Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Spirited away to Lima

Disclaimer: This not my photo but it could have been if I thought of taking one ...
When first researching our trip to South America, we were bombarded with an unrelenting flood of warnings about safety. It was therefore with much trepidation that we approached the Ft Lauderdale airport for our Spirit Airlines flight to Lima. We were warned that the airport in Lima was a hotbed of pickpockets and taxi drivers in cahoots with thieves. I had read horror stories on trip advisor that would make your hair stand on end. We were nervous to say the least.

Ends up — getting our boarding passes in Ft Lauderdale — was our biggest worry!

We had given ourselves plenty of time, but we had not anticipated that every Peruvian returning to Peru, was planning on bringing every kind of overflowing, overweight, and not exactly neatly packed baggage with them.

The back story is that Spirit Airlines has the cheapest airfare from anywhere in the US to Peru. It is a no frills airline — which means everything costs extra. They charge for hand luggage, seats, and even water during the flight. But still, their ticket price is so inexpensive that even with paying for all of those things, the cost is worthwhile. The only problem is they fly small planes and they have weight restrictions. And they mean business.

The scene in front of us was not for believing. One after the other, a ticketed traveler would approach the attendant with an entourage of helpers carrying extra bags, and maybe a grandchild or two flying back with them (I think they shuttle them back and forth simply for the luggage allowance). The attendant would politely tell the customer in English (only some of them spoke Spanish) that their bags were overweight and that even a million dollars would not get more than two bags, 50 lbs each on the plane. Then there would be a flurry of Spanish, waving hands and maybe some tears, but, eventually, the overstuffed suitcases were opened and numerous articles pulled out and haphazardly thrown to local family members prepared for this eventuality.

Dealing with each traveler took at least 20 minutes!

There was also a concerted effort on the part of Spirit Airlines to single out the rest of us gringos in this particular line up — because we had one-way tickets. Spirit Airlines, for no good reason, wants to make you sweat about how you are going to document your passage out of Peru. Actually, they want to scare you into buying an overpriced return ticket, if you can’t prove you have onward travel booked.

We were sweating all right. We knew about this potential issue, but had planned to show them we had enough US cash with us to cover a return ticket. We also had a flight booked within Peru and hoped that would do the trick. Still, they had the right to refuse us boarding passes, so as the line in front of us seemed to be at a stand still, and the time before our flight was slipping away, the temperature under our collars was rising.

When our turn finally came, we were shuttled to a friendly agent who had been spared the experience we had been witnessing for almost an hour. We showed him our domestic tickets and with a smile, he processed us and we were on our way. As we walked through security and on to our plane with our coveted boarding passes, we were quite amazed we had actually on our way to Peru!

The Lima airport greeted us warmly at 10:50 pm. The scene was far from the horror stories we had been expecting. Not crowded, not dangerous, not scary in the least. It took a while for us to find our reserved cab driver, but in short order we were comfortably in our hotel room in San Isidro, a quiet suburb of Lima.

Our first day of touring was a Sunday and we spent a lovely day exploring the Plaza des Armas (central square), visiting churches, experiencing the changing of the guards at the Governor’s Palace (which happens daily at 12:00 noon), the San Francisco of Assisi Monastery and Church (in whose catacombs are buried the bones of 20,000 of Lima’s pre 1800s citizens), visiting the Inquisition Museum and even a walk through Lima’s China Town. Before leaving Central Lima we stopped into an eatery to experience the daily specials with the locals. The food, the ambiance, and the welcome from the local people were amazing. Our server was patient with us and our basic Spanish, pointing to other people’s plates and telling us what they were eating in Spanish to help us choose.

Our second day of touring in Lima was spent at the Archeological Museum Rafael Larco Herrera. This was definitely one of the highlights of our time in Lima. The Museum was founded in 1926, and houses an incredible collection of 3000 years of Peruvian pre-Columbian art, jewelry and tapestries. The building itself and the gorgeous gardens surrounding it, are a sight to see. There is also a wonderful restaurant and gift shop full of high quality Peruvian artifacts. The museum also features the finest gold and silver collection from Ancient Peru and a famous erotic archaeological collection. Nothing as extensive as our visit to the temples of Khajuraho, but nonetheless a unique experience.

We had a very pleasant three-day visit to Lima. Every cab driver we hailed was courteous and delivered us to our destination without argument, or incident. The sights we visited were free, or reasonably priced and very interesting. Our flight into Lima, and out of Lima, to Ayacucho, were on time, with very personable flight attendants. In short — our first three days in Lima were completely hassle-free. No horror stories to report. Just a really lovely experience with really nice people.

But what awaited us in Ayacucho, was dreamlike — like walking into another world. Or maybe a better description would be, that we found ourselves in a life sized, finely carved and beautifully painted Peruvian retabla. I guess you will have to look that up, or wait for the next post!

Buenas noches desde Ayacucho!


  1. Wow! Great images and a surprising story--it figures it would be Miami (and not Lima) that created the hassles: I KNEW there was a reason we moved to Vancouver from there...! Safe travels,

    Dan & Barb

  2. It is so wonderful to read about your adventures from the COMFORT of my own bed. Good to hear you are well and enjoying your time in a warm climate.