By Zachary Moses
Last September I visited Machu Picchu in Peru for the first time. Before I left, I was told that I needed to stop eating gluten. What? Seriously? What am I supposed to eat? Practically everything has wheat gluten (a binding agent) in it. Since food restrictions are a common concern among our tour groups, I decided this would be a good way to see how well we perform when dietary restrictions are required.
Day 1: Traveling Day
I arrived late in the evening at my first hotel located in the Miraflores district of Lima, the capital city of Peru. Miraflores is an upscale residential area, so gluten-free options were available on most of the local menus. My dinner came with a delicious side of cornbread and herbed butter. My stomach was very pleased!
Score one for the “Peru Gluten Index”! (I just made that up so if anyone from the Peruvian government is reading this, please credit me for coining the term, “Peru Gluten Index”.) It was so nice to again eat a kind of bread with my dinner, mmm. The hardest part of not eating gluten is the loss of bread!
Day 2: The Fruits of our Labor
What’s better than eating bread? A breakfast that includes the gluten free fruits of Peru: two points for Peru! I love the exotic fruits of the tropics, especially passion fruit. OMG, I love passion fruit.
OK, I know it looks unappealing: like the undeveloped eggs of an insect colony. But, you’ve just got to trust me, the fruit is succulent! Hands down, passion fruit is my all around favorite food. The Peruvians and Ecuadorians fight over which side of the border this fruit first evolved on. Is the “Taxo” passion fruit native to one side of the equator or the other? We may never know. However, I do know that I’d never EVER share this precious fruit with anyone. Sorry but you’ll just have to find your own.
After breakfast, we went strolling through the local markets. The fruits went on forever…gluten free!
And the vegetables: Peru has over a thousand varieties of the potato … also gluten free!
After touring the local markets, we had a gluten-free lunch of fresh ceviche: Six points for Peru!
The ceviche in Peru is absolutely spectacular. The food in this country is to die for! I could curl up inside a bowl of soup for the rest of my life, slowly eating the soup like a huge egg…whoa, strange visual image!
Ceviche is served differently in every country. Although, the locals in each place always say that their ceviche is the best, I’m going to put this debate to rest. Peru has the BEST ceviche in the world. I’ve decided. See? No more battles. Now we can have peace.
After lunch our hosts prepared genuine Peruvian Pisco Sours. This local cocktail is made with juice, egg white and pisco (grape liquor). My Chilean friends also insist that THEY make the only real Pisco Sours, and don’t get the locals started on who makes the best empanadas. The quality of food and beverages in this country is outstanding and permeated with personal pride.
We’re toasting to the fact that Peru makes the best everything. They mixed up batch after batch of the frothy Pisco Sours, and we kept slurping them down … heavenly. Though my mother and the US government always told me not to consume raw or under-cooked eggs, while we were in Peru, I’m certain our daily intake of eggs, including lots of raw ones, required 140 chickens or more … whoops! Whatever evil potentially lurked in those raw egg whites had nothing on any of us.
After our Pisco Sours, we toured the city of Lima. My favorite part was the art museums. I spent a lot of time in front of this particular painting.
I wasn’t sure what the artist was trying to convey but it held my attention for some time. All of a sudden, it hit me- Zombies. This is a painting of zombies with rainbow vomit. I love it! I will have this painting…
One of the paths led us to this heart-face wall mural. The artist painted a heart shaped space behind the face. In his minds’ eye he depicted the Peruvian bird of individualism while his detached face looks serenely downward. Peru space-heart-bird? I’m not sure of the meaning but I really liked it!
After further exploration we dined at a restaurant located inside some ancient ruins within the city limits. The Peruvian landscape is decorated with incredible ruins left by their ancestors including the famous Inca and various other rich civilizations that pre-dated the Inca.
It was thrilling to discover so much rich history right here in the Americas. If you haven’t travelled to South America, I highly recommend it – especially Peru. The extraordinary architecture, natural wonders and diverse culture rival any in Europe or elsewhere. And unlike flying to Europe, this trip is jet-lag free for us Americans and Canadians!
Day 3: Off to Cusco
In the morning we shuffled into the airport bus and caught an early flight to mystical Cusco. When we arrived at the airport we were welcomed by festive groups of dancers wearing what looked like Halloween costumes.
Other dancers made their rounds passing out cups of coca-leaf-tea. That’s right – the same Coca leaves used to make cocaine! I couldn’t wait to taste it. I slammed back the first cup like a shot and then another. The verdict? … Meh. It didn’t do much for me except leave my mouth tasting like grass clippings. Oh well, another bucket list item crossed off.
Here we are: A group of enthusiastic travel professionals about to hike the Salkantay Inca Trail. Several of my hiking companions had rarely left the office, let alone traversed mountains. What’s a hiking pole? – Who cares! This group, ranging in age from thirty to forty five, had the youthful confidence of a group of twenty-five-year-olds. Bring it on! This mountain can’t defeat us!