Peru Ancient and Modern – Touring with Saga Holidays

Written by Maddie Grigg
(A Runner-up entry in the Travel for Seniors Writing Competition.)

Peru: Seafront at Miraflores
Seafront at Miraflores

Miraflores, the upmarket district of Lima, and the city is beginning to beat.

It’s cooler now, after the humidity of the day. The constant fog that grips the capital of Peru at this time of year appears to dissipate.

We make for the seafront and the shopping mall where the cinema is showing the children’s film, Paddington. As darkness falls, masses of buses – most of them old, truncated, clapped-out and full of passengers – trundle by.

Hordes of people wait at zebra crossings for the pedestrian lights to turn green. There are hundreds of cars, many of them honking their horns, despite signs everywhere shouting out silencio.

Main Square in Lima
Main Square in Lima

The streets smell of popcorn, perfume, something like Jeyes Fluid, cat pee in the park and garlic. Police sirens whirl and clack and a cyclist shouts at my husband for stepping out in his path.

There are clothes shops selling alpaca designs and bridal wear. There are casinos and lots of bright lights. There are shiny new buildings, old ones and lots in between.

It’s a young city, Lima, with eighty percent of its nine-and-a-half million population under sixty and fifty percent under thirty. During the day, they’re busy working. At night, they come out to play. In Miraflores, where we are staying, I feel very safe.

Andrew and Maddie at Machu Picchu
Andrew and Maddie at Machu Picchu

I’m the youngest by a long chalk on this trip, but all my concerns about going on a Saga Holidays tour have been dispelled completely. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a holiday so action-packed.

I thought I’d be skipping around like a mountain goat while the others lagged behind. And, as someone who is usually an independent traveller, I wasn’t sure I could cope with being ‘organised’. A quiet rebel, I baulk at the idea of being told what to do.

But my expectations were completely wrong. This 12-night holiday has been out of this world. At the end of it, I am loving Saga, loving the fact that we have done so much and, most of all, loving Peru and its people.

Boats on Lake Titicaca
Boats on Lake Titicaca

So what is it about this place that’s so captivating, so magical?

The colours have made my heart soar. The vibrant fabric in the markets, exotic fruit piled high on street corners and the beautiful children, with their dark skin and deep-brown eyes.

Peru’s people – a mish-mash of races with indigenous, Spanish, black and oriental heritage – are incredibly helpful and polite, even those who are not part of the tourist trade.

Peruis a land of ancient history – Machu Picchu is, of course, a famous, must-see – but there is more to this country than just incredible ruins, astonishing churches and mountain scenery. Peru is a country whose present and future is just as fascinating as its past.

Sunset over Lake Titicaca
Sunset over Lake Titicaca

We’ve been here, there and everywhere, on dry land and on Lake Titicaca, by plane and by bus and on foot. The sights, sounds, smells, taste and the feel of things has been incredible.

I have never seen a sky so blue, colours so vivid and met people so warm and charming. I’ve eaten guinea pig and alpaca and suffered slight altitude sickness.

In Arequipa, we sat and watched a wedding as the rest of the group went to the Colca Canyon. We enjoyed being onlookers at the church as the bride arrived, accompanied by an anxious father, worried about her train. An old lady who just happened to be passing stepped in to make the necessary adjustments.

Nursery Children in Arequipa
Nursery Children in Arequipa

As the church doors closed on the wedding party, a shout went up from the crowd outside as a hundred chocolate coins and sweets were thrown into the air for luck.

Our favourite town, Arequipa is also home to Juanita, the mummified, frozen body of a teenage Inca girl who was killed as an offering to the gods in the 15th century. She was discovered high in the mountains by an anthropologist in 1995 and has been on display ever since. The exhibition sounds macabre but makes for a very moving and informative experience.

Sunrise over Arequipa
Sunrise over Arequipa

Now in Lima, some of us have decided to treat our guide, Jose, who has been an absolute star throughout, to a meal. We belt across town in taxis to an unassuming Chinese restaurant, which is packed with locals and serves fantastic and inexpensive food.

We walk back through the city, buoyed up by the joyous and youthful gatherings outside the restaurants and bars.

Peru has changed my life. I can’t get it out of my head.

POSTED 14th JUNE 2018 by STEVE HANSON on behalf of MADDIE GRIGG. Photographs 3-7 were supplied by the author after the competition had been judged.

See also:
Round the World in 40 Days: Stage 9 – Cusco and Machu Picchu
Round the World in 40 Days: Stage 10 – Lima and Miraflores, Peru
Walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu