Hanging Out in Lima

In addition to eating and buying cheese, we have seen some of the sights in Lima. Matt and I usually make sure to take a walk along the Miraflores boardwalk, which is perched on the cliff above the ocean. Lima is typically shrouded in fog; we have yet to have a clear day there and I am not sure they exist! On one of our first visits to Lima, we had lunch at La Rosa Nautica  – a restaurant that juts out into the sea and gives you a great view of the surfers. While it is a bit overpriced, the ambiance is amazing and the food very good and fresh, if not imaginative.

My favorite part of the walk is the Parque del Amor (Love Park) that has fantastic mosaics and a great statue, El Beso (The Kiss).

On one visit, Matt and I also went to the Plaza de Armas, which has many grand old buildings and a fountain that dates to the 1600s. We got there just in time to see the changing of the guards, which had all the pomp and circumstance that one would expect. Next was a tour of San Francisco Church, which included a great library and incredibly creepy catacombs. Part of the creepiness was that the bones had been sorted by type and then neatly arranged in patterns. So, for example, the skulls were all in a round design. Unfortunately, pictures aren’t allowed inside the Church or grounds.

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

On my most recent visit to Lima with Sarah and Mistina, I finally visited the Magic Water Circuit at the Parque de la Reserva. If you enjoy watching the Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas, this is the place for you! There are 13 fountains that incorporate lights, music, laser and images to create a truly magical experience. Some of the fountains are interactive with the water streaming or, in some cases, dancing over you. Truly spectacular. The fountains also have charming names, including The Fountain of Traditions, The River of Wishes and The Fountain of Harmony. The park grounds themselves also looked incredible: a train; gardens in delightful shapes, including a butterfly or Christmas tree; a tea pot and cup topiary; a true-to-size, upside-down house (for which we never received an explanation); and a life-size retalbo, or Peruvian shadow box. We arrived at night to enjoy the fountains so we couldn’t enjoy the other features very much, but a return visit at dusk is on my list. While none of the fountains are are large as the Bellagio fountain, the experience is unique and not to be missed.

I’m a convert to Lima. My first impressions of the city didn’t leave me too excited, but after this last visit, I see that it has far more to offer than I thought.

Foodie Weekend in Lima

I took a break from the Machu Picchu training hikes and spent the weekend in Lima with my friends Sarah and Mistina to celebrate Sarah’s birthday. While I have been to Lima several times, it was never for straight enjoyment; rather, it was always an extra day tacked onto a trip related to getting our immigration paperwork completed. The school puts us up in a hotel in San Isidro, which is one of the nicest districts in Lima, but pretty sleepy. So this time we were doing Lima right: we stayed in the hopping district of Miraflores, solicited restaurant suggestions from our Peruvian friends in Cajamarca who are from or have lived in Lima and signed up for a food tour. In other words, food was the focus of this weekend, including the important stop at Wong supermarket so we could stock up on imported cheese. I limited myself to 8 1/2 pounds this time…

Cheese! Of course, a third of  my purchases has already been eaten in the past week.

Cheese! There was more, but we already ate it this past week.

Friday night and we had one goal: Indian food (called Hindú food here). I did my research and discovered that there were two Indian restaurants in all of Lima and they were a block away from each other. We got to the hotel about 8:00, dumped our bags at the hotel and set off to Mantra. We were not disappointed: the service was good, the food was decent (although not the least bit spicy) and the chai was excellent. Was it as good as the feast Archana’s mom made for me when I was in Chicago in August? No, but it was fresh and flavorful and hit the spot.

On Saturday we were picked up at 9:45 by Lima Gourmet Company (http://www.limagourmetcompany.com/) and began our culinary adventure. I admit that I had some reservations about the tour: we all have lived in Peru for over a year so why would we go on a tour designed for tourists? Plus, I already knew how to make a mean pisco sour! Then, when the 15-person van pulled up with a bunch of tourists, all 3 of us had reservations. But we were wrong: the group was friendly, our guide, Sylvia, was great and the tour was fantastic fun.

The first two stops focused on non-alcoholic beverages in Barranco, a gentrified neighborhood adjacent to Miraflores. Peruvian coffee was the focus at the magnificent Tostaduría Bisetti, a coffee roaster and cafe with a great vibe and cute enclosed back garden. They buy organic, Peruvian beans and hand select each bean for roasting. I’m not a coffee drinker and was planning on passing my coffee off to Sarah or Mistina, but non-coffee drinkers were offered tea instead. What a delight! My tea came in the coolest tea infuser ever: you place it over the cup and the pressure releases the tea into the cup with no tea leaves or spices mucking up your beverage. Sheer genius.

The next beverage stop was at the darling La Bodedga Verde where we had a lucuma smoothie. The Bodega has a huge, 100 year old lucuma tree on its outdoor patio. I had heard of the Peruvian fruit before but had never tasted it. Typically, it is dried and used as flavoring in desserts and ice cream. The smoothie had hints of almond and vanilla and was delicious.

Although the lucuma smoothie was filling, our eating had just begun. Next stop was the San Isidro market, the most upscale in the city. It was glorious: clean, fresh, gorgeous displays…very different than our hard-working Cajamarca markets. We started at a fruit stand where Sylvia introduced many of the amazing Peruvian fruits and provided us with ample samples of some. With the exception of lucuma, I had tried all of them before, but it was still a treat. Incidentally, Sylvia is so vivacious and energetic that is is hard to get a picture of her when she is still!

We walked over to the fishmonger and got a demonstration on how to pick fresh seafood. Unfortunately, we did not stay to taste any. The only downside of the tour was that we were not given any time to purchase anything at the market. I assume that given the price of the tour, they likely didn’t want us to feel pressured to buy, but I think most people on our tour would have enjoyed purchasing a piece or two of fruit.

 

We left the market and headed to Embarcadero 41 for our pisco sour and ceviche lessons. There are multiple locations for this restaurant, but whichever one we were at was well appointed and had a very friendly staff. We bellied up to the bar and started with 3 mini shots of pisco – non-aromatic, aromatic and fruit infused. I was wimpy and didn’t finish any of my shots. Then the bartender showed us how to make a pisco sour. The recipe is easy: 3 parts pisco, 1 part simple syrup, 1 part lime, 1 egg white and a dash of Angostura bitters. While I had made these before, I learned that the secret was to add the ice at the end, after vigorously shaking all the ingredients but the bitters and then to pour out some of the drink into the glasses and shake yet again to get a good froth on the egg whites. I forwent my turn behind the bar, but enjoyed the drink someone else made for me. Need I mention that the group got much more chatty and friendlier after our drinks!

Then we moved on to making ceviche. The sous chef did a great job because we sat down to a beautiful display of ingredients. The head chef led us step-by-step through the process and we were encouraged to make our ceviche to our liking. At the end, we were given the chef’s version to taste. Both Sarah and I agreed that we liked our own dishes better! One guy in our group did not like fish so he was provided with mushrooms instead. He said the end result was good and his wife was excited to have a vegetarian option to make for her friends. My plate is boring because I don’t like sweet potato, raw onions or giant, starchy corn that were to be used as the accompaniments. Plus, our eating wasn’t completed and I couldn’t even finish my ceviche!

But our fun was not finished! We headed back to Miraflores where we went to the swanky restaurant at the Huaca Pucllana ruins. We had another cocktail and looked at the ruins, which date to 500 AD and were where women were sacrificed to appease the goddess of the sea during El Niño. Once seated, we had 4 appetizers: green humitas (similar to tamales) with criolla sauce, grilled octopus with yuca, beef heart anticuchos (heart sliced thinly, skewered and grilled) with fried corn and potatoes, and deep fried cuy (guinea pig) pieces over fried plantains. It was the 3rd time I have tried cuy and I can say that while I can eat it to be polite, I will not order it again. After our appetizers, we had 4 small desserts to share with a partner. I think this set up was a bit weird for a tour as not everyone was with a friend, but as Sarah and I shared, it didn’t matter to me. The desserts were: suspiro de limeño (Lima’s signature dessert, which didn’t do much for me or Sarah), a dessert with manjar blanco, cookies and some pudding-like filling that was so sweet even I couldn’t finish, another dessert that Sarah warned me had coffee in it so it was all hers and rice pudding (my favorite of the four).

The tour was over around 3:30, but our eating was not done for the day! After a walk to the crafts market for some shopping and around Kennedy Park, we relaxed at the hotel for about an hour and then headed to the water fountain park (blog post coming soon). At around 10:00 we hit Ámaz, a restaurant that focuses on food and drinks from the Amazon region of Peru. Two of our friends had recommended it, as had Sylvia. The decor and music were jungle inspired and our friend Rodrigo, an artist, told us to look for his “erotic jaguar” in the bar. We found it, but my picture does not show off the erotic feature; use your imagination and you are likely right! We each ordered a different cocktail and then shared several dishes.  They food was really flavorful and very different. We started with an abreboca (mouth opener) of a little, chewy, cheesy roll and a crunchy, fried cracker-like treat, then moved on to an amazing salad with grilled prawns and fruits, a crazy gigantic mushroom that had a flan-like filling cooked within it and was served in a huge leaf, delicious causa (mashed potatoes) served with prawns and a great sauce, and a lovely fish dish. We also had cachapas (fresh corn pancakes) and smashed, fried plantains, but neither of those were my favorite. Our food was so plentiful that we had to skip dessert! While the service was sporadic, when we left we asked for directions to our hotel as we were only a few blocks away but disorientated because we had come from the park. The staff was very nice and one guy walked us to the street and then ran about a half block trying to figure out where we needed to go. That just doesn’t happen in the US!

We arrived to the hotel after midnight and called it a night. Sarah concluded that it was her best birthday ever!

Don’t Cry for Me – I’m in Argentina

After a wonderful 3 1/2 weeks in Wisconsin over Christmas, Matt and I escaped the bitter cold for Buenos Aires, Argentina.  We have literally gone from a low temperature of -17 degrees Fahrenheit to 100 degrees F.  For the first time I understand why people think we are crazy to live through Wisconsin winters – I’ll take the heat over the cold any day.

Our time in Wisconsin was non-stop as we packed every moment with visits with friends and family.  It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I had all but two of our days booked before we even got to Wisconsin!  As an added bonus, the frigid temperatures allowed us to spend those two unplanned days with Shannon and Kieran whose school was closed.  We spent our last weekend in the US with friends in San Antonio, Texas – a good way to ease back into warmer temperatures and a less hectic pace. Here are pictures of some of the fun we had in the US.

And then we were off to Argentina, via a 24-hour layover in Lima. Because we have been to Lima a handful of times, we decided to take it easy and spent a leisurely day walking through some parks and along the coastal cliffs before we headed to the airport for our midnight flight.

IMG_2477

After what seemed like endless travel and waiting (our connection in Chile was delayed), we finally landed in Buenos Aires.  While both Matt and I still have a lot of Spanish to learn, we were proud of how well we navigated Argentine immigration and customs.  Unlike other countries we have entered, the Argentine government took our mug shots and thumbprints.  As Matt pointed out, we have no idea what the US government does for non-citizens, so maybe this is similar treatment.  Our flight had been delayed about two hours so we were relieved when a driver holding a “Matt Geiger” sign was waiting for us.  Franco took us to our apartment in Palermo Hollywood, a very nice, vibrant part of the city, where we met our landlady, Norma.  Norma was headed to Washington DC to stay with her daughter for 6 months and spoke excellent English, which was a bonus for us after a night of little sleep and travel.  As we are in Buenos Aires for 3 1/2 weeks, we opted to get an apartment because it was more economical than a hotel and would give us more space.  We are happy we did so and have settled in nicely to our new digs and neighborhood.

Our apartment is a duplex, which means we have a downstairs living area and narrow staircase up to the second floor.  The second floor has an office niche that we are using as a luggage storage and clothes drying area, an awesome walk-in closet,  bedroom, another patio, and a unique bathroom area – a small, separate toilet area, a nice open area with the sink, a bathtub and a bunch of open shelves and then the shower, which is a narrow 5×2 foot area that has the patio door at the end of it.  While the door is frosted about halfway down, I think I may be flashing the neighbors when I shower! There is also a typical European shower in the downstairs powder room toilet area – a hand held shower and a drain on the floor, but I will stick with flashing the neighbors rather than showering over a toilet in a 3×2 space.  The upstairs is too narrow for photos, but here are pictures of the downstairs.

Buenos Aires is amazing – we love the vibe here and are having a great time despite the heat.  The food and wine are delicious and the dollar is strong.  More to come soon…