Traveling solo had been on my to-do list for a long time. I have done it before, but those were more of a weekend trips. My first such sojourn was to Rome. I was on an internship in Germany and thanks to EuRail, I ended up in Rome one weekend. That followed with another weekend trip to Vienna and Salzburg. But this time, I wanted to go big. Earlier this year, I started planning for a solo trip to Alaska but some of my close friends were also interested in visiting Alaska, so we made a great summer vacation out of it. As summer approached its end, and colorful leaves started to paint the landscape in farther side of the country, I got busy making plans for another solo sojourn: this time in the land of the Amazonas, the Andes and the Incans. You get it right. I was planning to visit South America.
South America is a huge continent and deciding which countries, or even cities, to visit is not an easy task, logistically speaking. Long story short, I decided on visiting only Peru. Then followed a lot of research on planning the itinerary. I decided to include three major pit-stops into my itinerary: a culinary stop in the capital city of Lima, an adventure into the deep of the northeastern Peruvian Amazonas and a historical perspective in heart of Inca civilization around Cusco. I was excited, thrilled and nervous at the same time.
From a relatively cooler California weather, I was headed straight into the sweltering hot and humid weather in the tropics of Amazon rain-forests. An early morning flight from Lima to Iquitos, followed by crossing Rio de Amazonas on a speed boat, I arrived in my jungle lodge, on Amazonian plain alongside one of the tributaries to the Amazon. My three days in the Amazon were packed with invigorating experiences- from meeting with the tribal people of the Amazonas to fishing piranhas and sighting pink dolphins; from photographing hundreds of species of birds and butterflies to little squirrel monkeys to gentle giants of the Amazonas; from local jungle fruits to delicious trouts. Icing on the cake was that the two other girls who were supposed to join my group didn’t show up, so I had a private tour into the wild. If I would like to take out anything from the entire into-the-wild experience, it would be the mosquitoes. Don't even ask about those tiny creatures.
From the deep jungles, I was headed to the highlands close to the eastern Andes. At over 11,000 ft. elevation, the city of Cusco boasts of being the heart of Incan empire, surrounded with so many important centers of Inca civilization. On one side, the salt mines of Maras welcome you with a mysterious natural wonder of salty stream at such high elevation, while on the other side you get engulfed in the awe-inspiring sights of 700 years old engineering masterpieces of terrace farms and still-functional aqueducts. Then there is the lost city of Incas: Machu Picchu. Incans made those famous Inca trails ranging from Colombia to Chile, but they hid in this majestic city of Machu Picchu for survival and destroyed the ways to find the city, when Spanish colonized Latin America. Fun fact: although, Dr. Bingham revealed this wondrous city to the world through his exploration in 1911, in the Latin American’s heart, he is considered more of a treasure hunter.
I spent six days soaking in the history of Incan empire and sinking in the Pisco sours. Although this part of the trip was over, I was more than excited to head back to the culinary capital of Latin America. Oh, and, I should mention, that before heading into the deep jungle, I already had a culinary stop in the capital city. Thanks to Netflix, and San Pellegrino, I knew about the places which brought Peruvian cuisine to the world map. My first stop was at Restaurante Central. Chef Virgilio Martinez’s awe inspiring 17-course Mater Elevations menu had blown my mind away. But, I had to take a stop at the king of Peruvian cuisine, Chef Gaston Acurio’s, who is rightfully credited for bringing Peruvian cuisine to the world map, restaurant Astrid & Gaston. I had done reservation for me but couple of my friends joined as well, and hosts at Astrid & Gaston were happy to accommodate us, even though the restaurant was fully packed. It had just raised the bar of hospitality. No wonder they were crowned with “Art of Hospitality” award during recent Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Talking about the food at these places will take up another blog post.
So, this is enough of bragging about the amazing two weeks I had in Peru. It doesn’t end here. I will go back to venture into deeper Amazonas and to walk on the Inca trails. I will go back to hike the Dead Women’s Pass. I will go back to enjoy more of the culinary magic. Soon.