We have now been in Lima for four days – we arrived on Monday, 22 hours after we had set off from London, and were met in the Lima airport with the realisation that neither of us had rung our banks to make sure our cards would work in Peru, and immediately found that no ATM would accept them as clearly Lloyds had decided that any debit cards being used in South America were being used for money laundering purposes or something along those lines…(a rather expensive few phone calls the next day did, luckily, remedy the situation.) I had told our hostal that we didn’t need an airport pickup and would make our own way there but they had decided to ignore this and send a taxi anyway, but by this point we were too tired to do anything but jump in, along with a British couple from the same flight who proudly informed us that they were only coming to Peru for ‘all the shaman stuff’ and had got married ‘by shaman’ ten years before in Peru and were returning to ‘renew the rites’.
We laughed a bit (quietly) and assumed that this was the sort of tourist that we would be encountering most of the time in Peru – slightly ageing hippies on the gringo trail – but the next person we met was a guy in our hostal who turned out to be on a gap year and about to start…PPE at Durham. Turns out it’s a very small world, even on the other side of the world. The hostal itself is made rather surreal by the parrots perching on statues, numerous tortoises wandering round and even a large peacock.
Highlight of the first day was the visit to the church of San Francisco, a large and very beautiful ex-monastery with two memorable features: firstly, a big painting of the Last Supper, ‘Peruvian style’ where we found out that contrary to common knowledge, the last things that Jesus ate with his disciples were in fact roast guinea pig, and red peppers. There were also some catacombs with a fine selection of bones and skulls. Having visited the catacombs in Rome I assumed it would have been a similar deal – all the corpses removed and just the niches remaining for you to imagine all the dead people. In Peru, people are rather less squeamish. There were the skeletons of 25,000 humans, sorted out into different bone shapes – some pits held thigh bones, some had arms, others held skulls. As you can imagine, there were rather a lot of these pits, and all were ten metres deep. All a bit grisly really. We then found on closer inspection that even the hostal thought that human skulls were the perfect ornaments for their entrance halls.
In a museum the next day, we found that ancient Peruvians were even less squeamish. The highlight of the museum seemed to be rooms full of different articles needed for human sacrifice – knives, bowls for the blood, that sort of thing. I mean I always knew it existed, but it’s a bit more real when your nose is 3cm from a bowl that held, on many occasions, human blood. I’ve decided that the Incans are cool and quite similar to Greeks and Romans in many ways, but just do everything a bit more thoroughly – the Greeks and Romans happily killed a few goats and sheep and reserved human sacrifices for the particularly sad myths (I mean, Iphigeneia is the only one I can think of – unless you count Achilles when he’s in a particularly bad mood), but it seems that human sacrifices for the Incas and pre-Incas were just a part of everyday life…….fun stuff.
The museum also had a…fascinating…section on erotic art from around 1500 years ago. Especially disturbing were the pots of skeleton sex (apparently symbolising that ‘life goes on’ after death) or perhaps the human-skeleton sexual interactions – women performing all sorts of sex acts upon skeletons etc. All crafted in fine terracotta pottery.
Today we visited Pachacamac, a pre-Incan desert complex made of sand and mud. The main feature of the site was The Temple of the Sun, most famously used for…human sacrifice (notice a theme here?). We have also perfected the art of following English tour groups to find out what everything was without having to hire our own expensive guide or decipher the Spanish signs, fair to say this behaviour didn’t exactly go unnoticed so we were on the receiving end of rather a lot of angry glares but not much that they could do. It was also scalding hot so, just after getting rid of sunburn lines on my chest from last Easter, I guess after the burning today they’ll be here for another year…whoops. I’ve heard it’s snowing again in the UK so you probably don’t feel TOO bad for me…