Thursday, 10 January 2013

DIGIMIN and some Lima

From a deep sleep I reach out to shut off the ringing alarm clock, and prepare to roll over and return to the depths and dreams of much needed rejuvenation.  Then a word filtered into my thoughts… DIGIMIN.  Instantly awake, I quickly dress and off to breakfast and much needed coffee.

DIGIMIN is the Peruvian government passport, visa and immigration office.  Today is the day I formally ask the government to give me permission to sign contracts in Peru. 

Having done some research online through the Peru Expat forum I was ready with the completed application form, photocopies of my passport and immigration admittance form, and extra passport photos.  I had read that if you download the forms in advance I would skip at least one line, and therefore had done so.

I gulp down 3 cups of coffee, some yogurt and walnuts.  Breakfast complete.  Slap on sunscreen.  Grab backpack and insert water, sunscreen, sunhat, snack, sunglasses and of course the file folder with documents tucked safely inside.  Slip moneybelt under and handbag/pouch on.  Ready. 

A half hours cab ride and I am deposited in front of a large concrete building teeming with people scurrying in and about.  A short wait in line to present my passport at the outside security stop.  Inside a passing harried official looked at my papers and in rapid fire Spanish gave me directions.  Blank.  I got nothing.  So a request to repeat slowly is issued, and kindly granted.  OK… first down to the bank to pay the fee.  Straight, left, right.  A.N.D there is the bank line up. 

Good thing I have basically dedicated the day to getting this done, I am thinking…

A good while later I am directed to a window, where I display my form and pretty much hope the teller knows what is next.  A lot of people must apply for permission because an  immediate request for 16 soles is made.  Paid.  But what about the second tariff I read I had to pay”,  in my halting, basterdized Spanish I inquire?  He gestures upwards, says third floor, and then come back with paper.  OK.  I locate  and try to get to the stairs, but am directed to a large area of chairs and signalled to wait. 

I settle in to wait a while.  Unnecessary because in no time at all up the awaiting folk and I get up to form a line for inspection by a serious looking woman dressed in government blue.  Yes, No, Yes, Yes, Yes… and I got a nod too.  Third floor I ask?  Looking bothered she waives me upstairs without answering.  Getting up the stairs and very away from her, I pull out the Internet notes, and sure enough they say third floor.  Up I go again.

The third floor offers 2 choices, one of which seems to be the passport application area.  Long lines.  Hmm.  Choice number two is through a doorway guarded by not only an official blue lady, but a security guard as well.  I am given a glance and signalled to sit down to join a growing group of people waiting in chairs.  Sit.  Wait.  Watch many people arrive and be waived through to the next area.  Am I even in the right line, I wonder?  What harm can it do if I actually get up and ask for her attention long enough to tell me?  Ponder and practice words in Spanish… and up I go.  I get as far as “excuse me” as she consents to look at my form and she immediately waives me on through and tells me “line six”. 

To my delight, line six is a dedicated line just for Form 004, permiso para firmir contractos.  Exactly.  And the line is short.  As I wait I notice the people who are in front of me have the same form, but at the bottom there is a fingerprint impression.  I look about and am relieved to see a small ink pad on the counter.  Phew, maybe I won’t have to start the process all over.  Less than 10 minutes later it is my turn, and without me having to say a word (thankfully) I am asked to mark my fingerprint, sign here and told to go over to a back wall to wait.  Just as I got settled, I heard my name called (Leenda Geebso) and return to line six dude… and am promptly handed back my passport with some kind of official stamp next to my immigration entry stamp.  Said dude informed me we are done and points to the exit door.  Confused I ask about the second tariff I was told I had to pay (bastard Spanish again), but am told it was “No necesitar”


Follow the exit signs into the bright sunshine.  I look at my watch and to my astonishment the entire endeavour took about an hour.  And here I had booked myself 4 days in Lima for the process, which is what I was told could happen.  Now what to do with an almost entire extra day?

Off to the Historical District it is.  Hail a taxi, bargain a fare, and off we zoom into the traffic madness.  I am still nervous hailing cabs, what with all the warnings about taxi abductions and robberies, but millions of people do it daily and although I am a prime gringa target, chances are I will be safe.  Actually ignoring the niggle is surprising difficult.

Very nice driver agrees to a drop off at the San Francisco Cathederal, making a recommendation for a local bar/restaurant around the corner.  Locals love he declares.

This is a return visit for me, as the city tour I took a few years ago had included a harried visit.  Thought I’d get more out of a smaller group, so here goes.  First up a much needed pee break, bathrooms basic, not toilet paper provided. 

The Cathedral itself was closed last visit, but this time it is open.  I enter slowly and quietly, something I always do out of respect for the faithful inside attending services or simply praying at one of the myriad of shrines to Saints, stretching all the way along the walls down both sides of the cathedral. 
And I am glad I do because there is a woman weeping as she prays at the shrine to Saint Jude just inside the doorway.  There is also a mass being performed at the front sanctuary area for a faithful few kneeling in the first few pews.   

The cathedral holds all of the usual abundance of historical religious regalia, representations and murals.  I do notice the lovely adobe domed ceiling, white with terracotta coloured architectural accents.  Pretty.

Time to head to the monestary for a tour and I am told there is an English tour guide.  Am set aside to wait.  Off goes one Spanish group.  Off goes another Spanish group.  Another Gringo is set aside to wait.  Ten minutes later it is decided that our small group would proceed.  Short talk about the San Franciscan order that established the monastery in the 1500s.  Up a wide staircase, we pause and the guide gives details of an intricate wood dome, earthquake damage and restorations.  Lots of damage and restoration stories to come. 

I have discussed this monastery in detail  in a previous post, but there was plenty to scribble notes about. 

In the Choir room located above the back of the cathederal I am taken with the original pipe organ and fascinated with the explanation of it’s use.  One person in the back working the pedals and another in front playing.  Still works apparently but is not used now. There are two kinds of wood used in the seats, carvings of saints, floor and the woodwork in this area, chocolate wood from the Philippines and cedar imported from both Nicaragua and Panama.  No expenses spared when building apparently.

The staircases are mostly solid stone, worn deep from hundreds of years of use.  In some areas the stairs are wood, with huge timber lintels, and some have white marble to slip on.  (or I did)

The library is remarkable.  2500 books holding unimaginable historic detail.  Beautiful hand worked bookshelves floor to ceiling, my guess is 30 feet high.  A balcony with staircase access has been built all the way around the inside of the room in order to walk around and easily access the books from the upper shelves.  Skylights run the length of the room to let in reading light.  Oil lights and candles were strictly forbidden lest a chance accident destroy such bounty.  The lower shelves hold books dated from the 15th, 16th and 17th century, upstairs are found those from the 18th, 19th and 20th century.  My hands itch to get to those books just to touch and read the history. 

Most rooms hold artwork and portraits painted by the European and Peruvian masters.  There are preserved traces of the original friezes that adorned the walls pre-earthquake damage.  Itallian hand painted tiles adorn the walls and floors surrounding the inner courtyard garden, painted predominantly in the Blue and Yellow of the Fransiscan Order.  I love hand painted tiles and these are excellent examples of the craft.

Walking about there are occasional metal grates in the floor through which I can see the skeletal remains of church benefactors and their families.  Such an honour was reserved for only the most important, of course.   I see that there are coins dropped in, a la fountain good luck wishes worldwide.  Seeing them I hope that the wishes asked for were important enough to justify desecration such a site.

I glance to the side at one point and see two people painstakingly doing restoration to a frieze in an alcove.  Mostly camouflaged by heavy white gauze, the bright light shining inside offered a tantalizing glimpse of masters at work.

We turn and head down an outside corridor painted the deep terracotta red I love, and there are pots filled with geraniums.  Lovely. 

This leads into two rooms, the Jesus room (really cool Reuben school portrait whose eyes follow me), and the Dining Room with its portraits of the 12 tribes (or sons of Jacob) and a huge depiction of the last supper which was painted in pieces and reassembled in Peru.   English guide lady scurries our group (which has grown substantially by now) through too quickly for me, so I am annoyed.

On to the Vestment Room, lined with deep hand carved and detailed drawers used to, well, hold the vestments.  There is a musty smell that immediately bothers me. 
On to the Catacombs.  25,000 people buried below the church, and it still feels grizzly to me.  I try to concentrate on the shapes of the ceiling and arches… an old world design from roman times, incorporated the design of the catacombs beneath the Cathedral and Monastery as an anti-seismic means to shore them up during an earthquake.  But I keep finding myself imagining what it must have been like, bringing body after body through the low and winding walkway,  past all the already placed  decomposing lime covered bodies.  Not anything I want to be doing.

Happy to be back into the relatively fresh monastery air, I ask for and receive permission to wander back into a couple of rooms to read some info plaques there was no time for previously.  Reminder… no touching and no photos.   OK.   I wander a bit, enjoy a leisurely inspection here and there, notice my tummy rumble and decide to head off to the cabby recommended bar for a meal.

Beans and rice, nothing fancy, but the price was right.

Just outside there were 3 police on guard with their machine guns.  Picture?  I ask.  A nodded ok and snap!

Lots of police about, including groups of riot police… all fully armed.  Wander around in the hot, hot, equatorial sun, nipping in here and there for shade.  Feeling more comfortable in the downtown crowd, it is off on a search for a map of the city and a forgotten camera cord.  Lonely planet has it all wrong (not the first time I might add), but eventually I have success, given the amount of shoe rubber I burn through. 

Time for this chickadee to head back to Miraflores and the nap that is now screaming my name. 

Napped hard and long… and next up on my list is to get my flight booked to Tarapoto for Saturday.   Star Peru, Peruvian Airlines, TACA, LAN…   some availability, but Star Peru, (my usual air choice) is having problems with their website.  They have offices nearby so I decide I will head there in the morning and check them out first.

By this point I am starved so head out to find a something to eat… Cooked veggie salad works for me.

A quick stop at the casino to lose my usual twenty dollars, and I am ready for sleep. 

Not a bad day at all. 

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