Well it's felt like a lifetime in coming, but today marked the first day of my South American tour of Peru and Bolivia with the awesome people at G Adventures.
And, while it hasn't exactly ended in the most ideal of ways (I'll touch on that disappointing story shortly), I met the 15 other people who will make up my traveling family over the next 30 days or so and I'm happy to report that they seem like a great bunch.
Kicked things off yesterday with a quick flight from Vancouver to San Francisco where I transferred to a LAN flight to Lima, Peru arriving after midnight. Thankfully, I had coughed up a little extra cash to enjoy a private shuttle from Lima's airport to Hotel Britania, our clean, comfortable and modern accommodation for the first couple of nights in the beachside suburb of Miraflores.
I literally ran for the shower to freshen up, then collapsed into bed in an attempt to get a decent night's sleep ready for a day of exploration around Lima tomorrow.
Waking this morning to beautiful clear blue skies, I made a dash downstairs to grab whatever breakfast (included in room rate) I could get my hands on. Bread rolls, jam, fruit and some scrambled eggs were all well received as I fuelled up for the day ahead of me. I had read in my "Footprint Peru, Bolivia & Ecuador" guide that there was a changing of the guard at the Palacio de Gobierno at noon, so the plan was to head straight into town by cab (S15 or about USD$5.40), take a look around the UNESCO World Heritage listed Plaza de Armas and be at the palace in time for the spectacle.
What can I say, the ol' Plaza is quite the spectacle. The numerous bordering buildings ranging in colour from sandstone to a bright, vibrant yellow were quite brilliant set against the blue sky and the green grass of the plaza lawns which surrounded a beautiful bronze fountain which dates back to 1650.
Exploring beyond the plaza along Jr de la Union, I found a number of markets that looked like they still hadn't kicked off for the day and evidence of retailers still making their leisurely way into town for the day with their offerings either being pushed in makeshift carts in front of them, or being shouldered "human packhorse" style.
Reaching what appeared to be the downtown limits at the banks of the Rio Rimac (River), I quickly could make out the noticeably more impoverished suburbs on the far side of the river. Using my refined "safe-travel senses", I decided it would be a good idea to perhaps avoid this part of town for now, especially while on my own.
Oh yeah, the huge armoured vehicle on the city side of the river basically pointed directly at the incoming lanes of the bridge proved to be further vindication of my decision.
Back in the Plaza de Armas, I strode up to the huge iron fence surrounding the forecourt of the Palacio de Gobierno. Now serving as the HQ for Peru's ruling Executive Branch and the residence of the Peruvian President, the Palace is quite grand in appearance with the front facade being not that unlike Buckingham Palace in England.
Sure enough, with 10 minutes or so left before noon ticked around, a few of the military guard were out setting up some timpani drums just on the other side of the fence gate. They looked quite spectacular in their red, blue and gold trimmed garb and I did my best to scout out a position on the fence that would guarantee me a good position for the show without ending up with someone standing right in front of me blocking out the view (we all know how easily that can happen).
As the nearby cathedral bells rang out at 12pm, the guard began their ceremony. My good work in securing a decent spot on the fence proved fruitless in the end as police moved everyone back from the fence line, back across to the other side of the road in fact. I'm sure they had their security-based reasons for doing this, but it pretty much killed the experience I have to say. Peering through dozens of iron bars from a fair distance hoping to catch a glance and perhaps a single decent shot of the parade wasn't ideal by any stretch of the imagination.
Impressed with the colourful military uniforms and idea of the "changing of the guard" but somewhat disappointed with how it all played out, I left the plaza again to explore a few galleries and other buildings of note (churches etc).
For part of the journey I gained a shadow, Pedro, who was keen to show me a few of the city sites in return for me buying him a beer. He seemed harmless enough and beer literally only costs S6 or USD$2.15 a litre (tallie) here, so I did just that and in return gained some good insight into a few places to visit including a kind of quirky, but impressive gallery of work by Cusco artist Edilberto Mérida Rodríguez, known for his non-traditional religious sculptures which feature grotesque mud characters with exaggerated features (head, hands and feet).
Maybe it's just me (take a look at his work below for yourself), but I loved his distinct style and the fact that it was free entry to the gallery was a double bonus for me!
From the gallery I headed to one of the main shopping drags where I had a look around and managed to find an unlocked wi-fi signal which I was able to email home and let everyone know I had arrived in one piece. I used this opportunity to take my camera out and attempt to get a few shots of your average good citizen of Lima. The results of my mini-photo walk you can find below.
The shot below I simply had to take even though I was a tad nervous doing so. This SUAT (SWAT) vehicle was parked on Plaza de Armas. Check out the placement of the bullet hole on the driver's side. One can only hope and assume the driver ducked at the right time, or there's every chance that they are no longer with us.
With a good few hours exploration under my belt, and a good feel for the inner city area of Lima obtained, I decided to make my way back to the Miraflores area and take a look around there before returning to the hotel for our tour welcome and orientation meeting at 6pm.
And then things took a turn for the worse...
There's no need to go into all the nitty gritty details, but in a dramatic turn of events my day went from decent to pretty bad as my prized Canon SLR Camera, and even worse my iPhone, were stolen! I cannot even begin to tell you how devastated I am right now. I mean, the primary purpose of this trip was to have the opportunity to work on my photography skills and my iPhone... well that thing was my life blood. EVERY note, hint and tip I've spent months gathering were on that thing and now I'm left to run on memory of what I had recorded on it.
* insert long, intense string of words here that you wouldn't even hear coming out of a sailor's mouth *
The only thing I could do was limp back to the hotel, find my tour guide, the wonderful Julio (who I hadn't even met at this point) and ask nicely if he would help me out with filing for a Police report for insurance purposes (God, I hope insurance sorts out this mess). With the scheduled 6pm meeting about to start any minute, he promised me we'd sort everything out straight after meeting the group and conducting the great little orientation he presented. By the end of the meeting, individual introductions had been made and we received a brief rundown as to what each day over the next three weeks is going to involve.
It seems that a majority of the crew are couples from the UK, Germany and Australia with a few single blokes from the UK and New Zealand, a coulpe of single Aussie ladies and a few young girls from the UK. All in all a good group from first impressions. I've no doubt I'll write in more detail about certain fellow travellers as the tour proceeds and we all get to know one another better.
"Meeting over, however, Julio and I took off on a mini adventure to find a local Tourist Police Station."
Meeting over, however, Julio and I took off on a mini adventure to find a local Tourist Police Station. We eventually found one and it seemed like we were interrupting a really tough session of "soap watching" as we were led into a large, humid room filled with what I can only guess was this station's crack squad of detectives, all draped over a couple of lounges in front of a small TV playing a Spanish version of "Days of Our Lives", but with worse acting if that's at all possible.
With a huff, one of the detectives peeled himself away for long enough to sit and take a statement from me, via Julio's translation, and it appeared that my Police Report was going to be pretty easy to obtain. The only catch? We have to go back in the morning to pick it up before we board the bus out of town, bound for our next tour destination.
So this is where I sit right now
No iPhone for entertainment and taking notes (hence I'm scribbling this out on the back of our itinerary) and hopelessly no camera for taking any kind of shots in the foreseeable future. Julio mentioned something about there being a Canon dealership somewhere between here, Miraflores, and the city, but I'm not sure if we'll have the time to head out there in the morning before departure time, nor if I have enough money to go splashing on a replacement SLR at this stage. * sigh *
So there you have it. An "interesting" start to my South American adventure, if nothing else. Here's hoping it's all pretty spectacular from here which will hopefully lift me out of this funk I find myself in tonight...
Links & Credits
- All images // Rob Masefield
- G Adventures // gadventures.com
- Britania Miraflores Hotel Hotel Britania
- Palacio de Gobierno // wikipedia.org
- Plaza de Armas // wikipedia.org