A South American Tango: Street Art, Penguins, Gauchos & Milongas, Part 2

Our cruise continues to South America after transiting through the Panama Canal. The first port is Manta, Ecuador. I booked a walking tour to the Pacoche forest, a wildlife refuge in the local area. Nature tours for shore excursions are challenging as wildlife starts taking siesta by 10 am so early departures are critical. In our case, the ship arrived on time at 7 am but thanks to port bureaucracy, passengers weren’t able to leave till 8:30. After an unplanned detour along the route, I gave up hope of seeing much bird or beast in the park.

Scenery along the hike to the San Lorenzo light house.

Stunning scenery along the hike to the San Lorenzo light house.

Our driver/interpreter took us along the coastal route that is lined with exclusive gated enclaves aimed at Gringo retirees. We stopped to see the San Lorenzo light house. The steep trail rewarded us with some awesome views.

Plate of Ecuadorian fish soup

Tasty traditional Ecuadorian fish soup filled with chunks of fresh corbina and sun ripened tomatoes.

Always up for local foods, we lunched at an eatery on a bluff overlooking the water. The place was not much more than a shack with an outdoor patio but we had a killer view. It was a popular roadside stop and I was amazed to see how much the cook could turn out from a single burner propane stove!

Farmer with donkeys in park

A close encounter of the donkey kind.

After getting into the rain forest, we chanced upon a farmer riding to town with his donkeys. Lucky for us, he stopped to chat with our interpreter and we all go a chance to pet the foal!

Flora and fauna at the Pacoche reserve

Some of the flora and fauna we saw at the Pacoche reserve.

As expected, pickings were slim as we scoured for birds and animals. At least howler monkeys, being extremely raucous and territorial, are reliable standbys. As if on cue, several started skirmishing right above our heads to allow us a photo op.

Towards the end of our park walk, our guide asked if we want to check out the resident bats. Things were finally looking up! So when our driver went to fetch the car, he took us to a dry aquaduct where a bat colony was roosting.

Our presence roused the bats and eventually sent them fleeing out the opposite end. I imagine they were not happy, having just gotten a few hours of shut eye after a hard day’s night!

Peruvian black corn and chicha morada, an indigenous drink made from purple corn

Famous Peruvian corn and chicha morada, an indigenous drink made from purple corn

Next stop, Lima, the teaming metropolis and capital of Peru. I had made advance request for a cooking class with alpaca – a meat though common in the Andes, is apparently pretty rare on the coast. Fortunately the tour operator was successful in its quest so everything is a go!

We started with a trip to the market where Chef David got his day’s provisions. The stalls were piled high with exotic fruits and veggies, but none more impressive than these mondo ears of black corn. We eventually made our way to the open air kitchen and were treated to a glass of chicha morada (apparently the Chef wants all our fingers intact, so no Pisco Sours during cooking…).

Peruvian chuno potatoes

The other world renowned crop from Peru – potatoes!

We learnt there were anywhere from hundreds to thousands of potato varieties (well who’s counting after the first couple hundred!?). Chef David proudly showed us a dried potato called chuño that swelled to twice the size on boiling and used it in a side dish.

Grilled alpaca fillets

We learnt to cook alpaca meat 3 ways. The grilled alpaca fillets were accompanied by a sweet fruit salsa and a sauce made from an aromatic Peruvian herb called chincho.

Alpaca is a very lean meat, so just like ostrich, do not cook past medium or you’ll be just be munching on shoe leather!

Alpaca stir fried with red onion, tomatoes and aji Amarillo chillies

Alpaca stir fried with red onion, tomatoes and aji Amarillo chillies.

Peru is a multi-cultural country and lomo saltado is a testament to the Chinese influence on Peruvian cuisine. It’s equally delicious eaten with rice or French fries. Here is a lomo saltado recipe for those interested.

Food made in the cooking class

The spread – time to enjoy the fruits of our labors!

During our 4 hour session, we cooked 3 alpaca mains with 4 sauces and 3 side dishes. We honored the tradition of toasting mother earth with a small splash of Pisco Sour before happily digging into the feast.

Both Peruvians and Chileans claim to be the originator of this popular cocktail. There are slight differences in the ingredients used. The recipe below is the Peruvian version. Enjoy!

Pisco Sour cocktail

Pisco Sour

PISCO SOUR (1 serving)
3 ounces Peruvian Pisco
2 ounces key lime juice (called green lemons in Peru)
1 tablespoon egg white
1 1⁄2 ounces simple syrup
1⁄4 cup crushed ice
2 -3 drops Angostura bitters

In a blender, combine key lime juice with the egg white.
Add simple syrup, pisco and ice and blend at high speed until frothy.
Pour into a glass, top with a few drops of bitters and serve.

A church in the Barranco district

The church, called La Ermita, was heavily damaged during an earthquake in 1940.

After our substantial lunch, we took a walking tour of the Barranco district. Known for its trendy lifestyle, the area still retains much of its colonial and Republican architecture such as this historic landmark. It was fascinating to see the incongruous juxtaposition between the dilapidated roof and the vibrant paint work.

A wooden bridge called the Bridge of Sighs

Puente de los Suspiros – a Peruvian Bridge of Sighs whose name was attributed to the numerous romances that proliferate in this Bohemian district.

The wooden bridge spans a ravine edged with homes and restaurants. Legend has it that anyone who can cross the bridge the first time without breathing will see his/her wish come true.

Street art outside a building

Barranco boasts a lively street art scene.

The area is home to many artists and musicians so it’s choc-a-block with buildings covered by colorful murals. This whimsical one is particularly surreal.

Please send me your thoughts!