Tag Archives: Peru

Japanese style toilets in Peru, Illinois 

Sapp Brothers might not have the cheapest gas in Peru, Illinois but holy cow, it has the same toilets we grew to like in Japan. They spray water and blow air into your  private parts to clean and even blow dry. Never seen this  at a U.S. rest stop.

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Snowy drive on I 80 through Illinois

so far we have seen two cars in the ditch along Interstate 80 heading east through Illinois from Iowa but the roads aren’t that bad and we have seen several plows. very foggy and wintery scene. wish I was in the country Peru rather than Peru Illinois.

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Our best of Peru

Most amazing train ride: Front seat on the train to the Sacred Valley. (on the way home, there was a fashion show on the train…)

Most dazzling monastery: Santa Catalina, Arequipa limaarequipaconvent.jpg

Best old world/Inca village with most intense cobble stoned lanes: Ollantaytambo 

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Most bizarre landscape: the salt pans of Salinas and terraced circles of Moray

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Best religious site with skulls and boxes of (human) bones: San Francisco Monasterio in Lima

Best church: That’s a tough one, in Cusco – the Cathedral and the Iglesia de Compania de Jesus and the church in San Blas. or the Iglesia de la Compagnia in Arequipa.

The Cathedral in Arequipa

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Best market: Also a hard call. Pisac, Arequipa (below) and Cusco are strong contenders

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Best folk art: Artesanias Las Pallas in Lima’s Barranco neighborhood

Best contemporary crafts gallery: Dedalo in Lima’s Barranco neighborhood

Best quality Andean Textiles: Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cuzco, on Av. El Sol or Shop of the Weavers of the Southern Andes on Tullumayo in Cusco.

Best hidden museum: Museo de Arte Popular, Cusco

Most spectacular site/ruins: Machu Picchu, hands down

Grandest plaza: Toss up between Cusco and Arequipa

Best service at a hotel: Apu Lodge, Ollantaytambo 

Best art at a hotel: Second Home Peru, in Lima (below)

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Most ancient-feeling hotel: La Casa de Melgar, Arequipa

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Best hotel to bring earplugs: Ninos Hotel in Cusco, lovely courtyard but carries sound especially people wandering through at 5:30 a.m.

Best sight for sore eyes: Our son.

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a long trek home to Iowa from Cusco Peru

As I watched the choir I normally sing with perform this afternoon in Iowa, I knew I’d made the right choice NOT to join them so soon after a long series of plane rides to get from Cusco to Des Moines. (Not direct, as you might imagine.) We left Cusco yesterday at 1:30 p.m. under overcast skies – one hour after we were scheduled to depart and technically on a flight that the agent rebooked us on that was one hour before our original flight. Much as we would have loved to stay in Cusco longer – especially since our flight from Lima to the U.S. didn’t leave until 1:25 a.m. (yes a.m.) – I think we made the right call to leave (or try to leave) Cusco by midday because the weather was getting worse and we’re told that flight problems often ensue. (The guy who checked us in at the front desk said just a day or two earlier a bunch of tourists got stuck in Cusco due to flight cancellations.)

And we made the most of our last afternoon in Peru by exploring the arty Barranco neighborhood on a gorgeous, refreshingly sunny Saturday afternoon. We finally found some of the lovely old mansions and interesting galleries and shops we’d heard are in Barranco. And it was fun to join the couples on the high overlooks watching the sun drop behind the ocean and fill the sky with pink and purple.We were bowled over in particular by a crafts gallery, Dedalo, in an old casona on one of the prettiest streets in Barrano, Saenz Pena, a boulevard with a pretty park that leads down to a gardened overlook above the Pacific. Each room is filled with different contemporary crafts, most it appears by Peruvians, with a great selection of jewelry, ceramics, textiles, sculpture. There’s also a lovely cafe in the rear. Glad I bought a cloth tote bag in the market in Cusco to handle all the gifts I couldn’t cram into my regular bag.

We also went to an interesting photography exhibit of high fashion portraits for mags like Vogue and Vanity Fair  by Mario Testino of famous models and actresses (Giselle,  Kate, Christy, Naomi, Reese, Jennifer, Gwyneth, et al.) , some but not all clothed, at MATE, a new cultural center/cafe created by the Testino and housed in a chic restored old mansion in Barranco. (I was familiar with his work, especially his famous portraits of Princess Diana, see photo below, but didn’t know he was from Lima. I thought he was Italian. He also went to the same university my son is attending in Lima…Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru). Guess it pays to read your inflight magazine (I learned about MATE while leaving through Lan Airlines magazine during our Cusco-Lima flight.) We ate dinner at a fun Italian-Peruvian place called La 73 in Barranco, although the pasta was too rich for me and the churros too sweet (they were not only covered in sugar but filled with a carmely-creme. Then you were supposed to dip them in hot chocolate the consistency of pudding. I liked the cebiche best – which was an interesting mix not only of raw fish but avocado, pieces of toasted corn and the thick Peruvian corn, red onions and a little sweet potato. And D reports they had an excellent Pisco Sour. The service was also good and it was fun to eat outside on the patio on a busy street next to a television studio where a crow of people were waiting for the stars to leave for the night (and cheered when they spotted one after another.)

We arrived at the airport, as advised, three hours before our 1:25 a.m. flight and it was wise. It took a little while to get our bags out of left luggage and then we had to wait in some long lines that fortunately moved quickly. The flight left a little late but we arrived on time which was good since we had only a 1.5 hour connection in Atlanta which can be tricky when you’ve got to jump through so many hoops to make the next flight (immigration, customs, retrieve luggage from the international flight then check luggage for the domestic flight and go through security again and race to another terminal to another gate.) Our taxi ride to the airport in Lima last night also was an adventure. Not only was our driver the usual kamikaze driver but he stopped not once but twice to try to fill up with gas – in this case natural gas that somehow goes into the front of the car and fills up a tank in the rear of the car right behind where we were sitting. The gas station attendant kindly opened up both of the doors where we sitting in the back so we didn’t faint from the fumes. All this at about 10:30 p.m. in a dimly lit neighborhood after our drive had already warned us to keep our bags out of view  so someone wouldn’t try to reach into the car and grab them (or at least we think that’s what he was trying to tell us.) Anyway, we made it and so ended a wonderful two week South American adventure. Hope we can explore more in years to come!


Testino in September 2007.

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Fine dining in the sacred valley at el haucatay ; cusco photos

We had one of our best meals of the trip and definitely the best meal of our Sacred Valley segment at a small place on a back street in the town of Urubamba called El Huacatay. We have a chef in Boston who has Peruvian roots and a Peruvian restaurant called Taranta to thank, since our guidebook Lonely Planet didn’t include it. Behind a wooden door on a dark narrow street the restaurant opens up into a small courtyard where the kitchen is to the left and a small two room building, very cozy, very busy with a large German group and in our room another smaller group of Germans and Peruvians.

Here is what we ate:
potato coconut cream soup, yellow potatoes with two chili dressed shrimp on a skewer and crispy wonton threads
Caprese salad “Peruvian remix”, sliced tomatoes with Medan cheese fried in a kiwicha crust, served with Andean mint, dried yacona nd a carob vinegarette.
Mayala Frita, roasted beef shirt with a pachamanca sauce, a quail egg over green colored rice, lightly fried potatoes and a mint onion salad.
Sautéed shrimp in a mild red chili paste, with orange slices, creamy mashed potatoes with. Risky avocado slices fried in panko.

The photos below are of Cusco: me on the balcony of the church in the San Blas neighborhood, which is deceptively modest on the outside. Inside it has a stunningly ornate gold altar, an equally ornate wood carved pulpit ( complete with a skull said to be that of the altar’s carver.)
and many beautiful Cusco school paintings and sculptures; another of D with the alpacas roaming around at Sacsaywaman, the imposing Inca fortress above the city; the last is of me catching my breath after the strenuous uphill climb to Sacsaywaman from downtown Cusco.

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Cusco at last

Another day, another beautiful city in Peru, our last for this trip, alas. We are also staying at a lovely old hotel, the Ninos Hotel (the one on Meloc Street). It is run by a nonprofit that uses the proceeds to support needy children AND it turns out to also be very charming and affordable. Right now I am sitting Ina n adirondack style chair on the second floor terrace overlooking the hotel’s charming courtyard which has stone arches, wooden balconies, a gurgling fountain and lots of potted plants. This is an old colonial building which like several of the places we have stayed in Peru, offers little clue from the outside of the world within. From the street it is a stone building with a big green wood door with lots of ornamental brass thingamajigs. Our room is somewhat spartan but in a chic way, with well chosen tables, beds, light fixtures. Not bad for $50 a night.

Cusco reminds us a little of Arequipa because of the main square which is dominated by a cathedral and Jesuit church and rimmed by arcade-style buildings lining a lovely park. But the architecture is different. The cathedral and church are not the white Arequipa stone but a light brown stone. There are also lots of narrow lanes made of round cobblestones and big flat stone blocks leading up from the plaza into the pretty artsy neighborhood of San Blas, which is fun to explore, with lots of little shops selling baby alpaca sweaters, handmade jewelry, textiles from the amazon, handmade macramé and stone necklaces sold by Anglo kids who display their stuff on the sidewalk. The setting for Cusco is also very dramatic. It is set into a valley with mountains gently rising off in the distance on all sides. At times the city reminds me of Greece (especially the San Blas lanes) or of Spain (especially all the lovely plazas sprinkled around downtown) or of Florence (given all the art and artists around.)

The sights we have seen:
– The Jesuit church on the main plaza and the cathedral, both which have astonishingly ornate gold covered altars. The cathedral has famous “cusco school” paintings which are an interesting mix of European style art and Andean influences. This includes the famous Last Supper painting where Christ and friends are dining on, among other things, cuy (aka guinea pig).
– the main market, Mercado San Pedro. I never tire of wandering around the markets in these towns (or just about any town) because you see how people live, what they buy, what they sell, what they eat (chicken soup served on big porcelain bowls was a popular item at lunch, with people sitting on benches in front of the stands where,the soup was prepared on the spot, holding the bowls and eating.)
– Qorikancha, another impressive Inca ruin that the Spanish build a colonial church and convent right on top of so it is an odd hybrid architecturally.
– a terrific textile museum/shop selling woven items from different villages. It also had a really interesting exhibit on how the weavers work, all by hand.
– the museum of popular art, a hidden gem, that displays the folk art of artists from about the 1930s onward, all kinds of tableaus of Christian scenes and everyday life scenes with figures made of clay or tin or silver or bronze. One Christ on the cross was made of cuy bones (aka guinea pig)’
More tomorrow on the food…

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Machu Picchu

too busy to blog yesterday. We were up at 5 am to be in machu Picchu by 6 and glad we did, since place was glorious at that hour with few tourists and the sun breaking through the clouds shrouding the jagged peaks all around us. More later since we are hitting the road again for cusco. here are some photos Not ffrom Machu Picchu. One is of the market in Pisac, another gringo bills hotel near machu, another of the street where our lodge is in ollantaytambo.

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Pisac ruins and market

Full day in Pisac, first visiting the ruins and the the huge Sunday market. A lot of fun and activity, since we took a spectacular walk down the mountain from the ruins to the market over some rocky terrain, crossing right over some of the ancient stone terraces rising above the town. We had an excellent empanada pulled right out of a huge clay oven at Horno Tipico de Santa Lucia and the best brownie in the sacred valley at the Blue Llama. At the market we bought alpaca sweaters and mittens, a cute knit kids hat, a peru tshirt, an inca cola tshirt, a scarey knit face mask, pornographic inca playing cards, a cd of Peruvian flute music. We bartered a bit but we aren’t very good at it.

tonight we had dinner at mayupata, a somewhat upscale restaurant where Noah had alpaca grilled with miso sauce and I had a good loom saltada, a beef stir fry that seems a good bet when all else fails. Dirck wasn’t eating much. He has had an upset stomach and today a headache which leads me to think he had altitude sickness. Last night we ate at the heart cafe which is a do good place (it helps kids and abused women, I believe.) the food was mediocre, despite the good reviews we had heard. one thing I’ve learned is that the Peruvian version of the American and Italian staples we usually eat rarely resemble what we are used to. the pasta with tomato sauce ends up being sweeter than we are used to, the pizza has odd crust and cheese, the chocolate chip cookie is crumbly like an oatmeal cookie, the burrito tortilla has the texture of Ethiopian bread.

I have also learned that there are broken MasterCard machines all over southern Peru, nd sometimes broken Visa machines. allegedly. Basically the restaurants and shops don’t want to pay the credit card fee. Which is starting to irritate me because they have big signs on their doors touting their credit card use.

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moray, salinas, urubamba…sacred valley

I am very glad we hired a driver to take us to the remarkable ruins in Moray and the super cool salt pans nearby because there is no way we could have driven safely ourselves. at first we didn’t think we would need the tall high ceilinged van the driver showed up in but it turned out to be pretty handy, navigating dirt and rock roads through the sacred valley a pond then winding up narrow switchbacks improbably carved into the tall mountains. we drove through glorious green fields of corn and rouge-colored soil where we think potatoes were being planted. and then we drove up and around and up and a little down Nd then up through high mountains with stunning views across the valley of snow capped mountains.

in Moray, we walked around and then into a huge ancient Inca site, rings of stone walls winding downward like an amphitheater. Rough stone steps hang down from each terrace for you to get up and down. Way cool. apparently the Incas used these as test plots for their crops. later we went to near y Salinas, a mountainside filled with glaringly white pools of salt.These are salt mines that have been used to harvest salt since the Inca days. We watched a few people in native dress harvesting the salt. For lunch we ended up at an excellent place, Tres Keros, where we had well cooked trout, chicken and the best logos Santeros (a beef stir fry) of the trip. our driver tried to steer us to some buffet we suspect was run by a friend of his and even told us that tres Keros was closed. but we found it very open when we walked in.

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The sacred valley: first stop ollantaytambo

Our travel arrangements, the most complicated of our trip, worked like a charm. A cab was waiting for us at 5:45 a.m. Outside our hotel in Arequipa and it whisked us to the airport in 15 minutes. we are liking these smaller Peruvian Airports! Our Taca flight to Cusco was only a little late leaving and the flight was only 35 minutes…and quite a spectacular ride. I am not sure I have flown that close to mountains before. we seemed to be skimming right over Colca Canyon, close enough to see the hole of a volcano and gas rising from it. Our son’s flight from Lima arrived about a hour later, again largely on time. We met the driver from our hotel and away we drove through bustling Cisco, which looks quite different from Arequipa and up up up into the Andes. It was a spectacular 1.5 hour drive, up and around high almost purple brown mountains, past verdant green fields.

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