Crowds Celebrate October in Lima’s Historic Squares and Streets

Day 15, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023; Lima, Peru

My day started on a low point, or perhaps I should say a high point – on the weight scale in the fitness center. I’ve gained a few pounds in the past month while on board the Zaandam. So apparently those half-price drinks during happy hour aren’t half the calories. Perhaps it is the spicy bar mix the waiters serve with the drinks. It’s time to stop living like I’m on vacation and start living like this is my everyday life – which it is.

Today’s tour took us to Lima’s historical center, which boasts not only some firsts for the city and country, but also for the continent of South America. After a while, I was reminded of the father in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” who proclaimed that everything originated in Greece. But it does seem that many things in colonial South America originated in Peru.

This City of Kings lives up to its moniker. Imposing colonial buildings with their distinctive deep yellow coloring circle large public squares. Enclosed balconies reach out over wide sidewalks and paseos. Many buildings carry the distinctive black and white symbol that declares them to be UNSECO world heritage sites. Mixed among these are more modern buildings, which were built after the originals fell – either due to earthquakes or to damage from car bombs during the Shining Path insurgency in the 1980s and 1990s.

Though it was Saturday morning, our small bus crawled in the heavy city traffic. Even new roads have cracks and potholes, due in part to the constant tremors in this earthquake-prone country on the Pacific Ring of Fire. It took us 90 minutes to drive the 8 miles to the historic center. From there, we left the bus to walk a couple of miles, stopping for photographs and more history from our tour guide Edwin Rojas, the founder of Haku Tours.

The many dogs sleeping in the squares ignored the crowds. A number of pet dogs were dressed in t-shirts, a practice that became popular during the pandemic, our guide said.

October is a special month for Peruvian Catholics, who commemorate the Lord of Miracles, a painted image from the 17th century that survived repeated earthquakes. Pilgrims travel to Lima to honor the image in one of the largest religious processions in the world and one of the oldest traditions in Peru.

People were celebrating everywhere, and as we left the San Francisco Monastery, a wedding spilled into the streets, along with a marching band.

At the Monastery, we traveled down through a layer of the catacombs, filled with bones from more than 50,000 bodies, Edwin said.

Giant purple and white banners draped from the stately buildings surrounding the Main Square, opposite the cathedral. We passed by the hotel where a bartender invented the Pisco Sour, Peru’s national cocktail, when he ran out of whiskey for whiskey sours. Bullfighters liked the liquor’s 43-percent alcohol content and thus expanded its popularity. Or so at least one story goes – there are many discrepancies in its history.

The large crowd in front of the Immigration office was there for a different reason. Thousands of asylum seekers have traveled to Peru from Venezuela – after Peruvians sought asylum in Venezuela during the Shining Path insurgency a few decades ago.

At one point I ducked into a souvenir shop, on the hunt for a small nativity scene. Since I’ve sold almost everything I own, I decided that I could collect tiny nativities, as long as I carefully curated them. I found one I liked, but the proprietor couldn’t get her credit card machine to work and I had no Peruvian sol. My time was running out so I had to leave it behind.

Fortunately, back at the ship I had time to shop the “pier boutique,” as one of my sisters named the small stalls that locals sometimes set up on cruise piers. The Peruvian woolens were beautiful, but wouldn’t fit into my lifestyle. I was delighted, though, to find a small nativity – not quite as small as I would like, but it will represent South America well.

This was my first of several independent tours organized by my friend Tim Bowman. I cruised with Tim and his wife Angela a year ago to Australia. Tim is a master of organization, and when first one tour organizer and then another had to cancel this cruise, he took over their duties — in addition to writing his own blog. While I’ve organized a few private tours, it’s more than I like to tackle so I really appreciate his work.

I normally enjoy exploring ports on my own when I can, but as I’m traveling alone this time and visiting new-to-me ports during the first part of this cruise, it’s nice to be with a group of a dozen or so like-minded travelers.

Late this evening it seems a few stowaways were making themselves at home in the Lido Pool.