Living El Niño and a Lunar Eclipse

The first signs were difficult to recognise: all that happened was summer continued, skies remained blue, nights still contained insect bites and the sun shined. But it was April in Lima, this time of year should herald the gray days to come; cloud cover and chilly nights, they didn’t arrive. The earthquake in Chile was more definitive though, bringing a tsunami to Lima’s coast it started the gossip, the reasoning, the putting together of puzzle pieces: El Niño had arrived. A natural phenomenon which brings warm water to the Western shores of South America, it also affects the climate, lengthening the hot days of summer for the coast of Peru, while inland heavy rain soak the mountainous regions. For a more detailed analysis of this highly complex weather system read this.

In other news I became aware of the Lunar Eclipse on the 15th April and decided that, given my refusal to be roused as a stubborn child to see the last one, I would sleep on the flat roof of my apartment and stargaze. I created a nest of duvets and curled up under a sky of bright stars and a moon ready to be eaten away. After dozing I woke up to an orb of hazy light, which behind a screen of clouds gradually disappeared. Only to reappear triumphant from silver trappings, tinted red. The blood moon had survived its ordeal.

Finally a note on the impressive interiors of Lima’s religious buildings, of which there are many including the Convento de San Francisco pictured below. Personally I find the ghostly white complexion of the Virgin Mary’s and other saints, combined with the sheen from the plastic, wax or painted wood they are made from, gives the impression of these deities sweating as they stare down from on-high, which is rather apt given the current warm weather.

PidgeonMaryJesus

36 Hours in Lima

I recently wrote this blog as part of my job with the NGO MEDLIFE, we are starting up a sister organisation called GOODLIFE which is essentially a travel agency with a conscience. I was given the title “36 Hours in Lima” and asked to write from personal experience what I would do with that time frame. This is the result, and in complete coincidence my boyfriend Michael is visiting me out here and has about 36 hours (give or take a few) to see Lima, so it’s also to give him an idea of what he’s in for!

Your plane flies over Toblerone peaks, carpeted in green; as the coast looms in the distance, the seatbelt sign flashes with impatience: you are nearly there.  The salty smell of the sea fills the cabin when the doors open, and heat floods in alongside it. Jorge Chavez airport is plastered with photoshop-enhanced panoramas of Machu Picchu, shocking your sleepy eyes awake as you queue your way through immigration and give your checked bag over to the Soviet era X-ray machine. Get ready to be confronted by a plethora of eagle eyed taxi drivers who have spotted your backpack from afar and make a beeline towards you. Negotiation doesn’t really cover the haggling process; your limit is s/50 (355-5555 taxis offer competitive prices- you can call them from the airport or arrange pick up in advance) and you do not budge. The afternoon traffic in Callao is hectic; your over-eager driver insists on a horn blowing, stop-start tactic to dealing with the traffic, combi buses blare an unrecognisable mixture of salsa and cheesy pop music, while policewomen ride pillion on motorbikes, weaving speedily between lanes.

Barranco is your destination: the dilapidated charm of the 18th century European-style summer houses, combined with the heat of South America, results in waxy leaved bushes with oversized blooms spilling into picturesque streets from private gardens. Stay in one of these luxury abodes (Juan Carlos is a brilliant host with a selection of apartments available) built for the cream of Lima society to escape the dusty city heat, 150 years of expansion has surrounded this district and brought it close to the popular borough of Miraflores, the Mecca of Lima tourism. But staying here you are more likely to bump into Peruvian lovers watching the sun set over the sea, than American tourists watching the latest Hollywood film in Larcomar.

Find sustenance and flavour at Burrito Bar: a hole in the wall serving simply incredible Mexican staples. Choose from fish tacos, veggie burritos, and quesadillas accompanied by chunky avocado-heavy guacamole and tangy salsa then wash your meal down with an ice cold beer or rare Peruvian ale from Sierra Andina. Arrival drinks in Lima should be celebrated in Santos: a bar with a view down by the sea in Barranco. The maracuya mojitos are intense: smashed mint leaves lend their flavour to the sharp tang of South American passion fruit. The non-alcoholic drinks are equally sublime; a personal favourite is a frozen concoction with flor de Jamaica, which delivers a hit of fruit, ice and sugar.

Get up with the rising sun and revitalise your body and mind with yoga on the beach in Miraflores, a short walk from Barranco. Lima is known as a city of parks (despite being located in a desert), and early mornings find this metropolis humming with cyclists and runners, so join the throng and start early! Breakfast at Café Buena Vista: located high on the cliffs above the sea, this beautiful little café provides a filling and very tasty breakfast. Drink either strong coffee made to perfection, or a chilled green Arabic Lemonade.

Continue the beach theme and gain a truly Peruvian experience with a taxi to Chorrillos, a district of the city down by the sea where you can rent a pony from the fantastic Mario: Lima born and bred he lives on an area of salt marsh originally owned by his grandfather, keeps a selection of ponies, and builds rather haphazard looking Cinderella-style carriages for weddings. With beautiful leather saddles, these somewhat scruffy beasts take on new life as they hit the sand: walk, trot or gallop next to the crashing waves of the Pacific.

Educate your mind at Museo Larco: situated in Pueblo Libre, journey here either very cheaply by combi (s/1 from Avenida Arequipa at the top of Parque Kennedy), taking about 45mins to get there, or the speedy more expensive way by taxi (around s/5-10 from anywhere in Miraflores). This museum has a wealth of historical objects, informative videos and a fantastic restaurant! Most importantly, it explains the impressively advanced civilisations prior to the Incas. These have been somewhat left out of the history books, with the average tourist considering the Incas to be the key to Peru prior to the Spanish Conquest when in fact their reign only lasted about 100 years. They’re success was very much built upon the wealth of the people who preceded them and here at Larco you will gain a clear understanding of just how rich and complex Peru’s history is, and why it is considered a cradle of human life. After absorbing so much information, give yourself an hour to relax in the beautiful restaurant at Museo Larco: find a table with mismatched chairs, under leafy green vines sprouting ornate lanterns, and order some delicious food. The sea bass is a great choice; fresh from the ocean and cooked to perfection, ideally to be followed with a delectable slice of apple tarte tatin, which is served with creamy vanilla ice cream. The restaurant boasts some great options from Peruvian classics (Aji de Gaillina) to more adventurous choices (Green Noodles & Breaded Beef Paillard).

For the afternoon the options are numerous: rent a bike and cycle from Miraflores to Barranco along the Malecón, the cliff top path which follows the curve of the coast below. On your way stop at the Bioferia in Parque Reducto; this small organic food market provides some of the very best take away food in Lima. From Mediterranean style wraps crammed with sweet roasted peppers, tofu and salad, topped with humus and olive tapenade, to vegetarian quinoa lasagne and legendary blueberry tarts. It’s also a great place to pick up fresh organic vegetables, fruits, coffee beans and bitter-sweet Amazonian chocolate to make a tasty lunch with, and to take home as gifts. So fill your bike basket with goodies and peddle on towards Barranco, drop off your bike and shopping, and then get dressed up for a fabulous evening in Ayahuasca Restaurant & Bar. This converted mansion offers both tasty food and drink and, more exceptionally, an atmosphere of wacky cool created through brilliant interior design; this is the kind of place in which you explore before settling on a cushioned chez lounge or a sleek bar stool. An alternative evening destination is Bravo Restaurant in San Isidro; further to go but worth it for the delicious food. Made under the supervision of the famous chef Christian Bravo, you can opt for a fancy tasting menu or select your own choices from the varied assortment on offer.

Your outbound flight leaves around midday so get up and pack. You will find Dedalo Art and Handcraft shop in your neighbourhood; stop here for some classy Lima souvenirs. A far cry from the cheaper reproduction items found elsewhere, this place is somewhere between an art gallery and an independent gift shop. They also serve fantastic coffee and pastries so breakfast here too while you admire your purchases, all made by Peruvian designers.Image

Fruitmania

Fruit markets have taken on a new significance for me: given that the fruit in Lima is so fresh and so ripe, going to the “purple market” is a daily habit. Like a butchers stand clothed in vivid hues for dress down Fridays; metal hooks hang with bunches of yellow bananas, while a chequerboard of deep green denoting avocados, contrasts with smooth cheeked mangos blushing red, and bauble sized purple grapes, lie below. I eagerly buy too many plátanos for the sole purpose of returning home to peel and slice my hoard into a box for the freezer: 3 hours later, voilà the best banana ice-cream of your life. Maracuya fruit: the passion fruit of South America has also found a place in my heart, larger than their more common purple cousin, these bight yellow fruits provide the perfect serving of tart pulp complete with black edible seeds; a bit of a shock to the system first thing in the morning (along the lines of unsweetened grapefruit), but as a flavouring for either drinks or deserts they are unbeatable.

Feeling adventurous I also purchased a large cantaloupe melon, these have strong connotations for me; derived from a childhood of summers in the south of France where these exact melons are grown. There we used to buy three at a time: one for lunch (very ripe), one for later (with a couple of hours to ripen) and one for tomorrow (needs a day more in the sun), you know the difference by smell, the most pungent and heady demand to be eaten first. I found myself re-enacting the smell test of my mother in a Peruvian bodega; much to the astonishment of the owner, but the embarrassment of sniffing fruit in public was worth it: the orange flesh was so juicy that gnawing on a slice resulted in a sticky face and much slurping.

With so much fruit around, some very hot weather and a blender in my apartment, liquid foods have become not only a staple but an area of experiment. Take frozen mango, banana, fresh ginger, oats and milk and you have yourself a mixture between a classic fruit smoothie and porridge- ideal to start the morning with. I endeavour to become a blending professional before the fruit season is over.Image

 

 

 

 

Barranco Bars & Sunshine for Christmas

I’m finding it very hard to believe its December; its just too sunny. Having never been in a hot country for Christmas the experience is pretty surreal; Peruvians seem to take the attitude that because of the exotic climate their festive décor should be even more over the top to make up for the lack of snow, reindeer and sleighs, in reality. Cue entire life-size nativity scenes on garage roofs, lights which not only flash in a hundred different ways but also play music, and supermarket complexes sporting monster sized wreaths.

La Noche de los Museos was on Friday night; nearly all of the museums and galleries in Lima have either discounted prices or free entry, so we took advantage and visited the renowned MATE art gallery in Barranco. The exhibitions were varied: from wall sized photos of photos layered over with paint by Julian Schnabel, to Elliott Hundley’s intricate collage with hundreds of pins added giving texture and depth. The intriguing image of David Bowie’s face by Douglas Gordan is burnt to reveal the mirror behind, literally putting the viewer in the picture, and Dan Colen’s slightly disgusting frame of used multicoloured chewing gum; the question is did he chew it all himself? I found myself deciding what I thought about the pieces rather than reading the information and taking my position from there (my normal stance), as it was all in Spanish so remained unknown.

david bowie chewing gum pins

On route to a bar, we came across an opening night for some boutique Peruvian fashion labels which turned out to be great fun; beautiful materials and quirky designs made for much window shopping on my part (I’m currently lacking the funds for shopping sprees). My favourite was MUSAS DE YEMANYÁ with amazing bikinis including a tiger print one! We eventually ended up in Santos Bar drinking cocktails flavoured with mint and flor de jamaica feeling like we were on holiday; it’s such a cool place with upside down lampshades over the bar and battered metal adverts on the walls.

Sunday morning was perfect; after a hectic beach party outside of Lima the night before, where I truly found out how powerful the sea can be- by getting swept up in the breaking tide and deposited on the beach covered in sand, waking up early the next day to blue skies and sweet sounding church bells was bliss. I think because it can be so cloudy and overcast here, the days when its properly sunny are cherished all the more; so I took myself to a favourite park nearby and lazed in the sunshine reading and eating Princessa ice cream.

tree in blossom

So now maybe its more obvious why I’m finding my month orientation so difficult to sort out- summer is here!

 

Parks & Paneton

There’s some pretty random things in Lima; one of my favourites is the parks, which are amazingly green considering how little rain fall there is, and also so clean and bright- its summer here so the blossom is splashing colour everywhere. Being Lima of course there’s a quirk to the whole situation, and with parks its the intricately shaped bushes: pandas, mice, coconut trees complete with fruit and even bicycles with riders all adorn various green spaces. The effort is impressive with different coloured leaves perfectly placed for eyes and fruit, I love it.

blossom        mousebike

I also visited a park with a petting zoo, and met my first alpaca; with the softest fur and big brown eyes it was very sweet, but be warned, much like camels these beasts spit! A rather spectacular albino peacock also made an impression on me; it was very odd to see something usually so colourful in perfect paper white. I have also never seen so many tortoises in one place: about 50 fairly large reptiles were just chilling in an enclosure, their entertainment was some pretty ferocious mating between two of them!

alpaca

tortoise

Another craze seems to be Paneton- a sweet cake/bread studded with raisins, glacé cherries and something green (unknown to me). I was under the impression that it was an Italian Christmas delicacy, but given there are whole shops whose only ware is boxes of Paneton, and the extensive billboard advertising everywhere, I think it must be big deal. One of the best adverts I’ve seen depicts Botticelli’s Birth of Venus with the goddess herself strategically holding a Paneton over her neither regions. Absolutely hilarious, it works though; having been inundated with adverts telling me this is the ultimate treat, I’m planning on buying one for my untraditional beach-based Christmas.venus