Bored of typical breakfast? Try this one: mashed avocado spread on toast like jam. Seriously. It is delicious in a surprising way, and very simple and quick. I’m not one for marmalades and sugary spreads, but this typical Chilean breakfast made me look at toast in a new light. There are a lot of breads here that Chilenos long for when they are out of the country, the marraqueta being my favorite. It’s a white bread that is baked up in individual loaves that are split down the center with a crusty outside and airy interior, much like a French-style bread. I do prefer the marraqueta integral, or whole what, as it’s less of a sugar rush. However you slice it, avocado and bread are a divine match. Así de simple, or I also like to top that with tomato slices, a dash or two of fresh lemon juice and Merquén [sometimes spelled merkén], a spice made of smoked cacho de cabra “goat horn” chili peppers and crushed coriander seeds long prepared in the culinary tradition of the Mapuche people. It sounds picante, but the smoky flavor rounds out the light spice. If chipotles are too hot for you, this may ring your bell. Having been turned onto the stuff, I can’t ever give it up. You can internet search it, and find where it’s sold near you. It may not be the easiest thing to come across, but well worth it.
Pisco, Perú shares the name of both Perú and Chile’s national drink: the pisco sour. The grape brandy is distilled in both nations, and both claim to have been the birthplace of the cocktail. Whatever. It’s delicious wherever you have it. The drink by itself [on the rocks] is quite sweet. It is frequently served with sweet n’ sour, or my favorite – fresh ginger and a splash of ginger ale. I just happened to be at the vendimia (grape harvest) with my other half and some of my favorite friends from Chicago earlier this month right next door in the town of Ica. I’d like to act like I planned the trip to coincide, but it was just pure chance.
Have you had Peruvian food? If not, you are missing out on a very important part of life: ceviche – or cebiche if you wish – (very fresh bits of fish and mollusks “cured” in citrus juices with finely sliced red onion, spicy rocotto pepper or red bell pepper, oversized whole corn pieces on the side), ají de gallina (a shredded chicken dish made with a very unique, mild sauce featuring a dash of evaporated milk, walnuts, parmesan cheese and mild yellow pepper served with rice), lomo saltado (sliced and stir-fried beef and vegetables), causa (wide variety of layered, chilled potato dishes with any number of fillings in between layers such as fresh avocado, fish, hard-boiled eggs or meat – and Perú is home to thousands of varieties of potatoes) or a simple but holy-freakin-shite delicious broasted chicken served with thick cut french fries and an array of Peruvian sauces that you can get anywhere for very little dough. Even the sandwiches that come out of this country are fantacular. You dig mango? DIRT CHEAP! I thought I was over it for a little while, having just returned, but writing that paragraph just made me very hungry.
And the people. In my experience, Peruvians are wonderfully friendly and helpful, full-of-life kind of people, proud of their culture, traditions and gastronomy. The only thing that makes me pause at the thought of returning too soon is that my stomach is still angry with me. We all fell ill by the end of the trip, although we did the bottled water thing (cannot drink tap there) and tried to be really careful with vegetables and fruits. It happens.
We stayed for several nights in Pisco, branching out to different areas during the day. The town center is filled with tiny “mototaxis” with room enough for two people in the back “seat”. They are painted and decked out to the nines according to the whim of the driver. A lot of them give thanks to God or give props to their grandma up in heaven in glittery paint artfully applied to the back panels. There are few controlled intersections, so the drivers honk the horn at every corner – starting around 5 AM. They honk to say “Hello”! They honk to say “I’m coming through”! They honk to say “Screw you, it’s my turn”! The kitchen is open air and open access at the Hotel Tambo Colorado where we stayed. Lovely and simple.
We visited the old San José Hacienda in Chincha that escaped the land reforms of the early 1970’s because the owner was a widow with twelve children. Incredible. We were treated to an informative tour of the grounds, the catacombs below and the house, which is now a hotel. The old church is still on the land, right next to the former slave torture chambers below. Convenient to have Jesus on hand I guess. The elderly lady who still owns the place was very gracious as were her grandchildren with her. The bar was made of beautifully preserved old wood and the outdoor veranda has room for hundreds to dine. It was very strange though, to come in from an area that is very evidently economically disadvantaged into such a palatial spread. Still, a fascinating history.
The tourist seaside town of Cerro Azul is a great place for seafood, as is I guess anywhere else on the coast. We took a boat tour to the Islas Ballestas, a sanctuary hosting thousands upon thousands of birds, tiny penguins and sea lions of the coast of Paracas. Paracas is to the south of Lima in the desert. The beaches of Perú only begin to get tropical once you are nearly ten hours north of the capital via automobile. The old architecture of course in central Lima was a necessary stop. The central plaza is filled with yellow, colonial buildings. We saw several museums, including the Inquisition Museum. ¡Espantoso! The central San Francisco Cathedral has bone-filled catacombs below. Tons of skulls!
I suppose next time I’ll do Machu Picchu, but our trip was very entertaining without it. I’ll add some photos as soon as I wade through them all. Oh, and random-est sight on the trip? A completely naked lady – except for sandals – walking down the street. I watched her throw away an empty plastic bottle directly into a passing cab. She eyed the garbage can first, and thought better of it. I told a police officer that I saw someone who maybe needed help and was lacking in attire. She responded, Oh that lady. She’s always walking around in the buff.
Peddling yourself around and saving a few bucks while avoiding renting cars or taking the subway is a very doable proposition here. The bike advocacy group, Bicicultura, even has a handy bike route guide on their website. Type in your start point in the “desde dónde” box and where you wanna go in the other one, obvio, “hasta dónde”. It will give you a number of options starting with the best one first. It’s clearly marked there on the city map. The routes may not always seem direct, but they usually seek out the nearest “ciclovías” [bike paths] and avoid streets with too much bus traffic. Don’t mess with the bus drivers.
Overall, biking here may be different depending on what city you’re from. Biking on the sidewalk is frequently okay or even necessary. The local government even contemplated a law last year making it illegal to ride on the streets! That’s hilarious, and there was such a big blow-back that it went nowhere. Clearly, if you are on the sidewalk you must go slowly and give preference to pedestrians. Once you get to know your neighborhoods and what traffic is like at any given time of day, you can find the excellent one-ways, the lovely tree-lined side streets and the main thoroughfares that give you a wide berth.
1] Sidewalk biking okay; be careful and respectful.
2] Take bike paths whenever available. Be aware they are likely to be also occupied by parked cars, people conversing or even a bike rider taking a break and talking on the phone. They randomly end sometimes, or zigzag all willy nilly (Alameda is the funniest bike path ever!)
3] More businesses are realizing that it’s a good idea to have a bike rack out front or in the parking lot – part of this is due to the advocacy of Bicicultura and others. Lock your bike up REALLY well, and never leave it outside at night. I’m on my fourth bike in as many years. C’est la vie. Kryptonite locks are for sale in a few places, including usually the park in Barrio Brasil on Sundays.
4] The first Tuesday of the month is a massive city ride. I always forget that I plan to join them until I see them flying past my apartment. I just dug up the page. Riders meet at Plaza Italia at 8:00 PM
5] If you want to try, but are afraid, get out on a Sunday. There are so few cars around that the streets are ours!
6] One of the best ways to see a city is, hands down, on two wheels. If you end up somewhere shady, you can get out of there fast. If you happen upon a lovely fountain or plaza, you can take a break. And of course, you feel like part of the city in a way that staring at it through a window just does not provide.
7] Feeling daring? Climb up Cerro San Cristobal to the zoo, the public pool or the Japanese water garden and FLY your ass back down to the bottom. Great exercise and extremely fun.
Let me know if you have any questions. I’m always happy to help.
UPDATE: Friday March 8th there is a big bike ride for International Women’s Day. Meeting up at 8PM! [I’ll be in Peru, sad face, wait no, happy face.]