage salad. And tea.
Ecela converted an old home into the school. The entry room and offices fill the ground floor. The second floor consists of several classrooms, a lounge and a kitchen. Generally, the staff brings lunch and eats at a table in the computer room. Students go out as most finish at 12 pm. Having a third class at 1 pm, I could not join them. Crowds jam restaurants at lunch, making the wait and food time long. As I l so close I come home to eat fruit, cheese, avocado and a roll—all of which I purchase at Vivanda, a supermarket that aspires to be Whole Foods. Best I’ve found.
To enter the school you can ring the bell but generally Carlos, a guard, stands outside and opens the gate. He remembers everyone’s name, greeting us enthusiastically.
In each area fire extinguishers hang on the walls below a fire extinguisher photo-I guess in case you’re unclear what it is. Above, hang green squares with a giant S in the center. Small lettering says, “Zona segura pen case de sismos.”
Walls are white, blue or orange. A bulletin board offers sign up sheets for excursions as well as city information. Paper flags from innumerable nations line the wall below the ceiling. Perhaps all the places students have come from. Outside, in the courtyard, ashtrays sit on a picnic style table. Some students and staff smoke here. Most don’t. During breaks we listen to Spanish music and chat.
After classes today I went to the city center with a staff person, Jovanna. Other students had been the previous week so I was alone with her. Lima’s only rapid transit, “El Metropolitano” opened in 2010 with a 30 kilometer line. It has a dedicated lane both ways and platforms in the middle of the expressway. See-through walls and doors line the platform and open as they would for a train. Getting on and off requires pushing and squeezing, with passengers packed like kernels of corn. Inside it feels like a train as it zooms along. The express buses have pullouts to pass the regular ones. It’s all a bit unnerving. However, from Miraflores to El Centro takes 25 minutes rather than 1 ½ hours on surface streets in buses, cars or taxis.
You buy a refillable ticket at the platform entry, costs about 75 cents U.S. As soon as I got on an old man offered me his seat. I declined but made a mistake. I thought perhaps I looked terrible as I’d had a rough day with some news from home. But no, men here give their seats to women-sort of a chivalry remain. On the ride back I took the seat. Anyway, standing is difficult with the jerky stops and starts.
The Center seemed lined with police who carry full body shields (more about police tomorrow). Joanna said this was the norm around this area of banking. Slightly more patrolled this day as the morning had transit worker pay protests. We walked along pedestrian malls, past the gorgeous yellow colonial buildings surrounding El Plaza Mayor with its 1650 bronze fountain. El Cathedral (16th Century) flanks one side. Sacred as the home of Lima’s city designer, Francisco Pizzaro, it houses his wooden sepulcher and relates the story of his murder by a mob of political rivals. Some things never change.
Reaching our intended goal, San Francsco, we entered the 16th century monastery. (No Fotografias!) Well touristed for its burial catacombs, it also displays an unusual 16th C Last Supper painting. In this version, the disciples sit at a round table, seemingly having a grand time with wine, children, a dog, Judas and the devil. He didn’t seem to worry about what time was coming. In another area eleven paintings from Peter Paul Rubens’ workshop depict the passions of Christ. None have been cleaned since painted, making images difficult to see. Early on the monastery had over a thousand monks. Today the count is 35. Incredibly dug deep beneath the monastery and the church, the labyrinth Catacombs public cemetary shelter the bones of thousands of poor folks, slaves and servants. Rich folk were buried in their home chapels or beneath the important church. Saying buried misses the point. The bodies were covered in lime until the flesh disappeared. The bones, separated in spots by type were layered up to 20 meters deep. Laid out neatly in piles or as in one round well, with heads in several circles and bones pointing to a center point, it forms an eerie walk. The practice stopped in 1821. No word on the new burial site but I don’t think lime is used.
The best part of downtown for me was this little boy.
Back to my room at six. Decided I needed a good meal and glass of wine—both of which obtained at Alfresco near a wealthier part of Miraflores. Mostly Peruvians but also a few tourists. Dug into an amazing appetizer of sushi tuna and avocado with a tangy Asian sauce. Then a perfectly prepared and fresh fish with an artichoke sauce and roasted veggies. Was so hungry and it was so delicious I forgot photos. Walked home and collapsed to bed.