Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Peruvian foods I will (and won't) miss

In one month in Peru, I can safely say I’ve tried quite a list of foods and drinks I never even knew existed. This was obviously very exciting for me, and I’ve developed a number of new favorite dishes I can’t wait to try again. At the same time, there are a few I’ll have no problem never tasting again.

Foods I will miss:

1. Lomo Saltado

The lomo saltado is nothing short of legendary. It is a stir-fry, in which beef, tomatoes, peppers, and onions are blended in a pan with soy sauce and fried potatoes. It is perhaps the most popular dish in Peru, and easily my favorite.

2. Anticuchos

While I may have been the only one on the trip to try these, I am certain everyone else made a huge mistake. I had my first skewer from a street vendor for just 2 soles, and there was no looking back after that. Usually made from cow hearts, anticuchos are cheap and absolutely delicious.

3. Palta Rellena

It’s hard not to make something good when avocado is the main ingredient, and the palta rellena is no exception. It is basically half an avocado stuffed with whatever the chef feels like. It is always delicious.

4. Pisco Sour

The GOAT of Latin American cocktails. Order a pisco sour (or seven), sit back, and enjoy.

Foods I won't miss as much:

1. Andean Cheese

Just don’t. Everything else on this list you can try and see for yourself, but do yourself a favor and just don’t try andean cheese.

2. Mazamorra Morada

The best description of this lovely dessert came from one of the members of our trip. He describes it as “corn/robitussin/melted candle/3rd party off brand gummy bear plasma.” Take that as you will.

3. Chupe de Camarones

There’s nothing I love in this world like shrimp and prawns, but this soup is one of the only things hat can make me hate them. Imagine a bowl of milk, hot sauce, and shrimps. Now throw in a hard boiled egg and some of that good old andean cheese. Now some more milk. You have yourself a chupe de camarones. Buena suerte.

4. Inca Kola

Look, I’m all for Peru having its own signature soda, but if I really wanted bubblegum flavored toothpaste, I’d go back to my 7th grade orthodontist.

The Day I Climbed a Skyscraper

     The highest altitude we reached during our trip was the town of Chinchero, where we stayed for a couple of nights. The town is situated at a lofty 14,000 feet, quite a bit higher than Nashville. On our second day there we did a lot of walking, and I definitely felt the effects of the altitude. First thing in the morning, we got up and helped harvest potatoes out in a field down the road. When it was time to leave, we decided to hike the scenic route back, past a lake and through some other local farm fields. This would not have been too difficult of a hike for me down at sea level, but I was struggling a bit. However, that hike was just a warm up.

     After we got back and had lunch, we decided to hike out to visit some waterfalls nearby. We didn’t really know what to expect, as we had gotten mixed information about how long the hike would take. Regardless, ready for an adventure, we set off. The way there wasn’t too bad. It was almost entirely downhill, with only a few treacherous parts, and the views of the nearby mountains and valley were absolutely stunning, some of the best from the whole trip. After about an hour of hiking, we reached the falls. I was expecting the falls to be pretty cool, but they turned out to be incredible, way bigger than I had anticipated. They were at least 100 feet high and gave off a nice, refreshing mist. We rested there for a while and took in the sights, while Adam decided to be adventurous and take a dip in the water.

     The hike back was when things started to get tough. This time, the path was uphill. The “steps” didn’t help very much since they were still at a pretty steep incline and didn’t give your legs a chance to rest. Even at sea level, this would have been a difficult hike. However, being at 14,000 feet made things even tougher. It seemed like I had to stop every couple hundred feet or so to try and catch my breath. I would rest and feel ready to go, but not make it very far at all again upon restarting. Profe had it the worst out of all of us, as his body was not handling the altitude well at all. The trip back took over twice as long as the trip there, and we had to complete the second half of it in the dark since the sun set on us. This entire struggle was completely worth it though. The views from the trail were amazing, the waterfalls were incredible, the darkness of the backcountry gave us undisturbed views of the stars and planets above us, and it was great exercise. When I got back to the hotel, on a whim I pulled out my iPhone and checked the health app that tracks my daily activity. What I saw shocked me. I had climbed 106 floors. To put that in perspective, One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the US, has only 104 floors. So, I can say that on that day I climbed the equivalent of a skyscraper, and got better views. It is and experience that I will never forget.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Over the mountains and through the woods (and across the desert and ocean too)

     Before coming to Peru, I knew I was in for an adventure. I had never seen large mountains before (unless you count the Appalachian Mountains – I sure don’t now) and was really looking forward to staying in the Andes, namesake of one of my favorite mint chocolates and the longest continental mountain range in the world. Peru certainly did not disappoint. On my flight to Cuzco from Lima I was glued to the window as the plane passed over the mountain range. Upon landing in Cuzco, my jaw dropped as I took in the view. The city is surrounded by small mountains on all sides. I was thoroughly impressed, but things kept getting better from there. As we took our side trips all over the region we kept encountering taller and taller mountains and getting better and better views, including expansive valleys and towering snow-capped mountains, like the one pictured below.
     I fully expected to see mountains during our trip, due to my extensive Google searches of the Cuzco region during finals week as an outlet and means of procrastination. However, there was so much diversity in the geography of Peru that I did not expect to see. In Lima, I got to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time. The city perched on the cliffs overlooking the surfers catching waves was a sight to behold.
     Then, as if the mountains and ocean weren’t enough, we took a trip south of Lima, to the desert Oasis of Huacachina. Yes, desert. This trip also marked my first time being in the desert, which provided incredible views and tons of extreme entertainment. Riding in a dune buggy and sand boarding are up there with some of the most fun things I’ve done in my life. After all that excitement it was nice to lay back and watch the sun set over the dunes.
     Peru is incredibly diverse and home to many environments, animals, and cultures. I was able to experience a lot in one month, but know that there is still so much that I have yet to see and do. Visiting the rainforest and Lake Titicaca are on the top of my to-do list for the next time I visit Peru, which I absolutely would love to do.

Back in America but With a Peruvian Eye

I was driving with my mom on the highway when I noticed a large flatbed truck to our left carrying three huge pieces of cement. My legitimate first thought was "the Incas really could have used that." I sort of laughed under my breath after I realized that I would never have had that thought before the trip. Just a month ago I hadn't been thinking about the Incas, let alone how they transported the massive stones they used to build some of the architectural wonders we saw. It still absolutely amazes me that they were able to engineer such lasting buildings and terraces with such simple tools and I wonder what things they would have been capable of with the resources we have today.

The truck carrying the large blocks of concrete

The next day I walked into the grocery store with my brother to get some milk and oreos. In Peru I tried to stay away from drinking straight milk because of my history of lactose issues so I was excited to hopefully appease my stomach and get some good lactose free milk at home. Naturally my brother wanted to tag along to get some Oreos to go with the milk. Being summertime, there was a massive bin full of corn right when we walked into the store. I was immediately struck by how small the kernels were until I remembered that I had been thinking of choclo for a month and had forgotten how small the corn we are used to is in comparison. I am sure I will be in for another surprise the first time I take a bite of this corn, not quite anticipating the sweet flavor that I haven't had for over a month.

Our super small corn

I can say without a doubt that this trip has changed the way I think about things back home. Everything from our lack of freshly squeezed orange juice to seeing my dogs run around at home reminds me of the amazing experiences I had and the even more interesting things I learned. Until next time Peru!