- City of the Month: Lima
The first of the new travel series City of the Month; Jasmine Stockham dines on ceviche, discusses street art and searches for Paddington Bear in Lima, Peru.
Before jumping on a perilous night bus from Ecuador, the most outstanding impression I had of Peru was its fame for being the birth place of that little bear, with the battered suitcase and love of marmalade sandwiches. As I swept a few strands of hair from my face and opened my eyes to the morning light, I took in for the first time Paddington Bear’s ‘deepest Peru;’ watching guava trees, ramshackle huts and large rusting signs pretending to advertise Coca Cola fly past. As the bus cut through the indistinguishable collision of desert and sky, groups of children playing football in the dust began to drop away, and the beige soil became increasingly populated by houses; warning us that we were approaching Lima.
Considered to be a dangerous place by people of surrounding countries, and having a slightly weary reputation with fellow travellers, we did not quite know what to expect from Lima as the bus finally puffed to halt. Speeding through the streets in a cab towards our hostel, closer to ground level this time, it could not be claimed that what I saw rushing past the windows was beauty. Yet the melting pot of street vendors, shoe shiners and sugary scent of browning churros served as ample distraction from this fact, and began to weave the web of city’s charm.
All high ceilings and marble floors, Hostel 1900 is situated in the historic centre of the city, surrounded by churches, squares and charming elderly men boasting the ability to recreate their punters in hideous caricature form. In addition to the presence of a pool table, one of the things that had drawn us to this particular hostel was the promise of a free breakfast, and any traveller on a tight budget knows that it would be mad not exploit this alluring prospect fully. After working out where the sacks of bread rolls were kept, we emerged on our parting morning from the store room covered lightly flour; enough bread to feed a small army concealed poorly under our clothes. From this sorry tale of petty crime it would be fair to assume that Peruvian food is expensive but, on the contrary, devouring the country’s culinary delights can be done ridiculously cheaply, suggesting that our actions can only be blamed on kleptomaniac tendencies.
Peru’s culture is rich and colourful, and its food is one of the greatest examples of this. However, it cannot be denied that this vibrancy is most often displayed by flavour rather than presentation, or the aesthetics of surroundings. Expensive restaurants exist everywhere of course, but if you are willing to throw off common European expectations and dive into those slightly dingier eateries, foodie heaven could be in your grasp for less money than you would spend on a Monday night Jesticle. From the daring but delicious gamble with salmonella when tucking into chuzos (barbecued meat on skewers), to the fishy delights of Ceviche (Peru’s star delicacy), hours can easily be passed eating the streets of Lima.
Although it may seem that the tastes of the city leave little time for anything else, I assure you that their consumption can be fitted easily around taking in the sights and sounds. The city boasts a variety of galleries, but an equally breath taking amount of creativity can be seen out under the open sky, by simply wondering the streets, or riding them on the saddle of a hired bike. South American street artists in general have a reputation for possessing a flair to rival Banksy’s, but Lima particularly stands out with extravagant splashes of colour found at every turn. This outpouring of art may not look fresh and new, and is usually accompanied by some neighboring rubble and a layer of grime, but in my eyes this slight imperfection serves merely to add to the general authentic charm.
What many people see as the they pass through Lima on their way to the golden sands of the coast or the wonders of Machu Picchu is a sprawling city, made tired by dessert dust. On our final evening before setting off in search of that very same wonder, we hurried with excitement to see the remarkable transformation of what had once been an overlooked old park. The park’s phoenix rose before us in a transfixing display of water and light, and as we stood together watching its dance, Lima’s forlorn reputation was fully lifted, for me at least. So although I was left wondering as to where Paddington developed his passion for marmalade, finding not a trace of the stuff anywhere, the place’s dusty beauty allowed me to forgive this little lie, and accept that every city should be able to maintain some sense of mystery.
- Miraflores and Barranco – these districts are the places to head after dark; filled with vibrant bars and beers so large that they pose a danger to biceps.
- The Magic Water Circuit (pictured above) – the beautiful fountain light show.
- Bicycle Tours – if you fancy dicing with your life amongst the traffic, jumping on a bike is an amazing way to see Lima’s sights from a different angle.
- MALI (Art Museum of Lima) – cheap, captivating and a stone’s throw away from my next recommendation.
- Hostel 1900 – for a fun vibe and a large breakfast.
- The city’s cliffs – watch the sunset from where the capital meets the Pacific.