Thursday, June 30, 2011

My First Kiss - in Peru

My visit to Peru was driven by the business needs of my client. I work in a technology consulting role and meet with many people during each engagement. In the weeks leading up to my trip, I had scheduled meetings with a great many of the local subject matter experts.

Monday morning, I had flown all night and taken a slightly terrifying taxi ride from the airport to the office. There was the usual bit of confusion while a desk was found for me, site access badges were requested, and I logged on to my laptop, hoping furiously that I would have no problems accessing the local network.

Then it was time for my first meeting. Into my office walked a pair of Peruvian men. One was young and rather handsome. Much to my surprise, as I offered him my hand for a handshake, he leaned over and kissed me! It was rather startling and unexpected in a business setting.

As I puzzled over this during our meeting, the only thought that occurred to me was wondering if I reminded him of his grandmother!

I later found out that this is the custom in Peru - to kiss each other on the cheek in greeting or goodbyes. I was also told that Peruvian men do not kiss each other, only ladies. Argentinean men do kiss each other in greeting, which causes some awkwardness when Peruvian and Argentinean men meet.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lomito Fino al Portobello

The Novotel hotel in Lima has a lovely restaurant that is beautifully arrayed in simple but strong shades of orange and brown, decorated by pottery inspired by ancient Peruvian civilizations.

For tonight's dinner I chose the Beef Tenderloin with Portobello Mushrooms. It was a delight to both eye and tongue. Rather than your usual shapeless blob, the mashed potatoes were a visual treat with portobello mushrooms nestled between layers of tasty, creamy yellow potatoes. The beef was perfectly cooked and dressed with luscious portobello mushrooms and gravy. And the vegetables added both a bright, colorful contrast for the eye, and a crisp, tasty treat for the palate. A perfect blend of flavors for a very satisfying dinner.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lima Cheese Cake

I am a big cheesecake fan. The Cheesecake Factory is a frequent destination for both pleasure and business dining. In my younger days, a friend tried to bride me to audition for Bard of Cynaugua by promising me cheesecakes at every performance.

So naturally when saw this desert at the Inversiones la Rioja, I had to try it.

Lima Cheese Cake
Warm, with forest fruits lacquered in a purple corn sauce. Served with traditional cinnamon ice cream.

My only hesitation was the ice cream. I love cinnamon in baked goods like Cinnabons, but I don't care for it at all in candies like Red Hots.

I was not disappointed. The cheesecake was lightly fried for a crunchy exterior. The ice cream was rich, creamy and very smooth. The cinnamon permeated the ice cream perfectly and was very satisfying. And the forest fruits had an undefinable exotic flavor that complemented the cheesecake. An extremely satisfying variation on my favorite desert theme.

Alpaca and Andean Potatoes in Peru

What to do for my first dinner in a foreign country, where I do not speak the native language well?

Naturally, I decided to try the hotel restaurant, Inversiones lo Rioja. In the mood for something like but exotic, I tried the Alpaca and Andean Potatoes. The roasted alpaca was served rare. It was tender enough to cut with a fork, with a bit more flavor than beef. The crunchy layers of andean potatoes were thin slices of potatoe fried to a crispy crunch. The arugula salad rounded this light apetizer into a tasty light meal.

Overall, it satisfied the "exotic but satisfying" need.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Portobello Campero in Lima

Portobello mushrooms have become very popular in California over the last 10 years, and for good reason.

As I perused the menu at Portofinos in Lima, the Portobello Campero with Ricotta and Parmesan cheese sounded like promising vegetarian dinner. Beautifully presented, it was sinfully rich. The spinach salad was drenched in a tangy vinagrette-style dressing with a dressing of sauteed mushrooms. And while the portobello mushrooms were smaller than the California variety, the flavor was every bit as powerful.

A very satisfying meal in a beautiful location - overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Peru.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

My Scariest Moment in Lima - The Temple

Lima is a beautiful city in many ways, but a frightening city in some ways as well. In California we have "good" neighborhoods and "bad" neighborhoods. In "good" neighborhoods homes and yards are open and airy. In the "bad" neighborhoods you often see bars on the windows of the shops and homes to protect the people living there.

In Lima, the entire city looked like a "bad" neighborhood to my eyes. There are private security guards at the churches, at the hotels, at the grocery stores and at the businesses. Most homes have 8-10 foot high stone or wrought iron fences with barbs, and occasionally electric wire, adorning the top. Even the parking garages have armed guards. And the British travel advisories warn you to be wary of unscrupulous taxi cab drivers due to some unfortunate recent mishaps.

So it was with some trepidation I decided to take a solo trip to the LDS Temple Saturday morning. I was warned it would be a busy day, so my best bet would be to arrive at 7:00 AM, when the Temple opened, for the early morning session. I planned accordingly, allowing for a 30-40 minute taxi ride, and possible delays with the taxi company. The taxi cab picked me up promptly at 6:00 AM and at 6:15 AM pulled over next to a 10 foot tall, black wrought iron fence with  barbs at the top and announced we were here. Granted, I've never been to the temple, but I have seen pictures and those pictures did not look like an abandoned street with a large, scary fence and some garbage scattered about. I found myself in the frightening position of being a woman, alone, at 6:15 in the morning, in  a strange neighborhood, in a strange country where I do not speak the language very well. In a panic, I tried to communicate my concerns to the taxi cab driver. What came out was "Mi seguridad!" as I frantically flipped through my phrase book trying to find the right words to say.  The driver began to understand, and offered to take a look around for me. After about a minute, he hopped back in the driver's seat, said something encouraging, then proceeded to drive around the corner. There, to my relief, was the entrance to the temple. I paid the driver, happily hopped out, and walked onto the Temple grounds. All fear and worry was gone. I knew I was home.

Human Sacrifice is Next to Godliness?

If sacrifice is a godly trait, then would human sacrifice be the most godlike type of sacrifice?

That would seem to be the theme in many ancient Peruvian cultures.

I toured the Museo de Larco in Lima. It is the most comprehensive collection available for public viewing. The metals, textiles and pottery are incredible.

But as my tour guide walked me through the Chimú, Moche, Cajamarca, Huari , Pukará, Paracas and Inca cultures, the theme of human sacrifice arose again and again. In earlier cultures, sacrifice was simple. They just threw the victims off the top of the mountain and left the broken bodies lying below.

In later cultures, most notably the Incas, the practice evolved into a formal ritual. There were ceremonial weapons used for draining the blood of the victim. There was a special plant used to prevent coagulation of the blood. And the culmination of the ritual, after the cup of blood had passed through many hands, was the drinking of the blood by the priest.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Souvenir Shopping at the Metro in Lima

Now that I have sight seeing out of the way, I'm into hard-core souvenir shopping.

I went to the Metro at lunch. It is the local mega market. As I was wandering around lost, looking for the treats I'd decided on yesterday, a sweet, tiny little woman came up to me and starting talking to me. After a most valiant effort to make herself understood, I began to understand she was a beggar. I think she was from Cuzco, was looking for a job, or noticed that I had a job - I'm not sure which. After she patiently repeated herself 3 or 4 times (the most patience any local has shown in a conversation with me, outside of the office) I realized she was asking for money, S/.20 or S/.30. I don't normally give money to beggars, but she was clean and polite & very patient, so I gave her a few sole coins. Then I patiently, firmly, repeatedly told her goodbye.

At the cash register I asked for change for S/.100 (I wish the ATMs dispensed 20s instead of 100s.) I'm hoping to do some more shopping before I leave, and don't want to repeat my KFC experience. When the cashier handed me a S/.50, I tried to ask her for smaller bills. Well, I guess pequeña was the wrong word, because she firmly handed me the S/.50 and the local equivalent of a roll of quarters and made it clear the transaction was complete.

Lima Traffic - Three Eyecatchers

Being from the United States, I, like my fellow Americans, tend to take our way of life for granted. Living near Silicon Valley and the state capital, "Bay Area driver" is one of my frequent curse words.

But Lima is a very different story. I arrived early Monday morning, and my only "tourist time" was a photo travelogue-by-taxi-cab as I was driven from the airport to my office.

The first contrast with SF or SMF airports is the traffic. The Lima airport is a very small international airport. Taxis are not allowed to actually drive in front of the airport. They stand out front of the exit with a little sign that has your name on it. Once they find you, you have to walk across a large parking lot to where the taxi cab was parked.

Unlike Bay Area and Sacramento traffic, surface traffic in Lima is always thick, morning and night. But not to worry, every time you stop at a traffic light, a friendly vendor walks up and down the streets offering to sell you newspapers, chocolate, or pastries .

The third thing that caught my eye was the minivan . Not only was it battered and dented, but in a van the size of a 2001 Honda Odyssey I counted 5 rows of seats behind the driver, with 3-4 people in each row. Do the math: there were 23 Limans in the amount of space 7 Americans expect to sit in California.

Riding a taxi cab in Lima is a very different experience from driving California.

Friday, June 24, 2011

YVR Art - A Tribute to Aboriginal Art

The airport at YVR has some stunning arwork celebrating the aboriginal peoples of Canada. As you descend the stairs from the terminal into Customs, this beautiful two-story-high water fountain relaxes the mind and refreshes the eye.

As you are leaving Vancouver International, display cases show artwork by local native artists.

If you enjoy museums, try the Historical Village, the Museum at Campbell River, or view the Totem Poles in Stanley Park.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

If You Like Piña Coladas

There is a very popular song by Jimmy Buffet that goes like this.

If you like piña coladas
And getting caught in the rain...

Sadly, I'm not fond of Jimmy Buffet and I DO NOT like coladas (coconuts.) However, I LOVE
piñas (pineapples.) In California that means I usually drink orange juice.

Imagine my delight to find that in Lima freshly made pineapple juice has been available at every restaurant I've eaten at. When the server asks what I would like to drink (¿Qué te gustaría beber?) the melodic sound of jugo de piña rolls off my tongue.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Airport Art - China in San Francisco

I live near enough to San Francisco that I don't generally consider a stop-over at SFO to be anything special. It's just another airport to me.

But as I was racing down the slidewalk from my arrival terminal to my departure terminal, the glass cases in the middle walkway caught my eye. Once I was oriented on my departing terminal and had a firm grasp of departure time, I made a side trip back. Towing my suitcase and briefcase, with one hand, I began to master the art of one-handed photography with a touch-screen cell phone. This is not for the faint of heart.

Much to my delight, I had stumbled upon a beautiful display of modern and historical chinese art.

The traveling exhibition is called
Hidden Meanings: Symbolism in Chinese Art and I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to enjoy the show.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Call of the Ocean

After a long day at the office, I was ready to relax. Tired an hungry, I dodged buses and taxis to cross the street. As lovely as the JW Marriot is, after a week it begins to feel like homeand I wantedto escape.

As I walked into the mall, I began to relax. As hungry as I was, I found the Tony Romas beconing. But it wasn't quite right. I can have Baby Back ribs in California any time.

I tried another restaurant, but don't speak enough Spanish yet to ask for an outdoor table.

It was then I realized the sea was callling me. I wanted to sit in the fresh air and listen to the sound of the waves rushing in.

I found a new restaurant, sat down, and relaxed. What a beautiful, majestic thing is the sea.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lima - City of Three Surprises

Three things surprised me about Lima.

1. As I sit typing this block entry, a short fireworks show began across the street, for no apparent reason.

2. When you order pineapple juice (jugo de pina), the waiter asks if you want it chilled or fresh.

3. Tuna is a green fruit, not a big fish.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Volcanoes Dog My Travels

I was originally scheduled to travel May 23, but wound up moving the date out a few weeks. On May 21, I was very glad I did.

A Los Angeles Times story announced the following.
REYKJAVIK, ICELAND— Iceland's most active volcano has started erupting, scientists said Saturday -- just over a year after another eruption on the North Atlantic island shut down European air traffic for days.

Fortunately, this volcano did not lead to widespread travel disruption like those triggered in April 2010 by ash from Eyjafjallajokull.

While I was flying to Lima, a volcano in the Caulle Cordon of southern Chile erupted.

On the day I was flying home, Argentina's Agriculture Ministry has declared a state of emergency in three provinces. Ash from the volcano disrupted flights in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Australia and New Zealand, but thankfully, not Peru.

Authorities say the ash cloud from the erupting volcano completely circled the globe and is falling on Chilean soil. Today we were watching the German newscasts on You Tube and the ash is horrendous. Imagine ash, falling like snow, 3 feet deep. It is clogging rivers and covering lakes, making it difficult for people to get water for their animals and themselves.

Some interesting links you may enjoy.

National Geographic photos of Chilean volcano
Coming home from his mission a little late.
What is a volcano

Vulcan, Roman god of fire.
Hephaistos God of Volcanoes
Pele, goddess of fire, both creator and destroyer.
Volcano Gregorio in South America.
Modern day appeasement of the volcano gods.

The World's Favorite Chicken - in Lima

Day 3 in Lima. My Spanish is improving un poco. I've learned to say things like "I don't see my taxi" (No veo mi taxi.)

After the wonderful meals I've had so far, I find I'm not very hungry tonight. I'd rather dive into the hotel's pool and get some exercise, so I decided to try some fast food, Lima style.

Kitty corner across the street from the JW Marriott Hotel is America's favorite chicken, Kentucky Fried Chicken. It has the familiar red & white logo and the Colonel's picture out front. I walked in dreaming of buttermilk biscuits, one of my favorite treats. Unfortunately for me, that love is not shared by the Peruvians in Miraflores. I tried to order the corn poppers, but got chicken nuggets instead. And when I tried to pay, it seemed the world had come to an end and it was my fault. You see, when I took a cash advance at the ATM this morning, the smallest bill the machine dispensed was a S/.50 or 50 Sol note. With today's conversion rate, that is worth about $17.85, not a lot of money.

Judging by the reaction at KFC, $17.85 is, in fact, quite a lot of money in Miraflores. The cashier's eyes got large. The entire restaurant staff came over and just stood and stared at the bill in her hand. They finally found someone who speaks just a little English. He asked me if I had anything smaller. I dug out a S/.10 note and sighs of relief were heard all around. My husband emailed me later with "Good job, Twoflower. Show everyone the golden Rhinus. :)"

I wonder what would have happened if I'd handed over the S/.100 note?!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

SMF - Art or Pretentions?

The artistic theme for the Sacramento Airport seems to be metal birds. As you drive into the airport parking structures, you see whisical metallic birds hovering overhead. As I waited in the American Airlines terminal, I noticed this display box with smaller versions of the metallic birds.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Best French Onion Soup - In Peru?

While I've never been to France, I fell in love with French Onion Soup on my honeymoon. I'd been a vegetarian for twelve years, and the love of my life was racking his brains to find a way to treat his new bride to a luxury dinner in San Francisco. He settled on the Equinox in the Hyatt. This fabulous rotating restaurant provided a stunning view of the San Francisco Bay along with a French Onion Soup that can almost be described as a religious experience: rich, full of flavor, drowning in mozzarella toasted to a delicious crunch, with a few slices of gourmet French Bread waiting to surprise and delight at the bottom of the bowl. Though many times I've tried, I've never found another restaurant that can compare to the combination of young love and wonderful food.

This week I find myself in Peru, with my beloved husband on the other side of the globe from me. Exhausted from a long day at my office, I decided to take a walk in the seaside mall in Miraflores. None of the restaurants looked quite right, so I wandered until I came to the restaurant at the edge of the mall. I thought I was in the mood for a steak and sauteed mushrooms, but instead the Sopa de Cebolla Francés (French Onion Soup) caught my eye. While dinner for one is not very romantic, I soon found myself relaxing to the roar of the ocean as I watched the waves from my table. When the server placed the bowl in front of me , it was beautiful, though a much lighter brown than French Onion Soup in California. But when I plunged my spoon in, it came back laden with slivered onions and drizzly melted mozzarella. A moment to cool, then the first taste as the spoon slipped between my lips. Heavenly! A perfect blend of sweet onions and broth, with the creamy richness of lightly toasted cheese - and a texture rarely found in French Onion Soup. By the time I reached the bottom of the bowl, I believe I enjoyed an entire onion, one bite at a time.

While young love can never be recaptured, it does mellow with age to become richer and deeper, like a fine wine. And while truly outstanding French Onion soup is rare, I'm delighted that at least twice in my life, I've enjoyed this special experience.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Arriving in Vancouver

My first arrival at the Vancouver airport was an unexpected pleasure.

The flight was not especially pleasant. From Seattle, I boarded a plane so small I could not carry on my own luggage; the attendant checked it at the airplane. Small planes are very noisy and because of turbulence there was no beverage service. When we landed, I had to carry my luggage up 2 flights of stairs from the tarmac to the terminal. Then a seemingly interminable ride up two very long escalators.

But the destination was worth the journey.

When you enter the airport proper, it is a magical moment.
You hear the ocean roar and the seaguls call. You find yourself surrounded by exotic Indian artifacts. Trees line the walkway and peace descends upon your soul. Welcome to Vancouver, the ocean calls.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lima - City of Three Contrasts

On my first taxi ride through Lima, what struck me most was the contrasts.

For example, near my office, the walls of the freeway are beautifully landscaped. Instead of bill boards, companies plant flowers in the shape of the corporate icon. Yet on the way from the airport, we passed an abandoned toll plaza on the road. My Bay Area and East Coast turnpike friends: Can you image a toll plaza being abandoned and left to rot?


Another contrast is the bright glitz of gambling parlors sied-by-side with high brick walls, electric fences, and razor wire adorning small businesses and private residences.

And the third contrast that struck me was the very large number of buildings that looked like burned out hulks right next to modern office and apartment buildings. It gave the city overtones of random destuction and made me think of 1940's photos of Dresden.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Price of Gas in Lima

Visiting Lima by taxi allows you to forget little things like the price of gas. About four years ago in California gas topped $3.00 a gallon and boy did the media play it up for all it was worth. People were trading in their SUVs and minivans for a Prius or a Scion.

Funny thing, the media was very quiet a few months ago when gas topped $4.00 a gallon. I heard one quote from President Obama that he had planned for gas to hit $5.00 a gallon, but just not so quickly.

Each morning my hotel in Lima leaves me a copy of the USA Times. Thursday morning, buried on page 7, was an article that quoted OPEC Secretary General Abdullah Al-Badri as saying "We are unable to reach concensus to raise our production" of oil, which caused oil prices to jump.

Then today as my taxi was returning to my hotel, I saw my first Peruvian gas station. Gas price

listed at 16.54 and my stomach churned. Over fourteen dollars a gallon for gas?

Then calm reason took over, I remembered that was the prices in soles, not dollars. And they sell it by the liter here not the gallon. OK, quick trip to a currency converter and that works out to 5.98841 USD. Well, that's a little better, but still pretty expensive. But wait, is that per liter or per gallon?

I will leave that for the audience to decide. I've reached my math quota for the day.

Day 2 in Peru - My First Solo Lunch

Yesterday my coworker pointed out what I thought to be a food court on our way back to the office. Today I decided to try lunch on my own.

It was a short walk, around the block, through the parking lot of the supermarket, across the street and into the eatery. It turned out not to be like a California mall food court, but more like a very large cafeteria. I searched the salad bar (Ensalada)

in vain for something green and leafy without mayonaisse. Then I noticed the prepackaged section.

I saw individually wrapped ears of corn like nothing I've ever seen before. The kernels were almost an inch in diameter! I found a nice green salad with chicken, ham, tomatoes and some of the giant corn on it. The chicken in the salad is just chicken, so sauces or spices. The corn has a very firm texture, not as sweet as California corn, but satisfying. The lettuce was good green lettuce. The tomatoes were small, but firm and flavorful. The salad dressing was, yes, mayonnaise. A simple, but tasty, lunch salad, beautifully presented for a "fast food" lunch.

For my drink, I decided to try Inca Kola Light. All I could read on the label is aspartame, so I had no idea what I was getting into.

The Inca Kola packaging conjured up images of ancient kings and piles of gold. It was like nothing I've ever tasted before. Sweet, but not too sweet. A bit fruity, but no fruit I'm familiar with. A hint of bubble gum flavor is the best I can identify. I would definitely recommend it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Moe-ay and Shan-dan

When I was a teenager, Queen came out with a silly song called Killer Queen. There was one line, amongst many, that was melodic, but really didn’t make any sense to me.

She keeps uh moe-ay and shan-dan

In a pretty cabinet.

Let them eat cake she says

Just like Marie Antoinette.

It wasn’t until many years later that I learned what “moe-ay and shan-dan” really was…a very expensive champagne.

It wasn’t until today that I saw my first bottle of Moet & Chandon in the Duty Free store in Lima, Peru.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Crystal Clear in Vancouver

It was a beautiful morning in Vancouver. The historical flavor of the Wells Fargo Bank was a nice contrast to the looming skyscrapers in the background. The sky was a beautiful crystal blue with just enough cloud to make it you appreciate the sun. It was the sort of morning that makes you glad to be alive.

Drinking in Peru

Drinking in Peru

I've been a heavy drinker since my teens. To this day I remember the article I read when I was 13 that started it all. It recommended I drink an 8 ounce glass of water before each meal to make me feel full, and help me eat less. And shucks, if you've ever been to an all-you-can-eat restaurant, you've noticed they always keep your water glass very full, too.

Like many young adults, my drinking hit its peak during my college years. I remember riding my bike home a few miles in the summer heat, walking in the house and downing one 20 ounce glass after another, until I'd drunk a full half gallon of ice water. Back in those days we'd never hear of water intoxication. I was hard core, but I was one of the lucky ones.

After college, I found myself slipping into my old habits at work. Yes, coffee was nice, but you can't drink coffee to keep yourself awake on 100 degree California summer days. So I'd sip on a one-quart pick-me-up of ice water to keep me going through the day.

Sunday night found me at LAX preparing to board an all-night flight to Lima, Peru. I had a late dinner and some cranberry juice before boarding the plane. Then I boarded the aircraft, strapped myself in, put in the ear plugs and hoped I wouldn't snore too loudly on the flight down.
Much to my surprise, when I woke up on approach to Lima, I wasn't very thirsty. Once I got through customs, I bought a bottle of water from a vending and chugged about a third of it. And that was it. I had a glass of orange juice with lunch, but that one bottle of water lasted me all day. I added a tiny little bottle of San Pelligrinos with dinner and I have satisfied my daily fluid needs. What a pleasant contrast to semi-arid California, where I am always thirsty no matter how much water I drink.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Catching the Red-Eye to Peru

Catching the Red-Eye to Peru
My first morning in Lima, I was surprisingly perky.
I'd spent the previous night on a large airplane in a very small seat flying from LAX (Los Angeles International) to LIM (Lima International.)
My flight was delayed and we didn't board until almost 11:00 PM Pacific time. I was anxious to catch what sleep I could on my 8 1/2 hour flight south. I was expected at my office first thing Monday morning.

Despite my earplugs and determination, I was awakened at 2:00 AM Pacific time by an announcement on the loudspeaker that there was a medical emergency on the plane. I opened one bleary eye to see the flight attendant fumbling with an emergency medical kit in the seat next to mine, while my seat mate stood a few rows up in the aisle.
I waited for the plane to land at the nearest airport, but somehow slipped back into the depths of sleep instead. I awoke to the announcement that we were preparing to land in Lima. I guess the medical emergency had a happy ending.

Customs was a breeze compared to Vancouver. Getting a taxi, in Spanish, was a bit of a challenge, and the ride was a bit of a white-knuckler, but I made it to the office only a few minutes later than I had planned.

The day was a whirlwind of getting acclimated.

But amazingly, I was still wide awake and having fun after 10:00 PM. Lima is a marvelous city.