To most visitors, Casa de la Literatura Peruana is nothing more than an architectural landmark, sandwiched between the Government Palace and a baroque monastery, in Lima’s historic quarter. The more discerning know of it as a library, famed for its exquisite stained glass skylight. But very few are actually aware that this was, in fact, Lima’s main train station. While regular passenger service ceased decades ago, the Ferrocarril Central Andino or Andean Central Railroad still runs a monthly service from here, to the Andean city of Huancayo. And on this characteristically foggy October morning, I’m here to board one of their last departures for the 2019 season. Continue reading “From Sea to Sky, on the Andean Central Railroad”
First and foremost, a special shout out to Yesmy and Roxanna, the two amazing women working the reservations desk at the Amaszonas office in Uyuni. Without their efforts, a lot of what I am about to share would never have been possible. The guardian angels of Uyuni, as I like to refer to them, I will forever be grateful.
El Alto landings
The runway at El Alto is almost 4-Km long! Not for nothing though – at that altitude, aircraft land at twice their sea level velocity and need every foot of tarmac available to them. At 13,225 ft, El Alto is also the highest international airport in the world, and a gateway to La Paz, the world’s highest capital city.
La Paz itself sits in a bowl surrounded by the Cordillera Real, a branch of the Bolivian Andes, flanked on its south by the imposing snow-capped peak of Illimani (at 21,122 ft., the highest mountain in the range) and the equally impressive Illampu, to its north. El Alto lies on a plateau some thousand feet higher than the capital, and the drive down from there to La Paz offers some rather dramatic views.
Lest we forget Lima
A low haze hangs over the city, as you near touchdown at Jorge Chávez International Airport. Outside, the air is somewhat putrid and the eyes tend to smart. Traffic crawls along wide arteries and its not even 7 in the morning! You begin to question your very decision to stop over in Lima. But unlike countless others who skip it, in their rush to get to the Sacred Valley, you have in fact made the right choice! Lima’s worth more than just a second look – all it takes is one sunny day to lift the veil of smog, and a little bit of perseverance.
If the city’s new and hyper-efficient Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, and its up-and-coming Metro are anything to go by, the city has a lot to look forward to. Looking back, however, the city’s own past is securely preserved within Centro Historico, Lima’s landmarked historic quarter. A walk along Jirón de la Unión, from Plaza San Martin to Plaza de Armas, is an eye-opener, and a lesson to any civil servant on the preservation and upkeep of historic zones in large cities.
Public squares – no matter their size or importance – are spotlessly clean; lawns are beautifully tended, and pedestrian-friendly streets abound. The historic district is brimful with well-kept heritage buildings, some dating from the 16th-century, in styles ranging from Baroque to Neo-classical, and materials running the gamut from adobe to brick. In between, a myriad of colonial-era carved wooden balconies – no less than 1600 of them – makes up for the lull, if ever there was one…