Saturday, August 14, 2010

taquerías de seattle.

Guess who *finally* built up the courage to face her thesis again.  This girl.  Check out the photo documentation on my flickr page.  I didn't crop most of them, but otherwise they're edited and ready for public viewing.  Now I need to update my other blog, Taquerías de Seattle.  ¡Besos!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

cooking books.

Given my photography and budding cooking skills, I will be guest writing on my friend Andrea's blog, Cooking Books.  The salmon-coriander post is mine, and hopefully some more in the future as well!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

peruvian food.

Is very tasty! And most often inexpensive by western standards. I wasn't very good about chronicling my meals via camera, thanks mostly to bad lighting, but I do have a few captured images. And some notes about my epicurean findings.

two kinds of ceviche, causa rellena, enormous corn, and spring rolls

Peru is known for its ceviche and we had some very tasty ceviche in Lima. My favorite was at La Mar, a rather upscale restaurant just on the skirts of the Miraflores district. The ceviche lacked the acidity that ceviche normally has (thanks to the "cooking" process in lime juice), allowing the flavors of the fish to come forward - I'm not sure how they did that. My friend and I shared the ceviche misto, which included tuna, octopus, squid, and shrimp, though I could have easily kept that to myself. I thoroughly enjoyed the design of the restaurant as well; like most limanean buildings, the restaurant employed concrete, but was softened by the use of wood (cedar perhaps?) detailing (namely as beams and joists to support a translucent screen to allow natural light in), and shallow pools of water. Truly an oasis in the middle of Lima, a sentiment apparently shared among limaños as the restaurant was very busy.

chicken and sweet tamales on top of heated stones

after everything is put in, herbs surround the food to infuse more deliciousness into our tasty meal

pacha manca

Modest only in price, our traditional Andean meal, pacha manca, was equally impressive and delicious. The food - spice-rubbed chicken, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, corn, and sweet tamales - is cooked in the earth by heated stones. Though this is a traditional Andean meal, we shared ours with the residents of Ichimay Wari, an artisan barrio outside of Lima.

corn - or choclo in Quechua

Peru reportedly has the most variety of potatoes out of any country in the world. They love their potatoes! Corn is also a mainstay; it's not sweet like corn found in the Pacific Northwest, but the kernels are enormous - about the size of a thumb nail - and plump. Like the potato, there are various types of Peruvian corn. In the Andes corn goes by its Quechua name, choclo, and is often served with a salty cheese and herb sauce. Choclo y queso can be found in most markets and a staple street food.

cuy (guinea pig)

During our day at El Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco, we were served another tasty and traditional meal, including cuy - ie: guinea pig. The meal began with quinua soup (a local grain) and followed by various dishes, including Peruvian tortillas (nothing like Spanish or Mexican tortillas - these are essentially fried potato pancakes filled with goodies), numerous potato dishes, greens, corn, and of course cuy. The skin of the cuy is the favorite part for many a Peruvian - it's crisp, yet a bit chewy. The meat is a little gamey and sparsely found on the little bones of the guinea pig; my preferred means of eating cuy is via pasta. Gourmet restaurant, Chi Cha (cleverly named after the local masticated corn beverage, chicha, more below), served up a delicious cuy ravioli in a red wine reduction (among other yummy entrees).

limonada and chicha morada

Popular non-alcoholic beverages include freshly made limonada, which is really made of limes, not lemons, and chicha morada - a non-masticated blue corn drink. Chicha morada is sweet and often includes spices such as cinnamon - very tasty but I don't recommend drinking a whole pitcher of it as I once did - bad stomach-ache! As for the masticated stuff (ie: fermented by human saliva), traditional chicha is served all over the Andean countryside. Locals make and serve chicha out of their homes - you can identify them by the red bags attached to long poles at the entrance to the house. Other colored bags have different means that I failed to remember. I tried chicha during a weekend trip to the salineras (salt pans), and all I can say is that I tried it. It's an acquired taste. For the beer connoisseurs, Peru does not offer much - just Cusqueña and Cristal - which are both lagers (one of my least favorites, following pilsners - yuck). Cusqueña has a dark, malty beer as well, but one is really enough as it's very sweet. One has better luck with Peruvian wine, though arguably Chilean, and especially Argentinian wine is better. But I have faith that Peruvian wine will only get better, it is just a matter of time.

Lastly, my list of recommendations.
- ceviche at La Mar, in the neighborhood of Miraflores in Lima
- pacha manca somewhere, anywhere
- empanadas! Peruvian empanadas are incredible and should not be missed
- fixed lunch menus - normally cheap and tasty
Cusco favorites:
- MAP Cafe, in the courtyard of El Museo del Arte Precolombio, don't leave without trying the pork adobo - the ravioli served with it is to die for (made with sweet potatoes, goat cheese and amaretto), I also recommend the pink soup, a puree made with beets and potatoes
- Inka Grill - everything is wonderful, but definitely leave room for the pear poached in red wine with cinnamon ice cream - simply amazing
- Chi Cha - cuy ravioli, any of the entrees actually

Saturday, September 12, 2009

old stuff.

As to be expected in Peru - especially in the heart of the former Inca Empire - I saw a lot of old stuff. Seriously, it's an archaeologist's paradise, and for better or worse, a tourist mecca. Within the borders of present-day Peru, one can find the built remains of numerous Pre-Columbian cultures, including those of the Chavin (~900-200 BCE), Paracas (~600-175 BCE), Moche (~100-800 CE), Nasca (~1-750 CE), Tiahuanaco (~300-1000), Wari (~500-900 CE), Chimú (~900-1470 CE), and Inca (~1250-1533 CE). Cusco and the neighboring Sacred Valley is home to a plethora of (mostly) Inca building and agricultural sites - the evidence shall follow.


As I said before, Cusco and its surrounds were once the home of the Inca Empire, but interspersed among the Inca remains is a Wari site, Pikillacta ("City of Fleas"). An Andean ghost town, my friend and I were the only ones wandering around the site, virtually clueless to its purpose to the Wari culture. Though my sources are disputable, Pikillacta apparently was once a military, storage, and/or administrative outpost. I'm not quite sure. Gypsum can be found on some of the walls, indicating that the complex was once completely white. There was a "museum" at the entrance to the site, but it only chronicled the excavations, rather than provide information for the uneducated tourist. And a massive, prehistoric shell and skeleton of an armadillo - seriously. There's also a massive gateway just outside of the complex built originally by the Wari, and later fortified by the Inca Empire.

Qorikancha and Santo Domingo

Cusco (or Qosqo in Quechua) held the seat of the Inca Empire and the city was filled with temples and holy sites. Until the Spanish arrived. Santo Domingo, a Dominican church and monastery, sits upon the remains of Qorikancha ("Golden Palace"). The Spanish often appropriated indigenous religious spaces as the foundations of their Catholic churches - in addition to Santo Domingo, Cusco's Cathedral and the Jesuit church, La Compañia (likely there are others I'm unaware of) both sit on top of the foundations of other Inca temples. This sends a very strong message to a conquered people, though the Spanish were not the first to utilize this method in the Andes - the Inca did this as well to other Andean cultures.

Qorikancha held the Temple of the Sun (the church of Santo Domingo uses the foundations of this temple), Temple of the Moon, Temple of Venus and the Stars, and the Temple of Lightning. Gold had no monetary value within the Inca Empire, but it held religious significance and was said to cover all the walls of the temples. Likely that gold is now the gilding used in churches in Peru and other former Spanish colonies.


Saqsaywaman (yes, pronounced very similarly to "sexy woman") resides on a hill overlooking Cusco. There are two theories regarding the purpose of the site, either it was a military fortress, or a large sanctuary and temple to the Sun. Likely it was the latter as remains of priests were found in the complex, but who knows as the Spanish were pretty successful in destroying any supporting evidence. And over the years, colonial Cusco was built up by the stone from Saqsaywaman. Even so, the site is still rather impressive - the stones that make up the zig-zag shape of the walls weigh up to 130 tons, which would have been a feat to construct into a building complex, let alone move the individual stones. According to our guide, one can see representations of animals in the walls, such as llamas, snakes, fish, and guinea pigs (photo of llama on the left, guinea pig on the right). I could see them, but it could also be wishful thinking - again, who knows.


Tipon was pretty amazing and lacked the tourists found at Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu (both below). I'm not sure how much of it was reconstructed (again, not much written information there and my friend and I decided against hiring a tour guide), but it was incredible to see the way water was used and channeled throughout the site. I would imagine Tipon was used for agriculture, as the other terraced sites were as well (and would explain the water channels).


The day we went to Ollantaytambo, it poured. And apparently many people go to Ollantaytambo on Sunday - when we were there - thanks to the scheduling of group tours and such. So while keeping our eyes to the ground, we attempted to navigate around hundreds of tourists - with cameras in hand - who likely just wanted to be back on the bus and on the way to Machu Picchu. However, I digress. Again, terracing = agriculture, and this outpost was built by a military general, whose name naturally escapes me. This was also a temple complex and it is said that the face of the most venerated god, Viracocha, is carved into a neighboring mountain. If so, he looks a bit like Grumpy, the dwarf.


Somehow my friend and I dedicated an entire day to Moray. That's not to say the site or the surroundings are not worth the time - they very much are - just we had some transportation... issues. Be slightly skeptical if a taxista says he can take you somewhere, somewhere he's never been (this would not be the last time a taxi driver would "know" where he was going).

It is said that Moray was used as a nursery and that each terrace has a different microclimate. The impressive terracing of Moray is perhaps only surpassed by the incredible mountain surroundings - the Andean highlands really remind me of Colorado (dry, red dirt, rugged snow-capped mountains).

Machu Picchu

And as promised, Machu Picchu. Located at the "eyebrow" of the jungle (the train ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes - the town at the foot of Machu Picchu - illustrates the sudden transformation from arid to temperate climate), Machu Picchu ("Old Mountain") is the only major Inca site to survive untouched by the Spanish, as it was unknown to the majority of the world until just under a century ago. In 1911 Hiram Bingham was led to the site by a local farmer, Melchor Arteaga (indicating that locals were perfectly aware of Machu Picchu prior to western arrival), and since has become one of the top destinations for the traveling fiend. Continuing an aged tradition of taking things that aren't theirs, Bingham and his Yale entourage took many of the artifacts back to Yale, and the University has yet to give them back to Peru (apparently it's being discussed).

Nevertheless, Machu Picchu - as to be expected - is breath-taking. Scholars are still trying to figure out what the exact purpose of the site was, though likely it was a retreat of sorts for the privileged and royal family. It was built by Pachacútec, the ninth Inca (the title of Inca is used only for the ruler) who was responsible for massive architectural campaigns throughout the Andes. As it stands, Machu Picchu is not self-sustaining, supporting theories that either it was a temporary residence, or abandoned before it was completed, possibly in order to save it from Spanish plunder and destruction.

I had the fortune of visiting Machu Picchu a total of three times (regrettably not by Inca or alternative trail - next time!), yet I seemed to take the same pictures each time - the view of the site is truly commanding and difficult for the photographer to not be drawn to! My friend and I missed the opportunity to climb Wayna Picchu ("New Mountain" - the mountain at the left of the photo above) by about 5 people - only 400 are allowed on it per day, and we were likely 405 and 406. Instead we hiked to Intipunku ("Sun Gate") to see how one would approach the city on the Inca Trail.

What I find most interesting about Inca architecture is the lack of desire to build up. Most civilizations are concerned about reaching the heavens, while the Inca Empire attempted to become one with the landscape, or at most subtly change the landscape around them. I think this is partly due to the reverence of Pachamama (Quechua/Spanish word meaning "Mother Earth"). Other cultures, initially had large cult followings to a mother earth diety (such as Artemis to the Ancient Greeks, who was part of a duality with Apollo, sun and sky god), yet they grew out of fashion as male sun gods and other gods of the heavens became more powerful and dominant in various cultures (and still remain so - consider Jehovah, God, Allah, etc). Of course the Sun God was revered in the Andes, but it was part of a duality - earth and sky - that remained important to the people and their various religions. I can get into a whole treatise about this, but I won't, I just think it's pretty cool that the Inca Empire, as well as its Andean predecessors, were so connected to the land.

If these images have successfully made you desirous for more, go here.

Monday, August 31, 2009


Imagine I am still in Peru - voila! I am writing this very post (and several others to come) in Cusco - amazing!

Anywho. Prior to our arrival to Cusco or even Peru, we had heard of the school, Pukllasunchis (Quechua for "Let's Play"), a bilingual school on the outskirts of Cusco and we were fortunate enough to visit the school during our stay. To call it merely a bilingual school undermines its progressive curriculum and school policy, and naturally I intend to inform you of its mission, et al.

Pukllasunchis began in 1988 under the financial beneficence of a Swiss woman whose name I can neither remember nor find. Over time the school has become increasingly more self-sustaining and the intent is for it to be completely independent financially. It was founded on the principles of social justice and equality, two values that can be seen in its curriculum and student body. The school does not differentiate between trades and academics – both are taught in the school’s interdisciplinary approach. Thus students are found in both the classroom as well as in the fields, tending to native plants and animals. Sex education is also taught at the school – a rare component to a school curriculum in a Catholic country (consequently there are no religion classes or affilitation). Classes are always taught in Spanish, but by the 4th grade they begin to teach Quechua, and 6th grade they start teaching English (I’m not sure if this is required or optional). At Pukllasunchis, students learn to make various things, including traditional medicines, teas, creams, soaps, etc from the plants they harvest and the art of weaving, and these various things are sold at art fairs every two months to help subsidize student tuition.

That said, tuition is based on a sliding scale; of the 750 students (ages 6-17), 20% pay no tuition, and the cap is at 280 soles (a little over $90) per student per month. The school attempts to enroll a diverse student body made up of students from a range of racial and social backgrounds – about 20% come from outside sectors of Cusco (which I believe means rural areas). Considering the desirability of attending the school, it comes as no surprise that students and their families must interview for a spot in the school. The student to teacher ratio is rather impressive as well – there are 50 full-time professors and 50 part-time professors.

The new facilities were built 5 years ago on their 2 hectares of acquired land. I was surprised to hear the design process, as it was the students who first were consulted regarding what they wanted, then the parents, and lastly the professors – all of whose input were given to architects to synthesize and develop. Following the school’s philosophy, sustainable methods to operate the building complex and help teach the students about living in a sustainable manner.

I’m sure the school is far from perfect (there were some murmurs of it losing its strong sentiments of social equality), but during our visit it was hard to see it in any other manner. The students were happy and there didn’t seem to be any animosity towards one another. In fact, the students seemed to be enthusiastic about attending school – something I don’t see much here in the States.

School building and recreational area

agricultural sector

UW and Pukllasunchis students playing soccer

Saturday, August 22, 2009

annoying travelers.

I still have a bit to cover regarding my stay in Peru, however... I shall digress for an entry.

Is it too much to ask to sit next to a cute guy when I travel? Seriously, that’s all I want, a cute guy to sit next to. And what’s that? He’s witty, intelligent and clearly well traveled? Amazing! Sign me up! But no, there must be some higher spiritual being who enjoys placing me next to the most obnoxious people imaginable. Obese? Check. Incessant talker? Check. Aromatic? Check. Stupid? Check. (I once sat next to a guy who vehemently believed there were 51 states in the union, while I kindly assured him there were only 50) Armrest hog? Check.

From Lima to Houston I had the joy of sitting next to Beavis and Butthead incarnate. I jest not. Their cursing and crass talk was interrupted only by the ridiculous “huh huh huh’s” attributed to MTV’s infamous cartoon morons (yes, there are real living people who truly sound like this). One suggested to the other that he snort Benedryl as it would hit him faster – the advice of a brainless wonder. I struggled to figure out what exactly they were doing in Peru and who trusted them to represent the youth of our nation.

Please please next time be a cute, witty, and highly eligible man. Or at least an old lady who feeds me chocolate.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


In both Lima and Cusco we were able to paint murals under the tutelage of Jorge Miyagui. Our initial plan was to paint over a mural in Villa El Salvador, but thanks to rain we ended up painting over a mural in El Averno (Spanish for hell), a space in Lima where the Mural Brigade often paints. Part of the Mural Brigade’s modus operandi is continual renewal – nothing is precious – hence the lack of concern for painting over other murals. Likely this perspective comes from experience in the public arena; murals with a political stance are often seen as contentious, and are thus painted over by local authorities. The bull, condor and lightning bolt were remnants of the old mural that we incorporated into our own. The prominent element of the mural is the female ekeko – an anthropologically impossible figure according to Jorge, but our aim was to challenge gender roles and expectations. That said, giving the “ekeka” a voluptuous figure seems to confirm these roles and expectations to a certain extent, rather than challenge them – however it has made the artists we’ve worked with (who are all men) think about such things. To the left of the “ekeka” is a rainbow (sprouting from coca leaves) that has a dual meaning. We all know the rainbow flag to signify gay, lesbian, and bisexual rights, which was our intent, but also the rainbow flag has flown in the Andes since the Inca Empire. It represents the four corners of the Inca Empire; presumably two colors represent each region – the north, south, Pacific Ocean, and jungle. We left a few signature marks, including the singing whale (Pacific Northwest) and our handprints in the clouds.

old mural we painted over

group in front of our finished mural

mural in El Averno

We painted two mobile murals in Cusco for Peru del Discurso a la Realidad, a group who seeks to critique current events and politics in Peru. The group displays images, quotes, critiques, and information in the main plaza of Cusco fairly regularly and the murals will be displayed along with everything else next time it goes up. That this is displayed in the main plaza of the country’s most touristy town is pretty impressive, and I hope tourists take the time to view the display and think critically about the information presented. Peruvian President, Alan Garcia and his relationship to the US of A (namely the Free Trade Agreement and neoliberal economic policies of and between both countries) are topics featured prominently in the display.

Given the discourse of Peru del Discurso a la Realidad, the two murals we painted in Cusco critique Peruvian policies and realities more so than our mural in Lima did. One critiques the extractive industries in the Amazon and the recent events in Bagua – trees and animals protest alongside an Amazonian tribesperson against the logging industry. The other mocks tourism by placing tourists in a reserve while llamas take pictures of the tourists and feed them “tourist” food (McDonald’s – which just opened in the main plaza a year ago, Starbucks – coming soon, pizza – way too ubiquitous in Cusco, Snickers, and other candy). I’m still suspicious that the woman resembles me a little too closely... long red wavy/curly hair, fair skin (hence the sunscreen on her nose), blue eyes would have been the kicker, but alas they’re green. PHEW. haha

I love the latter of the two murals, and will soon post about tourism. But, dinner beckons. And no, it will not be pizza.