Peruvian Potpourri

Fish cooked in Salt

matt 120pxWe’ve had a good past couple of days, but I’d venture to say today was the best yet. We started off by going to the Larco Herrera Museum, a collection of galleries showcasing Peruvian history across time and geography. While learning about the various societies of ancient Peru and seeing the artifacts they left was interesting, I thought the best part of the museum was the storehouse. We could actually walk into the storage area and see rooms and rooms of display cases lined up like library shelves, holding thousands of artifacts. I’d never seen anything like it. I now realize that theirs dozens, if not hundreds of thousands of specimens in existence for every one of its kind you see in a museum. Also interesting were the galleries of gold jewelry and erotic pottery, although neither probably needs explanation.

I feel that I’m writing about almost every meal, because we’ve been eating well, but today’s lunch was especially unique. We ate at a great seafood place (one of the best in Lima in fact, according to our guidebook) called Costanera 700. The octopus is great, as are the scallops, but the best was when the waiters brought out a huge plate with a big pile of burning salt. Careful not to burn themselves on the flames, they cracked the big rock of salt and knocked pieces off, exposing a fish inside. The fish had been cooked inside the burning salt and was now ready to eat. I’m not sure if the salt helps keep the fish moist and tender, but that fish had some of the best consistency I’ve ever had.

After lunch, we visited the Amano Museum, which houses a one-of-a-kind collection of Peruvian textile artifacts. It was built up by the late Yoshitaro Amano, who was a businessman who used his wealth to pursue his love of archaeology. It was only a few weeks ago that I learned that my family has some history with the Amano family. My great grandfather Eto (my paternal grandmother’s father) and Mr. Amano became friends while they were imprisoned together at the Crystal City internment camp during WWII. Mr. Amano was one of the few hundred people of Japanese descent who were extradited from Latin America to American internment camps during the war. After touring the museum, we had coffee with Mrs. Amano (she was quite a bit younger than her husband) who told us stories for over two hours. Really amazing stories. They won’t fit here, but ask me about them in person if you’re interested (and if you know me). It was very interesting to hear how her husband and my great grandfather met and became friends and about her late husband’s life and work. Who thought I’d find family history way down in Peru?

Amano, Proano, and Shibata families, Lima

(left to right) Mr. Amano’s son, Juan, me, Alex, Mrs. Amano, Luisa, Joylani

To cap off our night, we saw the unbelievable lightshow at Parque de la Reserva. It was really unlike anything I’ve seen before. Images projected onto water, lasers, crazy stuff. There’s really no way to describe it, so you’ll just have to youtube it. This was followed by an unbelievable great meal at Osaka’s, a Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant with some of the better salmon sashimi I’ve had. Erotic pottery, fish inside flaming salt, family connection from 3 generations ago, and a psychedelic light show- a pretty interesting day.

Lima by Day and Night

Catedral de Lima

matt 120pxI’m exhausted. Simply exhausted. After last night’s feast, we groggily woke up for a marathon tour day. Luisa lined up a mini-bus for us and at 9:30 we set off to see Lima. We had a tour guide for the first part of the day. The guide pointed out things like the pre-Hispanic pyramids and dates that various buildings were built, while Luisa pointed out things like where they got married and or where she spent her childhood days. Both commentaries interesting in their unique ways. We saw some cathedrals and the old city walls in the morning, but the most interesting pre-lunch activity was visiting the catacombs below the Monastery de San Francisco. Back in its heyday, the catacombs served as a burial place for any Lima resident, not just the upper class. Unfortunately no photos were allowed, but imagine thousands and thousands of bones stacked throughout an underground labyrinth. All the bones and skulls organized so neatly was pretty interesting to me.

After lunch, we headed to the Japanese Immigration Museum, which was on Joylani’s to-see list for Lima. It was an interesting history of Japanese immigrants and their contributions to Peru. I agree with Juan though, who mentioned that the museum should really at least mention Fujimori, despite his fall from grace. Otherwise, it was an okay museum. Afterwards, we checked out Larcomar, a commercial area on a cliff overlooking the sea. The place had a park, movie theaters, a gazillian stores and restaurants. Juan treated us to some tasty ice-cream, which was just what we all needed at the moment.

View of the Pacific from Larcomar, Lima

I licked my ice-cream, admired the view, admired the whole development, and thought about how Lima’s not as bad as everyone says it is. Actually, I believe it was bad. But so many neighborhoods and places we’ve seen have supposedly been cleaned up and developed in the past decade or two. Luisa has pointed out tons of places that used to be bad, but are now really nice places. Perhaps bad reputations are tough to change. We finished off our tour by seeing Lima at night. All the colonial buildings and architecture are even more impressive when illuminated at night.

Cathedral of Lima

It was a very interesting day and it disproved the bad things I’d heard about Lima. There’s nice places, cool things to see/do, the squares are nice and green, and we’ve had a lot of good food. Real quick on the food, I’m way too tired to write about the food, but the Proanos eat well. We ate lunch at Tanta, a delicious approach to Peruvian food, using foreign influences. And dinner at a great Swiss restaurant that’s been dishing it up since Juan was a kid. Thinking about it, the food that the Proanos are introducing us to is the best part of our Peruvian tour. Anyways, its been a long fun and food-filled day.

Meet the Proanos

Juan, Alex, Matt, Joylani, and Luisa

matt 120pxSome of my family’s oldest and best friends are Juan and Luisa Proano. My grandparents and the Proanos first met back in the 60s, when Juan attended Stanford. Our families friendship has a lot of history and even more good stories, which is continuing today. A few days ago we were surprised to learn that Juan and Luisa were coming from DC to their hometown of Lima to host us! As Juan joked with us later, “We hosted the Shibata’s the first time they visited Peru, so we’ve gotta host them the second time too.”

We arrived in Lima from Punta Hermosa around 10 and made our way to a hotel that Juan had picked out for us all. I was still amazed that they had actually come all this way, but there they were waiting for us at the hotel. Although they had just arrived from DC the night before, they were awake and ready to show us Lima. We first headed to Regatas, an old beach club which Juan’s belonged to since he was a teenager. Today, it’s really an entire campus, with numerous beaches, restaurants, bars, sports facilities, and so on. After a nice little tour, we ate at a chifa (Chinese Peruvian cuisine) restaurant at the club. We stuffed ourselves on the buffet and squeezed as much dessert as we could in, while we talked and caught up a bit. I was reminded of Juan’s ever-joking and humorous nature as we ate. The restaurant was on the 6th or 7th floor and we had awesome views of the ocean and cliffs.

On the way back into town, Juan kind of gave an overview of Lima’s geography, while Luisa told us some anecdotes about the city. It was interesting to see the city from a different perspective, getting local history and stories. We also learned that Luisa would be our tour coordinator for the week, as she’d arranged all sorts of stuff for us. Tonight was a big family BBQ at one of her nephews houses. We showed up around 8 and met tons of her family. Dozens. The topic of conversation was the rain. It had drizzled throughout the evening, which is unheard of in desert Lima. I found out that it simply NEVER rains in Lima. Luisa’s family also loves to travel, so it was interesting to talk to them about many of the places we’ve visited on this trip. We drank pisco cocktails and ate tons of food. I was stuffing myself on chicken wings, until I found out they and the chorizos were only appetizers. Appetizers?! We’ve been eating for an hour- who can eat more food? Then they brought out the steaks and I found more appetite. I ate myself sick. But then they brought out the desert and I found more room in my stomach. Needless to say, it was a happy ending to a happy day.

Punta Hermosa

Crowded Punta Hermosa Beach

matt 120pxPunta Hermosa. A picture is worth a thousand words. Enough said.

San Bartolo

San Bartolo

matt 120pxWe stopped for a couple nights at San Bartolo, one a few beach towns just south of Lima. To be honest, I didn’t care for the beach or the town. The only thing of note is that we stayed at a little guesthouse full of character run by a old hippy with grey beard and long  hair- he actually looked somewhat like Gandolf. We sat by the pool or Alex’s balcony and drank a lot of pisco cocktails. I ate ceviche for every meal. Every meal. Jenky beach, but we still had a good time.

Relaxing at a San Bartolo guesthouse

typical afternoon: cocktails on the table, Joylani reading, Alex tanning

Guesthouse in San Bartolo

nothing safer than wrestling by the pool


Huacachina, Ica

matt 120pxAfter the most horrendous night bus ride in over a year, we arrived in Ica at 6am. We caught a cab to Huacachina, a small oasis on the edge of the enormous sand dunes just outside of town. Huacachina seemed like the exact opposite of our bus ride; it was quiet, uncrowded, cool (in the morning), and a nice man welcomed us at the hotel. We actually got really lucky, as we found a nice room at the first hotel we looked at. A nice airy room with two walls of windows looking out at the dunes. After sleeping away our first few hours in Huacachina, we walked around the village which is not much more than a single road circling the small pond (Laguna Huacachina).

Huacachina Sand Dunes, Ica

Since there’s not too much food (or anything for that matter) in Huacachina, we made a quick trip to the supermarket in Ica to stock up. We ate PB&Js by our hotel’s pool, swam a bit, and then slept more of the day away. I think we were all so tired because we had the trek, followed by a bunch of travel days, and capped off with a night bus last night.

Undoubtedly the highlight of today was taking a dune-buggy up into the sand dunes for some crazy driving and sandboarding. Joylani was feeling sick, so it was just a driver, Alex, and I. The vehicle was simple, just an engine mounted on a frame of metal pipes. Soon after hopping in, we were zooming out into the sandy wilderness. Our driver accelerated hard out into the desert and up the dunes. For the first 15 minutes or so, we just drove around the dunes, which was truly awesome. The exciting experience matched our guidebook’s description of the ride: like a roller coaster without tracks. We went straight up dunes I wouldn’t have imagined were scalable, bottomed out on the top ridges of some dunes, and came down on super steep slopes. Many times we’d go up a steep face only to turn and come down again. Our driver seemed to like pushing the limits and I’d say we spent a good amount of time beyond the 45-degree position. I would’ve been more worried, but our buggy had roll-bars in addition to a seemingly-low center of gravity. After our initial joy ride, we spent the rest of our hour driving to the tops of dunes and sandboarding down.

Alex Sandboarding at Ica

The sandboards were basically homemade snowboards made of plywood and nylon foot straps. Due to the considerable friction of the sand, we had to wax the boards for each run. We started off standing and riding down snowboard style, but after a few runs we decided to take more risk. We took the last few dunes laying down head-first. In addition to the dunes being bigger and steeper, laying down was a much scarier position. But it was also much more thrilling and we finished out our hour speeding face-first down dunes several-stories tall.


Catedral de Lima

matt 120pxFollowing nights in and bus rides from Aguas Calientes and Cusco, we arrived in Arequipa. It’s actually our second Ciudad Blanca in the past month (see Sucre post) and nth colonial town in South America, but it is perhaps the best of both categories. Driving in by bus, Arequipa looks like any other South American metropolis, that is a smoggy sprawl buildings that hugs the topography. But arriving in the center by taxi, the downtown was actually attractive. Unlike Cusco, it was clean with wide sidewalks and wasn’t marred by unending blocks of tour agencies and tourist shops. Its called the white city because many of the buildings are constructed out of sillar, a white volcanic rock. Although the cathedrals and important buildings are well-kept and definitely white, the rest of the buildings have taken on a more grayish color. Nonetheless, the architecture is interesting, as many roofs are domed and the inside ceilings of all the buildings we visited are arched.

Plaza de Armas, Arequipa

We only budgeted a day in Arequipa, because we’re much more fans of natural environs than cities (most of all in Latin America), but it was a pleasant day. Our hotel occupied a very old building with lots of character and a rooftop observatory offering views over the city. We visited a convent which held an eclectic museum. We had local food, but also enjoyed two meals at a local Turkish restaurant and enjoyed ice-cream in the Plaza de Armas. Perhaps most of all, it was a lazy day not spent in transit.

Inca Trail: Day 4: Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

matt 120pxOur trek, like the Inca Trail itself, culminated at Machu Picchu. We left camp just as the sky began to lighten and trekked uphill for two hours. We finally crested the ridge at “The Sun Gate,” where we first laid eyes on Machu Picchu. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed at first sight. It was just a little town of ruins in a spectacular setting. As we hiked down towards it however, it became more impressive. Its scale was much larger than I imagined or first saw. It buildings, ramparts, and walls were massive and extraordinary. My initial disappointment had been replaced by awe.

Machu Picchu (5)

terraces on which buildings were going to be built

Machu Picchu (3)


Machu Picchu (4)


Yet, I still feel that the valley surrounding Machu Picchu was the most inspiring sight. Having seen the ubiquitous Machu Picchu postcards for the past two weeks, I was prepared for how the ruins would look. But I was not prepared for the surrounding scenery. MP sits atop a ridge that drops straight down 800 meters to the Urubamba River, while mountains rise from the river to surround MP in every direction.

Macchu Picchu (2)

looking into the valley

We did get a tour of the ruins, but the details were not so interesting after hearing about the Incas for 3 days already. After the tour, we were free to explore the ruins a bit more. Some people milled around, but Alex and I, along with a few others from our group, decided to scale Wayna Picchu. Wayna Picchu is the peak that towers above the MP ruins in most photos. There is another temple at the top, which sits 360 meters above Machu Picchu. It is a steep and dangerous climb, but I figured I might as well go all out since I spent a ton of money and three days walking here. It was a steep climb up and kinda sketchy at some points, but it was short and well worth the effort. From the top, we had awesome views of the valley and the ruins. A great way to end our trek and exploration of Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu

ruins on Wayna Picchu

View from Wayna Picchu

MP (on the left) and Urubamba valley

Alex and Matt atop Wayna Picchu, MP in background

Alex and I atop of Wayna Picchu

Alex, Joylani, and Matt approaching Machu Picchu

Alex, Joylani, and I at Machu Picchu

Inca Trail: Day 3

Rainbow in the Sacred Valley

matt 120pxDay Three of the Inca Trail consisted of alternating climbs and descents, stopping every now and then at some Inca sites. The first hour was all up, as we climbed back up to 4000 meters. After that, it was all downhill. Luckily, today also had the most ruins to stop at, rest, and take our minds off our knees. Speaking of Inca ruins, we’ve actually seen a lot so far, although I haven’t written much or posted many photos. My reasons are simple. One, not much is known about the Inca’s as they had no written language and the Spanish destroyed what information there was. Two, our guide Ruben is entertaining, but doesn’t seem the most informed on what is known. Three, most of the ruins are not that impressive- just old stone walls. However, their locations are unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. Everything from storehouses to citadels to schools built upon cliffs and into mountainsides. Hopefully, some of these photos can convey a fraction of the phenomenal scenery.

Inca Trail (9)

not a bad view to wake up to

Inca Trail (6)

looking back from the pass summit

Inca Trail (7)

resting at the pass, above the clouds

Here’s some examples of the Inca ruins we saw and their spectacular locations:

Inca Trail (8)

storehouse on cliff overlooking valley

Inca Trail (4)


Inca Trail

inside the observatory

Here’s some photos of the Inca Trail itself:

Inca Trail (5)

Inca Trail (3)

Inca Trail (2)

Inca Trail: Day 2

Trudging up to Dead Woman's Pass

matt 120pxToday was the most difficult day of the trek, as we had to first ascend 1200 meters and then straight down 600 meters. Not only was it steep, but we did it at altitude, from 3000 meters to 4200 and then down to 3600 meters. Today I was definitely thankful that Joylani and I have been between 3500-4000 meters for the past month, because I didn’t experience any altitude problems. It was still a steep climb, but at least I didn’t have breathing or headache problems. The climb took us through diverse microclimates, as we went from tropical jungle to high-altitude puna. As we traversed the high grasslands, it became discouraging to look up and see the ladder-like trail rise ever higher. On the other hand, it was somewhat satisfying to look back every now and then and admire how far we’d come. I climbed mostly alone, because its difficult to do such hikes at anyones’ pace besides your own. I passed a few hikers and had a lot of porters pass me- those guys are amazing, just like their Nepalese counterparts we walked with a year ago. Most of the morning, the mountains were obscured on and off by mist rolling through the valley.

Inca Trail

fog obscures Dead Woman’s Pass ahead

Inca Trail (10)

looking back down into the valley

Once out of the jungle microclimate, it began to drizzle which grew to a steady downpour by the time I’d reached Dead Woman’s Pass. At 4200 meters, a steady rain will cool you down pretty quickly. I was getting colder and I wanted to head down with the other quick walkers in our group, but I’d told Joylani and Alex that I’d wait for them at the top. Joylani made it up not too long after me and we celebrated our day’s accomplishment.

Matt and Joylani summiting Dead Woman's Pass

Joylani quickly became cold as well and decided to head down. So I stood up there alone until I finally spotted Alex slowing climbing the steps. A couple other people in our group told me he was having altitude problems and it looked like it as I watched him struggle upwards. A few steps, rest. A few more steps, rest. I began to wonder if either of us would be alive for our meeting at the summit- he may exhaust himself and I may freeze to death.

Looking down from Dead Woman's Pass

searching for Alex coming up through the fog

He did finally make it and the first words out of his mouth were, “You waited up here for me? Watching me hike up must’ve been like watching grass grow.” He had a terrible headache and said it was tough to breathe coming up.

Alex and Matt summiting Dead Woman's Pass

We took a couple photos and I let him “enjoy his moment” as he put it, before we began to head down. I thought the down was tougher than the up. No goal to work towards, just down the wet and slippery stones.

Descent from Dead Woman's Pass

The steps were big and streams ran over the trail at many points, so it was slow going down. But I didn’t mind taking in the scenery when the clouds allowed it. Plus, I was tired, cold, and my knees began to hurt- we walked down stairs for 2 hours. We caught Joylani and her bum knee on the backside of the pass and the three of us walked into camp together, wet and tired but feeling accomplished.