Thursday, 16 December 2010

Eat, Write, Win 2: Peru

Earlier this month I ran a competition in which I asked my readers to relate their most memorable food/drink experiences while travelling. 

The prize, generously donated by Lonely Planet, is a copy of Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2011.

While there were some fine entries which I ran last week, the winner is this week's evocative account of a day in Peru, walking through ruins and feasting on alpaca. 

Congratulations to winning writer Rosanne Bersten, and to all who entered! 

4. Alpaca for Afters, from Rosanne Bersten

It had been a long, long day. We were in Pisac, a lovely, tiny town of only 2000 souls in the sacred valley between Cusco and Macchu Piccu in Peru. The main square was entirely taken up by a colourful market selling everything from jewellery to backpacks and more.

It started to pour so we bought some rain gear from the nearby gear shop and I bought an alpaca wool backpack from a man wearing camposino traditional clothing.

In the afternoon, as the sun came out, we went to walk up the mountain to las ruinas, but a man we had bought a wall hanging from asked us where we were going and told us it was too far to walk.

He said we needed to get a taxi from near the bridge back through the town, but then a woman from the next stall said, “Taxi?” and he explained what we wanted and she said her husband drove a taxi.

They knocked on the door of the house we were in front of, and a guy came out. They asked him about the taxi, he named a price, we bartered down a bit because we only wanted a lift up not there and back and we walked 100 metres to his cab and were on our way.

As we wound our way around about 20 switchbacks we started to understand and appreciate the kindness of our stallholder. The ruins are at around 3200 metres above sea level and we were starting right at the river floor.

They are stunning feats of architecture: terracing down the mountainside for agriculture, enormous stones dragged into position for housing and a temple of the sun, tunnels in the mountainside.

After climbing one very steep staircase and coming over a hill, we encountered an incredible astronomical observatory, doorways carefully placed at 15 degree angles to withstand earthquakes and stones placed with amazing precision.

As we were marvelling at the Incan ingenuity, a schoolboy came up the hill from Pisac. “Hola,” he said. “Hola,” I responded. And still in Spanish, “Do you live up here?” “Yes, but higher.” “Is it good?” “Yes.”

He kept going. We soon encountered another. The same conversation, but then:
“How many people live up there?”
“In my village? 200.”
“And do you walk up this hill every day?”
“Yes, every day I go down and I return.” (This is a 4km walk he was talking about!)
“Do you like it here?”
“Yes. Don’t you?”
“Yes, but I’m from Australia and I live near the sea. This is very high for me.”
“Ah,” he said. “Do you know much about this place?”
“A little,” I said. “I know that this is the temple of the sun and I think it was built around the 15th century.”
“Could be,” he said.
“And I think that building there is older.”
“Yes,” he said. “I think it’s from around the 12th century.”
“Could be,” he said.
“Well, have a good day,” I said.
Ciao!” and he was off, climbing the way we had come.

We wended our way down the mountain, another hour or so down. The sun had set by the time we got to the bottom and we were happy and tired. This was bliss.

We definitely felt like we were on a honeymoon adventure now. We had learnt how to say we were newlyweds in Spanish and that this was our luna de miel and we were starting to get “Felicitations!” from the locals.

Back in Pisac, we wanted a drink for our tired muscles. I suggested we investigate Mullu, an alternative cafe recommended by our Lonely Planet bible. On the front of the building was a knotted snake eating its tail. We could hear the chill out music wafting down the stairs.

The room we were in was airy but cosy because of the dimmed lights and the rugs. It was hard to choose from the menu but I had a commitment to eating local meats, and I’d already had the guinea pig in Lima.

The food was amazing! For me, the most incredible alpaca ribs in sauco berry and red wine sauce, with mash and alpaca ravioli, with passionfruit dressing for my partner.

The alpaca was rich and soft, with every bite delectable. I never wanted the meal to end. As a cleanser, I had mandarin and lime juice with ginger and honey - mmm!

And then we went back to our gorgeous little hostel and snuggled in for the night, ready to wake early and catch the bus to Ollantaytambo. A wonderful, wonderful day.

Read Rosanne's blog.