A Walk Through Miraflores

This was the day I officially fell in love with Lima. The district of Miraflores is IT.

Huaca Pucllana

Huaca Pucllana

First I stepped back in time, to the 7/8th century, to explore Huaca Pucllana – the sacred temple for ritual games. This was the site of ceremonial activities during the Lima culture in the period 200-700 AD. The structure itself is in the form of a truncated pyramid, used for rituals, surrounded by an administrative section. The entire structure is made by adobe bricks – mud bricks which were moulded by hand and sun-dried. The arrangement of the bricks is like trapezoidal bookshelves, with gaps between the bricks to withstand seismic shocks.

We had a guided tour in English that took us to various sections, starting from the tiny museum, explaining some of the rituals like pottery smashing and human sacrifices, through the administrative section, the typical garden, a few animal pens, and some parts of the pyramid. In addition to the Lima culture, there are also some tombs from the Wari culture (500-900 AD), that contain burial shrouds and other remains.

Some of the animals in their pens: guinea pigs, llamas, alpacas –

We ended the tour back at the museum and attached gift shop.

Huaca Pucllana

By the time the Incas got here, the site had been abandoned for centuries. The Incas left it alone, and it stayed neglected until the 1980s when archeological and restoration work started in earnest. It’s a beautiful sight – in a single subdued colour, where you look closely to see the handiwork of people from centuries past, with the backdrop of present-day city.

After this time travel, I had to attend to my baser instincts of hunger. Walking down in Miraflores, I consulted TripAdvisor “Near Me Now” and was recommended El Bar Verde on Calle Berlin, that offered vegetarian food. Had a most delicious whole grain + avocado + olive sandwich in the beautifully decorated corner cafe.

I was so full after that sandwich that I could walk in and out of the Choco Museo without getting tempted to buy or sample anything. That only lasted a few minutes until I saw this pretty cafe selling desserts, and the one that got me was tres leches.

Miraflores Miraflores

It was an overkill, but delicious, and to walk it off I headed to Parque Kennedy. The park’s claim to fame is that it has more cats than flowers, or so it seems, because you barely notice the flowers in favour of the multitude of cats that wander around, looking for a cuddle, some food, warmth, whatever. All I had to do was sit on a bench to have one of these cute cuddly fellows climb onto my lap and try to squeeze into my warm fleece jacket. They are so adorable!!!!!!

Artists selling their work outside this park, and I was in heaven!

MirafloresMirafloresMiraflores

After spending an hour here, I had to tear myself away to head to Larcomar, where Souvik & I had planned to meet and have dinner. Not a long walk; as an added bonus to an already superlative day, I found a travel agent to buy me 2 tickets to enter Machu Picchu next weekend. Yeeaaahhhhh!

MirafloresLarcomar is one of the malls that I can call beautiful – built into the side of the cliff, facing the ocean, you can see nothing of it from the main road. We chose to eat at Tanta, a buzzing restaurant with great views, and settled for a couple of fruity pisco sours and shared a quinoa salad.

This is the route I walked:

Ain’t No Sunshine

Pisco sourThe Spanish language doesn’t roll off my tongue as easily as basic French does. Some mental shifts are required to say buenos días and buenas noches. After spending a major part of the day out on the streets of Lima, I ended up, at dinner, mumbling something about nachos. Oops. Souvik couldn’t figure out the reason for my giggles, so hopefully the staff at the restaurant didn’t hear me either. Maybe it was thanks to the first Pisco Sour that we tasted!

Bloopers apart, I am loving the sound of spoken Spanish, each syllable dragged out as if you have all the time in the world. That, and the radio in taxis always tuned into some swinging salsa music that puts you in a happy mood no matter how rickety the cab is.

And while I was prepared for the grey skies – the winter months in Lima bring no sun at all – I’m not too happy with how dull they make my photos look. Though, after a particularly sunny dry season in Jakarta this year, I can take a bit of grey dullness, since it is accompanied by ambient temperatures. The grey skies seem to impact the lives of ordinary people in a big way, and there’s quite a lot written on this topic. They call it La Garúa – a cold heavy fog, which is more than mist and less than rain. Takes away people’s smiles, makes the urban landscape look dull and lifeless, and brings out the unpolished side of the city. Sometimes called the ‘saddest city on earth’ or ‘taking the white veil’, this garúa has a personality of its own!

Plaza de ArmasI spent my day downtown, at Plaza de Armas, the central square, which is the heart of the action for tourists. Hundreds of people milling about, adding a bit of colour to the greyness, was a joy to behold. I missed the change of guard at the Palacio de Gobernio, the presidential palace, but there were plenty of other tours to enjoy. The city of Lima was established by Francisco Pizzaro, whose remains are placed at the museum of the Catedral de Lima.

The Plaza is a reminder of Spanish colonial architecture, though most of the building have been reconstructed over the years. I love a place where you can sit out in the open without having to pay for being there, and just soak in the atmosphere.

I wasn’t in the mood for museums, but ended up going into two of them, both dedicated to religious art and tombs. The first was the Lima cathedral, and the second, a little further out of the Plaza, at the Monasterio de San Francisco, which had the museum of tombs. I joined the Spanish tour here, but didn’t understand a word, naturally. Just wanted to be in and out as quickly as possible, with a morbid curiosity about the catacombs. And morbid they were. The sight of bones and skulls laid out in geometric patterns brought out a bit of hysteria that I couldn’t share with anybody. It wasn’t scary, just weird. I was glad to be outdoors, but only to be faced with a threat of pigeon bombers!

For the rest of the time, I walked up and down the streets, admiring the boots on sale, catching a glimpse of what may have been local celebrities (because everyone around them had whipped out their cellphones, and I did the same), spotting a bit of local colour, and missing my photo walking friends from back home in Jakarta.

Full and Finally!

Where I come from – Kolhapur, India – Peru (पेरू) is the word for guava. As a nice tribute/ coincidence, my first meal in Lima was “guava y funghi” – pasta stuffed with guava in a delicious mushroom sauce with paprika foam. I don’t get all the fuss about new-age food in foam form, but the meal was delicious. I figured out the guava-Peru significance only much later, probably this morning, after the stomach groaned from all the chow overload over the past 30-odd hours.

The flights were loooong, and I felt obliged to eat everything they served, as I had opted for the ‘special’ Asian vegetarian meals. We had a longish layover at Amsterdam, where we stuffed ourselves with more coffee and bread-y meals, just because. Schiphol Airport is supposed to be one of the nicest in the world. We just picked the time when they’re in the process of making it nicer for the future, consequently, painful today. Airports in Asia have left rest of the world far behind in  look, feel and process. Even our humble Soekarna-Hatta airport seems like a breeze compared to the exit process in Lima. The luggage trolley has to be one of the indicators of smartness of an airport. Lima certainly has the ones from the last century. And we had a lot of suitcases, all of which had to be scanned at Customs. A word of advice to travellers – Must use the facilities that you see right at the gate after disembarking; there aren’t any more later, at least, none that you can spot easily. And if you ate on the flight like we did, ahem….

Still on the topic of food, Peru has one of the newly popular cuisines of the world, so I hear. The restaurant at our Business Tower Hotel, Quimera, certainly is on the spot with their food and presentation. I passed the sampler bite of salmon and cheese to Souvik (too fishy for me, after a micro-lick). I’m loving their serving bowls and platters, and since we’ll be here for a few days, I might get to see those again.

On the ‘immersion’ aspect, I’ve tried to cram some basic Spanish words into my vocabulary, and was successful in blurting “gracias” to the immigration lady. Mental exercise is good for the brain! I may also avoid jet lag, thanks to all the movie watching on flight, and a well-deserved deep sleep last night. There’s a small concern of altitude sickness and acclimatisation (seriously, who thinks up all these?), for which I have pills (thanks, Sonia), and instructions to drink plenty of water and walk very slowly (hah, my body is perfect for that). The plan for today is to find my way downtown, and get a feel of the city. I’ve noticed that the ‘uniform’ for women is jeans and boots; glad I packed mine. Whether I can last a whole day in boots remains to be seen. Time to put myself out on the streets of Lima!

Que Será Será

Some exciting travels happen without any wishlist, expectations or planning.

Not in my wildest dreams was I heading off to South America in the middle of the year for a quick holiday. It’s the other end of the world, after all. But an employment offer for Souvik was too good to pass by. We had some difficult decisions to take, at the end of which Souvik is going to work for a while in Lima, Peru, and I’m staying back in Jakarta to carry on the business here, but not without extracting my pound of flesh, er… two week vacation in Peru.

UnknownJust tossing names like Peru and Machu Pichu in the air make me want to sling my camera over the shoulder and take off to parts unknown. Only, there’s a small matter of the visa. There are only 2-3 countries in the world that don’t demand a visa from Indians, and Peru certainly isn’t one of them. We found our way to the Peruvian embassy in Jakarta, and went through a major soul-searching, gut-wrenching process to get that precious stamp on the passport. Then came a few weeks of illness, maid-less-ness, intensive housekeeping, that left us no time to plan the travel. Apparently it’s the high season for travel, and Machu Pichu gets sold out months in advance. I was a little disappointed.
Peru_-_Plan_your_trip__Chapter__Large

A couple of days back, I had a relaxing mani-pedi session, and a quick read-through of the Lonely Planet Peru, to put me back in the mood. A few hours of intensive online research and I know that all is not lost yet. There are some spots available for Machu Pichu, and train bookings, plus a few more scenic routes to travel through. Bags packed, warm woolies in, and the quick introductory blog post almost done.

On the ultra long flight, there’s an agenda to speed-learn some useful Spanish phrases, and to get the accent right. I already have visions of paragliding off the cliff in Lima, gawking at Inca ruins, day-tripping from one hot spot to another, admiring herds of llamas. Can’t wait to get going, but that will only happen once I pack up the laptop.

So, hasta mañana, amigos! Watch this space for more.

Photo Walks in Kemang

The upmarket neighbourhood of Kemang is great for walking, not just for photography, but to explore shops, cafes and restaurants. And to think there’s not a single functional sidewalk anywhere in the neighbourhood! Still, armed with cameras, the scenery changes drastically.

Half a dozen photo walks later, I found that the heart of Kemang also lies, just like elsewhere in Jakarta, in its kampungs, with energetic kids, loads of colour and plenty of quirky sights.

I climbed up a volcano!

We rounded off April with a quick trip to the Ijen volcano at the easternmost end of Java.

I must admit, I thought of Ijen with a little trepidation; by all accounts the climb was arduous, and I’m no climber even in my wildest dreams. Tried to build up my stamina over the week, but it was never gonna be enough.

We flew from Jakarta, via Surabaya, to Banyuwangi – a town bigger than I had anticipated. They seem to have caught the tourist bug in Banyuwangi, with no less than 36 festivals planned for the year, starting with the Festival Toilet Bersih (clean toilet); as good start as any! The weekend after we were there was meant to be an international Tour de Banyuwangi cycling competition. One of the most exciting aspects of this town is that the island of Bali is in plain sight, and just a ferry ride across.

Seaside at Banyuwangi

Cutting to the chase, we had arranged with our driver to start from the hotel at 11 p.m., which meant a quick nap in the evening was in order. The drive to the ‘base camp’ took about an hour, and as they hadn’t opened access yet, we were able to catch another hour of much needed sleep. At 1.30 a.m. the gates were opened, and we started our uphill walk with scores of other enthusiasts. The weather was surprisingly chilly, good thing we had warm jackets and scarves among the other essentials – headlamps, sturdy masks, walking shoes and camera with tripod!

I quickly realised the futility of trying to match speed with the others. The road surface is good, but the gradient is steep and challenging. I begged my friends to go on ahead and let me carry on with my barely-there pace. One step at a time, a pause after every hundred steps, if not to catch my breath then to rest the burning calves. It was a physical struggle for me, but the mind was determined, and as long as I was able to pause, there was no question of giving up. There were hundreds climbing, and once I saw that other groups also needed to rest and I was able to catch up with some of them, I was encouraged.

My guide was a patient young fellow who let me set the pace without any complaint. Once we got to the top of the crater,  however, he drew the line at letting me climb down into the caldera to view the blue fire from up close. That terrain is very rocky and uneven, and I would’ve probably spent half a day getting back up.  I did spot bits of the blue flame from that distance, but the mind’s eye can see bigger than the camera can capture.

Hike to Kawah Ijen

After shivering up there for a while, we decided to chase the sunrise instead. More climbing, then some walking along the rim of the crater, and I was ultimately rewarded with some spectacular landscapes. (Must click on the images to see larger views!)

The unique feature of Ijen is the sulphur miners, who trek into the caldera twice a day, and carry back 50-60 kilos of sulphur to sell in town, for a paltry sum of around $5! They stop for a rest at the 2 km mark, to weigh their loads, have a smoke and sell some of their catch to us tourists.

Climbing down was much easier than going up. My monopod doubled up as a hiking stick, to take the load off my knees.

Afterwards, we had a bonus visit to a nearby waterfall. Note how green the water is, from the high sulphur content.Hike to Kawah Ijen

Hike to Kawah Ijen

Hike to Kawah Ijen

And fresh honey from a beekeeper.

Hike to Kawah Ijen

And a foot massage back at the hotel.