National Geographic : 1942 Aug
The Pith of Peru ical vistas, broad avenues shrink within the medieval narrow streets of the inner city, and no prospect is without its ornate white govern ment palace or two. At length I come to Plaza San Martin, cen ter of New and Greater Lima which has a pop ulation of 545,000. Hotel Bolivar faces one side of the square; the 8-story "skyscraper" housing the United States Embassy stands opposite. The new million-dollar San Martin movie palace is on the corner. One side, happily, has been left just a rem nant of 19th-century Madrid-Paris with cafes and gloomy shops, where the literati and tired travelers sit at the sidewalk tables and gaze dreamily through the arcades at the rearing equestrian statue of General San Martin, the Argentine deliverer. Gir6n de la Uni6n, the narrow main street, ties the New World with the Old; the ancient Church of La Merced is a sturdy knot midway. At the other end of this thoroughfare is Plaza de Armas, once the lively center of Old Lima, if not of the entire New World. Here Francisco Pizarro sits on horseback surveying the plaza of the city he founded. Inside the chapel at his back I found him again in a glass showcase, with the head of his mummified remains ingloriously bashed in. The dazzling-white new Government Palace fills one entire side of the square. The Arch bishop's Palace with Moorish balconies over hanging its ornate white facade stands out in contrast to the splendid baroque Cathedral, massive and majestic. Lima Helped Shape Continent's Destiny The glories of Lima belong to a tale that has oft been told.* They are important be cause of their part in shaping the social and political contour of the whole continent. Highlights are the Torre-Tagle Palace with its Moorish screened balconies through which the Marquis often peered down upon an ex cited populace; the Perricholi Palace, built by the Viceroy for his mistress, Micaela Villegas, the Du Barry of Peru; the House of the In quisition, once the terror of the New World, now so peaceful while only beggars and stray dogs seek the shade of its pillared portico, and, founded nearly a hundred years before Har vard, San Marcos University, whose halls were crowded with Interchange students. I took time off while at Lima to dash down the coast a hundred miles or so, as far as Pisco, whence comes the drink of the same name. Our motorbus would plunge along for an hour through a waterless sandy waste. Sud denly, a turn of a corner, or a dip down into a new valley would bring us abreast of luxu riant vegetation. In more than 30 of these coastal valleys cot ton, Peru's major agricultural product, was being cultivated. At the time of my visit, in June, a majority of the 40,000 cotton pickers were in the fields. Pisco is the principal point of export of the local Tanguis variety, which composes 89 percent of Peru's cotton crop. I left Lima in quest of Greater Peru by way of its sea portal, Callao. I saw scarcely a building in the city of Callao that did not show shattering marks of earthquake. The latest convulsion had se riously damaged the new 8-million-dollar con crete docks which had promised unlimited in crease of commerce with the United States. Gold, Guano, and Petroleum Each time I sailed out of Callao, I recalled my first journey down the west coast, which marked the beginning of my Peruvian pilgrim age. I always remembered the sultry morn ing our Grace liner, Santa Rosa, put into the port of Talara. Beyond the desert oil town were sand dunes bristling with some 2,500 oil derricks. I didn't even bother to go ashore, but with many other passengers contented myself vicariously in purchasing a rug, blanket, fur, knitted dolls, or silver llamas brought on board by native vendors (Plate III). Nor did I wax enthusiastic over Peru's nar row strip of coast that stretches for 1,500 miles along the Pacific, most of it stark desert. Little by little I learned of Peru's fabulous riches. Let but a trickle or a stream touch her parched deserts and they spring into luxuriant verdure. Desert lands of Talara carried enough liquid "black gold" in their pockets to give Peru third place in petroleum in South America. Those rainless, waterless, grassless, foodless reefs, the Chincha Islands, which we steamed past 120 miles south of Callao, were inhabited by five million or more fish-eating birds. Those mountains of white deposit held the "white gold" of Peru, guano, which had paid Peru's debts, financed her wars, and built the incredibly costly Transandean railway.t Finally there were the Cordilleras which peered down at us through the mist from a height of more than four miles. They had pushed a large part of Peruvian territory sky * See "Lure of Lima, City of the Kings," by Wil liam Joseph Showalter, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, June, 1930. t See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Peru's Wealth-producing Birds," by R. E . Coker, June, 1920, and "Most Valuable Bird in the World," by Robert Cushman Murphy, September, 1924.