Thursday, May 23, 2013

Peru, Day 6 - Cusco

Our next major destination was Machu Picchu. However, we'd been warned that we would need to acclimate to the higher elevation before hiking all over the Incan ruins, so we spent a day in Cusco first, which is higher than Machu Picchu.

The low air pressure at this altitude was no joke. Upon arrival, we discovered that the bottles of lotion and toothpaste we'd brought with us would spray out everything they contained upon opening. Also, our hotel was located a short distance uphill from the main square, and we had to huff and puff and take breaks on the climb up to our hotel.

Cusco, however, is an adorable city. The streets are paved with stones and the homes are tiled Spanish-style:

As you can see from the photo, it's situated in a little valley surrounded by peaks. At night, the main square is lit up with a constellation of lights from homes built on the surrounding slopes.

We took it easy our first day in this region, just exploring the area around the main square at Plaza de Armas and eating a nice lunch at Limo, an upscale restaurant situated right on the Plaza, serving really delicious seafood. For the rest of the day, we simply rested.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Peru, Days 4 and 5 - Paracas

In planning the trip to Peru, my husband's top priority was to visit the Nazca lines. These are massive, shallow designs in the ground, shaped like animals, trees, and other figures, best seen from the air. For example, this monkey:

I'm not fond of small planes - quite terrified, actually - so I didn't want to go. However, I told him that if he wanted to go to a local town and take the flight to see the Nazca lines from there, I'd go with him and just explore the local town while he flew. I let him arrange the travel and hotel, assuming that we'd go to Ica.

We didn't go to Ica. We went to Paracas instead, which is basically a desert town. I was prepared to complain to my husband for dropping me off in the middle of nowhere while he flew over the Nazca lines, but then he introduced me to our hotel.

Well, that shut me up.

We spent our first day at the hotel just drinking pisco sours, enjoying the pool, and walking along the beach.

The next morning, we toured the Ballestas Islands near Paracas by boat. We saw one of the Nazca lines, as well as a lot of wildlife.

I tend to get pretty seasick during boat rides, so towards the end I didn't get to see much and I just huddled in my seat trying not to throw up. But before the tour was over, I watched pelicans dive for fish in the sea, sea lions nuzzle each other, and red crabs climb over the rocks.

It was actually quite peaceful. And sitting in the boat, watching these animals live their lives without interference from us (except for the snapping of photos), I felt so far removed from big city life and hectic work schedules. I need to capture that moment and meditate on it when I go back to work and start thinking that work is all there is to life.

P flew over the Nazca lines in the afternoon, and took a few shots from the plane, which I'll upload later to this post. Most importantly, he survived his small plane flight. Whew.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Peru, Day 3 - Lima, the Tasty Way

You know why we chose Peru as a must-visit destination? It wasn't Machu Picchu, or the Nazca lines, or Lake Titicaca that first put Peru on my radar. The first time I said to myself, "I must get myself to Lima" was while I was sitting on an airplane, browsing their in-flight magazine, having just finished an article about Lima's uniquely fused international cuisine. Yes, you read that right. I'm here entirely because of the food.

This may sound funny considering I've lived in New York City for my entire adult life, and then some. International flavors are just a Seamless click away, and I'll shamelessly brag that New York has some of the most authentic-tasting ethnic flavors anywhere outside their original home.

But Peru is something else. They don't just embrace the cuisine of Chinese immigrants and build a little home for it in the shape of a Chinatown in Lima. They fully adopt the cuisine and make it family, christening it chifa because it is neither Chinese nor Peruvian, but both. Lomo saltado, a popular dish in Peru, demonstrates the fusion of Chinese and Peruvian tastes. The same with the cuisine of Japanese immigrants here. Out of the marriage of Japanese and Peruvian flavors comes Nikkei cuisine, and dishes like tiradito which are not quite ceviche, and not quite sushi. The list goes on.

Now, after that introduction, you might have guessed that we hit every Peruvian fusion restaurant we could find on our day of eating through Lima. Well, you'll see.

Stop 1: Coffee.
The only way to begin. We gleefully snubbed Starbucks on our way to get some local Peruvian roast.

I don't know how to explain the flavor, except that it's a sharper, nuttier taste than the Guatemalan we usually have in the mornings. But not as cigarette-ashy as Colombian or French roast.

Stop 2: Milkshakes.
What, milkshakes? Yes, milkshakes. A sweet, thick, creamy blend of milk with nothing else but ice and fruit. In particular, this fruit:

It's called lucuma, and it is delicious.

Stop 3: Fruit market.
The fruits! There are SO MANY of them!

What is it that my Taiwanese cousin says about America? That we only have apples and oranges? Well, there are more here.

My husband went a little crazy here and bought nearly one of every kind of fruit. Since I don't love fruit as much as he does, he had to eat them all by himself. This really did not phase him at all.

Stop 4: Pisco sours and ceviche
A classic meal. A Pisco sour can only properly be called a Pisco Sour if the pisco is from Peru, because "Pisco" is a geographical mark, much like Champagne. And in Peru, ceviche is eaten only at lunch, because by dinnertime the fish is no longer considered fresh. Yeah, my jaw dropped, too - that's definitely the way to live.

We got to prepare our own meals. Here's my husband making me a pisco sour, shaking up the pisco with lime juice, syrup, and egg whites. Add a few drops of bitters, and it's ready to go.

Next we made our own ceviche. This presented a problem for my husband and me, since we had gone vegetarian a few months earlier.

But. I mean. CEVICHE.

The Peruvians pair ceviche with marinated sweet potatoes and corn. My husband and I looked at each other and, well, did as the Peruvians do. It was truly a sublime combination.

And, about the vegetarian thing? Nobody's perfect.

Stop 5: Huaca Pucllana
What better way to sum up the Peruvian experience than to dine by an Incan ruin?

So, after being lured here by what was international, we ended up only trying we only tried was uniquely, singly, and forcefully Peruvian. But who knows what a later trip will bring.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Peru, Day 2 - A Brief History of Death and Sex

I was so excited thinking about writing this post, since I thought we'd be paragliding off the cliffs of Miraflores today. But, alas, it was not to be. The winds had to be at least 12 mph from the south in order to paraglide, but they were too weak.

Instead, we visited the Larco Museum. The museum was founded by Rafael Larco Hoyle, apparently when he was 25 years old (if I recall correctly). There are 3 main rooms open to the public, displaying pre-Columbian art with a heavy emphasis on the Moche civilization. The permanent exhibition room showed off shelves and shelves of decorative pottery, funerary textiles, a mummy bundle (with the mummy of a 4 or 5 year old child still intact inside), and lots of jewelry. There was a repeating theme of the pre-Columbian obsession with death (or the afterlife) and human sacrifice. So, for instance, we saw this gem:

If you look carefully you can see the victims of sacrifice toppling down. The guy on the top is bent over, spilling blood.

The second room was basically a storage room filled to the brim with uncatalogued pottery.

The third, and pretty famous room, was basically an ode to sex and genitalia. Ceramic (Moche?) sculptures of oversized phalluses and vulvas and various positions of intercourse, including between men and animals and women and dead men. See, e.g., here.

There wasn't a lot of explanation to this gallery, so I was left wondering if this was something religious or whether this was the Moche version of porn and us modern fools had decided to romanticize it by calling it historical art. 

After visiting the museum, we went to the cafe to try chicha, a sweet, cold drink made out of purple corn.

We then headed to Miraflores, figuring that we could wander around this beach-side district of Lima even though the paragliding attempt at failed. We opted to start with some more sexual tension at the Parque del Amor:

Then we walked along the cliffs we would've paraglided off of if the winds had been strong enough.

Apparently it is always foggy like this around this time of year in Lima.

We wandered around to engage in my number-one favorite pastime, shopping! But Patrick discovered a grocery store and we had a blast trying to figure out what the fruits were. How many of these fruits do you recognize?

Tomorrow we will take a culinary tour of Lima. Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Peru, Day 1: Arrival

Bienvenidos al Peru!!

We are HERE!!! I didn't sleep a wink on the redeye to Lima and there was a car accident on the way out of the airport, but we are finally HERE!!!

First, we had breakfast at the little cafe in our hotel. Granola on top of fresh fruit, including slices of a red thing I don't think is pomegranate, banana, papaya, sweet orange, and cantaloupe, plus fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Our room wasn't ready for check-in yet, so we explored the neighborhood around our hotel. While we walked along the street, a mangy but adorable stray dog passed us by. He trotted along ahead of us, glancing back at us every so often. When we crossed the street, he changed direction and crossed the street, too. When we stopped walking, he stopped. When we resumed, he would resume, too, always a few steps ahead or behind us. At one point I paused to check out a store while my husband and the dog kept going along the sidewalk, and when I looked ahead I saw both my husband and the dog stopped in their tracks, looking back for me.

The dog was trying to adopt us.

My husband has an incredibly soft spot for dogs, and this one, despite its matted fur, had incredibly woeful eyes. We didn't have the heart to shoo it away, so we tried to slink into a Starbucks and hoped that after awhile of waiting outside, the dog would get the hint and leave. But he tried to follow us in! It took a parking attendant with a gentle but firm hand to lead the dog away.

My husband and I sat at Starbucks for awhile, sharing pangs of - regret? shame? helplessness? Stray dogs are everywhere, but this one had tried to befriend us, and we even talked about what it would take to try to bring the dog back home with us to the United States.

But when we left Starbucks, the dog was gone, and all we could do was feel our sadness.

Afterwards we walked a few minutes to a local Incan pyramid to see about a mummy.

When we were finally allowed to check in to our hotel room, we discovered the cutest pillows!

Upon which I immediately plopped down and slept for the rest of the day. More tomorrow!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Peru, Day 0 - Prelude

Sometimes crazy can be good.

Four weeks ago I submitted my resume to New Firm. Within 2 hours of my application, New Firm contacted me, wanting to schedule an interview. Within a week I had a job offer. Two days after they offered, I accepted.

I couldn't formally give notice at Old Firm until I cleared conflicts with New Firm, which New Firm promised would take a week. In the meantime, I thought, hey, wouldn't this be a good time to finally move into the city? We notified our landlord that we would not be renewing our lease and began apartment-hunting in earnest.

And then we discovered that we had tickets to Peru.

Yes, discovered. We had booked tickets to Peru last fall and then had to cancel, but the airline wouldn't refund our tickets. We tried to change the tickets to a future date when we would presumably be able to travel, but after hours of back-and-forth with the airline agent and our credit card company, the airline still couldn't manage to charge our credit card with the change fee. So we thought all was lost. But two weeks ago, the airline texted us to alert us that our flight time had changed. What flight time? The flight time for our flight to Lima, Peru, on May 17, returning May 28.

It was a miracle.

The timing was crazy. I hadn't given notice yet, and how could I give notice and then take vacation? Also, we still hadn't found an apartment, and if we went to Peru we'd barely have two weeks to search for an apartment before our lease was up.

Literally a week before our flight to Peru, conflicts cleared and I was free to give notice. Two days later, we signed a lease to our new apartment. And now we are packing for our flight to Peru -- our first trip together to South America.

Sometimes crazy can be fantastic.