Monday, December 28, 2015

Peru 2014 Day 8: June 30- Giant Churches Covered by Birdies

Peru 2014 Index

It was the first time we had big plans for a full day adventure. Therefore it was also the first time ALL of us slept past nine in the morning.  Following some high speed chaotic dressing and breakfasting, we ran out to catch the first cab we could find to the historic section of Lima.

In yet another example of spectacular timing, our cheap digital camera crapped out again, leaving us with Rosa’s (formerly almost my) low resolution fill in cell phone, and a nearly empty disposable camera.

One more arcade quality cab ride later and we exited in Plaza San Martin in front of the Hotel Bolivar.  I think it was in a Bond film, or some other movie.  Rosa asks, “Why is it always Peru?” in films TV shows and comics.  I’m not sure of the answer.  I think it’s some combination of vast cultural history, exceedingly varied climate areas, and it has a “P” in its name.  “P”s are inherently funny.

Wait…Quantum of Solace was in the Hotel Bolivar in Panama.
Oh well, it’s still a “P.”

The four of us passed through a pedestrian street, with Anabelle and I in front, where Rosa insured she could keep an eye on us.  The only flaw in her plan for maintaining her piece of mind is we never knew where we were going.  My wife tried using verbal remote control methods on us, but she’s far from the loudest one in the family. We also had to guess at Abuelita’s walking speed without constantly looking over our shoulders.  Somehow it all worked out and we stayed together, got where we were going, and were never captured by psychopathic llama ranchers.

The first stop of the day was La Merced.  (Aka Basilica of Nuestra SeƱora de la Merced for those who can pronounce that correctly) It was by far the biggest church Anabelle and I ever saw in our lives.  All around the edges of the place were a collection of alcoves with multiple statues of saints, (or occasional remains) each helpfully labeled for heathens like myself incapable of recognizing them on sight.  The myriad of holy folks was a pretty strong demonstration of how, in some societies, monotheism will never fully take hold.  We waited in a small crowd to touch the “Little Doctor Jesus” which I’m sure sounds much holier, and less like a rap star, in Spanish.   The other “big draw” in that church was an immense silver cross belonging to Fray Pedro Uracca. (His remains were there as well…I learned a lot having to look up how to spell all these Spanish words. I also kept converting the language of the spell checker when typing them, so apologies for undetected typos.)

He’s reported to have calmed a storm by dedicating his life to Mary.  He also wore sack cloth and chains that dug into his flesh as penance for a chunk of his life. Fortunately, people prayed to him by leaving medals and pictures on his cross and not by emulating him.

A few blocks over was the Convent of Santo Domingo. We went into the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary connected to it. It was, by far the biggest church Anabelle and I ever saw in our lives. 

The layout was similar to San Merced, but more so.  It’s famous for the tombs of:
Saint Rose of Lima - who was the first saint born in the Americas
Saint Martin de Porres - who was the first black saint
Saint Juan Macias - who remained to pilot of the command module while the other two brought the Eagle to the lunar surface.

I may have clicked on an article about the wrong trio there.

We didn’t see their tombs, which wasn’t a big deal because their skulls, decorated with flowers, were on display in the church proper.  Turns out we were lucky, because sometimes Saint Rose’s head goes on tour, and they leave the torso on display.  Occasionally the difference between a Catholic celebration and an Evil Dead movie is only in levels of politeness.

The main square, La Plaza de Armas, contained both the Government Palace and the National Cathedral. Judging from the outside the cathedral would have been by far the biggest church Anabelle and I ever saw in our lives, but it didn’t open until five o’clock.  With eleventy zillion giant churches in walking distance, I guess they don’t all need to be available at once.

A few failed disposable camera checks later and it was time to head over to the front of the Palace for the Changing of the Guard.  A military band came out to entertain the crowd fifteen minutes beforehand. 

Then it was time for the ceremony.  Two heralds with those long fancy trumpet things marched out first, in order to play for the more official marching.  Of course the band played “El Condor Pasa” the most famous of traditional Peruvian composed songs.  Its fame is partially due to being covered by Simon and Garfunkel.  Maybe that’s why the “Out Father” was sung to “Sounds of Silence,” someone picked the wrong song?

They also played “Carmina Burana” as ever since Excalibur came out it has been an international law to play that music for any impressive militaryness.

The soldiers’ walk existed somewhere between a goosestep and a Pythonesque not quite Silly enough Walk , complete with the left leg merely doing a forward aerial half-turn every alternate step.  Using that stride, the whole shebang took about a half hour.

As the music played, the trumpets blared and the salutes were exchanged, I couldn’t help but think that if the poop actually hit the fan, the four guys outside the gates with fatigues, berets and AK-47’s were likely to be infinitely more effective than the whole parade squad with swords and spittoons on their heads.

I noticed a black briefcase sitting against the fence during the ceremony. The fact that it was directly next to the man in the suit with the communicator obviously running the show calmed my nerves for the most part. Still, I asked Rosa and she asked some other police and/or army guys about it.  We learned it was only the personal effects of the aforementioned beret warning guards.  Considering how comfortable they were holding those AK-47s, I’m sure their wallets were quite safe, even at that distance.

Yes, there were soldiers, palace guards, police and other official and armed personnel all over the Plaza De Armas.  That made it all the stranger to see the disheveled naked guy walking along the sidewalk ahead of us after the show ended.  I’d have though one of those beweaponed gentlemen might indicate that the grubby one’s lack of coverage on the chilly day should be tended to.  I was wrong, leading us to point Anabelle toward a suddenly, excessively interesting store, and off the sidewalk for a stretch.

This detour prevented us from meeting Superman as well. This was not a major loss as he was a smidge taller than Anabelle, highly scrawny, wore women’s black boots, and a red leather coat.  He did have an appropriately colored “S” logo sweatshirt, an excessively greased spit curl, and Clark Kent glasses, so kudos for the effort I guess.  The weirdest part (and it had much competition) was that there were no other costumed characters there.

Not counting Naked Guy, but I don’t think he was part of the Cowboy Franchise. 

No, this wasn’t a case like Times Square where a great deal of costumed characters battle for tips.  This was a guy with a Superman shirt, some of his female relative's clothes, and a gallon of hair gel striking out on his own.  You go, dude!

 (Click here for his full and unusual story) Or just Google "Peru Superman."  Unless you want to have a large amount of explaining to anyone who shared your browser, I'd recommend against googling "Peru Naked Guy,"

Once our near encounters with the interesting individuals were done, we turned down an enormous pedestrian street that functioned as an outdoor mall.  Multiple shop owners gave us detailed directions on where disposable cameras were sold.  They were all wrong, but it let us see more of the shopping area, including a cool side alley market.
 In there we heard a tour guide warning her group what Rosa had already informed us about:  “Do not walk over the grates in the street.”  Apparently what can only cause slight vertigo in New York City can cause an abrupt plummet in countries with less of a repair infrastructure.

Three large differences separated this crowded shopping area from similar ones back home.  The first was seeing only a single Starbucks along the entire stretch, as opposed to every six feet.  The second was that everyone was looking where they were going, or at whomever they were with rather than at some hand held mobile electronic device.  This was odd as the third difference was that instead of Starbucks, there were Claro cell phone service stores with equal frequency, each with a “Claro Girl” out front inviting customers.  Maybe they didn’t sell phones after all.

There were an inordinate amount of KFC’s for the size of the area.  Apparently Colonel Sanders’s secret recipe is my country’s main contribution to world cuisine. 

Thanks to the abundance of Menu (with a thingy on the u) places, we didn’t have to sample the Colonel’s wares.  We chose one with multiple grilled fish, and a variety of anticuchos. (That’s appetizers, not a tickle guard.)

I had the fish; there was also Lomo Saltado, beef Milanese, and frijoles on the table.   We all left very full.  Some places supplied juice with the Menu choices; this place gave everyone a Pisco sour, the national drink of Peru.  Pisco is a sweet yet potent grape brandy. It is also a member of the list stuff I now like that I didn’t use to before my medically induced taste bud change.  None of the others drank theirs. When they went to the ladies room, I made sure each sample was of equal quality.
It worked out well, because my liquid enhanced happiness proved strongly protective of my mood as an army of shoe shine people yelled, “Sucio!” after me in case I was unaware that my boots were filthy.

A few blocks over from the main square was the Monastery of San Francisco. It was by far the biggest church Anabelle and I ever entered in our lives. Abuelita rested outside because of the catacombs.  (Well played, Abuelita.) We took the tour of the massive holy joint.  We found a disposable camera in a little shop right before reaching the Monastery.  Therefore, photos were forbidden in it.

The library had twenty five thousand books in it, many predating the Spanish conquest.  Something to keep in mind as we live here in the future- having them all replaced by a Kindle might lessen the grandeur a bit.

I believe the sacristy was larger than our entire church at home, and the dome of one section was made entirely of cedar and could easily fit several elephants.  How you get the elephants to be airborne in a South American landmark is up to you.

Most of the fixturing was covered with gold leaf.  In Spanish that’s Pan de Oro. Why we use leaves and they use bread to describe a coating is a mystery…or technically two mysteries…plus a meta mystery for why they’re different…never mind.

We couldn’t go into the main section of the church, which I may have mentioned was by far the biggest church Anabelle and I ever entered in our lives. However, we got to look down into it from the Chorale section, which was also bigger than our church at home.  Instead of giving all the singers a lyric sheet, since the place was older than easy printing, they used the earliest version of Power Point.  Lyric sheets were written in a GINORMOUS FONT and placed one at a time on a rotating lectern in the center of the room. Some poor altar boy was drafted into changing the pages and spinning the monstrosity.  I’m sure there were some highly ambitious pranksters back in the 1700’s that pulled multiple all-nighters creating fake lyric sheets.

To prove I do not completely suck at languages, I was able to follow along the tour guide (with a little help from Anabelle) in Spanish. This was fortuitous, as my grasp of their language was infinitely better than the grasp of English of whoever wrote the translations on the various signs and description cards throughout the location.

In the courtyard and one hallway were massive stone crosses.  There used to be seventy something of them, but only five remained. Originally I thought they were indicating the rest were lost at sea, but they were just “lost.”  I’m not sure how one misplaces a giant stone cross, or a couple dozen of them for that matter, but I guess conquering and converting an entire continent meant they had a lot on their minds.

The catacombs at the end of the tour were what kept Abuelita sitting outside.  Over seventy thousand sets of human remains were in the pits along the tunnels under the monastery.  Some went down four meters deep of various human bits.  Mostly leg and hip bones were visible, but there were the occasional pile of skulls to keep things interesting and/or terrifying.

Because of a vibration insulating underground moat the catacombs are supposedly the safest place to be in an earthquake…
In the dark
Surrounded by tens of thousands of the dead.

Like I said, I suck at languages, maybe this is a version of “safe” I am unfamiliar with.

The tunnels were exceedingly narrow and low requiring excessive bending and ducking on my part.  By the end I was saying, “Sanctuary,” quite a bit, as well as answering my wife with a raspy, “Yes masssster.”  Even with the crouching, since I respectfully removed my cap, I ended up with a large amount of “remains dust” on my head…delightful.

The gift shop had exactly the book I wanted containing information about everything we had just seen.  Sadly, it had no pictures, was only in Spanish, and looked like it was typed up in someone’s basement.  The insistence of the clerk that it wasn’t “for me” but I should want a very generic, excessively thin, overpriced book about all of Peru hastened our exit.

We met up with Abuelita in the courtyard which contained vendors and a massive amount of pigeons.  As if by divine command, the entire flock would take to the sky as one, circle a couple of times, and then land.  This was spookier than the piles of bones.

We got Anabelle little wind up butterflies, after the guy selling them launched one near us causing us to jump eighty feet in the air after the whole pigeon thing.  She also received a hand woven name bracelet as a gift from Abuelita, done on the spot with some dazzling speed.

There, as in most public places in Lima, were the ever present women in traditional garb selling candy while carrying kids on their back.  I know I didn’t blend at all but it wouldn’t have helped.  They continuously waved the candy in my, Rosa’s and every one else’s face. Saying no didn’t stop them, having someone in your group buy some didn’t stop them, buying some yourself didn’t stop them. We eventually took the only option, and kept walking out of the courtyard.

We went back to the first church we had hit to try for some photos with the disposable camera.  Outside was a disturbingly large, Evangelical, white bread Christian family singing.  I’m not sure what they hoped to accomplish.  The entire country was Catholic enough to have a plethora of operational and fully attended massive churches and cathedrals within walking distance; plus shrines on highways, in malls and at gas stations.  I’m not seeing a major conversion to one of the less ornate branches of Christianity happening any time soon.

Yet another hair raising cab ride took us to the Plaza Vea department store to get some bread and more disposable cameras, just in case. We’d later learn the shelf life on the cameras was far shorter than that for the bread.  We also grabbed more Bembos for dinner.  Yes, it was that good.

While waiting for our far beyond home quality fast food, there were some additional candy sellers, plus a guy who tried to take our bread.  It’s always hard to tell the difference between the desperate and the crazy.  His family coming to usher him away made me believe he belonged in the latter category.

No bus came by, leading to a final cab ride home.  Our Seat Belt reclamation mission failed this time, and I was forced to wedge myself in the undersized back seat to anchor my daughter in place with the vice like grip that only the fear of a traffic accident on the other side of the globe from any personally known doctors or insurance companies can produce.

After thoroughly enjoying our Bembo-ey goodness at home, we went upstairs to visit neighbors who had known Rosa since she was a wee little Peruana.

We had a wonderful time. The conversation was mellow and relaxed enough to maintain a pace where I could follow the Spanish.  To continue this atmosphere, I made sure to remain seated and somewhat slouched to avoid towering over and terrifying the natives.  They thought Anabelle looked exactly like Rosa at that age, and they would know. They were also impressed with her fluency in Spanish, as she would have been if she thought about what she was doing.  She didn’t, which is when her linguistic skills peak.

They let us in on an interesting little factoid.  Being used to running into class trips almost every day at the Bronx Zoo, we didn’t realize how astoundingly bad our timing was. It turned out they schedule all the class trips to the zoo on exactly the same day for the entire area.  That McGinley luck is something isn’t it?

The end of the evening, after coming back downstairs, was filled with packing and preparing for a return to Lima the next day.

Before turning in I read a little of the Peruvian guide book Rosa had bought for all of Anabelle’s teachers that year, saving one for us.  The section on Callao was the smallest in the entire tome.  It was a single paragraph stating the Zoo and Naval Museum were excellent ways to spend a day and that passing through was necessary to get to the beaches at La Punta. 

Oh, and it also said when going to any of them take cabs directly to and from the location and avoid wandering around anywhere else as the port city contained the docks and many other dangerous areas.  This coupled with every Peruvian I work with (frankly, a startling amount) reacting to my stating we stayed in Callao with, “Ooh!  Rough neighborhood,” made me excessively thrilled I trusted my wife’s and mother-in-law’s native knowledge to keep us in safe areas and didn’t do extensive research before leaving.

Click To Continue. 

Peru 2014 Index

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