Best Worst Trip Ever

best worst trip1Executive summary by hilarius darman

The security line at my home airport in Washington, DC., isn’t where I expected to get my first reminder that I should have trained a little more for 19 days of trekking the mountains of Peru. I assumed that lesson would be taught somewhere around 9,000 feet, on the Inca Trail. But before I even board the plane, the security agent tells me, “Sir, you need to remove those items from your shirt pockets”-forcing me to explain that those “items” can be removed only through diet and exercise. Admittedly, one of the bonuses I’m anticipating from this trip is the excess body baggage I  hope to leave in the Andes, as there’s no escaping the extreme physical effort required to hike repeatedly over mountain passes, some higher than 15,000 feet, for almost three weeks. The Inca built many of these trails 500 years ago, and they’re still the only way to reach all of our destinations-Machu Picchu and also a few seldom visited yet equally impressive Inca sites, such as Choquequirao; the water shrine Picha Unuyoc; and Vilcabamba, also called Espirtu Pampa, the last city of the Inca.

best worst trip3Our guide as arranged for tents, food, supplies, mules to transport our gear, mule handlers, cooks, and – as insurance-a couple of horses should anyone need the assistance of an equine taxi. In spite of these amenities, we will for the most par t be sleeping on the ground, using rivers for baths and laundry, and surviving with out phones, internet, and electricity. We’ll also be facing a high probability of occasional rain , maybe even snow, at altitudes where we sea-level dwellers have difficulty breathtaking. Inexplicably, my 22-year-old son, Taylor, and two couples agree to join me. They think it sounds like fun. My wife and many friends react differently: “That sounds like the worst trip ever.”

Near the end of our first full day on the trail, I have a gnawing fear I will be forced to confess to my wife the three most difficult words in any relationship: “You were right,” I had expected the beginning to be an easy warm-up-all downhill, from the village of Cahcora to the Apurimac River, and then a short climb to camp. But after eight hours and some 5,000 feet of steep descent, I remember that downhill is worse than uphill on old knees with no cartilage. Still, spirits are high. Adrenaline levels are, too, as we approach the Apurimac, where we will be pulled a hundred yards across while seated on a small metal plate swinging from a steel cable that is suspended high above a river whose name loosely translates to “god that roars.” Five minutes after that rush, as we head up the other side of the canyon, the reality of where I am-both on the mountain and on the scale of high-altitude cardio fitness-hits with an unexpected thud. My legs announce that they’ve put in their eight hours and are through for the day. Unfortunately, we are fewer than a hundred feet into a 2,000-foot climb to the next campsite. No pumping adrenal glands speed to the rescue, so I have to concentrate on each step, willing my body forward like a toddler learning to walk, as the air hangs hot and heavy without even a whisper of a breeze.

best worst trip4I’m sweating so profusely, I have to dry my ears with a bandanna to hear, though the only sounds are my own noisy gasps for air, Taylor has also hit the wall, and neither of us can afford the energy to offer encouragement. When we finally collapse into our tent after 11 and a half hours on the trail, Taylor summons the strength to ask, “Are you as embarrassed as I am?” “No,” I reply. “I’m just relieved-the days over and we made it.” I assure him that tomorrow and every day after will get a bit easier, as we acclimatize. And they do, at least cardiowise, with Taylor practically running the trails by day three. But there are unexpected setbacks, any one of which, when later described to friends, elicits that familiar response: “That sound like the worst trip ever.”

We endure ten straight days of rain, which occasionally transforms the trail into a mud slide. On day five, we stop for lunch on a beautiful pass, but my knee locks up and I’m forced to descend the next 2,200 feet using trekking poles like canes. (Taylor suggests it could be a new episode of Locked Up Abroad).  On day seven, the rain becomes a heavy snowstorm as we make our way up and over a 15,000-foot pass. The snow further complicates the process of going down 3,500 steep Inca stone steps, tricky enough with my bad knee. Then on day 13 we’re crossing our tour’s highest pass when, for a solid hour, BB-size hailstones pelt us. And did I mention the fighting that breaks out between the Peruvian Army and the Shinning Path guerrillas, in the valley near Espritu Pampa? For that, we reroute the second half of the trek.best worst trip2

Still, wherever we go, the scenery is breathtaking beautiful, and when heavy rains trap Taylor and me in our tent for hours at a time, we have no choice but to talk-father and adults son discussing everything that’s ever happened in our lives. At one point, Taylor turns to me and says, “Suffering is not fun, but it makes you a stronger, better person.” I’m not sure that’s always true, but for us, the accomplishment of not only surviving but also being able to laugh about our struggles at the end of each day left us both saying this was “the best trip ever.” Oh yeah, and I also lost 15 pounds.

best worst trip

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Remembrance of Things Past

REAL TRAVEL

shanghai1By Daisann McLane

MY FEET HURT FROM walking in circles, and my head feels as if it’s going to explode with frustration. For about the fifth time in the past half hour I pause at an intersection in this old neighborhood in Shanghai and fish around in my bag for the map and my magnifying lens. The Chinese writing on the map taunts me-it grows smaller and less decipherable no matter how I position the lens. Still, I try, painstakingly, to match up the teeny wiggles and strokes with the street signs and the numbers marked on the buildings around me. The place I’m looking for ought to be right here, but nothing about the area resembles the street of my memory.

Six months ago I visited Shanghai for the first time, with my friend Leslie. She travels there a lot and zips around the alleys of the city’s residential districts like a local. Having a shanghai-savvy pal as my guide was a treat; I happily followed her into a maze of shikumen, low-rise tenements filled with working-class shanghai families.

One of the great things about travel is that it gives us an excuse to declare a time-out from our daily business and watch others going about theirs. In shanghai, Leslie and I jumped into the city’s river of life and rode its currents for hours. We grabbed pillowy pork buns from ladies hovering over bamboo steamers, floated through the flotsam of pushcarts and rickety bicycles piled high with curious cargo (mattresses! Chickens in cages!), admired the chubby faces of toddlers peeking out from cotton slings on their mothers’ chests. At last, we washed up in a shadowy antiques shop covered with the dust of ages. Inside, a man introduced himself as Mr.Wong. out of thin air (well, all right, out of an old cabinet in the back) he produced an astonishingly beautiful green silk Chinese jacket trimmed with rabbit fur. Leslie bought it without even bargaining, not wanting to spoil the treasure handed to us.

Now, back in Shanghai, I’m pounding the pavement with map in hand trying to find that marvelous place. As my cheerful whim transforms, over the course of an hour, into a cranky determination, I begin to realize something : I’m not irritable because I can’t locate Mr.Wong’s old shop. I’m upset because I’m after something far more difficult – and far more meaningful – to recover; the pure joy of my first day in shanghai.

shanghai ruinMemory is the invisible spirit that guides, informs, and often haunts our journeys. For me, travel and memory are so entwined, I’m sometimes unsure where one ends and the other begins. When I was young, I’d create little stories about adventures to faraway lands, based on books I’d read or photos I’d seen in National Geographic. Decades later, when I finally did visit Tokyo, or Rome, or Australia’s outback, I felt I was retracing my steps. The memories of my imaginary travels were so strong that they had the power to shift reality.

As I traveled, my travel memories-real ones, now – grew deeper and began to seem almost like living things. I’d find myself in some wonderful new place, or experiencing something extraordinary, and I’d feel the tickle of memory stirring, spreading its tendrils across the landscape. Every destination became suffused with my emotions, my personal story. Year later, when I yearned to go back in time and revisit the person I used to be-the woman thrilled to be standing at a bar sipping prosecco at 10 a.m. in the Venice market, giddily singing folk songs in a Greenwich Village coffeehouse, mursing her heartsickness on a beach in Mexico- I only needed to travel to these place again to find her there. It never occurred to me that these places where my memories, my past selves, came alive so vividly could vanish.

shanghai ruin2Deep down I understand that change is constant, that the world doesn’t-and should not-freeze like a snapshot so it always will match one traveler’s beloved version of it. However, I figured that I’d have a few decades of slack before the world I remembered and the world of today parted company, shifting dramatically out of sync.

It used to be that if I fell in love with a café in Paris or a particular old building in Delhi, I didn’t have to worry about it disappearing the next week. But in our lifetime, billions more people have populated the planet, hundreds of millions are travelling, and global development has ramped up to warp speed. Nowadays I head out to breakfast in Hong Kong every morning with fingers crossed that my favorite noodle place is still open for business and not swathed in scaffolding or covered with ‘For Rent’ signs.

The map in my hand is only six months old, but today that’s a traveler’s eternity. When I finally approach a passerby an show him Mr. Wong’s shop address, the man points down the road to a construction site that stretches several blocks, then to a forest of hulking cranes that I’d deliberately been trying not to notice.

‘Gone,’ says the main in Chinese. ‘All gone now.’

I nod my thanks to the man, fold up the map, turn slowly away. As I walk, I peel my memories from this aching hole in the ground and move Mr. Wong’s shop, the shikumen tenements, and the rest of this old shanghai neighborhood to the place I know I won’t ever lose them: my traveler’s heart.

New Mexico

new mexico2Executive summary by

Welcome to the Land of ENCHANTMENT

Whether visitors come to encounter authentic adventures, explore historic sites, marvel at impressive landscapes, or surround themselves with every aspect of the state’s rich heritage and culture, they’ll soon realize that the true enchantment of New Mexico resides in the friendly people who call it home. No matter when and where you travel, you’ll be under New Mexico’s spell. The brilliant sunsets and spirited history will allure you. The fabulous local cuisine and flourishing arts scene will charm you. The abundant adventures and world-renowned spas will captivate you for life. Discover the magic of the Land Enchantment.

Adventures de Taos

Magnificent natural surroundings provide endless possibilities for outdoor adventures from adrenaline-filled rafting on the Rio Grande and breathtaking moonlit snowshoeing to hiking picturesque mountain peaks and top-notch downhill skiing. The indescribable yet inspiring “Taos light” has compelled many to make Taos home.

Taos is launching Adventures de Taos-a campaign that promotes Taos’s unique adventures from a local’s perspective. The adventure await at taos.org/adventure.

new mexico chilli2New Mexico’s land, people, and mix of civilizations deliver an adventure steeped in culture. New Mexico invites ‘sight doing’ : getting out of the car and experiencing a refreshing sense of connectedness with the past, the land, with family, and with self. The natural beauty and timeless images of New Mexico will continue to vividly exist, even after one leaves.

With warm days beneath blue skies, and cool, quiet evenings under the stars, New Mexico’s landscapes are spectacular. Spacious vistas, bewitching plays of light, and a sense of purity have long attracted travelers, settlers, artists, and scientists.  Experience centuries of heritage in the ancient yet living culture of the state. New Mexico is rooted in tradition rich in expression and is seen in the ancient Native American ruins, ghost towns, cliff dwellings, wagon trails, long abandoned forts; felt in the raw spirit that inhabits adobe cathedrals and pinon forests; and experienced every day in its bold cuisine and vibrant art.

new mexico native2New Mexico’s springtime adventure should include stops at the unique museums, cultural centers, and monuments located in every corner of the state. From Native American relics to space exploration, and folk art to dinosaurs, New Mexico’s cultural heritage is seen everywhere in the Land of Enchantment.

Outdoor enthusiasts will delight in the unlimited recreational opportunities-from cycling, skiing, and bird-watching to hunting, fishing, hiking, and wilderness tours. The springtime waters invite flyfishing, rafting, canoeing, and kayaking.

New Mexico sings of the past, live the present, and eagerly awaits its future. It is ever unfolding in a distinct blend of mysterious beauty and majestic grandeur.

new mexico frijoles canyon2We are all travelers. What we seek is a place that is true. That place is New Mexico. Come and share this special time of year in the Southwest’s favorite playground. Your adventure that feeds the soul begins at newmexico.org. We are all travelers, each of us looking for ourselves in every place we go.

New Mexico that feeds the soul begin here. Newmexico.org

Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque

Lift your spirit in Albuquerque, where every October the world’s premier balloon event decorates the clear blue New Mexico sky. The crisp fall climate and beautiful desert landscape of Albuquerque create the perfect atmosphere-it’s no wonder that the sight of over 500 balloons rising above the city is one of the world’s most photographed events.new mexico balloon2

And though the view is always mesmerizing, Balloon Fiesta isn’t just about watching the balloons launch .the public can get involved by taking a balloon ride or by volunteering with a chase crew, holding a rope, or helping to lift a gondola. Although if your preference is to just watch, the sky is filled with events such as mass ascensions, special shape balloon rodeos, flying competitions, a long-distance gas balloon race, and evening fireworks. With 19 countries represented last year alone, this is the largest international event in North America and the largest ballooning event in the world! Don’t miss your chance to experience this phenomenal fiesta. Start planning your trip today by visiting balloonfiesta.com.

Feeling New in Old SANTA FE

new mexico st francis of asssi cathedral2Trail and chiles blazed daily. Visit Santa Fe.org for delicious deals and your chance to win a  culinary getaway package.

Santa Fe may be the second oldest city in the U.S.,  but with its fresh setting, contemporary art scene, and distinctive gastronomic delights, it’s the perfect place to escape for a reboot on life. Sitting at the base of the southern Rocky Mountains, Santa Fe is a huge outdoor playground of endless hiking, mountain biking, white-water rafting, rock climbing, camping, and fishing-waiting for any visitor or adventurous traveler who’s ready to experience its pristine landscape and limitless activities.

santa-fe-new-mexicoWithin the city, a vibrant art market can be found. Unique stores and galleries create a perfect combination for intriguing shopping. Additionally, Santa Fe is a hot spot for performing arts, especially in the summer when the Santa Fe Opera, free santa fe bandstand performances, and many different festivals add to the city’s calendar of music, theater, and dance.

One Santa Fe delight that is served up in abundance is chili. It’s the most important ingredient here and it’s used in almost everything imaginable. With more than 125 restaurants, and the freshest of seafood ingredients available throughout the year, fabulous food options can be found everywhere in the city. Go to santafe.org to plan your visit.

A Caribbean Hideaway

Port of Call

roseau dominic2. Off-the-ship adventures in unspoiled Dominica.

Lying between Martinique and Guadeloupe, Dominica has long been in the forefront of ecotourism. Rain forest wraps around 4,000 foot slumbering volcanoes, and some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world sit offshore. Hikers and snorkelers love this Caribbean island that’s a delightful throwback to gentler times, a place without megaresorts, nightlife, and mass tourism. The self-proclaimed ‘Nature Island’ shifted between British and French occupation for two centuries, but 2014 marks the 36th anniversary of its independence.

RAMBLE IN ROSEAU Ships docks in the heart of Roseau, the pleasantly ramshackle capital, where the streets are lined with rickety wooden houses with balconies. The British colonial-style architecture is best glimpsed along King George V Street., “Those who have an appreciation of history will see Roseau as a treasure,” says Daryl Phillip, a local historian and horticulturist. “Our language and laws are British, but our customs are French.” Visit the Dominica Museum with its hand-carved Carib canoes, historic island photographs, and weathered oil painting of Queen Victoria. Nearby is Cartwheel Café, where strong, homegrown coffee will keep you going. If there are fishermen in the Roseau River scooping up tiny titiwi fish, stop at Olive’s, where the namesake owner fries up titiwi accra, a spicy fish cake. Or sit down at Pearls for callaloo soup, made with native greens, and a glass of local Kubuli beer. Pick up traditional baskets woven by indigenous Kalinago at the Old Market Square.

champagne dominica2JUNGLE LAND Hiking on Dominica can be arduous, made harder by frequent bursts of rain. But the plant life, the waterfalls, the hot springs, and the daily rainbows make it more than worthwhile, as does the chance of spotting the native Sisserou parrot. Ken’s Hinterland Adventure Tours offers a range of guided hikes, and the three-hour trek through Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to Middleham Falls packs in some of the best of Dominica. The waterfall drops 200 feet into a natural pool where the cool waters offer a refreshing swim before you hike back through the humid jungle.

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE Snorkeling on Champagne Reef, a 10-minute cab ride south of Roseau, presents an undersea panorama filled with exotic sealife. Champagne Reef Dive & Snorkel provides changing rooms, gear, and a guide for US$19 an hour. In water ranging from 3 to 7 feet deep, you may view giant barrel sponges, flying gurnards, an a steady dream of bubbles from geothermal vents that gave the reef its name. Head back to Roseau and then out to sea again. The waters around Dominica are the permanent home of female sperm whales and pilot whales. Anchorage Hotel Whale Watch & Dive Center offers 3½-hour tours for US$67.

PERU

Trujillo-cathedral1TRUJILO’S cathedral and main square sit among the colourful buildings that reflect the town’s colonial history.

THE CITY OF ETERNAL SPRING

Trujillo-cathedralNew York, London, Paris, Trujilo…no city has a richer, more bracing multicultural heritage than this colourful city in northern Peru, where the horses dance and the shamans banish your bad spirits.

‘The climate fosters an easy-going civic mood that infuses everyone’

peru-vicunasLAID out at the edge of the sandy lowlands that separate the Pacific from the northern Andes, Trujillo is an overlooked outpost of an overlooked country. A few hundred miles north of Peru’s capital, Lima, Trujillo is a low-slung city of 900,000 inhabitants, most often associated with the production of asparagus and shoes. And, inexplicably less often, with some of the world’s greatest food, its mightiest archaeology and a huge and happy civic festival that celebrates the most gloriously explosive cultural collisions in history.

Trujillo has dubbed itself the city of eternal spring, which you soon realize is a poetic way of saying that the thin mist hanging over the town isn’t going anywhere fast. It’s a by-product of the Humboldt Current, meteorological progenitor of what everyone here somberly refers to as ‘el fenomeno  del Nino (the phenomenon of el Nino). Blue-skied morning are almost unheard of, but as the day rolls on it’s an unexpected relief, this near the equator, to find the mercury hovering forgivingly in the comfort zone.

peru-vicunaThe definitively temperate climate has fostered a low-key, easy –going civic mood that infuse everyone but the swarming, horn-happy taxi drivers. Trujillo’s backstreets are a study in faded grandeur, defined by winsomely neglected colonial houses in the Hispano-Islamic fashion. The narrow pavements are thick with vendors hawking everything from puppies to quails’ eggs, but their sales patter is scrupulously restrained. At regular intervals a recorded chorus of Happy Birthday blares out of a shop, followed by gentle applause.

The main square, the plaza mayor, exudes an appropriate sense of venerable calm. Its polished flagstones are flanked by stately palms and smart, old civic structures, painted bright blue and yellow by the colonists as a counterpoint to the milky skies. Icon-toting religious processions file regularly into the twin-towered cathedral.

It’s appropriate that one of the very few Peruvian cities given a Spanish name – the original Trujillo, back in Extremadura, Spain, was conquistador Francisco Pizarro’s hometown – should feel more Hispanic than almost anywhere else in the country. The city keeps Spanish hours: shops close in the afternoon then stay open till late, restaurants don’t fill up until 9 or 10, and elderly couples are still filing into the penas (clubs) – where the Latin music is live and the dancing obligatory – at midnight.

‘First Held in 1950, The International Spring’

peru-mapGIVEN that Peru is home to by far the largest indigenous Amerindian population of any South America country, Pizarro should, by right, be despised as the foreign invader who came, saw and brutally conquered. But ethnic identity is never straightforward in this part of the world. For a start, the Incas had only been in charge of what is now Trujillo for a few decades when the conquistadors marched in, having supplanted the Chimu civilization, incumbents for the previous six centuries. The arrival of the Spanish then heralded 500 years of pan-global immigration – slaves from Africa in the 16th century, indentured hacienda labourers from China in the 17th, economic and political refugees from Germany, Italy and Britain throughout the 19th and 20th. The consequence is an energetically muddied gene pool. No-one Trujillo feels any more or less Peruvian than their neighbor, and every October they all come out into the streets to untangle the many threads in their city’s cultural DNA. The city that plays together, stays together.

Organized by local businessmen and first held in 1950, the International Spring Festival has matured into Trujilo’s big day out. The centerpiece Sunday parade sees 100-old carnival floats – sorry, ‘allegoric crat’ – trundle colourfully down avenues lined with 200,000 politely enthusiastic spectators. ‘International’ means paying garish tribute to the city’s melting-pot heritage: there are Chinses dragons, lederhosen-clad musicians and gold-masked Incan dance troupes aboard an allegoric cart dominated by a giant inflatable corn-ob. Somehow, it also means the presence of several doxen specially imported Canadian majorettes and small-town Kansas beauty queens, all wearing tan tights and expressions of deep bemusement. Perhaps they represent a commitment to multicultural inclusivity. You’d need to ask thos local businessmen.

peru-machuAmong the dropped batons and bowler-hatted trombonists, two svelte and graceful performers carry on their gentle artistry immune to the multicoloured chaos around. Trujillo is the spiritual home of the marinera, Peru’s national dance, and the actual home of its current champions, Ronaldo Ramirez Trujillo and Lizet Castaneda. From the formal yet sinuous grace of the dance to Lizet’s elaborate, heftily-skirted dress, the Sapnis contribution to the marinera is apparent. At the same time, there’s a lot of movement on the offbeat, and she isn’t wearing shoes. ‘The marinera is a classic mix of our cultural influences,’ says Ronaldo afterwards, ‘African slaves on the sugar haciendas saw colonial families doing Spanish dances, and mixed it with their own styles and movement. And if you look in museums, you see Incan figures making some of the poses we make.’

Most of those haciendas are still there, out in the irrigated flatlands north of Trujillo. So too are the descendants of the two horses that Pizarro brought over, selectively bred over subsequent centuries into a breed uniquely adapted to traversing the huge plantations. ‘The caballo de paso horse is like a Rolls-Royce,’ says Anibal Vasquez, an aristocratic Marlboro man who keeps a few dozen at the family’s stately hacienda in Pajian, and shows off the best of them at the Trujillo festival. ‘It has this silent, smooth gait which makes it comfortable to ride long distances.’ He insists that women still beg to be taken to the distant maternity hospital by horse rather than taking the apparently bumpier ambulance option.

peru-andea texiltesThe caballo de paso almost died out in the 70’s, when national pride and demand for non-mechanical transport were both at a low ebb. ‘They were seen as old-fashioned, as part of a way of life people wanted to forget about,’ remembers Vasquez, with the air of a man accustomed to having the last laugh: at auction, his horses now fetch more than the limousines he compares them to.

peru-kariankaThat much is palin at the Trujillo festival’s caballo de paso event, held at a discreet distance from town at an exclusive equesdtrian parade ground: the apparent entry requirements are a Man From Del Monte suit and a brand new Range Rover. This is the last bastion of old-money, old-school colonialism, though that hasn’t stopped a surge of populist nostalgia for the animals trotting regally around the showground. So complete is the caballo de paso’s rehabilitation that it was recently declared an official national monument, along with the likes of Machu Picchu.

The event is the essence of cultivated restraint, notwithstanding the bottles of Johnnie Walker Black Label clustered on every clubhouse table at an ambitiously early hour. The horse’s small, quick steps endow a nimble precision well-suited to the dressage-type contests that predominate, and to the equestrian marinera performed as a show-closer. ‘It’s about grace, but also stamina and strength,’ says Vasquez, with a brilliant smile. ‘This horse mixes the softness of Peruvian women with the machismo of our men.’

peru - cornVasquez is a dedicated traditionalist. The sugar-cane pulp he feeds his horses is grown in the family’s hacienda, one of the very few in the valley that still harvests nothing else. The fields around are steadily annexed by a bewilderingly varied cornucopia: peach tree, garlic, star fruit, kiwi. From apples to pineapples, anything and everything flourishes in Trujillo’s doughtily benign climate, though the region’s more adventurous farmers have only just begun to realize the commercial potential of niche-market diversification. Asparagus grows here year-round, and over the past decade Trujillo has established itself as the world’s leading exporter. It’s not a low-profile business: every couple of minutes, a truck surrealy weighed down under its tousled green wig of bushy fronds rumbles past on the Pan-American Highway.

peru-Kanari-takiqkunaThe sudden availability of what must be the world’s most complete array of ingredients has combined with Trujillo’s convoluted heritage to fuel an extraordinary surge of pride in the region’s multinational cuisine. Trujillo’s taxi drivers spontaneously rhapsodise over their country’s gastronomic splendor, insisting that a shared love of food is what unites this otherwise disparate and diverse nation. They’ll boast that Lima is now home to 23 catering academies, that Trujillo’s markets stock 2,000 varieties of potato, that Peruvian cuisine is set to be the next big thing in global foodie circles. ‘Argentina is just meat, Chile is just pasta, but we have everything. Everything!’ You get the point quite quickly, and it’s lost less tedious than having taxi drivers bang on about how great their nation is at sex or cricket. And, unusually, the taxi drivers of Trujillo are absolutely right.

The arrival of the conquistadors in Peru sparked a culinary collision whose shockwaves still reverberate. The unique indigenous staples of potato, corn and chili proved a neat fit with Spanish gastronomy, and invigorating twists were added to the mix by all those far-flung immigrants. They brought their recipes, and from olives and strawberries to ginger and rice, Peru’s climate delivered the raw ingredients. And that’s before anyone has mentioned fish, the basis of what is truly magnificent about Peruvian food in general and Trujillan food in particular.

Peru-CathedralTRUJILLO seems to shyly turn its back on the provider of this prized resource; you forget the Pacific Ocean is on the city’s doorstep until you drive out past the airport and catch it shimmering behind the dunes. A couple of miles on lies Huanchaco, a town that embrace the sea and its associated traditions, old and new: the squat, grey waves are shared by wet-suited surfers and fishermen kneeling in tiny canoes made from bundles of totora reeds in a manner that dates from pre-Colombian times.

Ceviche is the dish Trujillans nominate as their epicurean superstar, and in the incarnations served along Huanchaco’s seafront you understand why: the tender freshness of sea bass, the bite of onion, lemon and three kinds chili, the crunchy counterpoint provided by the toasted corn that accompanies it. Trujillan ceviche is fusion at its finest: native constituents play the dominant role, with strong support work from North African lemons (small, lime-like), Spanish onions and marinating techniques honed over recent decades by the nation’s many Oriental chefs.

The excellence of Trujillo’s fish cooks might also have something to do with that relationship between practice and perfection. Most pre-Columbian civilizations were enthusiastic fishermen, and a visit to the Chimu’s capital city, Chan Chan, suggests they cared about little else.

trujillo-peruIt’s an extraordinary place. Such is the scale of those mud-brick walls that even after 1,200 years of El Nino-led erosion, fro ma distance they suggest a range of mighty hills rising from the scrubby sand. At 7.6 square miles, Chan Chan is the world’s largest adobe city, home to 100,000 at its height, yet strangely ignored. There can’t be many UNESCO World Heritage sites you can have to yourself in the middle of the day. Foreign visitors are fixated on Inca sites, and the Peruvians seem overwhelmed by their embarrassment of pre-Colombian archaeological riches: one sprawling 1,500-year-old adobe pyramid complex track until the mid-80’s.

Excavation restoration work began in earnest at Chan Chan only recently, and a small team is now chipping away at the wind-sculpted detritus to reveal the vibrant reliefs on every flank of Chan Chan’s imposing administrative and religious structures. A theme emerges. There are fish, fishing nets, fishing canoes and more fish. And a pelican. ‘The Chimu trained these birds to fish for them,’ says Maria Avila Vega, Chan Chan’s principal of conservation. ‘But we do have a squirrel somewhere.’ She has been working at the site for three years, but with new murals unearthed daily, the thrill of discovery is undiminished. ‘It’s magical to find all this hidden art, to feel close to the people who made it.’

peru-halloweenTHAT bond has always been strong. Ten per cent of Peruvians still speak Quechua, a language though to predate the Incas and, despite healthy church attendance, spiritual traditions have never gone away. Amid the stacks of skinned guinea pigs and technicolour fruit at Trujillo’s Mercado mayorista (main market) lies an aisle devoted to shamanic remedies. There are deer hooves and dried frogs, herbs to lower blood pressure, soaps to raise libido. The shamanic arms-race means you can buy a love potion, a potion to Break  that. There are baskets filled with hunks of the mind-altering flora so entrenched in Peruvian tradition that even the Catholics had to embrace it. The hallucinogenic cactus so prized by pre-Colombian society is today known as Sand Pedro: like heaven’s gatekeeper, it opens the doors to another world.’

San Pedro was a hit with the Moche people, who preceded the Chimu and built the region’s oldest adobe step-pyramids. As lead archaeologist at the Moche site nick named El Brujo (the witch-doctor), Dr Regulo Franco felt justified in undertaking a San Pedro all-nighter on academic grounds. ‘All the time I had a recurring vision of a puma,’ he recalls, ‘an the next week we excavated one of our most amazing finds – a headdress, decorated with pumas.’ Thus inspired, Dr Franco now offers visitors a one-on-one experience with Nofaen, a local shaman, though without the psychoactive element.

In truth, the setting is eerie enough as it is. Peruvians lived around El Brujo for 4,000 years until the late colonial era, but today the site is as dusty and bleak as Luke Skywalker’s home planet. The Moche pyramid is still turning up treasures the looters missed – in 2002, Franco’s team dug into the tomb of a female ruler, her mummy draped in gold and precious stones – but the most compelling artefacts are the blood-red reliefs that decorate the wall behind the pyramid’s yawning ceremonial plaza. On a technical level, these don’t quite match the better preserved artworks closer to Trujillo at the Huaca de la Luna-the temple of the moon. But they’re more dramatic. Naked prisoners are depicted being led to their sacrificial death; some incorporate real human bones. There’s an unsettling contrast between the brutal pageantry that took place here and the windswept desolation that now defines it.

Peru-Cusco-Quechua-Woman-on-Church-StepsThe shaman’s lair lies some way out across the lonely sand, beyond the hollows left by shovel-mad grave-robbers. The final approach to Nofaen’s subterranean temple is a rough stairway that winds down to an ancient Moche well. Nofaen himself stands barefoot in a heavy poncho, dark skinned and red eyed. Arranged on a crud altar beside him are ceremonial accessories that blend Peru’s history with its prehistory: a postcard of the Virgin Mary, tobacco, a bottle of perfumed alcohol and a collection of burnished sticks and pebbles. Expelling the badness from your body involves applying these in a number of unexpected ways, and ends with an immersion which reveals the well’s black waters to be home to a large and inquisitive catfish. He’s probably 4,000 years old.

When Nofaen motions dismissively at your clothing and utters a brief instruction in Spanish, that innocent spring festival seems very far away. Further if you don’t speak Spanish, and only find out later that he was asking you to keep your pants on.

Machu Picchu may get all the glory, but it isn’t Peru’s only city worth exploring. Passing civilizations have left their mark along the crashing surf of Peru’s northern coast, from the adobe city of Chan Chan, to the colonial mansions of Trujillo.

Emirates flies from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to Lima, then connect toTrujillo on LAN Airlines (from US$457).

Don’t bother with public transport – buses exist but, curiously, are banned fro mcentral areas. Taxis are ubiquitous and cheap but agree a fare in advance and close your eyes at junctions.

I only had it on special occasions at home. Marmalade’s very expensive in Darkest Peru.

hotel libertador peruModern, trim and equipped with wi-fi and cable TV, HOTEL KORIANKA is close to Trujillo’s main square and offers a decent breakfast. Best suited to those who value a quiet night more than a long lie-in – the hotel backs onto a school with a very active brass band (from US$58)

With a traditional façade and a white-painted central courtyard, the GRAN BOLIVAR HOTEL in Trujillo is steeped in ambience. It also serves the city’s best Pisco Sour – the national cocktail of lemon juice, whisked egg white and grape brandy (doubles from US$76).

hotelgranbolivarThe best hotel in Trujillo by far is the LIBERTADOR, situated on the main square. The smallish rooms don’t quite live up to the promise of the grand colonial exterior, but bag one overlooking the lavish pool area and you’ll have a view that atones (from US$133).

Forego your hotel breakfast, wait until 10am and squeeze in with the locals for brunch at the Salon De Te Buenos Aires. The speciality is a hefty chicarron (crunchy fried pork) bun ,brought to your table by one of the army of crisply uniformed staff (from $2; Jiron Francisco Pizarro 330-332).

peru-rustica restaurantSet in a rambling old mansion, Restaurant Rustica offers an authentic Peruvian buffet. Try causa (mashed yellow potato dumpling with lemon, chili and onion), pachamanca (meat cooked on hot stones) and local beer Pilsen Trujillo (buffet from $11; Jiron Bolivar 446).

Enjoy lunchtime ceviche specialities (seafood in a citrus marinade) from Restaurant Big Ben’s terrace and watch reed-boat fishermen at work($6-$24; daily until 5.30pm).

Five major archaeological sites can easily be reached from Trujillo by taxi, including CHAN CHAN, the world’s larges adobe city – though only part is open to visitors. To get more from your  visit, join a tour from Trujillo such as Trujillo Tours (from $22 ) or hire a guide on-site, around $6 an hour ($3 entrance: 9am-4.30pm).

peru-cuscoIf you’ve got the energy at the end of the day, shimmy down to Restaurante Turistico Canana, a multi level, open-air dance club shaken up by a fantastic 12-piece Latin band. Warning: try to leave before 1am and the manager will personally frogmarch you back to your table ($2.80; Calle San Martin 791).

The surfing at Huanchaco beach is the best in Latin America, and at the olas Norte Surf Academy you’ll be taught by a national champion (from $47 for three days’ tuition, including board and wesuite hire,

Return of the Kirschtorte

executive summary by hilarius darman

Black forest gateau2

Black forest gateau, the mainstay of any 70s sweet trolley, is making a comeback in its German homeland. Nowhere makes it better than Café Schafer in Triberg; the writer met chef Claus Schafer, the heir to the original 1905 recipe, who revealed its secrets:

Cream & Kirsch

Whip the cream until silky, blend in gelatin and two shots of quality kirsch. Mine is 56 per cent and from a local distillery.

Cherries

Tangy morello cherries offset the cream’s sweetness. The compote needs cherries sugar, cherry juice and a pinch of cinnamon.

Layering

Spread compote and cream onto the bottom layers of sponge, and press on the top. Drizzle with kirsch, and cool in the fridge.

Finishing touch

Spread the gateau with cream, then decorate with piped cream, cherries, chocolate shavings and icing sugar.

 

Life Resort

halong-bay-life-resort2executive summary by hilarius darman

There is no better way to appreciate the magnificent scenery, pristine coastline and awe-inspiring limestone formations surrounding Ha Long Bay than with Life Resorts’ newly launched summer package, which allows visitors to enjoy a private cruise within Ha Long Bay’s spectacular Central, Eastern and Western Isles. Designed only for two at any one time, the USD453 per couple package includes a one night stay aboard one of the four-star Life Resort’s heritage junks, entrance fees to major attractions within the bay, daily meals, unlimited non-alcoholic drinks as well as free usage of kayaks, snorkeling and fishing gear. Log on to : www.life-resort.com