Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Photographs of Peru Huacas and Ruins - Peru

Copy and paste the link for photographs of the ancient Pervian ruins. Best viewed as a slideshow to enjoy the captions. https://plus.google.com/photos/118181109521024542820/albums/5947003685599632465?authkey=CLXkr5m_3dSdfQ

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Museum of the Royal Tomb of Sipan. (Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipan), Peru

The final stop on our pursuit of the ancient history of Peru is not ruins but a museum, the Royal Tombs of Sipan to be exact. Designed by architect Celso Prado, the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan was inaugurated in 2002 and is considered to be one of the most sophisticated in Latin America. The museum itself resembles a truncated pyramid made up of five prisms with replicas of the Royal emblems of the Lord of Sipan embedded along the roof line. The red and yellow colors which decorate the building are similar to the ochre colors the Mochicas used in their artwork. The purpose of the museum’s architectural design was to mirror the Mochica huacas (temples) and in addition to being a fully functional museum, it also serves as a mausoleum for the Lord of Sipan and his companions. It represents possibly one of the most important archaeological findings of recent times. The artifacts and mummies in the museum are from the wealthiest rulers of the Mochica culture including the Lord of Sipan, the old lord of Sipan and priests as well as many of their servants and guards. Everything in here came from the Huaca Rajada ruins, also known simply as Sipan, which consisted of two small adobe pyramids plus a low platform. The platform and one of the pyramids were built before 300 AD by the Moche; the second pyramid was built about 700 AD. The discovery of the site was a fluke really, a falling out among thieves and reads like something from Raiders of the Lost Ark. In early 1987, looters digging at the ruins found tombs with many objects made of gold. A fairly violent disagreement among the robbers prompted the find to be reported to the local police. After the police raided the site and arrested the looters, they recovered a number of items and the area was sealed for further excavation. Enter Indiana Jones in the guise of archaeologist Walter Alva who directed the dig with the help of the Peruvian government and given the enormity of the work, hundreds of willing hands. The reason the site is considered to be one of the most important archaeological finds in the last 30 years is mainly because many of the tombs including the main tomb of “the Lord of Sipan” were found intact and undisturbed by the thieves. The modern and majestic museum is a full dramatization of the life of the lord and his royal court. All the exhibits are original pieces and each has been carefully cleaned and restored to the minutest detail. The tomb of this demagogue, considered to be the most important governor of ancient Peru some 1700 years ago, is elaborately reconstructed. This “Lord of Sipan” was 5’4” tall and died of an undetermined illness at 35-45 years of age, which was considered to be within the average life expectancy of the Moche population. He was buried in a wooden coffin with full regalia, including pectoral shields made of shell, bone and stone, several blankets adorned with ornate, gilded, copper platelets, two necklaces of very fine metalwork, feather ornaments, headdresses and three sets of earrings inlaid with turquoise amongst other finery. Most of the ornaments and jewelry were made of gold, silver, copper and semi-precious stones. Also discovered were hundreds of small clay pots with individual faces, understood to be offerings made by the lord's subjects. Buried with him were six other people: three young women, possibly wives or concubines, dressed in ceremonial clothes, two males (probably warriors), and a child of about nine or ten years of age. The remains of a third male (also possibly a warrior) were found on the roof of the burial chamber sitting in a niche overlooking the chamber. These warriors had amputated feet, as if to prevent them from leaving the tomb. In 1988, a second tomb was found and excavated near that of the Lord of Sipán. Artifacts in this second tomb are believed to be related to religion: a cup or bowl for the sacrifices, a metal crown adorned with an owl with its wings extended, and other items associated with worship of the moon. Alva concluded that the individual buried in this tomb was probably a Moche priest. Carbon dating established that the mummy in this second tomb was a contemporary of the Lord of Sipan. The third tomb found at Huaca Rajada was slightly older than the first two, but ornaments and other items found in the tomb indicated that the person buried there was of the same high rank as the first Lord of Sipán mummy. DNA analysis of the remains in this third tomb established that the individual buried was related to the Lord of Sipán via the maternal line. As a result, the archeologists named this third mummy The Old Lord of Sipán. This third tomb also contained the remains of two other people: a young woman, a likely sacrifice to accompany him to the next life; and a man with amputated feet, possibly sacrificed to be the Old Lord's guardian in the afterlife. In all, fourteen tombs have been found at Sipán. The quality and quantity of the artifacts found is amazing and as we wander from the first and most recent level, down into the pyramid and to the tombs we find ourselves simply submerged in the story that is woven throughout. With soft Peruvian music which relies heavily on the pan flute and cymbals hauntingly played, it is easy to feel the centuries being stripped away and we feel we are living “history”. We whisper as though we are nervous at disturbing the dead who lay here, we are in awe of the treasures that have been discovered and we are humbled that a culture dating back over 1700 years achieved so much. The experience far surpasses any of our previous and enjoyable visits to museums dedicated to various ruins and leaves us with a surreal sense of reality when we exit the museum and emerge into the brilliant sunlight. We have spent a little more than three hours inside this wondrous tomb and it was worthy of every second. Winston, of course, feels distinctly left out and under the watchful eye of the numerous guards patrolling the complex; we let him run on the grass to let off some steam. It is time to head north to find a place for the night but we just can’t stop talking about this totally “cool” museum.

Friday, December 27, 2013

El Brujo Archaeological Complex. Peru

Leaving Huanchaco, our drive today is only 45 mile (70 km) up the coast to a group of ruins collectively called the El Brujo Archaeological Complex which consists of three temples – Huaca Prieta, Huaca El Brujo and Huaca Cao Viejo, with Huaca Cao Viejo being the best preserved. We arrived at the complex late; due to the fact we left Huanchaco late. So, bypassing Huaca Cao where the visitor’s center is now closed, we drove towards the beach and the other huacas, mainly looking for a level area to park overnight. After driving the entire complex, we settled on a spot right on the ocean, in the shadow of Huaca El Brujo. It was quiet for the night and thanks to the total lack of electricity and a clear night, the stars were amazing. The next morning, our first stop is at El Brujo. The guided dirt path takes us up a hill and since there were no signs, we allowed Winston to come along but on leash. At the top of the path, we can see where the archaeologists have cut into the temple to display the adobe brick work of the Moche. No other excavation work has been done at this site, so after taking a few photos, we head to Huaca Prieta. Before the Spanish, before the Inca, before the Chimu and even before the Moche, there was the Prieta Culture. The prehistoric settlement was occupied from between 3100 to 1800 BC. From what archaeologists have studied, there is quite a lot now known about the Prieta people. They are accredited to being the first of the Peruvian agriculturists and in addition to fishing were responsible for the early domesticated cultivation of chili peppers and maize. From soil analysis this culture probably lived in semi-subterranean houses made with stone and clay and covered with whale bones. Unfortunately, it is infinitely more interesting to read about than to see, as due to exposure to erosion, there is nothing remaining but a large mound of stones and ash with nothing left to be restored. The views from the top of the mound though of the surrounding area make the climb worthwhile. The last huaca Cao Viejo, like El Brujo is a temple from the Moche period who reigned up until the Chimu conquered them in the seventh century AD. Looking at the huacas it is hard to imagine a once grand city. It is a challenge that greets any visitor to an archaeological site, but at the El Brujo complex, it’s even more complicated. The Prieta and Moche built their pyramids with adobe bricks, and because of erosion, particularly during El Niño years, the buildings simply washed away. Today, they look more like half-washed-away sandcastles or dirt mounds rather than the towering palaces they once were. Although the ruins don’t look like much on the outside through careful excavation and ongoing preservation work, they have found some remarkable artifacts and uncovered some amazing friezes on many of the interior walls. Due to the objects found, these temples are believed to have been primarily ceremonial burial centers rather than populated towns. However, as the top layers of the pyramids washed down onto the lower levels, they sealed them in, protecting them from the elements. This proved irresistible to grave-robbers and the Spanish colonists who founded a settlement nearby with the main goal of extracting as much of the Moche gold as possible out of Huaca El Brujo and Huaca Cao Viejo. They left huge gashes in both buildings, but fortunately they also left a lot of undiscovered riches behind. The temple wall on Cao Viejo which rises up five stories above the main ceremonial plaza is where human sacrifices were performed in front of onlookers, gladiator style. 1700-year old murals, still plainly visible, are carved into the tiers in the form of a narrative. On one tier, warriors march in a row. On another, a Moche warrior is shown leading ten naked prisoners bound together by a rope around their neck. And yet another portrays the captured soldiers being led to where their blood would be offered to the gods. In addition to the images of sacrifice, other painted and carved murals have been uncovered including mythical creatures, sailing scenes and animals. The greatest discovery at the site, however, was made by an archaeological team in 2006. In a tomb high up the side of the pyramid, researchers investigating an elaborately-painted burial chamber found the mummified remains of a fourth-century Moche ruler. What surprised the researchers was that the remains belonged to a woman. 1500 years before South America had its first female president, the Dama de Cao (or Señora de Cao) ruled from this pyramid. Over the last few years, her story has spread far and wide: a replica of her mummy has toured the world, and National Geographic ran a widely-publicized documentary about her. Yet the Dama de Cao’s resting place is a small museum located at the base of the pyramid. This museum with many of the priceless artifacts found at the sites and the burial chamber where the mummy is displayed along with the numerous objects found with it, is well worth the time spent visiting here. The artifacts are displayed in a linear date manner, with the earliest objects from Prieta shown first and then the later ones, most in perfect condition and makes understanding the advancement of the cultures easy to follow. And the final room, the burial chamber of the Dama de Cao, is far from ghoulish even though her skeleton body is the first thing you see. Very thoughtful and well laid out; the museum definitely captures the imagination. As we leave the ruins, there is a nice breeze from the ocean, but the sun is strong and after walking Winston, we continue our drive. Our goal is to get to Chiclayo which is further up the coast. We have one more set of ruins to visit before finding a surf beach to hang out for a few days.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Huaca de la Luna y de la Sol, Peru

Our final visit to the ruins around Trujillo is to the temple Huaca de la Luna. There are actually two temples set perhaps a quarter mile (500 meters) apart with remnants of a village in between and the site is collectively called Huaca de la Sol y la Luna. But right now there is major excavations going on at Huaca de Sol and in the village so visiting is restricted to the Temple of the Moon. Herve, our now regular driver, picked us up at 10am and drove us first to the ticket booth where a new museum is now built and open to visitors. The museum holds all the artifacts that have been found in the area and because work is still ongoing it gets added to almost daily. As it is there are lots of ceremonial and everyday objects that has already been assembled and very well displayed and labeled. The quality and quantity of the artifacts is quite amazing. This area was where the Mochica culture lived and thrived between 100BC and 650AD, when they were conquered by the Chimu who later built Chan Chan and their own huacas. The Moche abundantly created pottery, textiles and metalwork and thanks to being covered by sand, most of the artifacts are intact and amazingly well preserved. We spent over an hour wandering around the museum, completely in awe of the intricate work that these ancient artisans had made. From there Herve drove us to the temple where we met our guide. Unfortunately, at this time all tours are guided and there were about a dozen people in our group. Although the actual tour is in Spanish, our guide spoke English and readily translated for us the parts we did not understand. The temple is in actuality a massive tomb erected over six centuries. Every 100 years (a generation) one layer was filled in and then another layer added on top, rather like an inverse pyramid whereby the smallest layer is on the bottom. As archaeologists and hundreds of workers peeled away the layers and brushed away the sand and debris, they have slowly uncovered elaborate friezes of stylized figures throughout all the levels with only very slight variations in the pattern and color. Each layer is also riddled with rooms and niches where the dead were buried with their worldly goods and it is from these graves that most of the artifacts in the museum were found. The Moche were also quite sacrificial and in addition to animals there is evidence of prisoners being killed and buried as well. Unfortunately as more is excavated, damage inflicted by later conquerors, the Chimu, the Inca and finally the Spanish is uncovered. Our guide pointed out a wall broken and crushed which they say was done by the Spanish Conquistadors and there are some obvious signs, at least to archaeologists, of mass looting. Like Chan Chan, just the sheer size of the huaca is worth the visit but because of the quality of the preserved site, the friezes are much easier to discern than those at Chan Chan and with the colors used, much more dramatic also. The time and money being spent on excavating this area if continued and if the quality of the preservation remains as high as we saw, this site could one day rival Machu Picchu in its architectural quality and value. As at Huaca Arco Iris, there are some souvenir stands which sell pottery made with the same method as the Moche and using molds found at the site. We bought a couple of pieces for ourselves and a piece for Herve, who has been so informative and kind to us over the last few days. We enjoyed this huaca very much and give it 2 thumbs up. Herve also liked his pottery that we got for him.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Trujillo Photographs, Peru

Copy and paste the link to view photographs. Best enjoyed as a slideshow to read the story in captions. https://plus.google.com/photos/118181109521024542820/albums/5945000354218445441

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Trujillo and the Plaza de Armas, Trujillo, Peru

It is Sunday so we take a break from visiting the ruins to go into Trujillo for church. Founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1534, Trujillo was named after his birthplace in Spain. Fed by the Moche River, the fertile fruit and vegetable valley surrounding the town made the city one of the richest of the early Spanish conquests. And that became the Spaniards downfall! The people who lived here did not have to worry about life’s essentials, they were rich. So with life’s basic needs taken care of, they thought and plotted and planned. Trujillo became known as the revolutionary center of Peru and in 1820 became the first Peruvian city to declare its independence from Spanish. The people who came and settled in Trujillo were the independents: writers and poets, including Peru’s most popular Cesar Vallejo; revolutionaries and rebels flourished and the Peoples Workers Party was formed. These original members were later massacred but that did not daunt the people and many others in search of something better, something different moved to the area. At the spacious Plaza de Armas, the polished gleam of the stones was glistening when we arrived early on Sunday morning. This is the main square where the proclamation of the independence of Trujillo took place on December 29, 1820 and today it still looks shiny and new. Trujillo is the personification of old colonial glamour. The flamboyantly, colorful and wrought iron adorned buildings are grandiosely showcased around the gorgeous main plaza. This colorful assembly of old colonial buildings is a feast for the eyes. The brilliant blue with white detail of the Casa de Urquiaga which now is the Central Reserve Bank, the elegant burnt orange mansion that is the Hotel Libertador and the mustard-yellow cathedral and basilica all engage the eye. Interspersed with these large buildings are smaller ones, in an array of colors, all vying for attention. And if that was not enough, in the center of the plaza is the impressive Freedom Statue. Made from granite, marble and copper in Germany by sculptor Edmund Moeller and installed in the plaza in 1929, it is quite amazing. Consisting of three statues on a base, a man bent and cowering, a man with his arms back and then one with his arm raised, making a fist which clearly represents oppression, the struggle for freedom and finally liberation, it is topped by a heralding angel, this statue can definitely be defined as “a work of art”. But it is 9am and every Sunday at this time is the Flag-Raising Ceremony. Three flags, Peru National Flag, the flag from the state of La Libertidad and the city’s flag are raised with much pomp and circumstance. Most of the crowd is Peruvian with only a smattering of tourists and, just like we have experienced elsewhere in South America, patriotism is strong. Everyone sings and knows the words to not only the national anthem but also the State’s anthem. Following the raising of the flags, there is a parade of first military, then police and finally local schools and colleges. The military band plays stirring marching music and the crowds clap and sing the obvious well known favorites. Just like in the States we hear many people complain about the government or services or politicians, but unlike the States, these people revere their military and police and place the honor of these service members in high esteem. It is then time for mass at the cathedral, formally known as the Catedral Basilica Menor of Santa Marta. First built in 1647, the cathedral was the first place in 1662 that the Catholic Church officially supported the Independence Movement. Destroyed by an earthquake, it was rebuilt in 1781 with an architectural style that can only be described as romantic Baroque. Painted a pretty mustard-yellow, it has fleur-de-lis and religious embellishments in a rich cream color and with its smooth plaster finish and slightly rounded corners, it looks slightly Mediterranean. The Cathedral was made a National Historic Monument on August 2nd 1960. Not the largest cathedral we have been in, it is beautiful inside. The segmented ceiling is painted with religious scenes very reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel culminating in a glorious cupola over the altar. This main altar was carved by the Colombian sculptor Gustavo Ignacio Cortes and is free standing so we can walk around and view it from all sides. There is also an image of La Virgen de La Paz thought to have been brought by the first Spanish immigrants, which usually is in one of the side chapels but is brought to the left side of the altar for mass. Many people revere the Virgin and both before and after mass you can see people going up and kneeling in prayer in front of her, gently touching the folds of her dress or placing a flower beside her. I love churches! Mass was simple with only a priest, by himself, no help. One person who sang – beautifully I may add, and a large congregation. After mass although it is only 11am, we are hungry and our destination is Mar Picante, touted in Lonely Planet as the place to eat. They were right. The restaurant is off the tourist track, a short cab ride from the plaza and well worth the trip. Tom had excellent mixed seafood ceviche and I ordered the Cabrito Criolle (Goat with curry type spices over rice). Tom’s plate was laden with seafood, fish, crab, scallops, squid and more and my goat over rice – both dishes was outstanding. Goat, by the way, if it is cooked correctly which is slowly and preferably simmering in a sauce so it doesn’t dry out is delicious! It was then a cab ride home to a pouting Winston who was cheered up by a sampling of my goat that we bought for him and a long walk on the beach from Tom. We chalked today up as being another one of those special days when we participated in a country’s customs, acknowledge the individuality and embrace the patriotism of the country we are visiting. Peru!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Chan Chan, Peru

After the two huacas, it was time to explore Chan Chan. Chan Chan, meaning Sun-Sun is a Pre-Colombian city constructed by the Chimor from the Chimu culture. The adobe city which is the largest of its kind in the world was built around AD 850 and was the center of the Chimu Empire until its conquest by the Inca Empire in AD 1470. It was the imperial capital for the Chimu where it is reckoned around 100,000 people lived. This site was discovered by conquistador Francisco Pizarro and was originally placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1986 because of the precarious state of conservation of the earthen architecture and its vulnerability to the extreme climatic events caused by El Niño phenomenon that affects the northern coast of Peru. Since then the Peruvian government has taken extensive measures to protect, improve and conserve the site. The triangular city surrounded by walls 60 feet high, has ten individually walled citadels or palaces, clearly delineated by high thick earthen walls which form the independent units. Within these units buildings including temples, residences and storehouses are arranged around open spaces including their own reservoirs, and funeral platforms. The wealthiest lived closest to the center while most of the population lived outside and may not have been able to enter the core of the city. The visitor’s entrance is at the Tschudi Complex also now called the “Palacio Nik-An which was one of the later built of the ten palaces. Entering into the massive Ceremonial Courtyard is like stepping back through time. The courtyard is adorned along its four walls with bas-relief imagery. This is our first and it turned out only glimpse that this is a tourist facility. There is a small throne set up with props and a man dressed as a Chinu warrior. For a fee, you can dress up, sit on the bench and with the warrior posing with you, take photos. Well, we are tourists so guess what, I did it. The warrior, who spoke great English, had lived in LA and actually was a licensed plumbing contractor! dressed me up with a breast plate, arm amulets and a couple of different crowns and posed with me while Tom took photos. Tom then stood with him, while I took one of the two of them. Definitely kitschy but what the heck. Leaving the courtyard, the numerous walls throughout the city which served to block wind and absorb sunlight create a labyrinth of passages and alleys. Walking through the adobe city is transcendence in time as the life and beliefs of the Chimu is displayed for all to see. Its great walls displaying the devotion to the ocean and mythological beliefs are prominent throughout. Unlike the Inca who worshipped the sun, the Chimu worshipped the moon. While the sun fuelled the harsh desert-like environment they worked so hard to cultivate and make fertile, the Chimu knew there was a relationship between the moon and the sea – the provider of life. For this reason there were offerings to the moon. Most often these were fruit, chicha, animals and birds but at times the Chimu also offered their children in hopes they would also become a god. This close relationship to the sea can be found through the graphic storytelling on its walls. The adobe bricks are covered with a smooth surface and then decorated with friezes with intricate designs. Depicted in bas-relief are shapes of waves and aquatic life with otters, whales, sea lions, pelicans, numerous fish and shellfish. The sea itself, called Ni, was the center of all life for the Chimu as they depended on it for food. In Chimu life the whale and the otter were both sacred animals and the sea lion also played a special role as they believed the animal would accompany the dead as they passed on to the afterlife. The 12,000 artists that decorated all of the walls lived in a group of structures that were smaller than the nobles but more complex than the huts commoners lived in. We saw their huge walk-in well which is now a small lake with quite a large duck contingent and the mausoleum where the king was buried along with his wives, concubines, servants and other worldly possessions. Yes, the king was dead but the others were alive when they followed him into the afterlife. Walking back to the main courtyard and entrance, we are both astounded at the sheer size of this citadel – the capital city of the Chimu Empire. When we stopped to consider that this is only one of ten palaces that were constructed, it just takes your breath away. It is huge. And decaying, unfortunately. Unlike the Inca, who came later and used stone for their citadels, these earlier cultures relied on adobe clay bricks. Throughout the site, huge canvas covers are erected in an attempt to protect the fragile adobe from further erosion. The extended vision for Chan Chan is that it maintains its status as a cultural symbol for Peru that links the past to the present. The continued conservation and development of the archaeological site will contribute to its value and to the strengthening of Peruvian cultural identity. If only they can figure out a way to stop the darned erosion.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Huaca Del Arco Iris (Huaca Del Dragon) and Huaca Esmeralda, Peru

Since we are staying in Huanchaco for a week or so, we have decided to take in the ruins around here and Trujillo, and there are a few. We do not want to drive the motorhome around so after talking with Edwin at the hostel, he suggested hiring a car and driver who will wait for us at each site. The main reason for this is that there are confirmed reports, and plenty of them, of tourists, especially those not in groups, getting mugged and robbed at these less visited archeological ruins. But hey, you only live once! Our first stop is the museum where we purchase our ticket which is good for four sites. The museum is small but gives a great overview of the Moche and Chimu cultures. The Moche evolved from 100 – 800 AD and the Chimu Empire reigned until it was conquered by the Inca in the late 1400’s. From there, Herve, our driver and now friend and confidant took us to Huaca Del Arco Iris. Huaca means temple so Huaca Del Arco Iris translates to the Temple of the Rainbow. Also known to the locals as Huaca Del Dragon, Huaca del Arco Iris dates from the 12 century and because it was buried in sand until its discovery in the 1960’s, it is one of the best preserved of the Chimu temples. The temple is guarded by both the police and the Dept. of Cultura and Herve takes us from the car to the compound and makes sure we are inside. Upon entering the huaca, a ramp leads to the first level. Figures carved on the walls take the form of a dragon (hence its name). Another ramp smaller than the first, leads to the second level. This level has pits which were possibly used to store food. The walls are slightly pyramidal and covered with repeated rainbow designs. One entire wall has been excavated to reveal stunning multiple carvings of rainbows, dragons, and what some archaeologists believe are male and female symbols of fertility. It is also thought that this may have been a fertility temple because in many ancient cultures, the rainbow represents rain considered to be the bringer of life. The detail and design of these drawings in the adobe mud is phenomenal and highly visible, although erosion through wind, sun and rain is an ongoing problem. There is a tiny souvenir store which makes pottery from molds that were actually found at the site. We bought a beautiful plate decorated in the Moche style. We also noticed that the guards would not let anyone out of the compound until either their taxi driver or in our case Herve came to get us. At no time did we see tourists allowed to walk out unescorted, further proof that they are taking these attacks seriously. The next stop is Huaca Esmeralda. Located in the Esmeralda suburb, the actual original name is not known and Esmeralda simply comes from the farm that occupied this area. In fact, it was the local landowner who actually discovered the site in 1923 when he accidently uncovered the ruins which were buried in sand. With little archaeological study done at this site, much of the information is simply estimated based on its proximity to Chan Chan. Occupying an area of approximately 2,600 square meters, the adobe temple is thought to have been constructed during the early development and building of Chan Chan. It is also thought that originally it could have been a separate palace for a great Chimú lord of the Mansiche area. The temple is made up of two platforms and like Chan Chan; its walls are adorned with sea life and geometric figures (diamonds) all in bas relief. There is a fairly steep ramp that connects the two levels. The first one located near the entrance, was built last and its decoration consists of fish caught in fishing nets. Behind it, the second platform and the oldest has similar decoration to Tschudi Palace in Chan Chan with designs fish, sea birds, waves and nets. Due to erosion from the elements, this temple is not in as good shape as Arco Iris nor is it as well preserved and it is a little more difficult to make out some of the patterns. However, both of these small temples was worth visiting as it really gives a sense of the vast scope of the Chimu culture and helps piece together the extent of the amazing citadel at Chan Chan and the massive Chimu Empire.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Huanchaco, Peru

Huanchaco’s most defining point is the boats that symbolize this area of Peru. Local fishermen and surfers still use the same narrow reed boats, called cabillotos de tortura (little horses from reed) that the Moche used 2,000 years ago. The fisherman straddle the canoe so their legs dangle over each side, just like sitting on a horse (hence the name) and paddle, kayak-style. These fishermen are the only remaining people on the coast who construct and use this type of boat which are long and narrow with a large curved bow rising out the water. The boats themselves only last a few months because they get water-logged, so I figure they get plenty of practice in making them. Walking along the gray sand beach we see rows of the totura reed boats lined up against the sea wall, drying in the sun. Huanchaco is also a great surf spot. Over the days as we walk Winston along the beach, by late afternoon there are many surfers in the water taking advantage of the breaks from the pier. From now through the summer months of November, December and January, we are told the waves just get better and better leading up to the championships. Huanchaco’s other claim to fame is that in 2010, the Long board World Championships are held here in January, attracting many of the world’s leading surfers. Winston loves the long walks and playing in the waves but is not sure about our hostel camping spot. As I mentioned in my last blog, Edwin has a couple of giant tortoises roaming his property. Winston has never seen a tortoise before and is very unsure of what to make of them. He barks, but they ignore him. He gets as close as he dares and barks. They hunker down and put their head inside their shell. Winston gets closer and closer and sniffs them. Out pops their head and they raise up on their legs. Winston freaks out and runs away, turns and barks and the whole scenario gets replayed! Very, very funny to watch. He is also more than a little nervous about the peacocks, which are quite large and are also not scared of him. He just can’t understand why these animals don’t run away so he can chase them. Even the cat stands it ground and hisses at him! Very perplexing to the Beagle brain. We have chatted with Edwin about the ruins that are around here and Trujillo and have come up with a plan for exploration. We also want to go into the city of Trujillo and explore a little but will probably wait until Sunday and go to mass at the cathedral at the same time. All in all, Huanchaco is an interesting beach town with plenty to keep us busy whilst we are here. And if we get bored, we can watch the resident animals harass Winston!

Friday, December 13, 2013

From Lima to Huanchaco via Tortugas, Peru

Yeah, Tom’s passport arrived a week earlier than expected so we are ready to move northwards. The northern coast of Peru is supposed to have some of the best surfing around and quite a few World Heritage pre-Inca ruins. On the way out of Lima we want to stop and have our deep cell battery checked and possibly replaced. This battery runs RV electrical and Tom has not been happy with the way it is charging for quite a while. Even with our Garmin, we managed to get lost and as a result when we get there, the place is closed for lunch. When the manager returned after lunch, they tested our battery and sure enough, we do need a new one. It is now 3 o’clock and we debate whether to return to the hostel for the night but decide to try and at least get to the northern limit of Lima. We got a little further than that but not much and our first night was spent at a 24 hour gas station parking lot. It was okay for the night but we were up early the next day and decided that we would stop for the day and night at the first nice looking beach we came to. The little beach town of Tortugas fit the bill nicely. This is a very quiet village, maybe gets busy in the summer judging by all the restaurants that line the beach but right now most are closed for the season and the few that were open, closed early. We had the beach to ourselves for most of the day and got some nice walks in with Winston who has shown that he hasn’t lost his love for the ocean. He ran in and out and frolicked like a puppy. Our second day out of Lima was the longest drive day in a while as we want to get to Huanchaca. The Pan Americana highway is winding with continuous climbs into the Cordillera Blanca (this portion of the Andes) and then steep drops back to sea level. It is also what we started to call “the bread basket of Peru”. We passed by fields upon fields of potatoes, rice, broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus. – and those are just the ones we recognized. There were acres of sugar cane, that we later learned is fed to dairy cattle to make the milk sweeter and flowers, daisies are in bloom and plenty of others were budding. Spring is approaching here and everything looks and smells wonderful. Until we get close to Chimbote and then things turn “fishy”. Chimbote is Peru’s largest fishing port and with fish processing plants both before and after town you can smell it long before coming to it. Unfortunately we could not find a place to buy fish as it seems that it is all commercial facilities. Leaving “fishy” Chimbote behind, we are back in agricultural country again with ever larger fields producing a myriad of crops. It is getting late and we really want to be settled by nightfall which comes around 6pm in these parts, so we bypass the pretty city of Trujillo for the final couple of mile to Huanchaco. We will be in Huanchaco a few days so we will come back and sightsee in Trujillo at some point. Our destination is the Huanchaco Gardens, owned by Edwin; this is another hostel with a garden area large enough for several motorhomes. When we pulled in we knew it was going to work great for our stay there. The parking area for RV’s is by a nice pool, although it is still a little too chilly to swim and some great grassy areas for Winston to roll around. We do have to keep Winston on his long tether though because Edwin has a pair of peacocks sauntering around and a pair of quite large tortoises which roam free. But, we have electricity, Wi-Fi and a private room in the hostel for hot showers. This will be a good base to explore Huanchaco, Trujillo and several Moche and Chimu ruins which are very close by. We are only a short walk from a beach which has great waves breaking and Tom considers that one of the days he may rent a wetsuit and go body-boarding. So much to do, in a short period of time, but what fun.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Restaurant Astrid y Gaston and Restaurant Central, Lima, Peru

During our time in Peru, the diversity of cuisine has been astounding and the quality of restaurants exceptional; not too leave out value which leaves most tourists feeling as though they could eat out here all the time and it wouldn’t break the bank. Lima boasts of two restaurants that are on the 50 best-restaurants-in-the-world list, both are listed as serving “Novoandina” cuisine and both are in the Miraflores neighborhood. Astrid y Gaston had been on the list for 10 years and is ranked 14th and this year Restaurant Central made it on in the 50th position. So, naturally our stopover in Lima demanded that we try both of them out. As soon as Tom had made his appointment with the consulate, we were calling for reservations and as we had been warned, they are difficult to get. Central was 8 days out on their reservations and Astrid y Gaston a whopping 15 days but since we are going to be here, it is ok and we cheerfully put our name on their lists. Anyone traveling to Lima, who still wants to go after reading this, should make reservations as soon as they have their travel dates. First up is Restaurant Central. We had made reservations for 8pm and arrived a little late due to the fact our cab driver got lost! The hostess however was very polite and understanding and we were quickly shown to our table on the second level. The place is very modern, classic in design, neutral colors and well decorated with an interesting touch; Tom loved it but I found it to be just a little sterile, too austere and felt it needed a little warmth. But that is the only complaint of the evening. The owner, Virgilio Martinez’s years in leading kitchens has led to Japanese, Vietnamese, French and Italian cuisine and methods permeating the menu. But the outcome is vividly Peruvian. For starters, we ordered the Lines of Scallops and Seared Foie Gras and for our entrees, Tom ordered Singha Sea Bass and for me the Suckling Goat. Going over the extensive wine list could have been time consuming if not for their excellent sommelier. Once he knew the price range we were comfortable with, he suggested a mid range wine that was very good. The waiter was attentive but unobtrusive. He knew we wanted to share the starters and served them accordingly. Our table was thoroughly cleaned between courses of dishes, cutlery and any errant crumb or speck of food. The wine was poured at a measured and suitable rate that our glasses were never empty but the bottle lasted throughout the entire meal. Unfortunately we were too full for dessert and settled simply for espressos. At the higher end pricewise by Peruvian standards at just a little over $200.00 but we were not complaining. This restaurant is fabulous and we loved it. We would definitely go there again and recommend it to others. Two thumbs up. Next was Astrid y Gaston and again our reservations were for 8pm. This time, our taxi driver did not get lost and we were on time. We are once again in the upstairs room but unlike Central, there is nothing austere about this one. All the walls are lined floor to ceiling with built in wine racks displaying wine from all parts of the world. They obviously must have a true cellar for keeping more vintage wine at the correct temperature but we saw many waiters come and go throughout the evening pulling out various bottles. The tables were far enough apart to be private and we both loved the décor. That unfortunately, was the high point of the evening. Gastón Acurio has a fine-dining empire that now stretches from Madrid to New York, but this Miraflores original remains his signature eatery, epitomizing not just his Peruvian- Mediterranean style but also his own character. Astrid, by the way is his wife. After being seated our waiter brought the menus over and went into a complete lengthy and poetic presentation of their "El Viaje" tasting menu. First, this menu is around 24, yes that is right, 24 different courses but first of all, we were not THAT hungry and second those tasting menus always have items on them that I either don’t care for or don’t like. After rejecting him on that menu, he left us to our own devices. No explanations, no discourse, nada. When he decided to come back, we had already made up our minds about what to order. For appetizers, we decided on the Cuy Pekines (Guinea Pig, Chinese style) and the Tres Ceviche and entrees were going to be Pez de Altura (a combination fish/shellfish dish) and for me their baby goats dish (cabrito lechal). I know, I know but done right, baby goat is really delicious. We were also left to our devices to muddle through the extensive wine list, no offer for sommelier help. Our waiter brought the bread, an amazing basket of assorted bread and accompanying spreads but the explanation of them was so rapid that we missed most of it and then before we could ask, he was gone, again. And then came the biggest “faux pas” for me, only to be repeated through each course. Our table was not cleaned! Yes, the dishes were removed but we were left our entire meal with crumbs from bread, a spot of spread that had gotten spilled on the table. Now, even in lesser restaurants, waiters come around with those knife thingies that sweep up crumbs and what have you off the table. It bugged me. I also had to remind our waiter more than once to refill our wine glasses. We did order desserts and coffee. And I will say, if you come here order the chocolate volcano dessert. Delectably, decadently delicious. It was also the most expensive meal to date – just under $300.00. The food was very good but not outstanding, the restaurant is lovely but the dining experience was neither. Each dish (including the bread) was expertly prepared and plated but I would not exactly call it a fine dining experience. I have rarely been to a more pretentious restaurant. Take the Peking guinea pig for example as described on the menu: “Tired of being rejected by the world, the guinea pig decided to disguise itself as a Peking duck, dressed with rocoto and purple corn crêpe. It got a standing ovation from everyone.” Well! And I have never had such incomplete and chaotic service in what is considered to be a top restaurant. 14th in the world! I still can’t get over the table not being cleaned. Would we recommend the place? Definitely no, but you would still go because it still is THE restaurant to visit when in Lima. Would we return to Astrid y Gaston? Definitely no and given their reservation list, I 'm sure they don't care one way or another! One other thing, there were no Peruvians in either restaurant, all tourists. So, Central – yes: Astrid y Gaston – no. Or skip both and while in Miraflores go to Las Brujas de Cachiche, upscale it is, touristy, it isn’t. It’s where the locals go for fine dining.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lima and the Plaza de Armas, Lima, Peru

It is Sunday and church day and since we are in Lima, this week we will go to mass at the cathedral in the historic center at where else but the Plaza de Armas, the main square in every city. The most prevalent opinion of anyone who has visited Lima is the ever presence of fog, a mist that is called “garua”. With the exception of the month of January, day after day the city is unrelentingly steeped in the melancholy mist which interestingly enough gives the city character and well, makes it interesting. Herman Melville (who wrote Moby Dick) visited Lima in the 1800’s and later wrote, perhaps, the most famous quote about the city. “It is the strangest, saddest city thou canst see. For Lima has taken the white veil; and there is a higher horror in this whiteness of her woe”. A little melodramatic but there is no doubt that Lima wears its garua like a mantle. Had the Spanish known this when they came to Lima, they may not have built the Capital of their Andean Empire here but, they arrived in January right in the middle of summer and the only month when Lima has bright blue, sunny skies! Our taxi driver becomes very friendly when he finds out we are from San Jose, California. His son lives and works in Palo Alto, which is just a few miles from us and we spend some time discussing California before he gives us a quick narration of Lima and the buildings as we pass them. Crossing the Rio Rimac, we are in central Lima with its narrow streets and ornate, baroque style colonial churches. The Plaza de Armas or Plaza Mayor as locals call it was established in the 16th century by Francisco Pizarro and it was the center for the Spanish empire in their conquest of South America. Unfortunately, due to earthquakes and the weather, not a single original building remains from those colonial times with the exception of the gorgeous brass fountain erected in 1650. There are however some rather grand buildings which were built at the turn of the century. The Palacio de Gobierno is a baroque style building constructed in 1937 and is now the residence of Peru’s president and next to the cathedral is the colonial style, Palacio Arzobispal, the Archbishops Palace which was built in 1924 and has several Moorish-style balconies. Though it still has a Baroque style façade, the cathedral is the plaza’s newest renovation. Completely restored in 1940, it is on the same plot that Pizarro designated for the first church back in 1535. Because it has been rebuilt many times from the early baroque through the neo-classical craze of the late 18th century, the interior of the church is fascinating in its various styles, many of which can be seen in the smaller chapels leading from the nave. There are more than a dozen altars in every architectural style imaginable and there is an ornate wood choir which is in a gorgeous rococo style. The designer in me went into overdrive as I walked around the whole mélange. It was amazing in its diversity. Mass, conducted by one of the monsignors was also very formal. At one point there was so much incense being wafted around, the altar began to look as if it too was shrouded in garua! After mass, we considered lunch, but Winston might need a walk, so a decision was made to go back, eat lunch at home and take Winston to the MIraflores dog park. Oh, and because of Tom’s passport we were in Lima a total of 18 days and had one day when the sun managed to peek through!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cerro Azul and Lima, Peru

The drive further north takes us through the town of Pisco which shares its name with pisco, the national alcoholic beverage of Peru. The grapes needed for the brandy are grown in this region and there are many bodegas set up for distilling with some having tasting rooms attached. We don’t stop because really unless it is mixed into a pisco sour, we don’t like it. Straight it has a harsh, fiery taste that is much stronger than brandy and burns your throat on the way down. Not particularly pleasant. So we forgo the bodegas and keep driving. We do however appreciate the scenery which is completely the opposite of earlier. Strong volcanic soil has replaced the desert sand and vines stretch for mile after mile. Soon those vines are replaced by miles upon miles of sugar cane fields and small stands at the side of the road advertise sugar cane juice. At other artisan stands, black African figurines are offered as souvenirs in lieu of the ubiquitous baby alpaca textiles that are so prevalent in Peru. This is the area of Chincha. A testament to the Afro-Peruvian culture and a reminder of the nation’s brutal slave history. The local wine shops that we pass in town are also a testament: this time to the local wine and pisco industry. We are now on the narrow strip of highway that separates the coast from the Andes and the small villages are coming and going as we get ever closer to the capital. But it is late, and we do not want to enter Lima in the dark and try to find the hostel, so we start to look for a beach to spend the night. Cerro Azul about 90 miles (145 kms) south of Lima was perfect for parking overnight. We found a nice stretch of level sand, next to a park and close to the water. Plenty of room for Winston to run and for us to wild camp for the night. Although the park stayed active until sunset, after dark the place was deserted and quiet and we got a great night’s sleep, listening to the sound of the waves. Next morning, we were on our final leg into Lima. Our destination is the Hitchhiker Hostel, located in a barrio of Lima called Miraflores. Armed with both GPS co-ordinates and the physical address, we are hopeful that we can navigate the streets easily. And we did. The hostel is ideal but small with room for only four RV’s and during our time there, it was full most of the time. When we arrived there was a vehicle from Switzerland and only an hour after us, a couple from Texas pulled in with their rig. With power, hot showers, water and internet, we are set. Tom immediately contacts the US Embassy, Citizen Services and gets an appointment for tomorrow to start his passport renewal process. We know there will be a minimum waiting period of about two weeks, so this will be our home. A walk through Miraflores to the ocean is beautiful. An extremely upscale barrio of Lima, we were only a few blocks from the ocean and its grassy, park-lined costanera is amazing. Even more amazing are the number of people who actually walk their dogs on leash. And yet more amazing, is the city ordinance requiring dog owners to “pick up” after their pet – yes, no having to avoid dog poop although of course there is always someone! And the most astonishing thing was …. an actual off-leash dog park! Winston thought he had died and gone to beagle heaven. Not only grass to roll in, not only parks to walk in but dogs to play and run with in a secure environment. Life was good in Beagle Land and we were pretty happy too. Yes, Miraflores will serve us well.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Paracas Natural Reserve and Isla Ballestas, Peru

The next morning heading back towards the dock where boats leave for the islands, both Tom and I are struck by how much development is happening here. Fabulous large lots facing the ocean, huge condo high-rises and new hotels are all under some stage of construction. When we asked around we are told it is mostly people from Lima purchasing beach homes, so someone is earning enough surplus cash, make that lots of someones! We have forsaken a travel agent and going in a group to winging it by ourselves. And once again, it was easy. Boats leave frequently for the 3 hour long trip to the islands and it is the same price for all, so why pay an agent a cover fee. There is the price of the boat tour itself, admission from the reserve and a small port fee – in total the equivalent of about $10.00 per person. The boat first stopped just off shore so we can see the drawing called El Candelabra on the hill overlooking the Bay of Paracas, which is similar to the lines at Nazca. This giant three armed geoglyph is etched into the mountain side. More than 150 meters (480 feet) in height and 50m (160 feet) wide, it is not really known who made the geoglyph or when or why! While some archeologists connect it in some way to the Nazca Lines, others think it served as some sort of navigation aid for sailors. My favorite theory is that it is a dedication by the Paracas culture to a local species of cactus that had hallucinogenic qualities. Cactus leaves and coca leaves. Hello early drugs! From the Candelabra, it was on to the Isla Ballestas. We had been warned that the ocean is very choppy and it is. The boat we were on was uncovered and I was glad we had brought our rain jackets as without them it would have been a wet in addition to a wild ride. The Paracas Peninsula isn't as barren as it looks. The meeting of the cold Humboldt Current, rich with plankton and nutrients swept up from the ocean floor, meets the warmer tropical currents off-coast and provides feeding grounds for wildlife and superb fishing. In addition, the coastal fog known as garúa, forms in winter when the Humboldt cools down the warmer air and adds a bit of moisture to it. The huge reserve is very popular for birders and marine lovers. Birders flock to the reserve to see condors, pelicans and Inca terns amongst an array of others and those interested in the marine life can possibly see whales, dolphins, sea lions, Humboldt penguins, leatherneck turtles, hammerhead sharks and more depending on the time of year. I can only say that this was not the right time of year. Although the islands can only be viewed from the water, as no boats can land, the boats do get very close to the island as they cruise through and around the natural arches and caves, which are swarmed with sea lions. . We also caught sight of several Humboldt penguins ambling around the rocks. And yes, we did see gazillion sea birds. The most common ones are the guanay cormorant, the Peruvian booby and the Peruvian pelican which can be seen by the thousands. In fact one of the biggest concerns is to wear a hat because getting hit on the head by bird guano (droppings) is highly likely. People who visit the Paracas National Reserve in Peru's southern coastal desert, often refer to the prolific wildlife and the great scenery as the "Galapagos of Peru." All Tom and I hope is that the “real” Galapagos is more enticing. Although we enjoyed the trip overall, as Tom put it “we saw a lot of birds and a bunch of rocks covered in bird … guano”. You are right, he did not use the word “guano” and it wasn’t “droppings” either! After disembarking, we made our way back through a plethora of gift shops; stopping to buy a couple of T-shirts and gifts for the kids and then it was back to a very exuberant hound, who received a long walk and a treat for being so patient. We wanted to stat for lunch at one of the many seafood restaurants along the promenade but we also want to be on the road. Our goal is to get to one of the beaches on the southern outskirts of Lima and then be in Lima tomorrow. Tom needs to get online and make an appointment with the US Embassy to get his new passport underway. So, after walking Winston, we grabbed some fruit and snacks for the drive and were on the road.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Nazca to Paracus via Huacachina and Ica, Peru

Just on the outskirts of the town of Nazca is a viewing platform to see some of the lines, so our plan is to stop and take a look. The platform is right on the Pan American highway and easy to spot because of all the tour buses! There was a small charge to go up to the top, so armed with cameras we went up. From the top we could see the hands and the tree quite visibly. The guide also pointed out the lizard, which unfortunately the highway cuts through it and obliterates most of the figure. Too bad they did not know about the existence of the lizard before planning the highway but that’s how it goes, I guess. It was still interesting but these “lines” have got to be viewed from the air. We are now in sand desert country. Viewing the landscape for miles in all directions and we could be in the middle of the Sahara. Sand dunes, hundreds of feet high are just inches from the road and there are road crews working diligently sweeping and shoveling sand from the road – okay. Tom and I agree these guys have a career lifetime job. It may be boring and repetitive but they will be gainfully employed for as long as they want. It is in this amazing desert that we enter the town of Huacachina. This desert oasis is the sand-boarding, dune buggy Mecca of Peru. Giant, wind sculpted sand dunes as far as the eye can see fill the horizon and yes, sand-boarding is the most popular activity. The idea is to climb to the top of the dune lugging a sand board (rather similar to a snow or body board) with you, this takes the average person about 30 minutes to scramble up the sand, then once at the top lie on the board and careen to the bottom, which takes about 2 minutes. Needless to say, neither Tom nor I tried it but we have heard it is tremendous fun, the downhill part not the climbing. We were tempted to try a little sand buggying but really want to be in Paracus by dark so we left the sand covered streets of Huacachina and continued driving. Just a little north of Huacachina is the fairly large town of Ica. This is known as the wine growing capital of Peru. Unfortunately we have been spoiled with Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile wines. Peruvian wine is slightly on the sweeter side and I really do not like sweet wine. So, while usually wine growing regions attract me, Ica did not although the green agriculture landscape made a welcome change from all the sand we had experienced. Also, Ica suffered extensive damage in 2007 from a massive earthquake that rocked the region and unfortunately Ica has not had much rebuilt since then. The main square is replanted but the cathedral though still standing is condemned and many other once beautiful colonial buildings stand empty and derelict. Maybe one day it will return to being a city to visit but right now it seems as though most tourists stay in Huacachina or keep moving. We are keeping moving. Our destination is El Chaco on the Paracus Peninsula and we had been told we could safely park at the yacht harbor. I think we either had the wrong co-ordinates or the yacht harbor has sold as we were told that parking is no longer allowed. However, we ran into another couple who were overlanding who said they stayed there so who knows. What we did find is a nice stretch of beach at the end of a long road south of town that was perfect. No-one bothered us, Winston could run and play to his hearts content and we watched an amazing sunset. A good end to a long drive day and an early night as tomorrow we want to visit the island reserve of Paracus.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Nazca Lines, Peru

Copy and paste the following for link to photographs of the Nazca Lines. View as a slidshow if you want to see the captions and story. Enjoy https://plus.google.com/photos/118181109521024542820/albums/5936509814071171601

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Nazca Lines, Peru

You can’t say the name of the town Nazca without adding the word “lines”. They are synonymous with one another. And to be honest, there is not much to the town if not for the “Nazca Lines”. The town is located on an extremely dry high plateau and being here gives dusty a new meaning. Even driving into town we could see “dust devils” swirling across the open Pampa. Just opposite the airport, Hotel La Maison Suisse has plenty of room for the motorhome and is handy for both the airport and town. As soon as we were settled we started inquiring about flights to the lines. The hotel was expensive at $110.00 per person. Some other travelers said they had used a travel agent in town and been charged $90 but they were lied to and instead of being in a 6 seater plane wound up in a plane with 12 other people. Having read enough about it, we decided to just wing it, show up at the airport and see what we could negotiate ourselves. It was easy up to the point where we would board the plane. The lady we negotiated with had told us $90.00 per person and we were very clear we wanted to be in a small plane with at most two other people. We knew that new regulations demanded that all planes now need to have 2 pilots on board due to some unfortunate incidences (read accidents) in which planes were crashing and tourists dying! Plummeting to my death over the Peruvian desert was not on my agenda so we were very careful in our requests. Walking to the plane we realized that they were trying to put us on a large plane with about 15 other people. We stopped. We talked to the airport officials. We talked to the pilot. Finally we talked to the lady who did our booking. She apologized and said that this plane was leaving first and if we wanted something smaller we would have to wait. We told her that was fine and so we waited and waited. Eventually we were taken to a six-seat plane and wedged in. I had forgotten how small and tight these planes were – oh I forgot to mention we were weighed and Tom had to leave his backpack at the airport. Only cameras allowed. I am a little worried – planes and I have a love/hate relationship – but not worried enough to stop me from taking the trip. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, the Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs located in the desert that cover an estimated 170 square miles (450 square kilometers). Historians believe they were a three phase project with the earliest designs dating from as far back as 500BC from the Chavin culture. The second phase was the Paracas culture and then the Nazca people got really busy between 200BC and 500 AD, when the majority of the lines are thought to have been established. Two techniques were used to define the geoglyphs. In the earlier Chavín period they were defined in outline, the gravel being removed and piled inwards, so as to leave the figures in slight relief. For the most part, however, the technique used was the removal of the gravel from the figure, providing a solid figure that contrasts with its surroundings. Due to the dry, windless, and stable climate of the plateau and its isolation, the lines for the most part have been preserved. The hundreds of individual figures range in complexity from simple lines to stylized hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, fish, sharks, orcas, and lizards. The largest figures are over 200 meters (660 ft) across. Although first discovered in the 1920’s, it was not until air traffic through the 1930’s increased that the real extent of the lines were seen. In the late 1930’s American scientist Paul Kosok and following him German mathematician Maria Reiche have studied, drawn and hypothesized about them. They are among archaeology's greatest enigmas because of their quantity, nature, size and continuity and scholars differ in interpreting the purpose of the designs. One idea is that they are linked to the heavens with some of the lines representing constellations in the night sky. Another idea is that the lines play a role in pilgrimage, with one walking across them to reach a sacred place such as Cahuachi and the adobe pyramids. Yet another idea is that the lines are connected with water, something vital to life yet hard to get in the desert, and may have played a part in water-based rituals. In the absence of a firm archaeological conclusion a number of fringe theories have popped up, such as aliens. Ancient religion? Aliens from outer space? Ancient astronomers? A megalomaniac artist? Water sources? Take your pick! But there is little debate that the best overall way to see them is from a small airplane. I was concerned that we wouldn’t be able either to see them or make out what they were. Regular readers of my blog know that I have little imagination when it comes to “faces in rocks”, lambs playing in cloud formations and petroglphs on mountainsides. I need not have worried. These things are really visible, I mean really, really visible. I could see them before the pilot pointed them out. We flew over 12 of the “lines”, a whale, human figures, a monkey, a variety of birds, a spider, hands and trees. We circled each one until everyone had taken photographs before moving on to the next. As a side bar, these turns are tight and steep so are not for the squeamish or anyone who gets airsickness. As I observed the lines, I wondered about the various theories, including the idea that the Nazca used them to indicate underground water sources. There are water channels, painstakingly built of rock walls and maintained over the centuries that carry water from the mountains to a farming oasis near the figures. But the figures are just mind boggling. That an ancient culture mapped them out and arranged them in the way they did. The time, the commitment, the capability – it is just astounding. As you can probably tell, we loved every minute of the 45 minute flight; it was so worth the money. Completely awe-inspiring.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Puerto Inca, Peru

Between Camana and Chala, Highway 1 or as the Peruvians call it, the Panamericana Sur winds its way up, over and around the steep coastal range, which actually resembles massive and I do mean massive sand dunes. Driving, it is easy to forget given the condition of the road, that this is the main artery for goods going from Bolivia to Lima. Until you see the inordinately high number of trucks that use this road daily. Although the drive is only a little more than 140 miles, it actually took us almost five hours. Invariably, we would find ourselves behind four or five slow moving, heavily laden trucks going up the steep grades and around tight curves where passing would literally be taking your life in your hands as there are just as many vehicles headed in the other direction. But the scenery is far from boring and the coastal landscapes with sand dunes just emptying into the ocean give us plenty to look at and talk about. Our destination for the night is actually about 10 mile north of the town of Chala, Puerto Inca. Turning off Highway 1 onto a dirt track, which we followed for about 2 miles towards the ocean, we can begin to see the trail of the old Inca road which went from here to Cuzco. There are certain rewards for the intrepid traveler who ventures down paths not regularly travelled and traveling in a motorhome definitely qualifies as intrepid. One such place is Puerto Inca—a beachside ruins which was a principal port of the Inca Empire. But first know there is a slice of civilization here. Located on an inlet beach and the only other man-made thing at Puerto Inca that’s not a ruin is the Hotel Puerto Inca and its restaurant/bar. The hotel is very basic but its lack of unfettered amenities is wholly made up for by the sound of crashing waves carried across the bay by the cool ocean breeze. There’s not usually many people staying here and the crowd ranges from locals taking a weekend trip to other adventure seekers from around the globe. The night we spent here there was only a Peruvian family and another couple from Lima. The hotel quickly welcomed us and showed us the campground where we could park the motorhome. We easily found a spot close to the cliff which gave great views of the bay. They also told us that it was very quiet and safe for Winston to run off lead. The hotel has a restaurant but we are in the mood to cook ourselves. We do however ask if they have fish for sale. We are shown some very nice fillets of what looks like a cod, so we buy a couple, with rice and some asparagus we have dinner established. That taken care of it is time to explore. Tom is tired but with the Pacific rolling in, seabirds diving for fish and the sun low over the hills I go off on my own with Winston. There are two beaches right next to each other split by a rocky outcrop. The one by the hotel is a golden yellow and the other which is closer to the ruins, is totally black. A 10 minute walk south along the coast leads to the kind of breathtaking sight that no photo does justice. The Pacific coast line cuts a 100 foot cliff down to the water where rocky outcrops out at sea are like icebergs due to being covered in white bird droppings from the myriad of sea birds overhead. Paths switchback through monstrous outcroppings of dusty red rocks and there are valleys as far as the eye can see. The next morning Tom did not want to go and see more ruins, so Winston and I set out by ourselves again, this time in the opposite direction to explore the old Incan port. Cutting across a dry river bed seemed like the only access, so I am not sure how you access the ruins through the rainy season. This entire area was only discovered in the 1950's and at first was misunderstood and neglected. Now it is recognized as an important archaeological site being the main Inca port that served Cuzco. It is in excellent condition and drying and storing houses can be seen as holes in the ground. There is a cemetery revealing human bones and ancient Inca steps along the craggy coast. The Inca road which ran from the coast to Cuzco is clearly visible. It was reckoned to be 240 km long and had a staging post every 7 km. Changing runners at every post ensured that fresh fish and messages for the Incans could be sent to Cuzco in 24 hrs. To be sure, the ruins here aren’t Machu Picchu. And unless you’ve got a big thing for Inca history, they’re really just a nice place to visit and watch the sea lions and dolphins play in the water or the sun as it sets over the Pacific. The real reason to come here is to go beyond the weathered ruins. Walking back to the hotel, at any point you can look towards the horizon and you’ll realize that you’re standing on a series of cliffs that peak into the solitude of an undulating coast line of ensconced coves completely void of human life. Now, I really am the intrepid traveler and this is my planet.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Arequipa to Camana, Peru

Having used Arequipa and Las Mercedes as our base for the past two months we are ready to move. We have met up with Marcela and Mariano and seen Cusco and Machu Picchu. We have driven with Winston to see Lake Titicaca and Colca Canyon. We have visited just about every famous church, monastery and museum in Arequipa. And we have definitely eaten our way through our share of restaurants. It is time to move but it is hard. We like it here. We like the hostel and the people who run it. We like the city, the restaurants and the cathedral. People have started to recognize us when we go to mass. We have settled in but it is time to move. That is the reason we started this adventure but it is hard to leave. As we prepare the motorhome for departure even Ursula who owns Las Mercedes and German and Bruno who work there, can’t believe we are leaving. They try to talk us into staying and ask if we can leave Winston for them. We tell them firmly, absolutely not. On our final evening, we do a barbeque for everyone. We will miss them but …it is time to leave. The next morning, we hug them all for the final time and we are on our way. They have tears in their eyes and so do we. It is definitely time to leave. But the city of Arequipa will hold a special place in our hearts and since we want to visit Machu Picchu again, we may come back. I know one thing, if you visit Peru do not miss Arequipa, it is a lovely, lovely city and please drop by and say hello to Ursula and the boys. Our goal for the night is simply to make it to Camana which is about a 4 hour drive and the closest coastal town to Arequipa. Popular with Arequipenos during the summer months this is a sleepy beach town as this time of year. Oh how nice it was to be back on a beach. Winston just ran in circles around us, woofing with joy. He flew up and down the sand, chasing waves, chasing birds, chasing pieces of seaweed. He was happy and so were we. Our overnight parking was beside a water park which, fortunately for us is closed for the season. I am sure in summer this area is packed with people but we did not see another person. As we cooked dinner, we left the door open so we could smell the sea breeze and hear the ocean. It is strange getting used to being out in the open again. Behind the big walls and locked gates of Las Mercedes all sounds are muted and there is a feeling of isolation and insulation, rather like living a house with four walls and a locked door. Here, we are parked by the side of the road. A water park on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. No walls, no secured gates but we have never felt threatened or in danger in our travels and we feel safe here. Besides, there really isn’t another being around. It was wonderful and made more so by the fact that every time I woke through the night, all I heard was the waves. What a great sound!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Arequipa Photographs, Peru

Here are the photographs of Arequipa. Copy and paste into your browser. They are better viewed as a slideshow so you can read the captioning and storyline. Enjoy. https://plus.google.com/photos/118181109521024542820/albums/5936130110368881137

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cooking Class, Peruvian Style. (The Peruvian Cooking Experience).

Since we have had great success in selecting restaurants to eat at and have tried many of the traditional Peruvian dishes, we felt it was time to take a class in cooking some of the dishes we like. We chose “The Peruvian Cooking Experience” purely because they were the first to respond to our request and were very obliging with our needs. They offer three different menu selections and we wanted the Traditional because we wanted to learn how to cook a particular favorite of mine “Lomo Saltado”. The other menu selections are an all fish menu and an Andean menu. The fish came a close second as it included ceviche and then a main course but the lomo saltado won. There are three parts to the class. The first is a walk to the local market and learning about the foods unique to Peru. Then there is the cooking class itself and the final part is a class in pisco, the history, the production of it and of course the art of “pisco sour” making. Because of timing, we opted not to take the market tour but only the cooking and pisco classes. After several emails back and forth with Gitta (Birgitta), we were all set for the 11 am Saturday class. The class is held at the Casa De Avila Hotel and since it is close to where we are staying and it is a beautiful sunny day we decide to walk instead of taking a cab to the class. We arrive about 15 minutes early and check in. There was one other lady with her daughter signing up at the same time. It turns out that they are from Sacramento and the lady also is a doctor at Kaiser Permanente and knows of Tom’s sister, another example of “what a small world it is”. While we are waiting, we wander around the courtyard of the hotel and admire the gorgeous plants and flowers. Although there was supposed to be a maximum of 9 people, there had been a computer glitch and there were 14 of us. A large group but manageable, we were told. Armando is our chef and teacher and he quickly got us organized and after ensuring everyone washed their hands, we were attired in apron and chef’s hat emblazoned with the “Peruvian Cooking Experience” logo. The dishes were explained to us and pretty soon, the whole group had knives and cutting boards and we were chopping, slicing and dicing our first course. Oh, and this is taking place in an area of the vast grounds which has been turned into a huge outdoor kitchen and patio which thankfully are covered to protect from the sun. As we prepared the first course of “Causa Relleno”, Armando kept us entertained with Peruvian history, Peruvian folklore and of course Peruvian cuisine. Causa is a potato dish made from Papas Amarillo (Yellow Potatoes) whereby the potatoes are mashed to form a dough consistency and then pressed into a mold with layers of either a meat or tuna mixture and then a layer of vegetables. They are then pressed out onto a plate and the effect we are looking for is one of layered colors. Causa’s (meaning “cause”) origins trace back to the Peruvian Civil War. When you were invited to someone’s house for Causa, you accepted if you agreed with their ideas (for the cause) and if you didn’t, you declined. Seems civilized. Two of Armando’s helpers set a table for us to eat at and assisted in clearing away the debris from our preparations. When we were finished it was time to eat our causa along with an interesting but tasty soft drink made from black corn. It was then time to prepare the Lomo Saltado. We were split into pairs, so naturally Tom and I were together for the preparing and cooking. Lomo Saltado is very similar to a beef stir fry. The beef is cut into thin strips and tossed with soy sauce and it is quickly cooked in a very hot pan with onions and peppers and peculiarly, French fries. It is served with rice and is delicious. Everyone seemed pleased with their efforts and as we ate, Armando talked more. Do you know potatoes come from Peru and there are over 3,000 varieties in all? I asked about a seed bank and there is indeed one maintained in the event of a global disaster. After the cooking segment only five of us had signed up for the pisco session. Tom, myself and three young ladies from New Zealand. Natalia ran this portion and she was fun, knowledgeable and accommodating. We learned about pisco and then we learned how to make pisco sours. We poured, we prepared, we shook the cocktail shakers, oh…..and we drank. There is only one thing I can say about the Peruvian Cooking Experience – it was a blast. We had so much fun and all for about $25.00 per person. We are even thinking of doing the fish menu. Causa anyone?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

San Francisco Church and Monastery – Arequipa.

The final church we visited is the complex belonging to the Third Franciscan Order contains the San Francisco church, monastery and a smaller church. Originally built in the 16th century, the complex has been badly damaged by several earthquakes and subsequently restored over the years, most recently in 2002. Today however a large crack in the cupola is visible testimony to the power of earth movement in this area. Our guide, Jorge is a charming and knowledgeable college student who is very passionate about the history of the church and surrounding buildings. We first visited the church and when we entered several things struck us simultaneously. The gorgeous high altar dominated one end whilst scores of paintings and artistic works in silver lined the walls. Set to one side is a mahogany Baroque pulpit heavily decorated in bas-relief with vines, flowers, angels and a myriad of other icons. As in many of the churches now, these pulpits are never used as all sermons are made from the altar, pity really. There is something quite solemn and dignified in these old pulpits which lent to the ceremony of the mass. From there we were taken to the “discretorio”, a formal sitting room of sorts. A long table with perhaps two dozen chairs was centered over an antique carpet and fabulous artwork from the Flemish and Cuzco schools of painting hung from the walls. It was here that the brothers of the order gathered to make decisions and meet with guests. We then passed through several doors to the cloisters. Built in the seventeenth century from volcanic sillar and in keeping with the Roman style, there was a center fountain, beautifully maintained planters filled with plants and flowers and some fantastic frescoes overhead. Beneath the arches nestled in the shadows are rooms which were used for spiritual retreat, reading and meditation. One of the rooms has a library with an astonishing collection of rare, original and obviously valuable books and ecclesiastic documents that date from the seventeenth century. Some were behind glass but most were displayed on shelves and I wondered how long they will last if they are not better preserved. It would be a shame if they simply dissolved into dust. We were also shown a room which was dedicated as a mourning room for a mother when her child dies. It would be in here that the child’s coffin would be placed and a chair set on a platform at the head of it, whereby a mother could sit and pray in private. I liked the idea. Hanging from the wall in this room was a painting which I just found extraordinary. It was a caricature of Satan with a myriad of reptiles and serpents surrounding him, while angels swirled overhead. A classic “Demons and Angels” canvas dated from the mid 17th century. It was truly quite fascinating. We were then shown the art gallery which displayed a variety of different types of canvas paintings, religious artifacts, antique silverware and items for religious service all also dating from the 17th century. The tour was over and Jorge opened yet another door which opened to a side courtyard and after thanking him profusely for his assistance and wealth of knowledge, we found our way back to the front of the church. This is the Church and Cloisters of the Third Order of Franciscan brotherhood and like the other churches we have seen in Arequipa, quite unique. Although we saw many of the churches and monasteries in Arequipa, believe it or not, we did not see them all. Neither Tom nor I have ever seen more outstanding churches in one area. They were quite literally, phenomenal in style, size and architectural design.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Iglesia de la Campania (Church of the Company ) and dinner at Zhengs, Arequipa

Located just off the southeast corner of the Plaza de Armas, this Jesuit church is one of the oldest in Arequipa. First designed in 1573 by Gaspar Baez, it was subsequently destroyed by an earthquake in 1584. The construction of the existing Church began in 1590 and under the direction of Brother Felipe was finished building in 1698. The cloisters were added to the building in the 18th century. As in other buildings of Arequipa, the material for its construction came from the quarries of the nearby volcanoes. The very soft volcanic rock makes it a very easy to carve in surface decorations. As a result the ornamental carvings cover the façade especially the entrance forming a large tapestry in stone. Termed ‘Mestizo Baroque” the ornate patterns in the stonework of this church are outstanding. The interior of the church is as ornate as the outside and extremely opulent. The main alter is carved in an intricate decorative motif pattern popular during the late Spanish baroque period and completely covered in gold leaf. In the center is a beautiful painting of the Virgin Mary and child by Italian artist Bernardo Bitti who came to live in Peru in 1575. This painting is only one of 66 Cusco school paintings including some by Diego de la Puente. To the left of the main altar in the sacristy is the Chapel of St. Ignatius, with a cupola covered in murals of tropical flowers, fruits and birds mingled with warriors and angels. The rest of the building is also covered by the same richly decorated carvings including the exterior and the cloisters. Arequipa has earned the right to be proud of the architecture. Having seen signs for “chifa” restaurants (Chinese) around town, we are interested in trying Peruvian style. Another restaurant in the suburbs, Zheng Chinese restaurant have their billboard signs all over town, just look up. Since all of the other Chinese restaurants we have seen are small local ones, we wanted to try something more upscale. Located at Parque Lambamani it is quite a long taxi ride. Not knowing what to expect, the Parque is actually a large shopping mall, one of the biggest we have seen in Peru and at first we were disappointed. It seemed as though Zheng’s was situated in the center of a food court next to Chilis and we could see a McDonalds and some other fast food type places. However, they also had inside seating and it was very nice. Traditionally but tastefully decorated with Chinese statues and prints, we were seated in a corner so we could also people watch. The menu was typical of Chinese and we were able to decipher most of it. We ordered drinks and a Shumai appetizer and settled in to peruse the rest of the menu. We could not decide. We checked other tables as dishes were brought out and when our waitress returned, asked for advice. We settled on their special fried rice, a sweet and spicy pork dish and a whole fish with a spicy sauce. It took a little while which made us think that everything is cooked to order and once it arrived, it was truly excellent. The fried rice was full of pork, chicken and shrimp. The pork was crunchy and the sauce was laden with mango, tomatoes and onions with just the right amount of ginger. Likewise the fish. A whole white fish covered in soy, ginger sauce and baked with green onions as garnishment. The food was delicious. Since this is also so far from the touristy areas, we were the only foreigners and the place was packed. Chinese food, one of my favorite cuisines

Friday, November 15, 2013

Restaurants Ary Quepay & El Koala.

Arequipa is the city where some of the most outstanding traditional food dishes in the country such as the Rocoto Relleno, Pastel de Papa, Chupe de Camarones, Adobo, Cuy Chactado and more can be enjoyed. Our next venture into restaurants was to try some of the more traditional dishes. Our first stop was at Ary Quepay. Located fairly close to the city center, this is possibly one of the most tourist places for traditional Peruvian cuisine as it is mentioned in most travel guides. As soon as we were seated, a young man called Jamie came up and gave us menus. It is a really hot day so we immediately ordered some beer while we studied the restaurant and menu. The husband-and-wife-run restaurant has an attractive garden themed restaurant with an easy to follow menu of all the traditional Arequipa favorites. The menu is in Spanish, English French, Italian and Portuguese so that just about covers most tourists! But that is where catering to the tourism industry ends because this food is 100% Peruvian with no reservations and what we had was excellent. Jamie brought us our beers and we decided to start with the Relleno Ricotto, a pepper stuffed with a meat and cheese mixture and served with a cooked whole potato wrapped in cheese. We asked him to bring that as an appetizer even though it is on the menu as a main course and to give us a little more time to decide the rest of our meal. It was a tough decision but for our main courses, Tom choose the Corvina (sea bass) Ceviche and I had Adobo since it is Sunday although at Ary Quepay it is on the menu every day. Adobo is pork chops with onions and braised in a chichi (sweet corn drink) and spices, we could taste the cumin. We were to full to order any of the delicious desserts, next time and there will be a next time. The food was excellent, as was the service and great value for the money. Some of the best traditional restaurants in the city are a short taxi ride beyond the downtown area and for traditional food one famous area is Avenida Arancota, frequented mostly by local Peruvian families. About a 10 minute drive from the center of Arequipa and far from the tourist hub, there is another culinary experience is waiting. As the cab driver turns onto Avenida Arancota, it would be natural to be hit with a momentary panic. There seems to be nothing on this road as it extends out into the barren hills. You are pretty sure that the tourist office was wrong, that the taxi driver is wrong and maybe you should go back to those tourist spots but finally a cluster of restaurants appear and the driver pulls over. Ask him which restaurant is good and the reply will be “all of them”. These restaurants are the not to be missed “chicharronerias” and on any given Sunday it seems as though the majority of the local Arequipa population is here walking the avenue to their own personal favorite. Street vendors selling the biggest “chicharrones”, fried pork rind are everywhere. Some of these look like a quarter of a skinned pig, huge sheets of fried pork skin. Outside some of the restaurants there are outdoor barbeques with slabs of pork ribs, whole sides of lamb, lamb cutlets and yes, guinea pig or cuy. Chicharronerias serve pork and on Sunday they make a special dish called “adobo”. Traditionally cooked in a clay pot, Adobo is marinated pork served with a sauce made from spices, onions and chicha de jorra, a fermented beverage made out of black corn. After walking three blocks, both sides of the street, we settle on EL Koala which we had seen from the outset. Their outdoor grill looked and smelled divine and we eyed the pork ribs and lamb hungrily. Entering through a small entrance we were literally in the serving and kitchen area, with a long counter and numerous waitresses bustling back and forth, laden with trays of food. We could see an enormous back room which opened to a patio and garden. As we went back, we realized something else, the place is packed and we are the only gringos here. As a waitress pointed a table to us we were both starting to feel overwhelmed and I think the locals sensed our confusion as they smiled and gestured good naturedly at us. After checking the menu which was mercifully short since the array of food on the grill is really self explanatory, we settled on the pork ribs and rack of lamb with some local beer. When the waitress returned with our beer, she told us the lamb would not be ready for another 20 minutes or so, we assured her that was okay. We are in no hurry as there is so much to absorb. When our plates arrived they were overflowing with food. The meat is served with fried sweet potatoes, roasted yellow potatoes (from a country that grows over 3,000 varieties of potatoes you can never have enough papas) and three different types of salsas in varying degrees of heat. The food was quite delicious and we ate and continued to soak up the atmosphere around us which was made even more enjoyable as the children grew bolder and sidled up to us with shy smiles and quiet “holas”. On Sundays, El Koala is more than just a restaurant, it is a place for families to gather and relax and catch up on the local gossip, a place where their children are comfortable going outside to play or checking out the other diners and yes, a place where they might have the odd chance of watching a gringo make a foray into the local cuisine.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Museo Santuarios Andinos – Sanctuary Museum and Cusco Coffee Company.

We are running late and although we had wanted to go to one of the other churches in the city for mass at 10 am, we had to go to the cathedral again for the 11 o clock service. Luck was with us and the Cardinal from Arequipa conducted the mass. It was very formal and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. From there we went to tour the Sanctuary Museum. Officially known as the Universidad Catolica de Santa Maria Museo Santuarios Andinos, the Sanctuary Museum, is indeed a sanctuary dedicated to the preserved mummified remains of a young Inca girl and the artifacts found at her “grave”. Although there are other exhibits specializing in the Incan culture and there are other mummies, the most famous and talked about one in the collection is the “ice princess” Juanita. The frozen body of the girl is only on display between May and December and then she is stored in a dark vault in an attempt to prolong the state of her body which is now in a state of decay. Her remains are thought to be around 500 years old when she was found by climbers at the summit of the volcano Ampato in 1995. She was reckoned to be between 12 – 14 years of age when she was sacrificed in a ritual at the top of the volcano as part of an offering to appease the gods. Discovered in almost perfect condition in September 1995 after the eruption of the nearby Sabancaya Volcano melted ice on the peak, she is now kept at the university where her remains are being studied by a team of scientists. Because her body was so well preserved by the glaciers, mitochondrial studies of her DNA have been possible, telling scientists not just about her health at the time of death but also her genealogy and how possibly other Incas lived, ate and the type of bacteria and viruses that affected them. All of this is narrated at the beginning of our tour in a 20 minute documentary complete with amazing photography from the archaeologists who found her. After the film, we are taken by an extremely well qualified and informative student guide who leads us through dimly-lit rooms filled with artifacts that were found with Juanita’s mummified body. Wood carvings, gold, silver and other metal statues, amulets, ceramics, pottery and articles of clothing that she was wrapped in are all carefully and artfully placed in glass cases under small spotlights and wall sconces. The finale, so to speak, is in the final room where Juanita’s remains are located. Well preserved by ice on the volcano, she is now well preserved in a carefully monitored glass-walled exhibition freezer for us to view her. Poor thing. They know she died from a massive blow to the head after being sedated and left at the top of the mountain where snow and ice kept her virtually intact and in remarkable condition. Although a little theatrical in their presentation, the museum is a testament to the sacrifice ritual of the Inca Empire and thanks to the discovery of the mummy, scientists are getting a unique opportunity to study the Incan culture. In addition, although we have seen other mummies in various stages of preservation, this is a chance to view one of the better preserved. And it was fun. Unfortunately no photography is allowed so the mystery of the tour remains intact. On the way back to the motorhome, we stop off at Cusco Coffee Company for a snack. Well known and extremely popular, the Starbuck style coffee shop has comfortable couches and chairs to relax in. My latte was excellent as was the hot chocolate that Tom got. We also shared a huge orange muffin and a slice of black forest cake which were also very good. It was a great place to relax after being on our feet for over an hour and to chat about “Juanita, the ice princess”.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Zingaro, Lazos and Zigzag Restaurants – Arequipa, Peru

In recent years, Peruvian cuisine has received glowing reviews and increased international attention. The Wall Street Journal named Peru’s food scene “The Next Big Thing.” In 2011, the Organization of American States selected Peruvian cuisine to receive the title of Cultural Patrimony of the Americas, the first ever recipient of this award. This is partly due to the country’s diversity of crops and to the international influences adopted from immigrant groups who have made Peru their home. Peruvian dishes reflect a combination of culinary tastes and ingredients that have made it one of the most interesting and unique in the world. Typical of arequipeños is their strong local identity, and this is perhaps best exemplified by the pride they demonstrate when referring to their regional cuisine. Although the city does not have many contemporary, luxuriously appointed restaurants, the historic center is full of superb, atmospheric casual restaurants where you can sample some of the most delicious gastronomy in the country and to start with, we tried what is supposed to be the top three! Zingaro was the first of the “big” three we tried. It is characterized as serving typical, traditional Peruvian cuisine with a Novo-Andean twist. The restaurant is very attractive with about 10 tables on the first floor and an attractive wrought iron, lattice staircase winding up to the second floor. There were only two tables occupied when we arrived and we chose a table for two by a window tucked behind the stairs. The menu is not too extensive and divided into sections for starters and soups, main courses separated by meat which included beef, alpaca, chicken, cuy (guinea pig), seafood, pastas and vegetarian and some sides. We had an advantage in that Tom had been here in the afternoon and had tried their signature “pisco sour”, which he told me came with no sugar on the rim of the glass and was a little too frothy. That decided it for me and I chose a glass of the house white wine, which was decent and Tom had a Cusquena beer. Our waitress quickly brought our drinks and a plate of flat bread. The bread was a low point in the night. Dry, hard and completely tasteless, we were very disappointed. We decided against an appetizer and I settled for the “Zingaro beef”, which came out as three beef grilled tenderloin medallions, cut quite thick with a mushroom sauce and Tom opted for grilled alpaca ribs in red wine sauce. These were actually a cut similar to a porterhouse cut, so there was bone but with fillet and plenty of meat on each side and there were three of them. We both asked for our meat to be very rare. My steak was excellent, cooked to perfection, tender with just the right balance of sauce and served with potatoes. I also really enjoyed the alpaca but Tom thought it a little tough although we both agreed it was very flavorful and the sauce very complimentary. We ordered a bottle of Rutini Cabernet from Argentina and it went well with both meats. For dessert we tried the crepes which were served with fruit and ice-cream and coffee. The crepes arrived warm and accompanied with the ice-cream were very good. The service was excellent and our waitress charming and efficient. The entire meal with tip was 200 soles or about $72.00. Two doors down from Zingaro is Lazos. With the same owner, it is considered Arequipa’s best parrilla. Meat is the primary item on the menu and after some fabulous parrilla in Argentina; we are looking forward to trying this one. With two entry doors, we entered through the one on the left, which took us past the familiar style barbeque. Built from brick into the wall, it has two sides. One smaller where the wood is burned and the fire maintained. The burning embers are then transferred to the larger grill so the meat is charred but never burned. There is already a variety of sausages and meat cuts barbequing and it smells wonderful. Through another door and we are inside a beautiful arched dining room with walls and ceiling made from the white sillar volcanic stone. Contrary to imaging a cold block feeling, the room exudes warmth and softness and our waitress points to several tables that are available. We choose one which gives us a perfect view of the parrilla. The menu, no surprise offers various meat selections and cuts and although the most popular appears to be the set parrilla dinners for two persons or more, we opt for steaks. The fixed dinners come with different types of sausages in addition to some beef cuts but we want steaks. Tom chooses the “angosto” (rib eye) with a salad and roast potatoes and I the ancho or sirloin accompanied by golden potato and vegetables and of course we ask for very rare. The waitress brings a condiment tray with four dipping sauces and toasted, sliced baguette bread. She explains the sauces which range from a very mild mustard style to an extremely hot red chili concoction which Tom loved. They were a very nice compliment to the bread and we decide they need to introduce something similar at Zingaro. We also ordered a Trumpeter Malbec red from Argentina to go with our steaks. Whilst both steaks were very good, my sirloin cut was much more tender and to our liking. Although the same weight, the rib eye was thinner and so was a little too well cooked for our liking. My sirloin was thicker and juicier, although both cuts were very flavorful. The salad, roast potatoes and vegetables which comprised of thinly sliced carrots and beets were excellent but the golden potato was dry and flavorless. For desert we shared a brownie with ice-cream which was very good, along with espresso. The total cost of our meal with tip was 250 soles or $90.00 which we considered good value. The food was good, the ambiance perfect and the service excellent and professional. We highly recommend this one to anyone who wants a tasty, fresh, authentic Peruvian parrilla. It turned out we saved the best for last. Located within Arequipa's historic centre, opposite the beautiful Plaza San Francisco, Zig Zag is just the place to discover new food and to enjoy a different kind evening in cozy surroundings. The restaurant is built from the traditional sillar stone with a gorgeous arched barrel ceiling and a winding wrought iron staircase to the second floor designed by the French architect Gustave Alexandre Eiffel. Yes, that Eiffel. While much of the Peruvian food we had eaten so far was tasty, some of it is really rich and there were a lot of spices and herbs mixed into the sauces. I was in the mood for something plain and simple, and Zig Zag fit the bill. The menu featured all different kind of meats, most of which were sold by the gram and simply prepared. We picked out an appetizer of three different fish tartars served on bruscetta – trout, tuna, and salmon. All three with simply prepared with a little bit of olive and citrus. Each was topped with a sundried tomato that was intensely flavorful and came with a toothpick marker so we could identify the fish. The fish was super fresh, and nicely cut into small cubes and the portions were ample so every bite included lots of fish. For the main part of our meal, they brought us paper bibs to wear. Yes, bibs. Our waitress told us they were “necessary”, and when our food came, we saw why. I had ordered a grilled platter that came with three different kinds of meat; alpaca, beef, and duck and Tom ordered a steak. The meat was served on hot volcanic stones and was sizzling hot. The juice from the meat was literally sputtering when the platter arrived, so the bibs protected our clothes. The meats I ordered were again marked with toothpicks so we could identify what each one was and for sides I ordered fries and ratatouille and Tom had sautéed potatoes and a salad. There was an abundance of food which simply prepared just a little seasoning and grilled on the stones. The alpaca was tender and tasted similar to venison. The beef was fork tender and the duck was nicely gamey. We dipped the meats into the various bowls of sauce that included an ajo sauce (garlicky), tartar sauce, herbed butter sauce (the best) and a spicy pepper sauce. The meats were cooked to perfection on the stones and as the stones cooled, it kept our food hot while preventing them from overcooking. The potatoes both fried and sautéed that came with the meats were heavenly. Seasoned with salt they were super crispy on the outside, potato-y on the inside and not greasy at all. Our table was absolutely filled, and we made a pretty good dent into everything. We ordered a nice bottle of Italian Red Zinfandel to go with the variety of meats and it paired up wonderfully. We even ordered desserts. A chocolate soufflé and a blueberry tartlet, again both were exquisite with espresso and a grand Marnier. Overall we both absolutely loved Zig Zag and ate here on two other occasions. We were never disappointed. It was one of the best meals we had in Arequipa. The meats and fish were all top notch and the presentation was pretty neat. Service was great and the prices were actually really reasonable. If you find yourself in Arequipa, run, don’t walk to Zig Zag! Reservations are definitely recommended and remember to ask for one of the two balcony tables.