Monday, November 30, 2009

Peru, Day 3

Machu Picchu at 6 a.m.

Although I’ll be traveling for two months and through five countries on this trip, already on my third day I hit what might be the highlight: Machu Picchu.

I started off very early after a quick, 5:30 a.m. meal at the Treehouse Restaurant, which is operated by the hostal where I was staying. The yoghurt and bread were all homemade, and for the first time on my trip thus far the orange juice I was served came from real oranges.

This hit the spot as much as anything can at 5:30 a.m.

I wolfed this down in about five minutes and then, with bus ticket ($14 round-trip) and prepaid entry ticket ($60) in hand, I set off for the bus station to catch a ride up the mountain for the 6:00 a.m. opening of Machu Picchu.

The bus ride only took about fifteen minutes, which, with the stunning and surreal landscape, really heightened my expectations of what I’d find at Machu Picchu. The bus was oddly quiet as all the passengers seemed riveted by the steep, lush mountains out the window and the mist that swirled everywhere as if the Urubamba River that cut through the landscape was boiling and sending steam into the sky. It would have made for a wonderful, 90-minute walk from Aguas Calientes, but the steepness of the climb would be a killer.

This was typical scenery along the bus route from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.

When the bus arrived, there was a collective groan at the sight of perhaps one hundred tourists already lined up at the entrance. However, when the gate opened the line moved quickly and I passed through only a few minutes after six a.m. People quickly dispersed, and I found myself mostly alone in an empty landscape, which I admit that I preferred. Machu Picchu was so stunning that the last thing I would have wanted is a bunch of tourists crowding around me and the ruins I’d come to see. After all, how often does one get to visit one of the eight Wonders of the World and have it mostly to one’s self? This changed by mid-morning as large tourist groups began to arrive, but by then I’d seen the main area of Machu Picchu and was ready to hit the surrounding trails.

It’s amazing that there’s still so much debate about who built Machu Picchu and for what purpose. From what I can gather, it was intended as a winter or summer getaway for a very powerful ruler. It also apparently served as a place of escape when the Spanish conquered Peru – the Spanish never knew about Machu Picchu, or if they did then they never made it here. It’s mind-boggling that it was “re-discovered” by Hiram Bingham – former U.S. senator and the inspiration for the Indiana Jones character – less than one hundred years ago when he more or less stumbled upon it with the help of local guides.

One of the most amazing things about Machu Picchu is its very aesthetic, if I can call it that. Like Ankor Wat, and many important temples and shrines in Japan, Machu Picchu is a stunning example of how people long ago found ways to integrate their architecture into the landscape. The use of stones from the mountains helps in this regard, and so do the terracing, the grassy fields, and the hidden, extremely advanced irrigation system they built. There’s really no describing this place, and the photos don’t do justice to how it feels being here. Without tourists around, the quiet is profound and helps give Machu Picchu an even greater power.

The mist rose up as if from the earth itself.

Terraced gardens, still perfectly functional.

There's a lot of open space, here, too, which is what the llamas like.

This is a typical walking path in Machu Picchu.

The mist started to burn off as the morning went on.

One of the first of many surprises for me was the sight of so many llamas.

They were a little skittish, which made me a little skittish, too.

They more or less stay together and feed, sleep, and poop on the grass (be careful where you walk!). I had about ten of them at once decide to use the same path I was on, and since they’re bigger than I am, and because I’m clueless about their temperament, I hung back and gave them the right of way.

This one gave me the stink-eye. I stepped back and bowed in obeisance, as is recommended.

As you can see below, by mid-morning most of them were sprawled out on their sides and sleeping in the warming sun. (At least I’m pretty sure that they’re sleeping. I hope they weren’t shot by some deranged American tourist.)

Maybe you need to strain to see the llamas. Or click on the photo for a larger image.

If anyone reading this is planning a trip to Machu Picchu, make a point to arrive as soon as it opens. The mist is a morning phenomenon, apparently, and burns off by around 9:30. Without it, Machu Picchu is still breathtaking, but the sense of mystery is heightened so much when the mist is present. Wandering through and around the stone buildings is a special experience when there is mist swirling everywhere.

It took me only about two hours to see the principle area of Machu Picchu, and as more tourists were starting to trickle in I decided to explore two of the trails. The first one I went along was called the Inti Punko Trail. It’s well worth walking – or should I say climbing – though I’m sure it would be hellish in wet weather. Thankfully, the day was absolutely gorgeous, which is surprising because it was raining when I arrived in Aguas Calientes yesterday morning and remained drizzly and overcast all day. I guess I got lucky with the weather. No complaints here!

With the weather so nice, it made having a picnic with the boxed lunch I’d ordered from my hostal perfect. As you can see, I was given a veggie and cheese sandwich, a granola bar, a tangerine, some dried fruit, a hardboiled egg, and a box of pineapple juice.

This didn't really do much for me. It looks good, but it's kind of junky.

I found a nice flat rock with a view of Machu Picchu in the distance and tucked into it while butterflies flittered around me and birds chirped from the surrounding trees. I think I can safely say that it was the most memorable place I’ve ever eaten.

That flat rock served as my lunch table.

I met some older (and hearty!) Japanese tourists along this trail. As they stepped by to let me pass them I said, “Sumimasen,” which surprised them. We got to talking a little and hiking some together, which was nice, especially since most people I came across there didn’t make eye contact or return my hellos. (What’s up with that, by the way?) They were all in their sixties or early seventies, I’d guess, and didn’t seem at all bothered by the altitude or steep and endless series of steps.

I didn’t make it very far along the trail to the Inca Drawbridge, unfortunately; it got a little hairy along the way as vertigo kicked in. Despite this, heading in that direction gives one a different view of Machu Picchu, as the photos below show.

After five hours at Machu Picchu I decided to head back to town. The place was much more crowded by 11:00 than it had been when I first arrived. I grabbed a seat on the first bus I came across in the lot and said adios to Machu Picchu.

By the way, if you come here and plan to eat, I recommend bringing a packed lunch. The food prices in the small restaurant here are outrageous. I bought a small bottled water and a small bottle of iced tea, which together cost $7. It even costs $1 to use the bathroom, and if you have a need for toilet paper you need to take what you need from a roll in front of the person selling tickets to enter – within view of people lining up to enter Machu Picchu, which is pretty weird.

To cap off the good day I went to a pretty nice restaurant called Pueblo Viejo.

The inside of Pueblo Viejo. It looks fancy, but it was very casual.

I got there early, which is typical for me, and ordered something off the menu:
lomo saltado, a famous dish all over Peru. I also ordered a glass of Tacama Gran Tinto, which is a wonderfully smooth wine made in Ica, Peru. When I’m at home I gravitate toward Chilean wines, such as Odfjello, but I would choose Tacama every time if I could get hold of it. I also got to gorge myself on a complimentary salad bar, which surprised me with its huge, salted maize. This was a great salad bar – the most ruffage I’ve been able to find in three days – and the maize, I decided, tasted something like Kellogg’s Corn Pops. Who knew that such a taste would go well in a salad?

Look at the size of those corn kernels!

But back to the lomo saltado. Lomo saltado is a simple dish consisting of strips or cubes of steak stir-fried with green onions, a spicy pepper, red onions, and tomatoes, and served with French fries and rice. This version came in a wonderfully balanced sauce of vinegar, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce (according to the waiter).

How could this possibly be bad? It was amazingly good.

The dish I was served, with hardly a wait, hit all the right notes for me, much to my delight. This was the first Peruvian dish that truly wowed me – and I’ve been expecting to be wowed for several meals now! The beef, delivered fresh from Cuzco, was perfectly cooked and full of juices, while the red onions had a perfect crunch and weren’t overwhelming in their essential onionyness. The French fries and rice, though both starches, were excellent complements to the salty, spicy meal. Although it hit me hard in the wallet at 42 soles (US$14.50) for the
lomo saltado and 15 soles for the glass of Gran Tinto ($5.20), it was lip-smacking good. The service was some of the best I’ve had, too, and the interior had real charm. I also enjoyed my window seat where I could watch all the local activity and colors as dusk fell and a nearby school let out.

Dusk makes everything in Aguas Calientes beautiful. Which is kind of saying a lot.

Pueblo Viejo is located right off the main plaza and around the corner from the produce and meat market. They are open from 10 a.m. – 11 p.m. most nights. Their telephone number is 211-193; their website is

After dinner, despite being quite full and satisfied, I saw a foreigner eating an ice cream cone and knew I had to have one. So I went a few doors down from Pueblo Viejo to Coffee @ (yes, that’s apparently their name) and ordered a single scoop of a triple swirl: vanilla, strawberry, and lucuma (a Peruvian fruit that is orange-brown and tasted to me like caramel).

Coffee @

Not a large selection -- there were two of some kinds -- but it did just fine for me.

I don't think he wanted his photo taken, but damnit I needed the photo.

It was great. I sat on a bench in the main square beside two women eating steamed corn on the cob and watched kids dancing to the huge delight of onlookers.

I don't know if you can see the kid standing in front of the girl in the white jacket, but he'd just taken his shirt off and thrown it to the woman in the red sweater. She caught it and busted out laughing. I think she was flattered the kid threw it to her. It was pretty hilarious.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Peru, Day 2

The main plaza in Aguas Calientes.

After another sleepless night I ended up crawling out of bed at 5 a.m., showering, and grabbing a “breakfast” of toast and Tang that was waiting for me downstairs. From there I headed to Pomoy train station, which was a pretty interesting taxi ride for all the rolling, mist-covered hills and the city-outskirt activities I could see. It wasn’t long before I got on the train heading to Aguas Calientes, the town on the doorstep to Machu Picchu.

I took the second class train, which costs $71 for the three-hour trip, which is about $350 less than the first class train, and the views were great. For the first half of my trip I alternated conversations with a couple from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and a couple from Queretaro, Mexico. During the second half of the trip I either had my eyes riveted to the stunning landscape or else was fighting to keep from falling asleep.

One thing that helped was the unexpected breakfast that was served on board. It wasn’t much, but I needed the energy, and it tasted pretty good. They served fruit, two kinds of cheese, two kinds of meat, and I also managed to get coco leaf bread as well as a mini-cinnamon roll.

Not a bad spread for a three-hour train trip.

The trip was pretty spectacular.

Fairly typical scenery along the route to Aguas Calientes.

The mist is ever-present on the tops of the mountains.

The train’s interior was filled with windows, which gave you something of a feeling of being in an open car.

Not a great photo, but it's hard to take a shot without attracting people's attention...

The train follows a river that is easily the roughest I’ve seen anywhere – the rapids’ churning waves often reached four or five feet.
This shot doesn't capture the violence of these rapids at all.

We occasionally passed small towns and villages, and the closer we got to Aguas Calientes the more frequently we saw local Indians and the more spectacular the mountain scenery became.

These small villages are few and far between, but I would have loved to stop and walk through them.

Local Indian women trying to sell items to passengers. I didn't see a single transaction during our five-minute stop.

By the time we arrived it was raining, and because the rain only came down harder after I’d checked into my hostal,
Rupa Wasi, and because I was incredibly sleepy, I decided to wait until early tomorrow morning to hit Machu Picchu.

For lunch I headed to the only place in Aguas Calientes that my guidebook said served Peruvian food, and even this had many “French touches.” At first I found it hard to believe that the entire town didn’t have Peruvian food, but the overabundance of restaurants, which appeared literally every few feet as I made my way to my hostal, quickly made it clear that the town catered in a limited way to a very particular kind of tourist: pizza eaters. Now, I love pizza, but this was disappointing.

Before I went to have lunch, I moseyed through the local market, if it can be called that. The market doesn’t even have a name, apparently. People just know where it is and go there for fairly basic needs. It contained a few things I hadn’t seen before – certain types of fruits, beans, and potatoes – and asking about them in my limited Spanish hardly helped me learn anything.

Mmm, potatoes...

Colorful little tray of spices and coco leaves.

I should have sampled some cheese, but that's easier said than done.

Once I’d seen the market – that is, three minutes later – I tracked down a restaurant called Indio Feliz. I was welcomed at the door by a Frenchman named Patrick, and he ushered me in to his empty restaurant, which was by far the most unexpected thing I’d seen in Aguas Calientes.

A welcome sight when tienes hambre.

The interior was decorated in a fusion of Peruvian antiques and French seafaring. Yet, somehow it seemed to work.

This doesn't properly capture the atmosphere. Each room was unique in its own right.

Since the restaurant didn’t officially open for 15 more minutes, he gave me a grand tour of the restaurant’s two floors, then took me to the top floor, which gave a view onto mist-shrouded mountains, a lot of hanging laundry in neighboring, half-built houses, and several pieces of antiques that ranged in price from US$2000 - $15,000 and were two hundred years old. I guess that when your lunches cost $20 with a drink and you hire local people and buy local foodstuffs, you’ll soon be able to buy expensive furnishings.

I ordered the most Peruvian items I could find on the menu: “Peruvian Creole Soup” (cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and parmesan cheese from the Altiplano) and “Pepper Chicken with Peruvian Ocucaje Pisco Sauce,” which came with fried sweet potatoes, a cooked tomato topped with pesto sauce, steamed beans, and a plate of thick homemade garlic and dill potato chips. The “Homemade Orange Pie with Custard and Ice Cream” made the lunch set, though it obviously wasn’t Peruvian.

Peruvian Creole Soup

While I generally dislike fusion, the fact is that this was a really good meal. The chicken was well cooked and had a lot of flavor, and the sauce it was in was excellent – slightly peppery with a strong hint of citrus. The vegetables were creatively made, especially the tomato, and even the potato chips were interesting. I’ve only been in Peru for five meals so far, but this has been the best so far.

Pepper Chicken with Peruvian Ocucaje Pisco Sauce

In any case, I could see myself returning here for a meal very easily – I wouldn’t hesitate over trying more on their menu, and the welcome service I got was more than I’d expected – though I intend to branch out some if possible.

Homemade Orange Pie with Custard and Ice Cream

Indio Feliz can be found at Calle Lloque Yupanqui Lote 4 M-12. Their telephone and fax numbers are (084) 211090 / 211320. Their website is, and according to their business card “[They] welcome national, international and extra terrestrial tourists.”

I went to dinner rather early, partly because I had lunch early and partly because I wanted to get to bed in time for a decent sleep since I have to be at the bus station at the crack of dawn. I ended up crossing the footbridge to the local side of Aguas Calientes and wandering around.

I thought she was making pisco drinks behind the soccer stadium, but she told me they were mates.

It’s an interesting enough area to visit, though I did get a lot of looks, perhaps because there weren’t a lot of other foreigners around. I came across some pollerias and other local restaurants, but for some reason I decided to eat closer to my hostal. The walk was nice in parts, especially when crossing the river, which cascades toward town from the mountains.

Looking down toward the town of Aguas Calientes.

I ended up choosing a place that advertised “tipical Peruvian food,” which included guinea pig, alpaca, trout, pig, lamb, and stuffed potatoes. I went with the Peruvian oven-baked trout (trucho de horna). For 30 soles ($10.38), that’s a bargain in Aguas Calientes.

The front of the restaurant looked inviting enough.

I also ordered a medium-sized Peruvian beer called Cusqueña (8 soles); unfortunately, this ended up being the highlight of my meal.

The medium-sized beer was 2.5 liters. I can't imagine what the large size looked like.

The presentation of the dish, as you can see in the photo below, was quite nice. A fried trout fillet with half-caramelized onions, large circular wedges of fried potato, a small salad, and some rice. Sounds good, right?

Trucho de horna (Peruvian oven-baked trout)

Well, the first potato I tried had a big black hair cooked into it. Okay, I’ve dealt with this sort of thing before – I just set it aside and went on with things. But my first bite of trout tasted like dirt, and the fish had very little give to it. My second bite was the same, and I’m starting to wonder how fresh this fish actually was. Trout sometimes has that taste to it, though, and I like to give people the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. In the end, I ate most of the meal. He charged me 4 soles as a service tax, which is a first for me here, and since my meal was not very good I decided to consider the service tax his tip (which in Peru is at most about 10%). The total for my meal was 42 soles, or US$14.53.

The restaurant was named Caminos del Inka II and was right across the entrance to the alley that leads to Indio Feliz. I would not recommend this restaurant, though the man who ran it was nice.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Peru, Day 1

Well, folks, I’m in Peru. In an airport. Stealing wi-fi from Starbucks, which is across the corridor from where I’m sitting. I just finished my first meal in Peru, though it didn’t strike me as particularly Peruvian in any real sense. As soon as I went through customs, picked up my bag, changed money, and got a boarding pass for my flight to Cuzco, I headed to Café Laderia, on the second floor of the recently refurbished airport in Lima.

Not exactly my image of Peru, but for an airport lounge this seems about par for the course.

After struggling with the Spanish menu, a waiter gave me one in English and I ordered a Kaslik sandwich. (What or who is Kaslik? I have no idea.)

Some real food after a long flight. Real food, that is, minus the candied pecans.

Hey, I needed sustenance for my five-hour layover following the eight-hour flight from LAX. The Kaslik was made with grilled chicken breast, bacon, organic spinach, artichoke, and candied pecans, all wrapped in a tortilla. It’s kind of absurd to recommend a single sandwich at an airport in Lima, but why not? It was good. It was also enormous. And while the bacon was a tad on the soggy side, the candied pecans, though strange, were surprisingly good -- nothing like a candied crunch with soft, salty ingredients. I’m not sure if this is a sign of what’s to come, but the regular black coffee I ordered ended up being espresso – and it really hit the spot, which is surprising, because espresso doesn’t usually do it for me.

Ahh, caffeine...

The entire meal cost me 24 Peruvian soles, which is just over US$8. Yes, airport prices are exorbitant the world over.

As for the food I had on the plane, LAN airlines served barely passable fare: beef stew, mashed potatoes, and cheesecake. Their snack was a half sandwich that could have contained very thin sliced chicken just as easily as it could have contained shoe glue. I had no idea what I was eating but I was hungry and trusting and it was gone in no time.


I arrived in Cuzco at 6 a.m. It was cool and wet out, and a thick swirling mist enshrouded most of the mountains that hem in the city. Homeless dogs roamed the sidewalks while locals were bundled up against the morning chill in colorful sweaters and wraps. In other words, it was exactly how I'd imagined Cuzco.

I'd heard a lot about altitude sickness, and I was told that since I was coming from sea level it would probably affect me in a big way. I felt it immediately upon exiting the plane -- mostly just shortness of breath and a little dizziness. As soon as I checked into my hostal, Casona Los Pleiades, I was given chamomile tea suffused with coco leaves, which are supposed to alleviate altitude sickness. I drank a cup, which tasted like I'd expect leaves in hot water to taste -- it actually resembled artichoke tea, or perhaps the water left over from boiled brussel sprouts -- and then decided to take a two-hour nap. When I woke up, I was still short of breath and was totally parched. Not only that, my muscles were strangely stiff and every time I stretched it felt like I was going to get a muscle cramp.

Coco tea grows on you after just a couple cups. Gee, I wonder why?

But I wanted to see something of the city, and I also thought I should eat something since I skipped the "breakfast" served on the flight from Lima to Cuzco. All I can say is that walking the hills of the city, I was pretty sure I might pass out.

Cuesta San Blas, separating me from the main drag of Cuzco

It wasn't uncomfortable, I was just lacking oxygen. Anyway, I didn't have to go far before I came across a really nice, if small, bakery on Cuesta San Blas called Buen Pastor. It's easy to miss this place, as it's not much more than a hole in the wall, though they do have a second floor with windows overlooking a steep cobbled alley.

Late morning selection of pastries at Buen Pastor

I orded a pañuelo de durasno, which is a pastry filled with something like a sweet cream cheese and two halves of a canned peach. I also got a black coffee, which was served to me in a way that surprised me.

Even with the diluted coffee, this was good stuff.

I was given a huge cup full of hot water, which made me think they'd mistaken my order and had brought me tea. In fact, there was coffee on the table as well, but the idea is to pour it into the water and drink the coffee diluted. It didn't really taste like coffee, but I knew I was getting my caffeine fix, so I didn't care. The pastry was fantastic, and I'll be sure to return there after tomorrow's trip to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu. It's worth mentioning that the women running this place were incredibly friendly -- not in-your-face friendly, or friendly with ulterior motives, but just really sweet people who wanted me to enjoy my food and my time in Cuzco.

The sugar and caffeine gave me the energy I needed to hoof it down to the Plaza de Armas, where I wanted to buy an entrance ticket to Machu Picchu. However, the government office started their siesta at 11 and I arrived at 11:10, so I decided to explore the environs and look around for someplace I might want to have a Peruvian lunch.

A view across Plaza de Armas of Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús

I ended up killing time by entering that impressive building in the photo above -- Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, a Spanish church built in the 17th century -- and then wandering around the street until I couldn't catch my breath any longer. Eventually I decided I was hungry enough for lunch, so I hit a restaurant called Los Candiles that supposedly offers traditional Peruvian fare.

Entrance to Los Candiles

I'd already decided that I was going to have alpaca for my first real meal in Peru, and their menu didn't disappoint. There were at least a half dozen alpaca dishes to choose from, along with guinea pig, which I also figure I ought to try since I'm here. But guinea pig is more of a leap than I'm willing to make on my first day here, and my feeling is that if I can get through an entire dish of alpaca then I'll be ready to try guinea pig in a few more days.

The interior of the restaurant is somewhat small. The walls are filled with local paintings of Cuzco.

I arrived at the tail end of the lunch rush, which was fine with me. I took a seat in the back, and a very attentive waiter with excellent English took my order: alpaca with bacon in mushroom sauce, with french fries and a small tomato and cucumber salad. I also ordered my first pisco sour, which was amazingly good.
Not the greatest photo, but wow, this was tasty.

The pisco sour is basically the national alcoholic beverage of Peru, and it's featured on every menu I've seen thus far. The waiter made mine with pisco alcohol (a kind of brandy made from muscat grapes), lime juice, sugar, cinnamon, ice, and egg whites to make it frothy. If it hadn't cost 10 soles ($3.50), I would have tossed more back than just the one.

Bread with string, anyone?

Lunch came with complementary bread, which was very soft and reminded me of pita bread due to its thinness and also its hollow center. The only problem with the bread was that I found a string baked into the dough. Had it been dental floss, I probably would have cared more. As it was, I finished the bread and it was fine.

This was a lot of alpaca...

I really didn't know what to expect from the alpaca, but I decided that if I didn't really like it then the bacon would save the day. I was partly right. What surprised me wasn't just the piece of match that I found wedged between the bacon and alpaca -- what's with the surprise ingredients -- but that it was served rare. Perhaps the meat is naturally pink, but it seemed undercooked, and that gave the meat a somewhat mealy texture that I didn't much like. The taste was pretty mild, which is about right for a cholesterol-free meat, but there was a slight gaminess to it that had me chasing it down with the french fries, the mushroom sauce (very salty), the salad, the bread, and the pisco sour. I ate about 90% of it, stopping when I ran out of chasers. It would be hard for me to recommend this, but let's face it, one meal of alpaca doesn't make me an expert on it.

The entire meal cost me 38 soles ($13.15), which was more than it was worth. But Cuzco is a relatively pricey destination, and food costs here are generally rather high. There were a few items on the menu that I would have liked to try: "Andean's Appetizer" (crackling pig with cusquenian tamales, stuffed yucca, filler chili [?], brochette, and creole sauce) and various kinds of ceviche would have been better choices, I think.

On my way back to the hostal, I came across a giant dessert put together with a face at one end of it. The face gave the gigantic dessert character, but it also made it really bizarre. When I asked one of the workers at the hostal what it was for, she told me it was for a small weekend festival.
Seemed he was practicing for a Guinness World Record...

Once I climbed up to the general area where my hostal is located, I came across a number of indigenous women trying to sell small crafts while little girls tried to convince tourists to take photos of them and their llamas for 1 sole (35 cents).

I'm not sure why the llamas are here. I guess it's a way for people to make money. Photo, anyone?

The girl in the photo below is obviously a pro at this. She has a practiced smile and knew exactly how to hold her skirt for the photo. Even the llama stuck his teeth out for me. You can see that its ears are back, so maybe it had an inkling of what I had for lunch. Sorry, bud. Rest assured that I won't be eating more of your cousins anytime soon.

She's good at this.

Still struggling with the altitude. I had my third coco tea right before dinner, and while it helps with my headache, which isn't that bad to begin with, it doesn't seem to help with my shortness of breath. Just heading a block and a half away for dinner left me winded. Ah, but it was nice to arrive at Pacha Papa and get a seat outside as dusk filled the sky. It was rather chilly, and while it was good to see they had heat lamps everywhere, for some reason they never turned them on.

Turn those heat lamps on, amigos!

I really liked Pacha Papa's menu and thought I did a good job of ordering. I went right to their "Clay Pot Stews" section (guisos en olla de barro) and chose aji de gallina (24 soles), which is shredded chicken in a creamy yellow chili sauce, ostensibly with nuts and parmesan cheese. However, my dish came with potatoes and a very potent olive, but no nuts or parmesan cheese that I could detect. In fact, although the sauce was spicy, there was virtually no flavor to the dish -- not even the chicken tasted like anything, and on top of that it was dry. I really wanted to like this dish. I really did. But it didn't work out.

It looks better than it tasted.

What impressed me the most was what came to my table first: a glass of chica morada (4 soles), which is so purple it's almost black. It is the most beautiful drink I've probably ever seen. When I asked about it, the waiter went into the kitchen and brought out a piece of purple maize and told me that it gets boiled down for hours before it's used in this drink. The purple maize is mixed with cinnamon, spices, fresh fruit, and pineapple and apple skins. Given the color, I was sure I'd taste corn in the drink, but there wasn't a trace. It was very smooth and clean and rather sweet. It took me a while to realize what it reminded me of; the cinnamon helps give it a slightly cider-like aftertaste. I was going to order a coco sour (coco leaves infused in pisco, lemon juice, and sugar), but I'm glad I went with this.

A beautiful drink. And it tasted good, too.

And then, because I don't understand the concept of overkill, I ended up getting maize morada (10 soles) for dessert. I was told that it's similar to chica morada but that it's a pudding. Well that sold me. This, too, was an extremely dark purple color. It was a hot pudding with fresh-dried fruit (apple and raisins were all that I detected). That's right, hot pudding. I've never had anything like it, but the consistency was somewhere between jello and cough syrup, though the taste was pretty good.

I'm sure my tongue was purple after the meal...

Tomorrow I wake up at 5 am and will take a train to Aguas Calientes. I don't know if I'll have such easy Internet access from there, but if not, I'll catch up on my trip posts later.

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