When I was a little girl one of my favourite bed-time stories was about a polite bear from Peru, found on a platform at Paddington Station with a battered suitcase, a marmalade sandwich and a sign reading ‘please look after this bear‘ around his neck. Peru’s most lovable export is sixty years old this week and still fuelling children’s imagination. Michael Bond’s character was almost from darkest Africa until his publisher advised him that there were no bears in Africa and the Peruvian Spectacled Bear made a better fit. So visiting Lima this summer with my own little boy Mark, who at 6’4’ isn’t that little anymore, I’m determined to seek out any traces of Paddington or Aunt Lucy.
We travel as part of an escorted group with Explore Worldwide, mixing organised sightseeing with free time to do our own sight-seeing. After checking in to our hotel in the Miraflores district, we hire wheels at Green Bike Tours, close to Kennedy Park. Lima offers enclosed bike lanes, marked in red and running down the middle of the larger avenues. We’ve a straight run all the way down to the Larcomar Shopping Centre with our first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean and an effigy of Paddington with union jack and tilted hat. We follow the sweeping Malecon down to the trendy Barranco district, heady from meeting the bear – but there’s no sign of Aunt Lucy who must still be at the nursing home.
Our first stop is at the Mario Testino Gallery. My little boy shows more interest in the images of Kate Moss and the super models of the 80’s and 90’s than Paddington, much to my chagrin, but I guess it is a pretty impressive sight with wall to wall testaments of Testino’s fascinating life following the European Cognoscenti around the south of France. One room in designated to some of the last formal images taken of Princess Diana.
Several other exhibitions hold our attention especially the alta moda. It’s the perfect size gallery to fit in on a bike tour and we stop off at one of the more vintage bodegas where the traditional delicacy of ceviche (marinated raw fish in lime and chillies) is presented with an array of colourful vegetables. Lima is the culinary capital of South America and there are plenty of delicious options. The Saltado is a beef stir fry with mixed peppers and vegetables served with chips and rice – ideal for a hungry teen like Mark.
Later we take a trip to the Magic Water Circuit at The Park of the Reserve where thirteen impressive fountains fill the Park of the Reserve. With two shows nightly at 7.15pm and 8.15pm and entry only $1.50 it’s a good way to put in an evening.
Next morning we get to know the others in our group and I find like minded mum Cathy who is travelling with her eighteen-year-old daughter Suzy. We spend lunch next day dining at Mangos Restaurant under the gaze of Paddington but our teens are certainly not interested in a little bear as they glance over the menus at each other. Cathy and I enjoy our first Pisco Sour, a traditional cocktail made from fermented grape juice and mixed with lime and frothy egg white − topped off with Angostura Bitters. We are giddier than our children as we set off for some culture with Julio our guide to Lima Centro. We visit the Monastery of San Francisco and explore the eerie catacombs before heading to the Plaza Mayor where we get to see the shortest police in the world outside the Presidential Palace.
Our real adventure begins as we board a plane for Cusco, or as the Incas referred to it ‘The Navel of the World’. Julio’s excited to show us his hometown but warns that it may take a while to adjust to the altitude. On our arrival at Inkarri Hostal we are given a cup of coca tea to help adjust to the altitude, but Julio warns us not to take any coco leaves back to Europe or our adventure in Peru could last a lot longer than intended.
The view from our bedroom window is expansive, orange roof tiles and steeples hugged by the mountains surrounding Cusco. The WIFI is good, especially in the courtyard where our teens sit out on the couch under the Andean sun to Snapchat their friends − although they aren’t exactly chatty with each other. There are plenty of great places to eat in Cusco and the Plaza de Armas is dotted with great choice off the side streets we find a cool restaurant La Bodega 138 and the teens get a chance to chat over pizza.Top Food Specialities include Ceviche which is a kind of sushi cured raw fish with lime juice and chilli but the ultimate delicacy is Cuy which is roasted guinea pig and not for the fainthearted.
Next morning Julio gives us culture passes which means we can visit any of the ancient Inca sites around the city at our leisure and there are many. We pop into the cathedral to take a look at ‘The Last Supper’ portrait by Zapata where the disciples are dining on guinea pig – ‘Cuy’ as it is known on Peruvian menus is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a long way from Marmalade sandwiches. One of our group orders it we all get a chance to taste and it is remarkably similar to duck.
Our first visit to an Inca site is at the hillside town of Pisac, about one hour from Cusco, to the east of the sacred valley. We fall upon a group of locals in full regalia dance the Capa Negro in recompense for the damage that the Spanish inflicted on the native Andeans and slaves that they brought with them to colonise South America. It’s a family affair with children and babies taking part and their dancing and chanting is too similar to Morris dancers mixed with Native American fancy dancing. Sandwiched, and I’m not talking marmalade, between gargantuan mountains, as the eagles swoop down over the terraces where the Incas successfully grew their food. We stop off for some retail therapy on the way back in the new town of Pisac where locals sell textiles, silver ware and pottery. My boy gets a poncho for electric picnic which he seems pleased about and Suzy thinks it looks cool so that’s all that matters.
That evening we visit the Cusco Planetarium. Our guide Emilio, who knows his stars, takes us to a clay dome shaped shed for a briefing on what to look for. We are given blankets to wrap around our shoulders as we line up to look into the giant telescopes. The teens are enthralled and ‘politely as Paddington’ move from telescope to telescope viewing Saturn and its rings, Jupiter’s brown gas and moons incredibly detailed and new constellations in the Milky Way. Cathy and I aren’t sure if our teens are gazing at the stars or each other.
Next morning we are up early as we’ve a train to catch. Our teens might like the idea of trekking through the sacred valley and sleeping in tents but Cathy and I are delighted to be served fresh coffee and cookies in comfortable carriages with windows in the roof. The mountains roll by like marble cake as birds swoop and dart between the eucalyptus trees. Julio tells the lore of the Incas and shows us a photo of a spectacled bear that he captured while on the Inca trail several years ago.
Julio looks after our tickets and luggage as we make a smooth transition to Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu. He’s even booked us on the bus so we don’t have the ninety minute trek up to the entrance of the ancient ruins. What a view awaits us at the top. Julio stands on an emerald terrace with the perfect backdrop behind us but he warns us to be careful as one lady took a selfie too close to the edge and came to an unfortunate end.
The only way to follow such an experience is to go white water rafting in a rubber dinghy. It’s probably not much bigger than the lifeboat Paddington took to cross the Atlantic but what an adventure. The Teens take the front while Cathy and I hold on at the back.
Delighted to still be alive we stop off at Paddys Irish Bar but don’t want to go home. Julio knows the bouncers at Mama Africa’s, a nightclub in Plaza de Armas, split into three floors. We all start to dance but the teens appear to be missing…they are found on a couch on the top floor where salsa music and the beautiful people hang out. They didn’t have to wait until the last night to kiss but our story is all the better for it. With a Pisco Sour in hand, Cathy and I reminisce on how far our young ones have come since we first read Paddington Books to them and skulk down to the older folks on the ground floor.
Read my article featuring the best of Lima from the Sunday Times https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/darkest-peru-shows-off-its-true-colours-with-lima-and-cusco-8jjxccdcv
Dollars are widely used in Peru but debit and credit cards work in the ATMs
To find out all you need to know about Peru visit www.peru.travel
Explore’s Highlights of Peru nine-day trip visits the capital city Lima, with a day to discover it’s colonial architecture, fascinating history and sample it’s culinary delights including Peru’s most popular dish, ceviche. The trip also visits Machu Picchu, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and the old Inca capital Cusco. Prices start from €1170 and include 8 night’s bed and breakfast, internal transfers and Explore leader and local guides. International flights are not included. www.explore.co.uk / tel: 01252 884 737.
Bike hire for two hours worked out under €10 http://greenbikeperu.com/ Fully guided tours start at €35
https://www.mate.pe/en/ €8 for adults and €6 for students