Thursday, July 24, 2014

Callao and La Punta

Last week (I've been a bit remiss about posting updates, I know) Toya and Orlando took me to Callao, Lima's port district.

Officially, Callao is a province, independent of other jurisdictions, and whose existence has been built into successive national Constitutions for years. In practice, it does depend quite a bit on the metropolitan government of greater Lima (although arguments do arise, as is the case now over reform of the city's transportation system).

Until the middle of the last century Callao was a separate city from Lima, although it has served as the capital's port for hundreds of years.  Long ago, however, its fortunes faded and it acquired a reputation as one of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods -which it does, I think deservedly, retain to a degree.

Today, Callao's former glory can still be glimpsed in its crumbling early Republican architecture

All of it, presided over by the Real Felipe fortress, erected to defend the city from pirates and English privateers.  Its construction was begun under Viceroy José Antonio Manso de VelascoViceroy in 1746 and completed in 1774 during the administration of Viceroy Manuel de Amat y Junent.

At the far end of the peninsula that comprises Callao, and the northern end of the bay of Lima, lies La Punta, which -as its name implies- is a point of land extending into the pacific.  On its northern side lies the deepwater anchorages that serve the port, and on the southern side, the bay which is overlooked by the city of Lima.

At La Punta's very end, there is a beach which is still used by artisanal fishermen -many of Italian descent-  who supplement their income by giving boat tours when the weather is good.

Off the coast, lie a set of islands, comprised mainly by the large isles of El Fronton and San Lorenzo.  The latter harbors the last of Lima's sea lion population,  a myriad seabirds, and even Magellanic penguins on its far side.  It has also been found to contain Pre-Columbian ruins and traces left by pirates and English privateers - including gravesites.  

El Fronton (at left), San Lorenzo (at center), and the Naval Academy at La Punta (at right)
Unfortunately, the powers that be have dreams of building a causeway between La Punta and the island and turning it into a deepwater port for larger ships or building an airport on it, either of which would devastate the ecology and archaelogy of the island.

El Fronton, for its part, was infamous as an island prison over which lurid tales were spun.  In the 1980s it was used  to house prisoners from the Shining Path.  The prisoners rebelled on June 18, 1986, and by the next day, courtesy of the Navy, most had been killed and the prison reduced to rubble.  The Navy demolished the cell block even with wounded prisoners inside, precipitating a scandal and crisis for the government of President Alan Garcia.

(From L to R) Orlando, myself, Mr Peñaflor

Of course, being surrounded on three sides by ocean, La Punta is known as a prime locale for quality seafood meals.   And, of course, we took advantage of that, at La Caleta, a restaurant run by Mr. Rodolfo Peñaflor its friendly and talkative owner.

A bowl of parihuela, a Callao classic

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