Monthly Archives: February 2012

On the Road – Peru: Rains Complicating Travel Plans in Latin America

Another year of the La Niña weather system continues to batter Latin America, complicating travel plans in Peru and other countries.

 

Mexico and Nicaragua are reporting damaging flooding caused by heavy rains. In South America, Colombia is once more experiencing not only flooding, but also landslides, all of which has caused over 700 deaths in recent months. La Paz, Oruro and other places in Bolivia are also suffering, and a state of emergency has been declared in Pando department. It’s even raining in the driest place on the planet: the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. The government there had to close major attractions until it could work on roads. Once more, tourists can get out to the region’s riches.

 

Peru has not been exempt from these damaging rains. Overflowing rivers, crop destruction and other damages are being reported in many parts of the country. The Amazon Basin is affected, from Tingo María in the central jungle down to Puerto Maldonado in the southern jungle. Southern Lima, Áncash and Madre de Dios Departments are under states of emergency, as is Ica, which suffered a 6.2 earthquake on January 30.

 

Archaeologists are concerned of damages to Chan Chan and other ruins along the north coast.

 

Roads in the Huaraz, Cusco, Arequipa and Colca Canyon areas are periodically blocked by landslides. Earlier this week, the border crossing between Peru and Chile had to be closed temporarily after intense rains unearthed anti-personnel mines that had been laid in 1975, during the Pinochet dictatorship.

 

Travelers are advised to keep an eye on the news. You can get to any part of the country, but you might be delayed because of road conditions.

 

Safe Journeys!

 

Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of  V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

 

It's Carnaval!

All over the world, Catholics are celebrating Carnaval. This huge street party lasts until the moveable feast of Ash Wednesday, celebrated in February or March. When next Wednesday rolls around, faithful will be going to a special mass to celebrating the beginning of the 40 days of Lent and the traditional fast that accompanies it.

 

Carnaval in Santa Marta. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

From New Orleans, Louisiana (where the party is called Mardi Gras — Fat Tuesday) through to Tierra del Fuego, Carnaval is in full swing. In some parts, it becomes a water fight with no-one left unscathed. In other places, like Santa Marta on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, corn starch flurries. Foam string is also commonly spritzed from cans. What all have in common are colorful costumes, lots of music and dancing, plus chugging of whatever the local brew is.

 

No matter where you’re at, it’s not too late to join in on the fun. If you aren’t in the neighborhood for the big blow-outs in Barranquilla or Rio de Janeiro, then perhaps these destinations are closer:

 

In V!VA Travel Guide’s home country, Ecuador, many people head to the beach. In most parts, you can expect to get drenched. In Ambato, however, water throwing is prohibited. In that highland town, enjoy its Fiesta de las Flores y de las Frutas, filled with with colorful parades, handicraft exhibits and other events.

 

Carnaval in Puno.

In Peru the biggest celebration is in Puno. Its feast days of the Virgen de Candelaria merge into pre-Lenten Carnaval celebrations. One V!VA correspondent relates: “I was awakened by loud drums and horns, people yelling and an atmosphere that buzzed with excitement. Today was the start of ‘La Virgen de la Candeleria,’ a festival specific to Puno alone. From my hostel room window, and as far as I could see down the streets in every direction, there were huge groups of people dancing and playing music. They were clad in bright costumes, and all were playing their hearts out. Carnival had begun.”

 

Oruro in neighboring Bolivia is THE place to be in that town. In 2001, UNESCO declared the festival to be a “masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity.” Incredibly carved masks are part of the wonders to behold there, as well as the hours of dancing and chicha drinking.

 

The Andean-style Carnaval is also celebrated in northwestern Argentina, in Tilcara. This nine-day festival begins with masked revelers unearthing a small devil figure. Foam, water and firecrackers are de rigeur. Here, the favorite liquor of partiers proves their Argentine culture: Fernet with cola.

 

A Montevideo murga. Photo by Emma Jones

 

Down on the other shore of the River Plate, in Montevideo, Uruguay, Carnaval has a Brazilian saborcito to it. Massive murgas (drum and dance troupes) parade through the streets of the capital. Montevideo’s fest also has the distinction of being one of the longest in the world: It lasts 40 days.

It's not Rio -- this is Montevideo's Carnaval! Photo by Emma Jones

So get out your dancing shoes and get crazy this next weekend. It’s a holiday no matter where you go — and so you should enjoy it just like the locals. Take care, have fun — and get your hangover remedies ready for Wednesday morning!

On the Road – Peru: Three Classic Peruvian Dishes and Variations on Their Themes

Last Thursday (February 2), the Organization of American States officially launched the World Day of the Pisco Sour. Since 2003, Peru tips the hat to its national drink during the first weekend of February.

 

The pisco sour is just one of three hallmark treats travelers to Peru have the opportunity to savor. The other two dishes are ceviche and cuy. These delights, though, have variations on their themes that visitors shouldn’t miss out on.

 

Other mixed pisco drinks: the Mokewa Linda (left) and the Machu Picchu (right). Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

The pisco sour is the one cocktail most travelers will try while in Peru. Made from a grape brandy distilled in the southern part of the country, this drink also includes lime juice, bitters, syrup and egg whites.

 

Peru’s most esteemed pisco distilleries are in Moquegua, a colonial town located midways between Arequipa and Tacna. Here, bartenders carefully pour two other more colorful pisco creation. The Machu Picchu begins with about an inch of grenadine liqueur, atop which orange juice is poured, then mint liqueur. The result is a drink with stripes of red, orange and green. The Mokewa Linda is prepared the same way, with grenadine, grapefruit juice, mint liqueur and curaçao liqueur, painting a drink the colors of Moquegua’s flag. With either, add a jigger of pisco right down the middle, so as to not disturb the colors.

 

The way to enjoy these two beauties is to sip through a thin straw while drawing it through the different layers, letting your mouth savor the fusion of each flavor.

 

 

Ceviche. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

The most classic Peruvian cuisine is the ceviche. This dish is made of chunks of fish “cooked” in lemon juice, seasoned with a variety of spices and served with thick slabs of sweet potato (camote), corn on the cob (choclo) and cancha (roasted corn nuts). It is best tried in Lima and along the north coast. It is an easy plate to prepare:

  •  After washing it in salt water, cut a one-kilogram (2.2-pound) fillet of corvina into 1-2 centimeter (0.5-1 inch) cubes. Place in a bowl and season with 3-5 cloves of minced garlic and salt to taste. Add three finely chopped, fresh ají limo (Capsicum chinense or Capsicum baccatum), the juice of 8-10 freshly squeezed limes, black pepper and 1.5 tablespoons of chopped cilantro. Let rest for 10 minutes. Serve on a bed of lettuce, with a thick slice of corn on the cob, camote and cancha. Garnish with thinly sliced red onion, a sprig of seaweed and fine slices of ají limo.

 

Tiradito. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

A variation on this theme is the tiradito. In this, the chunks of fish are smaller, the corn kernels are mixed in and the onions are chopped instead of sliced. Another distinction is that yellow – instead of red – chili is used.

 

 

Cuy on the grill. Photo by Dan.

 

Another classic offering on Peruvian menus, cuy, is more problematic. For many Westerners, it dredges up memories of Fluffy running around in its cage, twitching its little nose. Cuy is nothing more than guinea pig. It was one of the few animal protein sources pre-Columbian nations from southern Colombia to northern Chile had to eat. In many areas, the whole, skinned animal is placed over a wood fire and cooked to succulent perfection. In Moquegua, the folks have a variation on this dish. The cuy is split down the middle, dredged in coarse cornmeal and weighted down with a flat stone while cooking. It is then served simply with boiled potatoes.

Moquegua's version of cuy. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

While in Peru be sure to try these time-honored dishes—as well as the variations on their themes. You will come to a deeper understanding of the country’s varied traditions and regions. Buen Provecho!

 

Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of  V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.