7 May 2012

It’s our last day in Peru! I guess we’d better eat some guinea pig!

We decide that we cannot miss the gastronomic experience of
Astrid & Gaston, considered to be one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. We think it’s within a reasonable walking distance–it’s way too scary to take a taxi! And we are going to lunch so that we’re a little safer than if we were to go at night. (You notice I say “a little safer.”) It’s a pretty hot day so we take our time.

The restaurant is beautiful! The plain building on a small side street gave no clue as to what was inside.

We start with absolutely the best Pisco Sour in South America! We are also served a basket with several kinds of luscious bread and toppings. I confess to Howard that I’m afraid that if I order the guinea pig it will ruin my meal. The image of little Shirley comes to mind and I just can’t do it.

So I order a first course of 3 kinds of seviches: a traditional seviche with rock fish; octopus with a milder, less acidic sauce; and scallop and langoustine seviche. Second course is suckling pig. It is served several ways: in a spring roll; in a tiny sandwich; and as tasty little hunks of meat. For dessert I have cannoli with peanut mouse together with an ice cream made from local fruit and apple compote. I love every bite of everything!

Howard is courageous and orders guinea pig as his first course. He says it tastes like duck and it is served just like Peking Duck with little pancakes made of blue corn. He loves it; I try not to look at it. His main course is goat with interesting potatoes and small onions. For dessert he has a chocolate orb filled with creme, raspbery and nuts. Our server pours hot chocolate over it so it melts. It is quite a show–and quite a dessert.

We both end our fantastic luncheon experience with espresso laced with Pisco and a dollop of whipped cream. We leave the restaurant knowing now that there is at least one good thing about Lima!

This has been the trip of a lifetime! We have met wonderful people; seen incredible sights; and experienced lovely new cultures. We hope to return to South America again.


6 May 2012

Yikes, there was an earthquake last night. Just a reminder that we have been spending the last nearly 4 weeks in an area more earth-quake-prone than California!

We start the day with what Blanca has told us is a REAL Lima breakfast: chicharrones, tamales and bread. We treat for breakfast and Aldo joins us. There is some discussion about what we should have to drink. Blanca insists that we should NOT have cappuccino because the milk in it will FIGHT with the pork. She really has some weird ideas. She is very superstitious and she regularly makes veiled bigoted comments. I think we are both happy that this is the last morning we will spend with her.

We visit the Larco museum which is a private collection of pre-Columbian art. It is housed in an 18th century mansion built over a 7th century pre-columbian pyramid. (Although almost ALL of Lima is built on top of ancient ruins!) The exhibits are incredible. If only Blanca would shut up and let us enjoy the incredible collection in peace. There are textiles and more than 40,000 of ceramics. The collection of gold is amazing including huge funerary masks and elaborate earrings. There is a Moche erotic pottery collection that will cause even the most liberated individual to blush. Here is a hilarious blog about the museum complete with pictures of the erotic pottery: http://www.everywhereist.com/the-larco-museum-lima-peru/#more-5538. Now I wish I could write like that! The weird part about the erotic collection is that these are NOT old pots–they were made by the founder of the museum supposedly based on his research of the Moche pottery. Sounds fishy to me…

Thankfully we only had to endure Blanca for the morning–we were free in the afternoon and evening to drink French wine, eat great bread and cheese and relax at home.

5 May 2012

I woke up about midnight and it sounded like there was a riot in the streets. Thank god for the security bars. Sirens were wailing and that damned car alarm was still going off. Blanca told us that our street was not an especially safe street. And she also told us that the citizenry was incredibly angry because the government had not attempted to rescue a soldier whose plane had crashed in the jungle. He was later found dead but it appeared that he had been alive for a few days. I think that’s why I thought there were riots during the night. Instead it apparently was just the usual cacophony of Lima. For breakfast we had guindones (prune) & durazno (peach) yogurt. I think we are incredibly adventurous to buy yogurt in flavors we don’t recognize! Today we have sun instead of the grey fog (called Garua) for which Lima is known. And we have a new driver, Aldo, who turns out to be the best driver in the world! First stop is the market: a huge building with vendors of all kinds. We sample fruit that we have never seen before. We see several dozen types of potatoes and corn, the staples of the region. We see butchered beef, lamb and guinea pig (!!!!!!). I was afraid I would come across the deceased cousins of my college pet, Shirley. Although all the wares are beautifully displayed this market ain’t like a French market. We have a “taste of Peru” at a restaurant called El Rincon que No Conoces (translated “the corner joint you’ve never heard of”). The man who greets us is very charming and elegant. It’s early so we have the restaurant to ourselves. We have tapas portions of grilled marinated beef heart (surprisingly delicious); a sweet tamale; and causa, a potato tort a stuffed with tuna. To drink we have a purple corn drink called chicha morada. We truly enjoy this little taste of Peru! We walk through Chinatown but it truly is NOTHING. I think Blanca is just wasting time so that we arrive at our lunch destination at the normal lunch hour of 1pm. Lunch is at El Kapallaq–a bright, modern-style seafood restaurant. We are given lessons in making the ubiquitous ceviche. They use sea bass. Then we have thinly sliced raw white fish in citrus juice. Our main course is a pan fried fish with a brightly tasting tomato sauce. Then last but not least a scrumptious crepe with Pisco brandy and a native cherry sauce. We make a shopping stop at Dedalo and I find a lovely baby alpaca shawl. I’ve been looking for this since Santiago! I thought it was $40 but it was $60 and well worth it. A lady dressed in traditional clothing stops me to show me a handmade belt she has made. I really don’t want a belt but I try to be polite. I am saved by my girth! All of her belts are too small for my round tummy. We take a walk in the Barranco district. It is the nicest area we’ve seen in Lima. It is home to many artists with interesting homes and architecture. We are surprised to see 20 or so vultures roosting on the church roof!!! There’s go to be some kind of bad luck associated with that scene.

4 May 2012

So much for peaceful sleep! I want to fire bomb the car with the alarm that went off all night. We meet our tour guide, Blanca, and our driver, Enrike, at 10am. Enrike is a perfect Lima driver–he does not follow any traffic laws and scares the life out of us. We drive outside of town and pass shanty town after shanty town. It is depressing. Our destination is Pachacamac, a pre-Inca archeological complex founded in about 1,000 AD. I didn’t realize we would be walking over a huge parcel of land. It’s pretty hot and humid and I did not think to bring my hat. The ground is loose sand and I’m wearing sandals. It turns out Blanca is quite a bird-watcher but we come to regret telling her that we share that interest. She stops us regularly to point out birds and is really insistent that we give it our full attention. But it’s not just birds that Blanca is so insistent about. She is equally demanding that we pay full attention to her lectures about architecture, plants, museum displays, etc. Howard frequently gets fed-up and walks away from her. We have lunch at Luchita, an old stately residence turned restaurant. They give us a bartending lesson in making Pisco Sours but we only get one drink each–I think I need a couple more to get through this unpleasant day. We have a lunch of local fare: seviche of scallops and octopus; causa (sandwich-style item with crab and avocado stuffing), 2 types of Tacu Tacu (rice & bean rolls–one with cheese sauce and one with a redish seafood sauce); and for dessert a crepe with dolce de leche (sweet, carmelized milk). Lunch was not too bad but the company was not great (Blanca). The central, main square is our next stop. It is a beautiful area if military with automatic weapons don’t scare you! We visit the 16th century Cathedral of Lima. The religious statues looked like scary dolls dressed in period costumes. And of course it’s not a Catholic church without the relics–purported bones of the saints. Around the statutes are hundreds of silver medallions offering thanks to the saint for prayers that were answered. The San Francisco convent has beautiful gardens with walls covered in gorgeous centuries-old tiles from Seville. The upper levels of the building have intricate balconies and the ceiling as you enter the gardens is beautifully carved. Blanca says “balconies are for Lima what the Eiffel Tower is for the French.” “Celosia” balconies have carved, wooden screens so that women could sit on the balcony and observe without being observed. They are really quite lovely and are on most of the buildings surrounding the central square. Last we visit a 16-generation colonial house, Casa de Aliaga, built in 1535. It is oldest home on the continent that is still owned by the same family. We head home in horrible scary traffic with Enrike at the wheel and kiss the ground when we arrive. Once home we need wine to steady our nerves so we head off to our French deli. I speak French with the owner–finally I can be somewhat understood! We also grab bread and cheese and spend the rest of the evening quietly reading while the car alarm blares every hour or so.

3 May 2012

3 May Our first day in Lima, Peru! What a horrible place! On our trip from the airport to the apartment we see large swathes of illegal (I assume) garbage dumps along the highway. It’s disturbing to see a dog carcass in the strewn trash. The traffic is frightening! It appears that no traffic laws are in place or followed. Our driver ran through every stop sign. We are happy to find our apartment is truly one of the nicest places we have ever rented and it’s in a nice neighborhood. Can we move this lovely place to another country??!! It is spacious and homey. The kitchen is large and workable. I wonder if we will have the opportunity to cook a nice meal… We notice that the beautiful garden is fully secure–there are bars from the roof to the 10 foot high walls so that no one can scale the walls and gain entry to the house. We wonder what that’s all about! There is noise 24 hours a day. Someone across the street has a car alarm that goes off at least once an hour–including all night long. At night I hear disturbing screaming and yelling. I imagine in my sleep-deprived brain that Lima is on the brink of anarchy and the bars are a meager security measure. We are starving when we arrive. We walk to the grocery store and find it closed for the day. It’s hot and humid so we decide an air-conditioned restaurant is the best next step. But getting across the busy boulevard is life-threatening! There are few traffic lights so it’s difficult to find a safe corner from which to cross. But even when we cross with the light someone makes an illegal turn on red and scares us half to death. As a pedestrian you cannot let your guard down for a second or else you’ll be run down. I don’t want to die in this hell-hole! We have lunch at a modest place. The menu includes Peruvian dishes with an asian influence. We try Chaufa, stir fried rice with egg and chicken tempura; and Lomo Saltado, stir-fried beef, onion, red pepper and french fries in a soy sauce and beef broth. It was not bad–we cooled off and chilled out. We walk around the immediate neighborhood and find an organic grocery and, more importantly, a GREAT French delicatessen. If we had not already booked 3 days of tours we would buy wine, cheese, bread and charcuterie from the French place and lock ourselves in the apartment for 4 days and never leave. We buy great French bread with incredible goat cheese dusted with herbs and nice French wine. For dessert we try a weird frozen concoction from the natural foods place. The flavor is Lucuma-Zanahoria, a tropical Peruvian fruit with carrots–very unusual. As we go to bed there is lots of street noise but with the windows closed it seems to be much more quiet.

2 May 2012

We are on our own our last day in Argentina. We should have arranged to spend the day with Marcelo. We would have tried to arrange the extra day with him except it was his birthday. Marcelo is such a great guy–he insisted that we call him on his birthday if we had questions or needed help. We would visit BA just to spend time with Marcelo, he was such a nice, informative man! I wanted to get our sweet niece, Patty, a little souvenir. At a nearby shop I found a pretty scarf for her–everywhere we went in South America the young kids were bedecked with scarves. I’m happy with my purchase. We take a very long walk to the National Museum of Fine Arts. We arrive about 30 minutes before opening so we enjoy refreshments at a nearby cafe–I have espresso and a few cookies and Howard has a beer. The museum includes a bunch of beautiful paintings from the best impressionists. Unique to a South American museum, there is also an interesting exhibit of elegant matés, the gourd cups for the Yerba maté tea that we have enjoyed so much during our trip. We can’t leave BA without experiencing the Floralis Generica. This sculpture, installed in 2002, is a giant flower that opens and closes according to the sun. It is 75 feet tall and comprised of gleaming steel. It’s quite an sight in a quiet park. We take a taxi to a restaurant we’ve found on TripAdvisor, Cluny Restaurant. As we are getting settled in the lovely restaurant I realize I left Patty’s scarf in the taxi!! Oh well, the shop had more than one so I commit to forgetting about my stupid mistake and know that I can get a replacement gift. What a great lunch: I start with pate on Blueberry bread and my main course is pasta with olives, tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese. Howard has a Cesar salad followed by pumpkin ravioli with almonds. We have a really nice Sauvignon Blanc from (www.pulentaestate.com). It was a lovely meal in a quite, pretty restaurant. On our way home we stop at the shop to replace Patty’s scarf. They have sold out of the one I had chosen! So now I need to look through the huge selection of scarves to find the perfect replacement. I think I’ve found it… No dinner for us! Lunch was enough. But who can resist Pisco Sours? We leave tomorrow at 5am for Lima, Peru.

1 May 2012

After another great breakfast we meet Marcelo–with a kiss, of course (from both of us). I feel like a “porteña” (the people of Buenos Aries are called porteños, people of the port.) The weather is beautiful. We take the bus to our first tour stop: the Malvinas War Memorial. We call the disputed territory the Falkland Islands but whatever you call it the people of Argentina have not forgotten the war. According to Marcelo, the dictatorship started the war hoping to unite the people and the regime in the efforts to remove the British from the islands. Losing the war ironically eventually ended the dictatorship. But the people do not forget the war and its dead. In fact recently there has been renewed calls for the British to give up the islands to Argentina. Marcelo gave us a little history lesson on the Perons–you know the “Don’t cry for me Argentina” Perons. Eva Peron was loved by the common people but died from cancer at age 33. Her body was embalmed and put on display. When her husband, Juan, was overthrown in a coup her body was kidnapped by the new regime and was lost for 16 years. When her body was found, Juan and his third wife, a stripper, installed the body in their dining room. (She was later buried in a grand mausoleum in the Recoleta Cemetery.) Juan made sure that his new stripper wife was installed as Vice President so that when his term was up he could control the presidency through her. But he died and she became an unprepared president. She lost her position in the coup that would go on to terrorize Argentina. Next we hop on the bus to a really cute, kind of touristy neighborhood of BA called La Boca. The pedestrian-friendly streets are lined with colorful houses and on nearly every corner we enjoy a tango dance demonstration. The next stop is the Puerto Madero area, the latest architectural area of BA. Located on the riverbank it includes the old locks for the ship transport and an impressive new foot-bridge, the Punta de la Mujer (the Bridge of the Woman). A new port was built for BA in 1926 leaving the Madero docks abandoned. In the 1990s there was a redevelopment effort and now the area is filled with beautiful apartments, fine dining and lovely views. Our walking tour later includes the mansion area where many of the old, grand residences have been converted to embassies or hotels. We visit the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, one of only two Spanish-style buildings in BA (remember the country wanted to forget all things Spanish). There are 6 altars including one made completely of silver. The relics (bone remains of saints) are ubiquitous and disturbing. Next to the church is the Recoleta Cemetery filled with mausoleums. These opulent mausoleums were not built for the eternal rest of its occupants–they were built to exhibit the families’ wealth! The most massive mausoleums could house up to 50 family members. The largest building has incredible, huge vases made from the local, beautiful pink stone called Rhodochrosite. The most dramatic mausoleum story has to do with a young woman buried alive. As a result of this tragedy Buenos Aires enacted a law that no one could be buried until a certain number of days had passed after death. We enjoy a delicious lunch with Marcelo at an Italian restaurant. Marcelo choses a wonderful red wine from the San Juan region of Argentina. I choose beef medallions with radiccio, arulula and cheese. Howard has osso bucco. Marcelo has a very meager dish in spite of our urging to enjoy himself! What a day! We think Marcelo is a great tour guide and new-found friend. We are stuffed from our huge lunch. Our dinner is Pisco Sours in the homey basement area of our hotel.