The Culinary Tour Continues – Spotlight on Peru

Peruvian food is simply divine, from ceviche to Peruvian chicken to cuy (guinea pig). Cheap and diverse, there is a reason why you see so many Peruvian restaurants (and consequently not as much Burkina Faso-ian restaurants). We tried to eat it all in our 24 days there, which we unlikely accomplished – but we did consume the following:

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Our fish dish in Peru was a winner right off the bat. Recoto relleno (stuffed pepper) and cheesy-lasanga type potatoes. Alas we didn’t find it again on the trip, which would’ve been extremely sad if not for . . .

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Ceviche! Its unbelievable, but I had never had ceviche before coming to Peru. The $20/plate price tag likely scared me off, in addition to 26 years of seafood-free living. Those were both silly decisions, as I would eat it everyday if I could (and nearly did in Peru). Various fish marinated but not cooked (trout was the best), usually  comes with some tubers, onions, & popped corn. Other countries do ceviche as well, but not like Peru.

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Apparently coca is good for many things other than tea and cocaine. Unfortunately cookies are not one of them.

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Cheese & corn on the cob combo – a satisfying combo snack.

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Cuy, or guinea pig, is a regional specialty. It sounds gross and doesn’t look any less appealing as often cooked whole, but really doesn’t taste bad.

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Llama in burger form – for our 3rd time consuming the animal. Unfortunately this sounded & looked better than it tasted, but I can now say I’ve eaten a llama burger and be honest, rather than the lies I’ve spurted the past 31 years (unbeknownst to many, that was my first complete sentence at the age of two).

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A delightful little plate of chicken necks. I’ll prolly never write that again.

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Some sort of soup – I am not a fan of soup(es), but such sentiments have not been incorporated by Christine, who insists on eating soup at an ungodly rate of approximately once every eight days.

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Every now and then we splurge (more then for me, more now if Christine had her way). These alpaca kabobs broke our daily food budget, but were so worth it. If you’re ever in Cuzco, check out the restaurant Uchu and you will not be disappointed (a rare uncommissioned restaurant recommendation from me)!

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Cheese ice cream –less pure cheese and more like a sweet ricotta or cottage cheese, topped with cinnamon. No less delicious, but its an Arequipa specialty, and we unfortunately did not find it on a regular basis outside the southern Peruvian city (those this was a rare find in Cuzco). Maybe it was for the best, as I’d be pushing 230 right now if we had more regular access.

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Peru has all sorts of grains, potatoes, and corns you’ve never heard of. This lady sells so many types of popped corn that I had to stop counting because it was more than I could do on one hand (my typical limit).

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Case in point – Ponche, a warm drink made of some sort of grain you and I have both never heard of.

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Chicha of a sort, made from purple corn. Also known in some circles as purple drank.

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Did I mention how happy sublimes make me?

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The Culinary Tour Continues – Andean Edition

One thing I’ve noticed everywhere I’ve traveled, is that everyone eats food. It’s kind of crazy, but trust me it’s true. The Andean countries were no exception, as demonstrated below. Peru itself is an exception, in that its cuisine is rather exceptional, and thus deserves a separate upcoming post, fulfilling the Argentina role of the Andean nations.

Bolivia

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Anticuchos or beef hearts. Served with a portion of potatoes, they taste much better than they sound in fact. I think most cows would agree with me. Accompanied with fideos de aji (spicy noodles).

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Meat on a stick. It works in all countries (and makes for the perfect birthday meal!)

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This is where papa rellenos were introduced as a near daily item in our travel diet. Basically fried mashed potatoes stuffed with various items, I’m surprised this hasn’t taken off in America (imagine cheese & turkey bacon papa rellenos?? Apples and brie? Or for a healthy yuppie option, with kale with more kale?)

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Peach pit juice – for those who think the drinks in America just never had enough pits in them.

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Root beer cream(sicle) – heavy on the cream, really heavy on the cream.

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Normally eating up a llama would never cross my mind, but normally llamas do not cross my mind that often. This place served not only grilled to savory perfection llama steaks, but also llama chorizos. Part of a Sunday market eating tour, we were stuffed by the time we found this place at the end of the market, but the option of a whole plate full of variously prepared llama meats for $4 was too tantalizing to pass up (with no regrets – one of best meat dishes of the trip!).

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Deserts are king – chocolate covered strawberries and ubiquitous slices of moist birthday cake abound. The cake in particular became an internal hit, to the point where I began shaking most days around 5pm without it.

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The best afternoons were ones where I accomplished the Trifecta – the consumption of cake, jello, and sublime (a surprisingly delicious chocolate bar) in quick succession. I’d like to say those afternoons were rare, so I will (just know that I am lying). While the feeling of accomplishment immediately post-Trifecta was rewarding, how I felt 20 minutes afterwards is a different story . . .

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Albondigas plate, or meatballs with a bunch of side stuff, including tubers and purple corn. Typical dish, also seen with chorizo.

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Juices, juices, and more juices. Of all kinds, with milk or water. Not pictured here, but I had a peanut with milk one that went over pretty well with myself.

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Salteñas – a take on your typical empanada but with juice inside and a sweeter taste. They will explode hot liquid all over you if you are unaware of their contents, as we learned the hard way (thus going to a place with a plate & utensils for this one). Pretty decent, but prefer the less sweet ones.

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Charky is Bolivian beef jerky made from llama? Served with cheese here, it is delicious but incredibly salty, which is saying something coming from me. We were unable to finish this plate, which normally may be a decent thing as well-preserved as it may be. In this case it was not.

Ecuador

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A fried banana filled with cheese! A snack fit for the gods but made by a human – how could it be so? I am not one to question, so I’ll stop and just order another.

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Street meat is eat(en) meat. A combo platter for $4.

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The reign of papas rellenos continue, with a heavy focus on rice on the inside. These ones even come with an ever-handy spork.

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Shrimp ceviche, or more like shrimp soup. Sounds amazing, but we all know how I feel about soup (apparently me and Malfalda a like). Good attempt by Ecuador, but will take its southern neighbor’s version over it any day of the week (including the odd leap year Tuesday).

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Cheese tortillas! Anything with cheese wins, every time.

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I honestly don’t remember what this was. I was hoping you could tell me.

Colombia

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Papa rellenos for life!

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Completely artificial slushy, as I tried my best in Colombia to recreate the trifecta given less frequent jello sightings, inferior cake, and non-existent sublimes. Try as Colombia might, the deserts just don’t live up, but they do serve as a forceful way to detox back to a normal and healthy level of sugar.

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What Colombia lacks in the desert department, it does make up however in the fried chicken with artificial honey department. Likely just as insalubrious, the combo of fried chicken skin and chemically induced/factory produced honey is a winner in my book of food winners (2015 edition).

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Caldo de pollo, or basically chicken soup. Aghast, Christine is eating a meal with another brown man (while I film)! Notice that is also our last food photo . . . interpret as you will.

The Galapagos!

The Galapagos. Everyone knows about them, even people in Iowa (I assume, I would never go there myself – though might make for an interesting side blog post trip write up). At any rate, when we began our trip our goal was to make it to Macchu Pichu at a very minimum (i.e. meaning that since we started in Chile/Patagonia, a worthy goal of at least three months on the road). Funny thing is, once you get closer and closer to achieving your goals, you begin to reset them to things further and further away. Thus once we brushed past Machu Picchu and the resplendent Sacred Valley in early July, we set our sights on a new venture: (you guessed it!) The Galapagos.

For those who don’t know and have been too lazy to go to Wikipedia thus far, the Galapagos are a collection of islands well off the coast of Ecuador, filled with evolutionary discrepancies. In fact, the islands are often cited as a key instigator behind Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, though as our surly tour guide was frequent to point out, the British scientist actually only spent five total weeks visiting a few of the islands, and got so seasick on his journey to South America that he almost turned back home well before arriving off the Ecuadorian coast. Regardless he taxidermy-ied a slew of random island creatures, brought them back to England, and decades later used them as evidence behind his “theory” of evolution.

In this sense, the anomalies of Galapagos-ian creatures, such as iguanas that swim or a general lack of fear of humans due to millions of years growing up without natural predators, clearly inspired Darwin at some level. I was half expecting my own Darwin-eqsue sort of revelation that would shock the world to its very core, or at least get me labeled as a heretic by some random European churches. Needless to say, that did not quite transpire. So instead of filling up this space with a newfangled but scientifically laking theory about something or other, I’ll instead use the power of photos to show you what is there (much better than listening to me talk about it)!

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Our sea-sick inducing route

We undertook an eight-day cruise focused on some of the more far-flung Western areas of the Galapagos. We also picked the smallest boat we could, with a capacity of 16 passengers, but with only seven on board during our week (note: small boats typically do not undertake such long itineraries, because they are slower and rock more, which equals more sea-sick inducing travel time). The lack of an underwater camera also prevents demonstration of our daily snorkeling ventures, where the water got colder and colder the further west we went, and thus shorter and shorter in duration. But I do have photos (and video) of some of our land forays . . .

Day 1: Arrival & Santa Cruz Island (Bachus beach)

Not too much as we fly in from Quito this day, but did see a sea lion right off the bat. We spent the afternoon on a beach with small preview snippets of what was to come . . .

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Day 2: North Seymour Island & Bartolomé Island (Sullivan Bay)

Day two the action really started, with a sea lion who tried to force his way onto our tour. Blue footed booby sightings abounded, along with puffed up frigates trailing our boat, land-based cactus-loving iguanas, and many an obstructionist sea lions.

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Day 3: Bartolomé Island (James Bay & Buccaneer’s Cover)

Day three got us some pretty scenery and a penguin sighting! We also got up close and personal with a baby sea lion, and finally found some swimming sea iguanas, which promptly blew my mind. I also lot my Local H hat at sea. I assume some penguin is that much cooler for wearing it now.

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mind blown

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Day 4: Isabela Island (Tagus Cover) and Fernandina Island (Espinoza Point)

Day four we hiked up to a point – finally venturing to the interior of an island. The crabs were not impressed.

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Day 5: Isabela Island (Elizabeth Bay & Moreno Point)

On day five, the iguanas took over. This island had it all though, including dueling crabs, sea lions, birds of a sort, and even a beached tortoise. An afternoon visit to a lava field and am venture in the mangroves revealed sting rays, more turtles, flamingoes, and even a reclusive, camera-shy shark.

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Day 6: Isabela Island (Puerto Villamil & Sierra Negra Volcano)

Day six involved a long navigation southeast along Isabela Island, but also a land venture to the even more reclusive and camera shy Sierra Negra volcano (which was completely obscured by clouds during our visit – it was “perfect” the day before, helpful advice from a park ranger).

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There is supposed to be a volcano behind us . . .

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Day 7: Santa Cruz Island (Dragon Hill & Punta Carrion)

The last real day of action involved a turtle breeding center and time in Puerto Ayora, one of the towns in the Galapagos that felt surprisingly like a normal beach town. A morning sunrise hike on Dragon Hill provided picturesque photos, while a seal stole Christine’s spot on a bench.

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Day 8: Santa Cruz Island & Return to Quito

On day eight we returned to the airport after a quick jaunt to the Charles Darwin station and a drive across Santa Cruz island, finally leaving boat life for good. At the airport, I also heeded local advice and specifically did not recycle my teddy bear.

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All in all despite the endless, rocky navigations, the cold water, and the expenses involved in visiting the Galapagos, it was a magical sort of experience to see the islands and get up close & personal with the wildlife. I fully expect the experience to pay dividends in the future as Darwin had a multi-decade gap between his visit and the theory of evolution – so I still have time to formulate my own world-changing thoughts. Get ready, because they are coming soon-ish to a blog near you!

Ruins, Ruins, and More Ruins!

Note: We’ve (or really I’ve) fallen quite behind in the blogging aspect of life recently, but will attempt to make up for it with a veritable modern-day literary blitzkrieg over the next few days. Stay tuned (or if I was you, don’t)!

At the start of this trip, I knew very little of pre-Columbia societies (as they are often referred to). We learn about the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas in grade school, and also occasionally in the news when one of their calendars runs out, thereby inadvertently fulfilling many a doomsday prophecies. That’s about it though, the rest of the lands & history prior to 1492 is a large blank space deemed not worthy of fourth-grade American history textbooks.

Given this limited educational background, we did not expect to see too many ruins outside of the vaunted Machu Picchu. Part of the fun of traveling though, is to finding out what things 4th grade history books teach in other countries (the other part being to avoid the reality of a daily commute to an office-based environment as long as possible). (oh, and the other part is the food – as made clear here and here). (actually, there are probably other parts as well, such as discovering new dinosaurs, but I can’t name them all right now).

Rightly or wrongly, past civilizations are immortalized in the ruins of the structures they build, especially for societies that did not develop a writing system to record their history (even doubly so for those that did not have ability to edit their own Wikipedia pages). Thus we did not focus as much on pre-Columbian societies in the southern cone, simply because there did not exist much of anything to look at (we are that shallow). But by the time we rounded Bolivia and entered Peru, that completely changed. Peru in particular serves as a veritable cradle of civilization on the level of Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, future Mars, and the like – just about every city has ruins in the vicinity that would otherwise be considered legendary if Machu Picchu did not exist, stemming from all sorts of different societies from all sorts of different time periods, extending back thousands of years.

The diversity of structures is staggering, even in societies located just kilometers from each other, ostensibly operating under the same environmental influences and limitations. Such was the case in the northern Peruvian deserts around Trujillo, where the Moches built two large pyramid structures or worship, while the Chan Chan just a few kilometers away (so close its just a 30 minute drive these days) constructed the largest adobe city known to man (or platypuses for that matter as well).

The crazy part is that so much is still being uncovered! Chooquequirao is a five-day treacherous hike that serves as an intrepid-man’s alternative to Machu Picchu – something we considered before wussing out once we heard that it will be a 15-minute cable car ride away within a few years time. The prospect of future discovery is so high that we met an Italian student who specifically came to Peru to pursue his Master’s degree in archaeology, given the high likelihood that he might be able to completely discover or study new aspects of the myriad of ancient civilizations that flourished here. A sort of archaeological wild west prospecting scene, if you will (please do).

Anyways, we were surprised by the abundance and quickly realized we couldn’t visit them all. A few of the more stunning non-Incan ones we were able to hit on the Bolivia to Colombia route, with the majority located in Peru, include:

The Moches

  • These northern Peruvians had such friendly decorated paintings (in addition to two large pyramids) that I’ve already inquired about copyrighting a new “Meet the Moches” sitcom, which will debut on ESPN 14.5 in the year 2023.
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decorated walls of one of the pyramids

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Meet the Moches!

Wari

  • Did you know the Incan Empire only lasted 100 years until the Spanish obliterated it with their Manchego cheese and siesta time? Kind of amazing that so much was built from Middle Chile all the way up to southern Colombia in such short a time span, but clearly the Incans also evolved from the success of others. The Waris were one of those, preceding the Incans in around 1100AD. The Incan Empire drew from Wari knowledge and building techniques, allowing the Wari to enjoy the unfortunate reality of being a mere footnote to the Incans in even the best of history books.
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Wari lands

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Chan Chan

  • These guys loved mud so much that they built an entire city out of it! Just a few kilometers down from the Moches, they Chan Chan are sure to have a recurring cameo in the ‘Meet the Moches’ sitcom.
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The quirky neighbor next door perhaps?

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Titicaca

  • On the highest lake in the world shared between Peru & Bolivia, many a cultures lived. The Incas were everywhere, including there and built some stuff on Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun).

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Huaca Pucllana

  • These people built a pyramid right in downtown Lima! Or rather, other people built a city right around the ruins of the Huaca Pucllana pyramid, dating back1,500 years ago.
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downtown Lima, just as the Haucas predicted it would be

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San Agustin

  • One of the more “fun” civilizations (I keep a detailed ranking list, with the Mongols being both simultaneously at the very bottom and top), these mysterious guys built tons of statues scattered around the verdant hills of southern Colombia in early AD’s and even BC’s. More tomb guardians are still being discovered, although no one really knows what happened to the people who made them – not even this bird man guy would talk.

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Of course, there are plenty of other seemingly amazing sights from hitherto unknown civilizations that we couldn’t visit – such as Ciudad Perida in Colombia and Kuelap in Peru (for some reason Ecuador was left off the non-Inca ruins-building surge found in its neighbors – but hey, that’s why they get the Galapagos). Always something for next time!