Monday, December 20, 2010

Peru, Chapter II

So, the secret thing about Colombia is that the food is not as tasty as other regions of the world. There, we said it. No one in our house used any spice other than salt, and when we made a pasta dish and put a bit of hot sauce in it, the household basically revolted. And despite our wonderful (non-racist) mother thinking it, we were not eating Mexican food for 2 months, because, well, we weren't in or even that close to Mexico...

Which is why our trip to Peru came just in time. Our friend FM sent us a lovely email about the food in Lima, and we had done a bit of research about the food in Cusco, so we went in armed with information, and hopeful that Peru would offer some OK vegetarian options for our mom and sister.

After scarfing down chutney sandwiches and teplas (see previous post), our fam dined at MAP Cafe in Cusco, which was a lovely glass room in the middle of the Pre Columbian Art Museum. Earlier that day we saw some cute Guinea Pigs running around the Piscac market, so we declined to order the Cuy, but our fish and lamb were quite good, and there were some good Veggie options for Mom and Sis.

OK, fine, MAP Cafe can plate food better than we can...

In Lima, we really liked Pescados Capitales, where we ordered one of 98102938 ceviches while our sister looked on eating a risotto. Luckily we had learned some of the deadly sins vocab (Pecados Capitales, GET IT? GET IT??), so we understood some of the wordplay on the menu.

YAY!!! PUNS!!!!!

Lima, with its history of Chinese immigration, also offered "Chifa," which Sis and we went to sample in el Barrio Chino. Because Chifa incorporates Peruvian ingredients and styles, there were fewer veggie options than found in other Chinese inspired cuisines, but the food was pretty good.

And as for Thanksgiving dinner, well, when we called Astrid y Gaston from Bogota and asked if they had veggie options for Mom and Sis, they not only said they did, but said that the chef would be able to offer more options than on the menu. This was false. After getting all dolled up, we arrived at the restaurant, sat down, ordered some wine, and then asked what said "more options" might be. At which point the waiter said that all they had was either grilled or steamed vegetables. We used about 4 different verb tenses in Spanish, including the imperfect subjunctive, to try and convince them otherwise, but...Mom and Sis had grilled vegetables for Thanksgiving dinner, which was a bit of a bummer for them. We again did the ceviche thing, which, as expected, was delicious...

These meat and seafood infused items were better than grilled vegetables...

And as for drink, one can never have too many Pisco Sours, which we learned has egg whites in it, so it's not only great for nights out, but it's healthy as well. We liked some of the bars in Barranco in Lima, the "bohemian" and "gallery" neighborhood, and we even met up with a new friend JQ, who took us to a gay bar in Miraflores, where we had some monster sized Pisco Sours.

Camera tricks in Lima's Center...

So after conquering Peru, we parted ways with the fam and headed back to Bogota for a final week there. Overall, a great country with amazing landscapes in the mountains, nice peeps, and great raw fish soaked in citric acid.

Next stop, LONDON.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Peru, Chapter I

On Saturday, November 20th, we boarded a plane to Lima, Peru, dreaming of ceviche, alpacas, and inca ruins. As you will soon see, dreams really do come true.

We arrived late Saturday night and met our parents and sister at the baggage claim, and then checked into our hotel, which was across the street from said baggage claim. The Lima airport hotel is not joking around when they say that they are located at the airport. Because the online reservation system would not let us do 4 to a room, we lied and said there were only 2 of us, and tried to keep up this lie upon entering by having our mom and sister wait at the entrance. The only problem with this was when our mom and sister tried to enter the hotel, the hotel thought they were prostitutes. To avoid having our mother and sister labeled as such, we shelled out the extra persons fee, a small price to pay to preserve our family's honor.

Very early in the am, we walked back across the street to catch our flight to Cusco, and after only a slight delay - we made it to the historical capital of the Inca empire. We love how the Incas were so gay friendly and adopted the rainbow flag as their own in a showing of solidarity.

But our journey was not yet complete. After adjusting to the 11,200 feet by drinking Cocoa tea (which tasted like cardboard), and eating about 17 chutney sandwiches made with real life Indian chutney smuggled into Peru by our mother, we hopped in a car to Ollantaytambo, the train station in the Sacred Valley, from where we would catch a train to Aguas Calientes. The train ride involved more chutney sandwiches and some Teplas, another delicious Indian snack smuggled across international borders.

We checked into the Hostel el Santuario (which we more than once called the Hotel Sanitorium), a lovely spot along the river, and prepared for our pre-dawn wake up time which would allow us to see the sun rise over Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas. The only problem was at 5:45am, the clouds let loose and it started pouring. Undeterred, our guide led us to the bus and we took the treacherous drive up the mountain to MP.

The rain continued during our two hour tour of the site, (and it's not like we were able to stay dry at all, since our sister insisted that the umbrella remain over her fancy SLR camera the entire time), but the fog and clouds added a level of mystery to the place, and for the whole two hours we had no sense of the scale of it all or of the natural surroundings.

However, what immediately struck us was the obvious anti-Yale sentiment that pervaded the tour. Our sister outed us as a graduate of said institution, and so immediately we felt like we were being attacked. So a Yalie took ALL of the artifacts from MP to New Haven and never gave them back? Don’t take it out on us! Our guide was really smug when he said Yale agreed that very weekend to send everything back, and we swear at some point he tried to push us off an Inca terrace.

We hiked around the site for a bit, and eventually the sun came out and we could finally see Machu Picchu in all its glory, which was pretty incredible. Of course, we forced our sister to take 129038120398 pictures of us from the Guard House for various social networking websites, and we are pretty sure that we at least got one or two good ones out of the session. So we can't be too mad about the umbrella thing.

This is actually us.

After taking it all in, we headed back down to Aguas Calientes for some lunch and relaxing, and then hopped on a train back to Cusco. Upon reaching Cusco, we met up with MA and his brother and sister-in-law for some cervezas, and planned our conquest of the Sacred Valley the following morning.

We met the A family after breakfast, and then Wilbur, the local tour operator, told us we would actually be on separate tours of the Sacred Valley, and that “Oh yeah, you can meet up later,” in a completely random place over 2 hours away. When this was followed by his saying that our non-Spanish speaking parents would be on the Spanish speaking tour, we knew something was wrong. MA and we were as adamant as we could be in our intermediate Spanish, arguing as our first point of contention that Victor back in New York had assured us that both families would have one private tour. While Wilbur tried and tried, he was unable to refute the intricate arguments made by two non-practicing attorneys, even if we did not know how to directly translate “this is a travesty of the Peruvian justice system.” We managed to get a tour guide and car to take us around for the day.

The tour involved an animal rescue shelter (where there were pumas rescued from a Lima nightclub!), the ruins at Pisac, the pisac market (where we miraculously saw the same "handmade" stuff every sixth stall), and the ruins at Ollantaytambo (where we swear we saw a gay tour group who were not nearly as excited to see MA and us).

The sacred valley tour was great, but our dad apparently did not agree, as you can see in the video below.

Coming soon - our thoughts on Peruvian food and drink...