After a whirlwind visit back to the UK. One Birthday, one BBQ, one wedding, and one speech. Stocking up on medicines that we actually used, dumping stuff we didn´t, eating the food we missed saying goodbye to friends again we headed back to the airport at an awful time of the morning. I hadn´t slept as the party had continued and then we were faced with Iberia…. the airline from hell!
Apparently we needed to have organised a ticket out of Peru as it was a “new requirement of Peruvian immigration”. Great, so we get the chance to buy a ticket from Iberia for 800 pounds that “we promise to refund after the 80 pounds handling fee”. Thanks Iberia.
We were also grateful that the French air traffic control decided to strike so we were waiting for an extra 2.5 hours for the flight to leave. By this time I was tired and the over priced airport coffee wasn´t helping! We sure were not in India anymore but realised we had to get out of the Indian price mentality for the next part of our journey- it´s just not healthy.
The flight to Madrid was terrible and my legs didn´t remotely fit in the leg room, so with my head nodding backwards and forwards in between being knee capped by the metal trollies I wasn´t in the best of moods at Madrid. The next flight at least fit us both in, but for some reason on a 12 hour flight they thought that at 8am you would want pasta with no sauce, but just a few mushrooms or a burger with sloppy, disgusting spinach. It all looked regurgitated to be honest. The good news though was that for the next 2 meals we had sandwiches! Yay! We had been so prepared with food for every other journey that this was the one we neglected and wished we hadn´t. There are other things I could mention, but don´t want to waste my 1 Nuevo Sol (Peruvian currency) over. BUT Lesson 1: Never fly Iberia. Rant over.
Finally getting a glimpse of the Guyanas was amazing though, we knew we were approaching landfall due to the sudden line of approaching “towering cumulus” clouds (“altocumulus” to get technical). The coastline was carved up into neat blocks reminiscent of the US, but suddenly replaced with luscious green, with winding glistening tributary rivers snaking their way through dense jungle. Amazing. Weaving through the clouds the afternoon sun really picked out the deep green colour and vast network of what we assumed was the Amazon basin.
This all finally started to reduce in green and become replaced by an increasingly pale brown colour of dust and a dry climate of the Andes range. On the aeroplane tracking map we saw we were finally in Peru when small looking (relative to being 35,000ft up!) hills/ mountains became huge looking and the air outside took on a brown haze. Soon we were circling around red, umber coloured mountains, beautifully contrasted by the falling sun so you could see the vast gorges and peaks left millions of years. At this point we became excited and it had yet to hit us because of the madness of the UK visit, but we were then dropping past Lima´s ugly port and overlooking roofs covered in brown dust. We descend through a thin layer of hazy sea fog leaving the pastel colours behind and into the grey. At this point we wonder if Lima will actually be reminiscent of India.
Lima is not reminiscent of India. The airport is the most efficient I have ever been to. It is clean organised and quick. We are out of immigration within 10 minutes and our baggage takes less than 5 minutes to arrive, we pick up 400 Sols (4.5 Sols to the pound makes this 88.90 pounds) and then by the entrance is a taxi man ready and puts our stuff in a chauffeur-esque vehicle that makes us feel important, all in less than 15 minutes. Amazing.
Heading towards downtown the area doesn´t look too bad, despite the warnings we have received about how dangerous Lima is, all in all the roads are relatively clean the buildings looking European in the sense that generally the houses are concrete or stone and ´normal´. There are some cool looking new buildings thrown in and clearly it is time to vote with large banners of cheesy figures with their thumbs up.
We make it to Miraflores without a hitch, bar the address we have for the hostel doesn´t deliver us to the hostel. After the driver circling for a while it was time to use our 11 hr crash course in Spanish to ask for directions. Success! We acquire the actual address and from the directions given I can relay this to the driver in Spanish.
The “Family House” hostel doesn´t look like one at all: no sign, no open gate, no sign of life. We buzz and are greeted with a clean and very posh hostel. We really are not used to any kind of luxury after India, so seeing a flat screen TV, games, a glass coffee table and immaculate flooring we are in paradise!
After doing the formalities we are pointed toward the nearest supermarket and head out for supplies and something real to eat after the crap we were given on the plane. The supermarket looks better than the UK´s Waitrose and has a LOT of imported stuff. As we are Miraflores though, which is the posh end of town (better for safety) it means it is expensive also, but at this point and with little comparison we care less. The area is really upmarket with glass buildings, a lot of buildings being built upwards, trendy as well as expensive restaurants and glass all over the place. Not what we had imagined Lima to look like.
Finally after a 24 hr flight we sit down with the owner for a beer and cigarette to discuss Spanish and where we are from etc. We learn of a food festival the next day, which we know sorts the next day out already and where we should not go in town. We also learn there is a free 2 hour Spanish lesson included and “Pisco night” (Pisco is a traditional Peruvian drink), and with clean toilets, a clean towel and toilet roll we are armed for a great nights sleep in what we cannot believe can be called a hostel, bar the shared rooms.
The next day we wake early probably due to partial jetlag, although staying awake the night before the flight and sleeping on the flight has messed my body clock up so much it doesn´t really matter what time it is. We are pointed towards and map and given an explanation how to get to “Mistura” the food festival and referred to a taxi, we ask about the bus and with raised eyebrows find out how that is possible.
Laura is a star and after the short walk marches up to a bus at the traffic lights and asks for the street in Castellano (S American Spanish), he ushers us on and we are off. Helped off by a lady who is also going we realise than on our first day we need to gamble with touts and whether the tickets are dodgy etc. They pan out though and soon we are in the expo centre with smells of food and BBQ wafting around like they are hunting out the hungry… and we are the hungry.
We try to find the Guineapig or “Cuy” show, but cannot but end up in the BBQ arena. The great thing about this show is that it is one of the top shows in S America and produced by Peru´s top chef. It attracts all the top restaurants where you get to try the different dishes they produce and loads of other traditional products like Coca-beer, Pisco (which we discover tastes like Tsoika, the Romainian Plum brandy), local wine, Quinoa biscuits (quinoa is inherently Peruvian and very healthy). There are also obscure things like Sacha Inchi a star shapes nut that is supposedly very good for you, as well as purple corn and MASSIVE avocados, which meant Laura was in heaven. In the first BBQ section we saw a fire pit with a film crew gathered round and loads of people hanging around. We decided to try some of the few paid for trials, as it looks popular. We accidentally (honest!) jump the queue, but the Peruvians are forgiving to us foreign tourists and then suddenly a film crew is asking me questions on the festival food and Peru in general to go on National TV (Andina de Televisión)! We are the only foreigners in the fare that we saw in the 6.5 hours we were there and Laura had her share of interviews for a few restaurant websites and the festival TV show.
The dish we are given is called Pachamanca, which is essentially pork, chicken and vegetables cooked in a pit in the floor covered in very hot rocks, cooked for 8 hours or so. It was ace and really filling, not just a ´trial´for sure! We were both stuffed for 10 Soles each (approx 2.20 each), from food from a top restaurant specialising in Pachamanca- what a way to start our Peruvian exploration of food and culture! We also managed to fit pretty much every small taster available at the festival, as well as try Cebiche (raw fish in lime juice and raw, red onion), which Laura was a fan of previously and wanted to try especially.
After gorging and feeling very full we headed back for a few beers and bottle of red wine from the expensive supermarket, at a price similar to the UK and relax with some of the other people at the hotel.
The hostel seemed to attract many Americans. The next day the stereotype came into play as I was trying to find some oil to fry some eggs. One guy from the US uttered the sentence “I´ve not tried it, but I think using water would work”. I was tempted to make several sarcastic comments, but instead just laughed very hard internally! That morning we had 2 hours of Spanish lessons and our heads hurt, but we felt that we built on the basics that we had learnt on the plane and it turns out that I remembered more Spanish than I realised from the 1 year I had done and despised doing at school. School, I take it all back, the lessons were not useless after all!
That day we decided to have a walk around the coastal side of Lima, as surfers were walking past the hotel. The sea was really sewage ridden and pretty bad. The surf was good but I wouldn´t surf in it. The beach was also pretty stony and not a great beach. Either way one of the owners commented on the miracle of Lima which saw a day of really sunny and hot weather, which was great.
We watched the para gliders cruise over the hill and headed back late afternoon to relax for the rest of the afternoon. That evening we grabbed a Taco dinner, which looked like sick, but tasted good. Mexican food though in Peru follows the age old addage- foreign food in a country is either very expensive or poorly executed, or both.
The next day we headed out to the centre of Lima with a couple we met the night before, to visit the sights and the national art gallery to see an exhibition. Unfortunately the gallery was closed and so instead we wandered towards the centre of town and stumbled into a bar to grab a beer.
We then headed over the bridge and passed a few tanks and many police. We wondered why they were there but continued down some of the back roads. After grabbing a Pisco sour we continued but the roads were looking more and more rough and dodgy. At the final point a lady began waving and gesturing to us to not continue, we peered round the corner and saw that this was pretty much the start of gangland, so we popped into the supermarket we were next to, picked up supplies at half the price to that we had bought in Miraflores and headed back. At that point we decided to head to a famous fish restaurant in another dodgy area of town, so grabbed a taxi to the area as advised. En route we saw areas that other ´Gringos´would not have. This area of town was not as well maintained and we finally saw homeless people, that was devoid in the centre guarded we realise now by the national police.
The roads to the restaurant did get all our hearts racing as the driver told us this was the most dangerous area in terms of robbery and just a minute later we saw people scarper from a taxi which had just been the victim of an attempted robbery. As we were dropped outside the fromnt of the restaurant we saw that the gates were thick iron with large barbs covering the perimeter. Two policemen were standing at both corners of the road that housed the restaurant.
Inside however was a different world. It was where the local footbal team´s players went to eat after the match and the prices reflected that. Either way we tried “Leche de tigre” (tigers milk), wihch was raw fish in their creamy, lime sauce served in a half pint glass. I also tried the recommended “Jalea Mixta” (mixted fried fish with fried yam and banana), and Laura unfortunately went for the cebiche, but this was pretty much the same as the Leche de tigre, but with more fish meat. All this with a small beer cost us 65 Sol or 14.50 pounds, so we were still happy.
We headed back to the hostel again for Pisco night, which didn´t end up happening due to the lack of people, so the guy we spent the day with came to the supermarket with me to grab a bottle of white rum to drink.
The guy who recommended the restaurant to me the previous night was a trainee chef and also said he would show me how to make the famous Peruvian “Aji Amarillo” sauce with boiled potatoes. So at 11pm, tipsy I embarked upon learning what is actually a really easy but damn tasty dish. One for the book let´s say!
The next morning the early start was tough with a sleep deprived night of drinking but we headed off to catch the Cruz del Sur bus to Huancayo. The bus was amazing, as we had heard and way beyond the standard of India. The bus had half reclining seats, they gave us a blanket and also served up a good meal of quiche, chicken in a sauce, with potatoes and rice. Heading out the city we caught a view of the non paved, dusty roads that we had imagined Peru to look like and soon were heading up into the mountains on steep roads that made your ears pop. Things began to look drier and drier and the bus temperature soon told us it was 27C outside. The landscape looked like something out of a wild west film with rock faces that contained the lines of millions of years. The 7 journey was great and I slept as well as gazed out of the window until we we were in Huancayo.