Rather than make them sprint between hotels and airports at ungodly hours of the morning, Ivo and I decided to take a more relaxed approach to showing the family around Peru.
Therefore, for the rest of our time in Lima, we all slept in, had a nice breakfast, and then met up for tours of the city each day.
It was always nice to start out with a walk along the Costa Verde. The fog was even denser than usual– it just rolled in off the ocean and sat on the city.
One of the best ways to get to see both modern Lima and its history is to walk the long strip of shops (which are now inside gutted historical buildings) between the two main city squares.
Accordingly, we started off in the Plaza San Martín, then set off along the Jirón de la Unión toward Plaza de Armas.
Especially with Chrissi at the lead and Alyssa in tow, we found ourselves poking our heads into every cool-looking open door (and some closed ones).
We discovered the Casa O’Higgins (the O’Higgins House), which belonged originally to Bernad O’Higgins, who helped lead Chile to independence by fighting alongside José de San Martín himself. Based on my understanding, this is loosely like the George Washington of Chile fighting alongside the George Washington of Peru.
Why on sweet earth is one of the founding fathers of Chile named O’Higgins? Fantastic question: It turns out Bernard’s father was originally from Ireland, and came over as an ambassador of the Spanish Empire to serve as the military governor of Chile and the viceroy of Peru.
While here, his “indiscretion” with a beautiful criolla girl (at about 18 years old, she was around 40 years younger) led to the birth of Bernard O’Higgins; despite her being from a noble family though, he couldn’t marry her due to Spanish law. The sources at the house often tried to soften the blow by saying he legitimately tried to marry her (of course, after failing he returned home) and that he truly loved her (to which I would dryly respond, “I’m sure he loved all 18 years of her.”).
Bottom line though, in a twist of poetic fate, the illegitimate son of an oppressor went on to become key to the liberation of his mother’s country.
The O’Higgins house, like many houses here, appears small and humble on the street but is actually huge and intricately detailed on the inside. It has since been dedicated to the city as a museum, where it exhibits both the history of the family and travelling exhibitions of modern art.
The art itself was mostly mediocre for me– it ranged between bright, Lisa Frank-esque paintings and standard-fare modern “art”.
The building, though, was fantastic to see– historically speaking, people with money in this period knew how to live.
We also managed to sneak into La Iglesia de la Merced, which is essentially a miniature cathedral. The facade on the front is magnificent– it seems almost laughably out of place on the street; it has no hope of looking as casual as the other buildings.
The ceilings vault toward the front and off to the side as well, giving space in each brach for a unique altar, each one dedicated to a specific saint. This seems reflective of the religious culture here, where I’m woken up about once a week due to fireworks celebrating a different saint’s day.
Although the architecture was not quite as impressive, we also passed multiple Norky’s. This place, along with its competitor Rocky’s, sells pollo a la brasa, which is perhaps the most popular Peruvian “fast food” (coincidentally, it is rivaled mainly by KFC).
Even in the fast food joints though, the pollo a la brasa is blacked on turning spits over real fire– Chrissi made sure they got to try it, though we opted to get our pollo from a slightly nicer restaurant a few days later.
Finally, the street opened up into the Plaza de Armas, complete with the Cathedral of Lima, the governor’s bright yellow headquarters, and the President’s home.
We popped across the busy street for a glimpse of the soldiers guarding Peru’s version of the White House; all the officials in Peru dress sharp.
We also made time to tour the cathedral, which offers both a museum that winds through its decorative rooms and the area where masses are presented.
Our tour guide was a bit jumpy at first when she realized the whole tour would have to be in English, but she held herself together and delivered a lot of information. She walked us through several rooms of Mary figures, most of which were either noticeably brown-skinned or who had bright red cheeks. These bright cheeks are called “chapas”, or chapped cheeks, and were classic features of the natives, who lived in the dry, windy mountains.
Since the people were being ripped away from a religion that worshipped those mountains, most of the Mary figures are also curiously mountain-shaped; while sometimes this is explained as a subtle rebellion by people being “converted” at sword and gun point, the more romantic notion that the people were simply in a confused and transitional stage is also sometimes referenced. Surprisingly though, even the guide here didn’t try too hard to dance around the real history: Although the people now seem to embrace the Catholic religion, they also don’t seem shy about how much they dislike the way it was brought here.
As we reached the second floor of the museum, someone ran up to let us know we only had a few minutes left: The museum was about to close. After Ivo made it abundantly clear that the ticket salesmen really should have mentioned this fact, our guide relented and not only gave us a few extra minutes, but also momentary access to a very special part of the building.
Outside many of the buildings in Lima are these beautifully sculpted wooden overhangs. They look like gorgeous decorative boxes– the city is working now to restore them. In most buildings, I’ve been told they existed to allow ladies to look out on the city without being looked at themselves.
The ones on the side of the cathedral were just as intricate on the inside as they looked on the outside! The view wasn’t half bad either. The staff told us this was a rare honor; few tourists are allowed to step out onto this unique veranda.
After exhausting the museum, we allowed ourselves to be shuffled out the door to the cathedral itself, which was no less impressive.
The arches ultimately led up to an altar crusted in gold and surrounded by more stunning wooden sculptures. However, the especially interesting mysteries were located just under the cathedral.
After stumbling and squeezing down some tight stairs, we were able to peek at the ossuaries under the building. These are only now being excavated, and the short answer to who these bones belong to is simply, “Nobody knows.”
The best guess seems to be that they are priests and holy men, nobles, or some combination of the two. Many of the graves that are being excavated apparently held multiple bodies.
The signs indicated that great care has to be taken as these tombs are studied, as Lima is prone to earthquakes.
Finally, after our long days of walking, Ivo always had a classy joint to relax in waiting for us. After this particular day of touring plazas, we dragged our tired selves into Hotel Bolivar for some pisco at the same bar that Hemingway enjoyed.
Since we were in Peru, where the legal drinking age is technically 18 and in reality “nobody cares”, Alyssa got to try a Pisco Sour as well.
The combination of potent pisco, lime juice, and whipped egg white didn’t sit too well with our resident booze-virgin though, so we got her something else to try.