Notes From the Road: Magical Peru
Although you’ll most likely encounter me on the phone at B&R where I serve as a Trip Advisor, I occasionally get to venture out on the slow road. This year, I was lucky enough to make my way to Peru.
One of the most biodiverse countries in the world, Peru was, of course, was once home to the Inca Empire—at its height, the largest civilization in the world, ruling over ten million subjects. My visit was one of the most magical places I’ve ever been. Here’s what I saw, what I did, why I loved it, and why you, too, need to go here—soon.
The Journey Begins: The Sacred Valley
Once you arrive in the Sacred Valley, it becomes immediately apparent why this area is so special—working farms dot the valley floor with shots of colour everywhere, while centuries-old Incan terraces are easily seen on the surrounding mountains, a constant reminder of the glorious past.
We started out with a walk along the valley floor, giving our first taste of the rich history in the area. From the town of Yucay, we slowly make our way uphill past a system of ancient irrigation channels laid with precise stonework. It doesn’t take long to figure out these channels are still in use, as some branches run dry while others are in full flow, feeding their farms. The farmers in this area have a system for sharing the flow of water that goes back generations.
The Best Tomato Ever
Peru is quickly becoming known as one of the world’s top culinary destinations, and once I got my first taste of its culinary magic, the bar was set for the rest of the trip. I ate an incredible tomato and mozzarella salad and it was, by far, the best-tasting tomato I’ve ever eaten in my life.
Consider that the growing regions here are, first off, blessed with wonderfully fertile soil, compounded with the fact that the tomato actually originated here in the Andes…so centuries of perfecting the art of growing certainly has something to do with it. Everything I ate here was some of the freshest and most delicious-tasting I’ve ever had. It actually shocked me how delicious certain ‘ordinary’ fruits and vegetables tasted—vegetables that we often take for granted, like lettuce.
Hundreds of Years of Agriculture
The way that farmers are able to coax such incredible flavours out of the land is immediately apparent when one visits Moray, a series of circular terraces, some of which are almost 100 feet deep. A remarkable temperature difference of over 12°C (21°F) has been registered between the top and bottom terraces, leading many to believe this was a key site for agricultural research and experimentation.
We made another culinary pit stop to the salt pools of Maras, another example of Incan architecture that has stood the test of time. Fed by a subterranean saltwater stream, these salt pans have been producing high-quality salt for centuries, and still do to this day.
Later on in the trip, we ventured even deeper down the valley to Pumamarca, a site composed of imposing Inca granaries perched way up on the hill. Each room features visible ventilation slits to allow the wind whipping down the valley to keep crops cool and fresh; once again, I’m amazed by what humans were able to accomplish here centuries ago. (In fact, at one point, the Inca Empire was producing so much food, they could have fed a population four times their own).
The Pachamanca: Earth’s Oven
All my learning about agriculture culminated in the traditional Pachamanca, the Sacred Valley equivalent of a backyard cookout. After heating a pile of carefully selected stones over a fire, a pit is cleared and dug, and various ceramic pots of stews are placed in the hot earth oven.
After covering them with a layer of rocks, the chefs follow with an assortment of 50(!) different types of potatoes, followed by an array of different meats such as chicken, pork, and lamb. This entire pile of deliciousness is then covered with large leaves, cloth, and then buried underground, all while smoking with the heat from the rocks. (Remarkably, the whole array takes just about 20 minutes to cook once everything is covered.)
I thought my mouth was watering when everything went “on the grill” (or, in the earth, as it were), but a new level of hunger awakened as I eagerly witnessed the Pachamanca slowly get taken apart. Not only did everything look good, but the fragrant smells coming off the rocks were without comparison. Needless to say, after a long day of walking, this meal was well-deserved, and around the table, nothing was heard but the sound of hungry travellers enjoying an incredible feast.
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