Tag Archives: bolivia

Can Bolivia's native food boost its tourism industry?

Being ranked as one of the most unfriendliest places in the world might be a huge setback for your tourism industry, but are there certain things and tastes that might be able to redeem Bolivia’s unwelcoming demeanor? The answer might be found in the country’s culinary roots.

The Problem

Here in Ecuador for example, cheap quinoa (along with many other grains and beans) are classified by many as the food of the indigenous, and are – in some ways – quietly considered inferior to foreign and imported, more expensive and exciting delicacies. Ironically, such ‘delicacies’ might merely be McDonald’s or Subway. As a result of its higher price and exotic appeal, a person’s choice of food in this sense has also inadvertently become somewhat of a status icon.

With Latin America becoming more westernized each year and with international fast-food franchises becoming more rampant, “dining out” might actually involve sampling the new and exotic or Western fried foods at a Wendy’s and McDonald’s. The act itself becomes more socially exalting and appealing to many (despite the higher price and exceptionally lower-quality ingredients) because it’s so different from what the country itself has to offer, as well as the social undertones that the national food might carry.

The inverse (and irony) of all this being  that in the western world (specifically Canada & the US) the price of quinoa can exceed the price of a fast food meal in weight alone, and is considered a high-end food as a result.

But if a country’s populace becomes jaded towards its own traditions and food, tourists might find themselves perplexed by the overabundance of international restaurants available and disappointed by the lack of local and traditional fare.

Or will they? A fresh and foreign palate might be the only way to reevaluate the worth of a country’s own cuisine – as well as raise appreciation for the local ingredients grown inside the nation. At least that’s what Claus Meyer, the Danish co-founder of Noma (one of the best restaurants in the world), intends to do in La Paz, Bolivia.

The Solution

Using his conviction that regards food as an instrument to improve life – as well as his resentment towards food being taken hostage by the industry – Meyer is setting up a restaurant named Gustu in La Paz as a non-profit organization. The restaurant will serve as a platform for fine dining, a bakery and bistro, and even a cooking school for underprivileged young indigenous chefs.

“The idea is to turn those young, marginalized people into culinary entrepreneurs,” he says in his Ted-Talk, “and, in close cooperation with all the major stakeholders in Bolivia, form the Bolivian food movement.”

He underlines the fact that, in light of the problem stated earlier, the movement intends to go against the international junk and fast food industry, which he says is one that is “dominated by massive corporations that ruin our health, undermine our independence and potentially damage the planet.”

In many ways, Meyer is the white knight of Bolivia’s culinary heritage, bringing to international light the fact that Bolivia has the largest biological diversity worldwide in terms of agricultural produce. Local delicacies can range anywhere from llama steak to giant runner beans. In addition to this, Meyer claims that he’s found fruits that he’s seen nowhere else, along with “thousands of varieties of potatoes, high jungle coffee and even exquisite red wine from the landlocked country’s eastern border with Argentina.”

Hopes are high within the Danish entrepreneur and seasoned cook as his restaurant is now operating in the capital, and he holds fast to the conviction that food can definitively change our minds, and to a certain extent – the world. It’s just the case that sometimes, especially when we’ve been living in a place for so long, the true value of the ground we stand on – and the fruits it provides – must be revealed to us once more by the fresh perspective and palate of savvy newcomer.

On the Road – Peru: A Tale of Two Cities

The midnight fireworks on June 7 eve seemed to recreate the battle that decided the fate of two cities: Tacna, Peru, and Arica, Chile. The sky above El Morro was ablaze with rockets, marking Arica’s anniversary. Not of its founding, but rather when it ceased being a Peruvian city and became Chilean in 1880. This was the day the Battle of Arica was wrought on the heights of El Morro, bringing an end to the War of the Pacific.

 

El Morro -- Where the Battle of Arica was wrought. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

Once upon a time, Peru extended as far south as Iquique. Bolivia claimed Antofagasta as its territory. This entire region was rich in nitrates, a mineral essential in the making of 19th-century agricultural fertilizers and gunpowder. British and US companies, which administered most of the salitre mines, hoped Chile would give them more favorable, laissez-faire concessions. For this reason, they promoted the war Chile declared against Peru and Bolivia in 1879.

 

At the war’s end, the Treaty of Ancón turned administration of the entire zone to Chile, with the proviso that a plebiscite election would be held after 10 years to allow Arica and Tacna to decide to which country they would belong: Chile or Peru. Chile would not allow the referendum to occur until 1929.

 

Arica decided to stay with Chile. Tacna’s residents voted to return to Peru. Thus that city’s nickname: The Heroic City. The historic vote is celebrated in that southern Peruvian town every August 28.

 

Tacna Arch by Drawlight http://www.flickr.com/photos/nomorerice/156472549/

 

In these past few months, I have had opportunities to learn more about those missing 50 years of history between the end of the war and the plebiscite. The story of the region’s Chilenization, hidden for several generations, is now being told.

 

In Arequipa, native-son writer Oswaldo Reynoso started his presentation with a story pulled from his family’s past. His parents grew up in Chile-controlled Tacna where the Patriotic League threatened anyone who supported Tacna’s return to Peru. One morning dawned with his father’s door marked by the League—a sign to leave or be killed. He left for Bolivia, seeking refuge there. A few months later, his girlfriend’s door was similarly marked. She and her family had to leave by ship for Peru. Many years later, the two wayward lovers met again in Arequipa.

 

This history is now also being revealed in Arica. During the monthly tour of the city’s cemetery (last Wednesday of the month, 9 p.m.; free), the guide told us of the people who lay in the late-19th and early 20th century tombs. Some were Europeans that immigrated to the city, as part of the Chilenization of the region. When the referendum would finally be held, their votes would assuredly go for Chile. Some of the people in the more humble graves, however, were victims of the Liga Patriótica and its reign of terror.

 

The Chilenization of Arica continues to this day. So claimed the guide of the city’s Oficina Municipal de Gestión Patrimonial who led us around downtown.  The tour began inside the municipality building (Calle Sotomayor and Calle Baquedano) where remains of the 16th-century San Juan de Dios church are. In the parking lot behind the municipalidad are the ruins of the nave. As we wandered to the old Arica-La Paz railroad station and other historic buildings, he recounted how the national government won’t release funds to help Arica preserve any edifices dating from Peruvian times. Many of them are slated to be demolished, to make way for shopping centers, private clinics and parking lots—even if they have historical significance, like hosting saint-in-the-making Beato Alberto Hurtado. “It’s as if they are erasing any traces of Peru,” the guide said.

 

The old Arica-La Paz railroad station. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

As the couples dance—scarves fluttering, spurs jangling in rhythm to the music—in the national cueca competition in Arica, the Guerra del Pacífico’s aftereffects continue to be felt until this day. With Chile’s victory, Bolivia lost its access to the sea. Once again, Bolivia will be presenting to international courts its complaint of non-compliance of the treaties that guarantees it access to Pacific ports. Reportedly, after more than two decades of inactivity, the Arica-La Paz will be back on line later this year—but only cargo service. Perhaps this promise will finally be fulfilled.

 

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.

 

On the Road – Peru: Mystery, Adventure and Deep Chill

A trio of topics for this week’s blog, taking you from coast to jungle and altiplano: The mysterious deaths continue on the North Coast, a trio’s adventuresome ride down the Amazon and deep freeze on the shores of Lago Titicaca.

 

 

As reported in  On the Road—Peru: Mysterious Deaths on the North Coast, thousands of dolphins, pelicans and boobies have appeared dead on Peru’s northern coast. Still no culprit for these deaths has been found.

 

At the beginning of May, Raúl Castillo, director of Imarpe (the governmental marine institute), stated that US laboratories pinpointed the cause to morbillivirus. The Peruvian daily newspaper, La República (May 16, 2012), however, reports that Elisa Goya, an Imarpe biologist, testified before the Production, Micro and Small Business Commission that Imarpe had never sent samples to the United States for testing. Imarpe continues to insist that petroleum exploration in the region is not the cause, despite evidence presented to the contrary by independent marine conservation organizations, like Organización para Conservación de Animales Acuáticos (Orca).

 

Last Tuesday, over 200 surfers, environmental activists and concerned citizens protested in front of the Ministerio de la Producción in Lima about the marine wildlife deaths. The demonstration was led by Peruvian surfing champion Javier Swayne and former world champ Sofía Mulanovich.

 

Travelers are advised to check local conditions at the beaches, particularly between Trujillo and Paita (near Piura), as some remain closed.

 

Amazon Extreme: Three Men, One Boat, One Adventure by Colin Angus

Every journey begins with a dream, then much reading and studying, and saving every cent until you can grab the old knapsack and hit the wide-open trail. Thus it was for Canadian Colin Angus, whose dream was to raft the Amazon from its birthplace in the heights above Colca Canyon to the mouth at the Atlantic Ocean. While traveling in other parts of the world, he met two cohorts to join him on the expedition: Scott Borthwick of South Africa and Ben Kozel of Australia.

 

In 1999, they set off on their dream journey. They first trekked from Camaná, on Peru’s southern coast, to Colca Canyon. From there, they hit the white waters of the Río Apurímac, through the still-hot zone of the Sendero Luminoso. The Aprurímac led them to Atalaya, at the confluence with the Río Ucayali. And thus they continued, battling the waters and elements, meeting the peoples along this back road through South America.

 

Colin Angus wrote a book about the expedition, Amazon Extreme, for which I traded at a hostel in Arequipa. It is a fascinating read – forming dreams of my own …

 

 

The Lago Titicaca area has already been wracked by cold temperatures, although winter has yet to begin. In Puno, nighttime temperatures are dipping below freezing and in the higher parts of the region, to -10ºC (14ºF) with a light dusting of snow. Meteorologists predict that in July, temperatures in the high altiplano may reach to -20ºC (-4ºF) or lower. This will mean increased respiratory illnesses for the people who live there, and death of their livestock.

 

This past week, Nada, a traveler from Australia, reported from La Paz that she had fainted from the cold there and that rumors were that it was going to snow in that Bolivian city.

 

Travelers are advised to bundle up themselves: Hit the markets for thermal underwear from the used clothing vendors, and some toasty-warm alpaca sweaters, socks and cap from the local cooperatives. To make sure you are buying the real McCoy and not something that is a synthetic blend (or industrializado, as it is marketed), check out Is It the Real Thing?, only in V!VA Travel Guides Peru.

 

 

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.

On the Road – Peru: Rain, Rain, Go Away …

As reported last month, rains have caused havoc in travel plans in Peru and throughout South America. The highlands have been drenched, causing rivers to be rushing torrents by the time they reach the coastal plains.

 

Last Sunday, I got to experience this first hand while traveling south from Ica. At about midnight, our bus halted. Passengers drifted in and out of sleep, wondering why we were motionless on this black highway in the middle of nowhere. Within a few hours, we were once more traveling, the gentle sway, the gentle song of wheels on pavement lulling us to sleep.

 

Stranded in southern Peru. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

But again, at 4 a.m., we were stopped. Before sunrise, I walked out to see a long line of buses, trucks and other vehicles wrapped around the base of a cliff, fading around the bend uphill, and into the distance below, ending at water’s edge. On the other bank, another line of buses and trucks wound up that road and around the curve. Between us, the land rolled down to flooded fields. In this pre-dawn light, a broad river raged, red with soil, tumbling to the sea.

 

A río huayco, the driver told me. In Quechua, huayco means a river that forms in dry gulches, hauling rocks, trees and mud into the lowland valleys—and flooding the landscape for kilometers around.

Our río huayco rolling off to the sea. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

On that stretch of the Pan-American highway just before Camaná, near the village of Pescadores, no bridge exists because this is normally a rio seco—a dry river. But the past few years, with the constant cycle of El Niño and La Niña weather patterns, this river has existed in the summer months when temperatures soar on the coast and the rainy season arrives in the Andes.

 

The rising sun’s heat was tempered by clouds to the east. But this forebode more rains in Arequipa, Puno or wherever these rivers are born.

 

"Agua, gaseosa, golosinas," he called out. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

A white van skidded to a stop at the side of the road and its door slid open, revealing mounds of water, sodas, snacks and toilet paper for sale. Passengers heading to Arequipa, Tacna and other southern destinations lined up to pay over double the normal price. The vendor grinned broadly, soles sign (S/.) dancing in his bright eyes.

 

Finally with the morn, a bulldozer began clearing a channel in that río huayco. Soon the waters ceased to rise. The level lowered enough for the first buses and trucks to cross. Finally at 9 a.m., it was our bus’ turn to slowly wade through the still-strong current.

 

Our turn to cross. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

This year’s rains have caused havoc all over the region. The Peru-Chile border south of Tacna is closed 7 a.m.-noon (5-10 a.m. Chilean time) to clear 40-year-old anti-personnel mines that the flooding has unearthed. Chile has been wracked with overflowing rivers, from the San José in Arica to the Río de las Minas in Punta Arenas. Travelers report being stranded for up to 12 hours when crossing the altiplano from Bolivia or the Atacama Desert into Argentina.

 

 

If you are traveling this season, be sure to pack extra food and water. (Buses only carry enough for serving at mealtimes.) If you will be traveling into Peru’s southern departments of Moquegua or Tacna, or crossing international borders, this is a challenging task because of agricultural customs controls. No produce, whether fresh or dried, dairy or meat products are allowed. Bread is safest bet, as are peanut butter, marmite or vegemite sandwiches. Stock up on drinks and snacks, as well as a book, sudoku puzzles or anything else to pass the time.

 

And most of all—don’t forget to pack in some extra patience.

 

Safe Journeys until next week!

 

 

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.

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.

 

On the Road : Peru — Viringos

A viringo, or Peruvian Hairless Dog. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

In the ruins of northern Peru inhabits a strange-looking, ugly creature. Some travelers might mistake it for a large rat with long legs; others, a poor, mangy dog.

 

It is neither. These creatures of dark grey, leathery skin and a head tufted with sparse golden hair are the viringo, or hairless Peruvian dog. It was the mascot of the ruling classes of the Moche, Chimú and other nations that lived along these desert coasts. They have been found buried in elites’ tombs, like that of the Lord of Sipán at Huaca Rajada, near Chiclayo. Archaeologists believe they were considered to have special connections with the Underworld and other supernatural powers. Sometimes they were used for meat. They were frequently represented in pottery.

 

The Inca called the Peruvian hairless dog allqu. In Quechua, its name is kaclla, or “hot water bag.” The viringo is one of several breeds of hairless dogs found in the Americas, as well as other parts of the world. International kennel associations only recognize the viringo, Mexico’s xoloitzcuintle (escuintle) and the Chinese crested. Bolivia and Ecuador also have native hairless varieties; that of Guatemala is considered extinct.

 

Viringos not only are hairless, but also virtually toothless. Their thick skin allows them to have a high body temperature (39-42ºC / 102-108ºF) to stay warm in the chill nights. For generations, local humans have used this trait as a medicine. The dogs are placed on parts of a patient’s body that is suffering from arthritis, rheumatism or other malady. It is also said that placing a viringo on the chest helps alleviate asthma.

 

The dogs became very rare. But with the Instituto Nacional de Cultura’s policy of featuring these dogs in the ruins of the former dynasties that revered the viringo, this breed’s prestige has grown. A puppy fetches up to $2,000 in Europe. In 2001, Peru declared the viringo a national heritage treasure.

 

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

In the Footsteps of Che Guevara

Wherever you go in Latin America, you see the face of ErnestoChe” Guevara on t-shirts and murals. Since the fall of the military dictatorships and civil wars throughout the continent, hostels and cafés tout this alluring 20th century revolutionary.

 

Interest in the mythical Che Guevara rose with the release of The Motorcycle Diaries, a movie that chronicled his journey from his homeland Argentina to Venezuela with childhood friend Alberto Granado. It’s a tale many travelers can relate to: Leaving for the open road to see what is there, and discovering how journeying transforms one within.

 

Che Guevara’s trip, though, was much more than a ride an old Norton bike engraved on DVDs. It was a real live journey, from birth to death. V!VA’s Travel Guides for Argentina and Bolivia can lead you in the footsteps of Che Guevara.

 

Che Guevara was born quite by accident in Rosario, Argentina. His parents, Ernesto Guevara Lynch and Celia de la Serna, were en route to Buenos Aires by river from their yerba mate homestead in Misiones Province. By the time the boat reached Rosario’s port, Celia was in labor.

The old homestead.

In Caraguatay, near Montecarlo in Misiones Province, the family’s homestead is now Parque Provincial Che Guevara. Rosario, which has embraced Che as its native son, has several sites related to his life. The casa natal, where his parents lived several months after his birth, stands at Urquiza and Entre Ríos. A few blocks away is Plaza de la Cooperación with a mural to him (Tucumán and Mitre). Plaza y Monumento al Che Guevara (Buenos Aires and Bulevar 27 de Febrero) has an imposing statue of the revolutionary.

 

The Guevara-de la Serna family spent most of Che’s childhood in Altagracia, near Córdoba. One of their homes is now Museo del Che Guevara. The galpón (warehouse) where Ernesto Guevara and Alberto Granado spent the night during their epic Motorcycle Diaries journey is now Museo La Pastera, in San Martín de los Andes (Sarmiento and R. Roca, Tel: 02972-411-994, E-mail: info@lapasteramuseoche.org.ar, URL: www.lapastera.org.ar). For more information about the roads Che traveled in his homeland, visit www.loscaminosdelche.gov.ar.

 

Che Guevara began his life in Argentina, but ended it in neighboring Bolivia on October 9, 1967. In the eastern part of that country is the 800-kilometer (500-mile) Ruta del Che, which traces the steps of the last revolutionary army he led. In villages along the route are museums composed of displays with information culled from the revolutionaries’ diaries, as well as from Bolivian military documents and newspaper articles of the era. In Lagunillas is the Museo de Ñancahuazú and in Vallegrande, the Museo Municipal del Che Guevara.

 

Many of the sites associated with his last days are in La Higuera, where a large bust truncates the only road through town. Locals will offer to take you down to Quebrada del Churo, where Che was captured. In the village is the old two-room schoolhouse where he was executed. It is now a modest museum. The story ends in Vallegrande. At the laundry shed of the public hospital, the revolutionary’s body was displayed to the international press. Today, the building is covered with the messages from the thousands of pilgrims who have come over the decades. Near the airport is a memorial near the mass grave where Che and other guerrillas were secretly buried for over three decades.

 

Tour operators in Santa Cruz offer three-day excursions on the route, usually visiting Samaipata, Vallegrande and La Higuera. The Ruta del Che may also be trekked. Community-run lodging and local guides are available along the entire route.

Choose the NEW 7 Natural Wonders of the World

One of the nominees: The Amazon

 

The organization New 7 Wonders is inviting you to choose the NEW 7 Natural Wonders of the World. You must hurry, though—voting ends this Friday, November 11, 2011.

 

Only three days are left to participate in this grand event. By going to New 7 Wonders’ website (www.new7wonders.com), you may choose seven of your favorite natural wonders among the 28 candidates.

 

 

 

Latin America has a strong field of candidates. The largest is the Amazon, which extends from the Guayanas (Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana), Venezuela and Colombia in the North, through Peru and Brazil, to Bolivia in the South. Puerto Rico rings in with El Yunque, a virgin tropical forest national park.

Will one New Wonder be Angel Falls?

Will Iguazú also make the final seven?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two waterfalls cascade down the list: the world’s highest cataract, Angel Falls in Venezuela, and Iguazú Falls, shared by Argentina and Brazil. Of course, nobody should be surprised that Ecuador’s enchanted, other-worldly isles—the Galápagos—also were nominated.

Galápagos is known for its unique nature.

 

Other nominees come from all over the world.  North America has only two representatives: Bay of Fundy (Canada) and the Grand Canyon (USA). On the other side of the Atlantic, Europe has five natural beauties on the list:

  • Black Forest (Germany)
  • Cliffs of Moher (Ireland)
  • Amsurian Lake District (Poland)
  • Matterhorn / Cervino (Switzerland, Italy)
  • Vesuvius (Italy)

 

Three Middle Eastern landscapes voters may choose from are: Bu Tinah Island (United Arab Emirates), Dead Sea (Israel, Palestine) and Jeita Grotto (Lebanon). The three African ones are: Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), Islands of the Maldives (Maldives) and Table Mountain (South Africa).

 

Asia has the most candidates, with:

  • Halong Bay (Viet Nam)
  • Jeju Island (South Korea)
  • Komodo (Indonesia)
  • Mud Volcanoes (Azerbaijan)
  • PP Underground River (Philippines)
  • Sundarbans (Bangladesh, India)
  • Yushan (Chinese Taipei)

 

Australia and Oceania round out the competition, with three nominations: Great Barrier Reef (Australia, Papua New Guinea), Milford Sound (New Zealand) and Uluru (Australia).

 

The Swiss-based New 7 Wonders organization next campaign is the New 7 Wonders Cities. Which will be the 28 nominees? Will your city be included?

South American Freeze Out

While North America is experiencing an infernal summer, with temperatures in the upper 30s and even 40ºs C (90s-100ºs F) with severe droughts, it’s hard to believe that South America is suffering through the other version of Hades: It has frozen over there.

Since late June, Chile, Argentina and Bolivia have been having their worst cold spell in 16 years. Border crossings between the countries are more frequently closed than usual.

Winter began with a bang, when Volcán Puyehue and the Cordón de Caulle erupted June 4. Flights in Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay were canceled because of volcanic ash.

Then it went from fire to ice. A polar front moved into Argentina the end of June. Heavy snows fell in the mountain areas of Patagonia, Cuyo and the Northwest. Snow and sleet were common in Buenos Aires. Many parts of the country experienced below-freezing temperatures.

Ever since, other polar fronts have crept up from Antarctica, affecting South America.

In mid-July, the Uyuni salt flats and southwest Bolivia were slammed with unusual snows and temperatures. Local residents and tourists were stranded for days until rescue teams could arrive. Alpacas, llamas and other livestock suffered from food shortages. Even the super-dry Atacama Desert in northern Chile and western Bolivia received over 80 centimeters (32 inches) of the white stuff.

On July 21, Chile’s Lake District was whacked with a blizzard. Over two meters (7 feet) of snow was dumped was dumped over the region. More than 12,000 people in Curacautín, Lonquimay and other villages were isolated, and left without electricity and communications. The Chilean government declared the region a disaster area, and had to airdrop food supplies until roads and passes could be cleared. Chillán received three meters (10 feet) of snow in four days. Even temperatures in Santiago, the nation’s capital, plummeted to -4ºC (25ºF).

The storms continue. This past weekend, Paso Internacional Los Libertadores, the major border crossing between Mendoza, Argentina, and Santiago, Chile, was closed to snows. To keep up-to-date on the latest border crossing closures between the two countries, click here.

The upside to all this? Snow bunnies are guaranteed prime skiing and snowboarding conditions throughout the region, including Bariloche. Just be sure to bundle up tight!

And according to Pilar Cereceda, professor of bio-geography at the University of Chile, the Atacama Desert will begin blooming between August and September, and last until November.

Hungry? Top 10 places in Latin America to taste the weird and the wonderful.

 by Karen Nagy

 

Argentina: Morcilla

photo by Raúl Hernández Gómez

photo by Raúl Hernández Gómez

Argentine’s are known for their meat and for throwing a good BBQ. And when they’re slaughtering all those pigs and cows for tasty steaks, they don’t let much of the animal go to waste. In fact, the congealed blood is used as the primary ingredient in morcilla: a dark sausage flavored with garlic and onion, and a bit of meat from the head of the animal.

 

 

 

Belize: Agouti

Found throughout lowlands and rainforests, this rodent is one of the biggest in Latin America, weighing up to 13 pounds. While they are easily tamed and make for affectionate pets, the agouti is still hunted by lots of indigenous communities for its meat, which is apparently quite tasty, kind of like a gourmet pork. However, it should be noted that three species of agouti appear on the endangered species list.

 

Bolivia: Chuños

Potato preparation is nearly endless: hash browns, french fries, baked potatoes… 2-year old freeze-dried papas? In the high plateaus of Bolivia, dehydrated potatoes are a staple in the diets of Quechua and Aymara communities. For five days, the purplish-black variety are exposed to the freezing nighttime temperatures of the high Andes, then left out in direct sunlight, and finally stomped on to remove any excess water. This process creates a wrinkly, mealy (and apparently still edible) food source that can then be easily stored and transported. The chuño is often used in soups, or turned into flour, which can be purchased in most grocery stores and markets in Bolivia.

 

Brazil: Feijão

photo by Kai Hendry

photo by Kai Hendry

This traditional recipe was born in colonial Rio de Janeiro by slaves who used discarded pig parts to create this now popular stew. Feijão has become the national dish of Brazil, eaten today by all social classes. It is made by slow-cooking black beans with a variety of salted pig parts: snouts, tails, feet and ears. Some recipes also include smoked pork ribs, bits of bacon, beef tongue and loin, and it’s usually served with rice, greens, and orange.

 

Colombia: Hormiga culona

For centuries, big-butt queen ants have been collected every spring upon emerging from underground nests, toasted in salt, and eaten as a traditional snack in the Santander region of Colombia, typically as a Semana Santa treat. But recently this delicacy has been gaining popularity outside the borders of Latin America, as well. Apparently the crispy, nutty taste of the hormiga culona lends well to gourmet recipes: Belgian-chocolate-dipped ants and lamb in ant sauce are two of the hottest new ways to enjoy this 6-legged snack.

 

Chile: Ubre

In certain regions of Chile, the udder of a cow is just as likely to show up on your plate as it is to be found being pumped in a dairy. To prepare this giant gland, it’s soaked in water for a couple hours to remove any last bits of remaining milk in the teats, then tossed on a charcoal grill. The texture is spongy and the taste is smoky. Buen provecho!

 

Ecuador: Lemon ants

photo by Jon Connell

photo by Jon Connell

You have to wonder who first discovered that these tiny ants have a citrus flavor, but they’re eaten live and are truly lemony, and are now on the menu for most intrepid travelers visiting the Ecuadorian jungles. Read more here.

 

 

 

 

 Mexico: Tacos sesos

Tacos are a staple in Mexican cuisine. Tacos sesos aren’t that much different from the usual chicken or beef version, but instead of the typical bean and meat combo, these tacos use cow brains as the main filling. Brain tacos are typical street food in Mexico—and make a nice mid-day snack for hungry zombies.

 

Nicaragua: Huevos de tortugas

For five out of the seven types of sea turtles in the world, the Pacific and the Caribbean beaches of Nicaragua are some of their preferred spawning sites. While many international tourists come to Nicaragua to see the arrival of the turtles during these periods, others come for the eggs. Though this has now been recognized as an environmental no-no, it is part of the Caribbean culinary traditions in Nicaragua to eat sea turtle eggs. Usually raw. The eggs look like steamed ping pong balls with a soft shell, and typically a hole is poked in the top, a couple drops of hot sauce or lemon juice are squeezed in to “cook” it with a bit of salt, and the raw concoction is followed by a shot of rum. While it sounds exotic, leave the eggs to make turtles, not people-food. 

 

Peru: Cuy

photo by Jorge Gobbi

photo by Jorge Gobbi

This typical Peruvian meal is called cuy because that’s the noise this animal supposedly makes. Commonly known as a guinea pig and a pet in North America, the cuy is a main Peruvian food source: bred in captivity, skinned, put on a skewer, and cooked on grills throughout the country. The meat contains zero cholesterol, and is often served with peanut or hot pepper sauce. This animal has played an important role in Peru for centuries: cuy bones were apparently found in the tombs of the most important Pre-Incan authorities, and today Peru has dedicated one day every September to celebrate their favorite furry critter.