Category Archives: Food and Drink

You Never Know – Journey In Peru

You never know what’s outside your door until you open it and venture out into the light of day. This is especially so when you are traveling in a distant land, with everything so new and exciting.

A child-like state automatically takes me over when I am in the surrounds of the beauty of a culture so rich as that of Peru. The only country in the world that would find strong competition in my eyes would be India, which I dearly love.

As a solo female traveler, I preferred to travel to the sanctity of the Sacred Valley of Cuzco’s Ollantaytambo. Perhaps I will one day graduate to solo travel in India, the first country that made me fall in love with every part of it.

Afuera La Porta

Afuera La Porta

On one particular morning in my new lodgings in Ollantaytambo Peru, I opened the door to find two labourers resting with planks of wood. They made such a striking pose as they stood there smiling. I ran to get my camera and asked them if I could photograph them. They nodded their approval, smiling all the while.

 

El Horno - Ollantaytambo Peru

El Horno – Ollantaytambo Peru

Another day I came upon a man at the adjoining bar, busily stomping bare-footed in a pile of wet mud. He did not mind me stopping to watch. ‘What are you making?’ I asked him in Spanish. ‘El horno!’ was his reply. Pizza’s are popular in Peru, more especially with tourists, and where there is business to be made our Peruvian friends are not slow to act. Clay oven’s were particularly popular. And this man was making an addition to the services offered by his funky ‘Quechua Bar’ (the one that plays the Bob Marley Music and the Spanish version of ‘The Streets Have No Name’).

 

 

 
My neighbour grabbed a bucket and began to sprinkle clumps of black strands into the mix of mud. ‘What is it?’ I asked. ‘Hair!’, his reply. ‘Human hair?’ said I. ‘Si,’ he affirmed, ‘it helps the mud to stick together.’ I enquired if there was any other spiritual belief attached to the practice of using the hair, but no , it was purely a practical solution.

Making an Oven with Human Hair - Peru

Making an Oven with Human Hair – Peru

Making an Oven - Peru

Making an Oven – Peru

Making an Oven - Ollantaytambo Peru

Making an Oven – Ollantaytambo Peru

I delighted in such happenings for my collection of childlike wonders. The fact that I was making these discoveries through learning a new language added to the experience. To learn like a child is such a lesson in life. It is a humbling experience and can be vulnerable too. Fortunately, I was surrounded by kindly souls for the most of my visit. My adventures into the lessons of adulthood however, were to be treacherous in comparison.

Making a Pizza Oven - Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo

Making a Pizza Oven – Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo

Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo Peru

Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo Peru

© Caroline Cunningham Author of Wild Star Landing (Blog).

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Baby Steps Out Of The Corner – A Story of Peru

Imagine not one but three pairs of eyes shining their loving rays of sunshine back at you. I stood in the doorway of the Coffee Tree Cafe soaking up this splendid wave of energy. Without effort or invitation I was reflecting three smiling faces, beaming from ear to ear. I stepped through the doorway to greet my new friends. Nabila, whom I had met for the first time just a few hours ago in Casa Della Abuelo Hotel, introduced me to her travelling companion, Liz. ‘And this is Steve,’ she added. The three had got talking to each other while having coffee. Steve, also from the States of USA, was travelling solo and had just arrived in Ollantaytambo from Machu Picchu.

Ollantaytambo, Peru

Ollantaytambo, Peru

After three weeks of grappling with a new language, my Spanish was slowly improving but not enough to convey much detail. My new Peruvian friends in this Sacred Valley town, were patient with me, but I was very much a baby amongst them and definitely ‘in the corner’ in many ways.
This was ‘baby’ stepping out of the corner into centre stage. English gushed from me, so much to say and to appreciative listeners. If you know that bond that exists between friends from an earlier part of your life, which ignites instantly once you are together again, this was the feeling I had in that moment of meeting these wonderful souls, except we had never been connected previously in this lifetime of my earth existence.
A plan was set in place without hesitation. Pizza and Pisco were involved in the plot. Off we set and since I was considered by my new friends to be the ‘local’ amongst them, I got to choose the venues. Tonight I was going to be a real tourist, so we ate our ‘stone-oven-fired’ pizza while listening to Pan Pipe music and sampling Peruvian ‘Tacama’ Red Wine and Pisco Sour.

Friends in Ollantaytambo Peru

Friends in Ollantaytambo Peru

We were abuzz with conversation. My new friends were such interesting people. Liz and Nabila both worked in education, researching the ways in which children learn in order to develop better strategies for teaching them. They both seemed highly motivated and passionate about their work, we discussed the ways the world could benefit from such advancements. I was intrigued by Nabila’s story of how her family had moved to America when she was little, leaving her war-torn homeland of Afghanistan behind.

Steve, who also had Peruvian background, told us about his work as an orthopaedic doctor. He had journeyed to Peru with a team of doctors from America for the purpose of providing voluntary medical assistance and surgery in areas where people cannot afford medical care. Having spent some weeks in this role, he was spending his final week enjoying a vacation before return home to U.S.A.
I was in awe of my new friends, inspired and feeling grateful to have the company of such

Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo, Peru

Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo, Peru

magnificent minds and hearts. Naturally they asked me about my story. ‘What brought you to this place?’ Nabila asked. The answer I had rehearsed for the inquisitive café customers came tripping out more shyly this time. ‘I wrote a novel,’ I replied as the three of them listened attentively. ‘I visited Peru last year on a holiday,’ I added, explaining how this first visit had inspired a story. ‘I wrote continuously, morning to night for five months until I had completed it, my first novel.’

I looked at them, wondering what they might think of this. I half apologised for not having made more effort to do ‘worldly-good’ deeds as they had been doing. Steve was the first to reassure me, ‘I wish I could write a novel!’ he remarked.

Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo, Peru

Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo, Peru

The laughter and fun continued and our next stop was the Quechua Bar in the direction of the craft market and Fortaleza. You will know this bar if you visit Ollantaytambo. It’s the one that is playing the Bob Marley music and the Spanish version of U2’s ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.’ The dogs in the deserted streets followed us home. Since my accommodation was on the far side of town, the guys walked me there first. Steve was leaving early in the morning so I wished him well on his journey. Liz and Nabila were toying with the idea of staying an extra day, so we had swapped mobile numbers in order to make plans.

Friendships in Ollantaytambo Peru

Friendships in Ollantaytambo Peru

That was my ‘wildest’ party night in Ollantaytambo town during my nine weeks there and the best friendships formed with any touristic visitors to the town during my stay. Only in more recent times did I discover that Steve’s trip to Peru that July was even more significant than he had revealed that night. He had been responsible for making a miracle happen. At least it was a miracle for the young Peruvian boy who received a prosthetic limb. Steve had responded to a plea for help which could have gone unheard. It seemed impossible to him at first but he got support of his colleagues and arranged for the artificial limb to be made especially for the boy, whose family could never have afforded this. During this trip to Peru, Steve had personally delivered and fitted the limb to the young boy, transforming his life forever.

Salutations to you Steve! And to Liz and Nabila, thank you for being there!

© Caroline Cunningham Wild Star Landing Author

 

A Sweet Diversion in Cuzco

Healthy living is well and fine but little treats are good for the soul too. Occasional trips to Cuzco city during my 9 week stay in Ollantaytambo, provided an extra temptation to sample something new. A fine display of cakes in one particular cafe near Plaza De Armas (main square) had me pondering the detail of these creations.

I invite you to feast your eyes as I did on this sampling of tortes / deserts.

Sweets, Tortes, Cuzco Peru - Read about an Irish Womans Journey in Peru

Sweets, Tortes, Cuzco Peru – Read about an Irish Womans Journey in Peru

Icecream treat in Cuzco Peru - Travel writer Caroline Cunningham tells the tales of life in a Peru

Icecream treat in Cuzco Peru – Travel writer Caroline Cunningham tells the tales of life in a Per

Travel Stories about life in Peru www.wildstarlanding.com

Travel Stories about life in Peru http://www.wildstarlanding.com

Copyright © Caroline Cunningham Author of Wild Star Landing Blog

An Irish Woman’s journey living in the little town of Ollantaytambo, in Peru’s Sacred Valley, Cuzco Region.

Cancha and Chicha – Peruvian Corn

Fair play to the Peruvians, they know how to get maximum use from their home grown produce. Corn or maize for example is  popular in both eating and drinking forms. I generally stuck to the eating rather than the drinking of it. In its toasted form it is known by it;s Quechua name ‘Cancha’.

When I joined my hosts at Hostal La Casa Del Abuelo (Ollantaytambo) for breakfast or lunch, Cancha was usually part of that meal. Rugged particles of corn toasted in oil, salted and served warm, went well with slices of soft white cheese. I didn’t think I would develop a taste for this at first but as time went on I had to put the bowl of cancha on the part of the table furthest from me. It is a tasty snack, probably a lot healthier than chocolate.

Chancha in Peru a Tasty Snack - An Irish Woman's Journey in Peru

Chancha in Peru a Tasty Snack – An Irish Woman’s Journey in Peru

Chicha on the other hand is a drink made from corn/maize. It can be fermented and alcoholic or non-fermented and sober. If you see a pole with a red plastic bag tied to the top of it sticking out from the side of a building, this is a sign that Chicha is available in this dwelling place. In the little town of Ollantaytambo, where I spent nine weeks, there was plenty of red-plastic-bag poles to choose from.

I didn’t quite tap into the chicha sampling during my stay, I am generally cautious with substances that can play havoc with my stomach or my security. Depending on the particular brew, the alcoholic form could be quite strong and you could be misled into thinking that its not alcohol at all.

One day my friend Alex at the Coffee Tree restaurant decided to treat a few of us to a large jar of Chicha which he divided amongst us. It had a strawberry flavour and mine had a whole strawberry in it. We had worked hard in the cafe that week and it was a  Sunday so I thought, why not give it a go. It is a taste that is on the sour side, normally straw coloured but this one with a little pink and sweet from the strawberry addition. If you read my post about the Urubamba market you will be shaking your head at me and possible shouting…’DON’T EAT THE STRAWBERRY!’ (O; Well I did…and I did suffer a little the next day with extra trips to the loo.

The Peruvian culture from its Inca heritage is steeped in the practice of rituals. One such ritual is the use of Chicha to give thanks to Pacha Mama / Mother Earth. The workers in the fields for example may bring a jug of Chicha to sustain them during their breaks but the first offering is to Pacha Mama by pouring a generous drop on the soil. Similarly in the Coffee Tree restaurant Alex poured a few drops on the floor and I did the same before we set about tasting it ourselves.

Chicha Morada on the other hand is a refreshing non-alcoholic juice made from purple corn and I have read some interesting articles which attest to this particular corn as having healthy benefits and hence it is being investigated for medical purposes.

I was chuffed when during one of my last evenings in Ollantaytambo, an elderly local woman wearing the more traditional style of dress, engaged me in conversation in Spanish. I am sure that Quechua was her first language but I had said hello in Spanish as she was about to overtake me on my evening walk along the cobbled stoned path. She was really speeding it. ‘Where are you going friend?’ she asked me in Spanish. ‘For a walk,’ I offered. ‘Where are you going?’ I asked in return. ‘To buy chicha,’ was her reply. ‘This house here has really good chicha,’ she told me pointing to a nearby doorway with a red-plastic-bag pole outside. ‘Are you coming?’ she enquired. I kindly refused, but I was secretly happy because she had treated me like a local and it seemed I had become one after all.

Copyright ©Caroline Cunningham Author of Wild Star Landing Blog

An Irish Woman’s journey living in the little town of Ollantaytambo, in Peru’s Sacred Valley, Cuzco Region.

Sacred Valley Women Offering Chicha to Pacha Mama - An Irish Womans Journey in Peru

Sacred Valley Women Offering Chicha to Pacha Mama – An Irish Womans Journey in Peru

Whats so fascinating about Breatfast in Peru?

Seriously how could I write at least five articles about breakfast in Peru? Easy! Breakfast is not only the most important meal of the day but in Peru it is the meal which can offer the most variety. And variety is the spice of life.

So having sipped on warm avena, been a privileged guest at an ayacucho breakfast, been envied by tourists as I slurped my ‘special’ breakfast soup and felt like goldilock’s with a craving for porridge, my next hankering was for good old scrambled eggs.

Ever wonder what life is like in a small Peruvian town - Travel Writer Caroline Cunningham tells the tale

Ever wonder what life is like in a small Peruvian town – Travel Writer Caroline Cunningham tells the tale

As a tourist in Peru the breakfasts that you will be most likely offered are a variety of freshly squeezed seasonal juices, such as apple, celery, mango or pinapple, lots of coca leaves to make altitude-coping tea, a choice between quinoa porridge and most likely scrambled eggs. All this on offer if you stay in any moderately stylish hotel or any tourist restaurant or cafe.

One morning at my leisure I visited my friend Wilbert at World’s Coffee. Wilbert’s services as a chef were constantly in demand. You would often see him coming from his home with a tray of freshly baked pans proudly held high in the air. He supplied his loaves to at least two restaurants in Ollantaytambo (Sacred Valley, Cuzco Region).

It was  a beautiful sunny day as usual in the dry season. I sat and listened to the typically Andean ‘waino’ music wafting from the radio. i gazed into the open, watching Inca people organizing their bundles and creating a beautiful display with their brightly coloured skirts and ponshaws. They were always busy with the comings and goings of being an Inca descendant, carrying on the traditions of the past despite the signs of modernity seeping through the pores of this unique little town in the form of tourists from the world over and more slowly from its own well-spring of Peruvian clan. Breakfast in Peru's Ollantaytambo - A living Inca Musuem

Wilbert made my breakfast that morning, scrambled eggs and ham with his homemade bread and well made cappuccino (one of the best coffees in Peru).  How lucky am I to have such memories as these?

©Caroline Cunningham Author of Wild Star Landing Blog

An Irish Woman’s journey living in the little town of Ollantaytambo, in Peru’s Sacred Valley, Cuzco Region.

Breakfast in Peru - Stories from an Irish woman living in a beautiful town in the Sacred Valley

Breakfast in Peru – Stories from an Irish woman living in a beautiful town in the Sacred Valle

Travel Writer Caroline Cunningham describes life in a Living Inca Musuem

Travel Writer Caroline Cunningham describes life in a Living Inca Musuem

Travel Writer Caroline Cunningham describes life in a Peruvian Town

Travel Writer Caroline Cunningham describes life in a Peruvian Town

Travel Writer Caroline Cunningham tells a tale of life in a Peruvian Town in The Sacred Valley

Travel Writer Caroline Cunningham tells a tale of life in a Peruvian Town in The Sacred Valley

Goldilocks in Peru

Lately I have been describing the traditional breakfasts I had during my nine week stay Cuzco’s Sacred Valley. After a few weeks helping out at the Coffee Tree restaurant café, where breakfast mostly consisted of a delicious soup, I had a momentary lapse of Goldilocks syndrome. Nothing to do with a longing to invade a house of bears and apparently there are bears to be found in the wilds of Peru, but more it was to do with a withdrawal from my daily portion of porridge.

Porridge may well have been one of the ‘good mood foods’ that kept me on the straight and narrow of life’s rough and tumble, at least it has earned that reputation. I had been at least 3 weeks without a daily dose of porridge so it was time to speak up, in Spanish of course.

So one morning early in the Coffee Tree I asked if it was possible for me not to have the normal breakfast but to have instead a bowl of quinoa porridge. Quinoa is a local grain and listed as a super-food nowadays for its high nutrient content. Usually the porridge is served with some stewed apple and cinnamon.  I wondered if my request had been really understood as I was still getting to grips with my sentence integration. But nearer to the time of breakfast for the workers my name was called from the kitchen and a large bowl of Quinoa porridge was pushed through the hatch window.

With great delight I sat down preparing to eat and wondering why the others were not ready yet for their meal. Eventually their soups arrived and they gathered round the table. I had almost finished my porridge. But just as I was finished a large bowl of soup was place before me. ‘What is this?’ I asked with much surprise. ‘Desayuno / Breakfast!’ was the reply. ‘For me?’…’Siiii!’ So my good efforts to explain myself were partly in vain. I had to make some effort to eat my soup as it was not so polite to refuse that which had been made especially. But it was the last time I asked for porridge during my Coffee Tree work-out. It makes me smile when I think of it now.

So the moral of the story is that I could survive without a daily dose of porridge, at least in this environment, and I fitted in very well with the flow of Peruvian life in the little town of Ollantaytambo.

©Caroline Cunningham Author of Wild Star Landing Blog

An Irish Woman’s journey living in the little town of Ollantaytambo, in Peru’s Sacred Valley, Cuzco Region.

Travel Writer Caroline Cunningham describes life in a Peruvian Town in the heart of The Sacred Valley.

Travel Writer Caroline Cunningham describes life in a Peruvian Town in the heart of The Sacred Valley.

Desayuno in Peru – A Sacred Valley Breakfast

Here I am still talking about ‘Breakfast In Peru’. It is not easy to write about this country and refrain from mentioning its food. Food is not only a living necessity it is a  soul thing and if you are lucky as I was you get to share the soulful moments with others who appreciate its worth.

I volunteered my services at The Coffee Tree in return for some food and the opportunity to improve my Spanish and most importantly to make friends. We started our mornings there cleaning and preparing for the day ahead as customers started to trickle  in ordering their tea’s and coffees and breakfasts. Local Inca women wearing exquisitely designed customary dress would pop in with some organic fruit or vegetables for sale. And local men called to see if newspapers were wanted or perhaps some extra bottles of beer.

When at last the place had quietened down it was time for the workers to have their breakfast. There was variety of breakfast provided for the workers now and then but the most staple of these was a tasty soup. It was served in wide bowls, with tiny pasta shapes, lots of organic vegetables and well seasoned stock. Sometimes you would find a piece of a chicken or goat or cow in the mixture, just a little. A Peruvian dish is not complete without some form of chilli sauce freshly blended, the one we commonly ate was called ‘aji’ which was made from ‘cilantro’ a spicy pepper/chilli (I am not up on my classifications of these vegetables yet).

One day just as our breakfast started to appear through the kitchen hatch finding its way to our table, a traveling couple reviewed the menu trying to decide what their appetite required. ‘What is that over there?’ they asked curiously. I replied that it was the breakfast for the workers. One of them decided, ‘we’ll have that, it looks great.’ I explained that it was not on the menu and only enough was prepared for the workers. They were really disappointed but in fairness i did ask just to make sure. It was not possible that day but I did inform the owner that this was not the first time I had encountered this reaction from tourists.

A delicious breakfast from Ollantaytambo Peru - An Irish Womans Journey

A delicious breakfast from Ollantaytambo Peru – An Irish Womans Journey

The guys at the Coffee Tree certainly worked hard and this was a great treat. As I sat and ate my breakfast soup with my Peruvian friends I realised how envious I was spied by other tourists who passed through. ‘Ah, only special people get to have this food,’ one tourist teased me gently.

We ate in silence with amusing glances now and then, gazing out at the immaculate blue sky, the busy square and the nearby rocky hills with their inca ruins.  Second helpings were always offered and the conversation got more underway by the time we got to coffee and the freshly baked pans of bread. In the beginning much of the conversation was lost on me but as time went by we found our ways of joking with each other and exchanging language phrases in English, Spanish and even Quechua, the local language of the Incas.

And that was breakfast. A soulful moment in Ollantaytambo, in the heart of Peru’s Sacred Valley.

©Caroline Cunningham Author of Wild Star Landing Blog December 25th 2013

An Irish Woman’s journey living in the little town of Ollantaytambo, in Peru’s Sacred Valley, Cuzco Region.

Breakfast in Peru's Sacred Valley - The Coffee Tree Ollantaytambo

Breakfast in Peru’s Sacred Valley – The Coffee Tree Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo Peru Travel Stories of  Life in a Peruvian Town

Ollantaytambo Peru Travel Stories of Life in a Peruvian Town