Day 26 - June 29th, 2012

Another day down, another day closer to returning home, it’s still mind boggling to me that we have basically been living in Peru for a month now, wow. Today we got to sleep in which was pretty great and had to be on the bus at 10:00 a.m. I decided to eat breakfast this morning at the hotel; it was pretty simple in all honesty, trying to avoid consuming anything that would compromise the integrity of my digestive system. Two pieces of toast, jam, cheese, ham, eggs, banana, plain drinkable yogurt and a cup of hot coco tea were all on the menu. The tea this morning for some reason was really good while everything else was just consumed in order to maintain my energy. We left for our daily schedule as usual and the first stop was the central market of Cusco. It was a huge market that had everything from clothes, to food and yes, more people butchering entire animal carcasses, nice. After a few short words from Viktor the group broke off, and while I would usually go and wonder with someone I decided to simply walk alone and clear my thoughts for a bit. Perhaps the most exciting event that occurred at the market was the setting off of fireworks by a local street vender, it was so cool and I’m pretty sure that the fireworks she used are illegal in the United States. We loaded back into the bus from the market in order to head to the location of our lunch and the next traditional Peruvian activity known as “Panchamanca”, which is essentially, food that is cooked in the ground. We arrived at the site and the location was absolutely beautiful to say the least. We all gathered around the Chef Eduardo as he told us how the experience would exactly go down. After removing the hot stones from the ground, we all worked together (mostly Anna) to place cassava, plantains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, fava beans, chicken that had been marinating, lamb, cheese and herbs into the pit, then covering it with wet cloth to keep the heat insulated as all the food items cooked. The smell that the foods made as they were placed onto the hot stones can only be described as heavenly. After a few quick minutes of waiting and snacking on chips, guacamole and sauces, it was time to extract the food from its earthen oven. The food arose cooked perfectly and looking absolutely scrumptious. After a few prepping moments it was time to dine in. The lamb was a perfect medium well, all the starches were cooked perfectly and the food was probably the perfect way to end this weekend in Cusco. The food was so good that I didn’t even bother to use a fork and knife; all hands went in, old fashioned style. After eating, we all just laid in the grass and basked in the beauty of our environment, played limbo and just had a good time. We returned to the hotel … well the rest of the group did, Jude, Sarah and I hopped of the bus early in order to go to a local clothing shop that Viktor showed us in order to purchase some collared Peru shirts. We walked back to the hotel and I went out for another walk to clear my mind once again, just me and my music. Tonight we are supposed to be going out to celebrate me and Kristen C’s birthday’s that are on the 2nd and 1st respectively. I’m really excited to just let loose and have fun during my last night in Cusco. Well, I’m going to take a power nap. Until next time ~

Day 25 - June 28th, 2012

Today was the day most of us had been anticipating since we arrived in Peru. The day we would see, meet and experience Macchu Pichu.

We left the hotel early at 4a.m, so without a doubt that meant no breakfast, but it was worth it. We traveled for about 2 hours via bus, which I thankfully slept through the entire thing. We then arrived at a train station where I purchased a delicious hot chocolate for one soles that burned my tongue, but warmed me up greatly from the cold temperature. We then departed via train to reach the city where Macchu Pichu was located. I have no idea how long this train ride took, as I was passed out for most of it, only occasionally waking up to get a glimpse of the view. We arrived at then had to take another bus to carry us to the entrance of Macchu Picchu. Once again, more high cliffs and steep turns, exciting!! But I knew it was going to be worth it. We arrived at the top and it was time to begin our climb. The climb was really difficult due to the altitude, with most of us begin out of breathe easily and gasping for air. We pushed through however and reached the first checkpoint where we were able to see mostly all of Macchu Picchu. It was simply beautiful, with lush green grass and buildings that seemed to have withstood the trails of time. Throughout the day, with Victor as our tour guide, we learned all about the buildings, his theory on when it was built, and even more technology about astronomy and mathematics. Perhaps what stood out to me most, was that just like the other ruins we visited, events still continuously occurred on June 21st, the day of the Winter Solstice beginning, such a smart tribe of ancient people. We learned all about the sundial, how they were able to tell direction and how guinea pigs were used for healing ceremonies.

After about four hours of touring the entire site, we were all hungry, some even sick and headed back to the entrance where the restaurant where we were to have lunch was located. We all went in quickly devoured the food, after stamping our passports with the Macchu Picchu stamps of course. The food at the buffet was okay to me, nothing spectacular, except maybe the bread. I chose to simply eat light and only indulge in salads and light proteins. The dessert was better than the main entrees with the gooseberry cheesecake making me a cheesecake lover (I hate cheesecake). The food was definitely not the worst I’ve had during my time in Peru however, so it’s all good, and it was well needed after burning all those calories off climbing Macchu Picchu.

A few of us left the mountain and headed down to the market below where we lingered around for a few hours until it was time to leave and return back to Cusco. Jude, Carlos and I, even made friends with a stray dog that we named “Billy” whom we feed and gave water to drink. Billy was really territorial and even stopped other bigger dogs from coming around us. We really grew to love Billy; even though when we were leaving, we discovered that Billy was a girl. Oops.  We all boarded our train back and the ride felt like FOREVER. Luckily, a few of us killed time by playing a really fun movie game suggested by Stephen. It wasn’t long until we arrived at our station and rode the bus back to the hotel. Immediately after we arrived back at the hotel, Carlos, Stephen, LeRoy, Kristen K, Brett, Cliff and I headed to the restaurant “Yula” on the corner for dinner. Most of us got antichucho’s which were pretty good although a bit salty for me and the portion sizes were huge.  Tomorrow we are going to be eating from the ground. I can’t wait. But, that journey up Macchu Picchu has me extremely tired so, It’s time for me to catch up on some zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz’s. Until next time ~

Day 24 - June 27th, 2012

It’s crazy and surreal just how quickly this Peruvian journey is about to be completed. It seems like just yesterday we were all getting to know each other and becoming accustomed to our new environment.

                Today was another day filled with tours of historical sites and various locations. Today, we spent most of our time located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas also known as “Valle Sagrado”. Our first stop of the day was a salt mine where to get there we had to traverse narrow mountain tops and cliff ranges, it was quite terrifying for me personally. If it’s one thing that Peru has taught me, it’s that I am definitely afraid of heights. The salt mine location was pretty cool and to see all of the salt pools and salt forming to be collected and sold, was really interesting.  I was also able to purchase some salt to take back home for my mother to cook with; I hope she appreciates the thought, hahaha.

After leaving the salt mine location, we traveled for another hour or so in order to reach our location for lunch, the Hacienda Restaurant.  The location and atmosphere of the restaurant was not only calming, charming and relaxing, but the buffet food was amazing and some of the best we have had during these latter weeks of the program. The standouts on the buffet to me were the chicharons, the Chifa style beef that they had, and mushroom ceviche which was BANGING, to say the least. After we were done chowing down, we toured the location for a bit and got to take pictures of the Llama’s that lived there and attempted to talk to a few bilingual parrots that lived on the location. It was simply fun and relaxing.                

Upon leaving the salt mines, we headed to another ruin location, the ruins of Ollantaytambo. At these ruins we climbed for a while which proved to be difficult due to the high altitude, a good prep for Machu Picchu I guess. At the ruins we learned about the Incan technology including astrology, math and science. We also learned about the importance of June 21st as the sun passes right over particular places and monuments at the ruins and creates phenomena’s due to the incoming Winter Solstice. It’s pretty mind boggling to think how these ancient civilizations were able to create and possess all the knowledge to make all these instances occur, even in today’s age.  We left the ruins and headed to the town of Pisac where we were able to enjoy their market for a few hours. I was able to obtain a bag for myself and a pair of pants for my mother. I had no luck in attempting to find a gift for my grandmother, father, and brother however.

We left the town and headed back to our hotel in Cusco. After a few hours of leisure, Kerri, Kristen x 2, Michelle and I went for dinner at the local restaurant that we went to the other night. I ordered the beef lasagna, which was extremely disappointing. It was salty, too cheesy and just had no flavor; I gave most of it away and swore to never eat there again, also, due to the slow service. Tomorrow is the day that most of us on this journey have been looking forward to from the start; Macchu Picchu. It’s going to be so exciting to actually see a world wonder in the flesh and be able to take in the entire environment. We have to get up at 4a.m in order to start our journey so I know it’s going to be a long day. I can’t wait.  It’s here!

Day 23 - June 26th, 2012

First full day in Cusco!!! Today was one of the most boring, yet exciting days I have had in Peru yet. Let me explain.  We woke up and had breakfast at the hotel that is ran by the school, it was pretty much similar to the breakfast options that we were offered at the  Hotel Senorial in Lima; but, tasted better, looked fresher and much larger variety of foods were offered. I opted for a simple breakfast again of bread, ham, cheese, drinkable yogurt and a cup of coco tea. After breakfast we left the hotel to begin our full day of tours, firstly by going to a city that is famous for its bread making and actually getting to watch the workers make the dough, form it and bake it in stone ovens. We were also fortunate enough to be able to sample some of the freshly baked bread straight from the oven which reminded me of freshly toasted bread from a toaster but with a better texture, flavor and crumb. We left the bread town and headed to lunch. Along the way we made a few pit stops including a market, a restaurant where we were able to see Guinea Pig (Cuy) in the oven, and a side vender where we were able to watch the ladies make chicarones and sample the crispy pig skin.

                We arrived back into the main city and headed to lunch at a restaurant named Deva, along the way learning about the architecture of the Andean people.  The lunch at the restaurant was pretty great and I was so hungry at that point that everything was amazing. I chowed down on the corn nuts as I awaited our first meal of Quinoa soup, which was a welcome change. After the soup was done, we were able to serve ourselves; beef stew, vegetable stew, rice, vegetables, queso, and tamales were really good, with the tamales being a standout for me, the cinnamon infusion of the tamales were amazing.  For dessert we were offered two choices and I chose the squash pie which tasted very much like apple pie and seemed to complete the entire meal.  We returned to the hotel in order to get a little bit of rest for our next tours of the city.

                After about a thirty minute rest period, we were off again to visit the Sacsayhuaman ruins which our tour guide kept telling us was the most amazing example of Andean architecture in his humble opinion. We arrived at the ruins and the view was beautiful, much more than I was expecting. We were able to crawl through a cave that was shrouded in darkness that shook quite a few of us up. I also watched as some members of the group slid down rock slides and take pictures with Llama’s. It was a really entertaining day. After returning to the hotel, I crashed; sleep was without a doubt needed. After waking up I went and got a personal pizza for dinner from a local restaurant that was “Ok” but nothing to backflip off a bridge about. A few of us are supposed to be going out tonight to a local dance club and I’m actually eager to see how this is going to play out. It’s a bit mind-blowing to think that this experience is almost over as it feels like it just began yesterday. I’m missing home and my friends, but it’s weird at this point in the experience where the end is close and the beginning is so far.  Well, I guess it’s time to go my second Peruvian night club. Cheers! ~

Day 22 - June 25th, 2012 

Another day done, another day closer to the completion of our study abroad experience and I’m sure we will miss it. Today was the day we arrived in Cusco, having to wake up at 3:40am in order to leave for the airport; and of course, breakfast was out of the question. We arrived at the airport, checked in and I shared a cinnamon roll with Brittnee from one of the stores in the restaurant which was pretty good, but a bit too sweet.  It was time to board the plane and everyone was shocked to see the size of the plane. Nine rows, four seats each row. Wow. I have traveled on a smaller plane before, but I would be lying if I said that I was not scared. After takeoff however, I began to feel a lot better.  The view of the Andes from the aircraft was nothing short of breathtaking, something I will remember forever. During the flight they gave us a box which contained a sandwich that had been filled with chicken salad and a muffin. We also were served beverages, surprising for a short flight. Once we landed, I ate the box sandwich but tried to take it easy in order to avoid the altitude sickness that I knew was coming. It was a strange feeling being so easily winded, but I popped my pills and prayed to God that I would not become sick.

                Once we arrived at “Casa De Don Ignacio” I quickly went to sleep in order to try and quickly acclimate to the new elevation. After I had awoken, it was time to go to the restaurant “Las Machitas” which was owned by Chef Alexandra who we worked with at USIL.  We were served a light soup, which tasted ok; a salad that had horrible dressing but the protein portion of the entrée was amazing to me. The chicken was not overcooked and was seasoned perfectly, and the vegetable portion of carrots and string beans were great as well. We returned to the hotel after leaving the restaurant where I quickly went back to sleep. Once I awoke it was time to explore the city some more and I ended up getting a Chicken Caesar salad from a local restaurant for dinner, which was pretty good although the croutons were a bit soggy. I’m eager to begin tomorrow and to see more of Cuzco, but for right now, sleep is once again, priority number one.

Day 21 - June 24th, 2012

Today was a really good relaxing day, and I feel as though I really got to see a side of Peru today that not many other students on the trip with me would have gotten to see. After a quick breakfast of French toast, coca tea and yogurt, it was off to Downtown, Lima with Sandra; who has been translating for us in all of our lab classes, Ahesha, Anna, Brett & Stephen. In order to get to downtown, we had to take the local metro bus which, although was a bit tight and claustrophobic, was extremely fun, and an experience that many will never have.  We arrived downtown and began our tour of central Lima. We were able to get a tour of the house that is owned by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and visit the room where foreign dignitaries would assemble during any international events held in Peru. Perhaps the best part of the tour to me was the church we visited. The Catholic Church was massive and made entirely out of gold, it was absolutely breathtaking and something that I will always remember. I felt closer to God by just being present in the room, it was amazing.

                After a few more hours of touring we decided to stop for a quick bite at a Little Bistro shop. I got a ham sandwich which was alright and drank it down with some frozen lemonade. I was also able to sample one of Stephen’s yucca fries which I didn’t like too much as they were extremely starchy. Once we were done with our little snack break, we headed off to China Town; but not before passing a large culinary market that distracted us for about an hour and a half. On our way to China town, a local male bought Anna and Brett corn from a stall on the side of the street, which was really nice and the corn tasted amazing with the provided sauces. Once we made it to China Town, Sandra took us to her favorite Chifa restaurant; where to our surprise she treated us all to lunch. Dumplings, Fried Rice, Beef in Noodles, it was just a great spread for our little group to indulge in.                

                After arriving back to the hotel, we bid Sandra adieu and thanked her for the entire day that she had shown us today. After fighting with the internet, I was finally able to change my United ticket to the overnight direct flight out of Lima to Newark (score!). Since we were still pretty stuffed from the Chifa Food earlier, Anna and I decided to simply enjoy some Frozen Yogurt from Tutti Fruitti for dinner. Today was a great day to relax and see more of Lima.  Tomorrow we had to Cusco and I am excited and nervous all in the same. I hate flying and I know we’re going to have to take a small plane so it’s making me a bit antsy. I’m excited to see Cusco as everyone we talked too told us that it’s amazing, either way. Until next time ~

Day 20 - June 23rd, 2012

Today was one of the longest days I’ve had in Peru since my arrival over three weeks ago. Although we didn’t have to be up until ten in order to leave for the school and continue to prepare our items, as well as set up for the entire cocktail party, I still felt tired, I need a vacation. Breakfast, as usual was missed because of just how early we had to ready and at the school to knock out our final presentation with a bang.

                We arrived at the school and after I had a Café Con Leche from the school’s coffee shop it was time to swing into action. Honestly, I feel as though today, my group found our stride, we were working together, finishing up items and being extremely productive. In the middle of all our prep, it was time for one last lunch at the schools restaurant, and boy, did they put on a show. This lunch was obviously better because it was our last one with the school. Staring off with a salad, then entrée, then dessert, it was needed and appreciated after a few of the lack luster lunches that we had experienced before. Heading back to our kitchen workshop, the work just never seemed to end. Returning unused items, helping other groups, lifting tables, running back and forth between the basement and upper floors, time flew by.

                The cocktail party seemed to go really well, with both pastry and culinary teams putting on a great showing in my opinion. Although there didn’t appear to be as many guests present as we had hoped for, it still went off well. From my group Robyn worked the live station, while Brett and I banged out our hors d’oeuvres that were passed around on platters. The pace in the kitchen was a bit slower and more relaxed than I was used too, but I guess it was our reward for all the hard work we had done initially in the week.  Dinner wasn’t a set meal, but consisted of me sampling a large variety of items from the other groups and tasting my own food, as well as the items made by the pastry team.  My favorite bite of the night was without a doubt the bruelee’d shrimp made by Kiyema as well as, the duck confit bruschetta that LeRoy put together. Both had flavor profiles of sweet and spicy, a profile that is a favorite of mine.

                All of us students collectively all received diplomas and USB drives with all the recipes we have prepared on them and got to take pictures with the Dean of USIL. After a long break down process and lengthy games of “find the rental spoon” and “find the glasses”, we were able to finally leave and return to the hotel. I’m so exhausted right now, but relived to know that, that portion of this study abroad is over and done with. Tomorrow is a free day and who knows what I am going to end up doing. I know for now however, that sleep is a priority.

 

Day 19 - June 22nd, 2012

Today was one of the more trying times that I have had here in Peru without a doubt. Breakfast was skipped at the hotel as I woke up late, and honestly, I’m tired of eating the same thing over and over without fail at this place. They really need to step up their breakfast game, or not have breakfast at all.  We headed to the school and continued the prep on the items for our final dinner buffet presentation.  During this time, my group members and I encountered a bit of conflict. It really bugs me when people go behind your back and do things that are blatantly disrespectful.  There is a way to go about and do things, and some people cannot fathom why some people would have taken that action as a giant display of disrespect. This study abroad experience has taught me a lot about myself, my talent, my independence, and above all my ability to tolerate the bullshit of others; I’m really learning a lot. Nevertheless, I was able to move on from my feelings of disrespect and anger, in order to continue with the preparation of the items for our cocktail party final. 

After a few more moments of prepping it was time for lunch. As we headed down to the school’s restaurant to eat, today was a bit different. We sat down and were presentenced with some type of club sandwich for lunch which didn’t taste all that bad honestly, the schools restaurant seemed to have stepped their lunch game up.  We returned to the lab and finished the prep on a few more of our dishes; including grilling off our scallops and beginning the cleaning of the beef tenderloin for our lomo saltado live station. Once the day was done, it was time to head back to the hotel; but, before our departure, the school gave us gift boxes contained sandwiches for dinner. The sandwich that I had received was disgusting, and that’s me being relatively tame. I didn’t even bother to eat it, it made me upset and for a culinary school, I expected better.

Upon arrival back at the Senorial Hotel, LeRoy, Brett and I decided to go on a food hunt, opting for “La Lucha” as our number one draft pick. We arrived at La Lucha and the line was far too long, especially being that we were so hungry. We then decided on KFC, a decision that I do not regret at all, as the sandwich that I had was amazing with a sweet and spicy aji sauce, I loved that “Big Crunch”. Well, today was pretty long and tomorrow is our cocktail party, it’s amazing how time flies, and I can only hope that everything pans out smooth and organized tomorrow.

Day 18 - June 21st, 2012 

Today was another decent day in Peru. Woke up to breakfast at the hotel, which once again; Surprise!! Was bread and butter, nothing else they place out seems to move me much anymore, although I did also grab one slice of French toast and honey. The drinkable yogurt wasn’t the plain flavor that I enjoyed a lot but was strawberry instead, it was decent. We headed to school where we began prep on the items for our final buffet. My group didn’t really have a lot to accomplish as most of our menu items had to be prepared later along in the production cycle in order to not mess anything up. I did however get to make the red pepper coulis which involved burning the hell out of peppers (which I love doing) and also got to test the preparation of the soy gel as well as make the pineapple gel. OH! That reminds me. Thanks to the pina gel, I now know I have a mild allergy to pineapple. Awesome. 

We went for lunch which was the traditional Peruvian meal of adobe de cerdo and it was pretty good. They also provided us with flan for dessert which I hate, but decided to taste and ended up mildly enjoying.  After lunch we continued preparation on our group’s items until it was time to leave; but not before we had dinner. Dinner was vastly disappointing as it was deli meats, cheeses and breads. They actually didn’t even put enough out for the entire group and some people didn’t even eat dinner and they ran out of product. It seems that the longer we stay here; the less and less interested they seem to be in providing us with meals.

After returning home to the hotel, with a few passing hours of leisure time, hunger began to attack. Ahesha, Sarah, Anna and I decided to go to a Mediterranean restaurant for dinner named “Tierra Santa”.  It was my first time ordering shawarma and it reminded me greatly of a Greek gyro. The sandwich was filling and cheap, with all of us eating pretty damn well for under 45 SOL in total. This place is definitely a keeper. I tried to get Ahesha to order a hookah with me but she swiftly declined.  All and all, it was a good day with some pretty good food. Hopefully tomorrow the prep on our final buffet items continues and we get a lot of work accomplished. Until next time.

Day 17 - June 20th, 2012 

Today was another struggle morning to wake up too in order to head to school. Breakfast was the usual at the hotel, so I once again opted for bread and butter. This is probably the most bread and butter I have consumed in my entire existence on earth; I really wish they would change up the menu sometime.  We had a late morning, which meant we were greeted with lunch as soon as we arrived at the school. The rosemary chicken and rice was pretty decent, and it was interesting to see that they seasoned food with rosemary just like we do at home.

 After lunch, we headed to our second pastry lab where we worked with Chef Ursula. It was a bit of a struggle because of how unorganized we were in the lab; it was a new experience. The lab class was alright though; we ended up learning how to make picarones that were filled with quince paste, and how  to fabricate that arroz con leche that we made earlier into modern plated desserts using gelatin and a chocolate blower. I was also in charge of making a dried fruit sorbet which contained a stabilizer, and was weird and different than the method I am accustomed too, I didn’t get to taste the completed sorbet, but It seemed to turn out really well. Brett had to make vanilla ice cream using the same stabilizer and wow; I never thought there would be an ice cream created that would make me hate ice cream. Not only did it taste like sweetened condensed milk, but the texture was gooey, sticky and downright unpleasant on the palate.

                After we left the school, we headed to dinner at a Chifa restaurant, a restaurant that we always passed during our daily commutes but I never thought we would actually be eating at. The food was pretty damn good, to say to least. I’m a huge fan of Chinese food and this meal definitely satisfied my craving for Chinese food and made up for the disaster of the Italian restaurant that night before. Wontons, Soup, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Beef and Snow Peas, it was a good meal, with a good feeling of companionship and togetherness around the dinner table. We headed back to the hotel where sleep is without a doubt on the agenda. Tomorrow we start our prep for the final buffet and I hope that we all pull together to put on a good showing and do our best.