Thursday, June 30, 2011

Peruvian Dining in San Diego

Well, I ended up not having time this month to research recipes, visit markets, and create a meal inspired by my armchair travels, so instead I spent some time looking for Peruvian food in San Diego and came across a local blog (mmm-yoso!!!) that featured a couple positive reviews of "Latin Chef" - a Brazilian/Peruvian restaurant in Pacific Beach.  After checking out mmm-yoso!!!'s posts  Latin Chef part 1 and Latin Chef part 2 I decided to head on over for lunch today and I was not disappointed!

Latin Chef  - Pacific Beach
Latin Chef is located on Garnet Street in Pacific Beach and has a pleasant interior - wooden tables, bright colored art, breeze flowing through the open doors, friendly waitresses. I settled down at a little table by the open door and enjoyed the beautiful SoCal summer weather.

 After reading mmm-yoso!!!'s blog, I knew to expect the waitress to bring over a little pre-meal snack, and I enjoyed my canchita - corn kernels that are roasted or fried til just before the pop. They were salty and yummy - reminiscent of corn nuts but without all the disgusting flavor powder. I devoured them in seconds:)
Chicha Morada
 I watched an Anthony Bourdain episode from his travels in Peru, and he had imbibed some "Chicha" which was a fermented drink, kind of like beer, made from maize that in some cases has been chewed up and spit out by locals and then allowed to ferment. YIKES! I wasn't ready for any of the fermented, spit filled chicha, but I was happy to try chicha morada, which is a non-fermented version made from ears of purple maize boiled with pineapple rind, cinnamon, and clove, which is then mixed with sugar and lemon juice.  It had a nice flavor, sweet, but with a fruity flavor. The cinnamon and clove had a nice balance with the other flavors. Yum. No ice - I'm guessing that's pretty typical in Peru.

Cebiche de Pescado
 Cebiche (fish "cooked" in lemon juice) is basically the national dish of Peru, and there are many variants. I had a sea bass version, that was marinated in lemon juice and Peruvian chile, served with red onions, corn (huge kernels!!!!) and a cooked yam. I thought it was good - I couldn't finish it, but I did enjoy!

Tofu Lomo Saltado
 Latin Chef was relatively veggie-friendly, which I appreciated, and I tried out the Lomo Saltado made with Tofu in place of the meat.  From what I can tell, this is a pretty typical Peruvian dish, consisting of a protein cooked with onions, tomatoes, cilantro and french fries. I was worried the fries would be mushy and that it wouldn't have much flavor, but I was pleasantly surprised. The rice was super yummy too - just plain rice but cooked well and perfect for soaking up the salty sauce. I like things spicy so I asked for some hot sauce.
red chili sauce
All in all, a delicious meal, very in keeping with some of what I learned about from the Anthony Bourdain show I watched and the posts from mmm-yoso!!! Despite not trying my hand at cooking Peruvian food, I really enjoyed my meal at Latin Chef!!!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Peru's Machu Picchu

I have been fortunate to have traveled to a number of amazing places in Europe and Asia, but one thing I've never experienced is trekking through ruins. I hope to get a chance to check out Machu Picchu sometime!!!

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu was built by the Incans (check out my previous blog about the Incan Empire) sometime around 1450 CE - to give you context that roughly coincides with the Renaissance in Europe, the Ming Dynasty in China, and the Turkish conquest of Constantinople.  The Incas only flourished for about a hundred years, and this site is especially notable when one considers that it is located in a place that is difficult to access, that the Incas had no knowledge of the wheel, no iron, and had not developed a written language.  Also, no one knows exactly when or why the site was abandoned, and although the time it was deserted roughly coincides with the Spanish conquest of the Incas, the conquistadors never reached the city, and it was largely forgotten for several hundred years. 

Machu Picchu
Located 2,430 miles above sea level, Machu Picchu sits among the eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes and is known for its stunning views. The city has over 200 structures that surround a 1 acre green.  Researchers have divided the city into four quarters: residential, royal, industrial, and agricultural. 

map of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is known for its agricultural terraces that some historians believe were used to raise corn to ferment to create Chicha, a beer-like beverage that was often consumed (in significant quantities) in rituals.
Incan stone construction
One of the most remarkable components of Incan construction is their stone work. The quantity of precisely cut stones that tightly fit together to create the numerous structures at Machu Picchu is staggering. The Incans used no mortar, yet the structures have been remarkably stable through time. 
Incan waterways
Some researchers have speculated that the Incans did significant planning prior to construction, including locating a spring, building a canal, and setting up a system of waterways and fountains to provide water to the residents. The emperor had access to the first fountain, and after passing through the emperor's quarters, the water makes its way down the mountainside, flowing through 15 other fountains, passing through the agricultural quarter.

Hiram Bingham
Although indigenous people in the valley below were aware of the abandoned city in the mountains, the knowledge of the existence Machu Picchu was significantly limited until an American academic and explorer named Hiram Bingham stumbled across the site in 1911. It's rumored that Hiram was one of the inspirational sources for "Indiana Jones."

Early photograph of Machu Picchu
 When Hiram came across Machu Picchu in 1911, the timing corresponded with advancements in photography that allowed for this to be one of the first archeological "discoveries" to be documented in film.

Peru has been seeking the return of approximately 40,000 artifacts that were excavated and exported from Machu Picchu by Bingham and his archeological team. Some of the disputed objects include ceramics, bones and mummies. In September of 2007, the Peruvian government and Yale University made an agreement for the return of the artifacts, and as of November 2010 Yale University announced a two-year plan for the return of the objects, and to create a repository and display space at the University of Cusco, Peru.

If you are interested in checking out some footage of Macchu Pichu, click on the video below. Michael Palin, of Monty Python fame, is one of my favorite travel show hosts and this is from his "Full Circle" series.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Incan Empire in Peru

I've been watching some Travel Channel specials on Machu Picchu (which I will post about soon!) and learned that it was created by the Incans, and what most surprised me is that the Incan civilization existed for such a short period of time - from roughly 1200 to the late 1500s - and flourished for only about 100 years.

map of Incan Empire

I have heard of the Incas so much, I always assumed they were around for hundreds and hundreds of years, but in actuality they can be credited with a great deal in a surprisingly short period of time.   The Incan Civilization's timelessness is evident through their monumental architectural ruins and geometric textile patterns and painted ceramics.

Machu Picchu

Incan Pottery ca. 1420-1530
Incan textile ca. 1480-1525

There are many versions of the origin story of the Incans, and most poitn to Manco Capac as the first ruler, dominating local tribes and establishing the Incan Empire in Cuzco, Peru. Various legends surround his birth, with some linking him to the sun god and noting his birth on an island in Lake Titicaca.

Neighboring lands were brought into the Incan Empire, often by convincing leaders of the riches they would gain by aligning with the Incans. The Incans would also bring the children of neighboring leaders to Cuzco to educate them (and in the process indoctrinate them as to the virtue of the Incan Empire) and would strengthened the bonds with allies through the intermarriages.  The Incan's powerful military would subdue any allies who challenged the empire.

Incan road
The Incans are known for having the most advanced and extensive transportation system in Pre-Columbian South America, with their vast network of roads spanning thousands of miles (I've read varying accounts online, from about 14,000 to 25,000+ miles).  These roads allowed for expedient military and civilian communication, and helped with moving people and goods around to benefit the empire. They were mostly reserved for military and noble usage, although they were often also used for llama caravans.

Illustration of the Incan ruler before Pizarro
Despite the extensive roads, alliances with neighboring leaders, and military power, the Incan Empire deteriorated, first weakened by civil war, then through the ispread of smallpox, and were eventually conquered by Spanish conquistadors led by Pizarro. The Spanish conquering forces destroyed about 75% of the roads either by purposefully digging them up or through deterioration as a result of horse hooves clad in steel stomping as they carried Spanish soldiers and provisions.

Surviving indigenous descendents of the Incas include the Quechua and Aymara peoples, who continue some of the traditions of their ancestors and continue to inhabit the region that was once the center of the Incan Empire.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Uncontacted Amazonian Natives in Peru

An article in my daily Google Alert: Peru brought to my attention that there are still a number of uncontacted natives in Peru, and that the sanctity of their lifestyle has been under attack by various logging and development. There were rumors circulating that Peru's Culture Ministry might abolish the Murunahua Reserve, an allegation they have vehemently denied in recent days.

I was shocked to discover that there are a number of uncontacted tribes in South America,  in fact, 15 uncontacted tribes are documented in remote areas of the Peruvian Amazonion Rainforest.

Many, in fact, possibly all of the "uncontacted" tribes have had contact at some point in their history with missionaries, loggers, developers, other more modernized tribes, etc., but have voluntarily chosen to withdraw and avoid contact at all costs, which makes sense in a way when one considers that usually roughly 50% of the tribe members die after first contact due to diseases or violence. 

The Isconahua tribe was first contacted by missionaries in 1959, who encountered 25 Isconahuas living near the Brazilian border and lived with them for a year doing ethnographic research.  They documented that the tribe lived in the nude, adorning themselves primarily with jewelry and piercings.  A study in 1995 located 80 Isconhuas still living in seclusion, and in 1998 the Peruvian government created the Isconahua Territorial Reserve, consisting of 275,665 hectares (about 1,000 sq. miles).  However, anthropologists failed in making contact in 2004 and 2005, concluding that the Isconahuas fled to the Brazilian side of the border to avoid illegal miners and loggers who had trespassed into the reserve.  To make matters worse, the reserve was sold to  Pacific Rubialas Energy, giving foreign oil companies the ability to drill in the reserve.

In 2007, remarkable photographs were captured of the Mascho-Piro tribe, while a reconnaissance team was scouting the Alto Purus National Park for illegal loggers.  21 uncontacted naked natives were spotted on the river bank, as well as 5 recently construction palm leaf shelters.  Previous knowledge of this tribe was obtained when 100 members of the Mascho-Piro attacked members of nearby "contacted" tribes, who reported the incident. 

Although there are international and Peruvian laws in place to protect the natives, their existence is still endangered by illegal logging and oil-mining operations. It is devastating to think that the few remaining relatively untouched tribal groups are endangered by the greed of others. I hope Peru's laws are more strictly enforced and that these indigenous people's rights to live life in the manner they wish, free from the threat of outside diseases and violence, is upheld. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Peruvian ancient mystery - Nazca Lines

While learning about Peru, I have become fascinated with one of their ancient mysteries - Nazca Lines.

Peruvian researchers in the 1920s, and pilots and air travelers in the 1930s began to note linear figure "drawings," geometric shapes, and lines stretching a plain between the Inca and Nazca Valleys, primarily visible from the air.  The largest of these designs stretches about 600 feet across, and there are a variety of figures - hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, sharks, llamas, lizards, and even a humanoid figure.

The designs were made by removing reddish pebbles to uncover whitish ground beneath, and it is generally accepted that the ancient Nazca people made these somewhere between 200 BCE and 650 CE.  Altogether there are close to 800 simple lines and geometric shapes, known as geoglyphs, and over 70 figurative designs, known as biomorphs.

Many people have speculated as to the significance and purpose of the Nazca lines. The general consensus is that the lines had some sort of religious meaning, and were related to fertility rites or had astronomical significance related to gods from the sky. Many believe that these gods were the intended audience and as the images made from the lines are intended to be seen from above.

One figure, nicknamed "The Astronaut" is a humanoid form with a pleasant demeanor, and is located on a hillside, and as such, would be visible from an earthbound standpoint. Some have raised the idea that the Nazca lines could relate to alien visitors, with the geoglyphs acting as a landing strip for alien vessels, and the aliens being deified by the ancient Nazca people. This has been dismissed by most scholars, with one counterargument being that the soil in the area is very soft and had a top layer of loose rocks that would not be conducive to landing an aircraft....but I think the aliens could have figured out a way to make it work....I'm all for alien conspiracy theories:)

There has been a great deal of study related to how the Nazca lines were created. One scientist, Jim Woodmann, theorized that the ancient Nazcas fashioned a primitive hot air balloon to give them a bird's eye view to aid in the creation of the lines.  To test his hypothesis, Woodman created a hot air balloon using materials and techniques that were available to the Nazcas at the time. The balloon hovered for about two minutes, and Woodmann's theory was dismissed by most researchers.

Other researchers have attempted to recreate the Nazca lines using simple tools with significant success. The video below demonstrates one such attempt and also provides some stunning footage of the Nazca lines.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The floating islands of Lake Titicaca

Located in the Andes mountains on the border of Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is one of the highest lakes in the world. It's also BIG...and here's my favorite can see it from space!

There are around 40 man-made floating islands in Lake Titicaca, home to the Uros, a pre-Incan people who have lived on such islands for hundreds of years. 

 To create the islands, the Uros cut a chunk of matted reed roots from the shore line, pull it into position, and anchor it using ropes and long sticks. They then build up layer after layer of dried reeds on top of the base, piling it as high as 4 meters. I watched a couple travelers' home movies about visiting the islands, and one of them likened it to walking around on an inflatable bounce house. The islands are usually home to 2 to 10 families depending on size, and the islands share a clinic, school, church and watchtower, all located on islands. The islands only last about 12 years until the reeds get too wet and they have to create a replacement island.

I am amazed at how much the Uros construct out of the reeds - not just the islands, but also boats and structures!  However, due to their limited natural resources, many of the islands have converted to be tourist sites, and modern life has crept in - it isn't unheard of to see TVs powered by solar panels and to hear radios. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

the end of Mayrocco - on to Peru!!!!

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed my Mayroccan adventure...I absolutely want to go to Morocco!!!! Oh man, it looks so beautiful and I really liked some of the Moroccan food I made (which I'm sure was nowhere near as good as authentic versions would be!)

Even though May is over, I watched "The Man Who Knew Too Much" last night. Alfred Hitchcock directed Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day in this exotic and suspenseful mystery, and even though I hadn't seen it in years and years (thanks for showing it to me when I was a kid, dad!!!), it was great to see several memorable scenes that I had forgotten were part of the movie, plus I really enjoyed the footage of Marrakesh - souks, street performers, outdoor marketplaces, etc.

Here's one of the less suspenseful scenes in the movie that shows Moroccan dining (Jimmy Stewart's character is a bit out of his comfort zone:)):

Well, for this month I've decided to profile Peru. Here's what I know about Peru coming into the month - it is in South America, Machu Picchu is there, and I heard on NPR that they had an election today....I have much to learn!!!! Here's a few pix to whet your appetite: