I arrived at night and nothing about my arrival was normal. I had almost missed my flight on the last leg from Mexico City, and this was after nearly a two-day journey. As soon as we landed, there was a separate queue for those attending the annual meetings, and we were chaperoned at every point by helpful young volunteers all the way to the waiting lounge. Within ten minutes, our bus arrived to take us to our hotel. I knew, even before I arrived at the heavily-guarded hotel, that this was not going to be a trip where I will experience the real Lima. I prefer my more typical arrival where I either know every inch of the airport I’m landing in; or arrive somewhere new and join the wrong queue, fill in the wrong form, and catch the eye of the wrong immigration officer, who would insist on taking longer to turn pages in my passport than is humanly possible; and starting from left to right so taking even longer to finding something that resembles my photo. This three-day visit will be a very structured one. I would be lucky if I see anything at all.
The very next day, however, was more encouraging. After a well-earned sleep and a rather big and late breakfast, I joined a local tour to see beyond my hotel room views – which were of the Palacio de Justicia (the building with the columns) and, from my balcony, the elegant Palacio Francés.
There was of course no time to explore outside of Lima, there was barely enough time to have a look there. I was pleased to find some history at one of our stops, Huac Pucllana, which was the main administrtive centre for a society from around 200AD. The tour was interesting, and the way it was organised illustrated how much Peru will need to work on its tourism culture. The tour guide was pleasant and knowledgeable, the tour was reasonably well-organised; but it’s more Cairo than Rome in its delivery. A very interesting stop was at the San Fransisco Monastery – and I will post about another time.
This tour aside, my only views of Lima were during the drives to and from meetings and dinners. Constant warnings against going into the smaller roads and into dimly-lit neighbourhoods, didn’t encourage me. On my last day however, I had to explore the area around the hotel – at the very least. I spent a good hour walking around, and am very pleased that I did.
The police were very friendly. They were visibly very busy, their uniforms all looked new for the occasion, and in many ways they managed to remain invisible too. Although they were on every corner, and escorted every car or bus we took, greeted us at every entrance and joined us on drives to the convention centre and to the airport, they left us alone in a way that could not imagine was possible. During my walk in the hotel vicinity, I encountered over thirty of them. The only dodgy look I got was from the officer second from the right. All the others simply smiled. I was probably pushing my luck with this one- taking my time composing and focusing and shooting. In a way, I think the many international visitors and the heavy policing allowed a strange freedom for photographers to feel they’re allowed to do anything. I don’t believe I would have had such an uninterrupted photo walk under other circumstances. I would certainly not be able to point my camera at the police for that long, and still have it strapped around my neck… loosely.
One of the strangest things I’ve heard for some time, and certainly one of the strangest facts about a place ever, was the answer by our tour guide to a question from another tourist about how the mud bricks at Huac Pucllana. How had they not eroded with rain (yes, he was English). The tour guide immediately replied: ‘it never rains in Lima’.
This was something I struggle believe both then and now. I live in one of the driest places on earth, and even we get a good rain shower now and then in autumn and winter. I started looking out for rainwater (storm) drains on the streets. Nothing! The gardner in me immediately wondered about all the trees and lawns. I got my reply after our last lunch there, waiting for the car outside the restaurant.