Archive for the ‘Legendary Peru’ Category

A Sumptuous Tour of Peru

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

681_thumbnailJames Kus recently retired after forty one years at California State University, Fresno, where he taught courses on South American geography and archaeology. He first traveled to Peru in 1966; since then he has lived in that country for more than eight years, taught at Peru’s leading university, and carried out archaeological research on ancient agriculture in the northern coastal region. Jim has led more than twenty tours to Peru and has published widely on Andean archaeology and geography, in both popular media and professional journals. Jim is particularly excited to introduce Smithsonian travelers to Andean culture and food; he notes that Peruvian cuisine has recently become very popular worldwide.

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When people hear that I’m going to Peru again, they often assume that it is to visit archaeological sites such as Machu Picchu or others in the Cuzco area.  Or perhaps it’s to see some of the spectacular scenery – snowcapped peaks, the rainforest, or Lake Titicaca.  But more and more these days, when asked why I go to Peru, my answer is “for the food.”

In recent years, Peruvian cuisine has become world famous, thanks to the work of such noted chefs as Gaston Acurio and his wife Astrid Gutsche, who have several restaurants in Lima and elsewhere around the world (several of our tour participants have been lucky enough to secure reservations for one of their Lima spots – but this takes much planning well in advance of the tour).  But every one of the hotels that we use on the Smithsonian Journeys tours have great restaurants, so it is possible to sample a wide variety of typical dishes as well as some of the new eclectic fusion plates and the local wines.

One item that surprises many first-time visitors to Peru is cuy (guinea pig) – usually served roasted, and frankly not an everyday dish for most Peruvians .

Photo courtesy of James Kus

Photo courtesy of James Kus

Consumption of cuyes is most often associated with special celebrations for Peruvian families, but tourists may have a chance to sample roasted cuy at a restaurant in Cuzco.

A very typical Andean food is the potato – several hundred varieties are grown in mountain regions.  Although baked, boiled, or fried potatoes are part of many meals, a great introduction to the Peruvian potato is a dish called causa – essentially cold mashed yellow potatoes, stuffed with chicken, seafood, or vegetables.  Kus-photo-two515My favorite is a causa stuffed with mariscos (shellfish), but some restaurants, such as the dining room at the Inka Terra hotel, feature three different causas as an entrée. Kus-photo-three515 Another typical entrée is ceviche – often a white fish, shrimp, or shellfish prepared in a strong lime/onion/chili pepper mixture (the citric acid “cooks” the fish).  Usually thought of as a coastal dish, some highland restaurants now serve a ceviche done with local trout.

One of the most typical main courses found on dinner menus is lomo saltado – thin slices of meat stir-fried with french fries and vegetables and served with a side of rice.

Photo courtesy of James Kus

Photo courtesy of James Kus

Other dishes that you might find on the menu include lots of varieties of chicken (my own favorite is aji de gallina – shredded chicken in a mild spicy sauce over rice) – or try pollo a la brasa (whole chicken roasted on a spit).

Then there are desserts – a whole range of sweet treats made with local fruits –try lucuma ice cream for something distinctly different.  But my all-time favorite has to be the messy sundae at the Inka Terra restaurant.  That’s the name for it (although on the menu it’s called the “miskey sundae”) – vanilla ice cream, homemade brownies, and a fudge sauce to die for, with the serving glass dipped in the sauce to create the “messy” name.   !Kus-photo-five515

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Read more about upcoming departures of our Legendary Peru tour here.

Beyond Machu Picchu – Two Places in Peru You Should Add to Your List

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Dr. James Kus recently retired after forty one years at California State University, Fresno, where he taught courses on South American geography and archaeology.  He first travelled to Peru in 1966; since then he has lived in that country for more than eight years, taught at Peru’s leading university, and carried out archaeological research on ancient agriculture in the northern coastal region.  Jim has led more than twenty tours to Peru and has published widely on Andean archaeology and geography, in both popular media and professional journals.  He is particularly excited to introduce Smithsonian travelers to Andean culture and food; he notes that Peruvian cuisine has recently become very popular worldwide.

This October Dr. James Kus led a group of Smithsonian travelers to Legendary Peru.

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When our group met together for the first time at our Lima hotel, along with discussing various logistical matters, we focused on introductions and expectations. Not surprisingly, when asked why they had come to Peru, almost all of our participants mentioned Machu Picchu – in fact, many said that it was on their longtime “bucket list” and, for several, it was the only Peruvian site that they knew much about. At the end of the trip, when we met for one last Pisco sour at the Lima airport, the participants were asked what their favorite spot was among the many interesting places that we had visited. Not surprisingly, Machu Picchu was mentioned by several people, but many travelers cited other special experiences as well.

Vegetables from a local Uro Market

Traditional markets showed a side of Peru that has gone overlooked by many tourists. Photo courtesy of trip leader Dr. James Kus

For example, we visited the town of Ollantaytambo, which has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site for its traditional architecture and nearby Inca ruins. My god-daughter’s family lives in this town and we were able to spend almost an hour with her family, who live in a house that dates back to pre-Hispanic times. It is constructed of stone with a thatched roof and has guinea pigs (raised for food) scampering around the floor. We met several members of the family and saw many of the tools used by local agriculturalists as well as the other artifacts of their daily lives. This glimpse into a more traditional way of life was cited as a trip highlight by several of our travelers.

Smithsonian Journeys travelers at a local Peruvian Market

Smithsonian Journeys Legendary Peru travelers explore a traditional market place in Peru. Photo courtesy of Dr. James Kus

Another highlight mentioned was travelling from Puno by boat to see the floating reed islands on Lake Titicaca. After visiting one island, we were able to stop at a second island, Tupiri, where a young Uro woman, Amalia Suana, has set up a preschool for Uro children ages three to five. These children sang to our group in their native language, Aymara, as well as in Spanish and English. We toured the school and saw the fantastic job that Amalia is doing with these children (incidentally, she has received a national award last year for her work at her school).

Uro school children -Smithsonian Journeys

Children line up for a song at a preschool on Tupiri, an island in Lake Titicaca.  Photo courtesy of Dr. James Kus

Uro Children Playing Outside

Uro preschoolers performed for Smithsonian Journeys travelers, but also provided an insight into local living on an island in Peru’s Lake Titicaca. Photo courtesy of Dr. James Kus

Finally, before leaving Puno, we visited the local fruit and vegetable market.  Although we had previously stopped at several markets that were primarily aimed at tourists (with lots of native handicrafts for sale), this time we were seeing where the local people shop on a daily basis. The assortment of fruits, vegetables, fish, and meat (plus staples such as toilet paper, soap, rope, etc.) was impressive.

Peruvian Fruit and Vegetable Market

Travelers explore a fruit and vegetable market while traveling around Peru. Photo courtesy of Dr. James Kus

It has been my experience on previous trips that it is often the unexpected serendipitous moment that sticks in the minds of tour participants, and these three places certainly were highlights for everyone on this Smithsonian journey.

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For more pictures from Dr. James Kus, visit our Smithsonian Journeys Facebook page and learn more about our Legendary Peru tour here.

Cloud Forests, Hummingbirds and Wiñay Wayna: Springtime in Peru

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Patricia Hostiuck, Smithsonian Journeys Study LeaderA popular and respected naturalist, Patty Hostiuck is well-versed in tropical as well as polar ecosystems. She began her career in Alaska as a ranger; since then she has worked as a freelance naturalist and lecturer on numerous expedition ships. Patty, who has led over 50 trips with Smithsonian Journeys, has guided travelers to the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers, Chile, Costa Rica, Belize, the Galápagos, Iceland, Botswana, Australia and Borneo, among many other destinations. Below is a post about her most recent trip—this one to Peru.

In April, I served as Study Leader for Smithsonian’s Legendary Peru trip with a delightful group of guests, most of whom were not only first-time Smithsonian travelers but also first-time visitors to South America. Peru is a great country to begin one’s exploration of South America; it contains the greatest number of archaeological sites and boasts the most highly evolved ancient civilizations on the continent, including the Inca Empire. Machu Picchu was the magnet that drew most of these guests here, but as they have now learned, Peru offers other rewards—delicious and daring cuisine; breathtaking scenery and varied geography, from desert to mountains, cloud forest to lowland jungle; myriad wildlife and botanical wonders; friendly, authentic and down-to-earth people; and, yes, abundant shopping!—certainly a country worthy of repeat visits.

Our April visit turned out to be wonderful timing. In Lima, the capital, the weather was sunny and bright, lacking the gray garúa mist that predominates June – October, and the abundance of flowers was a tonic to those of us just emerging from winter. Although April is the end of the rainy season in the mountains, our weather nonetheless was splendid in Cuzco, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. Highland terraced crops were like colorful patchwork quilts, while potatoes—which originated in Peru—were being harvested by colorfully dressed, hard-working Quechua people.

Machu Picchu’s high season for tourists is June – August, so it was a pleasure to explore the magnificent ruins in less crowded conditions. In addition, several species of orchids were in bloom including a towering red Sobralia and a dainty pink Epidendrum locally called “wiñay wayna” which means “forever young.” Due to its location in the Andean cloud forest, Machu Picchu and environs harbors a great diversity of hummingbirds. Feeders at our cloud forest lodge attracted energetic swarms of at least six species of these glittering avian jewels with colorful names like Collared Inca, Sparkling Violetear and Chestnut-breasted Coronet.

Peru lived up to all its promises, both cultural and natural, ancient and current. Smithsonian guests departed well-satisfied with their choice and already planning their next visit to South America. What will it be? Patagonia? Amazon?

 

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu. (Courtesy of Flickr user quinet.)

Sobralia orchids, Machu Picchu

Sobralia orchids add pops of color to the Machu Picchu landscape. (Courtesy of Flickr user Matito.)

Lama near Machu Picchu

Llama near Machu Picchu. (Courtesy of Flickr user Emmanuel Dyan.)

Hummingbird near Machu Picchu

Hummingbird near Machu Picchu. (Courtesy of Flickr user Ivan Mlinaric.)

Lima Cathedral

La Catedral in central Lima. (Courtesy of Flickr user James Preston.)

Cuzco, Peru

Cuzco, Peru. (Courtesy of Flickr user fortherock.)

Woman cooking on Uros Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Woman cooking on Uros Island, Lake Titicaca. (Courtesy of Flickr user pclvv.)

Click here to read more about Smithsonian’s upcoming Legendary Peru departures this fall and winter.