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Posts tagged ‘pisco’

the ambassador of pisco :)

Donald Trump might hate Latinos but I love them.  The love affair started in Mexico.  My grandmother used to buy me Seventeen magazine.  I was probably eleven years old when it started but a precocious old soul.  One issue changed my life.

Back when the internet was only used by egghead scientists, you had to write letters to communicate with people in distant places.  My parents love living in small towns and I had been dragged to a rural farming community by my father, uprooting me from the surprisingly cosmopolitan small town in which I had started school.

These weren’t my people and I spent most of my time studying and plotting my escape as soon as my secondary education was complete.  I devoured books and loved the encyclopedia so, when I read in Seventeen, about the concept of pen pals, I felt as though a fairy godmother had just handed me a way to survive my teenage years in the wilderness (figurative AND literal :))

Most of the options cited in the article cost money and required international postal coupons so I opted to write to the United States Committee for UNICEF.  They collected information from any children who wrote to them and would send you a copy of the list for free.  It was a single page.  I still have it and see that they misspelled both my first name AND my last name.  I’ve become used to it… but what was exciting was that there were 20 other kids from nine different countries who wanted to explore the world via air mail.  They also sent suggestions on how to get started, what to write about and how to be courteous to other cultures.  There was a third sheet that listed all sorts of other pen pal agencies, which proved to be one of the most important pieces of paper of my teenage years.

First, though, I needed to take action and select one person from the list as the recipient of my very first missive.  A lot of the names were American.  Some were from states that seemed exotic to me at the time but a culture with which I was very familiar.  I wanted exotic so I chose Gloria from Mexico.  One of the best decisions I ever made!

I finally found a teenager I could relate to.  We wrote in both English and French to practice and I bought a book to teach myself Spanish and she sent me back corrections to my entertaining attempts at her native language.  We wrote each other regularly for over ten years.  She constantly invited me to visit her in Mexico but I couldn’t afford it.  Tragically, as I finally managed to get to the stage in my career where I could have financed the trip, she died in a car accident.  I learned this because we were both so obsessed with writing to foreigners that we had forged an international group of people who were all connected even though none of us had met.  My friend Despina (who started as another youthful pen pal) did actually meet Gloria and she was the one to tell me of the tragic accident.  To see Mexico City through her eyes had always been one of my dreams.

Someday I will go but I know it will make me sad.  Instead I have channelled the love I had for my very first Latino into exploring other countries where her native tongue is spoken.  It has just reinforced the generous spirit that I saw in her letters.

People are friendly, open and fun.  If you bring those qualities to the table, too, you will be making friends without even learning Spanish.  I DO want to eventually learn Spanish as I am sure I will have an even better time.  This time I had to just appreciate the people who were able to speak my lingo.  One of the most memorable was Sebastian.

pisco with a flourish :)

pisco with a flourish 🙂

I learned about pisco in Peru, where they had insisted Chile was copying them and Peruvian pisco was superior.  The history is not absolutely clear, especially as present day Peru and Chile once had totally different borders, but it seems likely that Peru invented both pisco and the pisco sour.  Sebastian convinced me, however, of the present day superiority of Chilean pisco.

If you would like to judge for yourself, you should head to the Lastarria district in Santiago de Chile and look for Chipe Libre – Républica Independiente del Pisco It’s a great name – what lured me 😉  Then I luckily sat in Sebastian’s section at the bar.  He spoke English quite well and I told him about my Peruvian pisco experiences and he took it upon himself to convert me 🙂

If you enjoy pisco, it is a heavenly place.  (They also have excellent food).  I can’t remember exactly how many varieties of pisco they have but well over fifty – and there are several different pisco flights.  That is where I started.  Since I was in Santiago for several days and it was really close to my hotel, like some German tourists before me, I started showing up most days to try a different flight.

showing off my pisco knowledge :)

showing off my pisco knowledge 🙂

What is lovely is that they write the name of the pisco on a paper circle that is wrapped around the glass so

the view at the end of the world

the view at the end of the world

you can just collect the ones you like and take them with you for the rest of your Chilean tour.  That’s what I did.  I impressed a few bartenders with my newly acquired knowledge of Chilean pisco.  My second most memorable pisco experience was in Puntas Arenas where I discovered the Sky Bar at the Dreams Hotel.  Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great the night I went but it was still spectacular.  You have an overview of the Pacific Ocean without horizon at the end of the world.  You don’t have to drink pisco 😉

But – if you want to learn more about Chilean culture – check out Chipe Libre.  If you get lucky, you will

the ambassador of pisco :)

the ambassador of pisco 🙂

meet Sebastian.  He is passionate about pisco and has an encyclopedic knowledge.  He also apparently has good taste as we generally agreed on the best pisco in each flight 🙂  I told him he should be a pisco ambassador!  It’s become common in the world of whisk(e)y – some lucky soul who roams the world promoting the attributes of the distillery and its related wares.

Chile should really consider it.  My favourite pisco was Mistral Gran Nobel Elqui/Limari/Choapa.  Sadly, you need to go to Chile to buy it.  Perhaps, someday, Sebastian will change that 😉






machu picchu planetm style ;)

OK, I appreciate it seems a little crazy to tackle Machu Picchu three days in a row, all using a different approach… but that is the curse of the overly analytical 😉  On the plus side, I have lots of insight and advice to offer others.

I felt a little guilty staying at the Sanctuary Lodge.  That is the insight you gain by being on the ground in foreign countries talking to locals.  I am still a newbie to travelling in developing countries but naively always hoping I am doing something that will provide me with a lot of pleasure and also – for bonus karma points – help the local community.

What I have learned is that you need to pay attention to how your dollars are spent.  As a spoiled western traveller it is easy to go five star and put all your funds into the pockets of multinational corporations who hardly need your support as they employ their international tax advisors to avoid paying their share of the infrastructure from which their profits flow.

Peru taught me to pay more attention next time to do my best to support local entrepreneurs and assist the local economy in moving forward.  I also find most of my expensive hotel experiences have been a bit soulless (Claridge’s one of the only exceptions – DO put it on your bucket list!).

The Sanctuary Lodge was a bit more soulful but that was due to the interactions with the staff.  It certainly isn’t a “must do” but one night is fun.  You get to take pictures of Machu Picchu from your hotel room.  It is not the Sheraton at Iguazu Falls though.  The park opens at 6am and closes at 5pm and staying right outside doesn’t offer much of an advantage over the bus from Aguas Calientes.

at guardhouse watching MP wake up...

at guardhouse watching MP wake up…

It did allow me to roll out of bed a bit later than round one and be in line before 6am so I could wander around the site almost alone.  I had already stood at the famous spot to watch the sunrise so instead I climbed to the Guardhouse for a great view of the tourist descent on Machu Picchu…

David had kindly offered to be my unofficial guide once his official tour was done.  When he was helping me figure out the travel arrangements for my solo travel plans in the Sacred Valley we’d discovered he was going to be in Machu Picchu doing an early tour the same day I would there – and he would be free by 9am… so no need for me to hire a stranger as a guide.

Since breakfast was included in my room rate, I scored some food post Machu Picchu and pre-David meeting.  Since I had been travelling alone, I had been eavesdropping and couldn’t tell how challenging the hike to the Sun Gate was but I knew David would be able to give me advice I could trust.

proof of hike :) view from sun gate

proof of hike 🙂 view from sun gate

He said it wasn’t that hard and the chance of dropping off a cliff thousands of metres was pretty low so I signed up.  It really is worth doing.  It’s good exercise and the view from the top is spectacular.  (It’s where the serious tourists who hike the Inca Trail first appear at Machu Picchu – it’s recommended not to do it first thing in the morning to give them a chance to pass through).  I would highly encourage you to sign David up as your guide J  As in the Sacred Valley, he was knowledgeable, patient and charming.

He also seems to be part mountain goat.  He grew up in the neighborhood.  So it’s great to watch him in action but I liked to stand a little further from the edge for photos 🙂

Once we had checked off the Sun Gate, he took me to the Inca Bridge.  I think the English girls I met later in the day had the name right – they asked, “so, did you go on the scary bridge?” 😉

remember - he is a professional :)

remember – he is a professional 🙂

Of course, David thought it was nothing and wanted me to take photos of him posed precariously on the edge showing how steep the drop off is.  In the end, I decided to brave it and went right to the end.  There is a cable next to the cliff you can hold as you cross.  It’s wide enough for at least a couple of people but not much more.  The view is spectacular though as long as you don’t suffer any vertigo.

scary AKA inca bridge

scary AKA inca bridge

Having burned some serious calories prior to noon, I figured I deserved lunch in the sun at the Sanctuary Lodge peeking out at the Andes.  I asked David to join me and got more insight into local culture.

It was almost too much but I went back in the afternoon to score some final shots of Machu Picchu.  It was nice to be so relaxed and I took photos of a couple of English girls and gave them my tips.  I then had them yelling “hello” for the next hour or two as we traversed Machu Picchu until close with most of the tour groups already back on their bus.

The perk of spending SO much time at Machu Picchu was that I was totally relaxed by night three.  Since I was staying at the Sanctuary Lodge and only had to walk a handful of feet to dinner, I dressed up.  It got me into some interesting conversations as a backpack and trekking attire is the norm.

The highlight of the Sanctuary Lodge experience was the pisco tasting I discovered by reading my mini English newspaper at breakfast.  I am always fascinated by local specialties and pisco is a Peruvian thing.  I understand the Chileans are trying to copy but only Peruvian pisco really counts 😉


If you appreciate spirits, it’s definitely worth having a bartender tour you through Peruvian piscos.  The food at the Sanctuary Lodge is also wonderful and the service is first rate.  I tipped my pisco guide really generously.  That’s the one thing that I think does work.  Bring lots of US dollars in small bills when you travel.  In Peru people wanted soles so that made it easier but in most countries crisp US dollar bills buy more than you might expect and you know the cash is going directly to a local you like rather than to a bank account in the Caymans.

Just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything I took the Vistadome train back to Cusco the next day.  I think it’s worth trading up from the Expedition as the price difference is small but the service experience on the Vistadome is at a high caliber.  PeruRail definitely offers some of the best rail service I have ever experienced.

isn't he handsome? ;)

isn’t he handsome? 😉

The train service included entertainment – music, fashion show… and a dancing lion in traditional costume.  I really would have been content to just watch the lion and take photos.  But, no, I became part of the show!  I just don’t say “no” very well… and someone needs to participate.  I feel bad for the performers when everyone rejects them… I have now danced impromptu for an audience on four continents – only two to go! (both are in the plan in the next year)


A word of warning – dancing backwards with a lion on a moving train when you don’t know the steps will test your balance!  But you will make the guy in the lion suit very happy.  He will growl at you – or was it a purr?  I am pretty sure it was a loud, aggressive purr… but I already had a dinner date when I got to Cusco 😉

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