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Monday, November 28, 2011

Gastronomic Capital of the Americas

For my week in Lima, I lived with a host family and went to school a couple hours a day. The school turned out to be kind of expensive and not so useful, but my time with Soledad and Lyonel at home proved to be much more rewarding. Let me start off by saying that Peru (specifically Lima) is considered to be the gastronomic capital of the Americas, and Soledad definitely held up that reputation with every single meal she cooked. My day would start off with having fresh, so delicious Peruvian coffee every morning with a freshly squeezed papaya strawberry juice and buttered roll. Peruvians are NUTS about bread! I was really surprised, because I thought things would be a lot more corn-based than wheat-based. I have bread at least once a day here, as you can buy 5 rolls for 1 sole (about 33-50 cents). I would come home at lunch to a delicious home-cooked meal and all three of us would eat together. My favorite meals were aji de gallina, a rich shredded chicken in peanut-y sauce served with yellow potatoes and hard boiled egg, and escabeche, spicy chicken served with sweet potato, choclo (really fat kernel corn), and a hard boiled egg. We usually had Inca Kola at the table, which I am not a fan of. It is bright yellow soda that tastes like bubble gum that people drink like water here. Coca Cola is also very popular here (and owns Inca Kola) and sometimes that would make an appearance as well. I didn't take any pictures of the food, so google image search will have to do to give you guys an idea of what it's like.

Inca Kola


Aji de Gallina

For dinner we usually had leftover lunch, although one night we went out for chicharron sandwiches, arroz con leche, and mazamorra. In the United States, chicharron is what we call pork rinds, made from pig skin. In Peru, it is actually deep fried pork belly, and the sandwiches at this place had a slice of sweet potato and red onions tossed in lime juice on it. It was amazing! Arroz con leche is rice pudding, and mazamorra is a hot pudding that is made from Peruvian purple corn, cooked with pineapple, cherries, and cinnamon. Needless to say, I left that dinner stuffed and ready to take a nap.

Chicharron sandwich

Mazamorra morada

On my last day of class, my Spanish teacher took me to a chocolate shop that had the most delicious traditional Peruvian chocolates. Called tejas, these chocolates are wrapped in white or milk chocolate, and have manjar blanco (dulce de leche, essentially) inside along with nuts, dried fruit, or candied lime peel. These things are dangerously good!! I had one with rum raisins, another with pecans, and another which was an entire hollowed out candied lime peel (how did they do that?!) filled with manjar and coated in white chocolate.

Teja de pecanas and limon rellena - candied lime filled with manjar blanco

I haven't eaten so much delicious food in one week before, and I can't wait to see what the rest of Peru will have to offer. Every Peruvian I have met loves food and is very proud of their national dishes, so I know that I'll be able to try a lot more delicious food while I'm here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

What a locura!

Locura (madness, craziness) is the only word I can use to describe my day in Mexico City. I said goodbye to my host family on Saturday and was waiting for the plane to depart when I discovered that I did not have my debit card with me. Aní, the daughter, was generous enough to lend me her purse so I didn't have to lug around a giant bag while I explored the city, but I didn't empty it completely and my debit card got left behind.

I didn't have enough time to go back to my family's house and get it, and I only had 100 pesos and $28 USD on me. I had to spend 50 pesos buying a cup of coffee from Starbucks so I could use their wifi to call my mom to figure out what to do. My only option was to go to Mexico City and try to come up with a solution from there.

I arrived in Mexico City, hot and exhausted, and took the metro to my hostel, and paid $20 for the night. It was a nice hostel and taking the metro was not nearly as terrifying as the travel guides make it sound. If you've taken the subway in NYC, the metro in Paris, or even the buses in Seattle, it's not so bad. A little dirty, lots of people selling stuff in the cars, but not scary. Also, their metro system was designed with illiteracy in mind, so it is incredibly easy to navigate. All you need to know is the color of the line and the symbol of the stop where you want to get off.

The only pictures I have of Mexico City, in the morning before things got too crazy, are below.

I woke up and set out to the nearest place to buy some food, but walked in the wrong direction (far away from a Starbucks) so I ended up buying a 12 peso Nescafe latte at an Oxxo (like 7-11). If I never have to have Nescafe again, I will be a happy girl. I don't understand why a nation with their own delicious coffee as well as access to nearby countries' delicious coffee would serve Nescafe everywhere!! As my luck would have it, I turned the corner and there was a Starbucks. I decided to toss my latte and spend the extra 22 pesos to buy a cup of coffee that wasn't from powder, sit down and use the wifi on my blackberry.

After 3 hours of trying to find Western Unions and figuring out how my parents could use my own debit card number to send me money, I set out to actually find one. I picked up my luggage back at the hostel (where I found out I could have had a FREE breakfast if I had gotten up early enough) and got on the metro to go find the place. By now, I have 16 pesos and my $8 USD, it's noon, it's been 20 hours since my last meal, and I'm running on coffee and fumes.

At the first location, no one could understand that I wanted to send money to myself, so my mom found another location "nearby" (8 blocks is not nearby when you are carrying a 50 pound pack around the city in 85 degree heat) and I set out to find this one. The directions my mom was reading me from the Moneygram website directed me to a street lined with candy shops. No Moneygram or Western Union, and no one had any idea what I was talking about when I asked where it could be. I had to go get back on the metro and get to the airport or I was going to miss my flight, so I spent my last pesos on a roll of Hits cookies, and started choking them down as I huffed and puffed my way back to the metro. By now I was getting a lot of strange looks because I am 6 feet tall, white, carrying all my belongings on my back, crying a little, speaking English, cramming cookies in my mouth, and drenched in sweat. Not exactly fitting in.

After a 45 minute metro ride to the airport, I arrived on time for my flight, had a delicious meal of pasta and red wine on the plane, and when I got off the plane in Peru 5 hours later, everything turned out okay. I am a firm believer in the saying, "everything will be okay in the end, and if it's not okay, it's not the end". It was quite an experience, and I'm sure I won't forget my debit card anywhere ever again. I also have a new appreciation for my Blackberry and my helpful parents!

The following day I picked up some money from a Western Union that was two blocks from my house, organized getting my card sent to Arequipa, and started another excellent week in a new city.

Last Day in Guadalajara

On my last day in Guadalajara, I had plans to go on a free tour of the historical part of the city, but when I arrived I found out that the tour had left an hour earlier and I was on my own. I took myself on a little tour around the area and got some nice shots. Of course I left my map somewhere, a map that would allow me to write some just pictures will have to do.

I knew I wanted to see the Mercado Libertad, or Mercado San Juan de Dios as everyone calls it. Picture the largest indoor market you've been in, and then multiply it by 5. This place is HUGE! They sell literally anything you could ever need. Food, leather, birds, shoes, cds, candy, watch bands, lightbulbs, flowers, fake flowers, makeup, nailpolish, clothes, glasses, get the point. There are 3000 vendors. Every inch of the place is crammed with things. They really know how to use space efficiently! It is super hot, because not only is it stuffed with things, but there are many restaurants serving up all kinds of delicious Mexican and international foods. I was there around breakfast time and things were pretty steamy. I had to keep moving so I didn't get my stuff stolen (it's a hotspot for pickpockets) and so I didn't get pestered by vendors. I couldn't really take enough pictures that could capture the enormity of the place, plus I wanted to avoid flashing my camera around in such a crowded place.

There are about 4 of these giant ramp areas that I saw, for some perspective on the scale!

After my day touring around, I went home and got ready to leave to catch my plane. More on that next!


The day I arrived in Guadalajara, the Panamerican Games were ending. Because of this, there were a lot of new buildings and public art around the city, including Rosafest, similar to Pigs on Parade, or Cows on Parade. Each of the 42 roses were created by an artist, funded by a company, and benifitted a cause or a certain country that was participating in the games. Guadalajara used to be called the City of Roses, and there were roses growing everywhere, but now there are less flowers and more trees.

Here are some of the coolest ones I saw:

This is the most special one, because it was made by hand by a team of people, coated with tiny tiny beads all applied by hand. It took something like 3 weeks working 18 hours a day for a team of 15 people to complete. Unfortunately I don't have the exact numbers so don't quote me! It has symbols of Mexico and specifically Guadalajara on it, and the precision is impressive, but of course difficult to capture because it is behind glass so no one will pick off the beads.

Catching up

I am here in Lima, Peru, but I need to update my blog since I am a little behind! I have been so busy and traveling is exhausting. Thank goodness for siestas! I also am wiped every day from trying to express myself in Spanish all day. But here we go, back to Mexico.

All of the food was so good and the generosity of that family was so amazing to me. Señora Chavez has family that lives within a few blocks of her apartment, and because she told her sister I wanted to try some Mexican pozole, her sister one night made pozole from scratch (kind of labor-intensive!) and gave us some. It was delicious! Different from the pozole I grew up eating in the US and so good. Pozole is a soup made with hominy and a broth made from pork or chicken, and her kind was served with beef cheeks, lime, chile, and tostadas. How nice it must be to have family a block away that can give you tasty food all the time!

The neighborhood of Guadalajara I was living in was called Jardines del Bosque, a middle- to upper-middle class neighborhood. First, let me express how much I absolutely love this neighborhood. My pictures could not capture the colors, which were my favorite part. It is so different from what I was used to in Seattle, because I'm used to everyone having a little space between their houses and a front yard and definitely no bars on their windows. These houses have gorgeous, saturated colors, and each house is a little bit different. They also all have cocheras, which are like carports, but they are a locked gated area in front of your house in which to lock your car. Cocheras can be old or new, electric or not, metal or wood.

Here are some pictures of my neighborhood:

This is the church that my family attends, just 3 blocks from their place.

This is a photo of the glass that people put on top of the walls on their house to prevent birds and theives from perching there! I think it's really pretty, although I don't think that is the intent.

My host family! Juan, Aní, and Señora Chavez.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My Trip Begins!!

I have been in Guadalajara since Sunday, and I finally have a chance to sit down and write a blog. What a busy week! I am having a fabulous time and learning a lot, at school and at home. I am living with a host family, and they are so nice and generous. I have been eating delicious food, although I haven't had a chance to try tortas ahogadas (the signature dish of Guadalajara) or any street food, because I eat all my meals at home.

I take the bus to school and here's something anyone who rides public transit in the US would like--the driver gives you change! Also every bus looks a little bit different. One I rode a couple days ago had all of the seats take out on one side, which was surprising but turned out to be refreshing becuase I caught a breeze from the window while standing. In order to catch the bus, one needs to flag it down, other wise it won't stop for you, but there is usually another one coming in the next 5 minutes. It's quite convenient.

While I'm on the bus, interesting things happen, for instance yesterday a friend of the bus driver who works as a window washer hopped on the front of the bus and cleaned the windshield at a stoplight. That definitely never happens in Seattle! There is a big problem with people selling things in the street here (it's illegal), and at stop lights, people try to do tricks for some change. Today I saw a group of young kids, probably 9 years old, juggling limes in traffic during a stop light. It made me so sad to think that that's what they do all day instead of going to school! I don't know how the police work here and if they would try to get those kids to a school or social services, but I'm guessing that's not one of their main concerns because it's a pretty common practice.

My school is located right next to the historical downtown area, and every Wednesday the school takes the class outside for a tour. However, yesterday was Dia de Muertos so we had an event at school and our tour was shortened. For Dia de Muertos, a tradition that only Mexicans celebrate, it is common to create an altar to dedicate to a deceased loved one. At school, we made an altar dedicated to Pancho Villa, and every Spanish student got to read a bit about the symbolism of putting things like candles, water, and food on the altar while we put it together. For instance, the candles are to guide the soul of the person to the altar, the water is so they can wash and drink after their long journey, and their favorite foods are to eat.

You can rotate my photos using the buttons below them.

After the celebration we went on a tour of the historical area, and we got to see the cathedral, the plaza, a tianguis (a covered market), and I took so many pictures! Here are just some. I can't stop taking pictures of the buildings here, they are so striking and I absolutely love the mix of colonial buildings with the relatively new (and usually pretty unattractive) construction. It is a really neat contrast, and also the varied and bright house colors are something I look forward to seeing every time I leave my house.

The tianguis

The cathedral and the area around my school

This place is a hole in the wall that's next to a 7-11 near my bus stop, and I walked into it and it's a little open patio! Very cool.

I will update more later on the walk of roses (like Pigs or Cows on Parade, but with roses) and pictures of my neighborhood. In the meantime, I will continue trying to speak Spanish without offending anyone and trying so hard to be understood. Manners and niceities are so important here and they are hard to incorporate when I'm trying to get the right conjugation! I miss you all and am very excited for my journey to continue!

Julia (Yoolie, as my host family calls me)