Lima, Peru and Buenos Aires, Argentina (first pass):
01.23.2013 - 01.27.2013
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Lima. Luckily, Ryan shares an appreciation for my favorite activity in a new foreign city: a bike tour. As we took the cab from the airport to the hotel, it became clear that Lima has huge traffic problems. Lima is a city with over 10 million people (a third of the population of Peru), and there is limited public transportation (one north-south route of overcrowded buses). There was a constant cacophony of honking horns throughout the city. I thought my favorite activity would wind up getting us hurt with the insane traffic, but it turned out to be really enjoyable. Lima has beaches along the Pacific Ocean, and guests at our hotel had their own surf boards. Our tour mainly went along the beachfront neighborhoods of Miraflores, Barranco and Chorrillos. Over the three-hour tour our guide Jose shared with us a lot of information about the history of Lima and his personal experiences growing up in a constantly-changing city. The past 150 years has seen Peru/Lima experience a number of political revolutions, two catastrophic earthquakes, a war with neighboring Chile (partly over the “guano” riches and mining resources that Bolivia and Peru had access to) that saw Miraflores, Chorrillos and much of Peru nearly removed from the map and tragic attacks throughout the county by the Sendero Luminosa (“Shining Path”) neo-communist group. This nearly-constant change throughout the country has left it in a decidedly “developing” state, but our experiences in Lima and Cusco left us with the sense that Peruvians are confident their worst days are behind them.
In typical McPherson fashion, we had to try the best culinary experience in Lima that we could afford. Ryan found a restaurant called PeScados Capitales that was well-reviewed on TripAdvisor. PeScados Capitales’ name is a play on the “Seven Deadly Sins” and we got a kick out of their James Joyce quote introducing the menu: “Dios ha hecho los alimentos y el diablo, la sal y las salsas” (“God has made the food and the devil, the salt and sauces.”) The ceviche mixta (sea snails, octopus, sole, shrimp – and of course sweet potatoes) was incredible, and we had to try the Pisco Sours that Peru is famous for. The Pisco Sour tasted like a Margarita to me, and I understood after having one what the hype was all about. Apparently, Chile likes to claim that they created the Pisco Sour, but Peruvians tell us that it was the opposite. Unrelated to any fancy dining, Ryan also developed an addiction to “Inca Cola” while in Lima and is concerned about going without it for the rest of the trip.
On our final day in Lima, we travelled into the city center and headed to the Plaza de San Martin and the Plaza de Armas. The Plaza de San Martin is a memorial square built to honor Jose de San Martin – who, along with Simon Bolivar is credited as being one of the “liberators” of South America. In the Plaza de Armas, the only structure that has survived the numerous earthquakes and widespread violence since the 16th century is the central fountain. This area was the center of a continent-wide empire ruled by the Spanish. We visited the Monasterio de San Francisco, a bright yellow Franciscan monastery and church. The main reason for visiting this church was Ryan’s fascination with the catacombs underground. There are an estimated 70,000 people buried under the church. Most of the dead were one-time parishioners of the church, but several local saints are buried there as well. There were leg bones, hips and skulls everywhere once you go under the church area. In my opinion, it was super-creepy, but fascinating at the same time. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed on the tour, and Ryan could not use his skills to capture the catacombs.
Random travel note: So, everyone who travels extensively has to be flexible and ready to accept delays. I am including this part because I think it is funny. Since Ryan’s other home is the Marriott during the year, he is a platinum member. We arrived at the JW in Lima looking like scruffy backpackers, and the front desk said if we waited an hour they would upgrade us to a suite with a jacuzzi overlooking the Pacific on the 24th floor. Awesome! After that encounter we walked around trying to find a Laundromat to drop off our clothes. Well, no place nearby could get our clothing back to us within the time frame that we were in Lima… so we turned our suite into a Laundromat. We used the jacuzzi as our washing machine. I don’t think any other guest has used the gorgeous suite to clean clothes. I think the suite we stayed in was bigger than our home in Atlanta. The panoramic views of the ocean were breathtaking. When I called to ask for a late check-out, the front desk asked me if 8pm was okay. What?!?... Who has ever heard of such a late check out!? Well, our luck ran out there. We travelled to the airport to fly to Buenos Aires and our 11:30pm flight got changed to 8am the next day and we were put up at a not-so-hot hotel near Plaza de San Martin for our last night in Lima. Travelling is full of all sorts of challenges and surprises. After Buenos Aires, our spoiled, 5-star, used-to-royal-treatment selves are dropping down to hostel status.
Buenos Aires. If you attempt to do word association with Buenos Aires (or Argentina), you might come up with: tango, beef, financial crisis and Evita Peron. If you follow football (soccer) as well, you would potentially include Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. Luckily, in our first pass in Buenos Aires we experienced all of those things in one day. I have taken the bike tours up a level and found an all-day ultimate tour through Biking Buenos Aires.
Considering we took this 8 hour biking excursion on a Sunday, it made travelling through the capital safe due to light traffic. Currently, Buenos Aires is trying to implement more biking paths and there are companies that offer rentals to locals (similar to Capital bike share in D.C.)
We met our tour guide Koi and four other bikers from around the world and headed on our exploration of the beautiful Argentine capital. After a brief visit in San Telmo (the once home to BA’s wealthy elite – before yellow fever took care of that) our first stop was La Bombonera Stadium (home to the “Boca Juniors”) in the working-class neighborhood of La Boca. Notice in the picture that the Coca Cola sign is black instead of Red. The team’s colors are blue and yellow while their rival, River Plate’s (aka “los Millionaires”) colors are red and white. Obviously, no advertising on their building can have the other team colors!
Our next stop was the Caminito in the heart of La Boca. There were colorful buildings, artists selling paintings and tango dancers waiting to dance for tips. According to local legend, Carlos Gardel deserves credit for taking tango from the streets of La Boca to the rest of the world, becoming the first international tango star. Oddly enough, one popular theory re: the development of the dance is that it was originally performed with just men as a means of demonstrating their masculinity.
Our next main stop on the bike tour was the Puerto Madero, but before arriving in Puerto Madero our tour stopped by a memorial being constructed for “the disappeared” – victims of Argentina’s “Guerra Sucia” (Dirty War) from the late-70s and early-80s when the military ruled the country and over 30,000 citizens were “disappeared” any time they were perceived to speak out against the government.
Puerto Madero houses BA’s most expensive real estate (like $2,500 USD/sq mtr). After Puerto Madero, our journey took us through a neighboring ecological park before we stopped at a parilla (steak restaurant) for a lunch of roasted pork sandwiches and sidra (alcoholic apple cider)! The afternoon highlights consisted of seeing a “city for the dead” at the Cementerio de la Recoleta. Koi told us that if you wanted your family to reside in the cemetery, it cost 5 million for the first 10 years plus expensive payments thereafter every ten years. I would not want to be in charge of those accounting books. Apparently, if your family can’t pay, the bodies and coffins are moved to the BA community cemetery. Evita Peron’s (maiden name – Duarte) grave is here and there were fresh flowers and pictures from children around her grave. After walking through the second cemetery in a few days, we enjoyed an uplifting tango street performance in the park followed by a local tea drink (Yerba Matte – served over iced pineapple juice in the summer) as an afternoon energy drink.
Back on our bikes, we stopped briefly at a memorial for soldiers killed in the (73-day long) Falkland Islands War in 1983 before we headed to the Plaza de Mayo. This is the nerve center of the city but also home to most of its social protests today. Plaza de Mayo’s place as a site of accepted civil disobedience dates back to the “Guerra Sucia” when Los Madres de la Plaza de Mayo began protesting there. “Los Madres” were a group of mothers whose children had been “disappeared.” They would show up every day and silently march in circles holding pictures of their missing children demanding answers from the government. To this day, many of them still march every Thursday as several of them still have no answers to what happened to their children.
There is an obelisk built in the center to mark the first anniversary of BA’s independence from Spain. Taking up the east side of the Plaza de Mayo is the pink façade of Casa Rosada. Currently President Christina Kirchner’s offices are here – but until the 2001 financial crisis this is where all the Presidents lived. As such, this is where most all of BA’s famous political speeches were delivered to the masses, including where Evita and Juan Peron would address the people from the balcony. Even though I am a terrible singer, I was inspired to sing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” a few times yesterday.
Lastly, I want to point out that our guide showed us that when the financial system crashed, some locals took their frustrations out by shooting at the Ministry of Finance building. As we rode by on our bikes, we noticed that you could still see the bullet holes in the building.
If you travel to Buenos Aires, we would totally recommend doing a bike tour. It was a great way to learn about the city, and see the sites. The only downfall is having a bit of a sore butt…