After an uncomfortable nights sleep on the plane, I woke around 7am to be fed a small plane breakfast. We should have landed around 6:50am, but due to turbulance and a late departure (I don’t remember the departure, I was asleep before that) we were running a bit late. After landing, the immigration was pretty quick and bags arrived safely.
After clearing customs I spotted a Gadventures guy with a sign with my name on it (I wish i’d remembered to take a photo of that!) and was led to a waiting minibus for my transfer to the hotel. I was the only guest arriving at that time, and the driver seemed to have a heavy foot – I swear we hit 160mph on the motorway between the Lima airport and the hotel. The transfer took about an hour, and I arrived at the Hotel Antigua Miraflores, which is a really cute boutique hotel in the fashionable district in Lima. Clearly the ‘Comfort’ tour was going to be nice!
Hotel Antigua Miraflores
As soon as I checked in I was informed that 2 others guests were waiting for me in the hotel lobby – Steffi, who I had been talking with on the Gadventures forum, and Ruth who had arrived on the same transfer as her. I said a quick hello to them and then headed to my room for a shower, shave and change before we formed a group and went exploring to find breakfast since none of us had really eaten the plane breakfast.
We found a great little cafe where we all ordered breakfast – Steffi and I had Eggs Florentine with bread rolls, jam, glazed strawberries and a latte – it was great, and not too expensive at S27 ($10).
Breakfast, day 2 – with Ruth (left) and Steffi (right)
Feeling full, we started to explore Miraflores a little bit – including the nearby John F Kennedy Park, which was full of a community of wild cats who live there. My second JFK in 24 hours! Around the edges of the park were zumba and spinning classes – clearly a fashionable and healthy neighbourhood.
Cats in the JFK park
My Lonely Planet guide to Peru had a suggested walking tour of Lima which we decided we’d like to do. After consulting the hotel, they booked us a taxi to the start point and it arrived super quickly – at a cost of just S17 ($8.50) we rode for around 20 minutes into the city centre. I love the Lonely Planet guides – they really do give a good insight into a city and the walking tour didn’t disappoint.
Big square, old hotel
Street full of shoe shops
Big church with fancy alters – mass was happening
More of the big church
Lots and lots of yellow buildings
Big square next to the presidents house
Once we reached the big square it was clear there was “something going on”… Consulting the guide we found the footnote text that each day at 12:00 there is a changing of the guard parade outside the presidential house. We joined the crowds and waited the 15 minutes until the parade started – it was an impressive display of horses and mounted band, and we got to see the Peruvian president (Ollanta Humala) and his family, all within 5 hours of landing in the country!
My best paparazzi shot
Changing of the guard
After the changing of the guard we headed towards the famous St. Francisco monastery and crypt, passing by a section of the city where you could see slums on the hillside. At St. Francisco a mass was happening so we quietly walked around the church before signing up to an English guided tour. You could say that we attended mass twice – which would beat my normal annual attendance figure by at least 2!
San Francisco (no golden gate bridge)
The guided tour was pretty interesting learning about St. Francisco (which was/is a monastery) and were shown a lot of their artworks, library and the crypt underneath the main building. My favourite piece was a painting known as “The last supper with guineapigs”. The painting is from the 17th century and really does feature guineapigs as a dish on the table – they’re a speciality in Peru (called Cuy) and the painting was done at the time when the Spaniards were converting Peru to Catholicism, so relating the food to their local foods made a lot of sense.
The Last Supper – Diego de la Puente
After the artwork, we were shown into the crypt which was really creepy – they estimate there could be as many as 25,000 bodies in there and many of them have been excavated so you can see the collections of similar bones arranged in very creepy forms. They have recently added glass covers to the crypts since visitors were stealing the skulls!
Feeling a little light headed after such a visit, we decided lunch was in order. Hard to believe it was only 13:00 and we had already visited mass twice, a park full of cats, a street full of shoe shops, watched the changing of the guard, seen the peruvian president and 25,000 dead bodies!
Lunch was a simple vegetable soup for me, whilst Ruth opted to order an Inca Kola (the local preferred soft drink… a horrible flourescent yellow colour which is full of artificial flavours and colours, but it actually not that bad to drink). Steffi was feeling braver – she ordered a Pisco Sour (the local preferred cocktail… Pisco, Sugar Syrup, Lime juice and Egg White, with a drop of bitters added). We all enjoyed trying peruvian style drinks, and the Pisco Sour in particular went down well. I expect we’ll try one or two more, just to check we really do like them… you understand!
After lunch the walking tour suggested we head towards a market area, which we did but quickly left when we discovered the strong fish smell near the entrance – I think we were all still feeling quite light headed after the crypt. We headed into China Town in Lima which was bustling full of people since it was a Sunday afternoon. It was great to see so many people out and about, as the city had felt kind of empty when we started the tour.
After browsing China town for a while we decided to get a taxi back to the hotel as the walking tour was over. We had been advised only to get into ‘legitimate’ taxis, but not given much advice about how to tell which were legitimate and which weren’t. We ended up walking a few kms around the streets to find a taxi, and ended up with a driver who bartered the price before we got in. We ended up paying S18 ($9) to get back to the hotel and although the driver knew where we were going, he did keep asking for the address again and again!
Once we got back to the hotel, one thing was evident… sunburn! Stupidly none of us had considered the beautiful warm weather, since it was grey and cloudy when we left the hotel. We all felt the effects and a soothing cold shower at least helped to stem the burning in the short term.
I settled down in the hotel bar with a cup of loose leaf tea (a blend of Green, Black and Strawberry flavours) to relax before meeting the rest of our group at 19:00. The notice pinned to the wall in the hotel gave all of our names, so there was much speculation about the other names to try and figure out who we would be travelling with! The good news was that there were only 7 names listed, and by this point we already knew 3!
We decided to check out the Chocolate Museum which is extremely close to the hotel. The museum was tiny, but they greeted us warmly with mugs of Chocolate Tea, and a guided tour in english of the chocolate making process. It was interesting to see everything done small scale – the rooms were no bigger than my living room at home but they featured the whole chocolate making process. Maybe I should convert my living room… yum!
We sat down and ordered a chocolate fondue which was devine and a great way to get to know Steffi and Ruth better – shared food always helps conversation!
After filling ourselves with more calories, we decided to go back to Miraflores square (JFK park) since it seemed to be a hive of activity and we still had a couple of hours before the meeting. We heard music and went to investigate and were greeted with a public dance event – lots of older couples dancing to ballroom tracks in the centre of the square. It was a beautiful event and loads of people were watching. Around the outside of the park was an art gallery of artists displaying their work for sale, and we spent a happy 45 minutes looking at all the different styles of Peruvian art.
Peruvian Tea Dance
Art on sale
On the way back to the hotel, we discovered a Christmas shop and Steffi made out with a reindeer.
Steffi’s new boyfriend
Finally it was time for our meeting, and we gathered in the hotel lobby to meet our guide and the others on the tour. Gadventures allow upto 16 people on the trips, so we had all feared being part of a big group. No need to fear – we only had 7, and our guide Harold introduced us to the tour in a really friendly way. Harold has a huge smile and put us all at ease immediately. As well as me, Steffi and Ruth there are two couples on our tour – Al & Asfia, and Mike & Kirsten – both of whom are on their honeymoon! So it looks like Steffi, Ruth and I are likely to be hanging out as a group of 3 quite often!
The briefing was very exciting and Harold had produced little spreadsheets with all the details we needed, day by day. The way he talks about all of the trip whet my apetite and I was so excited to get started! It’s amazing the level of detail that Gadventures go to – even pre-selecting our seats on the internal flights to make sure we get the best view of whilst travelling across the country. It really feels like i’ll be able to relax on this trip, knowing that all those little details are being taken care of.
No detail left untouched
True to the above form, Harold had booked a table for us at a local outdoor restaurant – and we were presented with Pisco Sours as soon as we sat down (my second taste already, and it’s still day one!). I followed up by ordering a Passion Sour (which is a Pisco Sour made with Passion Fruit Juice instead of Lime Juice) and was handed a special vegetarian menu that the restaurant had arranged “for Gadventures”. These guys clearly have influence in this country! I ordered a vegetarian fried rice, and we chatted a lot. It was great to start to get knowing everyone, and after dinner Harold reminded us that we were planning to meet at 7am to depart for our first part of the adventure – a trip to the amazon rainforest!
Dinner as a group – from left: Asfia, Me, Ruth, Harold, Steffi, Kirsten, Michael
Since I am the only single guy travelling on the trip, my itinerary has been upgraded to give me a single room to myself throughout the trip – a $600 upgrade!
Pretty chandelier in the hotel
Arty shot of the hotel bar
We headed to bed early, with Harold booking 6am alarm calls for us all… we didn’t even have to pick up the phone to arrange it! I slept, dreaming of jungle adventures!