Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chifas

Ecuador and Peru have a lot of Chifas, i.e. Chinese restaurants. The term originates from Chinese chifan, let's eat. Until five years ago, most of the Chifas are not run by Chinese people. It is like in the US that one does not need to be Italian to run a pizza joint. However, in the last few years many immigrants from Guangdong and Fujian have joined the ranks. An easy way to tell the difference is that Chinese-run restaurants are open all day and all days of the week - no siesta.

Most of the menu items look familiar, but in Peru, there is a curious entry: aeropuerto (airport). I had to ask someone. It is rice and noodles fried together with bean sprouts and normally has chicken also, so we have not had one. Otherwise, Chifas are safe bets where we can normally fill ourselves up with vegetable fried rice (Chaufan), open vegetable egg omelets over french fried potatoes (tortilla de verduras), and noodles with veggies (tallarines con verduras).

Tallarines con verduras at a restaurant in Otavalo, Ecuador; run by a Chinese family who came to Ecuador 30 years ago
Chifa (Chinese Restaurant) - Otavalo, Ecuador

Tortilla de verduras con papas (front) and Chuafan (back) at Casa de Korea, also in Otavalo; run by non-Chinese.
Tortilla de verduras - Ovatalo, Ecuador

Chifa Hong Kong in Arequipa, Peru.
Chifa Hong Kong - Arequipa, Peru

Chifa Hong Kong in Casma, Peru.
Chifa Hong Kong - Casma, Peru

Monday, December 27, 2010

Beautiful Santa Catalina Convent

The Santa Catalina Monastery, a cloistered convent, is the top tourist attraction in Arequipa. We have never been anywhere quite like it. The architecture alone makes it an amazing place, but the preserved, in-place artifacts (furniture, kitchen implements, icons, etc) boost it to the top of our list.

In addition to the standard cloisters, this convent is like a city itself with streets, plazas with fountains, and a cemetery. Besides the austere cells and dormitories as one would expect, there are many whole apartments with luxurious furniture, dressing room, bathroom, maid's room, and laundry machine! We were quite surprised. Now I am looking for a historical fiction or a memoir about nuns and convent life.

The convent opened in 1580 and operated until 1970 when it became a museum.
A few nuns still live in seclusion in a small portion of the original convent.

The convent entrance.
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The nuns only contact with the outside world was through these grilled windows.
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One of the three courtyards/cloisters.
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Another cloister.
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A street inside the convent.
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Communal Dining Room.
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Austere Cell.
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A not so austere cell; actually an apartment.
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Apartment entrance.
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A kitchen attached to an apartment.
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Apartment window (from the outside).
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Plaza with fountain and the chapel behind.
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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in Arequipa

This is the first time we spent Christmas away from home in a predominately Christian country. We have been seeing Christmas paraphernalia in the stores and houses for months now. They don't let Halloween or Thanksgiving (which they don´t do of course) get in the way.

Nativity scenes are really big here and so are Panettones, a traditional bread. The same Chinese made lights, decorations, and stuff are here.

We woke up Christmas morning at 6:00 AM to clear skies so right after breakfast we set off on a short hike to view the snow-capped volcanic peaks that ¨loom over Arequipa¨ as the guides books say. We were rewarded with pretty good views and an invigorating start to the day.

All of the photos below are from Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru, unless noted.

Plasz de Armas on Christmas Eve. Christmas - Plaza de Armas - Arequipa, Peru

Nativity scene in Igelsia La Merced in Lima. The most elaborate I've ever scene. This photo does not do it justice. Nativity Scene - Iglesia La Merced - Lima, Peru

Display of Pantonnes.
Christmas - Arequipa, Peru

Christmas Eve Lunch.
Christmas Eve Lunch - Vegetarian Restaurant  - Arequipa, Peru

Strolling the streets on Christmas Eve doing some last minute shopping perhaps or buying fireworks.
Christmas -  Arequipa, Peru

Brass band in Plaza de Armas on Dec 23rd.
Christmas - Plaza de Armas - Arequipa, Peru

Our hotel is about 100 meters down on the right-hand side of the street.
Christmas - Arequipa, Peru

El Misti Volcano on Christmas morning.
El Misti Volcano - Arequipa, Peru

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Major change of plan/route

During some random web surfing, I came across a great airfare from Lima to Miami. After much deliberation, we decided on a loop from Lima, going down the west coast of Chile to South Patagonia (Chile and Argentina), coming back northeast to Buenos Aires, crossing through the northwest of Argentina into Bolivia, then north through Bolivia back into Peru. This way we are hitting each area in more favorable seasons. My only concern is that good hotel rooms may be hard to come by. We should see.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Likable Lima

Everyone traveling in South America goes through Lima, but most (but not all) people we talked to did not like Lima and minimized their time there. This included a couple of travelers from Lima themselves.

Lima has around 10 million people. Having lived in Shanghai, this was not a problem for us. On the other hand, Lima has many natural assets: great climate (average high 80-66, low 69-60), situated on the ocean with beaches; colonial and pre-colonial history: grand colonial buildings; recent improvements like the 100% natural gas BRT (except they could use about one hundred or two times the coverage).

The city was also much cleaner than we had been lead to believe. People were friendly and helpful; totally unexpected for such a big metropolis. In the beginning of the trip I used to glance at everyone and wonder to myself what a bad guy would look like. In Lima I realized that I had stopped doing that somewhere along the way.

Our only regret is that we had to leave Lima after only two days. The price of bus tickets is going up each day leading up to Christmas. The day (12/22) after we left was going to be 50% more. However, we had a major schedule change and will now come back to Lima to fly back home in May (more on that later).

Sunset on the beach cliffs in Miraflores, a southern district of Lima. Can you spot the paraglider?
Sunset - Larcomar - Lima, Peru

View south from Miraflores.
Larcomar - Lima, Peru

We enjoyed riding the Metropolitana, Lima's BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) from Miraflores to city center and back.
The Metropolitana - BRT - Lima, Peru

Lima has a Changing of the Guard in front of the Presidential Palace every day at noon with a brass band that plays seasonal selections like Jingle Bells and old favorites like El Condor Pasa.
Changing of the Guard - Lima, Peru

Iglesia and Monastery San Francisco with armored troop carrier. We took a tour of the Monastery and it's catacombs. Not to be missed!
Iglesia and Monastery San Francisco - Lima, Peru

Plaza de Armas with fountain and Christmas tree.
Plaza de Armas - Lima, Peru

Not to mention several very good vegetarian restaurants like Vida Sana.
Vida Sana - Vegetarian Restaurant - Lima, Peru

And the most elaborate Nativity Scene ever in Iglesia La Merced. This photo does not do it justice.
Nativity Scene - Iglesia La Merced - Lima, Peru

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The spectacular Cordillera Blanca

We are hitting the Cordillera Blanca in the raining season and had to make it a short visit, but everything about it was very scenic: the bus ride in through the Cañon del Pato, the day hike up the Cerro San Juan and beyond, the visit to the glacier lakes of Llanganuco, and bus ride out through the cordillera. Raining season means high cloud coverage, i.e. hidden peaks. However, when there is some clearing, all the peaks have snow. The weather forecast would include snow line, e.g. 4200m.

It´s faster to ride a burro up Cerro San Juan, but we prefer our own two feet.
Caraz, Peru

A brief glimpse of a snow-capped peak.
Cordillera Blanca - Caraz, Peru

Sun-Ling recovers from a close encounter with a cactus on the way up Cerro San Juan.Callejón de Huaylas - Caraz, Peru

Looking down on to the city of Caraz and Huaylas Canyon where we started the day´s hike.
Callejón de Huaylas - Caraz, Peru

Going up beyond Cerro San Juan, we were surprised to see the mountain flatten with farms, fields, and a small village.
Cordillera Blanca - Caraz, Peru

Now we are beyond and out of sight of Cerro San Juan and Caraz. Below is the small village. And we´re still headed up.
Callejón de Huaylas - Caraz, Peru

We turn around here, after a tasty lunch, with a peak at the narrow entrance to Canyon Paron in the distance.
Cordillera Blanca - Caraz, Peru

And the wind began to howl on the way down, with some rain, but I stopped to take one last photo.
Cordillera Blanca - Caraz, Peru

The next day we take a day trip to Yungay and the LLanganuco region.

Into the canyon and on to the natural, glacier-fed lakes of LLanganuco in Huascaran National Park.
Huascarán National Park - Peru

Lake Chinancocha.
Lake Chinancocha - Huascarán National Park - Peru

Walking around the shore of Lake Chinancocha.
Lake Chinancocha - Huascarán National Park - Peru

Looking back down Lake Chinancocha to its natural dam.
Lake Chinancocha - Huascarán National Park - Peru

Looking back from the second lake, Lake Orconcocha, to Lake Chinancocha in the distance.
Lake Orconcocha (front), Lake Chinancocha (back) - Huascaran National Park - Peru

Leaving Caraz and the Cordillera Blanca for Lima, there were still plenty of great views of snow-capped mountains, green valleys, and natural lakes out the bus window.
Cordillera Blanca - Peru

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And finally, to see all the photos of the trip in and out of the Cordillera Blanca, click here.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cañon del Pato

The general strike in the Huaraz area was over, so after a day in Casma we set out for the Cordillera Blanca, the second highest mountain range in the world, by heading up the Cañon del Pato in a bus.

The highlights of the bus ride included spotting a Duke Energy Power Plant in Huallanca and passing through a series of 39 one-lane tunnels high above the river below. Oh, and not to mention that the road is unpaved. See video below.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Long second hurdle

Northern coastal Peru was my second hurdle of the trip. Chiclayo and Trujillo are supposed to be run by gangsters. Bag snatchers frequent Chiclayo bus terminals. When John and I walked out of the Chiclayo bus terminal, all our senses were at high alert. What we saw were sparse main drags, deserted smaller lanes, streets more littered than usual, and more storefronts closed than open. This was only 5:30pm, not even dark. For a city of 500,000 people, it looked very suspicious. Alarm bells were going off like Christmas lights in our heads. We felt very uneasy, but the guesthouse we settled down in was rather friendly. The next day we made visits to a couple of archeological sites outside the city. Upon returning to our guesthouse, we were exchanging pleasantries with the proprietors, I glanced over at the calender and noticed that the day before was marked red. It was a national holiday for the Immaculate Conception, which explained all our suspicions. It was a good laugh all around.

Trujillo turned out to be uneventful as well, except when we started to inquire about onward moves, we learned that there had been road blocks and unrest at our next destination. It had been going to for six days. After Nepal we totally understand the gravity of a general stirke and started to plot alternate routes and monitoring the situation on the web. We decided to detour to Casma even though it means we would have to transfer through the most unsavory city of all Peru, Chimbote, twice. The same day we learned that the conflict was ending. We pushed ahead with our detour.

Due to our poor timing, in order to go to the most unsavory town, we had to get on a bus with the most dangerous bus company "America Express" whose bus caused a head-on collision that left 38 people dead back in February 2010 while attempting an illegal pass. We landed in the most vulnerable seats, the front row on the upper deck. The view was fantastic. The bus cruised along at a "snail's pace" according to John.

When our bus safely reached Chimbote, the most threatening act we witnessed was someone throwing a bucket of water from a third flour terrace, barely missing a bicyclist. From the same bus terminal we made a transfer to Casma, Ciudad Del Eterno Sol, and tasty Cremoladas (think Slurpee, but with real fruit).

Two days later we passed through Chimbote for the second and last time. Unfortunately for us we were "enveloped in the stench of dead fish" for 90 minutes as we waited at the bus terminal for our onward bus to Caraz.

We don't look too concerned in our front row seats as we pull out of Trullijo on an America Express bus bound for Chimbote.P1080904

No head-on collision with this big truck as we head down the Pan-American Highway to Chimbote.

Pan-American Higway - Northern Peru

One of the many irrigated asparagus fields.
Pan-American Higway - Northern Peru

Welcome to Caraz, the City of Eternal Sunshine.
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Cremoladas.
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