MW trip to Peru and Bolivia, Day 1 – Ironing in the dark – and Palm Sunday

My flight from Buenos Aires was due to land at 9.50pm, but in the end we landed a few minutes early.

That did not really matter, because it took almost forty minutes for our bags to appear. A flight from the States had just landed, and another from Colombia, so there was a delay while our bags were screened (I assume.) The Peruvian immigration officer was chatty and wanted to now how to say “New Zealand” and when I told her about “Aotearoa”, that just delayed things even more.

Had a quick look in the duty free store, “No, we don’t sell pisco here,” said the sales attendant. Another airport ignoring their local product.

The customs guys did not even check the bags, but coming into the arrivals hall, complete chaos. Hundreds of drivers holding up names of people to pick up. I had to go around and around three times until I eventually found mine. Thank you very much Tacama for picking me up at this late hour on a Saturday.

The traffic around Lima’s airport was diabolical. Cars broken down on the expressway, others with flat tires, traffic police screaming in the other direction. Thankfully I was not driving.

Eventually we got on the coastal highway (the airport seems to be west of the main city), but turned off sharply before entering the city and up a side hill.

Lima is surrounded by tall hills / mountains – pinning it against the sea. Some are even inhabited.

In the distance was a large illuminated cross perched on a hill overlooking the sea, but we never got close enough for a decent photo.

The area we are staying in is San Isidro, a very swank suburb, with a golf course, country club (the tennis courts were all lit up as we drove past.) More on that later, apparently.

After a disturbed night, woke up to a lovely breakfast with lots of exotic fruit, grenadine, prickly pear and so on.

There met up with my old buddy Igor Ryjenkov MW, who works for the LCBO in Toronto.

He had already mapped out a day sightseeing. I had booked Sunday lunch at the world famous Astrid y Gaston at 12.30. Astrid y Gaston is not open for dinner on Sunday, so this was my only chance. So we made a deal – to try and do both.

Catching a cab downtown (after nearly being fleeced for 79 solis, in the end it cost only 20), we found that most of the roads into the centre were blocked off. So we got out and hoofed to the main plaza, the presidential palace and cathedral. Of course, we had forgptten, this ws Palm Sunday, so it was all happening down at the cathedral. Not an especially ornate one, but beautiful nonetheless.

Lots of police around the area with riot gear, shields, guns equipped with gas canisters and so on. All the police were friendly however, including the stern guards protecting the back entrance to the presidential palace [editor’s note – about an hour after Paul and Igor tried to breach the carpark of the Presidential Palace, the Deputy President of Peru was sworn in as the new head of state after the various scandals that have hit this country.]

The library squished between the palace and the cathedral was spectacular. This library is named after and dedicated to Maria Varga Llosa. For me – this was the most moving part of my journey downtown. Wow.

Igor had said that he was keen to locate a Franciscan convent which apparently had lots of catacombs. We eventually found this walking north a short distance. There was another Palm Sunday service going on, lots of pomp and ceremony.

We eventually got into the Franciscan museum, which is actually a monastery, which had as a first stop a reading room dating from the 1600s and containing 20,000 original volumes, almost all in Latin. All covered with dust – I suspect that many of these are in dreadful condition now and not worth saving.

Sorry, not allowed to take photos inside the Franciscan monastery, so no photos of the catacombs. Trust me – this is a must see. Apparently 25,000 people are interred here. Apparently some of the other churches in Lima are also built over ossuaries, but this is the only one open to the public and they continue to excavate and restore it.

Eventually managing to untangle ourselves (we lost the tour guide sort of towards the end) we stumbled upon the Congress building and the statue of Simon Bolivar.

Just enough time left to get back to the hotel and freshen up for lunch.

My booking was originally for one, but now I had Igor and Arne Ronold MW from Norway coming. So three.

Holy heck – this restaurant was a hundred metres from our hotel. I had been freaking about the cabs…
Astrid y Gaston is a phenomenon, if anybody who knows anything about New World cuisine knows that this guy is a superstar. Somehow I had to blag three covers for what was originally a booking for one!

I had expected a choice between the 15 course deg and a 9 course cut down version, but no… We got offered the a la carte or the full fifteen. Nada.

Meanwhile one of the recently arrived MWs, Susan McCraith MW had given up on the hotel and after sitting in the bistro area (quite cool décor, all packing crate industrial etc) we suddenly had an excited British MW standing beside our table, looking optimistic for a fourth seat.

Well, the Astrid Police were up for this game, and after she was shuffled off for a full interrogation (and a few Hail Marys perhaps?), what this gave us was the opportunity for a shift to a much much grander table in a more exciting stage of the building, the old courtyard. Big thanks for the Astrid y Gaston team dealing with these difficult turistes on a Sunday afternoon!


Amazing is all I can say about the food, it is imaginative, certainly different. I don’t know how “authentic” it is, but what does that word mean anymore in terms of gastronomy???

Maybe two, possibly three, of the dishes showed a “gastro” twang to them, but the rest were just… wow… and what the… and a few other unmentionables in between. The last deg I had was back in late November, when Clooney (Auckland) announced its going out of business thing (sort of maybe didn’t happen) and while Jakob Kear was not in the room, we ate his menu and it was at times thrilling and cool, but at other times perplexing and troublesome.

But while there were some dishes at Astrid y Gaston I was not so fond of, nothing here was bad, or tricky, or “difficult”. This is haute cuisine that actually does not have its ego on its sleeve. This is the real deal.

More notes to follow… But…

The wine list is expensive and perhaps needs a bit more work (we were four Masters of Wine, so we were never going to go with the pairings, so looking for bottles was interesting.) Secondly, the service is very crisp, but this was Sunday lunch, so it was perhaps a little more relaxed than usual. We coped. I suspect that for what we were paying however you would not get away with this style in Napa (and we were paying Napa prices.)

I loved it (a full review to come), but I understand if your experience might be different. That is what it is about, isn’t it? Is not life different? Yours? Mine?

And for the next two days, if you see someone with a badly ironed shirt in Peru, you will know it is me.

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