I returned Monday evening from Mancora, Peru. a seven hour trip from Cuenca, and about two of those hours are travel time in Peru. This was my first foray into Peru. Over forty of us left from Cuenca riding a tourist bus on Thursday and returned early Monday evening. Mancora, on the Pacific Ocean, is a beach town. There was much sun and humidity, but in one respect, Mancora reminded me more of Hawaii with breezes off the ocean, and the humidity was not stifling like in Miami.
The terrain was steep, green, lush and astoundingly beautiful on the way down as we made our way pass the outskirts of Cuenca to open spaces where the valleys and hill sides were no longer covered in homes. It was a very clear day that offered the sight of magnificent views, which I soaked in with my eyes wide open. After a point the mountains became more rounded, some surfaces looked like honeycombs, then the vegetation became dry, and the mountains rugged and cliff-like, reminiscent of parts of the western United States. As we descended from the higher elevations (Cuenca is 8,500 feet above sea level), the land became flatter and various fruit plantations were observed. I was quite impressed with the size of the mango trees. I learned as we rode pass banana plantations, that as the trees bear fruit, the bananas at the two month start of their appearance are wrapped in blue plastic bags to protect them from insects, squirrels, and birds, and to speed up the ripening process due to the ethylene oxide emitted by the plastic bags. The bags in effect serve as miniature green houses.
On the other hand, what little we saw of Peru, it sure did look poorer than the worse I've seen thus far in Ecuador. We saw many simple homes on both sides of the border made out of bamboo in the drier areas, which looked a lot nicer than homes constructed from cement. We also saw more goat herds along the countryside than I've seen anywhere I've traveled in Ecuador before.
The Peruvians, at least in this part of the country, in general, have a different appearance from Ecuatorianos. Peru along with Bolivia are heavily populated by indigenous people, while the majority of Ecuatorianos are mestizos of mixed indigenous and Spaniard blood.
I found generally the Peuvians to be more round faced, darker, and somewhat heavier than their neighbors to the north. The people in Mancora were just as open, friendly, and helpful, as we find among the Ecuatorianos.
It was fascinating to ride through the various towns in Peru including Mancora, where there were no taxis whatsoever. The chutneys, or motorized bikes with the driver up front, and room for two or three people in the back of the buggy that was wrapped in colored plastic scampered all over the towns. I had, to date, only experienced these vehicles in Ecuador when I was in Puerto Lopez in 2012, a beach front coastal town in Ecuador.
The resort was beautifully landscaped and enclosed. The owner obviously knew a great deal about India or about Eastern religions, as there were Buddhas and statues of Ganesh (the Hindu god of good fortune) throughout the garden areas. The rooms were spread out in huts of bamboo, with nothing fancy on the inside. The bathrooms very interestingly opened up to the outside with no ceilings on them, and had live gardens in them due to the fact that it rarely ever rains in this desert-like area. The pool was nice and a dip into it was refreshing in the summer heat, although I would have preferred a larger pool. Actually, the resort would make a perfect ashram for Eastern meditation, which was not about to happen with our group by any stretch of the imagination.
We enjoyed the Pisco Sour, the Peruvian national drink. There are many ways to make the famous Pisco Sour, so it's best to know the fundamentals. The basic formula is 3 parts pisco to 1 part simple syrup and 1 part lime juice. With that goes egg white, and a sprinkle of Angostura bitters. Needless to say, the drink is going to be served over ice in a drink that is shaken before poured. A white foam of about an inch forms at the top of the glass. What is Pisco you ask? Pisco is a colorless or yellowish-to-amber colored grape brandy which is produced in the winemaking regions of Peru and Chile. My first Pisco was the best, as it was more on the sweet side. It complemented beautifully the ceviche some of us had for lunch. Ecuadorian ceviche is served more like a cold soup, while Peruvian ceviche is served without anything appearing to be a broth. Personally, I enjoy both methods of ceviche preparation. I found the Piscos served to me in other establishments to be more tart, which reminded me more of a whiskey sour, and I did not like them as well.
Many of us dined one evening on some absolutely excellent tuna that was cooked to perfection, and some great lomo fino. I had the almond encrusted tuna, which was served medium rare. The experience was like eating some of the best sushi imaginable. Peru imports its beef from Argentina. Unlike Ecuador, which butchers milk cows when they stop producing. At least that's what I've been told. Others propose also that cows in Ecuador are more likely to pasture on the sides of hills, and therefore, build up more sinew. Ecuadorian beef even in most of the best restaurants has a
tendency toward toughness. Peruvians also know how to cook for natural
flavor, and do not as in Ecuador cook meat until all natural juices
are dissipated. I plan with friends to make a trip to Lima later in the
year to experience the utterly famous gourmet delights of some of the
world's best chefs. Mancora proved to be an enticement.
Our last evening, a group of us rode a lengthy patch of unpaved road in the chutneys to a shake, rattle, and row ride that jarred my kidneys as they have not been jarred since I rode buses with no shock-absorbers in the 70's on similar roads in India.
The ride was well worth it. We arrived at a hotel on the
Pacific with a beautifully, luxuriously, contemporary designed
restaurant, bar, and open space of leisurely seating as we watched the
sun set over the Pacific. Some in our group thought the bar and
restaurant design was something one would expect to find in Malibu,
California. It very much reminded me of the many times I would sit on
the beaches of Warren Dunes in Michigan and watch the sunset as well.
For dinner I had lomo fino over a type of cake mixture of ingredients of which I
no longer recall. I found both the medallions of steak to be very tender and succulent and the cake-type mound to be delicious. The evening was a perfect complement to an
overall enjoyable five days.
As I think back. I remember the very pretty, sweet young lady who waited on our table at the Tex-Mex restaurant and always gave me a smile. I remember the young man from Columbia who served my friend and me at "Green Eggs and Ham" as we wiled away the afternoon overlooking the beach, the people, and all the activities. Our waiter spoke very good English and would intersperse between customers opportunities to speak with us, and ultimately took his break time to sit with us and tell us all about his home town of Medellin, Columbia. A city that not all that long ago was a hotspot of Cocaine trafficking and violence, and now is being championed as a place for retirement--a city that is looking to the future rather than attempting to preserve its past. The young waiter who was so eager about life and had such a wanderlust to travel certainly convinced me to move a visit to Medellin up on my list of priorities for travel in South America. Then there was the young man at the restaurant where we had such wonderful tuna or in some cases osso buco, and the young man at the hotel restaurant on our last evening; both of whom were so efficient, knew how to handle gringos with finesse and charm, and were a pleasure to have them provide us with such personal service.
We were not given a great deal of detail about the full itinerary of the trip. Therefore, I decided not to bring my camera or my laptop with me. I did not know what the security factors would be like. I also transferred telephone companies the day before we traveled, and my phone would not be working until tomorrow again (Manana, we shall see.). I have no photos to share. Neither do I recall, nor did I make an effort to write down the name of the hotel or the restaurants, or the resort. It was just nice to enjoy old and new friends and acquaintances. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I could not get Internet access as well at the public Internet tiendas, which proved to be another luxury. For a few days life was somewhat slower-paced, leisurely, and more simple. This once again is one of the reasons why living in Cuenca is so nice. It makes a strategic way station in the visit to other parts of South America and the Caribbeans.