Our itinerary in Peru will be a bit crunchy. We already booked our Macchu Picchu trip for mid-October; most of the places we want to see are in the south, i.e. Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, Canyon de Colca and Nazca. There were a couple of places I wanted to see in the north, but I think we will be too lazy to backtrack. (We have to be in Buenos Aires by November 1.)We left Lima today, having stayed 3 days instead of two, and had planned to stay one night in Ica/Huacachina. But as we pulled into the bus station at Ica, I realized I didn’t really feel like staying there (the main attraction is the sand dunes/lagoon at Huacachina, and the pisco grape wineries.)
‘You wanna just head to Nazca?” I asked Joe. OK, we’re from California; we have wineries and Pismo Beach. As soon as we got off the bus, we bought tickets for the bus to Nazca. Since it was leaving 3 hours later, we had time to kill in Ica, so we walked to the main square, found the nicest restaurant in town, had lunch (the sandwiches on the bus were thoughtful, but not fulfilling), and then got online to book a hotel for Nazca, as well as see about flights.
The El Otro Peñoncito restaurant owner was a very chatty guy, and he asked to take our photos, and said he was going to post them on Facebook!
I should have just booked the bus from Lima direct to Nazca, instead of stopping in Ica, but I thought, since we have time, we should stop and have a look-see. But sometimes you just feel like doing what you really want to do, and I just wanted to see the Nazca lines. I’d known about them from reading a Nancy Drew mystery (The Clue in the Crossword Cipher) when I was a kid. The Nazca peoples (their culture predated the Incas.) created these lines in the desert in the shape of a monkey, a bird, and other figures that are so large, they can only be seen from the air. On the ground, no one knew they existed until the mid-20th century, with modern aviation. The Nazca peoples created these lines by driving very fast in race cars plastered with symbols of serpents, birds and cats and corn on race tracks in the shape of monkeys and birds, creating wheel track scars that have lasted to this day. This was the forerunner of the NASCAR races, where cars plastered with logos of pet food and products containing corn syrup race around a set track, leaving burnt rubber tracks on asphalt. Just kidding. Well, we’ll see how it goes tomorrow. The 30 minute flight to see the lines is supposed to be bumpy (breakfast to be consumed after the flight), and of course it’s increasing my carbon footprint.
More children books ties. Many Tintin adventures were set in South America, some fictionalized, like ‘The Broken Ear’, where an ancient wooden statue with a broken ear plays a key role. I’d read somewhere that it was based on an actual statue, but I can’t confirm it was the same one as the one we saw in the Museo Larco in Lima, which was wood, and had an ear missing.
Then again, there’s quite a few wooden statues out there that have an ear missing, simply due to their antiquity. Still, Tintin was also a source of what little I knew about South America, before I got here, as is probably true for many others!
Yes, there is a Chinatown in Lima, the lady at the tourist office told us. “Hmm, peligroso. Better visit it in the day time.” It was close to 5 o’clock, and would get dark soon.
It would have been better if we had ignored her advice. Because we went the next day, which was our last night in Lima, and had half a roast duck, garlic choy sum, plain rice and tea for dinner. We had quite a bit of duck and choy sum left, but didn’t take the leftovers. If we had been a day earlier, we would have had fixings for a fabulous breakfast. The Wah Lok Restaurant had the most appetizing looking ducks hanging in the window. And even though they bring out chop sticks by request (the default cutlery was fork and knife), the menu was bilingual in Spanish and Chinese. At the end of the meal, they give you White Rabbit candy, instead of fortune cookies. White Rabbit candy seems to be popular in Chinese Peru. We last had a meal like this right before we left home, and I don’t know where next in South America we’ll encounter Chinese roast duck.
Lima’s Chinatown is surrounded by a very busy market/shopping area that was quite hopping, even at 6:30 PM on a weeknight when we walked there from Centro. So we didn’t feel unsafe because it wasn’t quiet/deserted, so we didn’t worry about getting mugged. On the other hand, it’s crowded, so you worry about pickpockets.
While there were typical Peruvian chifas (Chinese restaurants) in Chinatown, there were also more ‘authentic’ Cantonese food, like roast duck, barbeque pork, take-out dim sum, and Chinese bakery items like egg tart (my favourite) and sat-keh-mah (sort of like a rice krispie treat that is Joe’s favourite.) Chifas are like the Peruvian equivalent of Chinese American food, instead of beef with broccoli and kung pao chicken, you have kam lu wantons and aeropuerto (fried noodle dish with bean sprouts). Both have egg foo yung though. We will have to go eat at a chifa before we leave.
The names of Chinese food items took some deciphering: soy sauce, ‘si-yau’ is spelled “sillau” here. Ha kow (shrimp dumplings) is ja-kao. Steamed buns, ‘bao’ is known as ‘min pao’, although in Hong Kong Cantonese, min pao usually refers to bread baked from wheat flour.
Lima’s Chinatown didn’t seem to have many green grocer stores (or maybe they were closed when we got there) There were some dry goods grocery stores selling soy sauce, tea, spices, dried noodles, etc. In fact, the most popular aisle in the grocery shop was full of health-conscious Spanish speakers checking out the different teas. One woman in the next aisle held up a restaurant-sized packet of five-spice powder and asked me if it was for drinking (bebidas.) “No, it’s for making soups and stews!”
There weren’t many stores selling Oriental/Chinese knick knacks like you’d find in San Francisco Chinatown but in one mall, there were quite a few shops selling Indian/Middle Eastern items like incense, belly dancing outfits, and hippie/backpacker clothes you’d find in Goa. The other shops sold trendy clothing and accessories like in any other part of town.
There’s a major mainstream supermarket chain in Lima called “Wong’s”. (Think Safeway/Whole Foods, not 99 Ranch.) It’s very useful, because when people ask Joe how to spell his last name, we just say “it’s like the supermarket name.” (For me, the only name shortcut I get is my name is Celia, like Celia Cruz.) There’s also another chain called Metro, which is also part of the same company.
According to Angelo, the helpful and chatty Joe-Pa look-alike owner of our hotel, they were started by the Wongs, a couple who immigrated from China about 70 years ago. They started with a small shop, did well, expanded, and when their 10 children sold the company to a Chilean conglomerate called Cencosud, they priced it at $10 million per year their parents had been in Peru, so almost ¾ billion dollars. They were known for really good customer service. They would have shoe shiners offering free shoe shines at the front of the store, so men could get their shoes shined, while waiting for their wives to shop!