This is the first in a short series of throwback posts, stories about our time in Africa a few months ago.
As we were looking back over the last 11 months and thinking about some of our favorite parts and most meaningful time, we kept coming back to the time we spent in South Sudan with Seed Effect. Reminiscing made me realize that I never shared many of the stories we captured from that incredible time. Part of our time in South Sudan was spent gathering stories for Seed Effect to be able to share about the work going on there and for supports to get a feel for what it’s like there. But it was such a powerful experience for us that I wanted to share them on our blog as well.
I came expecting neatly buttoned up stories of past hardship, then with God’s intervention through Seed Effect, a transformation, renewal and new hope. I had drawn up in my mind a neat beginning, middle and end, all tied up with a bow. And I was expecting to fill in these predetermined blanks with the client’s details.
But God had a different plan. Today when we went to hear stories, we didn’t go to a market where the clients had been with Seed Effect and experienced life change yet… instead, they were on their very first loan, just a month or two into it. To be honest, my first reaction was disappointment when I learned this. How am I supposed to get these triumphant stories, when there hasn’t been time for it yet?!?
But as I listened to Clements and Kenny talk about how they are learning to trust God, and how they want to grow their businesses. And as I got to encourage them with 1 Peter 5:10 “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” God reminded me that His establishing, restoring and strengthening of us isn’t a past tense story – it’s happening now, it’s ongoing.
God reminded me that none of our stories are finished. We are all in the midst, none of us complete. And how short sighted of me to think any of God’s stories of work in us are neatly packaged.
That’s what faith is about. I can hear Kenny talk about his carpentry shop and how he wants to invest in more timber so he can build for more people in the community, and while his life doesn’t look much different yet… than it did a month ago before the loan, I hear the hope in his voice. And I know it will be different because God is working in his life through Seed Effect sharing the word of God with him, through my prayers for him. We are all unfinished, but God who began the good work in us will bring it to completion.
Seed Effect comes alongside Kenny and Clements and dozens of other clients to wade through the messiness in the middle. And celebrates the small transformations along with way, with full faith that God is using it to bring glory to Himself and draw us closer to him. Because God promises that he will establish, restore and strengthen us through it.
The words of one of my favorite worship songs echo in my head as I reflect on today, “You’re not finished with me yet! You’re not finished with me yet! By your power, I can change, I can change, because you’re not finished with me yet!”
After arriving in Huaraz and looking at all the amazing options for trekking in the area we decided to tackle the big daddy of them all, Huayhuash (Why-Wash). And do it without a guide. It usually takes guided groups 8-10 days with donkey’s carrying all the heavy. The trail spends most of it’s time above 4000m/13,000ft and involves a bunch of passes up to 5000m/16,400ft After all it’s the “Andean Summer” and this is the best time to trek in Northern Peru, as there is never a cloud in the sky.
We paid a visit to the Casa de Guias (House of Guides) and got ourselves a topo map, talked to one of the guides and came up with a rough plan. We would do 9 days, 8 nights with the option for another night if we needed it. It would be our longest self-supported trek to date.
We bought our bus ticket and were on a bus at 5:00am, on our way… our bus turned into a smaller bus, then due to mechanical issues, back into a bigger bus, and then into a cattle hauler… and then we caught a right in the back of a miners pick-up. As we left the mining camp we had to check in with their security officer. From there we walked for the next hour down a rode with a guide that was meeting his group of 17 hikers later that day at the trail head. And we met our unofficial guide, a very furry and friendly puppy dog. 7 hours after we left Huaraz we were officially hiking!
We felt the altitude as we climbed up the first pass that first afternoon. It was tough, and made us question if we were as acclimatized as we thought we were. Our puppy guide would prance up the trail and then turn and look at us to follow suit, and then after watching us struggle up the trail would come back to where we were and sprint back up the trial, as if he was trying to show us how to do it.
As the clouds rolled in we made it to our first campsite and promptly set the tent up behind a hill in an attempt to block it from the freezing wind, rain and snow flurries that were starting to come down. As we cooked dinner, our puppy guide curled up into a little ball, tucked his nose under his tail and went to sleep… outside our tent. After our last animal tent incident I wasn’t about to let him sleep in our tent, lesson learned.
The next morning clouds were still hanging around as we made up the next pass. It wasn’t as high as the previous one, and had a relatively easy grade, so we were at our next camp before 11:00am. Liz made us a quick lunch while we talked with a couple of locals there at the campsite. They said it was only five hours to the next camp, not big deal, right? Except there was a huge pass between us and the next camp, with the steepest approach of the whole trip. We debated and decided to go for it. We pushed on to the next camp. The weather went downhill almost as quickly as the trail went up. The sleet starting coming down on us again pretty hard, and we couldn’t see the approach to the pass for the clouds. When we finally heard a few claps of thunder, we decided we shouldn’t try and make the pass. We had stopped at one of the most beautiful spots of the hike – with three glacier lakes, upclose views of the mountains and huge ice flows falling into avalanches. We made camp in a little depression next to a big rock to protect us from the storm.
This turned out to be one of our favorite campsites to date. Surrounded by towering peaks, the weather broke just in time for sunset and we got to fall asleep to the thundering crashes of the glacier ice falling. A few times they were so loud we had to reassure ourselves there was a lake and a 50m hillside between us and the glacier.
The morning started out with a few clouds and by the time we reached the pass it was completely overcast again… so much for cloudless Andean Summer. We were making good time though, until we lost the trail in a boggy area. We had to leap frog across a swamp from moss island to moss island to make our way back to it. But soon made it into Huayhuash camp to find it already set-up for a few large groups one of which was lead by the guide we hiked to the trailhead with. We talked with him briefly and he said it was only 4 hours to Agua Termales. Again we lunched and debated on continuing or camping…. As we did, the sleet and snow started up again, along with strong winds. It was cold! And it made our decision for us – at least hiking in the sleet and snow keeps you warm, sitting in camp for hours trying to stay warm is way less fun. Since it wasn’t even noon yet and clouds had covered the sky, we decided to push on the Aguas Termales and figured, even if it was snowing, we’d enjoy the hot springs. They were totally worth it and in hindsight, we should have stayed there for two days.
The next day made us both call our navigation skills into question. We started out with an hour detour because I thought the map made it look like we need to back track like 30 minutes to the trail (uphill!), in reality, we should have only back tracked for about 5 minutes. With the sky completely overcast and heading down into a valley our topo map gave us little indication as to where we were. We got turned around and back on the trail, to make the ascent up the highest pass of the hike.
We hit our stride and the climb up wasn’t too bad at all. Unfortunately, the grand views we had hoped for were eaten up by the clouds again. We couldn’t see anything 75 or 100 meters above us as we went over the pass. As we made our way down, we entered a forked valley and somehow blew right past the campsite we had planned on staying at. We were excited about a plan to do a day hike up to San Antonio pass from that campsite, to see the wonderful views of the full Huayhuash Range. But by the time we realized how far past the campsite we were neither of us were pumped about walking back up hill to try and look for it. Defeated, we decided to make our way to the next camp, which happened to be a small town as well.
As we followed the river down the valley in a straight line we still managed to get so far off trail that a kid on a horse had to show us where to cross the river and ended up escorting us all the way into town. We were unsure at first if he planned to mug us, extort us, or just follow us all of the way to town so we didn’t get lost. But he ended up just wanting to help us and even got us into a hospedaje. Harley was our hero of the day! We were reward for our troubles with a stay in the community hospedaje, where we also restocked on food and treated ourselves to a beer.
In the morning the skies were clearer, and we were prepared to spend a lot more time looking at the map. We made it over our sixth pass without to much trouble and then down to the campsite. It was a little disappointing, no real view to speak of. No wind breaks. And the grass lumpy and spikey. Like when we sat down on the ground to look at the map it poked through our pants. So after looking at the map we thought about decided to see what was around the next bend. We came to a little house, where we paid our fee and we were told it was only 4 hours to the next camp. We just had to push ourselves up another 500m over the pass and then it was an easy hike down to the lake. We made it over the pass and then down to our final campsite next to a lake just in time for sunset.
In the morning after a few false passes and being told by a donkey driver that we had taking the old donkey trail up over the mountain instead of the new easy tourist trail down around the mountain, we finally made it over our eighth and final pass and down to Llamac to catch the bus back to Huaraz… 3 days early!
These are the technical details from our trek in July 2015 for anyone looking for info on Trekking Huayhuash Independently. If you’re looking for the color commentary and all of our pretty picture you can find those here.
Our original plan was for 9 days 8 nights was something like this:
Huaraz – Pocpa – Janca
Janca – Carhuaccocha
Carhuaccocha – Huayhuash
Huayhuash – Agua Termales
Agua Termales – Nevados Valley Camp
Nevados Valley Camp – up to San Antonio Pass and back – Huayllompa
Huayllompa – Gashpampa
Gashpampa – Lago Jahuacocha
Lago Jahuacocha – Llamac
Here is what we actually did:
Huaraz – Chiquian Llamac – Pocpa
Bus: 5:30 am bus from the corner of 28 de Julio and Internacional.
Notes: We switched buses in Chiquian about 7:30-8:00am and had enough time to grab breakfast there. We had some mild bus mechanical issues which put us about an hour behind. Then it was on to Llamac where we paid our first “fee” and switched to a cattle hauler truck (run by the bus company, no less) which we road on top of to Pocpa where we paid our second “fee.” We started hiking from Pocpa and with in 5 minutes we got a ride to the mining camp in the back of a pick-up truck which saved us another ~45-hour of walking. Overall we probably started walking a little after noon. And then another hour or so walking down the road to the Quarterhuain campsite.
Quarterlhuain – Cacanunpunta Pass – Janca
Quarterlhuain (4170m) to Cacanunpunta Pass (4690m) ~2 hours
Cacanunpunta Pass to Junca campsite (4150m) ~1.25 hours
Notes: Not a lot of wind protection at Junca but not a bad campsite.
Janca – Carhuac (Yanapunta) Pass – Incahuain/Carhuaccocha – Tres Lagos
Junca (4150m) to Carhuac Pass (4640m) ~1.5 hours
Carhuac Pass to Carhuaccocha camp (4150m) ~ 1 hour
Carhuaccocha to Second Lake (Lago Siula) (4290m) ~ 1.5 hours
Notes: Because it wasn’t even 11:00am yet when we got to Carhuaccocha we decided we would head towards Ciula Punta but the weather was rapidly depreciating (light rain/sleet/snow and then thunder and lightening). Our map showed the trail going along the East side of the first lake. We followed that and it appears that hasn’t been the trail in a while… a far amount of bushwhacking was involved while we could look across the lake and see a nice clear trail on the West side of the lake. Take the West trail and then cross back over after the first lake. We ended up camping in a nice depression with a big rock for wind protection next to the second lake (Lago Siula). It was also just about the only place to camp between Carhuaccocha and the Pass.
This turned out to be our favorite campsite of the trek.
Tres Lagos – Ciula Punta Pass – Huayhuash – Portachuelo de Huayhuash Pass – Atuscancha (Aguas Termales)
Lago Siula (Second Lake)(4290m) to Ciula Punta Pass(4834m) ~2 Hours
Ciula Punta Pass to Huayhuash camp ~2 Hours
Huayhuash camp to Portachuelo de Huayhuash Pass (4750m) ~1.75 Hours (moving pretty quickly)
Portachuelo de Huayhuash Pass to Atuscancha (Agua Termales) (4365m) ~2 hours
Notes: There were a few big groups at Huayhuash camp when we got there ~noon and the weather was not the best so we figured we’d push it to Agua Termales. Agua Termales was another great camp and the Hot springs are perfect, should have stayed there for 2 days!
Notes: This is where we really started having navigation issues. We lost an hour walking all the way back to the dame (which is what our map made it look like we should do) in reality you don’t have to back track very much at all, the trail is on the Agua Termales side of the rocks/hill that the trail and the river cuts between.
Agua Termales (4365m) to Punta Cuyco Pass (~5000m) ~1.75 Hours (not included detour)
Punta Cuyco Pass to Huallapa (3500m) ~5.25 Hours (lots of map checks and errors)
Notes: Coming down the pass we ran into another couple that gave us some advice to “stay left when you get to the swamp… it’s a lot shorter than the right side that the donkeys go.” Hindsight, something was probably lost in translation and this added to our next error. We completely missed the campsite in the Nevados Valley and the trail to San Antonio Pass. Looking back it was probably where the trail split and the left trail went over a little rocky finger that sticks out into the valley and the right trail goes way out around it. Never the less, we never say it and by the time we realized we had completely missed it we were so far down the valley we figured we’d just keep going as the weather was crap and you couldn’t really see any of the awesome mountains we assumed were there.
The trail crisscrosses the river as it goes down the valley and at one point it crosses the river at a little house and it looks like you’re walking up to someone’s house and not the trail. THIS IS THE TRAIL! We didn’t think it was and stayed on the north side of the river and the trail eventually disappears. A nice kid on a horse showed us a bridge and got us back on the trail and basically escorted us all the way to Huayllapa. (Thanks Harley!).
I would not recommend going all the way to Huayllapa.
Notes:There is a mining road (wide enough for a truck and tire tracks) that starts big switch back to the left steeply up the hill and there was a small cairn at the corner of the first one with a very small trail heading straight (towards the Tapush peak). We debated a bit and ended up taking the mining road, but at the top they meet up again, I would suggest taking the smaller trail as it looked like it would be prettier thought maybe a bit more challenging.
Tapush Punta Pass to Gashpampa Camp (4625m) ~40 minutes
Notes: Gashpampa was a pretty ugly campground, a couple of out houses (and old outhouse holes) lumpy, spikey grass and not much of a view (especially when it’s over cast).
Gashpampa to Yaucha Punta Pass (4847m) ~2 hours
Notes: As we made our way around Mitishccocha we came to a little house, nice guy and we probably could have camped there much prettier and better camping that Gashpampa. But we wanted to make it to Jahuacocha Lake.
Yaucha Punta Pass to Jahuacocha Lake camp (4075m) ~ 1.5 hours
Notes: Jauacocha was a pretty developed camp but the view is pretty epic.
Jahuacocha – Llamac – Huaraz
Jahuacocha (4075m) to Marash Punta Pass (7272m) ~2.5 hours
Notes:We followed the sign to Llamac (one of the only trail signs we saw on the entire circuit) and on about the 3rd falls pass a donkey driver passed us and asked us why we went the hard way and not the easy tourist way that doesn’t climb the mountain and just follows the river down to LLamac. Apparently the high road, over the pass is the old way and only donkeys do it now.
Marash Punta Pass to Llamac (3500m) ~1.5 hours
Notes:The bus back to Huaraz stops in LLamac on it was to Pocpa about 10:30am and then passes back through headed towards Huaraz at 11:00am.We also had another delay on the way back as a truck was broken down blocking the road so we waited about 2 hours for it to be fixed. All in we were back in Huaraz about 4:30pm.
We used the Skyline 1:75,000 topo by Aonek’er. It was a source of constant frustration on the trail as it didn’t really have enough detail (we couldn’t see the peaks because it was overcast). It’s a bit outdated lot of trails (mining roads, donkey trails etc) aren’t really marked so there are a lot of forks that aren’t very obvious which way to go (as there is no fork on the map). They also put icons right on top of major intersections obstructing the trail. There is a better 1:50,000 “German made” map that got a green cover. Bring a compass for sure.
There are LOTS of trails, People trails, Mining trails, Donkey Trails, Cow trails, game trails. And there are almost not trail markers or signs (apart form designating camp sites) and the one trail sign we saw pointed us the wrong way. You get the feeling they really want you to have a guide, because they aren’t marking anything. We spent a lot of time trying to decide which trail to take and often we made the wrong choice and ended up on the donkey trail.
There weren’t a lot of people out on the trail we only ran into a couple a day (usually collecting fees) they were friendly and helpful if you asked. ALWAYS ASK to confirm you’re on the right route.
Plenty of water all the way, we never carried more than a liter a piece at any given time. But it’s all needs to be cleaned.
All in we paid about 195 Soles per person for our 6 days of trekking (about 2 billetes a day).
We were expecting “Andean Summer” with perfectly clear skys and perfect weather. We unfortunately got pretty misserable weather for the first 3 days. Rain/sleet/snow flurries and lots of clouds kinda killed all the views.
Wow – we miss all of you guys a lot!!! Friends, co-workers, family everybody. That has been the hardest part of this trip; definitely harder than any of the mountains we’ve climbed, or the questionable beds we’ve slept in, or the lack of showers. I miss each of you individually, but I’ve come to realize that I also miss community in general, having people.
I read an article once that talked about the most reliable factors to predict the happiness for an individual. Unbelievably, the most reliable factor was if they had a friend that lived on their block. It shocked me at first, but then I thought about some of the most content and happy times in my life and it was when I lived next to door to one of my best friends, Angie Jacobus. Rick and I talked about it and decided that, had Will and Angie not moved to another area of Dallas, it would have been a much, much harder decision to sell the house, and leave to travel the world… it might not have happened at all.
Not to say “It’s all their fault,” but maybe a little 🙂 Beyond just having friends, there is huge value in proximity – being located physically close. I mean Skype calls are fun and everything but it’s a lot more fun to meet the Carpenters up at Whole Foods for tacos after work. To be part of peoples lives on a daily basis, and have them be a part of ours.
We’ve been thinking about this and discussing it for the last few weeks and noticed a few things. First off, God created us to want community and calls us to seek it out. Secondly, even taking what the bible says about community out of it, human beings are just more successful when they have their people. Think about the most successful fitness and weight loss programs: Crossfit (group workouts that create strong bonds), Weight Watchers (group encouragement and accountability), even the new 21-Day Fix program is setup to have a coach and a group of others that you do it with. Think about the 12-step programs like AA, they are based on having a group of people that you share with, get encouragement from, have accountability to; there’s human connection.
That being said, we have decided that wherever we wind up living at the end of this trip, one of our top factors, if not the top factor, will be community. Not in the “good schools and nice parks” sense, but a place where we can authentically and deeply connect with people. And that those people live near us. We have been joking about having “meet and greets” with the neighbors, maybe having a “meet for coffee/wine” hour to get to know the neighbors, before we consider renting or buying a house. Community is just that important.
We were still hot on the trail of the top restaurants in Lima, even after our Central experience. Next up was Astrid y Gaston – we tried our same tactic of showing up and hoping, but still couldn’t get in for the tasting menu. However, we did score a seat at La Barra, the a la carte part of Astrid y Gaston.
They brought out the wine list in this swanky little envelop, and I kinda felt like I’d won some kind of award. And the prize was wine!
We had an appetizer of langostino, which was delicious. And then got the roasted suckling pig to share – unfortunately, it looked and tasted sooo delicious we failed to get a picture of it. #foodcriticfail
The flavors and dishes were spot on – from the appetizer of spiced olives, to the langostino to the pig. I wish we had gotten to do the tasting menu here, I’m certain it would have been out of this world!
Another day we went to another of Gaston Acurio’s restaurants, La Mar Cebicheria, and it may be our favorite restaurant in Lima! It’s not in the awards list, and is much more casual, but completely surpassed our expectations. Starting from the variety of native potato chips with three sauces, and Cancha Salada (it’s a special kind of Peruvian corn that has really large kernels, they roast and salt it. You can squeeze lime over it, or dip it in hot sauce, or just eat it by the handful) the flavors were awesome!
We decided on the ceviche tasting and Causa tasting. Each ceviche was completely different, but super fresh and interesting. The Causas were my favorite though. I really shouldn’t be sharing this on the blog, because I have a secret plan to start a restaurant in the states that’s all about Causas – it’s gonna be the next big thing!
Causas are these amazing little appetizer dishes made of layers of mashed potatoes, and in between the layers it’s filled with things like avocado, onions, chicken, tuna, crab… you name it.. then topped off with a sauce that compliments. There are hundreds of varieties, but they all taste amazing. It’s like a super fancy potato salad sculptured and filled with the best ingredients. Ours at La Mar included one with crab and langostino, avocado, a savory/sweet passionfruit sauce and another with tuna and salmon tartar, wasabi and a crispy nori topping.
To finish it off at La Mar, we had octopus two ways. It was remarkably tender, and I just couldn’t stop eating the version with an olive sauce.
Bummer is, we didn’t even bring the camera to this most extraordinary meal, so no pictures… unless we go back again before we leave Lima, which is a very real possibility.
Anyway… on to the next stop in our foodie tour… we went to Maido, another restaurant on the Top 50 restaurants in the world list.
We actually got a reservation for this one through our hotel – Score! We’re big time now! …or so we thought. We arrived to learn that we did get a reservation, but not for the tasting menu, that had ended 15 minutes before we arrived. But never fear, I’m a determined foodie, and they made the mistake of putting the tasting menu list of dishes in the a la carte menu… so we proceeded to recreate it ourselves (our server was less than thrilled with this, but obliged)
Maido features the signature Lima fusion of Peruvian and Japanese, “Nikkei” – so lots of raw fish was on order. Every single piece was delicious! The sushi was incredibly fresh and well prepared – we particularly liked the octopus and the tuna. My favorite dish of our experience there was the Nuevo Ceviche, it was beautiful cuts of raw fish, but instead of being marinated in a lime juice sauce, it came dry then tableside had a powder added to it and stirred in that gave it a wonderful smoked yellow pepper and light citrus flavor. It was much less sweet than the typical ceviche (which I’ve found to be really quite sweet here in Peru). It was crazy delicious and truly innovative… sadly, the picture does not do it justice at all!
We also tried out the 48-hour braised short ribs and they were everything you could hope for! The meat fell apart, but wasn’t greasy, just buttery. We almost ordered it again for another course, it was so good! Oh sweet meat perfection!!
I typically wouldn’t order ramen at a place like Maido, but it was on the tasting menu, so we went for it. And it was truly excellent. And we finished it off with a clever little dessert they called “Ceviche”, you can see the resemblance. It was a variety of tropical fruits, both fresh and crispy freeze dried, ice cream and a citrus sauce. Again, delicious!
There were quite a few other courses that we really enjoyed, each well thought out and well executed. I would definitely say Maido was worth it!
We had some other incredible meals at less well known places. Like our sushi dinner at Osaka. The straight up sushi was the win here – I would say it’s the first or second best salmon nigiri I’ve ever had (a very authentic little spot in Vancouver being the competition).
We also had a superb dinner at AmorAmar, which was our super backup choice on our first night here, but turned out to be one of our favorite meals in Lima. I’m always partial to a place that blows you away with an amuse-bouche.
We still have a couple days here in Lima and I’ve got big plans to explore the “hole in the wall” food scene, especially the anticuchos.
So despite hiking for about 20 days of the last month we’ve spend in Peru, I think I’ve managed to gain weight from my six days in Lima! At least it was for a worthy cause – Peruvian food is amazing!!
I have to be honest, as a whole, South American food has not been my favorite. There have certainly been some amazing meals (I’m lookin at you, Boragó, my love!), but as a whole Argentina, Chile and Bolivia aren’t doing a lot with flavors or spices and have a special way of completely ignoring the existence of vegetables and fruits. (unless you love mayonnaise, white bread and sugar)
I’ve been looking forward to Peruvian food for the last few months – it has a reputation for some of the best food in the world – and Lima is a the capital of that! We basically planned our entire time in Lima around eating.
There’s this list of the “Top 50 Restaurants in the World” – it’s definitely the most widely known international list and has the best google ranking. Rick and I are very suspect of exactly how the rankings are calculated… we’ve been meaning to ask on the blog, do any of you chefs and foodies have a recommendation as to the best list of top international restaurants?
But for this trip to Lima, this listis what we’ve got to work with and so far the restaurants hadn’t disappointed. We went to Boragó in Santiago based on the recommendation of the list and it was incredible!
Lima has three restaurants on the list so of course we were going to try to go to all three… but of course we also didn’t have any reservations. Thanks to a gift card from some very generous friends and Rick’s Marriott points, we got to stay in the JW Marriott – which translates to a real shower and getting to look cleaned up – and asked the concierge to help us with reservations.
She looked at us like we were crazy and informed us that Central (#4 on the list) is booked through August, Astrid y Gaston takes reservations a month out and Maido is “very popular”. Still she tried calling them all and got the predictable answer, they were all full.
But we’re not so easily throw off the trail of amazing food!
So we got dressed up in our fanciest backpacker clothes and decided we would show up at opening time at the restaurant and see if there was a cancellation or a seat at the bar.
….Central – Night 1 – Arrived at 7:30. Were told it was a private event. Didn’t make it past the door.
…Maido – Night 1 – Arrrived at 8:00. Hostess laughed at us for trying to walk up. Escorted out the door.
…Astrid y Gaston – Night 1 – Called at 8:30. No cancellations.
We were not off to a good start… We decide the next day to try for lunch reservations and have the concierge make the calls again. No luck. So we decide to try showing up again.
This time we’re in luck and after waiting in the bar area for 30 minutes, Central has a table for us! We of course do the 17-course tasting menu with wine pairings.
The highlight of meal for us was the plating – all of the dishes were small works of art, truly beautiful! Unfortunately, though, the flavors and execution did not deliver for the most part. There seemed to be a lot of supurlfous ingredients and techniques that really didn’t do anything for the food… it was just kinda there for the sake of being there and seeming fancy. For example, the “caviar” of bacteria from the altiplano that topped the chicken… no flavor, didn’t really add any texture, just there to say it was there.
The theme of the tasting menu reminded us a bit of Boragó, in that it was about ingredients from different parts of the country. Central did it by elevation, going from -20M below sea level (razor clams), all of the way to 3,900M above sealevel which include a three piece bread course with coca bread, high Andean herb butter, and uniquely shaped breads.
Our favorite dish of the menu was the razor clams. They completely stole the show! They were delicate, sweet, slightly salty and so fresh I swear some little sous chef had to run out and scuba dive for them when we walked in. They were paired with “sweet cucumber” which is more like a sweet-savory fruit. The picture doesn’t do the dish justice. This was our second time to have razor clams in Lima and they have quickly become one of my all time favorite seafoods!
Another win was the octopus and coral (yes, coral!) dish. The coral is the cotton candy looking blue stuff… it had the texture of pork skins, but a nice light seawater-kissed flavor.
While the names of the dishes were clever for the menu theme, it came across like most dishes might have been a great concept in the beginning, but the ideator of the dish passed it off to someone else after the original concept… and that person was forced trying to shove what they could actually do and the ingredients they had into a pre-set description. We’ve all been on both sides of that… you have a great, grandiose idea for a project, then hand it off and the way it gets brought to life is just so much less than you expected…. Or on the other side, trying to bring to life this impossibly huge idea. In quite a few cases the primary ingredient which tied the dish to the theme and dish’s name, and was the highlight of the description, was no more than a smear of emulsion of that ingredient on top of the dish. For example, the “River Scales” dish with description “River Snails – Gamitana – Sangre de Grado” – there was a drizzle of emulsion of river snail on top. The same was true for the dish that said it had Smoked Duck in it. But, hey, they sure as heck were pretty!
I think the final blows were the veal dish and the potato dish. (here’s where I become the mean food critic, I guess). The veal dish was supposedly slowly cooked for long hours, with a traditional sauce on it. I expected ridiculously tender meat, and instead got rehydrated jerky – it was chewy. And the sauce was way too overpowering and sweet, like a cheap BBQ sauce. We couldn’t get ourselves to finish it. The potato dish was fairly mundane, until I took a bite of the onion garnish and was taken aback by how overpowering the onion flavor was – like sticking my tongue in a jar of onion powder. I said something to Rick about it, and he looked surprised and said, “Really? Mine has no flavor what so ever”. So we traded plates and sure enough, his had no flavor and mine was grossly onion-y. But again, pretty plating….
The wine pairings were pretty fantastic, when you got a wine pairing. There was a great Riesling that started it off – perfectly off-dry and well paired. And other Chardonnay that was quite good, along with a single red wine pairing that we really enjoyed. I was a bit disappointed that a few times the wine pairing was for multiple courses. One of the courses was paired with a cocktail that was less than exciting, and one was paired with a beer – not a particularly unique craft beer or anything, just a standard Peruvian beer.
We did end on a good note with the Amazonian Rainforest dessert featuring Rose Apple and Lemongrass, and then the Cacoa icecream dish (but it featured Chaco Clay shavings… which was really just colored white chocolate, again just there for show).
Maybe it was it’s ranking as the #4 restaurant in the world that set up our high expectations, or the aloof nature of the staff, or just their reputation – but it didn’t quite live up the hype. Still we enjoyed our lunch and the experience.
…the next two restaurants on our culinary tour definitely did not disappoint…
Cusco is known as the Capital of Archeology in the Americas, Peru’s Capital of Heritage, the most historical city in South America, and a bunch of other superlative titles… for us it seemed more like the big tourist hub base for Machu Picchu. But despite the touristy-ness we had fun exploring it.
The Cusco main plaza is really beautiful. We spent a lot of time sitting there, people watching and soaking in the sunshine and beautiful architecture.
We later went on a free walking tour of the city and learned that Cusco was originally an Incan city with beautifully constructed walls and buildings. However, the architecture we had been admiring was a bit more sinister. When the conquistadors came to conquer and destroy the Incas, they wanted to “send a message” to the remaining Incas they enslaved, and as a power play they build all of their government buildings and churches on top of the centuries old Incan walls and buildings. So you don’t see much of what’s left, until you start wandering the alleys of Cusco and looking at the bases of the buildings.
We also got to meet a very sweet man who crafts traditional instruments and was kind enough to play them for us. We tried our hand at playing them, but couldn’t come anywhere close to making the beautiful music that he did.
Our other adventures in Cusco revolved around food. We visited the San Pedro Market almost everyday to try some authentic Peruvian food – from soups, to ceviches, to menus del dia – it was all delicious.
Well except for that bet that Rick lost…. If you’re following me on Facebook you may have already seen this play out. As we were walking around Cusco, Rick commented that we should drop the subject we were talking about and “don’t ________ a dead horse”. Rick’s choice of phrase was “don’t KICK a dead horse”… after he said it a couple of times, I asked if he meant “don’t BEAT a dead horse”. He promptly told me I was wrong… we laughed at each other. But I couldn’t let it go at that. Over a beer, I asked if he was serious about the saying and he said dead serious, I was crazy and wrong, and “come on, Liz, you’re a horse person, you should know this saying”.
Side note – this is the beauty of not having cell phones and internet access at all times. Back home, you would have just googled it and been done, but since we didn’t have access we debated it and got to joke about it for a while. And eventually made a bet.
So I made a bet with him that who ever was incorrect had to eat the icky Frog Soup we saw in the market. And we agreed that the winner would be determined by what our friends on Facebook said — Big thank you to everyone who weighed in!! (at least, from me…)
We got some very creative and excellent responses, but ABSOLUTELY NO ONE said “kick”. The results were in and it was overwhelmingly “beat”. And so Rick got to enjoy some lovely Froggy Soup!
Our final culinary adventure in Cusco was the infamous Cuy, Guinea Pig. It’s a delicacy in Peru. They stuff it with herbs, roast it whole and, just to add an element of animal disgrace, make it where a vegetable hat.
We didn’t actually eat it whole. After the photo session our server came back with a big knife and cut it into quarters for us. The flavor was pretty good, but it was all dark meat, sort of like duck. And there’s really not a lot of meat to it. Rick and I both struggled more with the herbs they used to flavor it more than the meat. They use this Andean Mint on tons of stuff, and it has a slight minty flavor, but more of an anise flavor… which just reminds me a little too much of Jaeger.
Along with the Cuy came an array of side dishes of various forms of potatoes and corn. I will said the variety of types of potatoes they have here is amazing – I’m told there are over 3,500 different varieties of potatoes in Peru – and they all taste different. Not to mention the people here are incredibly creative with how they use them.
Cusco has been a fun culinary adventure – but we’re REALLY looking forward to Lima! Home to three of the “top 50 restaurants in the world” and known for its foodie culture. We’re going big in Lima – we’ll probably just eat and peruse menus the whole time we’re there.
Peru is home to the world’s deepest and second deepest canyons, both are just outside of Arequipa. We wanted to hike at least one of them, and being of the anti-guided mindset, found Colca Canyon to be more independent traveler friendly with a nice little circuit of small villages about a days hike apart throughout the canyon.
We had heard that the main route from the “larger” town at the canyon rim, Cabanaconde, to the oasis village at the bottom, Sangelle, was pretty packed with tour groups. So we decided to take an alternative route to get off the beaten path. Unfortunately, to get to the canyon rim we had to take a tourist bus. It picked us up at 3:00am and we fortunately were able to sleep for the first couple of hours. But within fifteen minutes of being awake and listening to the guide we were so glad we would be departing from him shortly.
Once we arrived in Cabanaconde we stopped at Pachamama Hostel to grab a trail map and advice on the alternative trekking options. They were really helpful and we confidently set off on our way. We only made it to the edge of town before we got completely distracted by a horse auction going on in an old bull fighting ring.
We each picked out which horse we would buy, if we were going to buy a horse in Peru. I chose a big (for a Peruvian horse) bay stallion with a “c” mark on his forehead. Rick picked one of the younger black horses. I struck up a conversation with one of the locals next to us and it was going smoothly until I asked how much a horse would cost… to which he responded “how many horses?”, I said just one, but that clearly was incomprehensible that I would want to buy just one horse. Apparently in the Peruvian countryside you would NEVER buy just one horse, so we talked in circles for a few minutes, then he consulted the folks next to him about the crazy idea of buying just one horse and how much it would cost. The answer was 400 Soles, about $125 US dollars. What a deal!
But horses are difficult to cross borders with so we forced ourselves to leave the auction and start the hike. The first day was mostly downhill into the canyon. We saw lots of cactus and birds, and the condors were the star of the show that day. We saw over a dozen of them soaring over our heads. We were told it was a five hour hike, but we made it in a little under three hours and arrived at Llahaur. Llahaur can’t even be considered a village… it’s really just a spot on the river where a family has erected some bamboo huts and a little restaurant because there are hot springs there. It was adorable and the views were incredible.
We set down our packs and went straight for the hot springs. We spent most of the afternoon and evening there enjoying the warm water and canyon views. It was, by our low standards, luxury trekking! We got to sleep in a bed, someone else made dinner and there were hot springs – score!
We woke up refreshed and ready to tackle the uphill hike to the next village, Fure. It was the one that would get us way off the beaten path. Fure is in a lush side canyon, off of the main canyon. We made great time getting up there, doing it in two hours instead of the five it was supposed to take. As soon as we arrived we realized this was probably not the place to stay – we had been told that locals would offer a room in their house to stay in, but the village (ten houses total) seemed to have been virtually abandoned. We met a woman who was walking her sheep up to graze and had a little house there. We wanted to make the out-and-back hike to the nearby waterfall, and she offered to watch our backpack while we hiked it. The waterfall was beautiful, all of the way back in the canyon. The water just came out of nowhere, from the middle of the rock, shooting out to a 110 foot drop.
We planned to eat lunch at the house of the woman keeping our backpack, in exchange for keeping it. But when we asked her about lunch, she said she didn’t have anything to serve and we could go to the shop at the end of town. The shop was most definitely closed, like every other house there. It was supposed to be another solid day’s hike to get to Sangalle, but since we’d made great time in the morning we figured we could make it that afternoon.
This section of the hike had some of the best scenery and views of the canyon and surrounding mountains.
But the downside was that a large portion was on the dirt road – which always makes it feel like you’re hiking ten times longer than you actually are.
Today’s hike also had the highlight of us getting the crap scared out of us, and running away from, the least intimidating animals ever. First it was the Attack Sheep of Death. Yes, a sheep scared us. It was perched on a terrace just above the trail and as we got closer, it started stomping it foot, making angry eyes at us and looking like it was going to either ram us, or more likely in my mind, taking a flying attack leap off its perch over us and batter us with ninja-like hoof moves. No kidding, we tried to talk it down but to no avail, this sheep did not want us there… so we covered our heads and ran past it!
To add further insult to our day, this GIANT fly with a huge proboscis/stinger started following Rick and trying to bite him… which resulted in him flailing our Nalgene at it and then running away. (and I refused to come to his rescue). And the final moment of shame was when a quail surprised Rick on the trail, when he surprised it coming around a corner, and he screamed and hit the deck – I’m sure it was PTSD, Post Traumatic Sheep Disorder, that caused his dramatic reaction.
Anyway, finally “The Oasis” of Sangalle came into view…. All we had left was a 3,000 foot descent into the valley! It wasn’t as knee-busting as we feared, but after putting in about 19 miles that day we were ready for some rest. Sangalle is called “The Oasis” because in the middle of this massive desert canyon, water literally flows from the rocks everywhere there. It’s filled with greenery, palm trees and pools! The pools are filled with constantly flowing natural water. It was really cool.
We relaxed with a beer and big dinner and went to bed early. We had to wake up at 5:30am the next morning to make our way 3,900 feet up the side of the canyon back to Cabanaconde in time to catch a bus.
We were thankful it was still chilly in the morning, because the ascent certainly warmed us up quickly. We made it in just under two hours, about half the time it was supposed to take us – Yea, we still got it! The canyon was really cool with lots of views and volcanic activity – from geysers to hot springs.
The climb back up the canyon was nothing compared to the nine hour “sightseeing” bus ride back – ugh! We were dirty and exhausted when we got to Arequipa, but since there was no room for us in the hostel we decided to jump on a bus to Lima.
After trekking into Aguas Calientes and hearing about the hour and a half hike up the hill from town to Machu Picchu, and knowing that we had to catch our ride back to Cusco in the early afternoon, we decided it made the most sense to just buck-up and pay for the bus ride up the hill. $26 USD apiece round trip… for a 20-minute bus ride. That’s on top of the Park entrance fee and whatever else you spend to get there. Needless to say it’s not a cheap place to visit. #Extortion
Nonetheless we are up at 5am and waiting in line for the bus when the nice lady comes buy to check our tickets and our passport.
“Tickets? I know I put them in one of these pockets. Crap! Liz stay inline I’ll run back to the hostel and grab them from the backpack.”
10 minutes Later I came back and said something like this.
“I lost them. Explicative. Can’t find them. Explicative. They’re gone. Explicative. They must be in Cusco where we bought them. Explicative.”
I am officially the loser now.
Liz stayed calm and said something to the effect of “Calm down and go check and see if they can reprint them in the park office.” I run off to the office is open (amazingly) and they were more than happy to look up my passport number and reprint the tickets for me.
My heart was still racing the whole bus ride up the hill and for probably an hour after. So once we got into the park it felt a little more like Disneyworld than an ancient city. Hundreds of people everywhere, lines, tour groups with bicycle flags. We wisely made our way away from the hordes of people and followed signs towards “Inca Bridge.” Sounded interesting enough and was the opposite direction of everyone else. We were rewarded with a narrow path build right into a cliff face that worked it’s away around the mountain and then ended at a bridge that appeared to be a defense mechanism. Run across the bridge, remove the boards, enemies are stuck. Pretty cool.
We spend the rest of the morning wandering around the massive maze-like city. Taking a ton of photos and overall just being awed at their ingenuity and the beauty of the valley.
We had learned a bit about Inca construction from our walking tour in Cusco so it was cool to see it play out on a grander scale. As with most everywhere else, the more important things are constructed better. The temples and “important places” are constructed in a way that the rocks fit perfectly together, with almost no gap. Where as common houses etc, while still built well, definitely don’t have the same attention to detail. Even still it’s amazing what has stood the test of time. While a lot of Machu Picchu has been reconstructed, with a little wandering we were able to find some areas that hadn’t been rebuild yet, and they’re surprisingly intact for their age.
It was also pretty amazing seeing how the Incas worked with the landscape. From the dozens of levels of terraces build right into the side of the hill to using the giant boulders in their construction – they really made use of what they had to work with.
One of the things that we didn’t expect of the sacred valley (though I guess we should have by the name) was just how cool the valley itself is. Machu Picchu sits on this little shoulder between two small peaks on a peninsula in the middle of this valley that is completely surrounded by rows and rows of mountains in every direction. Makes it pretty obvious why the Incas picked this spot for Machu Picchu.
As we were making our way toward the exit to catch our bus we came across a pair of llamas that had just given birth and got to see a baby llama take it’s first steps on a terrace at Machu Picchu. We felt kinda special.
If you’ve followed this blog for more than a minute or know Liz and I at all you’ll know were not ones to plan things 6 months out. That’s apparently what it takes to hike the “Classic” Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. It’s limited to 500 people a day and books up 6 months in advance… Seriously 500 people a day on a trial. No Thanks.
Lucky for us there are a number of other ways to get to Machu Picchu some of which even involve hiking. After a lot of option weighing we decided on the Salcantay Trek which follows another of the Inca’s many highways through the Sacred Valley on a 4 day trek and includes a 4600m pass. Best part… you can hike it without a guide and you don’t need tickets!
After visiting the local South American Explorers club for a topo map from the 60’s (the latest version) and stocking up on a few supplies for the 4 day trip to Aguas Calentes at the base of Machu Pichu we caught a Colectivio at 6am for the ride to Mollepata where we’d start our journey. We were in luck and got the last 2 seats in the jam-packed mini-bus which meant we got to ride in the front and we didn’t have to wait for anyone else. A quick two hours later we were in Mollepata and I suggest we get breakfast as sort of a last meal before oatmeal for days. We got a tourist breakfast, which came with “orange juice” which not surprisingly turn out to be Tang. Liz pointed out that it probably wasn’t made with filtered bottled water… I shrugged her off and downed both glasses. #foreshadowing
We made our way to the edge of town and up a gravel then dirt road climbing all the way. It was surprisingly hot and when a guy driving past offered us a ride we jump at the opportunity to cut a few minutes off our trek. He drove us for about 10 minutes to where our ways parted and probably saved up 30 minutes of walking in the hot sun. Shortly there after we saw our first, of many, tour groups that were unloading from mini buses and starting their hike. The rest of the first day was a hot up-hill slog with some awesome views.
After reaching a valley and a huge fancy lodge, we found our campsite, with great views of the surrounding mountains. We were tired and wanted to save our energy for the 800m climb to the pass the following morning. The wind was picking up and it was getting cold as the sun set so we were thankful for the small cooking shelter where we made dinner and met another guy hiking independently, Mark. Mark had been traveling Bolivia and Peru and as we swapped stories he mentioned how he always seemed to get a bout of giardia whenever he’s in the Sacred Valley… #MOREforeshadowing
We rose with the sun and started our push to the pass at 4600m. The first hour was pretty brutal, our muscles were cold and sore and it took a while to get warmed up, but once we were the trail was beautiful and we found our rhythm.
At the top of the pass we were pleasantly surprised to find a summit that was enjoyable and a nice place to hang out for a bit. It was down right pleasant, even in a t-shirt. We took some photos, socialized a bit with some of our new friends, and of course found time to do our signature “airplane at the summit” move! We enjoyed the sunny weather before turning our boots downhill.
After a few hours of downhill I realized I couldn’t suppress it any longer. That rumble in my stomach had grown from “maybe a little gas” to “I think I’m going to poop on myself.” The challenge now was where. Or trail had become a bit of a donkey path with dense vertical jungle to our left and barbed-wire fence and drop off to our right. I decide it’s time to warn Liz of the impending doom.
Honey, I think I’m going to $#!† myself.
And so starts the search for the perfect location… make that any location. Did I mention the team of donkeys and porters we had just passed about five minutes ago that are hot on our tail?
Eventually, as the pressure builds, I get less selective and I find the perfect place to hang off the edge. At this point there is no longer any questions… I should not have drunk the Tang. We hobble into the next campsite about an hour later and Liz enjoys a cold beer with our new friend Mark while I head straight for the bathroom. After about an hour, a dozen trips to the baño, a few Peptos, a prescription strength anti-diarrheal, and a Gatorade, I’m feeling semi-confident I can probably make it 30 minutes down the trail to the next campground where we planned to camp.
We made it and were greeted with a beautiful site right in the middle of the valley. I collapsed on the ground while Liz set-up the tent, cooked dinner and suggested I take some of the hydration salts she had ever so wisely suggested we carry with us on all hiking trips. After dinner I perked up a bit before feeling a bit ill again and deciding I needed to go to sleep.
The next morning I felt worlds better and when Liz ask if I was up for the alternate route I was game. It was downhill-ish for the first 3.5 hours until we reached La Playa where the trials split, one climbs 800+m uphill to Llactapata (another set of ruins) and the other down to the tourist town of Santa Teresa and the hot springs. We started uphill at about noon and it was absolutely sweltering. We’d hike for 15 minutes then rest in the shade for 5 but eventually we made it to the top of the mountain and the Llactapata ruins from which you can see Machu Picchu across the valley.
Our campsite for the night was a few minutes down the trail and had an even better view of Machu Picchu. It was a pretty magical sunset. Then it was up early the next morning for the big walk down the hill and along the train tracks to Machu Pichu Puebo, Aguas Calentes, The tourist town at the base of Machu Picchu. The entire town is basically there to support the tourism of Machu Picchu.