January 13, 2017—Callao, Peru
Callao, which was founded in 1537, quickly became the major port for Spanish commerce in the Pacific. The merchants suffered raids by English pirates, Drake, Hawkins and others, until the port was destroyed by an earthquake generated tsunami in 1746. Lima, only six miles away, suffered major damage.
We arrived around dawn, but thankfully didn’t have to meet our tour group until 9 a.m. This tour was one we booked through our Cruise Critic group. We did have to ride the ship provided shuttle to the entrance of the cruise terminal. The private tour operators don’t have clearance to enter, which probably means they haven’t paid a fee to do so.
Our tour guide, Carlos, spoke excellent English and had a good command of the nuances and even some slang terms. Our driver, Celso, had the patience of Job to deal with the horrendous traffic while appearing cool and calm. The majority of drivers don’t seem to believe in following rules of the road and inch their way into turns while defying larger vehicles to yield. Liberal use of car horns seems to give them power. At least overcrowded motor scooters weren’t zipping in and out of traffic as they do in Jakarta.
As we made our way to Pachácmac, our first stop, Carlos narrated details about his country and each area we passed through. In the 1500’s, before countries were defined as they are now, Lima was the capital of South America. He shared that the oldest part of Lima dates from one thousand BC, and the pre-Columbian inhabitants were agricultural.
In pre-Inca time, people bartered for goods and services. The Spanish brought currency when they arrived. In the nineteen-eighties there was a major devaluation of their money. Carlos passed around example bills, up to fifty-million in denomination, which are no longer worth the paper they’re printed on.
Cotton, grown in Peru, is used for brands such as Tommy Hilfiger. Knock off items can be purchased in stores here. Since it’s their cotton, this seems to be acceptable practice.
When the Spanish conquered Peru, gold was pilfered and taken back to Spain. All that was taken during that time doesn’t compare with what is now being extracted by the Chinese, Canadians, and Russians. Mining of gold, silver and copper is a major part of the economy.
Fishing is another significant part of their GDP. Fish meal is used for animal feed and there is a joke that chicken tastes like fish. Carlos said, “My wife told me she was cooking fish for dinner and asked if I wanted a breast or leg.” He described a typical breakfast of round bread topped with sliced sweet potato, 200 grams of pork (about seven ounces!) red onion, lime juice, salt and Chile pepper.
Did you know that Peru is the number one country that exports asparagus? I didn’t either! Until Carlos mentioned it, I had never heard of making ceviche (a dish usually made with seafood marinated in lime juice) with asparagus or mushrooms. He said that in Peru everything is “cevicheable.” Another major export is quinoa.
A common dish, that thankfully we didn’t have the opportunity to try, is roasted guinea pig. We were told it has no cholesterol and tastes like rabbit. I’m afraid I’d pass on that one. We did, however, see plucked chickens apparently being transported to market in the back of a pick-up truck. Their legs were stiffened as though raised in a last plea for help or last great defiant act.
Regarding living conditions, Carlos explained that average salary is six hundred dollars U.S. per month. There is no welfare, no social security, and no income tax. An eighteen percent sales tax is included in the price of everything.
Education is free, but the public schools are not very good. There is public university, but of the hundred thousand who apply, only six to ten thousand are admitted.
We continued on the Pan American Highway to Pachácmac, as Carlos explained that this translates as “earth mover.” He was the god of earthquakes which were caused by shaking his head.
We reached Pachácmac, and stopped at several of the areas still being excavated by archaeologists, before reaching the area of the Temple of the Sun. This entire area was constructed between 900-1533 A.D., which seems relatively new compared to Machu Picchu. Fourteen of us braved the hike to the top. It really seemed much farther than it appears in the photo. From the top, we could see the ocean and a fertile valley area.
Next stop was lunch at La Panka along the malécon (ocean front.) We were offered several choices, so for our appetizer, Larry ordered scallops and I ordered the ceviche. For our entrée, we chose the fish with a mild Chile sauce, accompanied by an attractive pyramid of rice and sautéed vegetables. Though we had been warned that the raw egg white in a Pisco Sour can cause gastrointestinal distress, we were able to order it without the egg. It tasted a bit like a margarita. (Pisco is a type of brandy distilled from grapes.) Dessert choices included a doughnut made with sweet potato, rice pudding, or cheese ice cream. We opted for the ice cream, which was more like a sorbet sprinkled with cinnamon. It was all delicious! And, we enjoyed traditional Peruvian dance while we dined!
Our tour continued with a drive through the San Isidro residential area, which along with the Miraflores is considered the best and safest. We then had a walking tour through part of old Lima and marveled at the Spanish Colonial architecture. Construction of the Cathedral of Lima began in 1535, and it’s filled with well-preserved artwork, some dating from the 16th century. Remarkably the choir seats, hand carved in 1626 survived the catastrophic earthquake.
No photography was allowed as we toured the catacombs below the Convento de San Francisco. Reportedly, twenty-thousand people were entombed here. Life expectancy was only forty to forty-five years, during this era. Several of the tombs were untouched by archeologists. The others had neatly arranged femurs, pelvic bones and skulls, which last the longest due to their density. It was a rather macabre scene.
It seemed apparent that OSHA laws don’t exist, as workers looked like acrobatic performers while securing poles for viewing stands in preparation for a weekend celebration in the Plaza Mayor. On the way back to our bus, Carlos pointed out that the ornate gold lions head with its mouth agape is a mail receptacle.
Our driver made it safely back to the shuttle stop through the heavy Friday evening traffic. As we rode back to the ship, loaded semi-trucks lined the road trying to make it to their destination from the very busy cruise port.
Tonight’s quote: “I plan on living forever. So far, so good.” ~~Author unknown