Thursday, July 31, 2008

Delicacies from Ancash

Ancash is the department in which Huaráz is located and of which it is the capital. The region, of course, is known for its snowcapped peaks and beautiful landscapes. While it is not known as a region of great cuisine -unlike, say, Arequipa or the north coast- it is known as a source for some quality foodstuffs which people will go out of their way to acquire from there.

Shaved Ice
One example which, logically, can only be obtained locally, is snowcones made from glacial ice brought down from the mountains.

Though not as esteemed as Cajarmarca in this regard, Ancash definitely holds its own as a dairy producing region.

Along the roads in the region, every little town has stalls offering cheese for sale, and the market in Huaráz is filled with stalls offering cheeses. The varieties don't seem as numerous or as diverse as those that come from Cajamarca or Junín where more modern methods and cultures have been adopted for large-scale production to be sent throughout the country. These, on the other hand, are artisanal cheeses, made on a small scale, not always pasteurized, and generally sold only locally. They taste great with bread and avocado, or in the classic Peruvian pairing, with some fresh mountain-grown corn on the cob.

Manjar blanco (lit. "white delicacy") is somewhat misunderstood item. In Lima and elsewhere one finds carmelly, brown substances calling themselves "manjar blanco", often made from boiling and carmelizing sweetened condensed milk. They're fine, and taste good in pastries, but they're a poor approximation.

In Ancash one finds the real thing: Manjar blanco made the old fashioned way, by slowly, slowly, simmering milk with sugar, stirring and scraping constantly over low heat to avoid darkening, until it thickens. Good manjar is smooth, soft, with no sugar crystals evident, and light in color. It, of course, can be added to pastries or spread on warm bread for a breakfast treat, but perhaps the best way to enjoy it, and one that brings out the child in everyone, is right out of the container with a spoon ...


Another food that Ancash is justly famous for is its jamón huaracino, or Huaráz ham. Whole legs of pork are salted and rubbed with spices and hung to dry, and the result is delicious. It is not unusual for travellers, much like ourselves, to return from trips to Ancash with a whole ham or two stashed in their luggage -again, much like ourselves. The ham is often served boiled with tubers and root vegetables, although it is also often baked or cooked in slices on the stove top and served with potatoes and salsa criolla, as at Señor Cuy.

Huaraz: The Freaks Come Out at Night

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Huaráz Market

On Saturday and Sunday mornings we headed to Huaráz's Central Market for some shopping. Needless to say, Peruvian markets, particularly in the mountains, are a riot of colors, sights, sounds, and smells, and one is always guaranteed to find something worthwhile.

Heading toward the market, the yellow building on the left.

The boys playing fussball outside the market,
where tables are available for 50 centimos a game.

Shopping for some of the region's famed ham.

Hams, blood sausages, pork leg, cheeses, and honey at a market stall.

Pig heads.

Guinea pigs.

Buying corn.

Ocas (Oxalis tuberosa)

Ollucos (Ullucus tuberosus)

Ajíes and rocotos. Diego was very glad to find these as, he maintains, the ones produced by small farmers taste better and are hotter than commercially-grown ones.

Diego, in the meat and poultry section of the market


On Saturday afternoon we headed off to a more leisurely time at Monterey, just outside of the city of Huaráz, for a well-earned soak in the waters of a mineral-rich natural hot spring.

Pali, Mito, and Rafaela


Monterey is a favorite attraction in the region, as well as the site of a well-known hotel of longstanding, the Hotel Monterey. I stayed at the hotel back in 1973 or 1974 on a trip there with my mother, my brother, my grandmother who was visiting from the United States, and -I think- my infant sister Cristy. We had a great time then, lolling in the hot water in the evenings before dinner.

This time, though we couldn't use the hotel pool and thus went to the public pool next to the hotel, it still brought back pleasant memories of that long-ago trip.

Huascarán National Park

After breakfast on Friday we rented a 4x4 pickup truck and headed north through Huaylas valley, our primary destination being the lakes at Llanganuco in Huascarán National Park.

On the way we stopped in Carhuaz, a town known as the "Land of Ice Cream," where we sampled artisanal ice cream flavors such as chirimoya, maracuyá, peanut, the strongest rum-raisin we'd ever tasted, and even beer-flavored ice cream...

as well as some real beer:

Passing Yungay, we turned east and upward into the Cordillera Blanca, the snow-capped range on the eastern side of the valley, and toward Mt. Huascarán.

Once we left the highway, the road turned to a dirt track, which was so pitted and bumpy that it took a good 45 minutes to make the climb the 4000 feet to the park entrance. It was an uncomfortable ride for all, specially those riding in the truck bed.

The Llanganuco valley lies within the National Park, at 12,630 feet above sea level. It is a glacial valley flanked on the south by Mt. Huascarán (Peru's highest peak, at 22,205 ft) and on the north by Mt. Huandoy (20,853 ft), whose snowmelt feeds two lakes which are the valley's main attraction. We stopped by the shores of the first lake, Chinancocha.

Unfortunately, several of the kids were affected by the reduced oxygen level, suffering from headaches and being generally ill-at-ease. Their symptoms were somewhat eased by cupfuls of a coca and muña-leaf tea and papas rellenas (stuffed potatoes).

Somewhat revived by the snack, we opted for a light lunch of a mix of roasted guinea pig, chicharrones, boiled corn with cheese, or fry-bread, all prepared on-the-spot over a wood fire.

Nico declared the picante de cuy he ate the best guinea pig dish he'd ever tasted, and the fry bread, called cachanga, was pretty darn good, but the chicharrones were fatty and bony, and left a lot to be desired in both flavor and price. Still, the setting could hardly be improved...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Huaráz (10,100 feet a.s.l.)

We left for Huaráz late Thursday night so as to not use a whole day on the 8 hr bus ride. We arrived in time for breakfast with our old friend Tato, who has also just arrived from Lima the evening before and was about to leave for work higher up in the mountains at the Antamina copper mine.

Our arrival in Huaráz

Benjamin, fresh off the bus

Our first glimpse of the Cordillera Blanca and Mt. Huascarán

Huaráz is a friendly, if drawn out and somewhat chaotic, city. Unlike Cusco or Ayacucho, it doesn't have a historic city center but has grown stretched out along the road through the Huaylas valley. The city was devastated in a massive earthquake in 1970, which damaged some 70% of the buildings and killed 20,000 people in town, as well as virtually wiping out the nearby town of Yungay in a huge landslide from Mt. Huascarán, where only about 400 people out of a population of over 10,000 survived.

Today Huaráz is a vibrant, lively city that feels very connected to the outside world. It abounds in cafés, restaurants, and nightclubs catering to Peruvian and international visitors as well as locals with money to spend. Huaráz is the point of departure for adventure sport tourism, including mountaineering, trekking, biking, and river rafting. However, thanks to global warming, which has melted the glaciers on Mt. Pastoruri, it seems skiing not an option anymore.

In Huaráz's Plaza de Armas

Although we did not plan it that way, we happened to arrive at the start of a week of celebrations marking the 151st anniversary of the founding of the Province of Huaráz and the dedication of Huaráz as the provincial capital. The celebrations included a multitude of parades throughout the weekend featuring dancers in traditional costumes, bands belting out waynos, and frequent setting off of fireworks.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tonight we leave for an 8-hour bus ride to the north and up the Andes, into the Huaylas valley between the bare Cordillera Negra (Black Range) and the snow-capped Cordillera Blanca (White Range), and a weekend in the city of Huaráz.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Evening downtown

A couple of days ago we took a trip to Lima's historic downtown to buy eyeglasses for Susana and to just stroll around and take in the sights and sounds, including an obligatory stop at the Bar Cordano for drinks and butifarras (pork sandwiches with onion relish).

Nico, Benjamin, Susana and Liz at the Cordano

Part of the Cordano's collection of old (unopened) drink bottles. I was delighted to find among them three bottles of Old Tom gin, a now extinct variety of gin once used to make the Martinez cocktail, a precursor to the Martini.

Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Merced, on the 3rd block of Jirón de la Unión. The church was begun in 1535 but its ornate Baroque front was carved in 1591.

Neocolonial-style façade of the Archbishop's Palace, built in 1924, next to the Cathedral in the Plaza de Armas, Lima's main square.

Interior of the chapel between the Archbishop's palace and the Cathedral.

Building which once housed the Couret photographic studio. Eugenio Courret, a French photographer, arrived in Lima in 1860 and in 1863 established the Fotografía Central studio on Jirón de la Unión with his brother, Aquiles. They ran the studio until 1887. In that time the Courrets documented Lima's scenery and society, leaving some 54,000 glass negatives, some of which can be viewed online.

Balconies downtown.

Old balconies on Jirón Huancavelica. The second one, with the lamp by the doorway, was once the home of Peru's most highly regarded naval hero, Admiral Miguel Grau Seminario who, at the helm of the Huáscar, held off a Chilean invasion for six months during the War of the Pacific (1879-1884). He was killed by a shell during the Battle of Angamos on 8 October, 1879.

Vultures atop the Presidential Palace.

On Jirón Carabaya, contiguous to the Presidential Palace, there is a shoe shop distuinguished for decades by a pair of gigantic plaster feet. I remember them from when I was a kid, and they were already quite old then. They're still there, in the window, advertising "Fine footwear made by hand."

Churro and soda stand on Jirón de la Unión.

Buying churros on Jirón de la Unión.

Amulets on sale outside the Basilica de la Merced.

The Cathedral and Plaza de Armas.

Jirón Carabaya, with the Presidential Palace on the left and Desamparados train staton at the end.