Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chicha Morada

It's purple. It's sweet. It's good!

Chicha morada is a corn-based, non-alcoholic drink that can be found in Peru and other parts of south America. Apparently, it's made by boiling purple corn with fruit (like pineapple), some cinnamon, and some cloves. People drink it like you'd drink horchata in Mexico; or maybe like a soda, fruit juice, or something like that in other parts of the world.

Not much else to say about it other than it being unusual and that I really liked the taste. Here's the required photo:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Nazca Lines

On Wednesday, I boarded a Cruz Del Sur bus from Lima and headed about 300 miles south to Nazca Peru. The purpose of trip? To see the world-famous Nazca Lines of course! I left Lima at 415am and arrived into Nazca around noon. The trip usually takes approximately six hours but our bus had a flat tire that took an hour-and-a-half to fix.

Upon exiting the bus station, I was immediately inundated with offers to see the lines, rides to the airport, and so on. I jumped into what I was told was a taxi that would take me over to the airport. It turns out that the people who took me worked for one of the air-tour companies and they took me to their office near the airport. After a quick "disagreement" about what they told me and so on, I started to walk to the airport, which was about 15 minutes away. :-0 Fortunately a real taxi went by and I hoped in for a quick ride to the front of the airport.

Inside the airport are ~11 companies offering various tours on various types of aircraft. I priced out a few of the companies and settled on a 45 minute tour in a four-person Cessna-type plane. After watching a video for a few minutes, I was off to see the lines from the air.

The Nazca Lines are a series of massive drawings on the desert floor. They are believed to be between 2200 and 1400 years old. The odd thing is that they are best viewed from the air as, on the ground, they just look like wide stripes of white earth between the reddish rocks of the surrounding area. There are a variety of theories as to why they are there; everything from alien landing strips to religious symbols. For me, they are just another curiosity in our curious world.

I'll put up some of the best photos but, as you can guess, taking pictures of the desert floor in an airplane circling rapidly is difficult at best. Here's one of my favorites, the hummingbird (the nose is pointed up in this photo):

...the monkey:

...the spider:

...and of course, the world-famous spaceman/astronaut:

After the brief flight, I went back to the center of Nazca and ate at a really great rotisserie chicken place and got back on the bus for the six-plus-hour return back to Lima. Sadly, one day after my visit, one of the Nazca-air-tour planes crashed. Seven people died. My heart goes out to their families.

Coca Tea

During a visit to Peru, especially in the higher elevations, you'll probably get at least mild altitude sickness. The locals swear by Coca Tea as part of, if not the whole cure.

Coca tea is what you think it is. It's made from the leaf of the coca plant, which is also the one used to make cocaine. The tea is good (if not a little boring) and is available in loose-leaf and tea-bag varieties. Apparently, the percentage of cocaine is so small that I won't have to worry about failing a drug test if I apply for a new job.

Here's a cup of the good stuff:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Uros Islands (Lake Titicaca, Peru)

The Uros are a pre-Incan group and their man-made, floating islands are located on Lake Titicaca in Peru. Lake Titicaca (no, not that way...more like: tih-tea-ha-ha), as you may know, is the world's highest navigable lake at close to 12,500 feet above sea level (see the altitude sickness story). To visit the islands, you board a shuttle boat at the Puno port and take a 15 minute ride.

Arriving at the first island you visit is sort of like stepping back in time about 2000 years except for the occasional solar panel. Everything you see, including their houses, boats, and the islands themselves are made from reeds that grow in the lake.

Here's a shot as you approach one of the islands:

During the island visit, you hear how the islands are constructed and maintained. They are basically on a foundation that comes from the reed root balls, which form something that acts like a giant cork. They tie these together and lay more reeds on top until the island itself is about five-feet thick. The island base continuously rots away from underneath so they must add new reeds pretty much weekly.

Walking around the island gives you the sensation that you're on a giant sponge but your feet are still dry. Here's an example of the root ball material along with a couple of locals:

Each family lives in a one-room, open-style house. The one that the group got to "tour" had solar power, a TV, and a couple of other modern conveniences.

Other than maintaining the island itself, the locals are basically dependent on the tourists for their livelihood. They sell handicrafts at prices that seem a bit high but you end up buying something as a sort-of charitable contribution. :-)

After you're done seeing the island, you get on a hand-made, reed boat and two of the locals paddle you over to another island where you can continue making "charitable contributions". It was here where I had bad travel judgment and had a bowl of fish soup. Hmm... I'm essentially on a hay bail on a lake in the middle of the third world... What should I order if I'm hungry? Oh yeah, I'll have the fish soup!

Well, the soup was actually pretty good but the threat of "stomach discomfort" after eating something like this is very high as you'd guess. I did end up surviving but, hopefully, next time I'll think before I eat...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pisco Sour

Last week, I had the chance to discover Peru's national drink, the Pisco Sour. It's sort of the equivalent of Mexico's margarita, Cuba's mojito, and Brazil's caipirinha. Unfortunately, I ended up getting altitude sickness while in Arequipa and Lake Titicaca (story coming) and it's kept me from enjoying a second round. Well...I'm back at sea level for the rest of the trip so today's the day.

In case you don't know, a Pisco Sour is a drink made from pisco, which is a brandy-like alcohol distilled from grapes. The other ingredients are: lemon or lime juice, egg whites, simple syrup, and bitters. It doesn't taste very strong so I guess it's pretty easy to get smashed.

Since most are back to work today, I'll have one for you with my cebiche lunch!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Colca Valley

Every adventure starts around 2am, doesn't it? Well, this one did.

Today's excursion was a day-trip to Colca Valley, which is located about 100 miles north of Arequipa. The Colca Valley is the Peruvian version of the Grand Canyon in the US, although they say it's around twice as deep or so. But wait, back to 2am...

I woke up around 2am to get ready for the tour bus that picked me up exactly at 3am. I was the last to get picked up, which should be a good thing I guess. Unfortunately, it meant that I got the middle seat in the last row. Bummer. Oh well, at least get some sleep.

Or not. About one hour into the journey, the road went from paved to unpaved and completely washboard. So much for sleep. The washboard-dirt road continued for about an hour or so until, miraculously, pavement appeared. Yum, back to sleep. Wait, it's 6am and time to get out.

Actually, at this point, we were at the highest point of the journey. Here's a shot (not sure why it's turned this way) of my watch showing us at just over 15,000 feet:

The place we stopped definitely was cool though. We were well above the clouds and you could see other tall peaks.

Back on the bus for about an hour until a quick breakfast stop. We ate some bread, drank some tea, and, wait, that was it. Weak breakfast.

Back on the bus for just short of two more hours (yes...six hours total) until we arrived at a place called Cruz Del Condor. The area is famous because, at around 845 each morning, giant Andean Condors take off from the cliffs down below. Our bus pulled up and we saw our first condor. These things are massive; almost 10 feet from wingtip to wingtip. They are an amazing sight, of which, of course, photos are difficult to take. This is the best shot:

Here's the view from the top:

What really doesn't show up well in this last one is that there's a snow-covered peak in the top-center of the photo. Well, enough of this fun...back on the bus.

We stopped at a couple of turn-off points that all basically looked the same. This photo kinda' sums up the "Incas-have-been-farming-here-for-16-trillion-years" theme:

Back on the bus...again. Remember the bit about the road? Yes, this is a photo out of the front window of the bus of one spot along the way:

We ended up stopping for a touristy-buffet in a village lunch not long after this photo was taken. Not much to report. Lunch was just okay but kinda' pricey. Back on the bus.

Our next and final stop was in a town called Chivay. On this day, the town was having some sort of festival where it looked like they were turning (previously cut down and moved to this location) trees into giant Christmas-tree-like-decorated things. People were tying toys, candy, clothing, and other things to the tree limbs:

and then hoisting them into an upright position.

I'm not sure what happens next because we had to get going...BUT...I did have a chance to make a couple of new friends before we left.

By now, you know what happens next. Back on the bus. We arrived into Arequipa at 5pm, exactly 15 hours after we left but with a pretty big adventure under our belt.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cuy - Tastes Like Chicken

In Peru there are several regional specialties you just have to try while you're there. One of the local favorites is called cuy (coo-ey).

To save you the trip to wikipedia, in the US, we call cuy guinea pig. Yes, guinea pig. That not-so-cute-and-somewhat-smelly pet that kids love to want but hate to have. The cuy in this case was served fillet style and deep fried. In what reminded me of my trip to China a few years ago, the chef was kind enough to include the head with the meal. Here's a shot of our friend:

As with every food that you can't really describe, cuy tastes like chicken. I swear. It was actually pretty good and I'd probably eat it again. This meal got me thinking that I'm not sure what my parents ever did with the guinea pigs that we had when we were kids. My mom used to make a dish that we all called Chicken Surprise. Maybe one version of it had a real surprise in it?

Altitude Sickness

I left Lima on Tuesday morning and arrived in Arequipa. Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru and it is about 7800 feet above sea level. As with pretty much every city that the Spaniards conquered, it has a distinctly colonial feel to it and seems like a very nice town. I walked around during the evening and found a place for dinner (see the next post).

It didn't take long for the effects of altitude sickness to hit me. I started to feel it almost right after I arrived. Since 7800 feet is not really that high up, I think it was really a combination of the dehydration from my previous "stomach discomfort" and being very tired. I don't think that it helped that I had two drinks with dinner...

Altitude sickness has the interesting effect of making you feel completely hung over along with more "stomach discomfort" and a POUNDING headache. I spent all day Wednesday in bed and didn't eat until this morning. With the help of some medicines from a local farmacia, I'm feeling much better now but I'll still be taking it easy today.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


As I wrote in my last post, my stomach wasn't in top form yesterday so eating non-standard food wasn't at the top of my list. So, what did I end up doing? Going for cebiche!!!

If you don't already know, cebiche (or ceviche) reminds me of something like a fruit salad but made with raw seafood. Lima is known for this dish so the opportunity to eat excellent cebiche out weighed my desire to eat only white rice.

I was at a local travel agency trying to book a side trip and asked for a recommendation. One of the employees practically fell over herself with excitement as she made a recommendation for a nearby place. I walked the two blocks to the nondescript building and went inside. It had a definitely locals-only feel to it but I seemed to be welcome.

After ordering, a giant plate of fresh cebiche came out and I stared to dig in. Wow! It was amazing. The seafood tasted great and the dish had a light-spicy flavor that made it even better. As a bonus, the cebiche had sea urchin on top, which is one of my favorites!

Yes, my stomach was turning as I ate but it was totally worth it and I'd do it again in a second. Yum............

Well, on second thought, the photo doesn't really make it look appetizing. You'll have to take my word for it.


I arrived in Lima (Peru) Monday morning around 1230am and headed over to the B&B near the beach south of downtown Lima to get some much needed sleep.

Unfortunately, I brought with me from the US a bit of stomach "discomfort" so I wasn't really feeling 100% on Monday during the day. I might be the first tourist to arrive in a third-world country with this condition.

I made a quick stop at the farmacia to get whatever medicine the 16-year-old-looking technician recommended and I started to feel better within an hour or so. It's my belief that every pharmacy in the third world is staffed exclusively by very young female technicians. I don't know what their training or qualification is but 99.9% of the time they fix whatever is wrong with you. I'm beginning to think that the US could save a lot of our health-care dollars by importing these technicians.

Another funny thing about farmacias is that you rarely, if ever, get a full container of pills. I got six each of two medicines for a total of twelve pills. My friendly technician carefully cut the pills from two different blister packs so I received the correct quantity. There's only partial names on the back of the pill packages. In other words, I'm not completely sure what medicines I'm taking but I am feeling better today...not completely better but better for sure.

Here's what's left of whatever drugs I got. Note the "generic packaging":

Friday, February 12, 2010

Shake Before Serving

As some of you might know, I have a thing for stencil-graffiti artwork (or vandalism if you're so inclined) and take pictures whenever I come across good ones. Stencil graffiti is, as it sounds, art that uses a paper stencil and spray paint to create quick-hit graphics. One of the most well known stencil-style artists is Shepard Fairey who you might recognize from his Obey Giant work that features Andre the Giant or even the recent Obama Hope campaign poster.

Maybe one day I'll put together a post with all the photos I've taken over the years but, until then, here's a really good one I found in Barcelona on Wednesday:

Shaken, not stirred! Enjoy!

Casa Batllo

On Tuesday, I went to visit the Casa Batllo (baht-gioh) on Passeig de Gracia in Barcelona. Probably more than any other building, except maybe the Gamble House by Greene and Greene in Pasadena, California (and probably two or three others that I can’t think of right now) I was left saying “wow…wow…wow…” at each turn. I know that the Sagrada Familia is supposed to be Gaudi’s masterpiece but this house is just full of amazing features that show his true abilities up close. From the outside during the day…

…and at night…

…to the inside, the house is an amazing work.

Casa Batllo was a remodel of an existing house in the Exiample (shahm-plah) area of town. Gaudi started work on the house in 1904 and completed it in 1906. The house, as with other works by Gaudi, is a prime example of the Modernist movement that was popular in the area during this time. The theme used for the house was something of an under-water one much like 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and, of course, has very few straight lines. This room has a ceiling that has a whirlpool-type design and the doors that show his use of stained glass and curves:

Here’s a fantasy-styled mushroom-shaped fireplace that I liked:

This photo shows how the same themes and use of materials are carried throughout:

The house is seven stories (counting the basement and attic) and features a light well to bring light and ventilation to all the internal rooms. Gaudi designed this light well to have the tiles get darker blue as they get higher up to make the light consistent throughout the house.

I liked this shot of the elevator area at the base of the light well because it really shows the whole nautical theme he was going for:

As with the Padrera I wrote about earlier, he used arch-like structures to hold up the roof of the house. This area is on the top floor and houses laundry and storage areas.

An interesting feature is how he was able to incorporate the use of angled panels that allow fresh air and light into the building but provide privacy and keep things water tight. Here’s a close-up of this simple but excellent idea:

This stairway leads to the roof where there’s a great outdoor area:

Also as with the Pedrera, Gaudi made the chimneys an artistic part of the house. This shows and example along with how he used broken tile to cover all the irregular shapes:

And, of course, the use of a four-“armed” cross as he did in all his buildings:

Finally, here’s a shot from the roof towards the street that shows some of the building materials and surfaces:

Casa Batllo is located about four blocks from the hotel I stayed at and was the first Modernist/Gaudi building that I saw after arrival in Barcelona. I wish these photos could do the place justice but, trust me, the place is an amazing site both inside and outside. I have a great appreciate for Antonio Gaudi and the whole Modernist movement that I didn’t even know existed one week ago.

…now I know what to do with my first $100 million!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sagrada Familia

I went to see what is considered Gaudi’s masterpiece on Monday. The Sagrada Familia cathedral is probably THE symbol of Barcelona once again like the Statue of Liberty is for New York or the Liberty Bell is for Philadelphia.

The construction of the Sagrada Familia started during Gaudi’s lifetime and is still happening today, over 125 years later. Construction was originally all done with carved stones like other buildings that Gaudi has done. Now, though, they are still using stone but I believe they are also using some poured concrete and forms to finish it up.

As with Gaudi’s other projects, you find very few straight lines and a big influence from things you’d find in nature. For example, the internal columns in the church look like tree trunks. Here are the columns:

and here’s a photo from the museum that demonstrates the idea:

The church on the outside, to me, resembles something like cross between a giant sand castle and a gothic cathedral. This photo shows some details above one of the entrances. Once again, the photos just don’t do the work justice. I think you have to see it to appreciate it. I know I thought I did but really didn’t until I saw it.

The statues in some ways reminded me of something Picasso might do since they tend to be boxy or something like Picasso’s cubist works. I think this shot is a good example of what I’m talking about with the squarish-features of the statues:

In this photo you can see a bunch of the statues. It was raining really hard when I took these. Note the guy with the envelope on his head in the lower left side.

Since it’s still under construction, I’d love to see the inside when it’s done. Anyone want to go to Barcelona in 15 years or so when it’s supposed to be done?

Where You From? Part 3

Well, I've been in Spain just shy of one week now and, yes, I guess I would look like a Spaniard to people in Israel and Egypt. I'm thinking that there's a lot of people from here going over there because there's a "Visit Eqypt" advertisement in pretty much every subway station. Also, if you want a guy with long curly hair, this is your place.

Once again though, no one is asking if I'm an American. The locals are speaking to me in Spanish right away. Even funnier is that I had an American couple come up to me and ask directions in Spanish. I of course answered in English and had a good laugh.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

La Pedrera (Casa Mila)

On Monday, I did the full-Gaudi tour. The first stop was at the La Padrera, also known as Casa Mila. As with Park Guell, this building was built for another financial supporter, Pere Mila. The building itself has a stone facade and is really interesting to look at once again because there are very few straight lines to be found. Here's the exterior side view (the front is very similar):

Once inside the building, you enter an internal courtyard that has an open roof (light well). All the surfaces are either painted or have a coating that make them almost iridescent.

You then take an elevator to one of the upper floors to walk around an apartment. The apartment is fully restored to look like it would have when the building was built in 1912.

For me, the building has two real highlights. The first is the attic area, which is made up of brick arches that cover the entire top floor. Apparently, he used this type of structure as a lighter-weight option to hold up the roof and roof patios. It almost has a wine-cellar/church feel to the space. Inside the attic there are various displays of different Gaudi works as well as construction details for the building.

The other super cool thing about this building is the roof patio. As with other Gaudi projects, the chimneys are very stylish and decorated and there are other artistic touches. This photo shows some of the Darth-Vader-Mask-style chimneys and the top of the light wells:

Here's a shot from the roof patio towards the Sagrada Familia with some random guy in it:

These photos, once again, don't do the place justice. Very nice architecture and a great place to tour if you're in Barcelona and want to see a good example of a Modernist building.