Just a moment

(Back on the mainland! Will get back to the Asia catch up in my next post, but first, this…)

It’s my last night in the Southern Hemisphere. We’ve just left the Galapagos Islands, where, if we’d faced north and the wind cooperated, we could have spit and just about hit the equator.

Tomorrow morning, pretty much six months to the day we flew from Los Angeles to Sydney, arriving for the first time ever on the under side of the world, I’ll be boarding a plane that will fly me north, north, north, well above the equator, for the final leg of this grand travel adventure.

Aside from how I feel about this flight escorting me to the final chapter of travel, I’m a bit verklempt about leaving this magical hemisphere that’s been gracious enough to share some of its riches with us this half year. Experiencing winter in (what for me is normally) summer, seeing old friends, making new ones, encountering amazing animals up close and personal, learning a bit of Spanish, getting into a deeper groove of traveling with Roman and finding so much to share, to delight in, to laugh over together…

There’s so much to write about, to record before the memories start to slip from my consciousness, but for now I just want to remember this moment of gratitude for the Southern Hemisphere.

¡Gracias y besos!

A wobbly view of the Southern Cross above a store roof in Peru. I’ll miss the southern hemisphere constellations!

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Virtual kitchen: daydreams of SALSA!

I’m ashamed to say I haven’t taken a single cooking class while we’ve been in South America. Shocking but true! 😦 Not to say that I haven’t been enjoying the food. Especially since we arrived in Bolivia/Peru.

Bolivia’s simple but hearty quinoa based soups were consistently delightful and satisfying. And I’m really getting into Peru’s collection of colorful, beguiling salsas!

While I haven’t been taking classes, I HAVE been asking questions at our favorite restaurants. I’ve never been able to get the most clear recipes however, so I’ve been supplementing my requests with some internet research, and all of it’s been making my mouth water for the day that I have my own kitchen again and get to experiment till I get the flavor combinations for some of the lovely condiments we’ve encountered during our South American journeys the way I want them.

So I’m putting together a recipe collection here so I’ll easily remember what I want to try, next chance I get. 🙂 Apologies for the long post, but it’ll help me to have everything in one place. 🙂 Maybe some day I’ll spruce it up with pictures of the recipes I get around to trying. 🙂

Chimichurri – Argentina

From Wikipedia: Chimichurri is a sauce used for grilled meat. The origin of the name of the sauce is unclear. There are various stories explaining the name… The Argentine gourmet Miguel Brascó claims that the word chimichurri originated when the British were captured after the British invasions of the Río de la Plata. The prisoners asked for condiment for their food mixing English, aboriginal and Spanish words. According to this story, che-mi-curry stands for “che mi salsa” (give me condiment) or “give me curry”. The word then corrupted to chimichurri.Another theory for the name of the sauce comes from the Basque settlers that arrived in Argentina as early as the 19th century. According to this theory, the name of the sauce comes from the Basque term tximitxurri, loosely translated as “a mixture of several things in no particular order.

There are green versions and red versions chimichurri – the red includes all the same ingredients as the green but adds tomato and or red bell pepper. The flavors are lovely and I’d be happy to put it on plenty of things – not just meat. 🙂

Here’s a recipe I found on simplyrecipes.com:

INGREDIENTS

1 cup firmly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, trimmed of thick stems
– 3-4 garlic cloves
– 2 Tbsps fresh oregano leaves (can sub 2 teaspoons dried oregano)
– 1/2 cup olive oil
– 2 Tbsp red or white wine vinegar
– 1 teaspoon sea salt
– 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
– 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

METHOD
1 Finely chop the parsley, fresh oregano, and garlic (or process in a food processor several pulses). Place in a small bowl.
2 Stir in the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Adjust seasonings.
Serve immediately or refrigerate. If chilled, return to room temperature before serving. Can keep for a day or two.
Yield: Serves 4.

Green Aji/Huacatay Salsa – Peru

Oh my gosh these elusive Peruvian sauces!

The green goodness that is served with bread as a starter in Peruvian joints in the US and has been showing up on randomly unpredictable culinary occasions during our time here in Peru seems to be the stuff of legend.

Online searches have proved absolutely futile in terms of pinning down an official and definitive recipe. There seem to be as many variations to the recipe as there are entries online; I can’t even settle on the most proper and official name. Suffice to say this topping is as delicious as it is addictive.

A key component appears to be haucatay, a Peruvian herb that seems near impossible to get fresh outside of South America (thus speaks the interwebs anyhow) – cooks on other continents make do with pre-packaged pastes when they’re lucky and mint/cilantro/a combination of the two when they’re not. More info here and here.

I found one afficianado’s advice on yelp:

each person has its own way of making it.

aji amarillo paste
huacatay paste
chopped green onions
lime juice
salt
bit of oil

puree on a blender

some others make it with

mayo, queso fresco, milk, cilantro…

i suggest you get creative.
enjoy

Seems to me like a good place to start (although I have also heard tell of a version involving peanuts!!! Seriously yum!). Here are some more intriguing recipes I’ve found online (have I mentioned I am so excited for when I have a kitchen again some day???):

http://southamericanfood.about.com/od/saladssidedishes/r/Peruvian-Huacatay-Salsa-Aji-De-Huacatay.htm
http://www.robertaskitchen.com/2008/01/06/salsa-verde-peruvian-green-sauce/
http://veganfeastkitchen.blogspot.com/2009/09/move-over-ketchup-and-salsa-peruvian.html

Salsa Picante – Peru

I had an awesome version of this just tonight at a restaurant here in Nazca (La Encantada in case you’re interested). Our friendly waitress told me it was made of the infamous aji amarillo (yellow chile pepper), onion, garlic, and milk blended together. Further research on the internet has yielded other recipes of course – see the collection below. The jury will have to wait till I get home and can try to rediscover the lovely, deep, sweet, fiery flavors of the pepper in my own homemade experiments before I can say what the best recipe might be.

http://www.fiery-foods.com/recipesearch/salsa-picante-de-peru-peruvian-hot-salsa
http://www.pepperfool.com/recipes/salsa/salsa_picante2.html

Tallarines Verdes: Green Noodles with Spinach Pesto – Peru

I stumbled across this recipe during my extensive internet searching. While this dish/sauce is not one that I was looking for, it makes me think of two meals from our two favorite restaurants in Cusco, so I want to make sure I give it a try when I can.

1) Green’s is a lovely organic restaurant that I got hooked on. Their garden salad comes with a great basil vinaigrette that I really loved. All the goodness of basil without heading towards the heaviness/garlic overload (not that that’s a bad thing! 😉 of pesto. Reading the ingredients for the sauce in this dish, I wonder if they used something like this recipe for their dressing.

2) Roma Mia was the delightful Italian restaurant – run by a proper, passionate Roman Italian – that absolutely charmed us. Our last meal there I had spaghetti pesto; it was served with beans a potatoes as in this recipe – which was a first for me.

The recipe is from about.com. Here it is:

YIELDServes 4-6.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 pound pasta (spaghetti, fettuccine, or linguine)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large bunch washed spinach (about 3 cups leaves. packed)
  • 1 cup basil leaves, washed
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup queso fresco cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

PREPARATION:

  1. Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until soft and fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. While onions are cooking, add spinach and basil leaves to a blender with the milk and process (working in batches if necessary) until smooth.
  3. Add cooked onions and garlic to the blender with the cheese and process, adding a little more milk if necessary, until you have a smooth mixture.
  4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  5. Melt butter in the skillet that cooked the onions. Pour sauce from blender into the skillet and cook, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes, until sauce is heated through and smooth. Keep sauce warm.
  6. Add pasta to the boiling water and cook according to directions. Drain well and toss pasta with the sauce. Serve warm.

The next recipes have nothing to do with South American cuisine. When we got to Arequipa, we were ready for some international fare. We loved the french-style creperie, subtly named Crepisimo, and I was in heaven finding some decent hummus and falafel at Fez (or Istanbul – there were two signs on the door so I’m not sure what the official name was. 😉 ). Sticking with the salsa theme, here are some sauces both restaurants got me excited about:

Crepisimo’s tasty french-style vinagrette

I normally don’t go for sauces with mayonnaise in them, but this one was delish! Our sweet waitress was kind enough to ask the kitchen for the ingredients, but as for measurments, I’ll have to experiment when I can. Some pointers – the finished product was thoroughly emulsified, light tan in color, and somewhat thick and creamy.

INGREDIENTS:

Mayonaise
Mustard
Balsamic vinegar
Salt
Extra virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Plain yogurt

PREPARATION:
Mix all ingredients well.

Yogurt/garlic goodness inspired by Fez

My salad at Fez came with a small pot of a seemingly simple yogurt sauce that exploded with insanely awesome garlic intensity about a second and a half after the first taste. Our waiter here was less communicative; he said the ingredients were yogurt and garlic but wouldn’t divulge any kitchen secrets beyond that.

Yogurt and garlic sauce in Middle Eastern cooking has less of a mystique to it than Peruvian green sauce although until that meal I’d managed to forget about it and how darn good it is given how rare it’s been to find that sort of food in South America.

Below is one simple recipe I found on about.com that could serve as a good base. The sauce I had at Fez though was completely smooth, so I think I might try nixing everything in a blender rather than having pieces of minced garlic floating about.

During my search I also found an intriguing recipe for vegan mayonaise that goes heavy on the garlic. I am NOT a fan of traditional mayo but I am a fiend for garlic, so this is definitely on my list of recipes to try.

http://www.tasteofbeirut.com/2011/09/lebanese-vegan-mayo/

Yogurt and garlic sauce

INGREDIENTS:

  • 16 oz. plain cold yogurt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • salt to taste

PREPARATION:

In a small mixing bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Mix well. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.

Peace in the Monasterio de Santa Catalina

Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city, located well south of Cuzco and both closer to the coast and lower in altitude, made for a warm and welcome change of scene after being steeped in Incan lore and thin mountain air for so many days (not that I didn’t LOVE all the Incan amazingness and beautiful mountains!). The city is full of exquisite examples of pearly white colonial architecture and the vibe is considerably more down to earth than lovely, but ultimately touristy, Cuzco.

We had a few days here and I’ll write later at greater length about those days, but for now I want to share some snaps from, what was for me, the great highlight of our time in Arequipa.

The city is home to the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, a maze-like convent dating back to the 1500s.

Despite a dubious past – for much of the Monasterio’s history its nuns were women of wealthy backgrounds who continued to enjoy the good life, complete with servants and slaves, live music and parties in spite of their cloistered existence and alleged vows of poverty – the place still managed to produce one saint, Sor Ana de Los Angeles Monteagudo, and in the late 1800s, the entire place was reformed by a strict Dominican nun, Sister Josefa Cadena, who ran a tight ship and brought life in the Monasterio in line with typical convent standards. (More details can be found here.)

Screen through which nuns would speak to people from the outside world.

Today, only a handful of nuns remain at the Monasterio. They live in a small section of the 20,000 square meter complex which is closed off to the public. The rest of the Monasterio, however, is open to visitors and is well laid out to receive them, with ample and interesting information about the place’s history posted in most rooms in both Spanish and English and even a café that serves quite decent food located about halfway through the tour circuit.

From what we’d read in Lonely Planet, I knew the Monasterio would be worth visiting. I wasn’t prepared though for how totally charmed I would be by the place.

The cells, courtyards and walkways are a mesmerizing interplay between, dim rooms, cool shadow and rock and bright hot sun and illuminated, brilliantly painted walls and cheerful frescos. I suppose the resident saint and the changes put in place by the reforming sister have been effective enough to balance out the alleged wickedness of some of the earlier nuns – the atmosphere of the place is peaceful and hallowed.

We ended up spending half a day there, making our slow way from room to room, hall to hall, enjoying the peace, the stillness, the warm, summery air, the beautiful grounds and the cheerful colors of the place.

I think I must have been a nun or monk in a past life. I just loved spending time in this place. Somehow the thought of a life of spiritual devotion in a location so simple but so lovely seemed quite appealing. Especially when reading a message from the sisters currently serving there:

Since the origins of Arequipa there was a need of founding a contemplative Dominican Mothers’ convent… (Permission was given to begin) the construction of the convent in 1570.

Nowadays we are 30 sisters, of ages ranging between 18 and 90.

In the serenity that our hearts have been originating during long hours of silence, listening to God, in the perseverant praise that springs up of the grateful soul, we are able to acknowledge the presence of God in the small events of everyday life.

Our spirit takes us to offer prayers of intercession and reparation for all the humans to be saved.

Our day starts at 5 a.m., and we pray starting from (during) the praise of Jesus Eucharist, from (during) our studies, doing our manual work in order to win our daily bread. In every single moment we pray for the world and with the world. In the Church we are the presence, not the visibility.

After more than 400 years we are still here, because our contemplative vocation is LOVE. This is our great secret of being happy: to be in love, neither with an ideal nor a project, but with Jesus Christ. 

There are plenty of times I will disagree vehemently with the Catholic/Christian church, but when I read something like this, I can’t help but feel pretty inspired by these women’s devotion to attempt to live in selfless prayer.

And if you’d like an audio to go with the photos, click below to hear the convent bells ringing as we left the peaceful sanctuary for the city streets at closing time. I always think there’s something magical about the sound of church bells…

Church bells

A beam of light shoots through the blackened walls of an ancient kitchen

A collection of old medicines

In the Monestario garden

I love swallows! 😀

Catching my breath post-Machu Picchu

And here we are in Nazca. We arrived last night after a long, hot bus ride from Arequipa. Machu Picchu, impressive as it is/was, is already fading into an amazing memory. The days have been busy and intense and wonderful with all sorts of stuff and this poor travel journal of mine remains neglected. We have a bit of down time in Nazca so I will make some attempt to get back into the swing of writing/posting.

First the random stuff.

Beginnings

While I was busy elsewhere, the two-year anniversary of my departure date came and went!

Insane but true; it’s over two years now since I said goodbye to Roman (for about three weeks, until he would meet me in Delhi) and the apartment that had become my home with him (most likely forever), and boarded a plane for India, kicking off this amazing adventure we’ve been on!

Last year this time, we were camped out in a lovely little studio apartment in Hong Kong and I managed to put together some video montages in celebration. I’m not nearly that organized or productive this time round, so for now I’ll just repost the videos at the bottom of this entry for anyone who might have missed them the first time, and I’ll say that I do intend to pay proper audio-visual tribute to the countries we’ve visited since then at some point. 🙂

Endings

Equally insane, we have just a bit over two weeks left in South America. We’ll be visiting Lima briefly, then hopping over to Galapagos (!!!!!) for the grand-South-American-trip-finale!!!

Which is exciting but which also means that the final chapter of our big trip is staring us in the face. Which is wonderful and weird. Post South America, we’ll be doing a road trip in the US. Route and timing yet to be figured out.

I imagine we’ll stretch our time in the US out a good amount – there are friends for me to visit and family to hang out with at home (I’ll be there in time for my Grandma & nephew’s birthday parties at the end of the month!) and lord knows there’s tons of amazing places in the States that we’d like to visit. We’ll see how long our time there ends up being.

The end of the road trip in the US will be the end of the BIG TRIP though, which means time to figure out just how exactly to rebuild a stable life in one single location. It’s going to be another adventure no doubt. I’m excited and curious to see how we manage – what the transition from nomadic life will be like, what sort of a home we manage to find/create, what I and/or Roman will do for work… Will leave the musings for now – still plenty to enjoy in South America and loads that I’m excited about for the States. 🙂

Random

DSC 0112

It’s also coming up on six months since we left the States to start part two of the big trip, which means that I’ve gone just about a half a year without a hair cut. I haven’t done anything spectacular with my hair during the trip – just always kept it long enough to tie back. But this must be the longest my hair’s been in ages. I think I like it. 🙂 I won’t post a picture but Roman’s last hair cut was nearly as long ago as my last hair cut and there are days when he’s starting to look like one of the Beatles circa 1964. 😉 I think I like it too! 😉

Machu Picchu

There’s so much to write about Machu Picchu. I’ll save it for another post, another day. Suffice to say: it impressed.

We spent a half day wandering around soaking it in, another day hiking Montaña Machu Picchu (Stairs. So many stairs! Every single step worth it though – the hike will be one of the highlights of the trip for me, no doubt!) and exploring the ruins some more. Here are a few panoramic shots I took of the views from the trail and summit of Montaña Machu Picchu as well as from the ruins. WordPress won’t allow me to embed the images, so you’ll have to click through the links to go to Photosynth’s site to view.

The view about half way up the mountain
You can see Machu Picchu down below in the distance in the right half of the picture

The view from just-about-the-summit
You can see the last bit of steep steps off to the left. Felt on top of the world to be there! Just amazing! 😀

A view from within the ruins

Last year’s videos:

Intro

India

Myanmar (Burma)

Thailand

Laos

Cambodia

Vietnam

Holy cow what an amazing year that was!! 😀

A lazy girl’s post: The Incas on Youtube

I’ve been neglecting the blog lately.

We’ve been busy, and all the movement and activity and amazing things to see and take in have been catching up with us – I’ve been TIRED.

I think things culminated yesterday during the train ride from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes – by the time we arrived my stomach was NOT a happy camper and I spent the rest of the day curled up in a ball on the bed, sleeping and futzing around on the internet when actually conscious.

Not the most spectacular start to our Machu Picchu adventure, but I’m excited none the less. 🙂

We’re about a thousand meters below Cuzco, and arid desert plateau climate has given way to lush jungle terrain. It’s been ages since we’ve been anywhere tropical feeling and it’s getting me excited – regardless of how pukey I feel.

When I was awake yesterday, I also got myself going with Inca and Machu Picchu documentaries – who knew there was so much free, quality stuff on Youtube (ok, I realize I am late to the party 😉 ). We’re going to attempt to do a half day visit today – we’ll see how my stomach feels about things – and so in honor of that, here are some documentaries courtesy of the miracle that is the internet, in case you feel like getting juiced up about ancient Incan civilizations along with me. 🙂

This one is a little cheesy, but I enjoyed it because it includes a lot of sites that we’ve already visited, like the AMAZING salinas (used to produce salt since Incan times!) and the Moray terraces.

 

This one is older, and shows scientists trying to recreate Incan techniques of masonry and bridge building. Nerdy but interesting. 🙂

 

And this one is a “Cold Case” style documentary, where scientists examine recently discovered Incan bodies to recreate a crucial event in Incan/conquistador history. Well done and interesting.

Glimpses of rural life on Titicaca

We’ve been in Peru for five days now already!

We arrived in the southerly city of Puno from La Paz, Bolivia, after a scenic but precariously windy (precarious for my stomach, that is) bus ride skirting the magnificent lake Titicaca.

We’ve done some of the touristy stuff, (and there is plenty of it – Titicaca is the second major tourist destination in Peru after Machu Picchu) since arriving in Puno, but starting yesterday we managed to get off the beaten track a bit with an overnight tour with Cedesos, an NGO in the area that works with local communities to develop sustainable tourism.

We were able to see LOTS in our jam-packed two days (and I’ll write more about all of it and Cedesos in a later post), but the juicy filling in our Titicaca-tour-sandwich was a home stay on the Chucuito peninsula.

This is Cedesos’ map – hope they don’t mind me using it. 🙂

Chucuito is home to a handful of small farming communities. We visited Karina, a village of about 80 families, located directly on the shores of Titicaca.

We stayed with the Fernández family. Efraín and his wife Tomasa are born and raised in Karina. They have seven children. The three youngest sons are still living at home although the older two will soon leave to study and work.

Like most of the families in Karina, they are subsistence farmers. They work so they can eat and live – growing crops, keeping livestock, fishing, weaving, knitting. They produce a lean excess that is sold for a profit, but mostly what they grow is what they eat.

Tourism in the area is about three years old. Efraín is the head of the tourism association in Karina. Eleven families are prepared to receive guests for over night visits. Working with Cedesos and a few other organizations, the association manages the reception of outsiders to the community and makes sure that all the families participating get a chance to play host.

Efraín is enthusiastic about his role with hospitality development in Karina, and it seems clear that the additional industry provides a welcome financial boost to the participating families. As far as we could tell, opening to tourism seemed well-balanced and positive for Karina. It certainly was a positive experience for us!

Learning some basic farming techniques, helping in the kitchen, eating food grown in the Fernández’s backyard, warming ourselves around a dried-cow-poop fire under a starry sky while listening to local ghost stories, experiencing the first rain marking the end of the dry season, sleeping under blankets hand-woven from wool from the family’s sheep, hiking to an Incan funerary tower, and simply spending time with the family – the short visit was so full!

Geraniums grow outside our room

Decorations over the entrance of the house

Tomasa showing me how to separate wheat from chaff

Efraín and Tomasa gathering wheat

Delicious home made fried bread for breakfast (made from home grown, hand prepared flour)

The boys caught a huge trout in the family’s net – seven kilos! Efraín was so excited!

Everyone has to pose with the fish.

During the hike to the Incan tower, Efraín explained some of the local plants to us. This one is crushed to produce soap, used for laundry and as shampoo.

Efraín taking in the view

Telling us about a dream he had in which the Incas of the lake were calling to him. Apparently this is a phenomenon that occurs in the area; people have been known to sleepwalk into the lake and drown. Drunks sometimes “see” a city on the lake and walk towards it, meeting the same fate. Efraín was able to realize what was happening in his dream and woke up before anything happened, but he said it’s dangerous to nap too close to the water.

This cactus helps locals with their farming. Efraín explained that because the cactus had grown so close to the ground, the season would be late this year, but the vibrancy of the flowers means the crops will be good.

Looking down on a farm in the valley

A view of Karina from the hill

Efraín explained that locals believe this plant is good against epilepsy.

A boy brings his cows to the lake shore for a drink

Outhouse

One of Efraín’s sons helps clean and prepare nets for fishing

Some of the family’s quinoa crop

Efraín seems pretty proud of his donkey!

This is a special breed of corn that has adapted to grow in Titicaca’s high altitude and challenging climate

A neighbor milking her cow

Tomasa’s skirts drying on the roof

The back door (made from a what I suspect might be a flattened oil drum) to the house. The tire is apparently on the roof to help against lightning.

Saying goodbye