Tuesday, January 26

Why you should know Mario Vargas Llosa?

Beyond the fact that he will surely win the Nobel Prize one of these years, Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa also ran against Alberto Fujimori in the 1990 presidential elections. 

I just finished my third book of his, The Feast of the Goat, a narrative about the Trujillo government in the Dominican Republic.  

I also read his Death in the Andes, about terrorism in Peru during the 1980s, and The Bad Girl, a story of obsession that starts in Peru and follows the characters through Europe. They're all worth reading, but The Feast of the Goat is by far his best book in my opinion.

Vargas Llosa's page on the New York Times is pretty interesting, with articles going back to the early seventies. You can see the ups and downs of his political and literary career. 

The high (or maybe low) point of his political career was his run for president in 1990. He lost to no-name Alberto Fujimori, who would then become one of the most controversial Peruvian presidents in the last century. 

The presidential contest took place in a country torn by terrorism and rocked by economic instability. In the 1980s, inflation remained above 50% and an estimated 30,000 people had been murdered by domestic terrorists called The Shining Path. 

Vargas Llosa, running from the right, campaigned on a politically-weak but possibly economically sound argument--that the economy needed drastic (and neoliberal) reforms that would be hard on Peruvians. 

Needless to say, most Peruvians didn't see the famous novelist and world-traveler (he lived in Europe for many years) as "one of them." Nor did they see his plan for Peru as anything more than an attempt to lay the country's burdens on the poor. 

But they did see "el chino" Fujimori as "one of them," surprisingly, considering his Japanese heritage. Ironically, as soon as Fujimori won the election, he was convinced by international lenders that the only way out of Peru's economic meltdown was to take just the measures that Vargas Llosa had campaigned on. 

Fujimori's economic reforms were seen as a positive step for the country. He was credited with ridding the country of terrorism, but Peru paid the price. Fujimori suspended the constitution and dissolved the Congress. In 2000, he fled to Japan after his cohort Vladimiro Montesinos was caught on tape bribing various Congressmen. Fujimori was recently convicted of grave violations of human rights in his campaign against the Shining Path. 

But enough about Fujimori. He'll get a dedicated post of his own soon. 

Who knows what decisions Vargas Llosa would have made in his place, or if Peru would have been better off. But one thing's for sure. It would have been hard to be president and keep up this wonderful literature. Thanks for the books. 

He's coming out with one about the Congo soon, so keep your eyes open. 

Monday, January 25

Stranded at Machu Picchu?

We had it all planned to go to Cuzco tonight. I would finally see the Incan capital. I'm glad we didn't.

Cuzco, and another department called Apurimac, have declared a 60-day state of emergency due to the worst torrential rains in 15 years. 

Already, two people have died and more than 120 houses have been affected, some completely washed away, by the flooding. 

Flooding has also blocked off the highway from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes, the last stop on the road to Machu Picchu. Almost 2,000 tourists were stranded there, many of whom were flown out today by helicopter. I'm not sure what to think about the helicopter tourist show, besides the fact that it could have been us!

So I finally understand what Peruvians mean when they say that there are only two seasons here--dry and wet. It's even sprinkled in Arequipa for the first time in five months!

Sunday, January 24

2010: The real "Coca" Cola?

Remember when "I drank cocaine" back in September? Well, now there will be more than just mate de coca for me to choose from. 

Inca Kola News wrote about this upcoming product from Bolivia:

In 2010, a factory in Cochabamba Bolivia will start producing an energy drink made from coca leaves that will go by the name "Coca Colla" (a play on words, as indigenous Bolivians are sometimes known as Collas or Kollas that comes from the pre-Colombian Colla people of the Antiplano region, esp around lake Titicaca). No packshot yet, but apparently it's going to be dark coloured, sweet and fizzy. Remind you of anything?

Here's a longer story on it, which the "Super Snarky" Latin America blog linked to.

In Peru, the cultivation of the coca leaf, the principal ingredient in cocaine and an important piece of Andean culture, is a controversial subject. This five-minute LinkTV video talks a bit about the problem.

Friday, January 22

Kapche de Habas

As part of our week of face-stuffing, Señor Raúl taught us how to make Kapche de Habas, a traditional Cuzco soup made with special beans, milk, cheese and potatoes. We tried as best we could to scratch down a recipe, but we had difficulty identifying some of the ingredients. Here's what we managed to write down:

8 lbs habas verdes (Lima beans but bigger)
18 papitas negras (they're tiny, so if you're using white potatoes, maybe just four)
1 purple onion
1/4 cup oil
1 clove of garlic
6 cups water
6 huatacay (mint on the stems)
1 cup of chopped huatacay
1 teaspoon of palillo (similar to tumeric, or if you can't find that paprika)
1/4 cup of pimienta dulce (whole allspice)
1 large can of evaporated milk
4 egg
Optional: 1/2 lb of queso de paria (or whatever mild white cheese you can find)

1) Separately, boil 18 little potatoes. Let them cool and then peel them by hand.
2) Remove eight lbs of habas verdes from their pods. Then peel the beans and spilt them in half.  
3) Sauteé 1/2 of a chopped onion in a large pot in a thick layer of oil.
4) In a blender, mix 1/2 of a chopped onion, a clove of garlic and water. Add it to the onions being sauteed in the pot.
5) Add palillo, pimienta dulce and whole huatacay to the pot, along with six cups of water. Bring the mixture to a boil.
6) Add the habas verdes to the pot (enough to cook the beans and maintain a soupy consistency to the mixture). Let them simmer until the beans are cooked.
7) Remove whole huatacay from the pot.
8) Add chooped huatacay.
9) Add four whisked eggs and the can of milk.
10) Once the whisked egg has cooked, add the peeled potatoes. 
11) Let it simmer for 5 minutes.
12) Optional: add slices of queso de paria on top before serving.

Thursday, January 21

Guest Post: Pray for the Yeasties

"When I bake bread I think of gardens and music,
grandmothers and God,
and I pray for the yeasties."
(Guest post by Mary Porter--Laura's mom, international traveler & fresh bread snob)

The smell of fresh baked bread invokes the same feelings in any country or culture. The aroma is of comfort and home and simplicity. 

That same welcoming smell was the first of many gifts awaiting me as I arrived to my house for seven weeks, the home and panaderia (bakery) business of the Perez Fuentes family in Arequipa, Peru. 

I first stepped into the home/bakery through the front door, shown behind these two bakery practicantes (interns):

This is a work room off the side of one of the kitchens, where I was surprised to see a couple hundred pizza crusts in the process of being wrapped and organized for delivery.  There was also a large rack of ciabattas fresh from the oven and a bin with karamanducas (bite sized crescent rolls). 

The dishwashing station, two more kitchens and several more racks of fresh breads, cakes and cookies were around the corner.  The cookies looked like they would melt in your mouth. Before I even met the family, I thought of snitching one but Laura suggested I meet everyone first. 

The stairs to Laura and Sergio's part of the house went straight up from there. Our rooms are right above the bakery, and my room is directly over the ovens. Their pipes pass right outside my window. There is bread baking at all hours of the day, so my bedroom smells delicious all day long. If only I were a paying customer!

Being an amateur baker myself, I asked Señora Delia--Sergio's mom and la duena (owner) of the bakery--if I could shadow her for a day. At 5 am, I was awakened by Sergio to accompany them on their morning deliveries.  The bakery on Tarapacá does not have a store front.  Señora Delia has two stores in the center of the city and many restaurants and hotels that need fresh bread early in the morning.

The delivery van was already loaded so Sergio, Señora Delia and I set out.  These stops took a couple of hours and a couple of trips around the city, including one to the Coca Cola plant to drop off their daily rolls and mini-pies for employees. 

By the time we returned, the kitchens were a beehive.  I counted ten employees and fifteen different breads at various stages of preparation.  

There was karamanduca dough in the mixer:
There were balls of pizza dough being flattened, trimmed to size and placed on baking sheets.

There were french rolls rising in the fermenting area and coming out of the oven:
There were loaves of wheat bread cooling to be sliced. 

The queques (like a sweet quick bread) and quequitos (sweet bread minis) were finished and ready for packaging. 

There was pie dough waiting to be rolled for the pyes de manzana (little apple pies):

There were those same decadent sugar cookies that tempted me when I first arrived--alfajores. They needed to be filled with manjar (caramel), like a sandwich, and then rolled in coconut. 

I was put to work helping to shape the little karamanducas.  The dough was already cut in equal pieces by a machine. I learned, eventually, to roll them into small oblong pieces with my hands, and then roll out four at a time with a metal pipe and curl them up all at once into a crescent shape.
They probably had to sell mine at a discounted price.

In the meantime, the master baker, Alfredo, and his helper, Percy, made six mixers full of ciabatta dough. They put it all together in one giant blob of dough on the table, then shaped it into about two hundred rolls. 

After my lunch at 2 pm, I went back to work. Señora Alejandra, the right hand woman at the bakery, prepared lunch for the crew. Meanwhile, they baked pizza crusts, made chifones (cakes)...
...rolled out and filled the mini-pie tins with dough... 
...and to finish them off--added the fresh apple filling and topped them with a fancy lattice crust. The mini-pies are delicious, but, in my opinion, as much work as a regular size pie for only a single serving. That makes them very, very special indeed. 

I didn't last as long in the bakery as Señora Delia, who took orders for the next morning's deliveries from 7 to 9 pm and finally went to bed around 11.  

The night crew arrived at 6 pm and started on the pan de queso (cheese bread) and pan de yema (bread with egg yolks). 

The pan de lema is golden, shaped like a leaf and topped with sesame seeds. My personal favorite is mil hojas, a "thousand layer" pastry made with a flaky dough similar to phyllo with manjar and cream layers. 

The team of bakers finally wrapped things up around 2:00 in the morning!

Most of the breads and pastries baked here are from many different countries.  The alfajores are typically found in Latin America, as well as the karamanduca.  Laura has another post about the rustic triangle shaped bread, pan de tres puntas (three points bread)--a traditional Peruvian bread baked in a very unique oven.

With the exception of tortillas--which Peruvians don't eat--I have consumed more bread in the last two weeks than I ate all of last year. It appears fresh on our table every morning.  I am relishing every bite of this simple pleasure without an ounce of guilt. 

I am thankful for my daily bread and for live yeasties.

Homemade chicha morada

Remember the purple corn we bought at the Avelino market? With Señor Raúl's guidance, mom and I used it to make chicha morada two days in a row.

Chicha morada--one variation of the Andean corn beverage, which is often fermented--is pretty easy to make. 
We boiled about seven cobs of dried purple corn in a full pot of water for 15 minutes, and the liquid that emerged was the purple corn drink itself. With a bit of sugar and fresh lime juice, it was ready to serve. 

Sergio, drinking our chicha morada out of his dad's traditional chicha glass, looked a little frightened at first by our new interest in brewing, but he drank it all!

Postscript: If you're interested, this New York Times article on Peru chicha explains all about the various types, as well as the traditional picanterias where Peruvians go to drink chicha along with their spicy meals.

Wednesday, January 20

Christening the new oven!

Big news at the bakery! The traditional oven, which has been under construction for almost a year, is finally ready for use!

Arequipeños like their pan de tres puntas, a special rustic bread cooked only in a traditional wood oven. As a competitive bakery, having this oven is essential.

But you can't just heat the new oven up the first day you want to cook bread. Over a month, the oven must be heated gradually before it can be used at full capacity.

Señor Raúl figured those daily heatings shouldn't be wasted, so Wednesday, we ate a feast of marinated lamb leg and potatoes.
And in the process, we learned how the oven works, and why few bakeries go to the trouble to have one.

The tiny oven door shown below is chest high. It opens into a small, concrete chamber where the wood is burnt down to coals and then pushed aside to insert the bread--or in this case, our lamb, as Señora Delia is doing below with a 7-foot-long paddle.

Below the open chamber is the complicated stuff. Glass shards, then a special clay, then bricks fill the bottom cavity that maintains the oven temperature. 

This special contraption costs about $4,000, no small price here in Peru. But Señor Raúl predicts that over time, less and less bakeries will have traditional ovens, making pan de tres puntas a valuable commodity.

Monday, January 18

Chile, and the rest of Latin America, swings right?

Last month I wrote about the Chilean presidential elections, and didn't really follow up. Sorry about that. 

Turns out that on the first round, no candidate won the majority. So this past Sunday, the two candidates that won the most votes--Sebastian Piñera and Eduardo Frei--faced each other again at the polls for a deciding vote. 

Piñera won the election, which has confirmed commentators' observations that Latin America is swinging right, including The New York Times and Real Clear Politics. Even as early as last summer, news analysts (The Guardian and Newsweek) were pointing to the coming Chilean elections as an important political barometer for the Western hemisphere.   

Why is this a big deal? Less than five years ago (I think), the barometer was wavering more to the extreme left, with leaders like Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales gaining popularity. A big turn to the right might mean that the region's voter are tiring of populist leftist leaders. 

But some Latin American experts have another perspective. Borev.net poked fun at this pretty lackluster comment by the Inter-American Dialogue president, for example.

In any case, Peruvians are watching to see what Piñera will do. They hope that, as a newcomer, Piñera will be more amenable to improvements in relations with his northern neighbor.

Sunday, January 17

Sunday at the Mercado

I'd always seen the Avelino--Arequipa's giant maze of a market--on my way to the bus terminal or to deliver pizza dough with Sergio. But I had never actually walked the congested side streets until this Sunday. What a chaos of vendors, shoppers and smells. One moment you caught a whiff of the tastiest fried something. The next smell made you want to puke.

Since arriving in August, Sergio and I have been shopping at Arequipa's grocery megastores--Plaza Vea, El Super and Franco--for two reasons: 1) we're in the American supermarket habit and 2) we don't know good meat from bad meat at the open air market.

But Señor Raúl finally convinced us that we hadn't seen the best of the markets in Arequipa. He took us a part of this giant market along Avelino Caceres (they call it "el avelino" for short).  It was called "Mi Mercado." 
While it was probably informal at one point, the vendors are now incorporated as a real supermarket. The only thing that was missing were walls. It had shopping carts, a section for pets and pet food, fruits, veggies, meats, cheeses, dried goods and cleaning supplies. 

The four of us, my mom, Sergio, Señor Raúl and I, shopped for at least two hours, comparing prices on carrots, onions and tomatoes. My mom was even brave enough to take a lick of the reddest spice we found. It turned out to be paprika, but I thought for sure she would burn her tongue off!

We also found some new produce, including purple corn used to make chicha morada (a popular drink here) and these psychedelic potatoes:

Sergio was our official negotiator. He uses his charm to work the vendors. "Nada menos?" ("Nothing less?") he usually asks right off the bat. He was pretty good at finding a deal. Most veggies and fruits were 60 cents/kilogram. 

We brought back three giant bags filled with green beans, potatoes, choclo (hominy), carrots, onions, cucumbers, papaya, purple corn and more. The shopping made us so tired that we left everything uncooked and went out to lunch down the street.

Friday, January 15

500 years of history in one house

Finally, with my mom here, I had another reason to tour this city I live in. I had read in my guidebook and heard from locals that La Mansión del Fundador, Founder's Mansion, was a sight worth seeing. 

We drove to southwest to Huasacache, what surely used to be a small village outside of Arequipa, but has now been eaten up by the urban sprawl.  

On our drive, we witnessed the interesting contrast that characterizes the city--a lush pasture still feeding cattle and growing produce squeezed between upscale neighborhoods with high fence. On the arid hill above the pasture, poor have squatted the land and built shacks made of plywood, cardboard and tires.

The view from the mansion itself captures these contradictions:

The founder's mansion sits in a beautiful meadow surrounded by Arequipa's dry hills, with a spectacular eastern view of the volcano. Up this winding old road, the mansion was hidden from slight. 
What interested me most about the mansion was less the volcanic rock architecture and more the vast survey of Peruvian history this one building tells.

It was built in the 1500s by Arequipa's founder Manuel de Carbajal, who was awarded the land as part of an encomienda (land and labor grant) he received from Spanish rulers. 

During the 1600s, the mansion was a Jesuit retreat before the Spanish kicked them out of Peru. A large chapel can me found on the north end of the mansion:

The property passed through many hands before it ended up with Spaniard Juan de Goyeneche, a prominent military and political leader, in the 1800s.

Under yet other ownership in the late 1800s, the mansion was occupied by the invading Chileans. Drawings of Chilean soldiers etched into the cupboards by a household employee testify to that part of the home's history.

Somewhere along the way, the colonial home acquired a wide collection of European furniture, as you can see in this photo:
In the 1980s, a group of six enthusiasts restored the crumbling mansion and made it available for public visits and events. 

In 2010, my mom, Mary Porter, came all the way from another continent to see it:

Thursday, January 14

A gringa playing street ball in Peru?

(That's me in the pink shorts dribbling horribly.)

So joining the local women's basketball league in October (see earlier post) didn't work out exactly how I thought it would. It turned out even better!

I was looking to get some exercise and make some friends. As I learned, the league plays only one game a week. And while my team was in a severe "rebuilding year," only two girls bothered to come to practices. It was hard to get to know anyone. Plus, having not played for six years (and never being that great anyway) I sat out during most of the games. 

The whole thing started to remind me of my high school basketball experience (ouch). I was feeling dissatisfied, but hadn't given up yet. 

One day after practice, the cab driver started up a conversation about basketball and then invited me to play in the morning at 6:30 am with a more informal group. Even though I was the only girl that came that morning, I knew I had found my niche. 

For two and a half months now, I've been playing street basquet for two hours every morning. I even managed to make my first Peruvian friends and get a job teaching English! Some other girls have started to come as well.

When I was gone to Huaraz the past few weeks, we left so quickly that I didn't even tell anyone where I was going. I got back this week and my basquet buddies all asked where I had been. Had I fallen off the earth? Had I gone back to the U.S.? Why didn't I tell anyone?

It hadn't occurred to me that they might miss me! I'm sure they hadn't missed my awful dribbling, but maybe my funny accent?

Sunday, January 10

Cows on Parade in Lima

Peruvians love their evaporated milk. In fact, when you ask for milk, that's what you get--a can of it! 

Gloria, a Peruvian milk company headquartered in Arequipa, produces evaporated as well as fresh milk (the kind most Americans dig). While we were in Lima, we came upon their big advertising campaign in Lima's parks--the cow parade! 

Pictures explain better than words, so I included the highlights: the bovine taken straight from the insane asylum and the one whose protected against swine flu. There were many more whose photos I didn't include.

Click on any of the pictures to check the cows out in detail.

Saturday, January 9

Lima puts it's best face forward

Lima put it's best face forward for my mom's arrival on Saturday. 

Blue skies are a rarity in the panza de burro city, and we had a whole day of sun. 

Plus, my mom saw a different view of Lima than I had (see previous post).  We stayed in Miraflores, a swanky neighborhood 15 minutes from downtown--a sample of developed-world Lima located along la costa verde (the green coast) on the ocean.

In Miraflores, the vast inequality that defines Peru--and Latin America--was blatantly apparent. Five-star hotels and lavish condos along the beach, compared with the cardboard makeshift homes in Lima's outskirts, testify to a painstaking reality: the rewards of Peru's strong economic growth has only been reaped by a few. 

One example is this shopping center on the ocean--complete with a Chilis, North Face and other American stores--and the Marriott that towers over it.

This image of high rises, shiny Nissans and young professionals returning from a shopping spree captures the essence of Miraflores:

Hugging the squeaky-clean central park are European-style patio restaurants filled with Peruvians taking a long lunch:

In the nearby beach neighborhood of Barranco, this gorgeous church is the center of another strip of expensive restaurant selling ceviche:

While Miraflores may have been more comfortable physically, it was less than comfortable for my conscience.

Friday, January 8

Goodbye to Huaraz: Llanganuco Lakes

Our last day in Huaraz, we traveled to the frigid Llanganuco lakes positioned above Yungay on the north face of el Huascarán (the highest mountain in Peru).

Most tourists go on a guided tour, but we decided to take a different route. We grabbed a combi (van) to Yungay, then contracted a taxi driver, who, for about 13 bucks, took us the 1 1/2 hours up the steep mountain roads to the lakes. 

Beyond the enchanting scenery, the most interesting part of our trip was Dionicio, our taxi driver. 22 years old, Dionicio lives in the small village on the ridge just below the lakes. 

He showed us his home, and his dad outside--a small adobe place surrounded by animals. Electricity just recently arrived to their pueblo in 2002. Most of the community does subsistence farming and maybe a small business. 

After showing us the lakes, a sight to see, Sergio asked Dionicio if he knew of a good place to eat trucha (trout), and it turned out that his cousin Aire, recently opened up a roadside restaurant near the pueblo. 

Aire, shown below, immediately welcomed us into their small picnic table and kitchen. She chatted with us about life in her town. While they often went to Yungay (45 min down the mountain), Aire had never been to Huaraz (two hours away).

Quechua is her language, but through broken Spanish (on her part and mine), we shared in conversation. This was my first time being somewhere in Peru where Spanish was the (far) second language. 

Sergio ate what he claimed was the best trucha of his life. We thanked Aire and her family and headed back down the road. 

Before Dionicio left us, he asked Sergio for his number just in case he decided to take the job he offered him in the bakery as a driver. 

You see, on the days Dionicio does manage to get a customer, he takes home only $5 of his $13 fare after paying gas and the car's rental. At the bakery, Sergio said, Dionicio would have a room, board and $10/day to keep (double what he makes taxiing).  Even though Arequipa is 26 hours in bus from Yungay and he had no family there, it seemed Dionicio was going to give the offer some serious thought. 

Maybe we'll see him again someday, but if not, I was thankful he wanted to share a piece of his life with us on our last day in Huaraz.

Thursday, January 7

Bad chicken?

(For your sake, I decided not to include pictures with this story.)

They say that the ruins at Chavín de Huántar are so powerful that they have an effect on some people. I guess that some people is me, because I woke up the next day with terrible nausea, and spent the next 12 hours puking my insides out. 

Maybe that was Chavín's way of getting me on my knees. If I was praying to the porcelain god, at least I was praying.

It was probably just a serving of bad chicken and old french fries I ate at the restaurant our tour guide took us to. The Brazilian woman we ate with refused to eat the cold plate, saying that was a sign it wasn't fresh. I should have listened to her, but I was too hungry to stop. 

Luckily, our cable TV in the hotel saved me with a Star Wars marathon dubbed in Spanish.

Wednesday, January 6

Before the Incas...

...there was the Chavín, one of the most influential cultures in the Andes. 

The 3,000 year old ruins of their central temple--Chavín de Huántar--was the highlight of our trip to Huaraz. 

After four hours of traversing the rugged Cordillera Blanca (13,500 at the road's highest), we arrived at the ruins' location within the Callejón de los Conchucos:

While when we think of Peru, we think of the Incas, their empire only dominated the Andes for a century before the Spanish arrival in 1526. The influential Chavín culture, on the other hand, touched Andean societies from Ecuador to southern Peru from 1200 to 300 BC--a whole 2,000 years before the Incas even appeared as a small tribe near Cuzco.

The ancient temple ruins tell the story of Chavín's encompassing reach. While various cultures existed before the Incas, few, if any, united them under one common spirituality like that represented at the temple. Between 460 and 390 BC, archaelogists believe Chavín de Huántar was a major center of pilgrimage. 

The most impressive piece was the Lanzón. We climbed down into one of the many tunnels that run through the temple to find a room with this white granite monolith with an anthropomorphic being--the "Smiling God"--carved into it.


The Lanzón was built into the floor and the ceiling, making many believe that the temple might have been built around it. Historical accounts says the monolith was an oracle. While I didn't get any special vibe, according to my guidebook, some people feel a special energy after seeing the stone. 

Shown below, the Raymondi Stone (named for it's "discoverer") depicts the second god at the temple--the Staff God. What I thought was interesting is the spiritual value of hallucinogens alluded to in the carving. Staff God is holding a San Pedro cactus which contains mescaline, a mind-altering drug which provokes multicolored visions. Andean shamans still use the drug. 


Who cares about really, really old stones with wild carvings? Archaeologist Brian Fagan explains the culture's artistic significance (found this in The Peru Reader). I'll leave you with this:
"Chavín ideology was born of both tropical forest and coastal beliefs, one so powerful that it spawned a lively, exotic art style that spread rapidly over a wide area of the highlands and arid coast. Chavín was the catalyst for many technological advances, among them the painting of textiles, many of which served as wall hangings with their ideological message writ large in vivid colors. These powerful images, in clay, wood, and gold, on textiles and in stone, drew together the institutions and achievements of increasingly sophisticated Andean societies. Such cosmic, shamanistic visions were Chavín's legacy to later Andean civilizations."