Perú – Lima to Nasca – Paracas, Pisco and Pachamanca

So, while teachers across the country and, no doubt, across the globe, are knee deep in summer holiday loom band projects that have already been confiscated, Olleydays has arrived in South America. Perú has not let us down. What a country to start the travelling (no disrespect to the States, it seems less travelly).

After a whistlestop couple of days in Lima, doing like the Limoños do, it was time to meet up with our new friends for our discovery of the Andes.

First stop was the beautifully proportioned coastal town of Paracas, south of Lima. Paracas is popular with tourists wishing to visit the nearby Ballestos islands.

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The copious amounts of seaside avian life are not just crowd pullers and ultimately revenue for the local hostels, restaurants and market stalls, but also serve as employment through their byproducts.

‘Guano’ is harvested frequently and shipped out to the US and Mexico on account of the high potassium,  phosphorus and nitrogen levels found within. This high quality fertiliser is much sought after. You may even be eating some as you read this, most probably indirectly, if at all.

The boat tour scoots out around these islands and the expert guides point out the various avian species, getting particularly excited when Red Eyed Cormorants come into view. Oh and there are Penguins too!

Next stop was the Hotel San Marcelo just outside of Nasca. Not before a visit to a Pisco distillery, Dune Buggie rides and Sandboarding on the sand dunes of the Huacachina desert; A relatively novel but welcome way of breaking up a long bus journey.

Pisco, in its most common form, is a spirit akin to a vodka, made from grapes. At the distillery there was a brief tour of the site and explanations on the traditional methods of producing a bottle of the 40% Peruvian classic. This was followed by the proverbial tasting session casting light on the various intoxicating guises that Pisco can assume. These range from a weak tasting ‘red wine’ style that can be drinkable from picking to palate in a mere few weeks to a stronger,  sweeter type that shares some notes of port. This versatile grape variety has also been transformed into a Bailey’sesque type tipple in colour but flavoured with fig and ‘Dulce de Leche’, a sweet evapourated milk sauce, similar to butterscotch.

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The Pisco Sour is very common throughout Peru and the 40% clear version of the spirit is combined with a generous gush of lime juice and layered with a light and airy egg white and garnished with a touch of cinnamon to produce a very refreshing and frankly quite dangerous beverage.

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Suitably oiled and with the anticipation of impending adrenaline combined with some Salsa music on the bus, we arrived at Huacachina enthused and excited.

Accessable only by a rugged off road buggie, we made our way to the tallest dunes, at the summit of which, we would be throwing ourselves down on a plank of waxed wood.

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Despite the vigour with which we were flung by our hefty driver, as the cart traversed the beige sea, it suddenly became apparent that the vast vistas that Peru has to offer are remarkably stunning. In between the bursts and bounces of the rollercoaster ride, moments of sheer beauty contradict the emotions. Getting out and taking in the scenery was totally awe-inspiring and sobering too, but in a good way.

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With the adrenaline still giving us a natural high, we piled back into the  buggies and made our way back to the town for Lunch. There was a glorious moment where we were treated to the view our backs had enjoyed when we departed an hour earlier. The view seemed to be Peru’s way of reminding us that, whilst you can have fun with me, I’m also pretty breathtaking too.

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It was time to make our way to the Hotel San Marcelo just outside Nasca. We arrived in the dark and couldn’t really get acquainted with the surroundings.

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Waking up the next morning and finding the whole site surrounded in a peace and tranquility from the enveloping Andes immediately dissipated any remnants of yesterday’s adrenaline and induced a sense of calm and serenity.

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This was to be the venue for our Pachamanka and frankly I can’t imagine a better venue. Deriving from  Quechuan, ‘Pacha’ means ‘earth’ and ‘manka’ means an ‘earthen pot’. The Pachamanka is essentially a feast and relates to the cooking method, which, as the name suggests, is in the ground, in pots.

Firstly, large stones are heated over a fire, these help to produce an even cook.

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The stones are moved aside and the embers in the pit are then plied with corn, sweet potatoes and parcels of Tomales.

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A layer of banana leaves, or in this case, palm leaves, are added.

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The hot stones are then added to produce a consistent cook.

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Another layer of leaves is added before a heat resistant cloth is placed over and the earth is returned from whence it came. This helps to keep the smoke in and flavour the vegetables. Meat is also cooked in an adjacent pit.

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The duration of the cooking time (around 2 hours) meant that there was plenty of time for a beer and a game or two of Sapo. ‘Sapo’ is spanish for ‘toad’ and is so called because of the little chap who adorns the summit of the playing fixture.

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The objective of Sapo is to score as many points as possible by deftly hurling small brass discs into the holes of differing difficulty. In a way, it is similar to bar billiards and darts. The holes at the back are said to be the easiest to attain and thus your points for this are lower than going for the holes nearer the front. In particular, there are three holes protected with brass windmills which will bag 1000 points at the edges and a cool 2000 points for plunging your brass through the double windmill at the front. Conveniently, the discs fall into the numbered compartments for ease of retrieval and for counting your score. Feeding the toad means your disc will fall into the 4000 points compartment and you can retrieve your brass to the adulation of your fellow Sapoers. This unfortunately didn’t happen.

After sapoing, there was still time to enjoy the ambiance at San Marcelo and catch up on some reading. Perhaps the most impressive surroundings I’ve had the pleasure of reading in.

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With the Pachamanka due to be served we returned to the pits for a short ceremony to thank Pachamama, or Mother Earth, for the food. The food was then uncovered to the delicious scent of sweet and smoky aromas and plated up in the kitchen by the staff.

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We then devoured the lot. It was certainly worth the wait!

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The small parcels of Tomales were my favourite. Inside the the banana leaf cooked a mix of ground corn,  tomato and a filling of chicken. These can however contain beef, pork or fish in other varieties.

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To wash it down? A deliciously refreshing sweet drink called ‘Chica Morada’ which means ‘purple corn’ and is the main ingrediant, alongside various spices, namely cinnamon. Its similar to a cold and non alcoholic mulled wine but complemented the deep, earthy and rich flavours of the meat and vegetables and was a strong purple in colour.

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After the Pachamanka, it was time to leave Hotel San Marcelo (rather too soon) and take a soul-sapping 10 hour overnight bus to Arequipa where 3 days would be spent at around 3200m alongside a visit to the Colca Canyon and the potential to spot the mighty condor awaited…

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