Cusco: Historic Capital of Peru

I apologize for skipping a write-up about yesterday, but since it was predominantly a travel day there really isn’t much to tell. I’ll try to circle back to it later…

Today, as we typically try to do, we started off in our new city with a walking tour. (After picking up some Latte’s and Mocha’s to go of course!) Our first stop was the Plaza De Armas. As I had previously written, pretty much any major South American  city has a main square due to a Spanish doctrine and Cusco is no different.



The Plaza de Armas, also known as the “Square of the Warrior,” was once the location of many former Incan Palaces. It seems that each ruler chose to build his own rather than matriculating into the house of his predecessor. Unfortunately, these palaces were plundered and demolished by the Spanish around 1535, only to have Catholic Churches built on the same foundations. It is in this manner that the Spanish sought to systematically illegitimize the indigenous religion and force their own beliefs on the locals.

After leaving the Plaza de Armas, we stopped by an open plaza in order to listen to some music that was being played by a man trying very diligently to keep the music of the indigenous people alive and thriving. (I wish I had video privileges with WordPress, but since I don’t I’ll have to circle back and post a video when I get the chance.) The accoustic experience was incredibly moving and I love how vibrantly music can represent the ‘color’ of the people.

 

There were also some very cute Alpacas. A local also brought a baby alpaca to roam, but when I tried to take a picture she angrily snatched up the kid and yelled at me saying that photos were not free (even though another lady had freely snapped some shots just before me). I had heard that this happens often in Cusco, but I was definitely put off that she hadn’t calmly mentioned it earlier when she was just sitting silently nearby. 

We then moved on to explore the old Incan Walls (which I will write about more later), and roam the streets of San Blas, one of the oldest and most artistic/picturesque neighborhoods of the city, before ascending some steps to wrap up our tour with a Pisco Sour and Ceviche demonstration. The view from this bar of Cusco city was just phenomenal!

On our way we also stopped in front of a store with a life-sized figurine of Eneko. I’m having difficulty finding online sources about this superstition, but apparently most local households have a 6-12″ figure of him in their home. If you have any troubles finding jobs, or love, or buying a house etc., apparently you simply tape a small model of the dilemma in question to his back and it will soon be resolved!

After the tour ended, Tom and I grabbed nachos for some minor sustenance (they were sub-par as a expected), before we decided to head the rest of the way up the hill to visit Saksaywaman (“Sexy Women” LoL). It was about a 30-min walk/hike through San Blas and upward. Thankfully we took stops as needed, and even accidentally stumbled upon the shop of Sabino Huaynan, a famous luthier that is only one of two in the whole of Peru!


Saksaywaman,p (spelled in a variety of different ways depending on who you ask), had its first sections built by the Kilke Culture around 1100 AD, and was expanded upon by the Incas in the 13th century. The stone walls were constructed of large stones cut and ground precisely to allow them to fit together without the need for mortar.

Cristo Bianco

I really enjoyed the site, but my only gripe is that a 1-Day entree fee to see 4 sites, 3 of which are not easily accessible by foot was a whomping 70 soles and they didn’t accept card! After we paid, Tom and I had a mere 10 soles between the two of us. 😦 We found out later that the Tourist Ticket, at 130 soles, gave you a total of 10-days to see all the major sites; not that either of us had enough cash on us at the time. Farewell $22! Lima was not expensive at all compared to this, the highest we ever paid for one site was 30 soles. 

Near the end of our visit, it started drizzling, and than raining, and then pelting us with hail. I knew that the weather in the mountains can be precarious, but neither Tom or I had packed our rain jackets, so not only did we get wet, but Tom received some battle wounds as well. Thankfully we were able to find temporary shelter until the worst of it passed and then made a precarious, slippery descent down the stone steps. 

We finally returned to the hostel around 6 PM, and after a brief reprieve headed out to try Papachos, a burger joint founded by the owner of Astrid Y Gaston. I chose it as an option because they had an Alpaca Burger that I simply HAD to try. Unfortunately Tom did not enjoy his meal as much as the temperature was more medium-rare, the meat not tender, and the flavor lacking.

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Lima: Ode to Central

When one of Tom’s coworkers found out that we were going to Peru for our yearly vacation, he could not stop gushing about the country. One of the things he mentioned was that Central, the current #5 best restaurant in the world, was based in Lima. (Although some would say that the validity of the judging is questionable as the food critics, despite needing to remain objective, are technically not obligated to actually pay for their meals). Additionally, Astrid Y Gaston #33 and Maido #8 who also made the most recent The World’s 50 Best list are also based in Lima. 

We opted to only visit one of the three, although we did consider trying at least two of them. It’s only due to the USD to Soles exchange rate that we would have even considered this splurge relatively “affordable”. If it had been in Europe, or even Copenhagen, where the previous #1 restaurant was located (before it closed a few months after we left Scandinavia), we would have had to pay an arm and a leg, or sell an organ on the black market, to justify the expense.

The USD to Soles exchange rate is roughly $1 to S/ 3.25; We do obviously get slightly less favorable odds when we have to be at the mercy of our banks and credit card companies. This allowed our 1105 Soles meal to balance out at approximately $340 USD ($170 pp). It is definitely agreed that this is an irrational expense for the average person, but since our daily costs in Peru are lower than typical, and we don’t expect to return to Lima anytime in the near future, we were able to justify the once-in-a lifetime splurge. We also only share a big fancy meal about once every year or two…

And what an experience it was! The 17-course menu brought us from the highlands of Peru to the lowlands, from the jungle, to the dessert, to the Andes mountains. As the third largest country in South America, Peru is an incredibly diverse country with a multitude of ecosystems and climates, and Central’s menu celebrates the unique abundance of natural resources and wildlife that can be found in these ‘altitudes.’ (The only unfortunate side note being that we ate our lunches a little later than we should have for our 8:00 PM reservation and were therefore struggling a little bit towards the end.)

The below pictures are roughly broken up by ‘course’ and the key ‘flavor’ components. I’ll try to explain the textures we experienced as well, but with 17-courses, you can imagine that we were both starting to mix things up LOL.


Appetizers:

I-10 M Rock Molluscs: Sea Snail, Mussel, Sargassum, Limpet. We were instructed to use the algae crackers, which had a similar texture to that of traditional Chinese ‘crab chips,’ and the dowel to spoon the mixture of snail onto it before taking a bite. It was a little like a firm ‘salsa,’ but surprisingly not too fishy in flavor.

180 M Desert Plants: Huarango, Cactus, Sweet Potato Leaf, Loche. This one was our favorite! We had to sequentially eat the ‘Loche cake,’ then consume the fried sweet potato leaf befor taking the cactus shot. Tom and I both experienced a surprise in our mouths because we expected the cake bite to be warm, but it was actually cold! The crunch of the sweet potato leaf followed by the warm cactus shot melded all the textures together perfectly. The shot tasted just like kale to me Lol.

3900 M Loft Andes:  Potato, Tree Tomato, Alpaca, Muña Mint. We dipped the potato in a mixture of the tomato, dried alpaca heart, and Muña mint. It was an interesting mix, kind of like what you’d expect if you shredded beef jerky and mixed it in with some moisture. I didn’t not enjoy it, but like everything on this menu, it was unexpected.

3400 M Thick Stems: Olluco, Chincho, Onion, Field Mustard. I can’t quite remember the sequence for this one. We either had to eat the flowers first and then the onion crisp roll stuffed with mustard and maybe Chincho, or the other way around. I really enjoyed the contrast of textures from the crunch of the fried onion crisp to the smoothness of the herbed mixture inside.

450 M Waters of Nanay: Piranha, Cocona, Achiote, Huampo Bark. This one was eye opening for sure! You’ll notice that some of the pictures include elements that are clearly not edible and were provided only for plating aesthetics. I was definitely thrown off by the frozen piranha heads sitting in front of me Haha. First we had what seemed to be fried piranha skin followed by a veggie cake topped with piranha meat. To be honest, it tasted just like pretty much any other white fish to me. 

300 M Forest Cotton: River Shrimp, Llanten, Huito, Pacae. The cotton-like bite you see definitely felt like we were eating a cotton ball. We then ate the leaf wrapped shrimp (Tom’s was subbed for fish since he is not a shellfish fan) before finishing off with the shot. My memory is clearly getting hazy as I simply cannot remember what is what anymore. The leaf was either the Llanten or the Pacae as was the shot mixture. 

1900 M High a Jungle: Macambo, Cassava, Copoazu, Air Potato. The potatoes in one of the breads in this picture actually grow on trees instead of in the ground! Do you think it still classifies as a root vegetable then? We were brought a a spread of breads made from an interesting variety of vegetables including the Macambo Bean, a relative of the Cacao bean in transition for the next phase of our meal.

Entrees

0 M Marine Soil: Sea Urchin, Pepino Melon, Razor Clam, Seaweed. The texture of the sea urchins, the gooey pinkish things, was very tender and melted in your mouth. The Melon added a bit of crunch and acidity to the plate. This was the first time that either of us had sea urchin, it was not….unenjoyable, but I probably would not go out of my way to have it again.

1200 M Tree Points: Avocado, Kiwicha, Arracacha, Lake Algae. The avocado was warm! They made little beads of the three other veggies and topped it with a warm milky sauce. Once again it was very different as it’s pretty rare to eat warm or even hot avocado. In the US we normally have it in the form of guacamole or as a topping for tacos. 

2010 M Land of Corn: Kculli, Purple, Chulpi, Piscorunto. Peru has an abundance of corn types that are impossible to find in the US. These chips were amazing, all had their own unique flavor. They were artfully laid out on a bed of sauce made from the purple corn.

600 M Amazonian Plain. Churo, Cecina, Black Chili Pepper, Bellaco. More sea snails with differently flavored foams.




20 M Coastal Harvest: Scallops, Yellow Chili Pepper, Milk, Tumbo. As expected I ended up having to eat this course for Tom, and it made me fuller at a faster rate than him. I swear that it is unfair that I ended up eating his food even though I am clearly the smaller person with the smaller stomache. (In his defense the broth was really quite fishy)

-10 M Sea Coral: Octopus, Crab,  Squid, Sea Lettuce. I think I forgot to take a picture of this one because I can’t seem to find it in my camera roll T.T!…I blame Tom because he gave me a one picture per plate limit. 😦 Frankly I am glad that Tom tried a bite at all! I, myself, am not really a fan of Octopus or Squid since I find the texture to be too chewy for my taste, but I am also a staunch believer of not wasting food unless absolutely necessary. This time around however, I refused to finish Tom’s portion. 

4100 M High Andes Mountains: Pork, Black Mashwa, Macre, Kañiwa. The chips on top were made from the Macre, a type of squash, and Kañiwa, a type of grain. They were artfully draped over a 7-Hr braised pork belly and lightly dolloped with a Black Mashwa sauce. This last one was a welcome change from all the seafood and river flavors we had been experiencing. I felt that the flavor of the pork was a little too subtle for my tastes though, as I am used to a more Asian flair when it comes to pork bellies. 

Dessert:

4100 M Humid Green: Caitura, Cushuro, Sweet Lemon, Chaco Clay. This one reminded me of Taiwanese snow ice. Essentially it was a sweet lemon sorbet (frozen into small shards, potentially with liquid nitrogen) topped with ‘tapioca balls’ flavored and dyed with the Caituro, Cushuro, and Chaco Clay.


400 M Amazonian White: Cacao, Chirimoya, Bahuaja Nut, Taperiba. The white fluffy stuff you see is comprised of shaved Bahuaja Nuts, the petals were thinly sliced Chirimoya and Taperiba fruits, and under the petals was a chocolate mousse. The Bahuaja nut tasted similar to a macadamia nut and gave the combination of mousse and fruit a nutty texture and flavor.

3050 M Medicinal and Plant Dyes: Congona, Matico, Malva, Pilipili. This one was a palate cleanser to wrap up our night don’t remember what was what anymore, but we were told to eat it in an order we pleased. 

In short, our visit to Central was, in a single world, an experience. Chef Virgilio Martinez , who has also appeared on Netflix’s third season of “Chef’s Table,” has artfully managed to bring new life to classic Peruvian ingredients. His choice of flavor pairings and textural combinations, in addition to his implementation of molecular gastronomy allows each component to successfully stand out as an individual, but also meld together in ‘one perfect bite.’ The dishes were truly art!


We finished off our night with a quick visit to the kitchen and a picture with the artistic team behind the dishes that were now settling in our very full, but very happy, bellies.  

Lima: Museo Larco and The Moches

Reader Beware: Sone of the pictures and text in this article will have references alluding to the act of copulation and are not for juvenile eyes.

All we had left on our Lima List after the last three days were the Larco Museum and the Museum of Anthropologie. Unfortunately they were put off until the last minute because the Municipal buses didn’t run there and we knew we didn’t want to risk taking any questionable taxis, so the coordination was a little more challenging. Thankfully, due to the use of some broken spanish, the Google Maps GPS, and some kind-hearted locals, we were able to find our way.

We ended up taking a local bus instead of a combi for which both Tom and myself were very grateful. The combis routes are discernible from the main streets written on the side of the vans, but the operator will literally hop out of the sliding door while the driver slows down, yell out the major avenues, wait briefly for the locals to hop on, and zoom off to the next stop almost immediately! We saw this happen regularly everywhere we walked and simply could not wrap our minds around it. Our takeaway from our time in Lima so far is that traffic and transportation is chaotic at best.

The local bus dropped us off about a 10-min walk away from Museo Larco in the Pueblo Libre district. While there were some discernible differences between this district and other two districts that we have spent time in (Miraflores and Barranco), it was clear that the area was well maintained and representative of a middle-class population. It is definitely nice to get away from the hubbub of the main tourist destinations!

Museo Larco is said to be a must-see for all visitors to Lima (although Tom was not quite on board with my adamant desire to go). It is a privately owned museum that houses Pre-Colombian art purchased by Rafael Larco Hoyle around 1925. Rafael soon realized that Peruvian Archeaology was in its infancy and set out on a course for intense Anthropologie research thereby establishing a Peruvian chronology for ancient cultures that has remained valid to this day.

The biggest draw for visitors is the hall of erotic pottery. The vessels, or what we call art in the present, were created by the Moche Civilization who flourished in Northern Peru between 100 AD and 700 AD. To them, sex was not something to be rated-R, or blurred out on television, or even talked about behind closed doors. Sex was a celebration of joining, of life, and of death. This was exemplified by the various pieces of pottery depicting sexual intercourse, favors, and animal copulation.

The Moches placed an emphasis on the concept of circulation and flow. This is best exemplified by the adjacent piece. The woman’s body has been sculpted with an exaggeratedly large vulva, which allows liquids to both fill the orifice and flow from it. The position of the figure alludes to both childbirth and a sexual act, symbolizing a woman’s ability to act as a vessel to accept the insemination of life and likewise bring life into the world.

Personally I found the imagery and symbolism fascinating and got caught up in a photography blackhole! Tom lost interest quite a while before me, but since the museum had free-wifi, he used the chance to sit in the sun and catch up on emails and social media. Unfortunately we ended up not making it to the Museum of Anthropologie….


We finished off our day at, you guessed it! An artisan coffee shop called Origen Tostadores de Cafe where I enjoyed a Chocolate Affogato pick-me-up. ^_^

Lima: Socio-Economic Disparity

The Barranco district is only 1 out of the 43 districts of Lima. In the 19th century, it was a fashionable beach resort for the Limeño arostocracy who spent many summers here and in the neighboring Chorrillos neighborhood. Today it is considered one of the most bohemian neighborhoods and is the workshop to many artists, designers, and musicians.

The area, along with Miraflores, also happens to be one of the most expensive districts to live in, averaging about 300 soles a month in rent when the average minimum wage earns only earns about 850 soles a month. (We are talking about $100 USD and $280 USD respectively.

My favorite part was walking along the Bajada de los Baños, a walkway that leads to the sea that was naturally formed by erosion via water runoff. It was lined with unique and colorful street murals from a variety of artists that have to submit applications for approval to execute their visions.


We then walked along the cliffs to discuss the economic disparity between districts like Miraflores and Barranco versus the other 41. The mayors invest the taxes to improve the common areas (I.e parks, cleanliness, and safety) and overly improve the atmosphere of the neighborhood, choices that make them such highly prized zip codes. They also pay for the netting along the cliffs to prevent rock falls from injuring the people driving on the highway below; they are the only two cliffside areas that have done this.


After that, we u-turned to walk over the Bajada via the Internet Puente de los Sospiros. As a group we took a breath and tried to hold it while walking across. The superstition is that if you can do this while thinking of a wish, it will come true. I ended up having to run across the bridge twice for a successful attempt! (I forgot to think about a wish on my crossing the first time lol, and ended up doing three in total, because I failed when we did it as a group).

We stuck around to finish our evening at the Ayahuasca Bar where I had a flight of Pisco Sours and Tom had to help me out since Pisco typically has minimum alcohol content of 40%!

Lima: Spanish Colonialism

Casa Aliaga

Apologies for the delay in my posts. Unfortunately the hostel wifi has been down for two days so I find that I am now having to write some more catch-up articles than usual. Alas!

We slept in a bit today then headed back to the Plaza de Armas downtown so that we could catch the interiors of all the buildings that we were only able to walk past a few days ago. (Although some of them required special reservations and therefore we had to forgoe them)

Torre Tagle Palace

Thankfully Tom is more than happy to go along with my efficiently planned walking routes! Part of our exploring involved walking past the Parliament Building, admiring the exteriors of both Casa Aliaga and the Torre Tagle Palace, and wandering through the stalls of the Central Market throughout the day. Frankly I would have loved to visit both Casa Aliaga and the Torre Tagle Palace as the interior decor and detailing is said to be phenomenal but it seems that they can only be visited if you arrange to be in an official tour group which is just not our cup of tea. 

Amid all these random stops we also visited the San Francisco Catacombs (No pictures allowed boo-hoo!) Interesting fact: they mixed eggshells into the mortar they used to bind the bricks together and somehow, despite a multitude of earthquakes, the catacombs have still managed to escape unscathed.

After a very brief lunch break for pizza and and Inca Kola, the only soda that Coca-Cola could not successfully best (at least until a joint venture was established in 1999), we managed to fit in the Archbishop’s Palace, and the Lima Cathedral, the final resting place of Francisco Pizzaro. It still amazes me how much time and investment that the clergy seem to have made in the adornments of the various altars and religious iconography.

We then sat on the steps for a little bit of sun and relaxation before rendezvousing for our afternoon Barranco neighborhood tour.

Lima: Before The Incas

Before the Inca Civilization became so pervasive in the 16th century, with origins dating from the 13th century, a multitude of ancient civilizations preceded it. We explored the history behind a number of these societies with our first stop of the day, Huaca Pullcana.

Huacca Pullcana is a great adobe and clay pyramid in the Miraflores district of Lima. It is built of seven staggered platforms and served as the ceremonial and administrative center of the Lima Culture. The complex, now diminished from its original extents due to urbanized construction and disrespect for the value of history, is surrounded by a plaza with a large structured wall dividing the sections. 

The Lima’s main source of sustenance came from the sea and the land. This is exemplified by excavated deep pits that show evidence of fish and marine life being used as offerings. Young girls between the ages of 15-25 were also used as sacrifices to the gods (thankfully I have already passed the age cut-off). The pyramid provided a location for these offerings, and once space became scarce or a new generation arose, a new terrace was built directly above the former one.

As the layers were built-up over a long period of time, roughly every 15-20 years, the evolution of brick design is easily seen. Interestingly, instead of being stacked horizontally, they were stacked vertically with an air gap between each brick. It is believed that these air gaps were left in order to allow the pyramid to “rock” when an earthquake hit. As a structural engineer I thought that this was pretty cool! The Lima Culture had essentially designed their very own basic, but assumedly effective , earthquake proof building. (Essentially a fixed base with a very flexible structure)

After visiting the archeological site, we returned to our hotel to check out and switch over to a nearby hostel. We then grabbed lunch at La Lucha Sangucheria (Again!) before heading for a stroll along the cliffs to see the beach and visit El Parque de Amor, Love Park. The park is said to have been inspired by Park Guell in Barcelona. It features a sculpture called “El Beso,” which is said to depict the artist, Víctor Delfín, and his wife kissing. 

I tried to get Tom to kiss me in front of the sculpture and selfie it. Unfortunately he refused on the grounds that it was too cliche. :(. Honestly I was happy that I was able to get him to agree to a selfie at all! I blame him for why most photos I post contain no traces of him or even myself. I swear that it is like pulling teeth.

After walking along the cliffs for a few hours, with a stop to watch the paragliders lift off and land high into the sky and one to roam the Larcomer Shopping center (including a pit stop), we returned back to our hostel for a brief reprieve. 

Our feet somewhat rested after an hour or so, we caught the bus to visit the Park of the Reserve and the Magic Water Circuit. The park is the current world record holder for the largest fountain complex in the world and is home to 13 distinct and interactive fountains with ever changing color schemes. 

We arrived just in time to watch the main show at the Fountain of Fantasy which included projections onto the misting water, moving animals and shapes made by 3-dimensional layers, and of course, synchronized streams of water shooting left and right to synchronized music. After that, we visited the other 12 fountains and stopped at a vendor to try some Picarones, a squash and sweet potato donut covered in molasses syrup. 

After a long day, with over 28,0000 FitBit steps, we returned to our hostel to grab dinner, after which Tom promptly passed out while I stayed up to diligently write my blog. 🙂 

 

Lima: Ciudad de los Reyes

Lima is also known as the “City of Kings,” because Francisco Pizzaro, the Spanish conquistador, founded the city in 1535 on the Catholic holiday of Epiphany, the day when the three kings visited the baby Jesus. Pizzaro was also the one who established the location of the Plaza de Los Armas, our next stop. He did this to follow a mandate set by King Charles I of Spain in 1523, Procedures for the creation of cities in the New World. It required that, after outlining a city’s plan, growth was to radiate outward  centered on the square shape of the plaza. 


Our guide then pointed out some key buildings surrounding the square including the Lima Cathedral, Archbishop’s Palace, Municipal Palace, Congress of the Republic, and Presidential Palace. (I’ll write more on these later as I’m hoping to find the opportunity to visit the interior of some of these buildings).

We then strolled through the Peruvian Gastronomy House, visited the interior of the Saint Dominic Church, stopped in Post Office Alley, and paused to view the Rimac River. The tour finished off with a sampling of four different varieties of Pisco, the national drink of Peru. (To be honest this free walking tour was less enjoyable than others that we have taken. The first guide felt cold and stand-offish, and the second kept having to switch between Spanish and English, so I felt that the information and history got lost in his struggle). 

We were able head back to visit the interiors of the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo. And for only 10 soles, I’d say that it was worth it! As usual, Tom got frustrated with my habit of excessive picture taking, but I couldn’t stop myself. I’m entranced by the concept of cloisters, and how an individual can have so much faith that they devote their entire lives to an order; In this case, the Third Order of Saint Dominic

The complex was originally built by Dominican Friars in 1549 but has been rebuilt or remodeled in the time since. It is recognized as the oldest religious site in Lima, and the land was given to Friar Vicente de Valverde, Francisco Pizzaro‘s right-hand man,  the one that Inca Atahualpa’s execution is attributed to. The baroque and Spanish influence of the structure is blatantly obvious from the paintings to the painted ceramic tiles. It is in this church that the remains of three very notable saints were found, San Juan Macías, Santa Rosa de Lima and San Martín de Porres.

After our first day with lots of walking (or training our cubicle feet to evolve into travel feet with 20,000 steps per my FitBit), we were both exhausted and starving. After some debate we settled on visiting La Lucha Sangucheria for dinner which was conveniently just around the corner from our hotel.

They are known for their juicy Chicharron Sandwhiches and man was I a happy panda! The roll was crispy on the outside but soft on the inside and the Chicharon was just the right amount of juicy on top of a bed of sweet potato and topped with lime marinated onions. It was soooo incredibly tasty. (Tom got a shredded chicken sandwich which he really enjoyed as well). We also split a Chicha Morada between us. It’s a traditional Peruvian Drink that is made from Purple Corn.  

After dinner we wandered through nearby Kennedy Park to explore the happenings going on. There was an outdoor flea market, a community dance night, and street artists selling their paintings. Tom and I both purchased caramel stuffed churros for dessert and then returned to our room where he promptly passed out (Who’s the older one now? :P), while I stayed up to finish my blog. 

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