When entering the Las Piedras, I was unsure of what to expect from the experience. In a location teeming with biodiversity and mystery, I felt like I should expect exquisite sights and sounds and stories—especially since my focus was on the wildlife.
Walking out of the rainforest, there is an important lesson that I am taking away with me: the definition of impressive. Honestly, I never saw a jaguar or an ocelot or a speckled caiman. I’m not disappointed by this; the sights I saw were by pure luck, and I am appreciative of that. I saw two species of monkeys, scarlet macaws, at least 15 species of butterfly, mammoth grasshoppers, numerous frogs, too many arachnids to handle, and endless amounts of other animals. Each experience with each species was like a personal milestone, marking a moment in which the window to the world was cracked open a little wider, letting in a little more light into my life.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we flew into Cusco this morning at 10:15. My roommate Lucy and I woke up at 5:28 to prepare our bags and get ready to fly out from Lima; we schlepped out of our room and across the bridge to the airport, meeting up with the rest of the Forest Online team. We checked our bags and headed over to the cafeteria before we headed to go through security and board our flight at 8:00.
I hit up the Dunkin Donuts for coffee, Boston crème pie donuts, and double chocolate donuts with Jason while Lucy and the others opted for Starbucks, Subway, McDonalds, or a panería for breakfast. The cafeteria was fascinating, as none of us expected to see so many American food chains occupying the Peruvian airport. I personally felt that the airport—granted, as an international airport there is an obligation to cater to the communication needs of the international travelers—was overwhelmed by American consumerism. So when we arrived in Cusco, I wasn’t sure whether to look forward to traditional Peruvian landscapes or an inundation of American culture into Peruvian culture.
After landing and hunting our luggage down, the Forest Online and our tour guide, Giovanna, shimmied over to Hotel San Juan de Dios, and set off to fill our yearning bellies. We went to Greens, an organic and fresh food based restaurant that has been in existence for the past nine years in Plaza de Armas. There, in a refreshingly calm, yet bustling room, we feasted.
After ordering a variety of beverages, such as mango passionfruit lemongrass smoothies, bottled water, and coca tea, we received an appetizer of carrot sticks an hummus. The carrots were crunchily sweet goodness that paired well with the smooth, slightly spicy hummus. The hummus was particularly interesting, because it was spiced with flavor, but it was not a burning heat in your mouth.
There was a selection of three different side dishes, which were provided to us prior to the main dish. The crema del día was a lovely pumpkin puree, with bits of greens blended in—I ordered and devoured this. There was a quinoa soup, sopa de quinua orgánica, mixed in with seasonal vegetables. The final option was an absolutely gorgeous ensalada greens: avocado, mango, mixed greens, cucumber, and oranges beautifully married together in a mandarine vinaigrette.
As a main dish, my famished belly led my brain to believe that I needed to take the opportunity to try alpaca for the first time in my life. This was not a choice that I regret. The alpaca marinada en ají panca a la plancha was wonderfully tender. The ratatouille which the grilled tenderloin rested upon was easy on the sauce, but bold in spices. Even after discussing the texture with the others who tried the dish, there is no simple way to describe the texture. It was like a tender mixture of bison and pork, with a richly pungent smell that permeated and enhanced the rest of the dish.
The other entrees were equally as impressive. The vegetarian spaghetti con verduras grilladas smelled wonderfully well-seasoned and the noodles were very good. Pollo tikka was a grilled chicken breast served over brown rice and vegetables, which was quite popular on the table. The last entrée offered as a choice was trucha del valle sagrado a la plancha, a grilled sacred valley trout, served with a quinoa taboulé. When I sampled, the trout seemed to be seasoned with a lemon pepper seasoning, but one can never be too sure.