PERU    September 2000 

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Family group at Pisac

Another Birding holiday for us, but with the added dimension of a 5 day trek from Cusco’s Sacred Valley to the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu.



It started with a flight through Amsterdam and Aruba to the capital of Peru – Lima.   Lima is a large sprawling city, with not a lot of charm as it sits beside the Pacific bedevilled by the fog of its own pollution.  We were whisked from the Airport to the tourist area of Miraflores and the comfortable Hotel Jose Antonio.  What to do in a capital city?  Well, going to see their Museo de Nacion seemed a good idea, but what a heavy, sombre, concrete pile it was and the exhibits certainly didn’t promote Peru.   The artefacts were poorly lit, labelled only in Spanish, sparsely dotted around and it felt as if no one really cared about the place.  Probably all to do with inadequate State funding.

  Golden hands in the Gold Museum
That was followed by a visit to the privately owned Museo d’Oro.  It was the complete opposite!  A warren of a place, the rooms jam packed with exhibits on shelves, walls, cabinets, corridors; everywhere you looked there were multiple examples of various items, labelled in English and Spanish.  It has been a long time since either of us has seen so much on display!   There were rooms of boxed sets of pistols, revolvers, guns of all sorts, followed by cabinet upon cabinet of swords, armour, medals, buttons, horseshoes, spurs, powder pouches, uniforms, knives etc.  So much it was dizzying!  Then downstairs a stunning treasure trove of gold, silver and copper items.  Masks, jewellery, pottery, even mummified bodies!  We spent a truly memorable time there.    And on our way back to the Hotel we found the Indian Market – stall upon stall of locally made items ranging from painted wooden coasters through copies of erotic Inca pottery to bales of Alpaca sweaters, shawls and ponchos.   

 On the next day, feeling like walking round more of the capital we took a taxi to the Plaza de Armas.  It is an imposing square with pretty colonial buildings painted golden yellow, the Palacio de Gobierno, a huge solid cathedral, a bronze fountain, flower beds and grassed areas.   The stalls inside the cathedral were full of the usual dreary, dusty altars to the Virgin Mary and the only one with any vibrancy and life was the one with the ‘assumed’ remains of Francisco Pizzarro the Conquistador and founder of Lima.  As we left the Cathedral it was just approaching midday and time for the daily Changing of the Palace Guard.  Inside the Palace forecourt small children in neat school uniforms were sitting patiently on the curbstones, while waiting in the side entrances was the military band.   Out they came clad in scarlet and blue, gold epaulettes, tight pants and black leather knee-high boots, the square ringing to their military music.  The children were spellbound as the two front guards marched a slow, high kicking Nutcracker King ballet across the large courtyard.  A couple of tinies couldn’t sit still and jumped up to copy the high kicking march, much to their teachers’ embarrassment.  Then from each side of the gates 20 more soldiers marched in, all perfectly balanced as they high kicked their way round to change places.  The whole ceremony took about twenty minutes until the band finally marched out of sight.  Walking round to the back of the President’s Palace we found a stinking river, full of rubbish, stench and black vultures picking over the debris!  The only other place we visited was the Franciscan Monastery.  Once it must have been a thriving Order, but now numbers and revenue have dwindled and the building is crumbling and decaying.  A large Cloister had 16C tiles in blue, green and yellow lining the walls, paintings in various stages of disintegration on the upper walls and badly water damaged ceilings.  Down in the Catacombs 25,000 people have been buried in the underground warren over the centuries.  We had never before seen skulls neatly piled in the centre of circles of femurs, designs made out of dusty, decaying bones! 

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