Indulge me for a moment, if you will. Deciding on Peru as your desired destination, is a little like buying a ticket to the moon. There’s enough in popular lore, not to mention your imagination, to prepare you for the journey, right? But when your feet actually tread the same cobblestones, your eyes gazing upon the same ruins and lines carved in the cliffs and deserts of ancient civilizations that stretch back to 2,000 B.C. — the Incas are only the last in a long line of empire builders — you pause. You truly are a stranger in a strange land.


Picture it — it’s early July and you’ve just arrived in Lima. Only instead of Pizzaro’s famed City of Kings, it feels like a foggy day in London Town. July is, after all, the winter or “dry” season in Peru and for Lima that means the garua is in full force. That’s a gray, misty canopy that shrouds the coastline in its own particular ennui. No need to fret — beyond Lima, sea life spotting, desert days full of buried artifacts, and the sunny Andean highlands with their lost cities await. But be forewarned: sunny days notwithstanding, the mystery and marvels of this remarkable land will remain.

Admittedly, two fairly intelligent, intuitive — did I say intrepid? — women should be reasonably safe embarking on an adventure in the Southern Hemisphere. An up-to-date Frommer’s Guide, and more than a passing familiarity with Spanish phrasebooks and past forays into Hispanic subcultures should provide a firm footing for what lay ahead. Added to that two money belts ordered from Amazon with room for credit cards, Peruvian soles, and a lipstick thrown in for good measure — and don’t forget, some reliable footwear and sufficient layers for the vicissitudes of the climate — and we were off. Colonial Lima with its cathedrals, palaces and 16th century mansions we’d save for our final return.

Who are these two intrepid women, anyway? Speaking for myself, as a freelance journalist and painter, I have always harbored an insatiable curiosity about other places — after all, inspiration doesn’t just land on my doorstep from the void. As for my partner, Joanne, it would be hard to find a traveling companion more ready to take flight into the unknown when circumstances allow. A committed high school English teacher in the New York public school system, she is only too ready for a month in the country — the more exotic, the better.

First off, our heads swimming with visions of never-before-seen pre-Columbian artifacts, we headed for Rafael Larco Herrera’s world-class private collection. Housed in an 18th century colonial building in the Pueblo Libre district, its outer walls awash in red and fuchsia bougainvillea, over 45,000 pieces from the Moche (A.D. 200-700) and other ancient cultures dazzle the eye. The gold and silver funerary ensembles, evoking a culture to compete with any self-respecting pharaoh’s crypt, are not to be missed. Just as the Inca Empire was known for its magnificent architecture, the Moche were artisans of the first order. There is even a separate Sala Erotica of x-rated ceramics (not for children) to digest but not before lunch in the Café del Museo.

Gaston Acurio, the now-legendary wizard of Peruvian cooking, has put his indelible culinary stamp on this restaurant, creating Criollo fusion magic — a mix of coastal Peruvian with European and African influences — wherever he goes. Our meal made a sufficient enough impression that our stomachs would map a parallel route of his establishments from the beginning to the end of our journey. Dipping into our first Ceviche Limeño — a tangy mixture of octopus and sea bass marinated in lime and aijes or chili peppers — resting on a delicate bed of sweet potato and corn, topped with shavings of red onion, we were only too happy to leave our memories of airport chocolate protein bars, cold French fries and beef jerky behind.

Did I mention the Pisco Sours that kicked off this culinary junket? What better way to toast our Peruvian adventure than indulging in this national grape brandy cocktail. Distilled primarily in and around the southern desert coast, this clear-white spirit is prepared in single batch copper stills, the law dictating that nothing else can be added to reach the desired 80 proof. Following is a recipe for the classic sour that is guaranteed to please the discerning drinkers reading this:

3 oz. Pisco

1 oz. simple syrup

1 oz. key lime juice

½ raw egg white


A dash (3 drops) of Angostura bitters for garnish (a dash of cinnamon is a fine substitute).

Place ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously until frothy. Strain and pour into a chilled 8-oz. cocktail glass.

A word to the budget-minded is in order here. Given that Lima rates high on the list for gourmet dining, such adventures may not always seem a wallet-friendly reality. However, the current exchange rate should relax some of those fears. A meal here, such as the ones available at a three or four star restaurant in New York, Paris or London, for example, is definitely affordable, even if treated as a highlight of a visit. (As of this writing, 2.80 soles to the dollar is the current rate.) Most travelers will be seasoning their fare in neighborhood barrios throughout the country, where huaraches (basic eating joints minus the trim\mings) offer up respectable and surprisingly savory fare.

For hungry tourists, even the best of cocktails and appetizers are just that — tempting precursors for a memorable main course. Grilled duck on a golden mattress of plantains and yucca for Joanne, and a pungent lamb stew, smothered in mushrooms over a lentil and plantain patty for me, was the result. We topped it off with a Suspiro de Limeña, a scrumptious meringue and custard concoction we shared that is made from lúcuma, a sweet Andean egg shaped fruit. If your idea of heaven is luxuriating on a puff of clouds and consuming a dessert fit for archangels, then this is definitely it.

Contemplating the more bizarre ways and means of the human species was sometimes better tackled on a full stomach, I think. The Larco Museum excels in its collection of Moche (200-700 A.D.) pottery. Strolling through the famed erotica collection, with its finely-rendered depictions of human and animal genitalia, demanded attention. If the squeamish prefer their aesthetics without phalluses and labia, so be it. There’s more than enough beyond this exhibit to satisfy the cerebral as well as sensual appetite.

A short walk back to our lodgings from the museum, and a nap after our late arrival the previous night, helped us before the next meal. Ours was hardly a relaxing stroll, with busy thoroughfares cutting into an endless maze of mom and pop shops — even a broom seller standing idly at curb’s edge, his wagon tottering on the threshold. Stepping off the curb, even when the light was green may have been the riskiest option of our entire journey. A few locals may still take their traffic signals seriously, but the rest…with a grain of sal or salt if you will.

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