Latin America: A Journey Through Food (Video)

10 months + 12 countries= 861 meals.

From llama to cow intestines to ceviche to guinea pig to a LOT of rice and boiled potatoes, Latin America introduced me to a lot of new gastronomical challenges.  Some were successes (I love alpaca!), while some left me feeling queasy (spit-roasted guinea pig is not a delicacy for me), but all reminded me that the secret to understanding a culture is through their food.  Here is just a taste of what South American cuisine is all about.

Also, for a more detailed look at Peruvian cuisine, don’t forget to check out my post on the most typical Peruvian dishes.

Things to Do in Arequipa, Peru

Things to Do in Arequipa, Peru

Arequipa, Peru.  Haven’t heard of it?  While it may not be as widely known as Lima, Cuzco, or Lake Titicaca, Arequipa is a major Peruvian city with a lot to offer travelers.  Located in the south of the country (a few hours from the famous Nazca lines), Arequipa is home to close to a million inhabitants.

It’s known as “La Ciudad Blanca” (The White City), a nod to the stunning white architecture that fills the city centre.  These buildings were constructed with sillar, white volcanic stone from the three volcanoes that loom over the city — the most prominent being “El Misti”, which is pictured above.  Partially because of the colour of the stone, but also because of the colonial and heavy Catholic influence in the architecture, Peruvians consider Arequipa to be one of the most Spanish or Mestizo cities in the country.  There is much less outright indigenous influence than in a place like Cuzco, for example.

That may sound nice, but what is there to actually see and do in Arequipa?

I arrived in Arequipa on a bus straight from La Paz, Bolivia, a city that had overwhelmed me with its chaos.  I have to sheepishly admit that I completely embraced Arequipa for its modernity, and tourist-friendly atmosphere.  Arequipa is a city fit for tourists of all types and budgets, not just hippy backpackers.  It has luxurious hotels, high-class restaurants, and even plenty of air-conditioned malls with western-style gyms.  However, you’ll still find plenty of local eateries, budget hotels and hostels, and family-run businesses.

Here are some of my recommendations on how to spend your time in Arequipa:

1. Walk the City Centre: The historic centre occupies roughly a five-block diameter of the city.  It’s easily accessible, and safe to walk around in.  There are plenty of small museums, and some converted mansions which you can view.  It’s great to just wander the streets, and observe the activity.  The hub of the centre is the Plaza de Armas, the main square.  In true colonial tradition, the square is dominated by the cathedral, but it’s also filled with hawkers, and promotion people who work for various tourism companies.  Most will try to sell you packaged tours to the Colca Canyon, Cusco, or Lake Titicaca.  Try to avoid them by sticking to the side streets, which are almost equally beautiful and full of small shops.Arequipa

2. See a Frozen Inca Princess: Ever seen a mummy?  How about an Inca mummy?  Although the Museo Santuarios Andinos may seem a bit pricey, (20 soles), it’s a worthwhile experience.   “Juanita” is the name given to the frozen, preserved body of a young sacrificial victim, who was found by an anthropologist in 1995.  Her corpse was discovered high on the volcano Ampato, and now resides in this museum.  Watch a short documentary, see some of the artifacts that were buried with her, and learn a bit more about Inca history.

3. Tour the Santa Catalina Convent:  One of the best pieces of advice I got about Arequipa was from Carlita, a local who I met through Couchsurfing.  She told me that I should visit the convent in the late afternoon, about an hour and a half before sunset.  This way, I could take photos and see the site both in daylight, and during the magnificent sunset.   Established in 1579 (only a few decades after the Spanish conquest), the entire complex was built out of sillar.  (Most of it has been painted a beautiful blue or reddish-pink.)  Although part of it is still in use, the majority of the convent was opened to the public in 1970.  Don’t forget to climb up the stairs onto the roof to view the sunset!  (Give yourself lots of time here; there’s plenty to see).

4. Have a Rooftop Drink: If you visited the convent earlier in the day, you can always catch the sunset at one of the many rooftop bars in the Plaza de Armas.  One of the best views is from the restaurants in the upper-right corner of the plaza, if you’re facing the cathedral.

5.  Take a Cooking Course: Peruvian Cooking Experience is a fantastic company that is located in Hotel Casa Avila, just a six or seven minute walk from the main plaza.  The class I took cost 45 soles, and was some of the best money I spent on my entire trip.  There are a few different menus you can choose from (classic, Andean, and seafood), and they also cater to vegetarian students.  In my class, we cooked the Andean Menu: Soltero de Queso, (a cheese and corn salad), Rocoto Relleno (see below), and Pastel de Papas (potato pie).  My class began at 11 AM, and ended at 2.  Book ahead of time, here.

Try your hand at some typical Peruvian dishes.
Try your hand at some typical Peruvian dishes.

6. Eat and Drink!: Arequipa is home to some very popular Peruvian dishes, such as Rocoto Relleno, Rocoto hot peppers stuffed with a mixture of beef, raisins, eggs, cheese, peas, carrots, milk, and potatoes.  These have a real kick to them, but are probably my favourite Peruvian dish!  Soltero de Queso is another popular dish here.  It’s a  tasty, brightly-coloured salad, with lots of cheese, corn, lima beans, onions, tomatoes, carrots, all tossed with a lime dressing.  (For more Peruvian food, see my list of some of my favourites.)  When you’ve had your fill, wash everything down with some Pisco Sour, a famous cocktail made with egg whites, lime, and Pisco alcohol.  If you’re looking for a mid-range restaurant and want something less traditional, visit Crepisimo (right by the convent).  It has a beautiful courtyard, so eat outside.

7. Couchsurf: Arequipa has some great couchsurfers, and this is one city where it’s nice to go out and meet people.  I met up with Carla and Carlos during my stay here, and both were eager hosts who were more than willing to show me the city.  Carlita also introduced me to spicy versions of Pisco Sours — the best way to cool off on a warm afternoon! 😉

8. Hike the Colca Canyon or El Misti Volcano: The Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world, and is home to the Andean Condors, which can be spotted from the Cruz del Condor lookout point.  El Misti is the volcano that towers over Arequipa.  I did not do these myself, because I had to hurry over to Cuzco for the start of my Inca Trail trek, but all of my friends who have done it, loved them.  Give yourself a couple of days for either of these excursions, and make sure you compare prices before booking.  You can do the Colca Canyon on your own, but you need a guide for the volcano.  Expect to pay around 150 soles for a 3-day (2-night) Colca Canyon tour.

 

There are many, many more things to do in Arequipa, whether you’re looking for culture, history, or adventure tourism.  Get out there, and explore.  Give yourself at least two or three days in the city, and two or three more for nearby excursions.

Where to Stay: I stayed at the Arequipay Backpackers’ Hostel, and loved it.  It’s only a few minutes’ walk from the main plaza, and right down the street from the Peruvian Cooking Experience.

Where to Stay in Peru: My Top Hostel Picks

Where to Stay in Peru: My Top Hostel Picks

Out of all of the countries I have visited, nowhere is as popular with my readers as Peru.  I’ve gotten lots of messages asking for advice on itineraries, places to stay, and the logistics of Peruvian travel.  To makes things easier for you, I’ve decided to compile some of my tips in a series of posts: “My Quick Travel Guide to Peru.”  I hope it’s a useful reference for you, but of course, feel free to contact me if you have any other questions!

Here are my accommodation suggestions, based on the places I visited and stayed in in Peru:

Arequipa: You HAVE to stay at Arequipay Backpacker’s Hostel. I think there are two hostels with a similar name, but this is the one:. It’s fantastic and cheap.  The place is extremely clean (they probably cleaned the bathrooms every 15 minutes), and well organized.  Best of all, there is a great cooking class right around the corner from this hostel.  I can’t recommend the hostel or class enough.

Cusco: Because I made several trips to Cusco, I stayed in two different hostels there.  My top pick is Ecopackers Hostel.  It’s in a fantastic location, just off the Plaza de Armas (main square), and is a five-minute walk from the San Pedro Market.  The prices are affordable, and the breakfast is good.  I stayed in the 18-person dorm, which sounds crowded, but I found it to be  a large enough room that I didn’t notice all of the people.  The only problem (and this goes for any hostel in Cusco) is that you are often woken up at 4 AM by people getting up to leave on a trek to Machu Picchu, as the treks always leave in the early morning.  My other choice for Cusco is Kokopelli.  While both are slight (but not extreme) party hostels, Kokopelli has a more hippy vibe.  It has fantastic artwork everywhere, which is often created by the guests.  A really good breakfast as well, but a bit further from the plaza.

Huacachina: Stay in Huacachina, not Ica. Desert Nights hostel is simple, and the accommodation is nothing special, but they have the BEST food in their restaurant. It’s a super touristy menu, but the portion sizes are enormous and a great value for the (tourist-priced) prices. It may seem like pricey food, but trust me, it will be the best western food you eat in Peru. (And hopefully the only?)

Lima: HQ Villa hostel! This place is only $6 per night, and is an old converted villa. It’s gorgeous! But, I would spend an extra dollar or two and get a ten person dorm or smaller, because the twelve can get a bit noisy with people waking you up early in the morning. Great breakfast here!  It’s on the edge of Miraflores neighbourhood, but it’s only about a 25-minute walk to Parque Kennedy.

Mancora:  Mancora is a surfing, party town.  Any hostel here will do its best to live up to that reputation.  I was only there for a day (by accident), and wasn’t there to party, but I still liked the vibe of Kokopelli Hostel.  If Carlos Enrique and his dog Pisco are still on staff, tell them I say hi!

Paracas:  This place is small, with only one main street, and there are only a few options.  There are a couple places called Paracas Bacpackers’ Hostel, but this is the one you want to stay at.  The owner is a very, very friendly older man named Alberto, who will go out of his way to help you book tours and figure things out.

Puerto Maldonado: What I would tell you to do here is to either fly or take a bus here, arriving early in the morning, and then go at once to a tour company.  If you can, pre-book a tour, or try to be there before eight or nine so that you can leave that day.  I did a three-day Amazon tour with Carlos Expeditions, and thought that the accommodation and tour was fantastic.

Puno: Avoid this city, if you can.  It’s ugly, touristy, and not worth an overnight stay.  If you do go, do NOT stay at Hotel Empejador.  We got into a big hassle with the hotel when we booked our bus tickets through there.

 

Photo Friday: Street Art in Valparaíso, Chile

Photo Friday: Street Art in Valparaíso, Chile

If you’re looking for quality street art in South America, there are three stops you must add to your itinerary: Bogotá, Buenos Aires, and  Valparaíso.

Tucked on the coastal hills of central Chile, “Valpo” — as it’s affectionately known — is one of Chile’s oldest and most important fishing and shipping ports.  For tourists, it makes an attractive day trip or long-term backpacker hangouts.  Valpo is filled with hostels, small boutiques, and plenty of restaurants, (including many healthy options).  But the main draw of the city is its colours!  Valpo is filled with street art, and even most of the residential houses are brightly painted.  One of the best ways to spend your time there is to take a long walk through the hills to admire all of surrounding artwork.

Make sure you take a stroll past Pablo Neruda’s Valparaíso home.  It’s one of the three residences that the poet maintained in Chile.

 

One Year and 68 450 km Later… the Final Map of My Journey

One Year and 68 450 km Later… the Final Map of My Journey

It’s been exactly one year since I packed up my bags and took off to Edmonton International Airport for the trip of a lifetime.  (They call it that, but I plan on making it a more-than-once-in-a-lifetime-trip).  At that point, I really knew nothing about what I was getting myself into.  I started off the trip on a high with the Vancouver Salsa Festival.   From there, I headed to Europe, where I spent some time with some of my most beloved Dutch family members, and of course, my close friends.  I even got the experience of St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland with someone very dear to me.  Then it was off to Portugal, and onward to Brazil.

Looking back, it amazes me how many places I visited, and things are beginning to get a little fuzzy.  I’ve been home almost two months now, and I know I’ve slowly slipped into the post-trip rut.  You know the feeling: work seems like a huge chore, and you’re already itching to get out there again.  Some things about home stayed the same, but other aspects (especially of friendships) have changed.  There have been a few days lately when I just want to leave for the Netherlands now…

I think the issue and perceived solution of leaving are one in itself.  Because I know I won’t be here for too long, I haven’t dug in deep roots.  I view everything as temporary.  I haven’t bought a car, haven’t found a “career” job, and have no interest in looking for a relationship.  So I haven’t quite let myself routine to a settled routine.

So it’s with mixed emotions that I look back on my trip today.  It’s gotten to the point that my trip seems like a distant memory.  It’s amazing how quickly the rush and clutter of Western life sets in again.  But I know that while I’m here, I will take full advantage of my amazing friends and salsa opportunities, and hold out until it’s time to hit the road again.

Fortunately enough, I get to go on a mini trip this coming week.  Better yet, it’s to the 2013 Vancouver Salsa Festival, where I will get to see a few people that I met on my trip last year, either at the very same congress, or in South America!  I can’t wait to reconnect with them on the other side of the world, and watch my year come around full circle.

For anyone who is interested, here is the final map of my trip.  I’ve listed the dates and hostels that I stayed in in every location, for a reference tool for anyone who is planning their own trip.  Contact me if you have any questions about the accommodations!

Over 315 days, I traveled through an estimated 84 cities/towns in 17 countries, using 29 planes, 15 boats, 5 motorcycles, 3 bicycles, 1 helicopter… and more metros, trains, and buses than I can count.

 Total Distance – 68, 640 km  (This is a rough estimate based on the most direct routes, as opposed to the actual highways/roads journeyed.  The number should actually be MUCH higher than this)

Total Hostels/Accommodations: 55+

 

 


View La Viajera — The Trip in a larger map

50 Shades of (South American) Grey: Photo Essay

50 Shades of (South American) Grey: Photo Essay

There’s something wonderful about seeing the world in black and white.  Maybe it’s because nothing ever is just that.  Black and white is not our reality.  We are forced into a world of colour, of multiple dimensions, of scents and smells and tastes.  Yet once in awhile, we need to step and look at the simpler side of things.  We need to see things in shades of grey.

Here of 50 black-and-white photos from South America.  They look at the land, the cultures, and the people that I met along my journey.

Photo Friday: Solitude and the Sand Dunes in Florianopolis, Brazil

Photo Friday: Solitude and the Sand Dunes in Florianopolis, Brazil

I finally understand the hardest part of solo travel.

It’s not dealing with unsafe situations, nor is it trying to make friends.  It’s not even the inconvenience of cramming a backpack into a filthy bathroom stall.

It’s being back home.

Don’t take this the wrong way — I’m not lonely.  I feel overwhelmed by the number of friends who have been asking me to meet up for coffee.  Yet no matter how many people ask about my trip, or look at my photos, there is still something I can never transmit — the memories.

When my brother and a few of my friends came to visit at various points during my trip, I thought that it was fantastic to have the company.  I wasn’t lonely then either — I was making lots of local friends.  But having loved ones visit gave me people with whom to share the experiences, and more importantly, the memories upon my return.

Still, there are a few countries in which I was completely alone: Ecuador, Uruguay, and Brazil.*  Now that I’m in Canada, those memories are locked in my mind.

Last week, the Brazilian hit “Balada Boa” came on at a Latin bar.  While everyone else let loose and danced in a circle, a wave of emotion hit me.  I was transported back to my road trip across southern Brazil.  Vinicius, a local who was on a tour of his own country, had driven me from Paranagua to Florianopolis, and during the four-hour trip, we discussed our faourite zouk music and sang along to “Balada Boa.”  Nobody here will every remember that, nor will they remember the night we spent dancing zouk and forro on the beach of an almost-deserted island.

The same thing happened last night as I listened to a CD of Uruguayan guitar music for the first time.  It had been a gift from the artist himself, an old man who I met along La Rambla in Montevideo.  No matter who listens to the album with me, nobody will be able to recall the smile on the old man’s face, or his deep concern for my safety as I continued my run along the beach.

Those memories are all mine.  

I have this idea that, every year that I get older, it will become harder and harder to find a “soulmate.”  Not because all of the good men will be taken, but simply because each year leads to thousands of new memories that I will never be able to truly share with my future husband.  They are things that I can only try to tell and explain through words and photos.  Maybe that’s why some people are so afraid of ending a long-term relationship — they’re afraid of losing years of shared memories.  In the same way, some people are afraid of traveling alone.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but nothing is like having been there yourself.

*Well, in Brazil I did have the opportunity to meet up with a couple of friends from my semester abroad in the Netherlands, but they don’t live in North America either, so the problem is the same.  (I don’t want you to think I’m forgetting about you Sandra, Thais, and Jorge!)

Photo Friday: Salsa in Colombian Streets, Salsa in Canadian Bars

Photo Friday: Salsa in Colombian Streets, Salsa in Canadian Bars

After almost a year away, I’m finally back home in Edmonton, Canada.  That means I’m back at my favourite watering hole – On the Rocks — where I used to go for weekly Latin nights.  I used to live for salsa Thursdays.

As much as salsa dominated my life before I left, it also shaped my South America trip.  Upon my arrival in each new place, I would search online for the city’s hottest salsa spots and dance schools.  Most of the close friends I made, I met at salsa events, and I coordinated my trip around a couple of international salsa congresses (in Lima and Quito).

Now that I’m home, Edmonton salsa nights have taken on a new meaning.  Last week, the D.J. was playing Colombian salsa songs to which I had danced only days before in the streets during the Feria de Cali.  That same night, I met people from countries that I had visited, and was able to chat with them in Spanish about the neighbourhoods that they had grown up in.  I recognize more songs now, and connect better with the music.  Many of the songs are by bands that I’ve seen live.  Others remind me of dances or moments that I shared with people from all across Latin America.

One of the most significant consequences of my salsa-driven trip is that it’s motivated me.  I met, took classes, and danced with salseros and bachateros of an incredible caliber.  They introduced me to new styles and types of dance (like forro, samba de gafieira, vallenato, tango, salsa caleña, huayno, etc.), and encouraged a higher level of discipline in training.  I know I will never be a professional dancer, but everything and everyone that I’ve encountered in the dance world over the past year has inspired me to try to take my dancing to the next level.