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Monthly Archives: May 2016

Peruvian Food

As I mentioned previously, before we started really planning this trip, I had no idea Lima was such a hotbed of amazing cuisine.  Three of the world’s Top 50 Restaurants are in Lima.  We made sure to book reservations at all three, even though we were really only spending two days in Lima.  We booked two for lunch and one for dinner.  These restaurants weren’t scheduled until the very end of our trip.

We landed in Peru around 21h00 on a Saturday night, with a 09h00 departure the following morning. I had read of a great new bar with fantastic Peruvian Bar Food (modern casual take on traditional Peruvian fare) that I wanted to try.  We couldn’t make resos until 30 days prior to our arrival, which of course I forgot to do until the day before we left Chicago. I was able to book a spot for two at 21h45. Little did I know that with customs, baggage claim, taxis and traffic we wouldn’t be ready to eat until closer to 22h30. The hotel tried to get our spot, but were unable to do so. This place was packed.  They recommended another place called Lima27, which was a very short cab ride away. This place was also a modern take on traditional Peruvian Food and it was stellar.

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you’ll know that I was introduced to ceviche / tartare with a lemon sorbet as an accompaniment. I had never seen this before. It kicked the flavors to an entirely new level and quite honestly, I don’t know why I haven’t come across this before – it seems so obvious now. The cold, tart lemon flavor pairs perfectly with the fish. I could eat this daily for the rest of my life.

Tuna tartare with lemon sorbet. Utterly mind blowing flavors.

Tuna tartare with lemon sorbet. Utterly mind blowing flavors.

I was also introduced to Causa, which is basically a mashed potato dumpling with something fun/fancy on top. We had some ceviche, edible flowers, other vegetables or just a sauce. I was surprised at how different the potato could taste with a tiny drop of something added atop.

Causa with various toppings from sauces to fish to edible flowers.

Causa with various toppings from sauces to fish to edible flowers.

As we continued our trek through Peru we found, like elsewhere on the continent, lots of meat and potatoes. We are adventurous eaters. We’ve done motorbike driven street food in Saigon, bun cha in a dilapidated building in Hanoi, Cambodian BBQ in Siem Reap, Cape Malay in Cape Town, Shanghai Street food (which didn’t  make us violently ill), the stinkiest cheese in Burgundy and even the free breakfast buffet at a Holiday Inn in central Illinois. One of the things I wanted to try while in Peru was cuy or guinea pig.

I read of a place where you can go pick out you guinea pig (think lobster), you can pet/cuddle it (and name it, if you want) before they kill and roast it. We didn’t do that. I’m not that dead inside. We did find a place that offered roasted cuy in Cusco  (not hard to find) and ordered it along with trout ceviche and alpaca skewers.

Roasted Cuy (guinea pig). Quite the smile, eh?

Roasted Cuy (guinea pig). Quite the smile, eh?

I’m not usually a trout person, but this was really good. The corn with it wasn’t the traditional sweet corn we find in the US, but a savory corn.

Trucha (trout) ceviche with Andean Potato and local corn.

Trucha (trout) ceviche with Andean Potato and local corn.

The alpaca reminded me of any other large mammal I’ve eaten: beef (more veal), kudu – it wasn’t like lamb or goat, which is what I first thought it would be like.

The alpaca skewers were tasty, but alpaca doesn't have a distinct flavor - it tasted like veal.

The alpaca skewers were tasty, but alpaca doesn’t have a distinct flavor – it tasted like veal.

As we ate our way through Peru we found more of the same: meat, potatoes, trout and something new: rocoto relleno, which is very popular in Arequipa. While I am far from a vegetarian, I do try to limit my meat consumption to once a day…not such an easy thing for me here in Peru.

Rocoto relleno in Arequipa, Peru. These tiny peppers are stuffed with meat and veg and served with chips made from local potatoes.

Rocoto relleno in Arequipa, Peru. These tiny peppers are stuffed with meat and veg and served with chips made from local potatoes.

What were your favorite foods while in Peru?  Were you getting a little tired of the meat heavy dishes?  I was a little hesitant of the Rocoto relleno in Arequipa, just because I was recovering from a stomach issue, but it was perfectly spicy and flavorful.  I can’t wait to make this pepper dish as well as the sorbet tartare when I get back home.

La Paz: Initial Thoughts

We landed in La Paz Bolivia about 24 hours ago.  It was Sunday and most things were closed. This is my first trip to La Paz and Bolivia in general.  As we came in for a landing (from Lima), I was surprised at how desolate the area looked.  Basically I saw a brown plateau with skyrocketing mountains off a few dozen miles away.

Beautiful view from the Airport Taxi Stand

Beautiful view from the Airport Taxi Stand

The city itself is built down in a crater and from the bottom to the top there is about a 1,500 foot elevation change, which in general isn’t too bad, but when you are already at 11,500 feet, that starts to be meaningful.

We’ve seen more homeless on the streets there than we saw in Lima (granted our time in Lima was very limited), Cusco, Urabamba or Arequipa combined.  We are also seeing more aggressive street vendors, pushing their goods into your hands and your face.  Nothing that makes me feel unsafe at all though.

Locals feeding pigeons on a lazy Sunday afternoon at Plaza Murillo.

Locals feeding pigeons on a lazy Sunday afternoon at Plaza Murillo.

If you are active on TripAdvisor and are open for a sandwich and a beer late afternoon on a Sunday, EVERY SINGLE TOURIST will swing by at some point.  Antigua Miami was a great place to spend a couple hours chatting about local food, politics, infrastructure as well as global food trends, eco-tourism, etc.  The owner is what every entrepreneur should be like.

Most of the Spanish style architecture isn’t is the best repair.  Mostly falling down/dilapidated, but there are definitely some beautiful pockets.

Calle Jaen La Paz, home to restaurants, galleries and shops.

Calle Jaen La Paz, home to restaurants, galleries and shops.

Off to explore the City.  We’ll be doing so at a slower than normal pace, again thanks to the altitude.  Do you all have any suggestions for us?

7 Things I didn’t Know About Peru Before This Trip

Peru has always been on my travel list, mostly for Machu Picchu. Honestly, I knew very little about the country before I started planning this trip. I knew where Peru was, that Lima was the capital, that Cusco was the other capital, of the Incas and Machu Picchu – but that was really it.

We learned so much while planning this trip and even more on it.  Here are a few of my observations so far:

Lima is HUGE! Lima has 8.5M people which, depending on what source you a use, that’s the same size of New York City. Who knew?

Lima knows food. Three of the world’s Top 50 Restaurants are in Lima…and we are going to all of them. We’ll be hitting Central and Maido for lunches and Astrid y Gaston for dinner.

They speak “Tim Spanish”. I took 3.5 years of Spanish in High School, then switched to German in college. In Mexico, Puerto Rico and the US I struggle understanding spoken Spanish. In Spain and now in Peru I can understand about 80% of what is going on. I may not get the exact words, but I can follow the conversation (the English language tour of Cusco was offered exclusively in Spanish – I learned a lot and understood so much more than either Mike or I thought I would). The Peruvians (at least the ones we’ve dealt with and I don’t just mean hotel workers) have spoken slowly and perfectly enunciated each syllable, so even a dolt like me could get by.

It’s polluted. The air is thick with vehicle exhaust. Cars are spewing visible clouds of toxins as they venture down the road. Even newer model cars are often leaving a trail of grey smoke behind them. As we sit in the courtyard at our hotel in Arequipa, the area fills with exhaust making the otherwise beautiful area toxic.

Plumbing issues. Most places we’ve visited here have the small waste bin near the toilet where you deposit your soiled toilet paper. I know, I know…this isn’t an unheard of phenomenon, but it still grosses me out. Especially since I had some stomach issues at Machu Picchu. I will be forever grateful for our robust American plumbing.

Potatoes. There are more than 4,000 types of potatoes cultivated in Peru. The potato is a staple of Peruvian meals and it is common to see a meal with both rice and potatoes.

Beauty. The natural surroundings are utterly breathtaking. The mountains appear to rise almost vertically. Glaciers atop these mountains are easily seen as the cloud cover is limited. The sheer beauty is astonishing.

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Stunning view from Machu Picchu. The mountains were breathtaking.

We are off to Bolivia tomorrow for about half a week and return for a final couple days in Lima. I am excited to see the differences between these two countries and to see what fantastic new things I experience in and around La Paz.

What shocked you about Peru / Bolivia? What about other countries you’ve visited? Has something come as an utter surprise once you were boots on ground? Anything I should keep my eyes open for in Bolivia?

Altitude Sickness

When traveling somewhere exotic, I always stop by the Travel Clinic at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Luckily, for my current trip to Peru, the only think I needed was antibiotics  (for travelers diarrhea, if needed) and pills for altitude sickness.

I’ve never ventured to these heights before – Cusco is about 11,000 feet and La Paz is 12,000 feet.  Altitude sickness can cause, diziness, light-headedness, nausea, headache, insomnia and lack of energy.  I was prescribed some pills which I had to start taking two days prior to reaching elevation.  Since I am allergic to sulfa based drugs (which the traditional altitude sickness medicine has) I was given an alternative.  This alternative has the following side effects: dizziness, light-headedness, nausea, headache, insomnia, lethargy, sun sensitivity, light sensitivity, excessive thirst and frequent urination.

You read that right, the medicine appears to be worse than the illness.  I stopped taking the pills our last night in Cuzco and the following morning my headache (which had lingered since Friday night) was gone, I didn’t feel confused / lightheaded today and I haven’t been running to pee every 60 minutes either.

I am usually trying to find ways not to take big pharma meds, but when it comes to travel, I figure I’d rather use the meds and not have a ruined vacation, but in this instance, the opposite nearly happened.

My guidance is, of course, follow your doctor’s advice, but question everything he/she says and ask for alternatives.

How have you dealt with altitude sickness? Have you had any other travel experiences like this?  Do you visit a travel clinic before you head off on a trip somewhere?

Once in a Lifetime Trip

Growing up, each year, we would always take a vacation and that vacation always included air travel. Those trips also always meant we were going to see my mom’s family in West Virginia. We would often spend a week with my grandparents then hit the road with my mom’s younger sister.  Our road trips usually had us visiting some historic site, en route to an outlet mall.  I said we vacationed and flew annually, I didn’t say it was glamorous.

We would make our way to historic Williamsburg, VA and stop at the outlet malls halfway from Richmond.  We would visit the Amish near Lancaster, PA and stop off at the mall near Reading. We would stay in normal motels, nothing fancy. Rarely was it a hotel proper, more often it was a roadside motel, but it was always clean, safe and with A/C.

Our meals on this trip were always exciting for me.  Growing up in rural Oregon in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we didn’t have the haute cuisine you can find underfoot now. Hell, we didn’t even have many nationally recognized chain restaurants. Fast food we had a plenty, but casual eat in places were at least 45 minutes away.  On these road trips I was happy, no…I honestly looked forward to eating at Cracker Barrel, Olive Garden, Bob Evans and if my cousin and I were good and kept the fighting limited, we would hit Red Lobster once on the trip. I loved their biscuits.

This type of travel was what I grew up with. It was also more than many of my school friends did.  Most of their families were close by. Some couldn’t afford the luxury of air travel. I was fortunate in that regard.

A few times we took an overnight trip to the Oregon Coast, where my mom, dad and I would share a motel room. We would eat at local seafood restaurants, we would browse the shops and yes, we would even visit the Lincoln City outlet mall.

We never took a grand vacation to Disney or Hawaii like some of my friends did.  We didn’t have a lot of money. My dad worked as many shifts as he could at the various mills just to try to get ahead.  His only real travel experiences, other than the West Virginia excursions included a train trip to Kansas City in High School and to Vietnam. The latter was not his choice.

He said that he always wanted to visit Auatralia. He said once he retires hes going to take two weeks and visit Sydney. He never explained why. Perhaps he knew a girl from there and he wanted to see if it was as lovely as she claimed.  Perhaps he thought since it was on the other side of the planet it would be totally different (but the common language would make it easier to get around). Perhaps it was because it seemed like an unattainable goal and he always wanted to work toward something.  We will never know why he yearned for Australia. He died before he could fully explain and more importantly he died before his trip ever happened.

Australia was his once in a lifetime trip. “Just wait, once we save a little more and I retire, we will see Australia” he would say regularly.  It was sad to hear, especially towards the end.  He hung onto that goal forever.

After he got sick, I tried to find a way to make that trip work,  but he didn’t want to miss his chemotherapy, maybe this next round would do the trick.  He felt awful a lot of the time and I think we can all agree that nothing is worse than being really sick away from home.

It is because of my dad and his unacheived goal, his once in a lifetime trip, that I choose to travel. I found that you can have these once in a lifetime trips more frequently. You don’t need a ton of money, you need planning and the nerve. You’ve heard the phrase “On one’s deathbed, no one ever wishes they spent more time in the office.”

I have been fortunate to take several “once in a lifetime” trips. We’ve done Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, countless trips in both the US and Europe. We’ve always got something in the hopper. If we don’t have flights for our next adventure booked when we are returning from our current trip I am angst filled.

Our next “once in a lifetime” trip is to Peru and Bolivia. Two weeks away from work, seeing the amazing sights of Machu Piccu, eating too much world class food in Lima and cycling the North Yungas Road (a/k/a Death Road) outside of La Paz.

You never know when your time will be up. Take every opportunity you can to live your dreams – be they travel related, food / cooking, cocktail / wine, writing, running or learning. Whatever your goal just do it. Talk about it. Get excited, get others excited. Ask for help on how to achieve whatever it is you are striving for.