Sunday, October 8, 2017


We arrived in Lima to the usual overcast skies and the usual slow traffic. It is interesting getting around Lima because while there are roads at sea level, pretty much all accommodations are 150 feet or more above on the cliff. And there are few connecting routes.

From our apartment in Miraflores district (250ft above sea level), we can see Lacomar, a upscale shopping mall which is built into the cliffside. It’s very touristy with a mix of boutiques and restaurants and NO anchor store. The biggest store there is Wong’s (our closest supermarket.) After settling into our apartment it was time for lunch. We headed to Popular, one of several restaurants at Lacomar overlooking the Pacific from the high cliffs. Seafood Frito Misto (or Jalea in Peruano) for Pat and Meunier Catch of the Day for Bill. We followed this with Ponderacion XXL, a typical Peruvian dessert made of very thin fried dough sheets, covered with ice cream and fresh fruit. The dough is so crispy and light and it combines perfectly with the sauce. 

After lunch we went on a search for eyeglasses for Pat. Hers broke while we were in the Amazon and she was anxiously waiting for the chance to replace them. Amazingly we found some she liked at the first shop we targetted.  We ordered them and then went on to explore the neighborhood.

Saturday was our last day with scheduled tours. We started with a visit to the nearby Huaca Pucllana archeological site, a great adobe and clay pyramid made with an unusual technique…layers of vertical adobe bricks between layers of horizontal adobe bricks with maybe an inch of space on each side of the vertical bricks. From a distance, it looks like it was built of corrugated cardboard material. Apparently this technique was designed to withstand local earthquakes. It seems to have worked. Huaca Pucllana served as an important ceremonial and administrative center of the Lima Culture, a society which developed between the years of 200 AD and 700 AD. There are several demonstration areas, one paying tribute to the gods, and one showing the process of making the bricks used in the construction of the site, as well as, an area with some of the animal (llamas, guinea pigs) and plant life of the local area.

A tomb for 2 in the Pyramid... the bodies would have been in those 
2 cylinders in fetal position prepared to be reborn.
We kept running into this tasty local fruit. They look a bit like a cherry tomato. It turns out they are what Pat's Mom raised in Maine, that she called "Husk Tomato" 
The Basilica Cathedral of Lima has 14 side chapels with varying architectural styles (Gothic, Romanesque, Arabic, Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassical…) Do you know all those? We don’t either.  But they span simple clean lines to extremely ornate, curvy decor. The Basilica is also home to the tomb of Francisco Pizarro, the Spaniard who led the conquest of Peru.
In front of the Basilica Cathedral
Mosaic of Pizarro, conqueror or Peru in one of the Chapels (above) 
and another more traditional Chapel below.

From there we moved on to the Franciscan Church (no photos allowed), noted for it catacombs discovered in 1943. Having served as a burial-place until 1808, when the city cemetery was opened, they contain thousands of skulls and bones sorted and arranged by bone type. Weird. We know. It is estimated that more than 25,000 bodies were laid to rest there; the crypts, built of bricks and mortar with domed ceilings, are very solid and, as planned, have stood up well to earthquakes.

Our last stop was at the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera, a renowned private museum of pre-Columbian art established by a pioneer of Peruvian archaeology. The galleries provide an overview of 4,000 years of Peruvian pre-Columbian history. We visited, and really enjoyed, the related, newer museum in Cusco. We likely spent 2 hours at that smaller museum. We had a whirlwind tour of this one.  
Nazca Drum (1AD-800AD) used in rituals & dances related to agricultural fertility. The Nazcas decorated their drums with the rich religious iconography. 
Copy of detail from a ritual cup demonstrating the steps of the sacrifice ritual
A trepaned pre-Columbian skull...the pre-Columbians used trepanation to care for battle wounds. Some of the trepanation were actually successful!  
Some of the loot from & jewelry 

Aside from the displays, there is a HUGE “catalog” of literally thousands of ancient ceramics, many of which have been digitally recorded if you want to check them out. 

A very small portion of the "catalog"
The museum is also well known for its gallery of pre-Columbian erotic pottery…we were told that these were intended for fertility purposes. 

We returned (hungry) around 4pm so went straight to one or our closest dining establishments, Tanta, a Gaston Acurio establishment, that sits alongside Popular on the oceanside cliffs. Note: Gaston Acurio is the renowned chef that put Peruvian cooking "on the map".

On Sunday, our new British friends (Trent and Justine), whom we met in Arequipa, came by and we joined them for a walk around Barranco, considered the city's most romantic and bohemian district. 

We stopped at Canta Rana for ceviche & tiradito. Ceviche is a dish in which cubes of seafood are marinated or "cooked" by lime and lemon juice. Tiradito is sliced (not cubed). For tiradito the lime or lemon juice acts more as a simple flavoring, being added just before the dish is served. Canta Rana is renowned for both and they lived up to the reputation. 
At Canta Rama
After lunch we wandered by the Puente de Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs) to the Pedro de Osma Museum, a colonial mansion and one of Peru’s largest collections of religious art, colonial silver and tapestries.  
Silver display featuring an armadillo
Corpus Christi Procession...18C AD
We continued on to check out one of the great shops/galleries (Dédalo features a broad range of fine local crafts) and the Sunday market. We enjoyed the surprisingly sunny day and the MANY Peruvian hairless dogs that were out walking their owners. Strangely we only saw the hairless dogs on Sunday. We saw LOTS of them on Sunday. We truly did not see them during the rest of the week. We walked back home along the clifftop to Miraflores, the neighboring district.

A young hairless dog. They do have a little hair on their heads, feet & tails.  We also have hairless dogs in Mexico. But honestly, we haven't seen them elsewhere. 

Monday the weather lived up to expectations…it was grey. Grey is typical for Lima’s winter weather. Of course it was now spring but only barely. We decided to explore Miraflores. We first visited Parque del Amor, named for it’s sculpture “The Kiss” by Victor Delfin. 

If you look closely, you may note the sculpted seating in the park (it may look a bit like a wall below). The seating is decorated in mosaics reminiscent of Gaudi's Parque Guell in Barcelona (also reminiscent of the mosiac Anado made for us in San Miguel.)
Here's Pat peeking out through the wall
At Parque John F Kennedy we enjoyed the multitude of cats…so cute. And not at all disturbed by folks walking by...

From there we checked out a few stores and had a great lunch at Rafael. The shopping was disappointing but the lunch was outstanding. Any meal that starts with bubbles, Cava in this case, is off to a good start. The next course featured seared foie gras with a sauce of roasted peaches, vanilla & port. The mains were "grouper confit & seared scallops" for Pat and "roast sea grouper steak with almond cream, wild mushrooms & endive" for Bill. 

Our foie gras
The final touch was "mango raviolis with lucuma foam, passion fruit broth & green apple sorbet" for Pat. Lucuma is another local fruit.  And "Pomegranate and custard apple 'tumbao' with milk caramel and almond crumble" for Bill. Sorry, we can't help much re what 'tumbao' means but the dessert was tasty!

Tuesday required a lot of planning. We had dinner reservations at Astrid & Gaston, the home restaurant of the Chef Gaston Acurio. We had to take steps to be certain we’d be able to eat enough to appreciate the experience. We knew we needed lots of walking to earn the meal. So we walked the 4.3 km (2.7 miles) to San Isidro (which neighbors Miraflores on the northwest). We discovered the perfect lunch spot, 27 Tapas ...coincidentally neighboring Astrid & Gaston. We selected glasses (yep, only glasses) of Malbec & Cabernet wines to go with: 
  • "waffles & pesto…ham & cheese waffles, rucola pesto and tomato salad"
  • "Spanish broken eggs…crispy potatoes, ham, soft fried eggs". The eggs are broken just as they serve the dish
  • "montadito de salmon...cured salmon, apples & joselito ham cream"
All were good enough to entice us to consider a second trip later in the week.

Montadito de Salmon
Waffles (left) and not yet Broken Eggs
From there we moved on to the Natural History Museum, an interesting break to the long list of pre-columbian venues we had visited. When we saw the sloth exhibit, we were amazed that we had managed to spot some in the Amazon given their coloring. Their coloring is well designed camouflage. OK, granted our guide spotted them in the Amazon, but Bill was able to get a photo. How was that possible? 

From the museum, we wandered around San Isidro before going to dinner. Astrid y Gastón has been leading Peru's gastronomic surge since its opening 20 years ago. This was our third visit to one of this “chain” of establishments. Our first meal was in Santiago Chile in 2012 and the second was in Mexico City with our friends Ken and Pat who were visiting us from Boston. 

We started with glasses of Brut Rose at the bar (we arrived a bit early). With our dinner we selected a Chilean Pinot Noir “Bill” from the Casablanca Valley (give an assist to the sommelier). For starters we had the "potato stuffed with lamb with Arabian Andean aromas” and the "San Ko Chaos…beef and coriander dumplings, pepián and spicy broth". We both had suckling pig for our main courses, "confit…carapulcra, pibil juice, cacao and peanuts" for Pat and "grilled with cauliflower, black quinoa and squash sauce" for Bill.  Fortunately we had some space left for dessert. Bill chose Baklava "Sacha Inchi with figs, marscapone cheese, and Sacha inchi nuts". Pat selected "Suspiro...dulce de leche/manjer blanco, frutos rojos in oporto wine, and cinnamon ice cream). We won't bore you with translating all that. Suffice it to say, it was quite an evening. 

Dumplings and stuffed potatoes
Wednesday we visited the modern art museum, not exactly to our taste but it put us on route to Isolina restaurant in Barranco. Isolina features traditional cuisine. A note on the menu states that one dish feeds 3 people. We opted for a starter, "Papa Rellena con harto relleno...stuffed potato with minced meat, criollo salsa and Peruvian red pepper cream" and  "Higado encebollado con Tacu Tacu de frijoles negros...pan fried beef liver topped with fried onions and tomatoes, served over a black bean tacu tacu (beans and rice patty)". The combo was quite tasty and we consumed more than 3/4 of the definitely large servings!! 

On our return to the apartment we enjoyed watching the para-sailers taking advantage of the currents along the cliffs. 

Later we went out to pickup Pat’s new glasses. Very fashionable. Actually maybe not so "fashionable" since they are the type without frames, but that is what Pat likes.

Thursday we walked back to 27 Tapas for lunch. As mentioned before, this is roughly a 3 mile walk but the exercise helps keep the weight under control allowing us to enjoy the fine food in Lima. This time we had "papas bravas…crispy potatoes, Sriracha mayo & togarashi", "frito misto…deep friend seafood, shallots, “rococo” chili and squid aioli", "fish & chips", "aji relleno...yellow pepper stuffed with ossobuco & mozzarela" and several glasses of red wine followed by coffee. This meal was as good as the first.

Fish & Chips
After stoking-up we walked to Parque de la Reserva to see the fountains perform. There are a number of fountains, animated and in color, that put on a good show. 

Friday morning we finished our packing and off to the airport before noon. We had lunch again at a Gastón Acurio restaurant, Tanta, at the airport. The "Rocota...stuffed pepper with a side of sliced potato" and "artichoke pie" went very well with the bottle of Intipalka Syrah, our last Peruvian wine for a while.  

We arrived at Mexico City airport around 11pm and checked into the Courtyard Marriot.  We arrived in San Miguel around 1pm and hurried off to the Saturday Market to stock up on fresh veggies, cheese and breakfast pastries. 

Alejandra & Jorge, friends from Mexico City, were visiting for the Fiesta of San Miguel Arcángel (our Patron Saint day) and we joined them for dinner at Quince, a very fine rooftop restaurant with a fine view of the Parroquia. It turns out it also has a fine view of the fireworks in the Jardin. What a great way to celebrate our return to San Miguel!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Pre-Incan Peru

We moved on to Chiclayo, on the northern coast of Peru to explore pre-Incan culture. Inca culture likely began in the 1100’s with the Incas ruling from 1438 until they were conquered by the Spanish in 1530's. The Moche (or Mochica) Culture predated them ruling from 100 - 700 AD. The Chimú followed the Moche. Both the Moche & the Chimú lived in the area north of Lima.

Since a picture is worth a 1000 words, here's the overview of some of the cultures in Peru along with the time periods. (Note: dC = despues Christo. You may think of this as AD). The key thing to note is that while the Incas get all the recognition, they were really the latecomers, 

As we toured the area we were amazed at the number of tuk-tuks whipping around. They seem to serve as the primary taxis of the area.

The Lord of Sípan Tomb, discovered in 1987, is one of the richest finds in the world, in the league of the King Tut tomb. The raiders who discovered the tomb were discovered by the authorities with some of the remaining goods in their possession. Since then 15 more tombs (some with an amazing amount of gold and silver wares) have been unearthed and there have to be more because there are significant spans of years for which they have not found the royal remains. One of the earliest tombs dates from 250AD. 

Some of the opulent treasures found with one skeleton were: 
  • an enormous headdress made of a sheet of gold 0.6m thick 
  • three exquisite sets of gold earrings inlaid with turquoise (about 3-4 inches in diameter mounted of posts about 3/4" to 1” in diameter
  • two necklaces each with ten oversized sized peanuts – ten made of gold and ten made of silver 
  • a warrior’s"coxal-protector" (butt shield) made of pure gold weighing almost 1kg
  • pectoral (breast) shields made of thousands of pieces of shell, bone, stone, gold and silver
  • several intricately woven blankets adorned with ornate, gilded, copper pieces 
  • a golden sceptre, roughly 2 feet long with an inverted pyramid head about 5” on each side maybe 8” high. 
  • thin, totally impractical copper sandals with no wear which is taken to mean he did not need to walk anywhere
His tomb contained a total of 451 ceremonial utensils and offerings in gold, silver, copper, textile and feather intended to accompany or protect him in the afterlife.

The "Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sípan" is very modern and very well laid out.  Of course, once again, no photos allowed. We really think Peru is missing the point. If folks could take photos of their treasures and share them with others, Peru would get a lot of free marketing. Of course in order to achieve their tourism potential, they would also need to build significant infrastructure. This area of Peru has very few hotels. 

The two of us in front of the museum
We browsed the web a bit and found the following which might give you a feel of the wealth buried away in this area.  This gold spider "bead" is probably 3" in diameter and is one of 10 on a necklace found with "The Lord of Sípan".

For more photos checkout:
The images really don't do justice to the treasure so review the list above to get a sense of the size of the pieces.  
The main plaza of Chiclayo. 
For dinner we finally found the opportunity to go for Chifa food.  Chifa cuisine combines Chinese Cantonese elements with traditional Peruvian ingredients and traditions. Its a fine combination.

We also visited the Túcume Pyramids, 26 pyramids and mounds which cover an area of over 540 acres. This site was a major regional center, maybe even the capital of the successive occupations of the area by the Lambayeque/Sican (800-1350 AD), Chimú (1350–1450 AD) and Inca (1450–1532 AD). Local shaman healers (curanderos) invoke the power of Túcume and La Raya Mountain in their rituals, and, they say that local people fear these sites.

A model of some of the buildings.
For scale, note the size of the model trees on the lower left.

View of an un-excavated mound

A few of the ceramic artifacts on display

We can't remember the story behind this but it might suggest why locals "fear" the site.
While we were exploring the site we spotted some burrowing owls, and a vermillion fly-catcher...

From Chiclayo we moved south to Trujillo, the second (or third) largest city in Peru. Arequipa may be the second-largest and from the perspective of tourist infrastructure, it is far ahead of Trujillo.  Since we were on the quest to experience many of the ancient cultures here, we headed to Trujillo.  Along the way we visited the El Brujo Archaeological Complex. This site was occupied more or less continuously from pre-ceramic times through through colonial times. The biggest constructions here are from the Moche period and include a pyramid/Temple with the Tomb of the Lady of Cao. Given the valuables found with her, she had to be a woman of royal heritage and, quite likely, a ruler.

The pyramid has 6 or 7 layers with new layers being built over previous levels, and of course, thoroughly filling in the older layers first...which means that much of the earlier construction is preserved...but exploring them requires extremely careful excavations (or destroying the later layers).  There is a great route through the pyramid leading through the various carvings on the “layers” that were built on top of each other. 

Large sections of decorated walls are still preserved. Some depict ceremonies that included warriors in ceremonial battles. The winners claimed the clothes and weapons of the losers who were then, as prisoners, marched (in the nude) off to be sacrificed.  

More or less life-sized images of the prisoners heading off to be sacrificed.

Walls in the area of the Lady's Tomb (probably 10 feet high).
Note: Higher levels of walls were decorated with designs, not people.

We arrived in Trujillo mid-afternoon. After a quick visit to our room (comfy but's in an old colonial building) we went straight to lunch in the hotel restaurant...which turned out to be very fine. In fact we enjoyed two additional lighter meals at the hotel as well: taqueños (really small, tasty empanadas) one evening and pizza for lunch (on the third day.) As you may now suspect, we found the overall restaurant scene limited, although we also enjoyed a fine meal at Cellar de Cler (ceviche caliente de lomo fino ...warm pork ceviche) and some pastas.

Conchas acevichadas a la parmesana / Scallops ceviche with parmesean

Bomba cítrica  / chocolate sphere stuffed with lemon cream, citrus truffles and passion fruit mouse
(served with a hot sauce poured over the top melting the sphere)

The Cathedral in Trujillo.  The main plaza seems lovely but it is under renovation,
we were sorry to miss it
There are still many colonial buildings in Trujillo, most are owned by banks. Some are now galleries, others are museums. Nothing spectacular, but interesting.

The next day we were off to see the Temples of the Sun and the Moon (Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna). The Temples were built by the Moche. At 1,250 feet, the Sun Temple is the tallest adobe pyramid in the Americas and one of the largest in the world. The Temple of the Moon, is thought to be a former religious complex and has extremely well preserved murals. Excavations have also uncovered a large numbers of exquisite ceramics and metalworks. Interestingly enough, the Temple of the Moon is decorated very much the same as the Temple with the Lady of Cao Tomb, with the same images of warriors and prisoners and similar geometric designs.

The Temple of the Sun has not be excavated except by the Spanish who re-routed a nearby stream to help them loot the site.

On the lower level are the warrior winners carrying the clothes and weapons of the losers
Here we are providing a scale for the size of the area.

Then on to Chan Chan, the capital of Peru's largest pre-Incan empire, Chimú (between the Moche & the Inca). This kingdom once stretched over 800 miles, reaching all the way to present-day Lima. (For perspective on this, it is an hours flight to Lina from Trujillo.) It is the largest adobe city in the world, covering roughly 5000 acres. We focused on the main temple which has to be 5-10 acres in size.  Some of the work has been reconstructed but there is still a lot of original work as well. 

This stretch of wall represents mythical under water sea creatures (the straight lines being waves.)

There are many walls decorated with diamonds, representing fish netting.

Our day tour ended with a visit to the beach town of Huanchaco. Fishermen here craft distinctive reed rafts called caballitos de tortora, a tradition that has spanned over 2,000 years. 

Fisherman returning with his catch.  The paddle is a huge piece of bamboo.

Optimistic pelicans hoping to snag part of the fisherman's catch
Lunch was at a nearby restaurant.  Seabass ceviche (shared), grilled seabass for Pat, and seabass with garlic sauce for Bill. 

On our final day on the north coast, we explored colonial Trujillo... The cathedral is decorated in a style that is simple but a bit grandiose. Note the scene from the Sistine Chapel on the ceiling...

This red & white church is pretty eye-catching.

The Archaeology Museum had some fine works from the area.

And we liked this scene...3 domes, with a mountain in the background.  Knowing how the ancient cultures of Peru revere their mountains, we think they would approved of the McDonalds' logo in the foreground. 

This shows a traditional part of the Colonial architecture.  The balcony allows observing others without being observed in return.

Next: Back to Lima.