Wednesday, June 30, 2010

First Day: Caral

I arrived late in the evening on Monday, and after a couple welcoming beers and snacks with my cousins, Juancho and Diego, we all went to bed, being fairly tired - me from the trip and they from long days at work.

My uncle Willy and his partner, Elva, picked Diego and I up at eight yesterday morning for a day trip up the coast, to the Supe Valley and the ruins of the ancient city of Caral.  On a previous trip, an attempt to get to Caral was frustrated by the poor state of the roadway.  However, the declaration of Caral as a World Heritage Site spurred the construction of a better roadway to the site.

About 75 kms out of Lima we stopped at the diner at the Repsol gas station just past the Chancay River on the Pan-American Highway, in order to fuel up with a hearty breakfast of bread with the local sausage, cafe au lait, and chicken soup.

We'd need it, as we were not planning on lunching until we were on our way back in the very  late afternoon.  However, once we arrived in the Supe Valley, we did turn in turn in to the town of Supe, to buy some of that sausage.

The region is known for its sausages, the most well-known being those produced in the town of Huacho, a bit to the south of Supe.  Those sausages -salchichas huachanas- akin in texture to Mexican chorizo, are a favored breakfast item, served in bread rolls or mixed with eggs.   There is, naturally, a bit of a rivalry between  towns as to which makes the best sausages -collectively known as salchicas del norte- and the sellers in Supe were quick to laughingly point out that theirs were far superior to the stuff from Huacho.  Willy, however, confirms that as, he says, in Supe they employ less fat in their elaboration.

Hanging, L to R: Supe sausage, blood sausage;
On the counter, L to R: blood sausage, boiled pork tongues.

While there we took the opportunity to sample some boiled pork tongue with onion relish.  It was quite tender, but with the onion it had a flavor slightly reminiscent of the grated tunafish and onion mix we ate years ago while camping in Marcahuasi, and thus I found it slighly disconcerting.

A couple of miles futher up the Pan-American highway we turned eastward off the highway and up the Supe Valley, toward Caral.

Caral is currently an archaeological hotspot as excavations begun 15 years ago by Peruvian archaeologist Ruth Shady Solís have uncovered the remains of a complex of seven ritual pyramids surrounding a large central plaza.   Each pyramid has an associated dwelling, probably for its priest or caretaker and a prominent hearth.  It is suspected that the hearths were used for rituals and were kept lit continuously as their construction included channels to conduct air to the fire within.

The pyramids themselves were built by bundling stones and dirt into bags woven from totora reeds and then piling them up, as one would adobes or bricks. The pyramids were then finished with facings of  stone held with mud mortar.

Ancient Caral's central plaza, with pyramids in background.

The "Small"Pyramid.

Standing stone, or huanca, and the Pyramid of the Huanca.

The main temple, with its sunken circular ritual courtyard.  This courtyard and temple
is the only location in Caral where musical instruments, condor and pelican bone flutes,
have been found.

Carbon dating of organic materials found at Caral led to the surprising finding that Caral was built 5000 years ago, making it the earliest known civilization in the Americas, and the third oldest in the world, behind Sumer and Egypt.   Other surprising finds have been the absence of weapons associated with Caral and surrounding sites, as well as the absence of any defensive wall from the period.   Caral was the ritual center at the heart of a cultural area and civilization that spanned some twenty sites up and down the Supe Valley, from the coastline to the Andean foothills.  That civilization was, apparently and surprisingly, one to which, through its 1000-year history, warfare was virtually unknown.  We should be so lucky.

The Supe Valley, with modern Caral in the background, at right,
and, in the foreground, post-Caral adobe ruins from the Moche culture.

The archaeological site was named "Caral" due to its proximity to the sleepy agricultural town of Caral, which lies at the heart of a tranquil valley filled with corn, aji pepper, and pumpkin fields.   It is not a particularly prosperous zone, and horses still provide much of the traction in transport and tillage.  There is a mine up the valley that provides some employment, but a lot of hopes are pinned on the development of ancient Caral as a tourist destination.

The archaeologists who run the site have ensured that  visits to the ruins are forbidden without a guide and that those jobs only go to locals.  Guides are provided training and certification by the archeological staff, and locals do not have to pay to visit the ruins (everyone else pays between s/. 4 and s/.11).

Modern Caral
After a long day, which also included visiting a plot of land my uncle is interesting in buying, we  headed back toward Lima, stopping for lunch in the town of Chancay, at 5:30 pm!  And got back to Lima at nearly 9 pm, too tired to do much else but sit and chat before going to bed.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Getting closer...

It's almost midnight and in just over three and half hours I leave for the airport.

If all goes as it should, when next I post, it shall be from Lima.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Counting down...

...seventy-two hours and I'll be landing in Lima.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lima in 48hrs

No, it doesn't mean that I'll be in Lima in forty-eight hours, it'll be a bit more than two days, although the count-down is on.

What it's about is that, shortly before she died, my mom and I were talking about upcoming events in Lima, and in particular the fact that due to a family event in July, we'd have a number of people in town who'd likely have a day or two at most to spend in Lima.   Mom asked me to come up with an itinerary I'd follow had I to show someone around who had but two days to get to know the city.  So here it is.

I should mention that, for our purposes, I have assumed that the prospective traveler will be lodging either in Jesus Maria (e.g. with the family), Lince, San Isidro or Miraflores, four districts where hotels and hostels are clustered, and from which all the places mentioned are easily accessible.  I have also assumed that neither of the days falls on a Monday, when many establishments shut their doors and take a day off.

Lima is full of museums, quality restaurants, fun bars, and shopping opportunities, so there is actually much to chose from. However, I have been to and enjoyed all of the places suggested and thus can recommend them with confidence to foreign visitors.



Breakfast at lodgings or go out to nearby café.  For something fairly Peruvian order a sandwich de chicharrón.  If you’d like juice, try a surtido which is made from a mixture of fruits and vegetables.  'Juice' is jugo, but be sure to order an extracto, as that is the pure juice with no water added.

Start your visit to modern Lima by getting acquainted with a bit of its past, at the National Arqueology, Anthropology and History Museum in Pueblo Libre.   The museum's displays run the gamut from remote prehistory, through Inca gold, and the Spanish Colonial and post-Independence periods, indeed up to the early 20th century.  Attached to the museum and housing some of the displays is the Lima home of Simon Bolivar, the key figure in winning South America's independence from Spain.  While not as impressive in some respects as the Museo de la Nación, this museum is smaller, calmer, more intimate, and is set in a quiet, historic district with older architecture, a nice plaza, and far less traffic.

Afterward, walk one block over to the Antigua Taberna Queirolo to sample the pisco and wines they produce there.

Next, off to San Isidro and the reconstructed pre-Inca pyramid of Huaca Huallamarca before heading to lunch.

On this first day, get an idea of all that Peru has to offer by sampling a Peruvian buffet at Puro Perú in Barranco. 

After lunch, head to downtown and Lima’s historic center.   Have your ride drop you off at the Parque de la Muralla.  This park was built to showcase the recently discovered remains of the city's Colonial defensive wall.

From the city wall, walk to San Francisco Monastery and take the tour of the monastery and catacombs.   Be sure to not leave without buying some ground corn out front and feeding the pigeons.

Walk a couple of blocks straight down Jiron Ancash, then turn left on Jiron Carabaya toward the Plaza de Armas, Lima’s main square.

There, view the 1648 Baroque fountain, the Presidential Palace, the ornate balcony of the Archbishop’s Palace, and tour the Cathedral.

If you like, you could head back up Jiron Carabaya, to the right of the Presidential Palace, and -following the example of intellectuals, politicians, and even Presidents, of years past- duck into the century-old Bar Cordano for a pick-me-up before heading home to rest up a bit.

You'll likely be tired and not soon hungry after that lunch, so rest up and plan on heading out around 8. 

For dinner in a truly unique, if small, setting, head to the Blue Moon in Lince.  The place is decorated with a collection of almost 2000 wine, alcohol, and soft drink bottles, of the most varied types and shapes.  It has been a steady family favorite over four decades -for the ambiance and the food.

Close out the evening at a peña.  The quintessential one is Brisas del Titicaca.  It offers a polished and colorful floor show of dances from all over Peru, as well as the opportunity for one to get in some dancing of one's own.   It has been around for decades and is very popular with tourists and locals alike, so tickets can be hard to get at the door.  Call ahead for reservations, and be prepared to stay up late.


Breakfast same as yesterday, but maybe try a different locale. However, after staying out late, you might sleep past breakfast altogether.

Either way, greet the day with a a peaceful stroll through the historic grove of El Olivar in San Isidro, or along the clifftop bulevár of Miraflores with perhaps a stop in Larcomar shopping center.

As there few things better for overcoming the effects of a late night out than cebiche, head for lunch to Pescados Capitales for some of the best food in town. 

Afterwards, have your ride take you to the "Indian Markets" (mercados indios) in Miraflores for some of the best crafts, jewelry, art, antiques, and bargain shopping in the city.

In the late afternoon,  after putting away your purchases, head to Barranco and to the Mirador, or overlook, across the Bridge of Sighs and at the point past the church, for some cocktails while watching the sun go down over the Pacific Ocean.

After strolling through historic Barranco, head to Panchita restaurant, on Avenida Dos de Mayo in Miraflores.  The food is very good indeed and the drinks menu imaginative.    

Afterward, head back to downtown Miraflores and Parque Kennedy.   There are often performances in the park during the evenings, and there is a nightly flea market which is usually well worth a look.

Alternately, head to the Parque de la Reserva and experience the water and lights spectacle of the Magical Waters Circuit.

Finish out the evening with pisco sours and music on Miraflores' lively "Pizza Street".

Or, for something a bit more upscale and more sedate, head either to Bravo Restobar on Conquistadores in San Isidro for late night drinks, or to the cocktail lounge at Cala restaurant, which is located right on the seashore along the "Costa Verde".

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Machu Picchu GigaPan

Gigapans are wide-angle (in some cases 360-degree) collages of ultra-high resolution, high depth of field photographs.   A gigapan allows one to scan left and right, and sometimes up and down, in the stitched-together image and to zoom in on details to great depth (sometimes a mile or more away) and can be specially impressive when viewed at full-screen. hosts a number of these images, including this one of Machu Picchu:

It is well-worth checking out.    I, for instance, was rather tickled to be able to zoom in on and examine the ruins atop Waynapiqchu peak, as well as the Inti Punku -the Sun Gate- through which the Inca Trail enters the city, neither of which had I ever been able to observe with any detail, neither in person nor in any previous photograph or film.

When you get done with that one, you may decide you wish to check out Machu Picchu from atop Waynapiqchu.