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.

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.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Arequipa, Peru

In a city renowned for its churches, museums and monasteries, the Monasterio de Santa Catalina is outstanding and a not to be missed visit. Occupying a whole block and guarded by imposing high walls, the 20,000-sq-meter complex is like a citadel, a complete miniature walled colonial town in the middle of the city. Built to house the daughters of the wealthiest families who wished to enter into religious service, the monastery was inaugurated on October 2, 1580, under the name of St. Catherine of Siena. It was opened to the public in 1970 after more than 400 years as a cloister. After passing the “silencio” (silent) arch we are in a beautiful courtyard surrounded by rooms. This is the Novice Cloister where the novice nuns lived for four years, taking a vow of silence and pledging their life to God’s work. Their families were expected to pay a dowry of 100 gold coins per year, a lot of money in those days but their families could afford it. Although it was a cloistered convent and remained that way until 1970 the nuns were the daughters of aristocrats and at the very least, did not take their vows of poverty seriously. After becoming fully fledged nuns, they moved into the main areas of the monastery. As we walked down Cordoba Street it is flanked on both sides by “cells” that were the living quarters for the nuns. Each had her own servants and lived extremely opulently surrounded by fine linens, gold and silver. On Toledo Street we pass the communal laundry area where the servants washed the clothes in huge earthenware jars. The water was channeled into the jars via pipes using water from the snow melt. On Zocodober Street is one of the most visited and popular rooms of the convent. This cell belonged to Sister Ana de Los Angeles Monteaguda who lived in the convent until her death in 1686. Almost 300 years later in 1985 she was beautified by then Pope John Paul II. Various miracles and predictions are attributed to her and in her cell there is a shrine and a book which you can add your name and any blessings you would like. Naturally I made my request in English but I am sure the good sister will understand! All her personal items are also on display in her room. One of the last rooms we get to is the art gallery. Two huge rooms in the form of a cross house about 400 pieces of restored art and sculptures. Murals along the walls depict scenes from the life of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. The only word we could think of was “magnificent”. There are a couple of access points where you can climb up narrow winding stairs to the roof. From that vantage point, we could see the volcanoes which surround Arequipa and gaze across the rooftops of the neighboring buildings all the way to the main square and across the river to Yanahuara and Recoleta. There are 20 nuns who still live in a section of the convent which once housed 500, albeit more simply and in seclusion. The convent has been beautifully refurbished with period furniture and paintings. There are flower filled gardens, spacious patios, granite fountains as well as arches and narrow streets. The tile-roofed buildings are painted in traditional white, rusty orange and a brilliant cornflower blue. Wandering along the streets and courtyards, it is easy to soak in the meditative atmosphere. There is a guided tour in a variety of languages but we wanted to wander around ourselves and take our time in the streets and alleys that make up the monastery so we chose the self guided tour which with the map and outline we were given was enough. At every street, square and room there were plaques explaining the area so we did not feel we missed any of the history by not taking the guided version. In fact, the guided groups looked rushed to us and we found them to be a little annoying. The constant chatter marred the silent beauty. It was much more relaxing and meditative to wander the cobbled streets alone. It took us a little longer than expected about 3 hours but we really enjoyed the visit. Oh, and this is the place to come to take your wedding photos. We met three different wedding parties complete with photographers and when we stepped outside there was a line of vintage cars which had brought the various parties including a 1936 Studebaker (we think) a 1930 Ford and a 1940’s Peugeot. Quite a collection.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Yanahuara & Restaurant Crepisimo, Arequipa, Peru

Our sightseeing today is across the river from Arequipa in the pretty suburb of Yanahuara, just a short cab ride away. The suburb is a popular spot for tourists because of the mirador (lookout) that gives great views of the city and mountains and also its church. It is another traditional neighborhood with narrow cobbled streets and old houses and by the time we arrive, it is bustling with people and vendors selling artisanal crafts. All of the sights are centered around the small but attractive plaza with plenty of shade trees, benches and a fountain sculptured from bronze. It's a great spot to sit and people watch. From the mirador which is located next to the square there are extraordinary views over the city, volcanoes and per-Inca terraces. Built in the nineteenth century style of neo-classical architecture, it consists of a series of six arches made from volcanic ashlar in which are carved famous Arequipa proverbs that expressed life. All the arches have the inscriptions around them, some of which we couldn’t translate but one roughly translates to something like "We are strong because we were born at the foot of a volcano." Today it is clear and sunny with not a cloud in sight and through the various archways we get some phenomenal views of that volcano; Volcan Misti which towers over Arequipa and is still considered to be active and some decent views of the other two volcanoes, Chachani and Picchu Picchu although these were partially blocked by power lines which marred the views somewhat. With perpetual snow flanking their sides, they are picture postcard spectacular. On the other side of the square is the beautiful white church of San Juan Bautista. Built in 1750 the façade is baroque in style and is ornately carved with the regional mestizo decorative patterns of the local cultures. On this church there are Incan dolls called “putti” which are adorned with elaborate headdresses in addition to figures of angels, scrolls, floral patterns and cherubs. The main church was unfortunately closed and only a smaller chapel to the left was open for prayer. Stepping back outside to admire the façade and absorb more of the detail, we wandered over to a small artisan mall. We found some of the nicest inlaid woodwork we have seen and wound up purchasing a picture and a jewelry box both depicting the city of Arequipa with the volcanoes in the background. The taxi driver who took us had kindly waited to take us back to the hostel and we were very happy with our trip and purchases. From there we went to Crepisimo for lunch. Owned by the same people as ZigZag restaurant, Crepisimo’s is more along the lines of a French style café. Set off one of the main streets in a small courtyard it has ambience in a low key sort of way. Their menu offers 100 different varieties of crepes, both savory and sweet combining the traditional French crepe with quality ingredients. The restaurant is small and when we arrived lunch was well underway but we found a table for two in the main part of the café. As we checked out the menu, the waitress kept bringing by trays of food, stacked with crepes of various kinds. The lady at the table next to us had ordered a sweet crepe filled with fruit and chocolate, it looked like heaven. I ordered their set daily menu which included a salad, a choice of crepe, dessert and a soft drink, for under $10.00. My crepe selection was from the Peruvian section and was a smoked Andean trout filling. Tom chose a steak and mushroom filled crepe and a beer and we settled back to wait. My salad was excellent with lettuce, tomatoes, beets, avocado and croutons. And the crepes well, they were just fantastic. Covering the entire plate and with lots of filling, my smoked trout in a light creamy sauce was amazing with huge chunks of trout and Toms steak and mushroom was equally as generous. For dessert, I selected the chocolate ice-cream and coffee while Tom had one of the ubiquitous pisco sours. We left completely satisfied and with a mental note to return for one of those sweet crepes. Fantastic.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Cathedral Museum and Restaurant Fory Fay, Arequipa, Peru

Our first stop is back at the Plaza de Armas and to the museum attached to the cathedral complex. Managed by ICOM (International Council of Museums) the Arequipa Cathedral museum has five themed rooms and more than 250 pieces from its religious heritage past. Because ICOM works at eradicating the illegal trafficking of artifacts to prevent black market commercialization, they assist in identifying authentic religious pieces uniquely tied to Arequipa and Peru’s history and the result is a magnificent and eclectic collection. All the tours are guided and we were told that while we could take photographs in the cathedral and from the belfry, no photography was allowed inside the museum itself. This is unfortunate because the artifacts on display are quite simply, sensational. The tour starts inside the Basilica Cathedral, where our guide explained the origins of the main altar which is made from Carrera marble brought from Italy, the chairs made from cedar wood and the images of the Virgin and Saints. We then made our way up a flight of steps to the museum and we were captivated. From the first room with its fabulous display of colonial artworks to rooms that house the most remarkable collection of statues, crowns, chalices and other liturgical items made from gold, silver, many encrusted with precious and semi precious stones with intricate detail and quality. Some of their art is truly priceless. In yet another room there was exhibits of a varied collection of ecclesiastical clothing pieces woven from satins and brocades, embroidered with gold and silver threads and adorned with jewels. Many of these items are still used on certain religious days while others are destined to obscurity. The final room features a collection of paintings by Francisco Laso. Whilst these are just some of the beautiful pieces on display, ICOM is still working to add to the collection and have several more pieces undergoing restoration so that when they are integrated into the display they will be in as perfect a condition as those seen now. The last addition was an image of Franciscan martyr, San Juan del Prado which was originally donated by the Goyenche family in the eighteenth century. From the museum our guide took us through the upper level of the church with gorgeous views from behind the organ down the entire length of the cathedral to the main altar. Then this tour which we had thoroughly enjoyed went to another level, figuratively and literally, when we were taken to the bell towers. Accessing the roof of the Cathedral up a fairly steep and winding stone staircase, we were able to see the two towers with their huge bells and walk around the roof surveying the plaza and city scenes far below us. This last part gives a spectacular view of the city with the Andes and the three volcanoes which surround Arequipa. The tour which takes about 1 hour is well worth the cost (about $20.00 including the guides tip) and time. From the museum, we walked to Cevicheria Fory Fay for lunch. Touted as being a local restaurant and with the supposed best ceviche in town, we figured we would give it a try. Through the small doorway, the restaurant seemed as though there were only about 5 tables and all were taken but off to the left is another larger room and there was still a couple of tables available. The crowd was a mixture of local and tourists, heavily leaning toward the local side. Simple tables, no tablecloths, paper napkins, this is definitely a no-frills place. We ordered the specialty of fish ceviche with a glass of house white wine for me and a Cusquana beer for Tom. Our waitress who spoke no English was charming, polite and efficient. The ceviche (raw fish marinated in lime juice) was served in a large bowl with a mildly spicy sauce and garnished with red onions and seaweed. She also brought another smaller bowl filled with very spicy peppers which Tom loved. The food was delicious. Since this is the only ceviche we have tried in town so far we don’t know if it is the best but it was definitely fresh and flavorful and the price was reasonable. A great lunch time spot, we would come here again. Oh, and its name is the phonetic spelling of how Peruvians say “45” in English.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Plaza de Armas and Cathedral, Arequipa, Peru

All things in Arequipa begin at the Plaza de Armas and since it is Sunday we decide to go to mass at the main cathedral. Our walk to the cathedral, takes us through the main square. Considered the center of the historic district, the Plaza showcases the city's architecture and the cathedral. Around three of its sides the huge Neo-Renaissance granite portals and columns add more than a touch of grandeur to the square. The fourth side is taken up by the enormous twin towered cathedral. The plaza is usually packed with people from all walks of life and the colonnaded balconies overlooking the plaza are a great place to relax or hang out at the restaurants and people watch. The square has beautiful walkways with benches and plenty of trees for shade. In the center is a bronze fountain with a sculpture made from copper of Tuturutu, a pixie with a trumpet, it is said that he once had wings, but over the years they were eroded away. There is a myth about Tuturutu saying that he was a character who enjoyed the confidence of the Inca Mayta Capac and was his official messenger. The name “Tuturutu” was taken from the sound the trumpet made when it was used to announce to the Inca the arrival of a chasqui or package. One morning Turturutu was found dead and petrified and since then has become the permanent lookout at the Plaza. Like I said, it’s a nice myth. We resolve to check it out later but we have to get to the cathedral for mass at 11am. Home for the Archdiocese of Arequipa, the imposing Cathedral stretches the entire length of the north end of the Plaza de Armas. Its huge facade dominates this side of the Plaza and is a fine example of Spanish colonial architecture. The cathedral is also considered one of Peru's most unusual and famous colonial cathedrals since the Spanish conquest. Since geographically and geologically Peru is situated on the world’s “Ring of Fire”, the area around the Pacific Ocean known for its frequent and violent volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, this cathedral is a testament to the test of man versus nature. First built in 1540, it was a pile of rubble following an earthquake in 1583. It was rebuilt in 1600, only to be destroyed again by another earthquake and a volcanic eruption four years later in 1604. It was then rebuilt a third time in 1656 and this time stood for almost 200 years before being partially destroyed by a fire in 1844 and another earthquake in 1868 which destroyed the towers, part of the main portal, some of the facade and the altars. Undeterred, yet another major renovation took place under the direction of architect Lucas Poblete. After the work was completed, the building maintained its beautiful façade of Neo Classic design made with white volcanic stone crowned by two towers each 28 meters (90 feet) high. Another large earthquake hit Arequipa in June of 2001, which toppled one of the cathedral's towers but did not cause major damage. In June of 2001 a strong earthquake measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale, destroyed the left tower and the right tower suffered major damage. The indomitable character and will of the people came through again and both towers were restored a year later. As we walk inside we are awestruck at the beauty of this church. Amongst the richly ornamented wood carvings, the carved wood pulpit made by Boisini-Rigot, of Lille, France in 1879, stands out. But it is the organ which is said to be the largest in South America and was donated by Belgium in 1854 that is the true eye catcher. It fills one whole wall opposite the altar. The cathedral is closed to tourists during mass so the service was uninterrupted and although in Spanish, it was incredibly amazing, history is just seeped into every stone of the building. Just magnificent.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Colca Canyon, Peru - Photographs

Copy and paste the link to view the photographs of Colca Canyon. Best if viewed as a slideshow so you can enjoy the captions. Enjoy