Ceviche is Peru's national dish. It is raw fish (often white sea bass but sometimes other fish or mixed seafood) marinated in Peru's highly acidic limes (which "cooks" the fish) and mixed with onions and a little hot pepper. It is generally served with a slice of sweet potato and cancha, or toasted corn kernels. It is also usually accompanied by a cold cup of leche de tigre, the liquid that drains out of the ceviche, and a hot limey fish broth soup, which appears to be made with the fish parts not used in the main dish.

More popular in the highlands is cuy, or guinea pig. Before they are roasted, they look exactly like guinea pigs you'd see in a pet store. Incidentally, I stopped by a pet store in a modern shopping mall in Lima, and found the usual assortment of pets you'd find in the States except for guinea pigs, which I only saw in rural food markets. These things take forever to eat - there's not much meat on them. I think that in the countryside they are allowed to run around the kitchen and eat scraps until the fateful day comes when the slowest or dumbest one is cornered then baked or roasted. The dish on the right is chiri uchu, which is served in the Cusco region for the Corpus Christi festival. It is a plate stacked high with a piece of corn bread, roasted guinea pig, chicken, pork, sausage, water weeds, fish roe, a slice of cheese, pepper slices, and cancha. It is eaten with the hands, which makes it a messy affair.


Iquitos is a large city on the Amazon inaccessible by road. The center is dominated by buildings from the 19th century rubber boom, during which Portuguese and Italian tiles were brought in to adorn the facades. The city has since sprawled out, even into the Amazon River itself with houses on stilts. The tourists really don't come for the city - they all go to the ecotourism facilities on the nearby rivers and lakes.
I went with a friend to Muyuna Lodge, about 100km upriver (south) of Iquitos on the Yanayacu tributary. Surprisingly, we were the only tourists visiting the lodge at the time, and we did not see any other tourists in the Amazon, even though there were other lodges just upriver. We spent the bulk of our time on the water, the main form of transport in the area. From the water, you can see river dolphins in the day and the occasional caiman at night.

Qoyllur R'iti

From Trinity Sunday (May or June) to the following Tuesday, there is a festival dedicated to Seņor de Qoyllur R'iti, or the Snow Star, in the mountains by the tiny Andean village of Mawayani near Mount Ausangate. It is nominally a Christian festival, but after seeing people bring down chunks of sacred ice from the nearby glacier, the pre-Christian roots became apparent. To get there, I took an uncomfortable overnight bus from Cusco to Mawayani. As one hits the high mountain passes near Mawayani, the road turns to packed dirt and the landscape is lunar in its barrenness. From Mawayani, it is a two-to-three-hour hike up mountain trails to the church of Qoyllur R'iti. At 15,000 feet, I found this to be a tiring and nauseating climb. At least, I thought, I was not one of the poor harp players, who carried their instruments on their backs all the way up. I watched groups of dancers, musicians, and other pilgrims snake their way up the trails as I sat panting for breath.

There were crosses erected on mounds of rocks along the trail. When a group encountered one of these, the musicians played a simple huayno tune while the rest of the group waited in line to prostrate themselves in front of the cross.
The church was the only structure at the top of the trail. The rest of the area was thick with tents and campfire smoke. The sacred glacier was perhaps a kilometer further up and it was covered with pilgrims retrieving blocks of ice to take back with them. I was concerned when a reporter e-mailed me the next year asking me if I did, in fact, see a glacier. Global warming!
The entire area was full of people singing and dancing all night. Some dances seemed to represent events in Spanish history, such as the Christians and Moors.
Others commemorated events in Peru's history, like the encounters between the Amazonian people and the Spaniards. Many of the dances had strong narratives. I watched a dancer dressed as a Spanish governor alternately whipping prostrated indigenous people, then helping them up so he could embrace them. I suppose that's one way of portraying a colonial relationship.
The masks representing the faces of foreign authority figures were usually not flattering.
Many dances had stylized Christian gestures. Lots of kneeling and praying.
But usually, the dancers just marched and whirled to the music, occasionally whacking onlookers with whips.
And some dancers had dead vicuņas on their backs.

Macchu Picchu

Macchu Picchu is Peru's tourist ground zero. I briefly considered becoming the first tourist in Peruvian history not go to Macchu. It is only accessible by train, and tourists are not allowed to take the reasonably-priced local train. I took a one-and-a-half-hour train ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Macchu Picchu, for $27.50. At first I was outraged by the price, but as I climbed aboard and realized I was the only passenger, I thought it was awfully decent of them to run a fully-staffed diesel train for my benefit for the price of my ticket. The trains from Cusco to Aguas Calientes had one-way prices ranging from $10 to over $30. The difference in prices appeared to be arbitrary, as the trains for the different classes were identical. By imposing different fares, I am guessing that the "classes" were self-selecting.
I think that the beautiful mortarless stonework is reserved for the few religious structures, while the rest of the buildings and walls were rough. I like this odd niche - the masons had carefully fitted their stones to the curving walls of this little cave.
The other nice thing about Macchu Picchu's location is that it is often shrouded in clouds, allowing beautiful bromeliads to grow among the ruins.


Viracocha is the Incan god of creation, and his temple near Raqchi was one of the largest structures created by the Incas. All that remains of the largest building is one of the central walls, which has a stone base with an adobe wall on top. The little roof on top was added by archaeologists to protect the adobe. The area around the ruins is littered with jagged black volcanic rock, the remnants of an old punishment administered by the creator god.
There was only one dance stage at the Viracocha festival, and it was difficult to get near. The dances I saw did not tell stories like many of those at Qoyllur R'iti, but the costumes were just as interesting. This group danced around with human skulls.
Watching this group of dancers among the ruins was more enjoyable than straining to see the main stage. They were being filmed but tolerated the few of us who happened to be there watching. A group of about ten musicians were off to the side singing and playing.


I have almost no pictures from Lima. The city is completely covered in a low coastal fog (garua) for much of the winter, and the air pollution makes the atmosphere more oppressive. I developed a cough after a day in Lima, and it persisted for a week after I got back to the States. On the bright side, there are fine restaurants, shops, and clubs in the city. The old European architecture of some quarters would have been beautiful had there been sunshine.

For me, Lima was an opportunity to eat fresh seafood. I ate in a difficult-to-find place called "Costanera 700", named for its address. It was featured in an article Calvin Trillin wrote for the August 2000 Gourmet magazine, which I had read on the plane back from China last year. An article in a November 2001 New York Times described it as an exclusive restaurant where secret deals are constantly made. The head chef of Costanera is Humberto Sato, who is of Japanese descent. Lima has a large Asian population, as evidenced by the enormous number of chifas, or Chinese restaurants, all over the city. The restaurant was surprisingly hard to find despite the fact that it is named for its address and is on a major road. I walked in the unmarked entrance in a deserted industrial neighborhood to find an empty cavernous room full of framed letters from old customers, including Alberto Fujimori, Alan Garcia, Alejandro Toledo, and presidents and ambassadors from all over South America.

Since I was dining alone (I mean really alone - there weren't any other customers in the building), it was difficult for me to choose just one dish, so I let the waiter choose a couple of half portions of entrees featuring lenguado, or sole, which seemed to be the freshest available fish. I started with the Ceviche Costanera, which was an octopus ceviche presented on scallop shells. This was followed by a Japanese interpretation of a sole ceviche. There were large sushi-sized chunks of fish in a limey soy sauce mixture, garnished with thin slices of white onion. It was a little less acidic than a normal ceviche, and the onions were not immersed in the liquid. The next course was a lightly poached filet of sole in what the waiter told me was "mushi oil". If I were able to communicate in Spanish, I'm sure things would have made more sense. Anyways, it seemed to be a very light-tasting soy sauce. A very mild dish of minced ginger in oil was on the side. The entire meal was excellent - the fish was incredibly fresh.

After my meal, a member of Sato's family (possibly his son) showed me around the restaurant. There was a little sushi bar on the second floor as well as formal meeting rooms. He pointed out a picture of Sato with former president Fujimori. As we were walking back to my table, Humberto Sato himself showed up. He was unfortunately not around when my meal was being prepared. Humberto is an older Japanese guy who knows all about fish. He told me that 300 varieties of fish lived in Peru's cold coastal currents. I asked him which market he got his fish from, and he replied that you have to walk along the beach at 4am and deal with the fishermen directly. That way, the fish would still be alive by the time he got back to the restaurant. Humberto told me that he was busy preparing to open another branch of his restaurant in the expensive Miraflores district. The name of his new place? Costanera 700. I think this will be confusing, but clients will take the time to track down this master chef.

Incidentally, Humberto said that he trained with (or trained? I can't really understand Spanish.) chef Matsuhisa of Nobu, the incredibly popular place in Manhattan that Al Pacino co-owns. Actually, my Spanish is really bad and it is possible that Humberto said that he trained Matsuhisa. I looked up Nobu in the NYC Zagat guide, and sure enough it said that the cuisine is "Japanese Peruvian". Think Japanese food with limes and chiles.

I used the links below to help prepare for my trip.




food in lima

Costanera 700 (1-566-0670) - Ceviche in San Miguel, 12:30pm to 4pm. Closed Sundays and holidays. credit cards are accepted.


Excite travel
roy davies (Inca Trail)
festivals near cusco
June 14 - Corpus Christi

June 10-19? - Festival de Qoyllur Rit'i - valley of Sinakara, on the town of Mawayani, in Quispicanchis?, Savvy traveler report,Peter Frost report (Trinity Sunday is June 10, so Qoyllur Riti should be from June 10-12)

Sunday before the 24th, Folk Festival in the Wiraqocha Inkan temple of the Raqchi village, district of San Pedro, Canchis province

Las Machitas: Avenida de la Infancia (get a taxi for 2 soles) If you like fish and seafood and you don't mind being the only gringo in a crowded restaurant, head down to Las Machitas at lunchtime - everyone else does. The cebiche is excellent, as is the corvina a lo macho. A place to escape the tourist hoards and have an 'authentic' Cusco eating experience.

Hostal Familiar, Calle Saphi 661 (239353). One of Cusco's best budget options. Quiet and very safe; rooms are spartan, but cool, clean and nicely furnished, though few have a private toilet. The communal toilets and showers are very clean and there's usually hot water in the mornings. Good breakfasts are served in the café and there's free safety deposit, a cheap left- luggage system and laundry service available. $5-10.


1997 travelogue to the Cultural Zone
Another trip
Living Edens PBS special
Machiguenga tribe


River dolphins
travelogue at Muyuna Lodge and photos

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