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Friday, May 29, 2015

Lima - Big City Small Maps

As promised, here's a blog about the HUGE city of Lima. I hate to say it, but it's not going to be as brief as I originally did notice the word "huge", right? There are around 10 million people that call Lima home and it feels like it. The city is actually so large, that it's hard to get your hands on a map (well, a tourist map) of the whole thing. They tend to produce them for each area which makes it remarkably hard to find your way around the city. The other challenge is the lack of taxi meters. You must negotiate with each and every "taxista" to take you where you want to go. We walked away from a lot of cabs to try and find better prices; the good news is that it can be done. On one trip we saved 15 soles by walking further down the street and away from the tourist hotspot.

Anyhow, Lima is a trip. There's so much traffic and so many districts that you could stay for a month and not see the majority of it. We focused on some specific areas, so that we wouldn't feel too overwhelmed and like we had to try and see everything.


This is the "shi-shi" district, meaning well-to-do, where many tourists stay if they aren't just overnighting. It's mainly residential, but with lots of amenities like restaurants, shopping, parks and the walkway along the cliffs overlooking the beach. There a many signs warning against honking or any other undue noise which makes for a pleasant stay.  You can rent bikes in several locations and enjoy the long stretch of pathway above or along the beach.

El Barranco:

Commonly defined as the "boho" district of Lima, the place usually comes alive at night and is a restaurant and club hotspot. We went during the day and it was decidedly low key. Being crazy gringos, we walked from Miraflores, along the beach and up to the Puente de Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs), so named after a girl longing for her lover. (Said lover was not of the appropriate social status and Papi was having none of it.) There is a very nice town square and some interesting architecture. I was particularly fascinated by the run down  buildings that seemed spooky and kind of romantic. There was a decided lack of boho clothing stores and I came away empty handed.
There's some sort of unwritten law in Peru that
all the churches have to be yellow.
This one is perfect from the front...

Not so good beyond the facade

Kind of New Orleans-esque, no?

La Gamarra (in La Victoria area):

We heard about this place on a "places you shouldn't miss, but tourists never go to" list. We walked (again), but this was a decidedly longer hike than to El Barranco and wended through both nice and rougher areas of the city. We only had the most general sense of where we were headed (due to map issues) and had to stop a couple of times to ask people if we were headed the right way. Looking back on it, it strikes me as funny, but we actually talked about how we would know when we'd arrived in la Gamarra. We shouldn't have worried. What is this place, you may be asking? The garment district. It's loaded with factories that make all sorts of clothes; from underwear to ball gowns, exercise gear to custom suits. It's HUGE; probably 5 blocks square with four and five story buildings selling nothing but clothing. It was also packed with Peruvians and not a gringo in sight.

If you've ever been to Las Vegas, you'll be familiar with the guys on the street with their little business cards for "entertainment", well the Gamarra isn't much different except the cards are for little shops buried in the back of a huge rabbit warren of stores. I can't even begin to describe how the multi-story buildings are laid out. There are half floors and landings crammed with stores, narrow aisles and crazy layouts that get you lost in a heart beat and everyone (almost) wants to sell you something. I only found one place that really had no interest in selling anything and that was the place where I was trying to get some tank tops. I gave up. If you get a chance, go visit the district (cabbies do know it) and pick up a few deals (or lots of deals) your only limit is the cash you bring with you. Ron picked up two pairs of jeans and four shirts for $90. (Yes, all black.)

El Centro (Plaza de Armas):

It's a 20-30 sole ride from Miraflores to the historic centre of Lima. On the square are some of the best examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in the city; the cathedral and the palace; which has a changing of the guard at 11:40 (ish) am. Down many of the streets are amazing buildings not only in the colonial style, but also art deco creations that are really incredible.
Spanish Balconies
The Palace
Art Deco? Spanish Revival? You decide

There are a number of museums, many offering free entry, plus a range of shopping malls in pedestrian only areas. There is also a large market and Chinatown, not far from the main square. We spent several hours just wandering around and then found a nice restaurant overlooking the square to enjoy lunch.

Note the lady sleeping on the goat carcass.

Gigantic cinnamon sticks
(use eggs for size reference)
Plaza de Armas

The Zoo:
Again, we were the only gringos to be had. I guess not many people stay for any length, so the zoo isn't on their priority list. I have mixed feelings about zoos, but can't resist the lure of so many animals in one place. There were only a couple of animals that I felt had cracked due to their captivity (which, of course, is a couple too many); the rest seemed either content (or resigned), sometimes it was hard to tell.

The Condor (National bird of Ecuador)

Andean Puma

Museo Larco:
This is a fine example of a well executed museum. The display are well laid out, offer several languages and the content is actually interesting. The museum boasts the largest collection of "erotic" pottery and ceramic ware in the world, as well as a good collection of pottery, metal work (precious and not) and fabric samples from the mighty Incan Empire and their conquered tribes.

The museums unofficial greeter, taking a well deserved nap.

Curcuito de Agua:
If you like dancing fountains, you'll like this place. We came as night was falling to catch some of the music and light show. There are over a dozen fountains (I believe) with varying levels of complexity and interactivity. The water tunnel was particularly popular, as well as the adults' and children's play fountains.

As an added bonus there was a Kennel Club dog show on the grounds, which I enjoyed, but alas, my battery was running low and I didn't get any good photos. :0(

The final thing about Lima is the people...they're a lot taller than in Cusco or even in most of Ecuador. They are also city a rush and don't have much time for loiterers or tourists. That's not to say that they're rude, just distracted. It was an amazing adventure and we'd recommend it to anyone with even the smallest sense of adventure.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Machu Picchu 4 - FOOD

Okay, so you've taken the adventure with us, you've camped, hiked and summited; seen the sights and experienced history. What more could there possibly be??? Food, of course.

WARNING: Not for people who hate food or pictures of food!!! (Or on horribly strict diets and are currently feeling desperate.)

Peru is the gourmet capital of South America and has been named, on several occasions the gourmet capital of the world. (Shhhh, don't tell France or Italy.) One of the reasons we selected Llama Path Tours is because we heard the food was awesome. (I mentioned this in an earlier post.) Their weakest meal was breakfast, but nobody left hungry or dissatisfied. (It might have something to do with the fact that we're oatmeal addicts and they never served it and the fresh fruit was a bit lacking, but that's another thing that we're obsessed with.)

I'm going to post a selection of photos from our trek, as well as some of the food we had in Cusco and Lima. Enjoy...we certainly did.

Sebastian's work:  Chef for Llama Path (Salkantay Trek)
Chicken Ceviche
Fried Trout in Herb Sauce
Stuffed Avacadoes

Chicken with Tomato Salsa
Mixed Vegetable Salad
Chicken Skewers on a Turtle Shaped Pinapple
Steamed Veggies in a Yellow Aji Dressing
Ceviche is Peru's signature dish, followed closely by their signature drink the Pisco Sour:
Ceviche with Yellow Aji
Traditional Ceviche with an Herb Sauce Twist
Unintentionally (but conveniently) we had a gourmet day in Lima, with lunch at a restaurant called Cala, located right on the beach. We sat out on the balcony, overlooking the ocean and enjoyed "light" meal, which included a bottle of wine and dessert.
Beef Cheeks in Bernaise Sauce with Soft Boiled Egg
Traditional Mixed Ceviche
Chocolate Mousse (soo Spanish - ha ha)
Suspiro de Chiramoya
Later that night we went to a highly acclaimed restaurant called IK. (Don't think I didn't noticed the irony of a restaurant having a name the sound equivalent of "ICK", as in yuck, gross.) Fortunately for us, the restaurant was named after the owner Ivan Kisik and not for a poor dining experience. The whole thing (including the building) was designed to appeal to every sense. The interior is constructed like a Peruvian fruit crate; think a wooden orange crate, with plants inserted between the slats, giving a sense of the Amazon. The bathroom (at least the ladies') has a ceiling of Plexiglas tiles, bedecked with vinyl coating of blooming vines and back lighting. The rest is pretty well all mirror, so you feel like your in a sunny arbor.

See the chefs on the lower tier? A symphony of culinary work.
We opted for the 8 dish tasting menu (you can also order a la carte or go nuts and have the 11 course tasting menu). We didn't have a bad dish. There was only one that you needed to work at to get all the flavours going, but the rest were very well developed an balanced and it was a remarkable experience. I will say one thing; the restaurant and staff take themselves very seriously (for me, I'm used to a more relaxed dining experience, even at five star restaurants). 

This might stem from the fact that the chef who imagined this experience was killed in a car accident shortly before the restaurant opened. I can only think that the staff are adhering to his legacy. They obviously have exacting service standards, ensuring that everyone at the table receives their dish at the same time (my mind boggles at the thought of a table for 10...would the sous chef come out to make sure each guest was served simultaneously?), replacing cutlery with every course (okay, that's not so unusual) and operating with grace, even in the kitchen, which you can see from the dining area.  Anyhow, here's the meal, with description.
Menu - click to enlarge
Amuse bouche (not on menu)
Octopus on homemade torilla chips
Trout on Sweet Potato Mousse

Amazonian tuber pudding with coconut froth
Corvina in a grenadilla saude, kumquat, daikon, ginger geletin
Variety of tomatoes, aromatic herbs, chia and chili pepper
Scallops in lulo (an amazonian fruit)
Amazonian Paiche, warm ceviche
Corvina with bok choy, lemongrass and sauteed veg.
Cuy (guinea pig) 3 ways
Above - skin, purple corn chips and cuy pate
Below - marinated cuy thigh

Another traditional Peruvian dish
Chicharon (pork belly) with corn and mustard
braised with teriyaki
Sauteed apples in pisco, smoked apple puree, nut and
frozen tarragon powder
White chocolate truffles with maracuya liquid
Strawberry marshmellows
Peruvian Yunsa Tree

Chocolate and ganache truffles
Fittingly, on our last full day, we chose to stroll along the beach and have a relaxing lunch at the nearby mall. Not what you expected? This mall is like one in Southern California, mostly outside, with restaurants strung along the beach side of the complex. We skipped the T.G.I.Friday's and headed for a restaurant called Popular. It was mother's day and everything was fairly busy, but we scored two seats along the bar overlooking the ocean, once again. We ordered the pulpo al carbon (grilled octopus) and traditional mixed ceviche along with an Argentinian sparkling wine. It was a great way to pass an afternoon.

We finished of our culinary journey that evening at a Japanese restaurant inexplicably called Magma...I don't know if they meant Manga or if the name was intentional, but it was nice to have a simple, fresh and fairly inexpensive meal that we'd have to spend a fortune for, here in Cuenca. I will say this, food in Peru, for the most part, is not only excellent, but affordable. Our only real blow out meal was at IK and we've, honestly, spent more on dinner in Vancouver.

Our next installment will be blissfully short, and will feature a few of the districts of Lima, a huge city that it's almost overwhelming when you try to tackle it. Until then, be well!