Category Archives: Peru

It’s the time to Pisco: Exploring Peruvian cuisine

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Ceviche, pisco, potatoes and fine unique spices, Peru’s rich cuisine is all of this, and more. PRIYA GANAPATHY pays a greedy tribute. 

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I will never forget my first taste of ceviche. Before I could dig in to Peru’s flagship dish, my guide Pablo cried, “Wait! Mix it with a spoon. Taste it slowly.” Misty-eyed, his voice dropped to a whisper, “Ceviche classico is a dish that must be savoured. Taste the freshness of sole fish, softness of cooked cancha (corn kernels), crunchiness of fried corn and onions, sweetness of the orange sweet potato, creamy limey taste of leche de tigre (tiger’s milk) and Peru’s famous amarillo chilli or yellow peppers.”

It is evident Peruvians are passionate about food. Entranced, I swirled the colourful ingredients together and scooped it into my mouth. A burst of different textures and flavours exploded within. Ceviche clearly has the potential to become the next sushi. Peru has even declared June 28th as National Ceviche Day!

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Connoisseurs hail Peru as “the next great global foodie destination”, ranking it among the Top 5 cuisines in the world. It has been propelled into international stardom thanks to celebrity chefs like Gastón Acurio, the mop-haired messiah of Peruvian cuisine who owns more than 20 restaurants and has authoured over a dozen cookbooks, and Chef Virgilio Martinez, recently crowned the Best Chef on the Planet for 2017 when he bagged the Chef’s Choice award.

I landed in capital city Lima, ‘the gastronomic capital of the Americas’ and host to Mistura, the annual food festival in Oct-Nov (this year was the tenth edition) which draws gourmands from across the world. From there on, I practically ate my way through Ica and Cusco, praying that a trek to Machu Pichhu would work it off.

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Three signature ingredients are recurrent in Peru – the holy trinity of papas (potatoes), cancha (corn) and aji (chilli), which come in various avatars and form the backbone of Peruvian cuisine. You will be blown by the sheer variety in sizes, shapes and colours – red, yellow, purple, orange, brown, black, pink… round, long, oval, plump, thin… it’s practically a rainbow in the pantry.

While agriculture has been the mainstay since Pre-Incan times, the Incas elevated it to a science with their larger-than-life field experiments and open laboratories of microclimate terrace farming at Moray, near the ancient Maras salt mines that whiten the entire mountainside.

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According to legend, when the mythical founders of the Inca empire, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca, the first thing the god Wiracocha taught them was how to sow potatoes. Potatoes became not just a crucial food item but their very identity. “Soy mas Peruano que la papa” meaning “I’m more Peruvian than a potato!” is a popular saying in the all-powerful Quechua culture which exalts the iconic tuber.

They have nearly (breathe deep) 3800 types of potatoes and have been growing them for nearly four millenia. Can you blame them for being finicky about which potato goes into which dish? One variety, the yana piña, is full of knots. Cheeky mothers test the efficiency of new brides by telling them to peel it, hence its nickname ‘mother-in-law potato’ or ‘weeping bride’!

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Another extraordinary Quechua dish, Causa Peruana is a delicious yellow potato mash cake, layered with vegetables, mayonaisse, aji amarillo (golden yellow chilli), avocado and hardboiled egg topped with Peruvian botija olives. The non-veg version comes with tuna, egg, crab, chicken or shrimp. Interestingly, causa is linked to the very history of Peru as the dish was born on the streets of Lima.

Folklore has it that sometime in the 1800s, the wives of soldiers fighting for Peruvian Independence would prepare and sell this potato dish as a fundraiser for the ‘cause’ of Independence. Others believe the word causa is derived from the Quechua word ‘kausay’ meaning ‘sustenance of life’ since the potato was the life-blood of ancient Peruvians.

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Corn or maize too is sacred to Peruvians. They grow over 60 varieties that can be cooked, fried, salted or mashed… from steamed and stuffed dumplings called tamale wrapped in corn husk to delicious desserts like mazza mora made with purple corn or traditional drinks like chicha.

Chicha morada is a dark non-alcoholic drink made with purple corn while the fermented alcoholic version chicha de jora is made with yellow corn. In the Urubamba region and Sacred Valley, local chicherias (local pubs) often announce their presence with a pole bearing a red flag. While villagers quaff chicha de jora like juice, to the unaccustomed, just a glass of this golden corn beer will get you tipsy.

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While on potions, one drink all Peruvians rave about is Pisco – a colourless to pale yellow drink made by distilling fermented grape juice to a potent brandy. Contrary to Chile’s claims and a debate that’s been raging for over 400 years, pisco was born in Peru in the 16th century. It was probably named after the town of Pisco, an old port on the Peruvian coast, though pisco is also Quechua for ‘bird’.

The famous Pisco Sour, a classic South American cocktail that originated in Lima, is Peru’s national drink made with pisco, egg white, lime juice, simple syrup and Angostura bitters. They even had a remedy if you drank too much. Adobo, tagged as the perfect hangover meal, is a wholesome soup of pork chops simmered with onions, rocoto, purple corn, garlic and Peruvian spices!

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With the mighty Pacific lapping its shores, Peru offers an incredible bounty of seafood. In the surreal desert region of Ica, I tucked into bowls of fresh Lima bean salad and Pulpito Candelabro (grilled baby octopus) between sips of Inca Cola at La Hacienda Bahia Paracas’ restaurant El Coral.

Vina Tacama, South America’s oldest vineyard, dating to the 16th century evolved from an Augustine nunnery to a world class winery. Sampling wines and local cuisine, accompanied by traditional shows like marinera dances, music and showhorses was a delightful experience.

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I tried a hearty plate of Arroz con pollo o aji de gallina – rice served with generous helpings of spicy creamy yellow chili sauce. Sauces or salsas also colour the Peruvian table. Made with aji (chili) or herbs, they make great dips with potato or yucca chips – from yummy avocado mash guacamole to yellow salsa huancaina, herby green ocopa sauce made from aromatic huacatay leaves and crema de aji rocoto.

Another delicious speciality is alpaca. The animal looks a lot like a llama, but is smaller and has a softer coat. I tried not to think of the cute alpacas I petted at Urubamba and Chinchero’s Urpi weaving centre when I placed my order. Alpacas were a domesticated species of camelids central to the Quechua lifestyle. Bred mainly for their fleece and pelt which women wove into luxuriously soft woolens, alpacas are also culled regularly for meat. Alpaca red meat is tender, lean, low in cholestrol and high in protein and iron, tasting like a sweeter version of venison or goat.

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Every visitor is impressed by the manner in which food is served in Peru. It’s as much presentation as prepartion. Chef Gaston Acurio’s restaurant Chicha has a tasting menu that will blow you away with its flavours, textures and exquisite plating style – tartar de alpaca with a mushroom vignarette, lechon crocante (crunchy piglet) swimming in its own juices served with potato and apples, soft lamb pita with muna (Andean mint), cucumber yoghurt and candied sacha, ceviche de valley with trout tarwi artichokes… it didn’t stop.

Nothing’s better than discovering the tastes of Peru in an atmospheric place, like the restaurant at the historic archaeological complex of Huaca Pucllana overlooking the magnificent 15-acre pre-Inca ruins or the creeper-riddled Museo Larco Café in Lima attached to the privately owned museum of Pre-Columbian art. Here, I tried tres leche, literally ‘3 milks cake’ – a typical Peruvian dessert of sponge cake soaked in condensed milk, reduced milk and heavy cream besides a golden mousse de lucuma made from the exotic buttery fruit.

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At the high-end restaurant Senzo at the Palacio Nazrenas hotel, set in the inner courtyard of a heritage monastery complex in Cusco, the colonial ambience adds to the magic. I savoured Cuy (guinea pig) as part of a five-course tasting menu and could see why it was reserved for special occassions. At Cathedral Basilica, Marcos Zapata’s gigantic 1753 painting depicts The Last Supper with the cuy as the main course on the long table!

MAP Café, a courtyard restaurant in the Pre-Columbian Art Museum in Cusco, serves Peruvian food with French and Italian touches. Quechua men knitted traditional woolen caps as the steward wowed us with Capchi de Setas, a soup of Andean setas, mushrooms, fava beans and pariah cheese. It came veiled with a sheet of dough that was dramatically opened! This was followed by delicious pork leg, slow cooked for 12 hours in Cusconean Adobo sauce, resting on a soft bed of sweet potato mousselline l’orange.

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With great music, a Pisco Sour bar and a fab view of Cusco’s remarkable churches, fountain and atmospheric central square Plaza de Armas, Limo is quite the place. I devoured grilled alpaca tenderloin daubed with elderberry sauce and yellow chilli quinoa risotto, Andean tiradito (wild trout with rocoto, Andean lake seaweed and sachtomate sauce) besides suckling pig cheek.

High up at El Parador de Moray restaurant with lilting tunes of the Andean harp wafting over the Moray terraces, we had a traditional buffet spread of lechon (pork) roast, trucha ala sal (trout cooked with salt), pollo horniado (oven-cooked chicken), quinoa tabbouleh, ollucas ragout, humitas (sweet tamales) and desserts like arroz con leche (akin to rice kheer) and mazza morra.

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The first-class Belmond Hiram Bingham luxury train along the legendary route from Ollantaytambo to Machu Pichhu presented 1920s style grandeur. Imagine polished wood and gleaming brass fittings, champagne, exotic fare like Wayllabamba’s smoked trout and grilled tenderloin beef, with unparalleled views of the Andes and meandering rivers on a voyage to the Inca empire.

In the streets, we encountered smiling vendors with packets of fried corn, yucca chips and coca leaves or trays of churros, a delicious fried dough stick that can be eaten plain or with a filling of chocolate or dulce de leche. Food is so integral to Peruvian life that it infuses their slang with phrases related to fruits or food. Christina Maria, our Peruvian companian giggled and said, “A handsome hunk is called ‘churro’. When a girl is skinny we have a phrase that means ‘put some extra potato in her soup’!”

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For a glimpse into what locals eat, wander around the San Pedro Market in Cusco. Be warned, it’s not for the faint-hearted. Alongside crafts, apparel and souvenirs, you will encounter a mind-numbing assortment of breads bigger than your head, jug-sized servings of fresh-pressed juices, speckled quail eggs, various animal heads, pickled snakes and roasted guinea pigs stacked in buckets!

Chef Uriel Alfares from Gaston Acurio’s Chicha restaurant in Cusco, attributes the universal appeal of Peruvian cuisine to the unique spices, produce and the fact that chefs are increasingly experimenting with indigenous products and traditional dishes and techniques. This boutique restaurant can seat only 22 people at a time, yet sees over 300 people streaming through the day! “The exciting thing is the freedom to do fusion cuisine with ingredients from other countries like India and Spain. We have the produce, the passion, the instruments and tools” confessed Chef Uriel.

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Each region in Peru has something special to offer. Chef Uriel elaborated “In Cusco, Lima beans salad and Adobo are popular. In Lima, it’s ceviche, suspiros and picarones, a special kind of doughnut made with sweet potato, a Moorish influence. In Arequipa, it is rocoto relena and pastel de papa. Mazza mora is made of chicha, or maize with cinnamon, pineapple and sweet potato flour – mazza indicates ‘dough’ and mora denotes the Moors from Spain. There is a lot of Spanish influence in traditional Andean dishes.” Traditionally, the Incas didn’t know about oil and only boiled their foods; frying as a cooking technique was introduced by the Spanish.

Peruvian cuisine is a mirror of its rich ethnic mix – native Indians like the Quechua, Spanish conquistadores, Moorish cooks who came on ships, African slaves, Chinese indentured workers and Japanese immigrants who arrived in the 20th century; all have put their stamp on Peru’s food. At Maido, Chef Mitsuharu Tsumara’s speciality Nikkei cuisine fuses local Peruvian with Japanese food created by Japanese immigrants. Most of them arrived in the 1900s to work on sugarcane farms.

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Even the Chinese integrated into Peruvian society and contributed to the popular chifa culture. Our guide laughed saying, “You’ll find a chifa restaurant in every corner of my village!” Lomo Saltado Montado is the perfect example of Peru’s rich fusion cuisine. Traditionally a chifa dish, served with a heap of white rice, fried egg and fries, it was beef saltado (stir-fried in a wok), a technique introduced by the Chinese.

Peru has doggedly promoted culinary tourism for the last 15 years by participating in food fairs and festivals. According to Christina Maria, “Food is not only food… it is an entire food chain critical to the Peruvian economy – producers, farmers, the market, the produce. Before the 1980s, quinoa was what we fed to chickens! Now people are aware of its nutritional value and it’s everywhere… We always knew our food was great. Today, we’re just showcasing it better to the world. About 20% of people coming to Peru are culinary tourists… they come only to eat!” I think I just increased the percentage and my waistline.

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The Information

Getting There
International flights like Air France and British Airways operate regularly to Peru’s capital Lima via Paris, Amsterdam, London, Madrid and Miami. Paracas is a 4-hour drive (261km) south of Lima along the Pan-American Highway and 22km south of Pisco. There are over 35 daily flights from Lima to Cusco (1 hr 20min) operated by Peruvian Airline, LATAM, Avianca, LC Peru.

Where to Stay
Lima: La Hacienda Milaflores www.hotelslahacienda.com
Paracas: Bahia Paracas Hotel www.hotelsahacienda.com
Cusco: Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel & Wellness www.aranwahotels.com

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Where to Eat

Lima:
Museo Larco Café Restaurant (Avenida Bolivar 1515, Lima 21; Ph: +51 1 4624757)
Huaca Pucllana (8 General Borgono Cuadra, Lima 27; +51 1 4454042)
Maido (399 Calle San Martin, Corner Calle Colon, Lima 18; +51 1 4462512)
La Mar (Av La Mar 770, Milaflores; +51 1 4213365)
Central (Calle Santa Isabel 376, Miraflores, Lima 15074; +51 1 2428515)

Paracas/Ica:
El Coral (Hacienda Bahia Paracas Hotel, Urb. Sto Domingo Lote 25, Paracas, Pisco; +51 56581370)
Vina Tacama (Ica; +51 56581030, www.tacama.com)

Cusco/Sacred Valley:
Limo (Cochina Peruana & Pisco Bar, Portal de Carnes 236, Cusco; +51 84 240668)
Senzo (Belmond Palacio Nazarenas, Calle Palacio 144, Cusco; +51 84 582222; www.belmond.com)
Chicha (Heladeros 261, Cusco 08000, Cusco; +51 84 240520; www.chicha.com.pe)
MAP Café (Casa Cabrera, Plazoleta Nazarenas 231, Museo de Arte Precolombino, Cusco; +51 84 242476)
El Parador de Moray (Fundo Moray, distrito de Maras, Cusco; +51 84 242476)

For more information visit www.peru.travel or www.facebook.com/visitperu

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the special double issue of Outlook Traveller magazine in December 2017. 

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Peru: Paradise in Paracas

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There’s more to Peru than Machu Pichhu and Cusco, discovers PRIYA GANAPATHY

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Our van blazed down Peru’s historic Pan-American Highway, the southern part of the world’s longest motorable road connecting mainland America to Chile and Argentina. But I was heading south of Lima to Paracas, a secret paradise in the desert in the Ica region, a mecca for eco-tourism. Half an hour from Lima, our guide Pablo pointed out green swathes breaking the dull arid surroundings. Pantonas de Villa or the Villa’s Swamps in Chorillos is a 263-hectare wetland home to several migratory birds.

We passed the sacred pre-Incan archaeological site of Pachacamac dedicated to Pacha Kamaq, the god of creation and earthquakes, though the pyramids were barely visible. Further on was Chilca, known for therapeutic mud spas, UFO sightings and E.T. ice-creams! Paracas’ bright sunshine and peaceful coastline attracted the rich to build expensive summer homes and condos in the beach village of Asia.

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Soon, we pulled into La Hacienda Bahia Paracas resort, a virtual oasis of peace and luxury. With Spanish tiles in the courtyard and red bougainvillea vines on its walls, its rooms overlooked the glassy Paracas Bay. I would have savoured it longer but for the morning boat ride to the famous Ballestas Islands, pegged as the Galapagos of Peru. At the private jetty, Ronald the naturalist hollered, “Before Islas Ballestas, we stop at a geoglyph called El Candelabro of the Andes, because of its design. People don’t really know where, when or why it came into existence.”

Paracas Bay teems with rich marine life, birds and sea animals. Three of the six varieties of flamingos are found in Peru while Paracas in particular is home to the Common Flamingo. Four of the world’s seven sea turtles live here, besides otters and the endangered Humboldt penguin. “It’s one of the 17 varieties of penguins that live in Peru and Chile”, Ronald rattled on. The Paracas Natural Reserve is unique because it’s the only one that protects the ocean and the desert landscape. In 10 minutes we were face to face with what looked like a sand dune mountain with a gigantic cactus-like candlestand on it. This was the Paracas Candelabro.

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The ancient Pre-Incan Paracas culture existed around 600BC-600AD. Excavations at the Paracas Cavernas and Necropolis, the 2500-year-old mass burial clusters revealed mindboggling and morbid truths. Known for their exquisite pottery and tradition of mummifying the dead with delicate handwoven textiles using alpaca wool, the Paracas were among the earliest people of the world to experiment with trepanation, a form of brain surgery!

Trepanation involved drilling holes into the brain and covering it with a gold plate or deforming and elongating the brain as a form of medical treatment besides religious rites and ceremonies. “They couldn’t give Pisco to knock out their patients,” Ronald quipped “so they used hallucinogenic herbs, coca and a unique native Andean cactus to anaesthetise them. It is believed that the Candelabro design that faces the sky represents the San Pedro Cactus (named after Saint Peter who holds the keys to heaven) used in trepanation.”

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Another theory is that 17th century pirates, sailors and cartographers regarded the Candelabro as a navigational tool since it pointed south. Others believe they were created by aliens. But it is possible to create these designs, Ronald mused, “using scales, sticks and chords”. Documentaries like Ancient Aliens by Erich von Daniken spin fascinating theories about the possibility of ancient astronauts and extraterrestrial interventions. But Maria Reiche Newman, considered the Guardian of the Nazca Lines researched the Candelabro for six months and proposed that it was a representation of the Southern Cross constellation visible in this region.

Much older than the Nazca Lines, the Candelabro is closely linked to the Independence Age. When General José de San Martin landed here on 8 Sep 1820 with 4000 soldiers to liberate Peru from the Spanish Empire, the first headquarters of the Independence Army was in Pisco nearby. As he rested under a palm tree by Paracas Bay, he awoke from a dream to see flamingos in the sky and decided to put its colours – red and white on the Peruvian flag.

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This prehistoric geoglyph on the dune’s north face has been so well preserved due to the peculiar climatic conditions of Paracas. The cold Humboldt Ocean current that Peru shares with Chile ensures a lush marine life full of seaweed, plankton, fish and penguins. Because of the irregular water cycle, the water remains cold. There is no evaporation and no condensation so no rain. Only half an hour drizzle in the entire year. The wind blows sand from the desert from south to north…from behind the figure, thus ensuring that sand passes over it! Paracas literally means “rain of sand” in Quechua.

We continued to the triad of Ballestas Islands (Southern, Central and Northern). The picturesque cliffs with caves, arches and rugged rock shaped by wind and water were awash with curdled bird droppings. We circled closer and the panoramic cliffs seemed to pulsate with life. Against a soundscape of lashing waves, fluttering wings and myriad bird calls was the unstoppable dance of feeding, flying, feather-cleaning, fighting and fondling. I had never seen such a swarm of winged creatures in one place. The sky was patterned by avian constellations.

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Thousands of Guanay Cormorants, worshipped in these parts, blackened the entire cliff side. Guanay is the Spanish word for guano. “This is the no. 1 poopmaker, 90% of guano is from them,” Ronald cried over the din. In the 19th century, this natural fertilizer triggered a flourishing economy and became a popular Peruvian export to France and England who literally spent “shitloads of money”.

Giving the Guanay Cormorants company were flocks of large-billed Pelicans, Red-legged Cormorants, Neotropic Cormorants, rare Oyestercatchers, Inca terns, besides nesting Peruvian Boobies, another guano producer. Apparently they are called ‘booby’ because of their dummy gait! I spotted a rookery of Humboldt Penguins camouflaged against the dappled landscape. They were shockingly small but waddled down like old heavy-bosomed matrons. Anticipating our exit, they dawdled before diving into the fish-filled waters for breakfast.

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The wet rocks had other inhabitants too. Red crabs scuttled in crevasses while heaps of sea lions huddled and lolled in the sun, napping like beach bums. A few ‘energetic’ ones grunted, honked, yawned and moaned tiredly from the effort of hauling themselves from the water and lumbering over slippery rocks. There was even a beach for sea lions called the Maternity Beach where they breed between December and March. We spotted a small group of fisherman. Since fishing nets are banned in this protected area, they could only dive and pick their crabs, squids and octopus by hand or spear. One man waved a giant octopus at us… his prize catch of the day!

That lasting image of the big octopus dictated my choice for lunch at El Coral, the hotel’s restaurant – Pulpito Candelabro (grilled baby octopus). After trying the famous ceviche, I had my sirloin’s share of Loma Saltado Montado, along with another local favourite – the saccharine Inca Cola. The diversity in taste and fresh ingredients make Peruvian cuisine a big hit across the world.

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But a full stomach is a dumbass idea before a dune bashing ride in the Paracas desert. For one, the dunes are practically like mountains and secondly, a Dakar rallyist like Davide does not make it easy for you. No sooner had we careered off the highway in a 4×4, Davide suddenly swooped up and down and round on a sea of sandy tidal waves, spraying jets of silken sand on every turn. The nonchalance with which he tackled improbable drops and climbs revealed his prowess at the wheel.

We stopped to catch our breath and rearrange our body parts on the rim of a gigantic dune. Davide pulled out a surf board and asked, “Sandboarding?” “From here?” I squawked, looking at the incredulous incline and declined. No way I could haul myself up the slope in time for sunset. The whole Ica Desert turned into gold dust as the sun sank and an inky blue twilight took over the sky.

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We drove deeper into the desert to a tent in a sandy bowl in the middle of nowhere. In this romantic Bedouin setting, a romantic lamplit dinner had been set with champagne, skewered meat and prawn, traditional potato snacks with dips, guacamole, salsa huancaina and green ocopa sauce and gourmet dessert. El Condor Pasa, the lilting Peruvian classic filled the air as a full moon rose over the dunes. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

Paracas is the ideal base to set off to Pisco airport for the 1½ hour flight over the mysterious Nazca lines. The UNESCO World Heritage Site has bewildered everyone for centuries by their presence, purpose, location and precision. The fact that each iconic image can be perceived only from the sky adds more intrigue. For years people had been driving right over them and didn’t notice anything. The Pan American highway built in 1938 cut the image of the Lizard in half because of this ignorance! Glued to my window seat behind the pilot in Aerodiana’s low flying 12-seater Cessna Grand Caravan we droned bumblebee-like 3000ft above the sandy canvas of the desert.

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With a cheat sheet of 13 diagrams to compare with the original line drawings, I scanned the landscape. For the first 40 minutes, the incomprehensible vastness of the Pampas de Jumana desert between Nazca and Palpa stretched like an enormous snake moulting its scaly skin, interrupted by a few green patches of farmland. “We are now approaching Nazca Lines.”

The lines of the Whale went under the wing before I fathomed its design. I focussed harder for the next. My heart skipped a beat as I spotted the distinct lines of the 310ft Hummingbird! Then the Parrot, the mighty Condor, the goggle-eyed Astronaut or Owlman, the 890ft Monkey with its coiled tail that inspired the Peru logo, the spider, the tree and bizarre waving hands…

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Was this the work of mere mortals or some divine or alien hand? How did they conceive it, let alone execute it? Nothing explains the purpose of scratching 30cm deep furrows on the earth’s surface in a maze of geometric lines and designs! But theories and conspiracies abound. Were these 300 odd drawings covering 450 sq km an intergalactic code or airbase for spaceships? Did E.T. go home?

First recorded in 1553 by Pedro Cieza de Leon who mistook them for trail markers, Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe documented the open scrapbook of biomorphs (bird and animal figures) in 1927 while on a hike. Maria Reiche zealously guarded them for half a century and concluded they were a calendar of solstice markers.

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Another find was Vina Tacama, South America’s oldest vineyard established in the 1540s. I stood there imagining how workers danced and sang as they crushed the grapes underfoot for the ‘first press’ of juice leaving the ‘second press’ extraction of the skin by horses. Deep in the Ica valley, set in a Suffolk pink hacienda, the historic winery was established by Francisco de Carabantes with a vine brought from the Canary Islands, to supply wine to the different religious orders established in Lima. From 1821 to 1889 it was run by nuns from the Order of St. Augustine. Even today, the 250-hectare vineyard is watered by its 15th century canal Achirana del Inca, built by Inca Pachacutec and immortalised by Peruvian author Ricardo Palma.

About a hundred years before the arrival of the Spaniards, this region was earmarked to grow the sacred coca leaf for the Inca and the surrounding Andean mountains were the limit of the property! Over time the estate changed several hands as did the crop. Tacama enjoys 476 years of antiquity and grows 23 varieties of grapes. With guided tours by in-house experts, learn what goes into making awarding winning wines and how the wine-making culture spread from Peru to Chile and Argentina. The Ica region is adapted to produce wines under exceptional conditions because of its climatic and soil characteristics, giving its wines a distinctly rich terroir.

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After browsing through the collection of old amphoras, barrels and distillery equipment, I asked Pablo why Peruvians contest the Chilean claim over Pisco, the famous grape brandy used to make the popular cocktail Pisco Sour. “Our best Pisco buyers are Chileans, so that should tell you who knows how to make it!” Touché. “Besides, our distillation technique is better. Its alcohol content is more, so it’s really fire in your mouth and you can taste the fresh grape on your tongue. Chilean pisco is light brown or amber coloured.”

The in-house restaurant boasts Peruvian classics, fine estate wines, pisco and lively entertainment every weekend. No wonder, Tacama is a favourite getaway for locals and international travellers. After a glass of chicha morada (purple corn drink), I scooped into sunny yellow Causa (Quechua-style potato mash) and a hearty meal of Arroz con pollo o aji de gallina (Chicken and rice served with a spicy sauce) between sips of wine.

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Spanish guitar strains added a festive mood as we watched the graceful romantic Spanish marinera dance paired with the gentle gait of a Peruvian step horse on the lawns. Apparently, the horse (Caballo de Paso Peruano) evolved from the first Arabian horses brought to Peru by Spanish conquistadores in the 16th Century, which were crossed with Peruvian paso horses. “Having one is like owning a Rolls Royce,” explained Pablo. Peru is indeed a living goldmine of unexpected treasures to be patiently experienced, one wonder at a time.

FACT FILE

Getting There: Several international flights operate to Peru’s capital Lima via Paris, Amsterdam, London, Madrid and Miami. Jorge Chavez International airport, 12km west of Lima in the suburbs, lies in the port city of El Callao. Paracas is 261km south of Lima (4-hour drive) and 22km south of Pisco along the Pan-American Highway. Exclusive yachts also leave from Lima to Paracas.

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What to Do:
Fly over Nazca – The airport at Pisco operates flight trips to the Nazca Lines. Aerodiana organizes 20 flights on shifts per day. The Pisco-Nazca flight (1hr 30 min) covers 13 geoglyphs. Tickets $150

Boat trip to Ballestas Islands and Marine Reserve and the Candelabro of the Andes, a national treasure. There are regular boats excursions from Paracas Port.

Wine tours at Vina Tacama – A heritage Spanish hacienda with dances, parades and a great restaurant. www.tacama.com

Dune bashing at Paracas – 4X4 drives, sandboarding and dinner on the dunes in the heart of the Ica Desert

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Where to Stay
La Hacienda Bahia Paracas
Peruvian décor with stunning oceanic views, boat trips, relaxing spa treatments with an excellent restaurant El Coral www.hoteleslahacienda.com

For more information visit www.peru.travel  or www.facebook.com/visitperu

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the December 2016 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine.