Hello, all –
I’ve been pretty quiet for the past few weeks: I had a work trip that took me to Latin America, and it involved a lot of prep work (training development, document review, brushing up on my rusty Spanish) and I just could not find time to breathe let alone write a blog post.
But now I’m back and have a little bit of time to reflect on the experience: while the focus of my trip was primarily work-related, I had a bit of free time to experience the culture, the history, the food (oh, my god, the food!) and I will try to share a bit of that here.
My trip took me first to Lima. I was so disappointed that I didn’t have time to go to Machu Picchu, but that’s a commitment of several days if you want to hike it (which I would want to), so I’ll have to save that for a future trip.
I did have a chance to tour Lima City Center, however, and see Huaca Pucllana (an ancient pyramid in the heart of the city, which, while impressive, was impossible to get a decent photo of, as it is entirely surrounded by a high fence), the Plaza de Armas (where the presidential palace and some other simply gorgeous buildings and fountains can be found), as well as the San Francisco Monastery. I think the Monastery was my favorite part of the tour – the building was completed in 1674 and even though it was damaged in Lima’s massive earthquake in 1970 (many of the fresco paintings were ruined or destroyed) it still remains an impressive and beautiful structure. No pictures were permitted of the inside, but the many courtyards full of flowers and birds were breathtaking. We went underground to tour the catacombs, which were eery and awesome! (I tried really hard not to think about what would happen if an earthquake occurred while we were down there. Earthquakes are a pretty regular occurrence in Lima.)
Went to the swanky El Malecón district – beautiful view and tons of overpriced shopping (not my thing, but it’s a picturesque spot).
I crossed the “Puente de Suspiros” (Bridge of Sighs) – a tiny bridge where, it is rumored, that if newcomers make a wish and then hold their breath the whole time they cross the bridge, the wish will come true (waiting to confirm the veracity of that legend).
We also got to see Lima’s Cristo del Pacifico (Peru’s version of Rio’s famous “Christ the Redeemer” – and a gift from Brazil). The drive up to the Cristo was quite perilous – a steep and narrow dirt road with no guard rails, and surrounded by slums, or “favelas” as they are called in Latin America – the favelas in Lima seemed mostly to be perched precariously on sandy hillsides that looked as though they could experience a massive landslide at any moment).
Interesting factoid: it hardly ever rains in Lima. They get a lot of moisture from the almost ever-present cloudy (“nubladl”) conditions from being right on the sea, so everything is lush and green, but rains are uncommon. A driver pointed out that Lima city streets do not have any drainage, so in the event of rain, the streets turn to rivers since the water has no way to drain.
Lima is known for its gastronomy. And I was privileged to experience one of the most popular and famous restaurants in Peru (or all of Latin America for that matter) when I went to Astrid & Gaston for dinner. The food was simply decadent. Every bite was an explosion of flavor and texture. Pisco Sours are the national drink of Peru (much to the chagrin of Chile, which also claims it – there is quite the competition between the two countries, in food, beverage and of course soccer). So we had our Pisco while waiting for a table. Once seated, we were presented with a basket of the most amazing bread I’ve ever had. Usually dinner rolls are sort of perfunctory, a way to sop up sauce, but don’t offer much in the way of flavor. Not at Astrid & Gaston. I could have made a meal, just out of the bread. My favorite was a traditional Peruvian bread made from purple corn (“maiz madurado”) and tomatoes. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. My new mission in life is to find a recipe for that bread and bake it regularly.
We ordered several appetizers and meals for the whole table to share, including: guinea pig tacos served on purple corn tortillas, fish ceviche (omg their ceviche is by far the best I’ve ever had), scallop ceviche, lomo saltado (a traditional Peruvian dish of beef and fried potatoes with onions and tomatoes) and rice with duck (another classic national dish). It is hard to describe how amazing everything was – and the ambiance of the restaurant complemented all the amazing food. The restaurant is housed in La Casa Moreyra which was formerly a palatial residence (complete with its own small church attached, in case of urgent needs for penitence, I suppose). Dessert was cappuccinos, chocolate and some kind of fruit gelato encased in a fruit-shaped chocolate shell. Honestly, it was so good that I think I developed some sort of ecstacy-induced coma after I ate it because I cannot for the life of me remember what it was called. It was good. Very, very good.
After our meal was over, Astrid (the head pastry chef and wife of Gaston) came to our table to chat. I was thrilled to meet her and couldn’t stop gushing about the enjoyable experience. I think she is used to it, though.
The only other thing I will say about Lima is they have the most frightening traffic I’ve ever experienced. Fast and furious, cars and pedestrians going every which way. I didn’t love that part and I’m just glad I made it out alive.
Mexico, D.F., Mexico
The longest leg of my journey was in Mexico. I stayed in Mexico City (Mexico, Districto Federal) the whole time, but had day trips to Guadalajara and Queretaro. I had a whole day to myself one Sunday and opted to visit some of Mexico City’s many museums.
Well, I at least made it to one.
My first stop was the Museo Antropologico (Museum of Anthropology). It was AMAZING. I stayed there for 3 hours until I finally decided I had to move on if I wanted to see anything else that day, but I could have easily stayed there a few more hours. The main exhibit was Xochipilli, an ancient Aztec flower god. The sculpture of this ancient god was breathtaking. It is humbling to be in the presence of ancient things, especially ones that once had incredible significance in the lives of ordinary people.
The rest of the regular exhibits were broken up into the general history of human evolution and then specific time periods in ancient Latin American history (with absolutely massive Aztec and Mayan exhibits).
This museum deserved its own blog post, honestly. If you’re ever in Mexico City, this spot is a must-visit.
I also walked through the Bosque de Chapultapec up to the Castillo de Chapultapec (Chapultapec Castle), an impressive (as the name would indicate) building perched high above the city, in Central Park-esque environs. It was cool, and the view was amazing (as was the Diego Rivera mural on the staircase) but honestly after the Anthropological Museum it was a bit dull. The walk was nice, though, and I got to hike up the hill to the castle twice: once on the initial approach, and a second time after I realized I’d forgotten my umbrella at the security check. I was pretty sore the next day. That hill is quite a climb.
I also had an amazing meal in Mexico City. We went to the San Angel Inn, a traditional Mexican restaurant housed in an old – and beautiful – family hacienda. (Seeing all these traditional Latin American buildings makes me really want an open air courtyard. Complete with a piano player and wait staff. Just like this place. A girl can dream, can’t she?)
I tried escamole for the first time here – they were out of mezcal worm tacos so instead we opted for the ant egg (escamole) tacos. “Caviar of Mexico” so it was called. It was no caviar, but it wasn’t bad. We ate more ceviche. Ceviche is required eating in most of Latin America, and that’s fine by me. Drank Mexican wine for the first time (didn’t know there was such a thing, honestly) – Ojos Negros Cabernet, and it was pretty darn good. (When I asked my host what part of Mexico the wine region was in, he responded, “California.” Har, har. Smartass.)
The San Angel Inn was across the street from Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo’s studio. Squeee!!! It’s a museum now. So bummed it was closed by the time I got there.
My trip to Chile was literally one day. Isn’t that depressing? I saw the Andes from the airport and the taxi cab window. My whole day was otherwise spent in a conference room.
I did, however, get gifted a bottle of Chilean wine, so I guess I’ll crack that open tonight to soothe my sorrows.
Santiago was by far the most civilized, clean and quiet city of all the ones I visited. Word on the street is that Chile is poised to become a first-world nation. That is apparent.
All in all, it was an enjoyable, if exhausting, whirlwind trip.
And now I’m back home with these monkeys. And I couldn’t be happier. ❤️