Arequipa: Ceviche and Frozen Mummies

The morning after our Colca Canyon tour we had booked seafood cooking classes through a hostel called Casa de Avila. We were scheduled to make traditional Peruvian ceviche and a fried blue shark dish with a hot salad on top. Sounded amazing!

So we got up early and set off for the hostel. The first part of the class was a market tour. Our guide, Armando (who is also the owner of the hostel, and who only runs the cooking classes occasionally himself for fun), took us in his van to a small local market, where we learned how to properly buy and ask for the necessary foods. The market was really great! So many local meats, fish, vegetables, spices, fruits, cheeses and so forth were all nicely laid out in front of their vender.

We walked from vender to vender repeating the appropriate “buenos dias casera” to each one of the women. We even stopped at a local medicine man that worked in the market every morning of the week. He had a huge array of spices and herbs and fruits that he mixed into special healing drinks according to each person’s ailments. Apparently these medicine men are quite common around Peru, and this particular man’s station usually had a lineup around the corner with people looking to get cured of their cough, headache, arthritis or simply get a new surge of energy for the day. The medicine man mixed us up a warm drink specific to having energy that was DELICIOUS.

 

We arrived back at the hostel an hour and a half later to begin the cooking process! There were 9 of us in total, 7 Americans and Adam and I representing Canada! We were adorned with chef hats and aprons and then started chopping! We had so much fun putting everything together for the ceviche, and the end result was outstanding! For those that don’t know, ceviche is a raw fish dish adorned with onions, chili peppers, toasted corn and sweet potatoes. The fish is marinated in lime juice and salt which briefly cooks the fish And gives it an intense citrus flavour! Can’t wait to make the recipe again at home.

We all sat down with our dish to eat and was served a sweet, purple juice made from corn. We all got along, chatting about our trips and giving each other tips on places to go next. Then we started the main course: fried shark.
  Although this dish looked more complicated, with lots of flavors, veggies and fish all served on a bed of rice, it’s actually quite easy. Pretty much all the ingredients go into one large wok. And apart from cooking the rice, the meal was made in a matter of minutes. We only had one minor glitch, when our wok, handle and all, lit on fire, nearly burning off Adam’s right hand. But, after we put out the wok, the handle, and the dishcloth that sadly also perished in the fire, our food was perfectly cooked! Oh, and Adam is just fine.

The cooking class was a definite highlight in Arequipa. And I think we plan on doing one or two more in the last month of our trip if we run across a good one!  
For the rest of the afternoon we just checked out the city sites. Arequipa is a beautiful colonial city with a gorgeous main Plaza de Armas that lights up at night.

We sat in one restaurant that had a balcony overlooking the plaza and had endless fun people watching below. We weren’t quite sure what was going on, but it seemed as though there was a very important wedding happening. There was a bride and groom all dressed up, several bridesmaids, a FULL marching band and several important looking army officers all dressed in their official attire. However, everyone looked dislocated from the other, and no ceremony took place that we saw. Either way, endless things to watch!

 

On our final day in Arequipa we stopped in at the “museo santuarios andinos” to check out the frozen ice princess “Juanita” that was discovered on top of Ampato Volcano in 1995. The museum was opened, and is still operated by, Dr. John Reinhard, who is the man who actually discovered the frozen bodies. The place is run, mainly, by university students; they are a wealth of knowledge and depend solely on tips for their wages. The museum explains about the bodies of 4 children that were found, almost perfectly preserved by the cold, on top of Ampato Mountain.

 

In Incan times, the people believed that the gods lived in the nature around them. The tallest mountains, the vast ocean: mother earth was a living creature, and needed to be worshipped. When natural disasters like earthquakes or volcanoes happened, it was a sign to the Inca people that the gods were unhappy, and sacrifices needed to be made in their honour. The Inca people chose pure, unblemished and innocent babies as human sacrifices to the gods. The children grew up knowing that, when the time came, they would be sacrificed for the betterment of their people and live their next lives among the gods.

 

When the sacrificing time was right, young girls, none older than 13 or 14 years old, would make long treks (days or months) through rugged terrain, to make it to the sacrificial place. Ampato Volcano is the highest mountain in the region, it was, therefore, a popular place for sacrifice.  The Incan priests, and the young maiden climbed up the 6,380meters above sea level to perform the ritual. The girl was given a powerful, hallucinogenic alcohol to sedate her, then, while lying down on a blanket, the Incan priest would smash in her skull with one precise, yet deadly blow. The maiden was then buried, in the foetal position, with all her worldly possessions: pots, dried food, dolls, small statues of animals etc.  These possessions would carry on with her into the next life.

 

500 years later, in 1995, the maiden’s body was finally discovered. A couple years after that, 3 more bodies were found, in similar circumstances. All of the children were between 12 and 14. 3 were girls, and one was a little boy. Juanita, the first discovered, was the best-preserved body, and the most interesting. Her clothing, her teeth, and her possessions were slightly different than the others. She bore the red and white noble clothing of the royal Incan family, she had much more wealth surrounding her, and one clue after the other suggests she was a daughter of the Incan ruling family: an ice princess. 
The museum had all sorts of photos and artifacts about the discovered bodies, and at the end, they had one of the frozen bodies displayed to see. Juanita’s body is only shown 6 months of the year, and currently, it is the second little girl that is displayed. It was unbelievable to see how well preserved the skin and cloth and face was preserved. It was like staring at a curled up child, swaddled in a blanket. The body was tiny, as the Incan people were a small race, and it’s almost hard to believe the child was even 12 years of age! 
The tour was very informative and I’m glad we finally decided to check it out. It was a very cool insight into the cultural lives of the Incan people before starting the trek to Machu Picchu.

 

After the museum, we went for appies and wine at a HIGHLY recommended restaurant called Zig Zags. Everyone we talked to in Arequipa was raving about this place, so before the bus to Cusco, we decided to check it out ourselves.
  No one was joking about this place; the food was AMAZING, the atmosphere was wonderful, and I definitely didn’t want to leave to catch a bus. We had a cheese and dried meat platter that was to die for, with several cheeses, alpaca meat, corn and sweet purple potatoes. Next we had the prawn cocktail that was unlike anything I’ve tried before. It was based in a thousand-island dressing, and apart from huge tasty prawns, it had sliced avocado, mango and grapefruit chunks in it then adorned with dill and spiraled lime slices. Unreal!! Unfortunately we couldn’t stick around for the main course. The specialty of the restaurant was meat cooked on volcanic rock. The plate was served, still sizzling right on the black rock. The dishes smelled amazing, and looked even better as neighboring tables ordered them, but sadly we had to catch YET ANOTHER night bus to Cusco… C’est la vie!

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Colca Canyon

When we arrived in Arequipa we decided to do NOTHING for three full days. Check out the sites of the city, lounge around at cafes, eat good food and definitely NO MORE BUSES! 
So we grabbed a hearty breakfast and walked around the city for the afternoon. We looked into taking some cooking classes, and then found a highly recommended cafe to sit down at, have a few warm drinks and read…
Then we met some fellow Canadians.

A couple in their mid sixties from Hamilton, Ontario who have spent their years in retirement traveling the world. They had wonderful stories to tell us of their travels, and couldn’t stop raving about the Colca Canyon tour they had just been on. We had briefly looked at the tour in our hostel, but the 3am start time and the six hours of busing there and back deterred us from signing up. Unfortunately, by the time they had finished talking it up, we both realized our relaxing time in Arequipa would have to wait.

The two argued that the canyon was equal to, if not better than Machu Picchu. It is the second largest canyon in the world (the largest only a few more kilometers into the Andes) and is actually deeper than the infamous Grand Canyon itself. Needless to say, we went back to the hostel and immediately signed up for the next morning.

At 2:30am Sunday morning we heard a knock on our door. “Colca Canyon tour! Get up!”. We dragged ourselves out of a dead sleep and sped downstairs in record time: only to wait another 20 minutes for the bus to show up. 
The two of us tried to nod off during our three-hour bus ride to the canyon, but it was a bumpy road and the bus was freezing! Instead it was more of a nodding off here and there trying to curl up into the smallest ball possible for optimum warmth.

We were woken again at 6am where we all got off to have breakfast. I don’t know what the temperature was at the time, but it was deathly cold as soon as we got off the bus. You could see your breath and all the windows were fogged from the temperature change inside the bus. Breakfast was warm tea and bread crust with butter… That was it. Nobody was remotely satisfied when our tour guide pushed us all back on the bus 20minutes later. Not to worry, lunch was at 1:00, only 7 hours later!

From breakfast we went further into the valley towards the small town of Chivay. The valley was beautiful in the morning sunlight. The place was so green, with thousands of man made, grass terraces stretching for kilometers down the mountainside towards the river at the base of the canyon. The taller mountains were snowcapped, and it was our first glimpse of snow in South America.

Chivay was a quaint little village, full of busy locals herding alpacas and selling their wares to tourists. The women wore all their traditional garb of intricately decorated clothing: thick, billowing skirts, long sleeved blouses with a vest over top, a colourful hat, and their hair in two long braids that were pinned together at the ends in the middle of their backs. Their clothing consisted of EVERY colour under the sun. No care was taken to make sure colours matched or clashed; the detailed stitching was so busy and had so many shades of colour that the outfit was simply exquisite.  Some women danced the traditional “danza watiti” or the “dance of love” in the town square, while others held out giant falcons and adorable alpacas for the tourists to fawn over.

After a short time in Chivay, exploring a couple cathedrals and watching the locals, we continued on towards the Canyon’s deepest point. We passed through Yanque, and a couple other small villages on our way, but mostly it was just open expanses of valleys and mountains. No pictures or words could do this place justice. It was breathtaking in every sense of the word. Morning light is by far the best time to see the canyon, because of the contrasting shadows and sunlit spots across the horizon. Even with the villages the place felt remote. There were no large cities or factories; the people still worked the land by hand, walking for miles to reach the different terraces. They all moved about by foot or on mules, and the only vehicles around were the tour buses.

People of all ages walked up along the dirt road towards the top of the canyon. At one stop, we observed this little, old, hunched over lady with no teeth, shuffling her way up the hill. The closest town was kilometers away, so she must have been walking from there. Adam turned to me and said “look Hil, if a 95 year old woman can hike up this hill, surely you’ll have no problem on the Inca Trail next week”. We laughed, but found out afterwards that the woman wasn’t 95… Turns out she was 104 years old, and she hiked up and down that hill for kilometers EVERYDAY to beg for money at the top of the hill. OH MY GOD! On top of that, she wasn’t even the oldest person in the area! There was another woman in the next town over that was 111 years old. Unbelievable!

It took about an hour, but our bus finally reached the viewpoint for the deepest part of the canyon. The canyon was beautiful, with sheer cliffs of green and grey mountain across from us, and a valley so deep that the massive river at the bottom looked completely still, and no larger than a stream. We sat on the edge of a rock wall with our feet dangling over the edge of the canyon for over an hour just soaking up the view. While we sat, a massive Andean Condor floated by the crowds of tourists. This was a common nesting place for the birds, and although there are not many left in the world, seeing them in the Colca Canyon is apparently quite common. Andean Condors are the largest bird on Earth, and their wingspan reaches over 3 meters wide. The birds don’t flap their wings, but instead, float along the thermal air, reaching extreme heights and depths without moving so much as a muscle. The bird did a couple rounds of the area, at one point getting very close to the crowds as if to show off it’s enormous size. We were at a lower lookout, but even from where we were sitting, we could hear the crowd gasp all at once as the bird flew by them.

Eventually, it was time for lunch. We had a huge buffet lunch in town that included all sorts of traditional Andean foods like stuffed peppers and alpaca meat (which is tender and delicious, albeit a little gamey). When we had all finished lunch it was time to start heading back towards Arequipa. It was perfect timing really, considering we had perfect weather all day, and as soon as we stepped out of lunch it began to rain. We started our assent out of the canyon towards the main highway. At one point we reached the highest pass on the bus at an altitude just shy of 5000m (by far the highest point of altitude I’ve ever been at!) Our tour guide asked if we wanted to get off to take photos, but at this point it was snowing and hailing outside, and the view was obsolete from the fog. So we trekked onwards.

 

When we reached Arequipa it was going on 5:00 in the evening. Total time on the tour: 14 hours!! We were exhausted to say the least! We had a quick dinner and an early night, as we had fun things planned for the next morning already!