Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Lazy Dogs in the Cordillera Blanca and Gastronomical Adventures in Lima

Well, let me begin by saying that the night bus to Huaraz was considerably less terrifying/uncomfortable than our last experience with a night bus. The cama section is basically the equivalent of sitting in first class on an airplane. You get a blanket and a pillow. There's even a hostess to all but tuck you in after bringing you a snack and a small glass of Inca Kola (offensively yellow carbonated beverage of Peru that actually out-sells CocaCola; sort of tastes like a cross between Mountain Dew and Cream Soda). The seats were wide and comfy but once the passenger in front of you fully reclines you pretty much have to stay put because the back of their seat is now in your lap. Chris was lucky to have a vacant seat in front of him for part of the trip but I was stuck behind a jerk who kept ramming his seat into my knees trying to force it further down. Oh well. I still managed to sleep for a good chunk of the trip so I think it was worth the slightly higher price and is a good way to survive a night bus when there are no daytime options.

Cabins at the Lazy Dog Inn.
We arrived in the mountain village of Huaraz a few hours past daybreak. After groggily reclaiming our bags we met the driver arranged by our accommodation. Theo ushered us into his station wagon and we tried to keep up with his small talk while fighting our semi-fatigue. We didn't get very far into our ascent up from Huaraz when Theo had to pull over, fill up a plastic bottle with water from a brook, and cool down his radiator. He repeated this activity about 5 more times, stretching the 40 min trip into about an hour, for which he apologized but did not offer us a discounted fare. Oh Peru. Finally we arrived at our destination: The Lazy Dog Inn. Owned and operated by a couple originally from Calgary (!), the Inn is perched on a beautiful piece of property with 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, including some of the spectacular snow-capped peaks that are the namesake of the Cordillera Blanca region. We were instantly in love with the place.

Max (upper left), Runtu wrestling with Apu or Mayu, the black Lab brothers
 (upper right), Runtu  requesting some attention (bottom left),
Chris walking Max and Runtu (bottom right).
Four boisterous canines greeted us as we made our way from the gate to the lodge. Only one of the four (Max) ever displayed behavior that gave credence to the name "Lazy Dog"; the others, Runtu, Apu, and Mayu, were hyperenergetic pups but we enjoyed their company nonetheless, even taking them on a few walks during our stay. We had a room in the lodge itself but there were also cabins with fireplaces a bit further down from the lodge. One of the owners, Diana, is onsite full time, while her husband works during the week in Lima. She is a very interesting person, with lots of opinions and ideas about life and living, but also a great passion for working with local people. They've contributed a lot of infrastructure to the community, including a school and a computer lounge with a library. She also employs several local people. Which is probably good for her because labor is cheap but good for them because it's a nice place to work and probably pays better than other jobs they could have.

One of the porgrams Diana has introduced at the village school they helped build involves educating the kids about
healthy eating and where vegetables actually come from. Although they live in an agricultural area, most families only
grow large grain crops. When Diana asked the kids where vegetables come from, they answered "the market". Here
you can see their amazement when they discover you can grow them in a garden!

Sunset on a snow-covered peak of the Cordillera Blanca.
Diana and her husband have also taken several measures to make the Inn environmentally friendly, including installing urine-diverting dry composting toilets. Those took a bit of getting used to - no tank or water in the bowl, just a spray-hose to wash things down when you're finished! Everything about the Inn was comfortable and homey. We spent lots of our time just sitting in the common area, warming ourselves in the sunshine streaming through the skylights or in front of the huge fireplace.

Mobile huts used by the indigenous people to catch a rest while guarding
their livestock or harvests.
We met some interesting people from Britain, Australia, the US and Germany during our week-long stay. Most people were just stopping in for a night or two before they set out on a multi-day trek. One of the best parts of our stay was the home-cooked food. It's amazing how sick you can get of going out for dinner. Even just having to decide what to order becomes tiresome after a while. Diana's kitchen always produced something hearty and delicious and one morning she even spoiled us by serving pancakes with REAL maple syrup and bacon. Mmmmmm.

View of the Cordillera Blanca on a sunny morning.

To the left is Quebrada Llaca, right is Quebrada Cojup. We hiked into both during our week at the LDI.
Beautiful views everywhere!

Huffing up the path to the trail-head for Quebrada Llaca, 3 km from Lazy Dog.
We did two big hikes during our time at the Lazy Dog. The first was into Quebrada Llaca, found in Parque Nacional HuascarĂ¡n just up from the Lazy Dog. I say "just up" but really it was a grueling trek even to reach the park entrance, with another 6 or 7 km to the refugio and laguna. It was difficult partly because we were still acclimating to the altitude - 3620 m at the Inn, 800 m elevation gain to the refugio - and partly because we'd spent the previous week mostly lounging in Huanchaco.... The entire hike in to Laguna Llaca was quite challenging but Chris and I both agree that the views were unrivaled by any hike we'd ever done before. The quebrada was bordered by steep black cliffs while the valley was lush and full of tropical plants and gorgeous flowers. Rain from the previous night had left a dusting of snow on the ridges of the canyon, rendering dozens of beautiful waterfalls as the morning sun began to melt the remaining drifts. A glistening white glacier was visible in the distance, a stark contrast to the dark canyon walls. Our photos capture some of the beauty but even with Chris's mad photography skills it's hard to truly show how amazing it was.

Waterfall cascading down the black cliffs to the brook that cut through the meadow.
For a reference of scale, the tiny black specks are actually horses grazing
beside the brook. 

A few flowers of the Andes.

I don't think this needs a caption.

Dam at Laguna Llaca; view looking back on the Quebrada towards Huaraz.
We made our way up up and up to the refugio where we found a big group of guys packing up tents and camping supplies. It was the wrap up of a search-and-rescue training course. After making our final ascent to the laguna (bit anticlimactic actually... it was more of a murky jade color than the promised turquoise jewel) we decided to eat lunch inside the refugio since it was quite muddy and cold outside. We'd just unpacked our can of tuna, tostadas, carrots, and bananas when a man came by to see if we needed any help. We said no thanks, we just wanted to eat our lunch. He left for a moment and then returned to tell us that the refugio was private BUT we could eat there if we were quick... awkward..... None of the refugios we'd visited in our previous travels were private! We ate rapidly and made a quick, albeit rather obtrusive exit through what appeared to be the graduation ceremony for the training course. Oops.

Chris leaping over the icy brook on our way out of the Quebrada.
It was either jump or climb up over the boulders to circumvent the water.

"Pasteurized horses" of the quebrada.
One interesting thing about the national park is that local indigenous people retain grazing rights for their livestock. So, it is not uncommon to see cows munching happily beside the babbling brook or horses streaking through the boulder-strewn meadow. We'd wondered whether the horses were actually wild because they seemed very scared of us so Chris asked Diana about them when we returned from our hike. Specifically, he inquired whether those were "pasteurized horses" in the park..... Hahahahahaha. After a good chuckle, Diana explained about the grazing rights.

After one day of rest, we did a second long hike into the other quebrada behind the lodge and were joined by Leoni, a lady from Australia. This time it was 5 km to the trail head but most of the way was along a gravel road with a very gradual incline. This quebrada stretched back to Laguna Cojup but we decided against making the entire 34 km round trip jaunt... bit long for a day hike in my opinion and we were a bit underwhelmed by the other laguna we'd hiked to anyway. We hiked in about 10 km to a viewpoint where we had lunch in the crisp mountain breeze. The views weren't as spectacular as Llaca but the hike was more relaxing and it was nice to visit with Leoni.

The road up to the Quebrada Cojup entrance gate was a bit treacherous...  This slump left a gash in the road that dropped down at least 50 meters to the ravine below. Luckily someone placed a dead tree in the road as a warning to drivers of the hazard...
Our lunch spot during the Quebrada Cojup hike.

A very awesome thing about the Lazy Dog is the dry sauna the owners have built. So nice to soothe sore muscles after a long hike! Another awesome thing is that they have horses and we got to enjoy a few hours of horsebackriding through the mountains and sprawling farmlands with Diana. Our week at the Lazy Dog was over far too quickly. We had time to get used to the idea of leaving though when our flight from Huaraz to Lima was delayed for 3 hours! Luckily the tiny Huaraz airport had free wifi so we were able to do some trip planning while we waited. They also brought us a delicious meaty empanada to temporarily sate our hunger (there are no restaurants).

Finally, our plane arrived from Lima, the usual source of air traffic delays in Peru. It was a tiny plane - a DASH 8, which is a turboprop. The flight was so empty that I moved to the window seat in front of Chris in order to get a good view as we flew out of Huaraz. I was a little nervous once the started the propellers because my seat was directly adjacent to one and all I could think about was how I'd be sliced in two if they somehow broke free. I soon forgot my fear as we took off and the incredible views captured my attention. We were able to see the tallest mountain in Peru - HuascarĂ¡n Sur, it's snow-covered peak towering above the cordillera at 6,746 m. It was also neat seeing the crazy high mountain roads used to access the multitude of high altitude farmlands.

Flying into Lima we had a bird's eye view of the poorest barrios, closely resembling the desert shanty towns we'd seen during our bus journeys along the north coast. We'd made arrangements for an airport pickup and eagerly scanned the sea of signs held up by the dozens of chofers gathered just past the arrivals door. No "Chris & Ange" to be found even though we'd made contact with our hostal to let them know about the flight delay and they'd written back to confirm our ride would be there... We waited another 20 minutes, during which time a particularly keen taxi driver, who claimed to know every hotel in Lima, struck up an elaborate conversation with me in pretty decent English. Eventually we gave up on our prearranged ride and hired the chatty driver to take us to our hostal. It ended up being an interesting ride as he took us the long way from the airport (fares are set prior to departures so we weren't concerned that he was trying to run up the meter... in fact, most taxis don't have meters), following the coastline and pointing out various parks, restaurants, and other areas of potential interest. He also asked plenty of questions about Canada, including when was the cheapest time to visit there and where was the cheapest place to live. We think he may have aspirations to relocate in the future.

Miraflores, overlooking the ocean, Lima.
It was quickly apparent during our drive that there is enormous disparity in Lima. The further we got from the airport, the more modern and upscale the neighborhoods became. Towering, artistically designed condo buildings line the oceanfront along with countless fine dining venues and immaculate parks. Lima is by far the most modern city we've visited so far in South America. After our 60-minute impromptu tour, we arrived at our hostal, Pension Yolanda; an unmarked building in a residential part of Miraflores. The owner, Erwin, met us with a hearty welcome and perfect English. He said his driver had waited for us at the airport but we were skeptical considering how long we'd waited after our flight's arrival. Shrugging, Erwin escorted us to our room, which was directly adjacent to the kitchen and dining area.

It was immediately apparent than we weren't at the Lazy Dog Inn anymore... the room was quite filthy and the ensuite bathroom was no exception. A heavy scent of BO and cigarettes lingered in the room even after we opened the window (that looked at the exterior of another building less than a meter away). At first I thought it was just the smell of Lima but then I made the mistake (?) of sniffing the bedding and rapidly recoiled in revulsion as the true source of the stench became clear. We were disappointed, especially considering the great reviews we'd read on Trip Advisor coupled with the recommendation in our guide book. Still, we thought we'd try to make the best of it and cope with the less than stellar conditions for the next 5 nights. I removed the comforter from the bed as it seemed to be the smelliest and swapped my pillow with the one on the single bed that was also crammed into our room. I unpacked my bag in an effort to make the room feel more homey (and to hide some of the grime under cover of my clean, personal items). Then we went out in search of dinner.

The overcast skies of mid afternoon had sunk lower, enveloping Lima in a strange hazy fog that reminded me of frosty winter mornings in Edmonton except that it wasn't cold and we were walking among palm trees and shrubs and flowers instead of snowbanks. It was nothing short of eerie. Unfortunately our trek to what was supposed to be one of the best Italian restaurants in Lima did not pay off; evidently 6pm is too early for dinner in Lima - they didn't open until 8. Luckily we were in Lima, one of the culinary capitals of the world, so it was easy to find somewhere else to eat.

Still craving Italian cuisine, we made our way to "Pizza Alley", which is exactly what it sounds like only more absurd. Approximately 2 dozen nearly identical restaurants line a pedestrian strip just off Parque Kennedy, the triangular, cat-infested central park of Miraflores (maybe 'infested' is the wrong word - the cats are actually very cute and don't seem mangy. But there are LOTS). Anyway, Pizza Alley... every restaurant features a covered patio, neon signage, LCD tvs showing futbol matches, a chalkboard advertising exactly the same specials in suspiciously similar handwriting, and an obnoxious tout standing at the entrance proffering passersby a free pisco sour and the best food or it's free. We chose La Glorietta, simply because it appeared in our guide book. Chris thinks they must've paid for the promotion since there wasn't anything unique about the place and we were quite sure the menu was no different than that of the other 23 joints. We  drank our free pisco sour, ate our pizza (reasonable but not especially good) and returned to smelly Yolanda's for the night.

The next morning we were awoken quite early by other guests breakfasting in the kitchen outside our door. After braving a rinse in the soap-scum coated shower and finding that we had barely more than a trickle of water pressure we decided we weren't willing to pay the nightly rate of ~$40 for such a dive. Chris went out in search of alternate accommodations while I packed our bags. When Chris returned we semi-apologetically announced to Erwin that we were leaving. I don't know why it's so hard to be honest when you have a genuine, justified complaint about a place but for some reason it made both of us feel incredibly awkward. Maybe it was because the owner seemed so friendly and hospitable. Too bad he doesn't know how to clean!! Actually, we have a theory that the hostal used to be co-owned by him and his wife: he was responsible for speaking multiple languages and helping tourists navigate Lima while she was responsible for upkeep of the rooms and laundry. We'd noticed a mild aroma of alcohol whenever Erwin was around so we speculate that maybe his wife left because he's a drunk and he has tried to continue the business in her absence but things have gone way downhill. Plausible... clearly we have an excess of free time to ponder these relatively trivial scenarios.

We hoofed it about 15 blocks to our new accommodation: a small hostal whose name, Hospedaje "Trust Me", certainly inspired confidence. It turned out to be a decent place, CLEAN, and actually cheaper than Yolanda's. The downside was that it seemed to attract noisy guests (often of the amorous sort...) and every afternoon the cold water was shut-off for some unexplained reason until we asked for it to be turned back on.

Right. What else did we do in Lima? We took a few long walks in an effort to maintain our fitness for our upcoming Inca Trail trek. The terrestrial part of Lima's oceanfront is very beautiful in a cosmopolitan sort of way. We walked from Miraflores to the even more opulent district of Barranco and marveled at the swanky condos overlooking the sea. The sea itself was less alluring, its shimmering surface is sadly marred by frothy pollution and bits of debris. Surprisingly, there were still several die-hard surfers catching waves.

View of Miraflores's oceanfront condos from Barranco. 

Not-so enticing ocean...
 We also made an effort to sample some of Lima's world-renowned cuisine and, as can happen in South America, experienced both ends of the spectrum, enduring a few epic fails mixed in with some of the most gourmet meals we've ever enjoyed. The most notable fail was at a cute cafe we'd walked by several times, noting the impressive espresso machine and delicious coffee smells wafting out across the patio. We decided to try it for breakfast one day and were pleasantly surprised by the diverse number of options on the menu. Tragically, the coffee did not taste nearly as good as it smelled and when the server delivered a plate of soggy white bread posing as French Toast. The look on Chris's face was that of a 4 year old boy who was just matter-of-factly informed that there's no Santa Claus. Another minor fail occurred at a restaurant named Los Brujos (the witches) where I thought I'd ordered an interesting beef dish and then was served the same old lomo saltado (beef strip sauteed with onions and tomatoes) that you can get anywhere in Peru. To top it off, they charged us for a "bread service" that we didn't order but had happily eaten when they brought olives, red peppers and bread to our table before our meals. Lesson learned.

Two highlights of our culinary experiences in Lima were Pescado Capitales and Central Restaurant. The former, whose name translates to "Capital Fish" but is a play on words because "Pecados Capitales" is the Spanish reference for The 7 Deadly Sins. The menu gave hilarious descriptions of the sinful properties of each dish and often depicted the ingredients as possessing the characteristic sinful traits such as the carrot slivers being jealous of the avocado curls. The food itself was also amazing. We shared a ceviche mixto (raw fish cured with lime, served with corn, sweet potato, lettuce, etc.) including salmon, tuna, and a white fish that I can't remember the name of. Then we savored a causa (mashed potato layered with seafood and avocado) of grilled shrimp followed by canelones of passionfruit cheesecake. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. We just kept watching dishes go by to other tables and wishing we had bigger stomachs to order more.

Peruvian minestrone, asian noodle salad (both at Tanta, one of Gaston Acurio's restaurants); grilled shrimp causa, canelones of passionfruit cheesecake (both at Pescado Capitales).
Central Restaurant is rated #1 according to Trip Advisor and is recognized as a superb place to have a gastronomical adventure (yes, I am nerdy). We were lucky to get a reservation on our final day in Lima and arrived at the restaurant dressed in the best clothes we'd packed but still felt very under-dressed. The staff were unperturbed and, with great hospitality, showed us to the bar where we could have a drink while waiting for our table. We were seated such that I had a great view of the kitchen, which was entirely visible through glass walls at one end of the restaurant, about 3 meters from our table. I loved watching the frenzied but organized chaos of the cooks and I coveted every piece of cookware I could see from my vantage point.

Grouper tiradito with leche de tigre and avocado jelly (left), potato trio (top), salmon vietnam (middle), veggie crisps, butters, olive oil and sweet potato done 2 ways (bottom).

Our meal began with "sweet potato done two ways", which was crispy and whipped. Simple but tasty and interesting how different cooking methods can result in such different textures and flavors. We were also served some veggie crisps with a creamy herb dip and a tomato-based salsa with cheese and a bit of kick. Next came four mini-breads (rye, coca leaf-infused, brioche, and a bun baked with cheese and tomato) served with two types of butter (white with red rock salt from a city near Lima and a brown butter with burnt salt) and extra virgin olive oil. Each bite melted in our mouths. While we enjoyed these complimentary (we hoped...) starters, we sipped on pisco sours (Chris got his with maracuya = passionfruit) and watched the other tables fill with affluent Limenas and dolled-up turistas.

Next came our appetizers - Chris ordered had the "Salmon Vietnam", which was a very fancy salmon ceviche that the server doused in an asian-inspired sauce after placing it in front of Chris. I had the "Grouper Tiradito", which was also like a ceviche, served with a sauce made from rocoto, one of the rarest species of the capsicum (bell pepper) genus. Mine was also served with three tiny potato preparations, all of which were infused with some sort of smokey essence. Mouth in heaven!!! For our mains, Chris had the "Singha Seabass", which came with a rice dish of shrimp, mushrooms, zucchini and tomatoes. I had the lamb shoulder, which came with crunchy squash croquettes and whipped potatoes. It was tender, rich, and flavorful. Chris's was delicious too. We were too full for dessert but ordered tea and they brought us some petit fours (assorted tiny confections including chocolates, jellies, and marshmallows) that we managed to squeeze into our full tummies. It was by far the most expensive meal we've had during our travels but it was a truly unique and satisfying experience.

Upper - breads. Bottom left - smoked potato cube with flower garnish.
Bottom right - Salmon Vietnam appetizer.
Lamb shoulder (left), Singha seabass (top), us enjoying our meal! (middle and bottom).
Petit fours, aromatic tea, chocolates made from Peruvian cocoa, marshmallow cubes infused with chicha morada (purple corn beverage) and guanabana.
We didn't do much else during our time in Lima aside from arranging some future travel plans (small fiasco trying to pay for a trip to the Amazon for Chris and Neil next month), visiting not one but two of Gaston Acurios restaurants in search of his award-winning book about Peruvian cuisine in order to purchase it and send it home to my Peruvian friend in Canada, Chris got a haircut (and beardcut), I got a pedicure, and we stopped into a strange modern art gallery where we watched a short film of an artist painting the palm of her left hand so it looked like the back of her right hand. We also visited central Lima and the city's Plaza de Armas, arriving serendipitously just in time to witness the extravagant changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace. Seriously. I've never seen such an extensively choreographed military display! Twirling and juggling their guns while completing complicated marches in various formations to the music of a brass band. And they performed at least 5 different numbers! Amazing.

Start of the changing of the guard ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Lima.
Plaza de Armas, Lima.
We are now in Cuzco, acclimating to the altitude in preparation for our upcoming Inca Trail trek. Our friend Neil arrived this morning, fresh out of his final exams at the University of Calgary. It's interesting how his excitement about everything is renewing our own enthusiasm and reminding us of just how extraordinary this year-long adventure really is.

On a side-note, I've been wondering whether anyone is actually reading these blogs in their entirety... especially lengthy ones like this particular entry. Officially, we have 10 followers and a few additional people consistently "Like" or comment on the link when I post it to Facebook. The other day my mom mentioned that lots of my cousins and other relatives must be reading the blog because most people knew what I was up to and why I was missing from my Gramma's memorial service. Well, when I logged in to write this post I was welcomed by the new blogger interface, which now includes very detailed webpage statistics. So, basically, I now know exactly how many page views we have, where our views originate, and even what sort of browser people are using! The reality is that we have A LOT of lurkers (people who read the blog but don't comment). I guess that's cool. I'm happy someone is reading the blog! Or at least visiting the blog page... is anyone still reading??


  1. You've cranked up the artistic flair I see!

    I like it :)

  2. I read this one anyways, I was lured in by the cute dog trying to get your attention picture. Actually I thought it was very impressive blog writing Ms Scott! Not that I am any kind of expert on the subject, but the details you give about your ups AND your downs paint a very interesting picture of your adventure. Sometimes I'm super jealous of the spectacular things you are seeing and doing and sometimes I'm glad I'm back here laid out on my very comfy couch. It's a rollercoaster read! Have fun on the next Trek! Mike Mac

    1. Haha! Of COURSE the doggy would be what lured you in! ;)

  3. I thought that I would check on you. Wanted to make sure you guys were doing well in the homeland. Sounds like you found the food! Feel free to try the wide range of fruits. If the skin must remain, you can give it a quick whisky rinse, and it will save you from later troubles. Enjoy the Inca trail and bring a poncho and touque, as well as lots of coca tea and nasal decongestant (do not want to be caught with less oxygen going into your brain). I seem to recall chatting up a llama during one of my most salient oxygen-deprived adventures. Dan

    1. Poncho + Toque = obtained! Also, some warm knit socks. Hurrah for cheap markets (although I'm sure I still paid the gringo price to some extent...). I'm still suffering from a chestcold but picked up some meds from a pharmacy today so hopefully I'll be breathing a bit more clearly tomorrow.

      Did you get my FB message about the book? Total cost and a tracking number included.