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Posts tagged ‘aquas calientes’

does guinea pig taste like chicken? ;)

Unfortunately I was too much of a ‘fraidy cat to be able to answer the question.  Enrique was very keen for me to try guinea pig and I wish I’d been faster with my lens as we drove by some stalls with roasted guinea pigs trussed up in display.

It was Sunday and I was informed that a roasted guinea pig is a Sunday dinner staple.  Apparently guinea pig was part of the staple Inca diet.  It’s usually the most expensive item on the menu.  What I learned on the Sunday drive was that the guinea pigs on menus in Peru are not the tiny pet rodents you likely imagine.  I don’t know what they feed the guinea pigs in Peru but they grow up to look more like a miniature suckling pig!

http://www.pariwana-hostel.com/blog/to-eat-or-not-to-eat-guinea-pig

I may have passed on the guinea pig but I ate ZERO pizza and noshed on local produce everywhere that I travelled.  And there is lots of wonderful food in Peru so it’s easy to eat really well.

aquas calientesI’ve already mentioned a couple of places.  Another culinary highlight was my surprise chef’s tasting menu!  I had been lured in by the promise of prawns flambéed in Pisco.  Aquas Calientes is full of pizza joints so I didn’t ask to see the menu until I was already seated.  That’s when I discovered it was a four course tasting menu with no prices…

But I had just been hobbled by my “trapped on the balcony” experience so I wasn’t keen to do a lot of aimless walking… especially since the vast majority of the offerings were pizza J

It ended up the first course was quinoa quiche floating on creamed corn accompanied by prawns flambéed in Pisco.  It was showy and delicious.  There were two choices for each course.  My next treat was crema of lisas with alpaca jerky; accompanied with native potatoes and Huacatay oil.  Lisas wasn’t translated on the menu and it doesn’t google so I am guessing it just means smooth and creamy.  A crema is a creamy soup, one of the big treats of Peruvian cuisine.  Anyone with a love of potatoes (like me) is in for a joy ride in Peru where there are so many varieties.  Apparently huacatay is an Andean herb.

For the main course, I had trout.  The other options involved mushrooms – mushrooms being the food in know in 20 languages so I never make the mistake of eating them, there was no other choice.  But trucha in Peru is a delight – and you should eat so much you don’t need to translate it anymore 🙂  As you can tell, I had them photocopy the menu for me because it was so delicious and I wanted to remember the details so it was trout fillet topped with meuniere sauce, accompanied by polenta gratin and grilled vegetables.

By the time I got to dessert I needed to run up Machu Picchu to wear off all the calories so I went for the tartare of fruits accompanied with bananas flambéed in Pisco on a fruit coulis.  The more indulgent option was Quillabamba’s Chocolate Passion accompanied with ice cream.

The meal was phenomenal… and when the bill finally arrived… about $35.  And I even tried some Peruvian wine!  (I would recommend the Peruvian pisco and the Chilean wine…)

The restaurant is called Manka and it’s in the Casa del Sol boutique hotel in Aquas Calientes.  a great luxury option that I am sure costs less than the Sanctuary Lodge.

http://hotelescasadelsol.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=71&Itemid=48&lang=en

The meal was quite amazing.  The restaurant claims to be celebrating Peruvian cuisine and it certainly lives up to its word.  So many of the special foods of Peru all in one meal!  Trucha, prawns, alpaca, quinoa, potatoes, corn, local herbs, chocolate, bananas and flatbread!  Writing about the meal brings back such spectacular memories.  The service was also first rate and I sat beside the bubbling Urubamba River as I stuffed my face with all of this delicious food at a leisurely pace 🙂

Peru is definitely foodie paradise.  Fresh seafood all over the country.  Local specialties.  A mind-blowing variety in corn and potatoes.  It feels like a grand adventure infood sacred valley fine dining even if you forego the guinea pig… next time 😉

machu picchu three ways…

I had been dreaming of Machu Picchu for most of my adult life so wanted to make sure I spent enough time to not feel like I rushed it.  I gather that almost everyone goes to Peru on a group tour so I confused a lot of people trying to explain what I was doing and attempting to confirm details since I was doing most of it solo.

It did sound a little nuts!  But I really saw Machu Picchu!  And left feeling satiated and relaxed about my experience.  My recommendation would be to spend a day less than I did but I do have lots of great shots – and most of them look like I wasn’t surrounded by other tourists.  So there were payoffs 🙂

And it is a really gorgeous, incredible place so you can spend some time there without getting bored. So, on to the story…

My g adventures tour included a visit to Machu Picchu.  In the end, I got to spend quite a few hours there and it was a great way to end the tour.  Because I thought I would only get a couple of hours and I had read about the Sanctuary Lodge when it opened, I decided to book it so that I could spend some more time after the tour.  It is ridiculously expensive so it was a big debate whether to book for one night or two… but I decided to go for the longer visit so that I wouldn’t feel like I’d rushed Machu Picchu.  I think one night is enough – but it provided a chance to do Machu Picchu in a third way!

aquas calientes - great setting

aquas calientes – great setting

My first experience of Machu Picchu was the most typical.  I took the basic PeruRail train from Ollantaytambo station in the Sacred Valley to Aquas Calientes, the holding pen for Machu Picchu tourists.  The hotel in Aquas Calientes was the highlight of the g adventures tour and I would highly recommend it (Andina Luxury).

it was a great view!

it was a great view!

What I would not recommend though is going out on the balcony to take a photo of the Urubamba River!  Well, you can, but prop the door open!  I’ve now been to some interesting locations solo – and I do have people get excited about the risks I am taking.  But I am one of those weirdos who is constantly doing a decision tree in their head and likely have a more sophisticated understanding of risk management than some hedge fund managers…

a shot from the balcony

a shot from the balcony

So I never really have any adventures.  Nothing that would feature in the screenplay of a thriller anyway.  My travel generally lends itself to great plot points for a rom-com…

So it was a surprise to find myself hobbling around Machu Picchu for three days!  Due to my own stupidity, it ended up being fortuitous that I had the third day.  Life works out 🙂

There isn’t much to Aquas Calientes.  It exists to service tourists bound for Machu Picchu.  But I am always interested in what makes places tick so it was fun just wandering around.  And it is in this spectacular setting surrounded by mountains with the Urubamba bubbling beneath them.

It was all fine when I was snapping photos through the hotel room window.  But that never yields the best quality photo.  All of a sudden I realized I had a tiny balcony that was positioned directly over the river with the mountains as a backdrop.

It was all wonderful as I was crouching and laying on the balcony floor to try out different shots.  But it was a small space so there were only so many options… it was time to go and check out the pisco sour I had seen advertised next to the hotel and work on my blog…

But that was when I realized I was LOCKED on the tiny balcony over the river.  I watch lots of cop shows – but I never get myself into situations like that… normally I check the door to make sure it isn’t locked before I go onto a balcony… but I had become reckless in my confidence in my ability to travel in emerging economies.

Of course this had to be the best hotel of the lot, with lots of heavy wood, including the door.  But not fancy enough there was likely turndown service. I was supposed to meet my Machu Picchu guide at 7pm so that meant there was a chance someone would come looking for me in three hours… but that’s a long time to be trapped on a tiny balcony – and it was going to get colder when the sun set…

I figured making noise might help.  I started yelling “help”.. and regretting I had glossed over that word in my Spanish guidebook thinking it was unlikely I would need it… I had no idea if anyone could hear me through all the wood.

No one was coming… so I thought maybe I should kick at the door as that might be noisier.  If I sounded like a crazy rock band and someone came because I was causing a disturbance, that was OK… if only I was on the noisy side facing the train station…

There was no traffic on the river.  The tranquility of nature has its downside…  Luckily checkout was about 9am because everyone was headed for Machu Picchu so at least someone would likely eventually find me and I was unlikely to die of hypothermia – but I would be cold.

So I started checking my surroundings, seeing if there was some way I could alert someone to my dilemma.  I could actually look into the next room if I performed some ballerina type positions on the balcony.  And there were two ladies sitting on the bed in the next room!  At first they just thought I was being friendly and waved at me.  I kept trying hand gestures to get one of them to come to their balcony.

It worked!  But of course I didn’t speak Spanish so was just hoping I could make enough hand gestures to explain that I was locked on my balcony and see if they could get someone to come from reception to release me.

It took some time… time moves really slowly when you are trapped on a tiny balcony… but she eventually arrived.  And then she closed the door with the two of us on the balcony to confirm it was now unlocked!  NOT how I would have done it… but at least she was likely carrying a mobile phone…

That pisco sour tasted so great!  Especially because I was checking out the Urubamba from a large restaurant filled with other people, not frozen in the middle of the night while trying to sleep sitting up on my tiny balcony…

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