Upon descending the Pinkuylluna Mountain, I met a middle-aged American couple who asked me if where I came out of was the entrance to the hill with the ruins. I ended up having an interesting conversation with them right there on the narrow, cobblestone covered street of the old Inca part of Ollantaytambo.
At one point they mentioned they had dined at Apu Veronica Restaurant located across the bridge heading out of town, and recommended the restaurant to me for some of the best food in town. So I made a point of heading out there and satiating my digestive system after the uphill climb.
Apu Veronica is, exactly as the Americans told me, across the bridge heading toward the fortress. It is located on the second floor of a building, but is well marked to make it easy to find.
I walked up and seated myself in the smallish restaurant currently catering to just a couple of people eating there. However despite being noticed by the staff, I was totally ignored for the longest time.
I proceeded to walk up to the counter and grabbed a menu out of there myself, thinking this would get the message across and a waiter would come to ask what I wished to order. That never happened.
The menu suggested heavily overpriced dishes, but whereas one of the dining patrons was a local, I knew they also had locally priced options. I found those on an individual sheet on the counter.
Called “Daily Menu“, this option offered a selection of a few pre-made dishes for 15 Soles which included a small plate of soup and a glass of Chicha Morada (traditional Peruvian non-alcoholic, sugar sweetened beverage of deep purple color made from dried dark corn). Compared to the dishes listed in the menu, which sell for upward of 70 Soles (over $21 US) per plate, these three course meals are hell of a better deal, but as a foreigner, you’re not supposed to know about them. That’s if anyone bothers to serve you in the first place.
Having figured out what I wanted, and having demonstrated to the staff that I’m indeed present in the restaurant and ready to place an order, I expected a waiter to finally show up after some 15 minutes of ignoring me in the restaurant with hardly any people to keep them busy. It never happened, so I stood myself up, walked up to the counter again, and called up a waiter to place an order there.
I ordered fried trout, but asked if instead of standard rice as an accompaniment, I could get a portion of fresh salad made from whatever veggies they had in the kitchen. The waiter said it shouldn’t be a problem, so I went to sit myself down at my table again.
As per the speed of previously demonstrated service, it took forever to finally bring me my order, but nevertheless, I got the trout exactly as I asked for. Compared to what I got in nearby Puno for half the price, this was a miserable portion of fish, but I was in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, so I took it as it was.
I went to Apu Vernica after descending the Pinkuylluna Mountain so I did feel like unwinding after the heart pumping uphill trek, which is probably the only reason why I stuck around. The terrible service with no reason to justify the insanely long waiting times was otherwise inexcusable. The food however, I have to admit, was tasty and the cook prepared it for me the way I wanted, so I feel like my review is at the draw as far as recommending or not recommending the restaurant.
Furthermore, unless you get sucked into ordering one of the hard core overpriced options from the foreigners’ menu, the value for money in Apu Veronica is decent. The food was safe and didn’t make me ill, so I’ll leave it at just that – Apu Veronica is probably a decent choice for dining in Ollantaytambo, but not if you don’t have whole day to wait for service, or are really hungry.
While Ruins of Ollantaytambo are the main archeological attraction in the town of Ollantaytambo, I left them out of my itinerary, as I did many other major archeological sites in and around Cusco, because the entrance fee to those is 140 Soles ($42 US). I simply refuse to support the rip off practices of this magnitude, unless it’s something I could not, for the life of me, afford to miss out on.
Good thing about Ollantaytambo is that on the opposite side of the town from the main archeological site, is steeply towering Pinkuylluna Mountain, on which there are multiple smaller ruins of Inca storehouses and access to those is entirely free. The only challenge is that one must climb on foot the steel slopes of Pinkuylluna Hill in order to access them. But that’s an adventure in its own right that would be worth while even if there were no ruins on Pinkuylluna. Hell yes I was up for it.
And I wasted no time. As soon as I checked in the Inka Wasi Hostal, I put on Shea Butter which I use as purely natural sun screen, and headed out to hit the slopes.
Face of Viracocha
One quickly observable feature of the Pinkuylluna Mountain is the Profile of the Inca (Perfil del Inca). Said to represent the face of Viracocha – the supreme god of the Incas, the father of all other Inca gods and the creator of the earth.
I was told by a local that the face on the side of the mountain is not an orographic whim, but it was sculpted in the rock, and it fulfills an astronomical function related to the seasons – the cultivation cycles – illuminating itself in the solstices in a certain way.
Access to Pinkuylluna Mountain
From Plaza de Armas, enter the old town of Ollantaytambo by way of the street the nearest to the hill (rightmost when facing the old town from Plaza de Armas). Follow the narrow, cobblestone street until you come across a gate on the right hand side.
The steep rock steps begin right on the other side of the gate. On the left side of the gate there is a sign informing you that you are at the entrance to the Pinkuylluna Mountain.
Climbing the Pinkuylluna Mountain
The trail up the Pinkuylluna Mountain will get your heart pumping right off the bat. Climbing the hill is basically one major cardio exercise, so by taking the hill on, you’ll get the combination of good heart workout, the best views of the town as well as the main ruins, and the ability to get up close and personal with the storehouse ruins without shelling out a dime.
There were moments during my climb when the gusts of wind were super strong, so not only did I have to hold on to my hat, I had to carefully watch my footing on the narrow rocky trail with deep abyss on its side. If you’re a thrill seeker, you’re gonna love walking the cliff edges of the hill.
The Pinkuylluna storehouses, or mountain granaries, are rectangular structures perched on various parts of the Pinkuylluna Mountain.
Although the placement of these warehouses on top of the hill may seems strange, the fact that at that height the air is cooler and it moves faster, would help in preserving the food and keeping it ventilated. I also tend to doubt the exhausting hike needed in order to reach the storehouses would attract many would be thieves.
Overall, even though challenging, I found the hike up the Pinkuylluna Mountain, and the exploring the storehouses to be a rewarding experience that was totally worth the effort.
Moreover, with the amazing views of the main Inca fortress, I was happy to be on the hill where there were hardly any other people around, and not within the overcrowded main ruins overrun with thousands of tourists.
If you continue all the way to the top, the ever fainter trail will take you around the hill where you will find a small cave. Few people, including locals, even know about the cave.
If you’re easily spooked, or suffer from vertigo, a climb up the Pinkuylluna Mountain may be hazardous, but in every other case I would certainly recommend it as an alternative to the overpriced and overcrowded main ruins of Ollantaytambo.
Here’s a video of bits and pieces I filmed while hiking the Pinkuylluna Mountain. At times the wind gusts were extremely strong:
Upon arriving in Ollantaytambo from Cusco, I proceeded to look for a room to stay in. I liked the idea of staying within the stone streets of the original Inca town, so I wandered around there and asked in a few places that had a Hotel or Hostal sign.
The van from Cusco dropped me off at Ollantaytambo’s Plaza de Armas, and whereas it was obvious that all traffic passing through the small town passes through Plaza de Armas, I decided to stay in Inka Wasi Hostal, which is located near Plaza de Armas to provide near instant access to the downtown area, but is not directly on it so as not to pay too much for a room.
Inka Wasi had nice and clean looking rooms, but the windows faced the hostal’s courtyard where local children played and yelled whole day and late into the night. People living in the adjacent houses used the courtyard to conduct their overly loud phonecalls. Needless to say, there were few opportunities for a restful sleep.
The bed was however comfortable, there was hot water in the shower, and the internet worked reasonably well. The location would be probably the establishment’s biggest selling point, and at the cost of 50 Soles per night (a touch over $15 US), the value for money was nothing to write home about as far as Latin America is involved, but it wasn’t overly pricey either.
Overall, I would stay at Inka Wasi again, if I made a return trip to Ollantaytambo.
The town of Ollantaytambo is considered to be one of the most important towns within the Sacred Valley of the Incas. It is the only original Inca town that is still inhabited. Its stone streets preserve the Inca architecture combined with temples and colonial squares. Because it is on the road between Cusco and Machu Picchu, it sees a fair bit of tourists. However, Ollanta, as it is locally called, is more than just a mandatory stop on the way to Machu Picchu. The town has its own charms, and a fair bit of its own Inca archaeological sites.
Sacred Valley of the Incas
The Sacred Valley of the Incas (El Valle Sagrado de los Incas) is one of the major tourist attractions of the Andean region of South America due to its impressive landscape, its pleasant climate, its megalithic cultural evidences and because it offers diverse possibilities for adventure trip (including the Inca Trail).
The Sacred Valley of the Incas extends along the Vilcanota River (the same river that more downstream takes the names of Urubamba or Willcamayu). It covers the area between the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo.
The origin of Ollantaytambo is said to begin the legend of Ollanta, a commoner who was in love with the princess Cusi Coyllor, daughter of the Inca emperor Pachacutec, who opposed their relationship.
Pachacutec decided to punish his daughter by sending her to the house of Virgins. Ollanta tried to kidnap her but did not succeed and was forced to flee. With the passage of time, Ollanta decided to rebel against Pachacutec, causing bloody battles. the Inca emperor emerged victorious, but for his valor, decided to forgive the commoner.
How to Get to Ollantaytambo from Cusco
Vans bound for Ollantaytambo leave from a small terminal located on Calle Pavitos, three blocks due west from Avenida El Sol, down the road just a few meters up from Hostal Margarita.
The trip cost 15 Soles (around $4.50 US), and lasted 2 hours. The van does not leave until full, so if you travel with a large backpack, the trip may be rather uncomfortable.
The road through the Sacred Valley of the Incas is scenic and picture-perfect on every bend. Just before reaching Ollantaytambo, you will pass through the town of Urubamba. There isn’t a whole lot to do in Urubamba, so I decided to head straight to Ollantaytambo.
Ollantaytambo is located at the elevation of 2,700 meters above sea level, meaning it is some 700 meters lower than Cusco, so if Cusco was giving you hard time with altitude sickness, Ollantaytambo should offer a bit of relief.
The Rainbow Mountain, locally known as La Montaña de los Siete Colores (The Mountain of Seven Colors), or by its official name of Vinicunca (sometimes spelled Winicunca), is one of the newest attractions in Peru. The mountain however belongs to the people of Pitumarca, who call it the “Cerro Colorado“.
Up until a few years ago, it was under the permanent layer of snow and ice, and nothing made it special or attractive. But as the snow receded, it uncovered the mountainous formation dyed in various shades, product of the complex combination of minerals.
Despite its local name of the Mountain of Seven Colors, according to the information provided by our tour guide, the scientists identified five colors on the slopes and the summit of the Rainbow Mountain – red, purple, green, yellow, and pink – all deposited the base color of the mountain itself.
Had you visited the Rainbow Mountain prior to 2016, you would likely be the only one hiking the high altitude trail to its 5,200 meter above the sea level summit. However because it is located on the way to the imposing Ausangate – the snow-covered mountain with an elevation of 6,384 metres – adventurers who dared to ascend Ausangate in 2016 took photos of Vinicunca which they then shared on the social media, sparking the interest in the mountain. Since then, the popularity of the Rainbow Mountain exploded and now it receives hundreds, if not thousands of visitors a day, making it one of the most visited places in the Cusco region of Peru – along of course with Machu Picchu.
The road to the Rainbow Mountain is along a canyon with narrow passage carved into the steep cliffs of its sides. You have no choice but to trust your bus driver that he knows what he’s doing, with the understanding that if he messes up, you’re dead, but so is he. In other words – he has as much incentive to drive safe as you have the hope he will.
Through the whole ride there and back, I was telling myself that one day I will remember it as something crazy I have once done, and that I’m glad I did not die there, but while I was at it, I was realizing I was riding on the Grim Reaper’s tail the whole time and at any given time there were mere inches separating me from certain death. One wrong move on the driver’s part, and everyone in the bus is dead.
There was not a person on the bus who was not clenching his or her butt cheeks so tightly, you couldn’t jam a sharpened hair up anyone’s ass crack, but it was the ones sitting on the side of the bus facing the canyon who were breathless the most. The wheels on that side of the bus were gliding on the edge of the cliff, and there was a long way down. It constantly felt like you’re better off not knowing just how close you are to the edge, and just how far down it is.
Before the final ascend with the bus, we crossed the canyon over the shadiest looking wood bridge ever. That would have induced grasps for air if we were to walkover it on foot, yet we drove over it with the bus. Each of us gasped when we did it. Damn!
Shortly after the bridge, we stopped at the toll booth where our guide paid for everybody’s entrance and our vehicle drove to the parking area, from where we commenced the hike. There were several other vans used as tour buses parked up there, suggesting a high number of hikers on the trail.
Locals with horses were offering an option to reach the mountain without straining your heart and lungs, and a number of locals including children were stationed along the trail, selling heavily overprices snacks and beverages, including coca tea for altitude sickness. I asked one horseman how many times he ascends the mountain on an average day, he told me that he does it twice – impressive physical fitness in those people.
The trail offers spectacular views along each step. There are mountain peaks in every direction, some tall enough to be permanently under snow cover. In places you notice the glaciers giving way to mountain lakes, which then trickle down as creeks that carve out the canyon.
A number of domesticated llamas and alpacas are encountered along the trail.
The hike itself is rather strenuous, but no part of it is overly dangerous. It starts easy with there being only a slight incline, but it keeps getting steeper the further up you get. If not for the altitude, the trail itself would likely not be such a challenge. But it was the altitude that made everyone daring the trip work for it.
I myself felt like my muscles definitely had what it takes to get up and down the mountain, but the heart and the lungs were getting a heavy work out. The final approach toward the Rainbow slope was the steepest, so ascending that really tested my respiratory system’s strength and endurance. You could see on everyone’s face how hard of a time they were having taking each step further.
Taking frequent breaks was unavoidable. Everybody was taking them. Only the ones who took the easy way by hiring a horse passed by us with ease, but even for them keeping their breath up was not so easy. But for us who were also under physical strain, for us the challenge was real.
It was for these reasons why once we reached the top, we were giving one another hugs and were celebrating together like we’ve just achieved great victory. Because we all did. We won over ourselves. We faced a personal challenge and we pushed through. The feeling of unbelievable achievement is difficult to describe. It has to be experienced. It’s hard to climb the Rainbow Mountain. It’s really hard, but if you fight through it regardless, and keep going even after your body has told you a million times it wants to quit, you’ll experience the feeling of achieving what you did not think you were capable of, and that feeling is incredible.
The access to the Rainbow Mountain itself is prohibited, apparently with the intent to preserve its delicate surface. From the foot of the Rainbow Mountain, one can continue up to the outcrop from where there are the best views of the mountain colored slopes. The top of the outcrop, named Montana Winikunka, is at the elevation of 5,036 meters above the sea level. That is just a little lower than the Mount Everest base camp.
This was the first time in my life to have climbed to the altitude in excess of 5,000 meters and having achieved that felt amazing.
From the Rainbow Mountain, an option exists to detour to the Red Valley, but this was not included in the tour I took. The combination of the two is usually done as a two day tour with a camping stay overnight on the mountain.
What the future holds for the Rainbow Mountain is anyone’s guess, at this stage. The locals have been milking the living hell out of the high popularity that’s exploded over the past couple of years, but on March 16, 2018, a mining concession was made to the territory where the mountain is located. The Geological, Mining and Metallurgical Institute of Peru handed over mining rights to the Canadian mining company Camino Minerals. I’m glad I got to experience the mountain before heavy machinery rolls in and the are is turned into a mining ground.
With all its ups and downs, he Rainbow Mountain became the best place I visited during my stay in Peru. Unfortunately, it was followed by the worst – the trip to Machu Picchu.
Here’s a short video from the hike and the joys of having reached the top:
Instead of going back to Hostal Margarita where I stayed when I first visited Cusco, I however decided to try out El Viajero Hospedaje, because it was close to the bus terminal. I quickly came to regret the decision.
The room at El Viajero cost 30 Soles, the same as at Hostal Margarita, but to my shock, after an hour of stay, the owner switched off the wifi router, shutting off the internet for me.
When I confronted him about it, he said I’ll only get an hour of internet, and if I want more, I would have to pay for it. I quickly said I’m canceling my stay there and demanded my money back, because before moving in, I had done what I always do with every single place before I pay for a room – I asked whether the rooms come with free wifi internet. Whereas he confirmed I’d get free internet with the room, I agreed to stay there, so now that he was changing the rules after the game has started, I was having none of his crap.
With unshakeable determination I told him I demanded my money back and proceeded to pack up in order to immediately leave. After that, he said he’s gonna turn the internet back on for me, although after a few hours, he turned it off once again.
That sparked another argument from me, until he eventually agreed not to turn it off again.
Booking Tour to Rainbow Mountain
Meanwhile, I went out to find out what it’d cost to book a tour to the Rainbow Mountain. I have never heard of the Rainbow Mountain before (known locally as la Montana de Los Siete Colores – the Mountain of Seven Colors), but it was strongly recommended way back after I had just landed in Peru, and hang out in downtown Lima with Isadora from Brazil.
I went to a few tour operators in Cusco and enquired about the prices for the Rainbow Mountain. While there were some overpriced options, general cost seemed to be in the neighborhood of 60 Soles for the trip, including the 10 Soles entrance fee (Peruvians milk tourists every chance they get, so every time there is a new attraction, they instantly introduce an entrance fee).
Several tour operators advertised what they promoted as a great price for the trip to the Rainbow Mountain at 50 Soles, but that was just a marketing gimmick, because unlike the regular 60 Soles worth tours, the 50 Soles ones did not include the 10 Soles entrance fee so the end cost for the unaware tourist would in the end be the same anyway. It would appear that the deceptive marketing works out well, because in the tour bus I took, all but two people fell for it, thinking they got a better deal.
The Rainbow Mountain tours start early in the mornring. The include pickup from the hotel and I was told to be ready for my pickup at 4:30 am. Whereas the tour would last whole day, what it meant for me was that I would have to leave my room at El Viajero with my backpack, because there was no way I was staying there for another night
I would have preferred to have stayed in a reasonable place where I would have been able to leave my baggage while I’m up on the mountain, but El Viajero simply wasn’t that place, so I had no option but to haul all my crap with me, so I can book me a room elsewhere after I’ve returned from the Rainbow Mountain. Standard check out time in Cusco is ridiculous 10am. The return from the Rainbow Mountain was not expected until 5pm.
As is also pretty standard with tours in Peru, even though I got up at 4am in order to be ready for the pickup at 4:30 as per the instructions I got, the tour bus didn’t show up to pick me up until 6:30am. I would have gotten 2 hours more sleep, had they been up front with me that nobody’s gonna bother picking me up nowhere near on time. After my previous experience booking a tour in Peru, I should have known better.
The Rainbow Mountain tour also included breakfast and lunch. As is almost always the case, each time the tour comes with a meal included, you’d be better off paying less for the tour and not have it included, and either bring your own sustenance with you, or pay for your own food along the way.
The included food is in a restaurant that pays the best commission, and it’s mass produced to maximize profit. I was told it would be a buffet style service, but all there was for the breakfast buffet were a few baked breads with butter and jam, plus a cup of tea. The latter was the only thing I used, as pure carbohydrates with no nutritious value of the rest did not attract me at all. Luckily, as far as the tea was involved, the restaurant did provide coca leaves, which are known for being beneficial when braving high altitude, and give the drinker a bit of an energy boost.
The lunch, which was served in the same restaurant on the way back from the mountain, was not a big win either. A tray of rice, a tray of a bit of chicken, a plate of lettuce and a pot of soup were provided, but there was so little of each, by the time one half of the bus filled up their bowls with soup, there was none left, and likewise, with the exception of rice of which there seemed to be enough, only the first ones at the tray of chicken got a reasonable portion.
Basically, for my breakfast buffet I got a cup of coca tea, and for my lunch buffet I got a scrap of chicken with a small side of veggies and that was it. The jugs of juice that accompanied the lunch were filled with some syrup water loaded with sugar.
Other than that, the trip to the Rainbow Mountain itself was amazing. For me, it counted as the best experience I have had in Peru, mostly because it was the first time I climbed to over 5,000 meters above the sea level and even though it was tough on my body, I pushed myself and battled through the low oxygen environment and did it. The feeling of accomplishment was amazing, as were the views of the spectacular mountainous scenery.
Just as Isadora strongly recommended a trip to the Rainbow Mountain to me, I also strongly recommend it to anyone visiting Peru. It’s a high altitude hike so it’s not a walk through a park, but if you push through and reach the top, the reward will be very much worth it.
My weekend in Lima was coming to an end. I got to sample amazing ceviche, and hung out at the capital’s coastal areas. Along with Maria, we concluded our weekend together with a boat tour to the San Lorenzo and El Fronton islands.
Isla San Lorenzo is the largest island of Peru. Except with a special permit, the access to the island is banned, so one can only observe it from a boat. The nearby Isla El Fronton is home to an infamous Peruvian jail, in which former President Fernando Belaúnde Terry was held as a political prisoner. Later, Maoist guerrillas from the Communist Party of Peru Shining Path were imprisoned, and extra-judicially executed during a rebellion there.
The boat set to approach and pass by these islands departed from the Callao Port, and we just caught the last ride of the day. The sun was setting when we departed, which at first seemed cool as even though Lima is permanently cloudy this time of year, the sole thought of sailing into the sunset added a lot of romanticism to the “date“.
On the other side, not being that far from the equator, the transition from daylight to night is fast in Lima, so by the time our boat reached the islands, there was nothing to be seen. It was pitch dark. Moreover, with the sun, the temperature dropped rapidly too.
Here’s the video from the port. It shows the last but one boat docking, continues with the plentiful pelicans that hang around the port, and concludes with our departure from the port in the boat:
There is a constant and rather abundant presence of the pelicans at the Callao Port, and whereas they are used to the presence of boats and people, they maintain pretty close proximity.
The people feed them, so that brings them ever closer to us, but there’s also a lot of plastic floating in the ocean, making them confuse it for food. It’s a sad sight, really.
End of Weekend in Lima
Me and Maria have greatly enjoyed each other’s company during my brief detour to Lima, and even though I had to return to Cuzco after the weekend, it was clear that we’ll hang out again. But now I had another 22 hours long bus trip to undertake, and it was as brutal as the first.
After munching on true Peruvian ceviche, and enjoying a few games of pool followed by a couple of Cusquena beers, Maria returned home to spend the night with her family while I went to the room rented from the Spanish woman in San Miguel. In the morning of the following day we met up, and went to the La Punta district in Callao.
La provincia constitucional del Callao (the constitutional province of Callao), while technically a part of Lima, is administered by its own government that’s independent from that of the nation’s capital.
Twice resurrected from the ruins, Callao’s history is shrouded in myths and legends of submerged cities, as well as stories of pirates and hidden treasures.
Foreigners don’t tend to have Callao on their itinerary, and for the most part – rightly so. It’s a low income, high crime area that in many places resembles ghetto. It’s home to Peru’s main port, which has served as the main port of the Spanish colonies since 1537, but visitors arriving by way of cruise ships are warned by the staff and the tour guides not to venture into Callao because of the out of control levels of crime.
The one area of Callao that stands out is La Punta – the upscale home to luxurious mansions, with works in progress on remodeling its Malecon.
Lined with narrow cobbled streets, the smell of fresh fish floats in the air around La Punta, as delightful restaurants along the waterfront invite you in for “mariscos” (seafood).
If you tag along swimwear, La Punta also has a stretchy beach (Playa Cantolao) with round rocks in place of sand, which, albeit challenging to walk on barefoot, are said to provide therapeutic reflexology effect to the feet of those who brave them. The Pacific Ocean water at the beach, however, is cold so you’ll also need to tag along thick skin.
Even though weather in Lima is not sunny this time of year, the temperature was comfortable with it being neither hot, nor cold, nor windy. We paused on Malecon Pardo to enjoy the sound of waves and watch the ocean for almost an hour. It was very relaxing and bonding.
While Callao deservedly has the reputation to back up its rough environment, and the abundance of soldiers with machine guns patrolling its streets was a frequent reminder of the type of area Callao is, the Colonial houses that add color and character to Callao may be worth one’s while. Nevertheless, even though I have never encountered any kind of trouble in Callao, I wouldn’t recommend anyone wandering there without a person who knows the area.
Malecon Pardo as well as the rest of La Punta are a whole different story and are generally safe and rewarding to visit.
While still in Cusco, I told Maria whom I was going to meet in Lima, that even though at the time I’ve already been in Peru for 3 weeks, yet have still not eaten a Peruvian ceviche. Since we maintained contact the whole time on the internet and finally set up a date to meet up in real life, I thought it would be the perfect time to finally try ceviche.
Under normal circumstances, I take the masculine role in a relationship, but whereas I’m not familiar with Lima and she is from there, I gave the responsibility for picking up a suitable restaurant for my first time pure Peruvian ceviche to her.
She picked a restaurant called El Chef y El Mar, and it did not disappoint. Located in San Miguel where I was staying, the more upscale restaurant had the prices to match the quality and the atmosphere, but that only made the place more perfect for the occasion.
At El Chef y El Mar, there were several dished with ceviche on offer. We picked a platted for each consisting of two different forms of ceviche and a creamy rice with the calamari. I asked for my ceviche to be extra spicy, Maria went for medium spicy. It was delicious to the last bite. I could not have asked for a better place, company, and type of food to start my addiction to ceviche.
Ceviche is considered one of the flagship dishes of Peruvian cuisine, being one of the most traditional meals offered in Peru.
According to the Peruvian historian Javier Pulgar Vidal the name ceviche comes from the Quechua word “siwichi“, which means “fresh fish” or “tender fish“. One hypothesis proposes that the words Siwichi and Sikbaǧ were confused during the conquest of the Inca Empire by the Spaniards, which caused that it was transformed into the name with which we know it today.
Peruvians claim that ceviche originated in the Mochica Culture on the Peruvian coast, more than two thousand years ago. However Ecuadorians maintain the pre-Inca Empire people along the Ecuadorian coast used to prepare the same cold fish dish for just as long, claiming the origins of ceviche were not exclusively Peruvian.
In both cases, ceviche was originally being prepared by marinating the catch from the sea with chicha – juice that comes from corn.
Later, with the Hispanic presence, two ingredients of Mediterranean cuisine were added: lemon and onion. The development of the lemon farms in the lands helped to shorten the time of preparation of this ancestral dish.
Put bluntly, ceviche is basically raw fish marinated in soury, vinegar like solution. If you like raw fish in sushi, you will likely love ceviche.
From my standpoint – having come to Peru from Slovakia, where what is known in Peru as Ceviche is commonly available in its Slovakian form as “Zavinace” and purchasable from pretty much any grocery store for under a Euro, I was already familiar with the type of fish and had taste buds tuned in to it.
Ceviche in general is not the cheapest dish to eat, but a trip to Peru would simply not be complete without giving it a try in some proper restaurant where it is properly prepared.
Caution eating ceviche is however well warranted, as improperly prepared ceviche can be the bearer of bacteria that could seriously harm your health and screw your entire trip.
Fish used to prepare ceviche should be fresh out of the sea and should be eaten early in the day. As a way to honor this requirement, many ceviche restaurants close in the afternoon.
Concluding the First Date with Maria
After enjoying the wonderful triple dish of Peruvian ceviche for the first time, with our bellies happy, I took Maria to a billiard club where she played pool for the first time in her life, and then to a bar where we downed a few Cusquena beers. Late at night, we parted our ways after what for both of us was a highly fun and fulfilling date. We had one more day to spend together afterward, and we both looked forward to it.
After returning to Lima following my near 24 hours long bus ride from Cusco, I stayed in an apartment room in the district of San Miguel. The room was being rented out on a day to day basis by a young woman from Spain. What I didn’t know, was that the woman was a single mother living with her 6 year old son.
At first I was concerned over the lack of disclosure that a child lived in the same apartment, as the presence of a young child typically means a lot of screaming and running around, but in this case, the little boy was very well behaved and my entire stay was reasonably peaceful.
I instantly got along well with the woman as well as her child, and could tell the boy truly lacks a father figure in his life. My being the age of what his father just about could be, he always sought to hang out with me, talk with me and play with me.
The moment I moved into my room, he came over and started talking to me about his favorite football team. He then fetched his football trading cards and showed me his favorite players.
He then would hide behind a curtain and poke his head out, to provoke me into playing hide and seek with him. He kept relentlessly engaging me in conversation, and I gladly chatted with him and shared manly wisdom he craved but lacked in his life, but I was in Lima only for two days and I had a girl waiting to spend time with me.
The boy was so excited to have me there, it was always a challenge tearing myself away from him, and I had to explain to him that as a man, like him, I can’t ignore a woman waiting on me. Then I had to lie to him that I’ll play with him more after taking care of my girl. I knew very well I would not be returning home before he heads to bed, but that was the only way to calm him down and let me go without feeling hurt.