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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  1. Sapuche, thanks for sharing your adventure with us. I hope the lovely foods cure your headache and shortness of breath.
    How did that ice cream tasted with the Orange Custard Pie ? The ice scream scoop is a bit smaller compare to American's size ice scream scoop :)

    From: A Canadian-Vietnamese ice scream lover girl :)

  2. Dear Canadian-Vietnamese Girl: Thank you! Now that I'm in Aguas Calientes and a few thousand feet lower I'm much better now. The ice cream I had last night cured all my ills. But I'm eating too many sweets! I will become muy gordo (mập quá) very soon if I'm not careful. :)

  3. It looks that day 2 was even far more better! Look at the beautiful nature & the views!!! Waw!! I am thinking of putting Peru on my wish list !!!

    Do you speak Spanish? I do!
    I am in my second year of Spanish!

    Saludos & de Sophie en Bruselas!

  4. Sophie: Gracias! Actually, Peru was a great trip. If you get a chance to travel here, I think you'll have a wonderful time. If you speak Spanish at all, it will take you very far in Peru!

  5. I know I'm way behind but I want to start from the beginning of your South American adventures! The landscape of Aguas Calientes is amazing and as for the food, it's a shame that it took that much effort to find local cuisine. And too bad about the trout . . . but onward!

  6. Tangled Noodle: Hola! Thanks for taking the time to read about my South America trip! I wish I had more time to develop these daily posts, since all they really amount to are notes of where I went and what I ate. Not that exciting, but I hope you find the photos interesting! Oh, in Aguas Calientes it turned out that there were a few places that served Peruvian fare, but they were tourist traps. Maybe the town just needs a few more years to smooth out the kinks. :) I hope you get there one of these days!