A word on the photos in these posts on Peru. Sorry! They were taken with my iPhone 4, often with poor lighting conditions. I hope you’ll forgive me for any that aren’t great.
Did you know that yesterday was Peruvian Independence? Well, one of Peruvian independence days, anyways (Sunday was another one, with lots of fun festivals). I wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate the people and cuisine of that wonderful country by sharing a couple ferments that are distinctly Peruvian and some memories of our wonderful time there last year, so that’s what I’ll be doing this week.
Peru is a country obsessed with food, and it is easy to see why. We didn’t have a bad meal. In a month of eating out in multiple cities and towns, from beach to mountain to jungle; from bar, to local fave, to tourist-trap to five-star restaurant, we didn’t have single bad meal. What’s more, most of our meals were out of this world. So forgive me this week if I veer slightly off the fermented path. I won’t do it all the days, and it will be mostly in photos but it’s been seven months since our trip and there are still Peruvian treats I think about most days.
The Peruvian climate is varied. In the sprawling coastal capital of Lima it doesn’t rain (IT DOESN’T RAIN!). But in Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon, reachable only by boat or plane, the “dry” season means there’s only precipitation 15-17 days a month. And that’s just the beginning. Mountains, sea, jungle and desert are all a part of the landscape that has shaped this country.
What we found, to generalize, in Peru, were people who were kind to us ferners and so very proud of their beautiful country, its diversity, its history and of course, its food. As an American, I always worry that anything positive I say about my country to foreingers will be perceived as hubris. Maybe that comes from having lived abroad in the tumultuous period between 9/11 and the early days of the Iraq war, when European sentiment for America moved from supportive and empathetic to outraged. In any case, I’m sensitive about boldly saying why I think my country rocks. So it was interesting for me to experience the unabashed bragging of Peruvians about all that their country had to offer. And so frequently I agreed with them. American (and even Euro) public transportation has much to learn from the seemingly unlimited form of efficient and effective collective transport offered all around the country. All over the Sacred Valley, we hailed collectivos, small vans that will take you almost anywhere for a pittance. In Iquitos, we had an invigorating time riding free in the back of mototaxis, side by side with families of five, hanging out the sides of those tiny vehicles.
The guidebooks, which were pretty much outdated at publication due to the rapid development of the country, all sold Peru as a magical place. That was the one thing they were consistently right about. Machu Picchu WAS amazing; a place to make your imagination run wild. But we found magic was everywhere in Peru, from the festive dress of the people, to the backwater booze distilleries and witches’ market of the Amazon jungle. Something in the actual air felt different than anywhere I’ve been before.
As my wonderful Intro to the History of Music professor said in college, I’m giving you a paper cup full of salt water and telling you it’s the ocean. I could write Peru posts for a year and get nowhere near capturing the spirit, the food, the place, the people. But I’m trying to pack this all in to a few posts with as much packing power as I use to fill a crock with kraut anyway. And if you have the means, you should go too. Just be aware that you can’t ever flush your toilet paper. 🙂