Thursday, November 13, 2014

Quito Monday December 8-Friday, December 12

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Galapagos Thursday, dEcember 4-Sunday, December 7

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Quito, Ecuador Tuesday December 2 and Wednesday, December 3

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Cuzco November 30, December 1

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Machu Picchu November 28 and 29

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Thanksgiving in Cuzco, Peru November 26, 27

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Lima Peru November 22-26

Flowers in bloom in Lima's Parque Kennedy-just the thing to see on arrival from chilly Philly.
Well, November is winter, Yes?  This means we start thinking of warmer climes for our adventures.  Machu Picchu and the Galapagos were both on our bucket list, we wanted to travel with our friends John and Missy Randolph, and to make it easy, Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), with whom we have traveled with several times, offered a nice package. The four of us are more urban adventurers than some OAT customers, so we choose to arrive early and depart later, adding 4 to 5 days to the trip, but giving us more time to explore the cities of Lima and Quito, visiting restaurants  and museums that were not on the group itinerary.

We started our trip in Lima, staying in the very pleasant Miraflores district at the Antigua Miraflores Hotel, where later the rest of the OAT group would join us.  An early morning arrival meant that we had a whole day to explore the city after we dropped off our bags and repaired to a very nice café around the corner, La Mora, for necessary doses of caffeine to wake up. 
Hotel Antigua Miraflores, in a very convenient location in Lima, Peru
 A leisurely walk took us to nearby Parque Kennedy with great gardens, colorful statuary and an abundance of well-fed feral cats snoozing in the flower beds.

Most of the Pacific Ocean views in this area of Lima are from clifftops.  We came across a modern shopping mall built into the side of the cliffs with killer views called Larcomar, complete with upscale shops, restaurants and a movie theater.  

It was cheerily decorated for Christmas, which seemed incongruous to us, in the warm weather.  

We stopped for coffee at a cafe at Larcomar, trying to compensate for the short night of not much sleep on the plane from Miami.  We learned to order the most popular coffee, a cortado, an espresso cut with a little bit of milk.   The coffee kept us going for a walk along the clifftops to Parque del Amor,  with its Gaudi-esque mosaic wall, there is a huge statue of a kissing couple, hence the park name, that leaves little to the imagination.  

Just beyond, on a promontory, a launching site for paragliders is a great place to watch the fun.  The lighthouse at the end of the malecon walk was a nice finale to this sunny walk-we didn’t appreciate our first day in Lima enough, because we never had such a  sunny day again. 

We discovered the Inca Markets, a huge complex of handicraft stalls, in Miraflores, and spent some time wandering around, enjoying the colorful wares on display, and learning what was available.

Hats, backpacks, shoes all sorts of colorful Peruvian goods at the Inca Mart-photos not encouraged, so blurry!

Peru is also becoming known as a destination for good food, so we thought it would be fun to take a cooking class while we were in Lima. 

We signed up for a market tour, fruit tasting and class to learn about several traditional Peruvian specialties at Sky Kitchen, run by Christian and his helpers Yurac and Sonia.  Christian met us at Mercado 1, near our hotel,  to show us, for example, different types of bananas, corn and potatoes. 

Then we repaired to the teaching kitchen, on the top floor with an open deck, really “in the sky.” Who knew there were so many different kinds and colors of bananas,  or that some lemons are almost flavorless and others are rather mild.  Some fruits were familiar to us like starfruit, but others like tomate de arbol were totally new to us. We learned four dishes in the cooking class, including ceviche, 
Ceviche we made at Sky Kitchen cooking class in Lima, Peru
causa, an interesting room temperature layered dish of mashed potatoes, avocado and chicken, lomo saltado, a sautéed beef dish with tomatoes, and picarones or little doughnuts made of sweet potato and a squash called sapaillo like pumpkin.   
Student chefs Dane and John with their lomo saltado.
Our favorite recipe was for causa, which we have since made at home with great success, especially as we brought some of the ahi Amarillo, or ground orange chili sauce, home with us.
The Aji Amarillo Molido we used to make the causa.  We bought several packets at a grocery store.
Here's an adaptation of the Causa recipe we made at Sky Kitchen cooking school: 
Causa (Adapted from a recipe from Sky Kitchen cooking school in Lima, Peru)
 2 pounds Russet potatoes
7 tablespoons vegetable oil (NOT olive oil)
3 key limes (or two regular Persian limes)
3 tablespoons Aji Amarillo Molido (orange/yellow chili paste) (available online or in Latin grocery stores)
 ½ pound white chicken meat (e.g. breast)
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 avocados
Salt and pepper
1. Steam the potatoes in a little water or microwave until very tender. 
2. Cook the chicken in water with salt until done, about 20 minutes
3. Peel the still-warm potatoes and pass them through a potato rice or Foley food mill.  DO NOT process in a food processor.  You want them light and fluffy.
4. Cut the chicken into small pieces, across the fibers.  Add mayonnaise and pepper to taste.  This and the avocado will be the stuffing.  (NOTE:  If you are serving the causa as a side dish to another meat, you can eliminate the chicken.  Or get really fancy and substitute crab, tuna, or another protein as desired.)
5. Squeeze the limes and strain the juice to make 3-4 tablespoons.
6. Cut avocados in half, peel and cut into very thin slices.
7. Add vegetable oil and chili puree to the mashed potatoes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Mix well to combine.
8. Lightly oil or spray with non-stick coating a metal ring of about 3 inches wide and 2 inches high. Place on work surface covered with parchment paper.  Put about ½ inch of potato mixture into ring. Cover with a thin layer of sliced avocado pieces.  Add another ½ inch potato layer.  If using, add a ½ inch layer of chicken or other protein.  Add another layer of chicken and finally fill the form with a final layer of potato on top.  (Hint:  I weigh the potato, chicken and avocado, and then divide by the number of servings I am making, to be sure each is about the same size.)
9. Remove the metal ring by pulling it up gently until the potato tower slips out the bottom. 
10. Repeat with remaining ingredients to make six potato towers in all. 
11.  Decorate the causa as you like, with squiggles of mayonnaise (put a few tablespoons in a plastic bag, snip off the corner and you have a little piping tool), olive, avocado slice, parsley, fresh chili or the following sauce:
12.  Mince ½ of a small onion with some fresh yellow chili, and then add 1 to 2 tablespoons of Aji Amarillo Molido, salt and pepper to taste, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 3 tablespoons vegetable oil and 3 tablespoons vinegar.  Drizzle a bit over each causa.
Note:  If you prefer, make the causa in an 8 x 8 inch square baking dish, and build up the layers in the same way as for individual servings.  Cut and serve in squares using a spatula.
John, Missy, Joan and Dane showing off our causas made at Sky Kitchen cooking class in Lima, Peru
Having sampled fifty different kinds of fruit, then eaten our courses from our cooking class, we felt the need for a walk so were happy to discover fascinating ruins just a few blocks away. Huaca Pucllana, where the Wari and other pre-Columbian nomadic fisherman and farmers settled. Later the Wari made it an administrative and ceremonial center and cemetery for its elite.
The cemetery mound of Huaca Pucllana in the afternoon sun was very sculptural.
We were beginning to appreciate the uniqueness of Peru when its largest city of nine million people has ruins from before 700 AD to the 16th century. 
Another reason we arrived in Lima early was to visit the renownedMuseo Arquelogico Rafael Larco Herrera, located in a grand 18th-century mansion built on a pyramid dating back to the 7th century.  The museum houses the biggest private collection of Peruvian pre-Columbian art and gave us a good comprehensive view of the cultures that existed in Peru up to the 16th century. 

 Besides the excellent displays of pottery, the gold and silver collections were fantastic. 

Inca gold headdress and jewelry displayed beautifully at Museo Larco.
 Ancient textile fragments on display included some made from bird feathers.  In a separate gallery that was a bit harder to find there was a display of erotic art depicting the sex lives of ancient Peruvians.  Who knew? 
The central historic area of Lima surrounding the Plaza Mayor occupied us for an entire afternoon, with  lunch at L’Eau Vive Del Peru one of many restaurants around the world run by the Lavoratrici Missionarie dell'Immocolata order of nuns to benefit their social programs.  We noticed that we were about the only tourists in the restaurant, which offered a very reasonable lunch special menu and so was popular with office workers in central Lima.
A French chicken entree complemented by rice and yucca at L'eau Viv3 in Lima, Peru.  Oh, and Peruvian beer too!
The handsome courtyard entrance to L'Eau Vive restaurant, with displays about the history of the building.
Iglesia de San Pedro in Lima Peru

We enjoyed strolling the streets around the Plaza Mayor to appreciate the restored Moorish-style carved balconies that decorate many of the colonial era buildings. 

We toured La Cathedral on the Plaza Mayor, with the remains of explorer Francisco Pizarro in one chapel, and the striking yellow and white colonial complex of San Francisco, with church, convent, chapels and eerie catacombs.   
The beautiful interior of La Catedral of Lima
San Francisco Church Baroque facade dates from 1664.  
Food was a main focus of our early arrival in Lima, from our first lunch at Delfino Mar for ceviche and our first pisco sours!

 to  a fabulous meal at Amaz with it’s emphasis on food from the Amazon region.  

The best pisco sours we enjoyed were at La Baraches de Caliche, served in chilled ceramic Inca-style cups.  Later we realized they were so delicious because they were dobles! 
Some of us chose another Pisco Sour doble for dessert, but one of us was tempted by the Tres Leches cake!
With its seaside location, Lima’s restaurants often feature seafood, and we had another great meal at Alfresco, just a short walk from our hotel.
A bounty of seafood at Alfresco restaurant in Lima, Peru
Our last evening before the group tour began, we had a big splash with dinner at La Barra the more casual restaurant at Astrid y Gaston’s.  More pisco sours, but a special beer for Dane, and our first taste of cuy or guinea pig. 
Dane being offered a special artisanal beer by the sommelier at Astrid&Gaston's La Barra

Confit of Cuy at La Barra in Lima.
We should point out that there are a number of conflicts and controversies between Chile and Peru, most having to do with politics and territorial disputes.  The one we know most about has to do with the pisco sour.  Both countries claim it as their national cocktail.  Both claim to have the most authentic.  One does not go into a Lima bar and ask for a pisco sour just like the one you had in Chile. After much research (what one will do in the name of science) we really thought we enjoyed the variety of Peruvian pisco sours.  (With that statement, we may never be able to set foot in Santiago de Chile again.)
Three different flavors of Pisco Sour at Alfresco:  Passion Fruit, Coco and  Purple Corn.  All delicioso! 
When the OAT group arrived, we joined them for a tour of central Lima, where we had already explored.   We also visited the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History of Peru, with more information about the Inca and preceding cultures. The Inca get the attention because they were the first to be discovered by the Europeans, but there were several important groups with longer histories before the Inca, which was a review for us from what we had learned at Museo Larco, but good preparation for the next part of our trip, Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Baroque Altarpiece at a church in Lima, Peru.