Monday, June 25, 2012

Peru: Lima and Cusco

Well, here goes nothing. I have three weeks of vacation to blog about and it's going to be a massive amount of pictures and stories. I started this blog as a kind of scrapbook/journal for Jason and I so bear with me while I capture all the fantastic memories we just made!

Lima, Peru
Our trip started out in Lima - the capital city of Peru. We arrived late Sunday night and chose to sleep in that morning before venturing out into the city. Priority number 1 when we arrived: find and purchase camel bak water hydration packs. In the madness of work and preparing for our trip, I had forgotten to grab them from the garage! Fortunately, we were able to find some at the first store we tried and we were set to sightsee the rest of the day.

During our breakfast at the hotel, we had visited with some English vacationers who recommended visiting the Peruvian pyramid just a short walk from our hotel. We headed there after dropping off our hydration packs at the hotel.

The pyramid, Huaca Puna, was amazing! The size and scope of the creation was gigantic. It was not at all like what you would picture as a pyramid (because we pictured the Egytpian triangular ones), but nevertheless it was quite the sight! We arrived just a few minutes before the next English-speaking tour was starting and hopped on to learn more about the culture and history.

Afterwards, we decided to see what sightseeing tours were available. We booked a museum tour as well as a Lima at Night tour at the travel agency next to our hotel. We killed time before our tours by having a fabulous (and truly Peruvian meal) in the Miraflores square. Jason tried his first pisco sour (I think they got strong since the last time I was in Peru...) and llama. Yes, you read that correctly. We ate llama. We ate more interesting things as well that you'll discover later on...

Then we headed off on our tour of the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera. Our tour guide did a fantastic job explaining to us the different culture groups that came before the Incas and the contributions they made to the history of the country. The scenery around the museum was beautiful and we enjoyed an Inca Kola and some relaxing before getting back on the bus to our next stop.

The second portion of our tour was visiting the city Barranco, a tourist suburb located right on the Pacific Ocean. We walked across the Bridge of Sighs and enjoyed the view of the ocean during the sunset.

Next we headed to meet our tour group for Lima at Night. The majority of the trip was riding on the bus and driving around listening to our tour guide. We saw the park of olive trees that used to be the country's source of fuel as well as cooking companion. However, we did stop in the Plaza Mayor, founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535, and get a chance to take pictures and walk around. The Government Palace, San Francisco Cathedral, and Municipality (city hall) are all located in this famous site.

Jason deciding to get in the way of my panoramic picture of the plaza. ;-)

After our tour ended we were a little hungry and headed to a Pinkberry we noticed in the Miraflores park. Yep, a Pinkberry in Lima. And they had amazing flavors that we do not have in the US! Jason and I tried watermelon, passion fruit, lucuma (a native Peruvian fruit), and pomegranate.

We made our way back to the hotel afterwards and just happen upon a small casino around the corner from our hotel. You know how much the Stingeries love gambling! :-)

Cusco, Peru
The next morning we got on our flight from Lima to Cusco. It's recommended to arrive 2-3 days before your trek in order to acclimate to the high altitudes. Our arrival day we checked into the hotel and walked around the city. Along the Avendida del Sol the main walkway in Cusco, we stopped and had another amazing meal. We tried Andean soup with couscous and a sweet purple drink called chicha morada because it's made from purple corn.

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing with coca tea in the veranda of the hotel. We ordered a small meal from room service and went to bed early so we'd be ready for our Sacred Valley tour the next day.

You can read about our Sacred Vally tour here.

The day after our Sacred Valley tour, we slept in and then visited the Convento de Santo Domingo del Cusco - Qorikancha. It's a beautiful church along the main walkway.

Then we headed back to the travel agency where we booked the Sacred Valley tour. Our tour guide from the previous day had told us that the best place to get cuy, a Peruvian delicacy, was outside the city in his hometown of Tipon. We met our driver from the previous day, Ivan Raul, and started the 30 min drive outside Cusco.

When we arrived at El Ranchero, the recommended restaurant, we found out that the owners were actually Christian's parents! We figured he was probably biased in telling us it was the best cuy in Cusco... until we saw an entourage of nice SUVs pull up and our driver informed us that the gentlemen behind us talking to the owners was the President of Cusco!! Never mind, it must be the best cuy if the President is driving out here for it!

At this point you may be wondering what in the world is cuy and why did we drive 30 min to go get it? Well my friends, cuy is the Quecha word for...(brace yourself) - guinea pig! Yes, those furry little creatures that we all had as pets growing up. They eat them in Peru... as we did too! ;-) Delicious!

We headed back to Cusco and had Ivan Raul drop us off at the Inca Museum, where we took a complimentary tour, along with a couple other English-speaking tourists. We walked leisurely back to our hotel, making a quick stop at Starbucks and the Chocolate Museum, before heading to our trek briefing.

We met the 10 other people that were about to brave the 5 day/4 night Salkantay trek with us and our tour guides, Roberto and Elvis. We got more information and a chance to ask questions before calling it a night since the next day we were heading out at 5:00 am!

You can read about our Salkantay trek here.[Check back tomorrow to read about our trek and Machu Picchu! Jason is editing some video we want to post in the blog. :-)] 

Lima, Peru
So to fast forward to the rest of our Lima trip...we arrived back in Cusco late Wednesday night and crashed at the hotel. The next morning we caught our flight back to Lima where we had another day and a half before our flight to Honduras. When we arrived in Lima we checked into our hotel and relaxed by the pool. In the evening we headed to Parque de las Reserva to watch the Circuito Magico del Agua (Magic Water Circuit). Picture the Las Vegas Bellagio fountains on a smaller scale, but multiplied. There were 13 fountains in the park and we enjoyed the nice we enjoyed the nice weather as we walked around and took pictures.  

Jason told me not to move...I listened. ;-)

Our final day in Lima we woke up late and got our luggage packed. Our flight wasn't until 12:45 am, so we would head to the airport around 8:30 pm. We had a late checkout that allowed us to stay until 4:00 pm, which worked out perfectly for heading to our 4:30 pm cooking class with Sky Kitchen! The location was just a couple blocks from our hotel so we put our luggage in storage and headed over for our last meal in Lima. 

The name Sky Kitchen comes from the balcony apartment that you do your cooking in. The entire upstairs area was gorgeous and we loved cooking with a view of the city! We chose the menu Andean delicacies so we could learn some authentic recipes.

We started by making the mousse we would be having for dessert since it needed to cool after making. It was a basic mousse recipe that can be used for almost any kind of mousse - chocolate, fruit, etc. We used the Peruvian fruit lucuma, which we had tried at Pinkberry. It was neat to see the actual fruit and peel it for making the delicious mousse! 

Next we made a coup call chupa, the Quecha word for soup. It was amazing! It had cheese, egg, potatoes, vegetables, peppers, and so many other ingredients. Fortunately, we received all of the recipes in an email so we can make them again!

Then we started on our next dish - Papa a la Huancaina. We peeled five different varieties of potatoes by hand and blended together garlic, onions, crackers, queso blanco, and a few other ingredients to make the Huancaina sauce. Finally you cover the sliced potatoes with the sauce and add hard-boiled egg on top. 

Our main course consisted of quinoa with added tomatoes and peppers, asparagus (Which they peel with an asparagus peeler... we had never heard of peeling asparagus and find it ironic that we peeled potatoes by hand and then they have a peeler for asparagus...Jason got that job and we both agreed it tastes better with the skin on and is too much work to peel!), and finally, probably the best part of the meal, we made alpaca meat patties. The meat of the alpaca is very lean so we added oil and other seasoning before cooking them. They were absolutely out of this world delicious!! I wonder if I can import some of that meat to Houston... it'd be worth it!

Our final product!

The amazing view from Sky Kitchen balcony!

And so ends the first part of our trip. We spent two weeks total in Peru before flying to Honduras for a mission trip. 

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