Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Shining a light on a dark past.

The great thing about revisiting Lima was we were under no pressure to see and do everything. Of course with no pressure we also found it hard to do anything. But today we were forcing ourselves to leave the hostel (the shoebox room we were now in probably helped that decision). Finding new sights to see was a bit of problem. There was one big attraction we hadn't been to – the museo de la nacion - so that's what we decided to visit.

After breakfast we dropped off our laundry and walked out to the non-touristy main street to catch a taxi. This actually worked in our favour as the driver gave us a reasonable price (S6) considering the distance we had to go. The museum (photo above) was off the expressway way out near the main bus company terminals (the location was most likely the reason we hadn’t ventured there before). It was a concrete monstrosity – the love child of Robarts library and the Barbican. But inside we were pleasantly surprised because it was free and huge. A pretty good deal, don't you think.

We spent 3 hours walking around at first bored with with the same pots and weavings we’d seen many other places. But just before we got museum fatigue we arrived at a huge temporary photographic exhibit. It was a pictoral history of the Shining Path – if you think that’s an Incan spiritual retreat, you’d be incorrect. The Shining Path was (and to a certain limited extent still is) a guerilla organization that terrorized Peru from 1980-2002. I had heard about the Shining Path (our old lonely planet briefly mentioned their "disruptive activities") but I had no idea that they basically put Peru in the midst of a civil war – people disappeared, journalists were killed, whole villages wiped out. Some 70,000 people died in the violence and the entire country was devastated. The exhibit recounted the horror of the era and I was shocked that as late as 2002, 9 were killed when a car bomb exploded in the posh Miraflores area of Lima. This wasn’t ancient history this was now. No wonder the city felt like it had changed so much. I remembered in 2005 that there were armed riot police everywhere, and at one point the entire plaza de armas was lined with hundreds of them in full gear as the president attended a children’s Christmas pagent in the courtyard of the presidential palace. There were lots of police now, but without the shields and helmets, they were almost invisible. It seems that every Latin American country we’ve visited has had a period of death and political struggle. But for some reason, this one shocked me. Not just because it was so recent but because the terrorists wiped out entire indigenous villages not too far from Huaraz where we had just come from. And for what reason? Well, I couldn’t figure out what the Shining Path political philosophy was. Maybe the senselessness and pointlessness was what made it even worse. Sigh. Despite the heavy nature of the exhibit we continued on through the museum to the folk art section. It was a much need change and just the up note we needed to finish on. There was an awesome display of masks from the Puno area and since we were headed there next maybe I’d finally find a souvenir that I’d want to take home. Much better that than shrapnel from a Shining Path car bomb (just kidding mom).

Now that we were done with the museum, what to do? There was nothing else in the area but there also appeared to be no easy way back into the centre. Of course there was a plague of taxi drivers sitting in wait just outside the entrance. I approached them to find out how much a ride back would be – it was then I realized what a good deal we had gotten on our way in. The cheapest return price was double what we had paid. When I told the last driver that we only wanted to pay S6, he shook his head and with a smile gave us instructions on how to get to the bus stop. No really, he was nice about it - almost walking us there. Maybe the taxi drivers in Lima are different (doubt it). We got on the bus for about one sole each but for that price we got a nice 45 minute tour of more non-touristy parts of the city. Once again some were familiar thanks to the before and after city hall photo display. But in these locations, some of the places looked like they were regressing to their before states – the market stalls were creeping back onto the roads, the replanted grass and flowers were starting to die and the graffiti was returning. The most exciting thing about the bus was a girl who refused to pay the 75 centavo (about 20¢) fare the driver was asking for. She only wanted to pay for a 50¢ ride and held her ground. So did the driver. The girl lost and got off at the next corner to wait for the next bus. Her arguing over 75 centavos made me feel a lot better for haggling with the taxi drivers for 6 soles.

As we approached the centre, we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic so we hopped off and decided to walk the last 10 blocks. We needed a bank machine and hoped to find one along the way. And we did but none of them would give out more than 400 soles. So we kept walking past the plaza de armas all the way down to the pedestrian mall. We walked for 30 minutes and you’re probably thinking that’s a long walk for an atm but because our bank was stinging us with a $5 fee for every withdrawal, taking out just $150 at a time was going to cost us a lot in a very short time. So we trudged on, but still couldn’t find a place to give us our full limit. We settled for just S700 which was an improvement but still not the best. Now it was time to find some long sleeves for me. Huaraz had been a reminder that I had not packed appropriately for the mountains and I knew Bolivia wasn’t going to get any warmer. We headed back to the non-touristy area behind the hostel where I picked up a polo shit for about $7. Okay so it wasn’t a polar fleece but at least I had sleeves and wasn’t some super-tight sequined, cleavage-baring blouse that seemed to be so popular in women’s fashions down here. I dressed up in my fine new shirt and then we headed out to dinner at another locals spot where my lack of sequins didn’t matter and where $2 got us a huge bowl of soup, main course and drink. If we can keep this up we may be able to recover some of the expenses from the Galapagos sooner than we hoped.

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