April 28, 2012

Peru Recap

From the moment we hit Lake Titicaca, the most noticeable and memorable aspect to the Peruvian landscape has been the Inca terracing that consumes almost every hillside. It is unimaginable to think about how long it would have taken them to accomplish all this.

Its pretty standard for Peruvians to have children in their 20s and get married in their 30s or 40s. Peru has the cutest kids with the biggest brown eyes. They aren’t shy at all…they just run up to us and immediately start playing with our foreign objects.

We thought that Bolivian clothes were colorful, but it’s nothing compared to Peru. They embrace neon.

During the Spanish colonization of Peru, Christian symbols were introduced to educate the indigenous people about the Catholic religion. These new symbols such as Mary, saints, and the crucifix were painted by indigenous people of Peru, and it was this unique mix of European and Andean styles that became known as the Cuzco School of Painting. We have seen and enjoyed these paintings all over Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. The hallmark characteristic of the Cuzco School is the application of gold brocading to simulate embroidered designs on clothing. In person, the gold details just pop off the canvas and it's really beautiful.

Compared to the rest of South America, Peru has tourism down. They have sophisticated tourist offices and maps. When Katie left her bikini at the bottom of the Colca Canyon, they went out of their way to put it in the hands of an Israeli hiker named Bar who promised to escort it all the way to Cuzco. Unfortunately Bar turned out to be a dishonest human being, but at least the tourism office was helpful!

We are ready to get away from all of the people down here who feel entitled to our money. Particularly in Bolivia and Peru, the handicraft vendors are constantly a presence and many times overstep their bounds. They play a sob story and make you feel like you’re a bad person for not wanting to buy a weaved bracelet that was popular in 1992. 

Lately we have really been put off by all of the people who think tourists should pay for absolutely everything...
"You want to use the bathroom? 50 centavos."
“You want to take a picture? 2 soles.”
“You want to pet my llama? 3 soles.”
“You want to walk inside a church? 25 soles.”
I am just waiting for the day when someone says to me, “You want to breathe our air?
1 sole.”

After 3 months in South America, you'd think that we would have tried most of the major foods and that this section would be small. Peru really does have its own culinary identity, and its food was our favorite out of all five countries that we visited.

Alpaca – technically different from the llama that we ate a lot of in Bolivia. We’ve tried alpaca in the form of steak, meatballs, and on pizza.

Cuy – guinea pig. This is a national specialty dating back to pre-Inca times. It took us a long time to find a restaurant where we felt comfortable enough to try it. I don't know if it was the quinoa crust, or the meat itself, but I thought it tasted exactly like a fish stick.

Rocoto – a hot pepper that is stuffed with meat and vegetables…another national specialty. After 2.5 months of no spice in our food, we were sweating after eating this!

Lomo Saltado – beef tips, red peppers, onions, egg and rice on top a bed of french fries.

Aji de Gallina – chicken in a yellow pepper sauce with olive, egg and rice.

Papas – potatoes in all sorts of colors…orange, yellow, green and purple.

Ceviche – a specialty of Lima and basically a heaping pile of sushi bathing in milk and lime juice. We tried a fish called cojinova. It tasted fresh and delicious.

Queso de la Casa "house cheese". Just like a glass of house wine, this stuff is not very good. It's spongy. I've never met a cheese I didn't like, but even I couldn't stomach this stuff.

Zapallo – giant squash. It’s so big that people don’t buy the whole thing. Street vendors only sell chunks at a time.

Chirimoya – a prickly green fruit on the outside that is white with large black seeds on the inside. The white fruit is sweet and good.

Lucuma & Guanabana – two different kinds of fruit that we tried in juice form.

Nabas Saladas – dried and salted fava beans. Yummy snack!

Maize Gigante – giant corn…really giant. It's served on the cob and also dried for a starter at restaurants.

Muna – an herb used in tea or cooking, which supposedly helps with stomach aches.

Machu Tea – we were served this tea after each day on our Inca Trail hike, and it is one of the top South American recipes we will be bringing back with us to the US. Ingredients are black tea, camomile tea, fresh squeezed orange and lemon juices, and sugar. It was thick and oh so yummy. It can also be enjoyed with a splash of rum. We know this because one of the Irish hikers in our group carried an entire bottle of rum on his back to Machu Picchu.

Sublime – our favorite guilty pleasure chocolate bar. Even the Easter Bunny knew what we liked!

Escoceza & Inka Kola – different kinds of soda. Inka Kola outsells Coca-Cola in Peru and tastes like a mix between bubble gum and cream soda. Escoceza is red and consumed in mass quantities in Arequipa.

Chicha Morada – a non-alcoholic drink made from purple corn. It was surprisingly really sweet and tasty. I suppose if you put enough sugar in anything, it would it be tasty.

Chica An alcoholic corn beer that we tried on the Inca Trail. If you're expecting the taste of beer, you're in for a rude awakening.

Pisco Sour – the famous alcoholic drink that is a Peruvian staple. The ingredients are pisco, lime, syrup, egg white and bitters. It tastes like it belongs in the margarita family.

Cusquena – the most popular beer, served in both light and dark form.

Leche de Tigre – “Tiger Milk”. This was served, along with some dried corn, as a pre-meal snack at a very local restaurant that we stumbled upon in Cuzco. It’s served in a shot glass. We asked the waiter what it was, and he said “ceviche”. Hmmm…that’s interesting. We asked him to expand on that. Apparently it’s fish juice, lemon, and pepper. We gave it a little sip and called it quits. It tastes about a horrible as it sounds. The aftertaste was even worse…it just lingered.

Andean Condors – condors play an important role in the folklore and mythology of the Andean region and it was a treat to get to see them so close up and in their natural habitat in the Colca Canyon.

Giant Hummingbirds – we saw these all over Peru. They look too fat for their little wings to hold them up.

-  La Pascana (Chivay)
-  Tumbo Viejo Hostal (Arequipa)
-  Eco Packers (Cuzco)

-  Getting insight into the traditional island cultures of Lake Titicaca
Stumbling upon the Dia de los Ninos (Day of the Children) costume contest in Chivay
The mighty condors of Colca Canyon
Arequipa’s charming plaza and friendly people
Convent Santa Catalina tour in Arequipa
Cuzco’s intertwined Incan and Spanish architecture
-  Hiking through the terraces up to Pisaq's ruins
-  Jumping the Super Mario stairs in various ruins
The Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu
-  Night fountains of Lima

Ever since La Paz in Bolivia, we caught an unlucky streak with the weather. We were in Bolivia and Peru at the tail end of the rainy season, but we’ve heard that this year is running particularly late. We have powered through some hikes in the rain that were fun, but under ordinary conditions would have been spectacular. Rainy season is still rainy season…even if it’s at the tail end. We made an agreement with Mother Nature that we would give up clear weather in the Colca Canyon for clear weather at Machu Picchu. She obliged!

We pretty much can't believe that our time in South America is up. We are so happy that we chose Cuzco and Machu Picchu as our final hurrah.

We have become experts at flushing the toilet with only a bucket of water. This was something that we were scared to even try in Bolivia, but it became a necessity on the remote islands of Lake Titicaca. Who could have imagined the talents we would pick up!

We have spent many hours fine-tuning our foosball and scrabble skills. Spanish Scrabble anyone?

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