After a gorgeous ride through the desert and along the Peruvian coast (in which I alternately looked out the window and furiously typed my last blog post), I arrived at the gorgeous 5 star Hotel Paracas. It’s ranked in Starwood’s “Luxury Collection” and is on Condé Nast Traveler’s “Hot List,” so I knew I was in for a really special stay.
Sure enough, we pulled into a gated circular drive and I was greeted by multiple staff – all of whom knew my name, and also offered “felicitationes!” on my promotion at work. I was then led to my gorgeous villa a few hundred feet from Paracas Bay and beautiful views of the perfectly manicured lawns and gardens (perfect for sunset yoga, as I later discovered). Incredible! I had never before stayed in such luxury, and I thanked my stars for the “every three stays gets you a free resort night” promo that Starwood ran this spring that made this all possible.
That night, instead of eating at the overpriced-and-nice-but-seemingly-not-all-that-special restaurant on site, I took a 5 minute walk down the beach to reach the tiny fishing town of Paracas. It stood in sharp contrast to the perfectly groomed resort – it was more a tangle of older buildings that had clearly seen better days, but were known for their excellent seafood brought in fresh from the bay. Wandering the lone thoroughfare, I found many tour guides offering to book me on trips to the Ballestas Islands and the Paracas Natural Reserve (the two main attractions in Paracas). But what did I choose? The tour that went wine and cocktail tasting to the town of Pisco 🙂
No one else had signed up for the tour that evening, so it was just me and my guide, Cesar, taking a “collectivo” taxi. While it was a regular sedan, it reminded me of a NYC bus in that it just travels along one set route (a straight line from Paracas to San Andres to Pisco) and picks up anyone who flags it down along the way until it is full, and then drops people off anywhere on the route they have chosen. Cesar asked me if I would mind if we stopped by his family’s home in San Andres so he could get a sweatshirt, and I agreed – this was a chance for me to see how the natives lived.
While he grabbed his jacket, I hung out in the town square. The square in San Andres was quaint, but it was clearly even more rundown than the tourist-centered town of Paracas. Cesar said as much – that tourists didn’t typically stay in San Andres, as the hotels/hostels were all in either Paracas or Pisco, but that the workers mostly lived in San Andres. Looking around, there were plenty of bodegas and other shops, but no real restaurants. Back in 2007, a major (8.0 on the Richter scale) earthquake had struck the town of Pisco, only a few miles away from San Andres, and while the area was being rebuilt slowly, it was the ritzy tourist areas that had started to recover the most, while the natives often still lived in squalor. I was glad I had gotten to see at least a glimpse of “the real Peru” – as sad as it was.
Hailing another collectivo, we headed to Pisco itself – and arrived in the midst of a huge crowd of people. Apparently there was a large school parade about to pass through, and the restaurant where we were going to have dinner was right in the middle of it! I got to enjoy some great marching bands and some surprisingly slutty dancing from 10 year old girls as I ate my yummy “pollo a la brasa.” Pollo a la brasa is a very tradition Peruvian dish, typically served as a plate of freshly roasted chicken (fresh as in, I ordered it and they put a chicken on the spit!), basic salad, and some really delicious thick-cut steak fries. I had a difficult time cutting into it, and Cesar kept telling me that it was meant to be eaten with the fingers instead of a knife and fork, but I figured he was playing a game of “trick the tourist into eating like an idiot” so I wouldn’t do it. When I got home and looked it up on Wikipedia, I discovered that it IS traditionally eaten with your hands! Oh well.
After dinner, we headed for Taberna de Don Jaime – a tiny tavern that’s known for its artisanal wine and piscos. We started with tastes of some dessert wines, which I completely mistook for the pisco tasting. “Pisco tastes like really sweet and incredibly delicious port!” I exclaimed, as Cesar struggled to fully grasp my meaning.
It wasn’t until we were upstairs in the second bar area and being served a pitcher of an actual pisco sour that I comprehended that what I had tasted was actually wine and not pisco. I also quickly learned that I did not like pisco at all! It reminded me of a cross between peppermint schnapps and triple sec – not too yummy.
However, it was very strong, and so I bailed after just the one shared pitcher of pisco sour – alone in a foreign country and not even in my own hotel’s town was not the place to get drunk. But before I left, I just had to buy a bottle of my favorite dessert wine that I had sampled – delicious!
And with that, I hailed a collectivo home and called it a night – not even tempted by the gorgeous platter of chocolates and pastries the staff had put in my room as a welcome gift. The main tour parts of my vacation were done; tomorrow, it was time to lie around, relax, and treat my vacation as a spa trip to get healthy, physically and mentally!