Peruvian food for dummies

Travel

Almost every time I speak to my Yiayia [Greek grandmother] on the phone, she asks about what we’re eating, and you can hear in her voice that she can’t imagine it would be any good. While no food in the world compares with hers, Peruvian food does come pretty close.

Peruvian food is pretty famous for being pretty much the best in South America. The number one chef in the world is Peruvian, so you kind of can’t argue, you just need to accept the [delicious] facts.

But we have met a lot of people who haven’t really worked out what it’s all about. And who can blame them when the translations Google churns out are so woefully inadequate.
So we wanted to help the world out. You know, at a humanitarian level, by offering some descriptions of the food we love that do slightly more to explain the dishes than Google does.

If you are also traveling in Peru and have a Greek grandmother, send her this post to ease her anxiety. If you’re a non-Greek who doesn’t live for food, try some of these dishes and find your purpose, even if that means you have to fly to Lima. If you’re Peruvian, send us all the dishes we’ve missed, we’re not wizards and couldn’t list of all of them. Vegetarians and vegans, well, you should probably stop reading here.


An important note: Peruvian food is all about regions and ingredients. Certain regions are famous for certain dishes, and you guessed it, that’s where they’ll be the best. Don’t be searching for the best Ceviche in Cusco, for example. Just don’t be that gringo.

A GUIDE TO PERUVIAN FOOD FOR DUMMIES

Seco de Frejoles con Cabrito [Dry Beans with Kid]

Mao happily eating his dry with kid.

¿Sorry, what?

One of the worst offenders from Google translate. No, Peruvians don’t eat children, you racists. They eat tender goat/lamb/cow/chicken children in a juicy coriander sauce. With tasty AF stewed beans and a mountain of rice.

It’s everything you need: slow cooked, hearty, tasty, juicy, green, and Mao’s favourite.


Umm yaaas, where?! 
Head to Chepita Royal (Lima), or La Glorieta, Tacna 


Arroz con Mariscos 
[Rice with Seafood]

Can never take a before photo because it’s soooo good.

¿Sorry, what?

While Google may have translated this one accurately, it does not do anything to describe how this is so. much. more.

This is where Peruvians enlist the work of magicians. They take [super fresh] seafood, and mix it with rice, ají [a super tasty but not super spicy chilli], a bit of tomato magic, and a bunch of unknown ingredients to create the best damn rice in the world. Move over fried rice, this is your sexier, fresher, less oily, and so much more tasty cousin.


Umm yaaas, where
? La Glorieta, Tacna, Mi Barrunto, Lima, anywhere near the ocean. 

Tacu Tacu [No translation]

¿Sorry, what?
Google won’t help you here. Tacu Tacu is a blend of mashed beans and rice, except sexy. It is crazy filling, but every bite is crazy delicious because again, magicians. It is normally served with seafood, Lomo Saltado [description below], or even Seco [you know what that is now!].

Umm… yaaas, where?! Go to Barranca outside the north of Lima, or anywhere in the far north of Peru.

Aji de Gallina 
[Chilli with [the mum of the] chicken]

Ají de Gallina made with love at Sunday family lunch.

¿Sorry what?

Mao’s favourite way of describing Gallina is that it’s the mum of the chicken. Move that morbid image out of your mind, and enter, Aji de Gallina. 

It’s a creamy creamy chicken stew made with yellow chilli. Not the spicy kind, the ‘this is a new flavour’ kind. The ingredients list also include bread, milk [not cream] and nuts, which does even less to explain this dish. But who doesn’t love [the mum of the] chicken, and creaminess?! 

Basically the comforting hug from your favourite Aunty that you’ve always needed.

 Umm… yaaas, where?! Basically all over Peru, try and get someone’s mum to make it for you.

Olluquito de Carne
 [No translation, with meat]

Menu del Día in Caraz 4/. Soles.

¿Sorry, what?

Try and suggest Olliquito is a type of potato and you will be lynched. It’s a kind of yellow root vegetable [NOT POTATO]. It’s thinly sliced and made into a stew, with meat. This dish has an earthy flavour, and the Olluquito bring a soft texture. It’s a traditional indigenous dish, so if you’re into social justice try this pre-colonial goodness.


Umm… yaaas, where?! 
Any menus del día in the highlands.

Rocoto Relleno con Pastel de Papa [Rocoto stuffed with cake of potato]

Now just imagine a creamy cooling potato bake next to it!

¿Sorry, what?

We’ve all tried stuffed peppers. But have you tried the Peruvian version?! Often stuffed with mince, olives, sultanas, you can choose from tears-running-down-your face spicy, or regular. I’d recommend the former, and this is where the ‘cake of potato’ swoops in to save your mouth. 

It’s a creamy, cheesy potato bake made with what are probably the tastiest potatoes in the whole world. A creamy cheesy mouth saviour. These two together are unstoppable.

Umm yaaas, where? Arequipa 


Tallarines Verde 
[Green noodles]

Lunch at Mao’s place, always so good.

¿Sorry, what?

It’s tempting to explain no further. Basically, this is badass Peruvian pesto pasta. They use fetta cheese to make it creamier, and serve it with a steak. It’s just really, really good.

Umm… yaaas, where?! Pretty much anywhere. 


Tallarines Rojos 
[Red Noodles]

¿Sorry, what?

Also fairly self explanatory. Pasta in red sauce often with chicken, except it’s not just tomato, it includes a bunch of tasty red peppers. It’s pretty fail safe in terms of tastiness.

Umm… yaaas, where?!  Pretty much anywhere.

Chupe de Camarones 
[Shrimp Soup]

Another delicious Sunday family lunch.

¿Sorry, what?

If I’d ever had seafood chowder, I’d say this dish was pretty close. One time I nearly cried while eating it. It was that good. If you love seafood, for the love of god, go now and find this. That is all there is to say.

Ummm… yaaas, where?! Arequipa baby.


Ceviche
[… you should not need to Google this one]

The classic.

¿Sorry, what?

Basically the god of food. Fresh fish cooked in lime juice served with sweet potato and roasted corn kernels. This is probably the simplest, most magic food of them all. And yes, Peruvian Ceviche is the best. Don’t be fucking around with ketchup and mayonnaise [soz Ecuador].


Umm yaaas, where? 
Northern Peru. Piura is the home of ceviche. It’s also permissible to try it in Trujillo, and Mancora.


Jalea 
[Jelly]

All the fried seafoods on one plate.


¿Sorry, what?

Nope. This couldn’t be further from jelly. This is a deep-fried-to-perfection pile of fresh mixed seafood. Maybe the Japanese Peruvians added a little of their tempura magic to the batter, I’m not sure. But there’s some type of magic there.


Umm… yaaas, where?! 
Northern Peru, anywhere close to the ocean. Don’t be seeking this out in the highlands.


Cuy 
[Guinea Pig]

Cheat alert! This is actually a trout, but just picture the face and tiny hands of a guinea pig splayed out morbidly instead.



¿Sorry, what?
Guinea Pigs are not pets, they’re food here. If you live outside South America this might be hard to try as it’s probably both frowned upon and illegal to take one from the pet shop and deep fry it.

If you can get past the graphic horror of its tiny hands and face staring back at you, the meat is surprisingly tasty and incredibly healthy.

Umm… yaaas, where?! Cusco, Puno, the highlands.


Lomo Saltado 
[Loin salt]

Me looking like loin salt blocking the view of the actual loin salt.


¿Sorry, what?
Another Google fail. This is basically the stir fry of your South American dreams. Good quality beef strips stir fried with soy sauce, cumin, Peruvian chilli, tomato and home made potato chips. Very tasty. Served with a mountain of white fluffy rice.

Umm… yaaas, where?! This is crazy popular everywhere, but originated from the Chinese influence… so it’s best in Lima.


Papa la Huancaína
 [Pope the Huancaína]

¿Sorry, what?

This dish does not involve eating a pope, but if that’s what you’re into, go for it. Basically, potatoes served with Huancaína sauce… a cheesy, chilli, nutty tasting sauce that is crazy addictive and basically makes anything taste like heaven.

Umm… yaaas, where?! This one you can find in most places.

Causa 
[Cause]

Classy Causa with Crab.

¿Sorry, what?

Well, aren’t potatoes a worthy cause?! This is basically the best mashed potato ever, filled with basically anything yummy. Sometimes with chicken or tuna with mayo, or even crab, octopus, and avocado. Served cold/at room temperature. Basically like a sandwich, but it’s mashed potato for the bread.

Umm… yaaas, where?! Lima and all over.

Conchitas a la parmesana
 [Shells with Parmesan]
¿Sorry, what?

Scallops in their shell covered with Parmesan and baked. So simple, so good. 

Umm… yaaas, where?! Anywhere near the ocean.


Choritos a la chalaca 
[No translation]

When Inca Cola takes over.

¿Sorry, what?

These bad boys are mussels cooked in the shell, covered with a salsa – a mix of chopped fresh tomato, red onion, coriander, and local corn. Fresh, and so tasty.

Umm… yaaas, where?!
Again, think ocean not mountains.

Escabeche [Marinade]

Typical family lunch, Escabeche to the right.

¿Sorry, what?

Well, yes this is chicken or fish in a simple but yummy marinade made from ají [you know what this is now!] and tomato. Usually served with an army of finely chopped red onions. One of those I just want something basic but satisfying options. You know, like a Tuesday lunch thing.

Umm… yaaas, where?! This is a menu del día type of thing.


Carapulcra 
[No translation]

One of these is Carapulcra…


¿Sorry, what?
Yeah, this one sounds [and looks] weird. Basically, it involves stewing a special type of dried potato [yes that’s a thing], peanuts, and spices like cloves, normally with pork. It’s like a potato stew, only earthier and more filling and more Incan.

Umm… yaaas, where?! 
Apparently this was a favourite of the Incas. So to get the real deal, first enter a time machine and just basically go from there.


Ocopa 
[No translation]


¿Sorry, what?

Even if you Google Image searched this bad boy you’d probably be confused. It’s basically a thick greenish sauce made from chillies feta, nuts and huacatay [black mint]. It’s creamy, nutty, a tiny bit minty, and very intriguing. Normally poured over potatoes and boiled eggs.

Umm… yaaas, where?! Arequipa is famous for this one.


Anticuchos 
[Barbecue]

¿Sorry, what?

Yes, this one is BBQ… barbecued hearts. It’s pretty simple, take a bunch of hearts, put ’em on a skewer, BBQ ’em with salt, and serve them to very drunk people on a Saturday night. These are crazy delicious when you’ve had more than a few too many Pisco Sours and are craving that salty, meaty, tender BBQ flavour.

Umm… yaaas, where?! The streets of Lima, or outside clubs [where literally anything you eat will taste delicious].


Pollo a la Brasa
 [Grilled chicken]

It looks like BBQ chicken. BUT IT’S NOT!


¿Sorry what?

This is Peru’s answer to charcoal chicken, but infer that it’s the same as regular charcoal chicken and YOU WILL BE KILLED. This one’s not the mum of the chicken, just the chicken, marinaded in secret magic, and slowly cooked. The result? The most tender and flavourful chicken, ever. There’s a reason it’s the only thing Americans know about Peru.

Umm.. yaaas, where?! Lima.

Chifa [Chinese]

Sunday banquet – the only option.


¿Sorry, what?

Lima has a big population of Chinese people, and therefore a lot of Chinese food. There are way too many dishes to list. But imagine all your favourite Chinese dishes, with a Peruvian twist. Chifa is good. Go on a Sunday afternoon with a group of friends and order a banquet. Don’t be a peasant.

Umm… yaaas, where?! Lima’s Chinatown area.

Nikkei [Japanese]


¿Sorry, what?

You guessed it, Lima also has a Japanese population. This food is so bloody good. Again, take all the things you love about Japanese food and add Peruvian magic. There’s way too much to list. But for example makis are sushi rolls, filled with Ají de Gallina, Lomo Saltado or Ceviche. Basically a food lover’s wet dream.

Umm… yaaas, where?! Lima, Trujillo.


Picarones
[Stings]

¿Sorry, what?

Like a thinner deep fried donut, only made with a pumpkin batter and served with a syrup made with cloves and cinnamon. Made from a vegetable, so basically a super food.

Umm… yaaas, where?! Street stalls in Lima 


Mazamora
[Porridge]

¿Sorry, what?

A pudding made from purple corn, fruit and spices. Basically the pudding form of the god of all that is good in the world, Chicha Morada [below]. Sometimes served with arroz con leche [rice pudding].

Ummm… yaaas, where?! Mao’s grandpa’s restaurant.


Chica Morada
[Chica house]

LOOK AT THE POWER IT HAS OVER ME!


¿Sorry, what?
The god of [non-alcoholic] drinks. They even grow purple corn especially to make this [AND NO YOU CANNOT EAT THE PURPLE CORN]. It’s a drink made from boiling purple corn, pineapple, and cloves. Lime and sugar are added at the end. It has a flavour like no other, and THEY EVEN MAKE AN ICE-BLOCK VERSION!

Umm… yaaas, where? Everywhere. And Donofrio make the ice block version.

Holiest of holies.


But in all seriousness, Peruvian food is amazing, and Peruvians are very proud about their unique flavours and ingredients. We hope you get to try something new after reading this. Let us know how you go.

And if you’re already a Peruvian food pro, what’s your favourite?? What did we miss??

Living it up in Trujillo

Peru, Travel, Uncategorized

A [non-exhaustive because we are not intrepid] guide to an unexpectedly cool city.

The hipster Chimus made some sweet walls in Chan Chan.


You know those places that you have almost no expectation of? Some place on the way to some other place? For us, Trujillo was one of those. Until we arrived.
Trujillo is up from Lima to the north, on the coast. It’s has a nice climate, not hot, not cold, and dry. It’s not a big tourist destination. But we reckon it’s a good place to live it up, and thought we’d offer up some tips on how.

HOW TO LIVE IT UP IN THE BIG T*[*No one calls it that]

First up, we got to swap the van out for a sweet apartment in a sweet neighbourhood in a sweet gated community. Right near a fancy mall. How? Amazing family. [Soz to anyone looking for overlanding or hostel recommendations].

Level of living it up: 100 

Second up, we got to see some really amazing archeological sites, and cool old buildings. We could drive to these easily, and most sites had guarded parking [for anyone driving]. 

Level of living it up: 200

Third up, Trujillo is pretty famous [with Peruvians] for its food. So we went on an eating mission. 

Level of living it up: 1000

So here’s what we did, that might help someone else live it up too!

DAY ONE: Old Stuff
We checked out some cool old stuff made by people who don’t exist anymore.  Our picks to see are:

Chan Chan

The Chimu people were a busy folk who made a lot of cool shit around 850AD especially so we could visit. Chan Chan is a big sand-mud brick – city that some how hasn’t been totally destroyed.



Huaca la Luna y Sol

A sweet Moche temple site, made by another bunch of people who utilised slaves/peasant well. It’s crazy because every hundred years they decided to build a new level of their temple, and cover up the old one. Because you know, why not. 

Leader: ‘Time to build another level’, Peasants: ‘General sighing’.

The place to observe [the no longer living] peasants.



El Brujo
This one’s is about half an hour or more out of the city, but was super interesting because it had a kickass princess-leader mummy covered in tattoos. Oh and massive temple site still used by the world’s shamans [Mum if you’re reading this, you should go].

Proof we leave the van to see things.

Place they found the mummy boss lady buried with tons of treasure and a bunch of expendable people.



DAY TWO: Food and old buildings
Peruvian food is amazing. We made it our mission to spend the whole day eating. The problem? Peru’s portion sizes [enormous] and Pisco Sours [so tipsy]. But we still managed to eat breakfast lunch and dinner, because we are warriors. 

We also checked out some cool buildings on our way.

Here’s where to eat in Trujillo [if you’re not from Trujillo and don’t know anywhere better to eat in Trujillo].

Breakfast: Panadería Fito Pan [the one behind the Plaza de Armas].

Sándwiches are a big thing in Peru. We saw a bunch of elderly people flocking here and felt a calling to enter [our people].

You get freshly baked bread, and Peruvian level tasty fillings. Try the Pork Mechado [slow cooked goodness] or if you’re a Gringa like me and get excited by cheese and ham toasties, that was pretty good too. Can’t go wrong with a fresh fruit juice.

Backup: La Lucha is a chain, but they also make pretty damn tasty sandwiches, La Luchita is my fav.

Eating break: go see old stuff

Find the pedestrian walkway area off the Plaza Armas, and basically walk into every old building you can [stop when security kick you out].

My king of living room!

Stumbling on Peruvian socialist political history [don’t believe them when they tell you the old cool guy became president, because he didn’t]


This [amazing looking] club is exclusively for a handful of elite Trujillo fams. Why?!


Lunch: El Mochica
Oh no! We were still full from breakfast because it was only 2 hours before lunch. But because we’re ninjas, we found a way to fit in a pretty epic lunch at this Trujillo stalwart.

Pisco Sours and the best Causa de Cangrejo [crab causa].

Cebiche a la Casa y Pulpo

Pisco sours have 3 [!] shots each, and made us need to nap pretty hard.

Backup plan: Mar Picante serve up some tasty ceviche and other seafood dishes.

Dinner: Koi Maki Bar 

If there’s one thing better than regular Peruvian food, it’s Japanese Peruvian food. That’s because they wrap up all your favourites into maki rolls, which are smaller, and even tastier than the regular dishes. 

Yes! That’s Ceviche sushi!


Add to that some time watching movies, [window] shopping, a pizza night, beers and plenty of sleep, and you’ve got a pretty high living it up level, maybe even 1001.
If you’re reading this and know things about Trujillo, tell us what we missed to give us FOMO!

Gringo Privilege in South America

Travel

Oh hai colonialism! 👋


We walk into the hostel bar. A group of white backpackers are dressed as ‘cholos’ (indigenous Peruvians) in ponchos and beanies. They are entertaining the other backpackers by play acting a ‘traditional wedding’ between two of the (white) travellers. Everyone is laughing at the pretend ceremony. An actual Peruvian seems to be leading this weird act of cultural misappropriation. I guess his job is to entertain the gringos and keep them at the bar so they keep drinking.

We are with a couple of friends. I look over at Mao. He looks quietly horrified. What the actual fuck is going on?!, he says with his eyes. Why are a bunch of privileged white young people dressing up as one of the most marginalised groups of people in Peru, and finding it hilarious and unproblematic? 
If the actual scene in front of us isn’t bad enough, the backpackers volunteering at the bar aggressively try and make us participate in whatever the hell is going on, completely ignoring the look of horror on our faces.

This is the second time we’ve entered the hostel universe in Cusco. The whole thing makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. I’ve spent months thinking about why, so have decided to pen some reasons down…. [fully tasting the irony of writing this from my own place of white privilege, but hey Mao wanted me to post this].

Unchecked white privileged 
Yes 21 year old backpacker from the US/EU/AU with the bracelets and harem pants, you are incredibly privileged. No amount of time on your yoga journey can change that. I wouldn’t think it’s necessary to point out your privilege when every day you pass elderly people trying to make a couple of dollars selling sweets, or blind people busking because they don’t have any support from the government. But it doesn’t seem that your privilege computes. 

Just because you’re carrying your belongings in a bag and you have a limited daily budget, does not mean you are subjected to the systemic oppression, racism, and difficulty people face every single day in Peru. And no, you should not expect to pay the exact same price as a local for everything, unless of course, you would also like make less than $400 a month. It also does not make it ok for you to try and get out of paying for things like bathrooms. No, bathrooms here are pretty much never free. They also cost about $0.20, of which that money goes to a family trying to get by. So when you refuse to pay on ‘principal’, you are also refusing to help a mother to feed her kids.

And no, Peruvians are not being systematically racist to you when they’re not overly friendly at the shops, or aren’t overly keen to help you. If you knew anything about the history of the country, you’d know, trust is a rare commodity. You’d also know that white people have (and continue to) plundered, and robbed most of the nation’s wealth. So yeah, it’s a bit bigger than you, these interactions are laced with eons of unconscious history. Not everyone is nice to you at home, so why expect it every time here?

And if you really don’t like it, you know what? You can leave. And go back to the US/EU/AU [wherever] Unlike the majority of Peruvians, whose visas will be rejected, and will never be able to see the sites of your country. Ever. 

Arrogance or ignorance?

I’ve been in situations several times where local people feel unsafe, while the visitors are convinced everything is hunky dory and dismiss local concerns with that everything will be fine attitude.

This in itself is a form of privilege. When you have not grown up getting held up by gunpoint near your house, your outlook on life is fundamentally different. If that has never been your life, you have the luxury of assuming everything is fine. You have the privilege of living free from the fear of such incidents. 

Many South Americans simply don’t have the privilege of that outlook. Maybe they’re more likely to feel paranoid about going out at night, more like to be distrustful of strangers, or more protective of their possessions. But it’s probably because their own personal history has been written in part by these fears.

When traveling in the van we’ve also realised other people seem to have this sense that they absolutely have the right to be… just about everywhere. Beaches, cliffs, forests, for free. We have the opposite feeling, constantly questioning if we should be pulling up next to the village or beach, always asking local people if it’s fine to stay. Of course, many travellers do the same. But that it’s similar to the privilege of expecting everything is safe; expecting everything is free and that you have the absolute right to stay there. 

Just… no 

One night we go clubbing. It’s pretty much just a massive room of white people, and a handful of locals. Horny backpackers hooking up with other horny (and mostly white) backpackers. Like a tiny alternate universe to the street a few meters away. Suddenly all the backpacker budgets seem to disappear as they sink all their money at the bar. It’s no problem to pay for beer and drugs, but of course no one wants to buy anything from the elderly folk selling candy at 3am in the cold outside. No one wants to pay too much for a taxi home even though that taxi guy definitely isn’t driving at 3am because it’s fun.

That night Mao goes to the bathroom of a club and is asked by an English backpacker if he’s selling cocaine. Seriously. Like the only reason for a Peruvian to enter a club in Peru is to sell you cocaine, of course. Another time, Mao is rejected from a famous backpacker hostel bar because he doesn’t have his ID. The rest of us [we’re all white] are never asked for any ID, ever, at any place. The guard shouts at Mao, the only Peruvian there, to piss off.

I guess that’s the thing that makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s a weird little white bubble all these people are traveling in. A bubble that at times, doesn’t even let local people inside.

Most of these young people have come to South America to experience new places and cultures. Yet they all stay together, mainly meeting other Europeans, Australians, or Americans. To me these hostels seem like little universes of whiteness, where young people brag about how deep they went into their Ayuhasca trip, or how little they managed to pay for something… it seems very much about… them. It seems that very few actually wants to know anything about what life is actually like for local people. Or anything about the complicated histories of the places they tramp around in. 

We travel in our van, and come across uncomfortable stuff all the time too. People not wanting to pay for their parking or camping spots, or searching for free wifi that some small family run hotel is having to pay for. People who are normally traveling with more funds than these families would make in a year. 

The answer?

The worst part is, I’m not sure I have any answers either. How would it work in any other way? How could backpackers travel outside the bubble of whiteness? Would that even work? Maybe locals are more than happy for the gringos to stick to themselves. Maybe these worlds exist for a reason. Maybe it’s better young people ‘find themselves’ with a bunch of other white folks doing the same thing?

And perhaps it’s not actually the bubbles of whiteness that make me so uncomfortable, so much as the seeming lack of self awareness? To be able to enter a country, and travel around, seems to me, a great blessing and privilege. Especially when the majority of locals you meet are unlikely to be able to do the same. It seems to me, the perfect opportunity to travel humbly, and learn about the people and the place you’re lucky enough to be in. It seems to me the perfect opportunity to be aware of, and maybe even confront, your gringo privilege.

[Of course this has been written with gross generalisations, and there are plenty of backpackers and travellers who are perfectly lovely and self aware, who we have been fortunate to enough to meet].

A shotgun van conversion

Travel, Van info

Our lazy guide to the cheapest / fastest possible van conversion

We’ve all seen #vanlife on Instagram and been blown away by the amazing vans/homes people have built.

But maybe you don’t have bucket loads of time, a big budget, or the skills required?

Yeah, neither did we. Our mission was: get on the damn road as fast as possible.

So we did a super basic, super fast, and super cheap van conversion. 

Bedroom / living room / office / place to hide from street dogs

Is it perfect? Of course not. Is it just like those dreamy vans on Instagram? Nope. Should you take any advice from us? Probably not. 

But our set up does the trick. We have somewhere to eat and sleep. And more importantly, we’re out on the road and exploring which was our #1 priority. 

The lowdown

Vehicle: 1998 Mitsubishi Delica DX Time taken: about a week Connversion cost: about $230

Not the biggest, but Vanito gets the job done


Layout 

You know all those vans with inside kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms, attics, cellars, and sun rooms? Forget those. There is no space for that.
Our layout includes a bed, storage, ‘kitchen’, and outside tables and chairs. 

Insulation: $30

Hate spending hours on the net researching insulation options? Us too!

There’s about 183719 materials options and about double the opinions. We were mainly aiming to keep warm. We didn’t have many materials available (we did this in Lima, Peru). So we chose the easiest thing: sun protectors (those foil looking bubble wrap looking things for your windscreen). 

We pulled up the plastic floor cover thing and taped a bunch of these bad boys down with electrical tape

We ‘installed’ these into the ceiling of the van, the floor, and stuck two on the rear passenger windows. 

Hot tip! Shove these guys into your roof! (Ours always had carpet stuff, so we slid them in under that)

Bam! Some level of insulation! We’ve been in warm (30+ and cold (-5) and we have always been comfortable. 

Bed: $100 (50 on the frame 50 on the mattress)

You know those fancy folding beds that convert into seats during the day. Forget those.

We really like our sleep. Like, really like our sleep. We decided folding our bed up and down every day would be annoying. You don’t mess around when you want to rest. 

Our bed feat. Mao’s lovely sister. We made this up as we went, and for stability added wooden braces at the end of the legs.

We built a 1.5 person bed frame from solid wood, built high enough to fit plastic storage containers underneath. The wood we got cut at the hardware store when we bought it (they offered 3 cuts free per piece). We drilled it together with the cheapest screws we could find (using a borrowed drill). It took us a few hours.

We did not attach the bed to the van floor. It’s pretty heavy, and so far, and with everything stacked around, it hasn’t moved. 

We got a normal 1.5 person mattress for it. It’s super comfy. We weren’t about to mess around with sleep comfort.

Kitchen’: $50

You know those amazing tiled sinks, and fold out cook tops people have in their vans? Forget those. 

We use the term kitchen loosely here, cause you know, you wash up with buckets. 

Straight up my brother told us cooking inside with gas was a death wish and basically threatened us with death if we tried.

The chef serves breakfast

So we opted for a nice double burner stove, and we carry a 5kg gas bottle. Open the back of the van up, and bam, you have a place to cook.  

We store a plastic table and camp chairs down the side of the van. Takes a couple of minutes to set up, but it’s easy, and we don’t mind the camp kitchen vibe.

A Virgo’s nightmare / back door kitchen

For washing up we use basins, and when we drive all our pots / pans / utensils are stored there. We use a couple of cheap plastic containers and a polystyrene box to store our food. Which means restocking fresh stuff every other day, but hey, we like markets!

Storage: $30

You know those pretty hand made wooden cupboards people have that fit perfectly above their beds but don’t hit them in the head? Forget those.

Plastic storage containers with wheels is where it’s at. All our possessions (clothes) fit under our bed. They’re super easy to access by just pulling out the container.



Curtains: $20

You know those beautifully pleated curtains people have that block all light yet can be easily adjusted for the day? Forget those.

Curtains get their own heading because they were the hardest part, but on the road have definitely been of the most important features.
We chose thick black fabric, which is good for light blocking, but makes the van surprisingly dark during the day. A positive is that it’s really hard to see anything inside of the van at all (sup thieves).

Back door curtain shoved into roof gap, and side curtains stuck on with tape, when we drive we roll up the back and peg it.

For the curtains I measured the windows, cut the fabric to size, and hand sewed (!) the rope into the hems. That takes for freaking ever. And in the end, it was even needed (this made me question my own existence).
Turns out, you can just use a screw driver to shove the material into the roof join. And it stays up! 

For the passenger windows (that open) we use a bunch if thumb tacs, double sided tape, and safety pins. For the other passenger windows we put a layer of foul stuff and then attached the string to plastic suction caps (which didn’t stay so we taped them on).

Making it feel like home 

Little things can make a tin can with a bed feel like home. Obviously maps.

BEST TIP?! Buy a bunch of lovely cushion covers, then stuff them with your coats and spare blankets!! Seriously, this saved us a bunch of room and helped make us comfy for Netflix times! Also, I cut up all our receipts and stuck them to the roof ’cause I thought it was ugly.

Hang stuff! This handbag is my random crap shelf, the little bag is the first aid.

Home is where your hat is? Dunno but we put a bunch of hooks up to hang stuff… dry towels etc.

 

So by now, you can see we tricked you!! We didn’t really convert a van. We just put a bunch of stuff in it. Which means anyone can do it. 

Really this unhelpful guide is more about just getting out there and doing what you want instead of getting everything perfect up front. There are a lot of perfect van set ups. If you have the time and money, do that! But if you just want a simple set up so that you can go out and adventure, you’ll be surprised at how little you need to be comfortable. 

If all that’s stopping you is a place to eat and sleep, then just get going and think later.

So your morning view can look something like this.

Smuggling a friend to Macchu Picchu

Travel, Van info

Three amigos.


It’s 6.55am. Our friend was supposed to meet us at the van at 6.15am to start the drive to Macchu Picchu. We are worried about her because she doesn’t have a SIM card and we can’t call her. She’s in a taxi. We try not to jump to the worst conclusions. Maybe we should of just braved the steep Cusco alleyways to pick her up, I think. What if…

After a while, she makes it. Our address was entered wrong in the GPS. We’re all super relieved.

We don’t have a spare seat in the front of the van. We don’t have any seats in the back either, but Calli is happy to sit in the floor on a little cushion facing the rear. I slide the door shut and can just see the top of our prisoner’s head.

Mao and I don’t feel well, we both have stomach problems. But Mao wants to power ahead. Our destination is Santa Theresa, a small village a few hours hike away from the infamous Macchu Picchu.

We have a rule in Peru. Ask at least 3 people the same question (how far is Santa Theresa), then depending on the variation of the answer, ask 3 more. We are told the drive from Cusco is tranquilo no más, and will only take a couple of hours. One taxi driver told us 7 hours. We imagine the truth is about 4, with a little bit of winding.

Our first, ignorant, glimpse of what lies ahead.

The first challenge is getting out of Cusco. Instead of taking us on the main road out of the city, the GPS decides to take us up streets that were probably only designed for goats. Streets so steep that we became acutely aware of the power of gravity, and weren’t convinced acelerating full throttle was enough to stop us rolling backwards.

Just before we reach the top, at the steepest bit of the goat road, we realise the train is coming and is going to pass right in front of us. Of course. We don’t trust the breaks. Or the hand break. But using both together we manage to avoid crashing into the cars waiting just centimetres behind us.

After stalling and a tricky hill start, we somehow get to the end of the goat road, and onto the highway. At least the worst is behind us, I think.

Our destination is less than 200kms away. Easy, I think. But I start zooming in on our route. It’s a total mess. Just tangled, twisting lines on the map. We’re coming from 3400m altitude, and our destination is only 1500m, so I assume it’s just a winding downhill drive through the Sacred Valley.

Our prisoner’s view from the back.

All of us sudden, we are at the foot of an immense mountain the one we admired from afar at the start of the drive. We realise the road just keeps winding up, up, into the clouds. “Do you get car sick?”, I ask our friend, who is seeing the back end of every trucky turn. “No, lucky I don’t”, says our prisoner/friend.
Altitude is not our van’s greatest ally. Her 1998 engine starts blowing white smoke, and we need to try and keep her warmth up. Outside, the temperature is dropping, rapidly. It’s raining. We realise we’re over 4300m. Mao needs to drive fast enough to keep the engine warm, and slow enough not to drive off the narrow road and into the abyss below. Each curve is about as tight as you can get, and can only be taken at a few kilometres per hour.

Before the fog got real.

The higher we go, the more fog there is. The road is full of potholes. It’s wet and slippery. You can’t see more than a few metres ahead. Every now and then the fog parts to reveal the abyss below us, just a metre away. In the opposite directions Inka Cola trucks and minivans speed past, oblivious to the fog or cliff abyss below.

None of us are talking. The usual jokes and banter have been replaced with total silence. Mao is squinting with concentration. The way down looks like a bunch of snakes coiled on the map and I don’t have the heart to tell Mao it gets worse. The coils on the map manifest as a series of hectic steep corners that last for hours.

The scenery looks like something out of the Nordic noir murder shows we watch at home. Majestic mountains, ravines, incredibly tall waterfalls, mist. Only the Inca ruins and alpacas give our location away.

The road behind us, well before we reached the top of the mountain.

At some point, the police stop us. Calli can’t see out, but they can see in. We’re not 100% sure if having a friend sitting on the floor in the back next to our bed is ok. A woman is hanging through my window screaming “granadias 2 soles, granadias 2 soles”. I’m trying to get our papers out before the cop starts noticing our prisoner. The cop definitely sees Calli, but doesn’t blink. Clearly he’s not worried about the lack of seat or seatbelt. We get back on our way.

Eventually, after a bunch of winding, the scenery turns into jungle, and we make it to Santa Maria the last town before our final destination. At least the worst is behind us, I think. 

From snow capped mountains, to the jungle.

We have a terrible lunch and discuss life and death before hitting the dirt road to Santa Theresa.

A kilometre after we enter, it’s just mud. Mao has no control of the van as the road curves down. Somehow we get through. 

It’s a one way dirt road, busy with minivans driven by locals who either know the road like the back of their hand, or don’t care about death at all (/a bit of both). We’re driving along the narrow road, and I see Mao look down. We’re very high up, and just next to us, the road drops away and into the river below.

Again, we’ve been told the road is totally fine and wouldn’t take us long at all. Mao is secretly fuming. It would of cost him next to nothing to take the train. We narrowly avoid other vans, and by some miracle arrive at the camp ground. We all hug, we barely have words. It has taken us 6 hours. The taxi driver was right.

Vanito chilling at the campsite.


The thermal baths are relatively close by so we go straight there to relax. One of us mentions the drive back. Mao jokes that he’d rather sell the van and take the train back than do the drive again. We all try to ignore the impending journey back to Cusco.

The next morning is another early start. We have to take a taxi to the train station, then start the walk along the rail tracks to Macchu Picchu. It is mind blowing how remote this place is. The mountains just rise into the clouds. None of us understand how the Incas even got there, let alone built a city on a mountain. I mean just driving was hard enough.

The walk to Macchu Picchu town.

It’s a beautiful walk, but we’re tired and it’s raining. Along the way, we stop at a local restaurant to pee. Calli and I are walking toward the toilet when a dog runs out of nowhere, jumping on us, barking, snarling and trying to bite us. Lucky it has a muzzle. We scream and the owners yell for it to stop. Calli and have fallen into their garden, are covered in dirt and pretty shaken up.

We keep on going. When we arrive in the super touristy – only exists for Macchu Picchu – town of Aguas Calientes I worry that the site is going to disappoint and won’t be worth the effort of getting there.

Thankfully, I am very wrong. When we finally arrive, Macchu Picchu dazzles. It is so much bigger than we thought. It’s set in the most incredible location, surrounded by steep mountains, with rivers below. It’s mere location is a wonder. 

Inca agricultural terraces, each supposedly had a different climate.


We’re all a bit over the top and feel like we’ve all escaped death just to see this marvel. We had all made peace with dropping off the edge of the mountain, so the sight of the incredible ruins felt all the sweeter.

So we do what all people who feel like they’ve narrowly avoided death do… 

Took stupid selfies.


Blowing it in Colombia

Travel

We’d been in Lima a few weeks. We’d been searching for vans and planning our route. All we wanted was to get on the road. But then, disaster struck Peru. 

The huaycos (landslides) destroyed a lot of highways. Thousands of people lost their homes. Others passed away. Watching the news every night was beyond awful. People floating away in enormous SUVs, others being pulled out of the mud, children crying for their parents.

Lima was experiencing power and water cuts. Suburbs just 15 minutes away had been badly damaged. There was an end-of-the-world like scramble at the shops as water, food, and supplies disappeared off the shelves. Food and water prices skyrocketed.

Mao’s family bought enough food for the next month. No one was sure when things would return to normal, or how long the building’s underground water tank would last for. There was an eerie feel in the air.

At a loss for what we should do, we did something incredibly privileged. We booked flights to Colombia, and left the next day. 

It felt strange to just pack and up go. But we also felt like a burden on the city. Routes we had planned on driving had been destroyed. We had no good leads on a van. We weren’t even sure if a van was the best choice, maybe we should just travel like everyone else.

As Mao put it, the worst to happen to us was that we went on a holiday. Thousands of others had just lost everything. It forced us to open our eyes and appreciate just how privileged we really are.

And honestly, when we arrived in Bogota, the disaster in Peru felt a million miles away. I guess because we were tasting our first real taste of traveling abroad together. That taste grabbed us, and took front and centre in our minds.

Blowing it in Colombia

Not in that way, you’ve been watching too much Narcos. More like the oh shit we’ve spent so much more money than we thought we would way. In that way, we really blew it.

We stayed in the cheapest / nicest hotels / Air BnBs we could find. We ate the El Menu de el Dia every day. We didn’t even go into museums that were more than $5.

But we did splurge on a trip to the San Andres and Providencia Islands in the Colombian Caribbean. It was one of those if not now, when moments.

My mum always used to talk about money as ‘tokens’, a thing we give power to, or let have power over us. We never had many tokens growing up, but we didn’t give that fact all the power and we had a lot of other riches like time, and adventures.

No one can deny money’s very real value. But on this trip, we realised we would happily exchange our tokens for experiences we would never forget, to go to places we were unlikely to return to.

Even if it did mean we blew our budget big time. But was it worth it? Well take a look below, and you decide…

Bogota

Catch ups with friends, cold and rainy, cosy, new piercings, beautiful buildings, mountains, take out and movies in bed.

 

Medellín
img_4536

 

Guatape

So many steps up! Endless views, warm sunshine, vibrant buildings, watching the world go by.

Cartagena

 

Humid, busy, charming, historic, beautiful. Our little base in the north.


 

San Andres

All day motorbike rides, jumping off cliffs, swimming with fish, chilling on the beach.

Providencia

img_4531

Lazy exploring, swimming with turtles, deserted beaches, views, chilling, incredibly cool people.

 

Santa Marta 

Tayrona national park, incredible lush landscapes, where the jungle meets the beach, ancient rocks, families, forest, gold flecked sand, floating in the ocean.


Minca 

Cooler, moody, lush landscapes, getting lost, finding this waterfall, silence.


36 hours to make the drop

Van info

So you want to buy a van in Lima Peru?

After months of searching, we found the one. A 1998 Mitsubishi Delica 4×4 Turbo in good condition. We check her out on a Saturday, she’s perfect and we want her. Badly.

The seller is an older guy, and wants the payment in cash (completely normal in Peru). We agree, not thinking about how we will access our money from our Australian bank accounts. He wants to make the sale on Monday. Great, we think.

FullSizeRender

When you find the one

On Sunday we realise it’s Easter in Australia and bank transactions are delayed. We call the guy to reschedule our meeting. He freaks, and says he has other buyers. We freak and say ok, ok, Tuesday morning 9am. 100% we will make the payment.

We now have 36 hours to make the drop.
Total balance needed: $5800*

SUNDAY
6pm: $0
We call our bank to confirm we can take out the $5,800 we need for the van at a bank in Lima. They said it should’t be a problem if we do a cash advance on our credit card.

Great (but expensive), we think. We will head to the bank first thing in the morning.

We research international money transfer services just in case. One promises same day bank transfers. But we don’t have a Peruvian bank account, and the family’s accounts are with the wrong banks.

MONDAY
9:00am: $0
Bank 1 discusses it for a while. Finally they concede we could take the full amount as a cash advance, but they only accept Visa.  We have Mastercard. We curse Mastercard. The ATM limit is $200 per day. We curse the ATM limit.

9.30am: $0
Bank 2 and 3 both say the maximum we can take out per day is $200. Because our card is foreign. We curse Bank 2 and 3.

10:00am: $0
Banks 4, 5, 6 & 7 all say the same thing. We curse all the banks. Dodgy bank 8 says they can do a cash advance from one of my cards up to $1,000. We have a small amount of hope.

11am: $0
We realise our only option is for Mao to open a bank account with Bank 3 so we can make an international transfer through World Remit**. Mao opens a bank account.
(**Not an endorsement for World Remit, I don’t recommend them).

1pm: $0
We call World Remit several times. Each time we are told it will only take a matter of minutes to transfer the full amount from our Australian bank account to Mao’s local bank account with Bank 3.

3:00pm: $0
We have spent over 2 hours trying to make the transfer. It’s not working. I am forced to make 5 transactions to make up the full balance. It does not take minutes for the funds to arrive.

5:00pm: $0
We call World Remit about 5 times. We are told they don’t actually know when the money will arrive because the local bank needs to review the transactions. We are running out of time.

5.30pm: $1800
At 5.30pm one of the transactions comes through into Mao’s bank account. The bank closes at 6pm. We sprint there. We take out the $1800.

We need another $4,000 to make the drop by 9am. We realise there is no way this is going to happen.

7:00pm: $1800
We call the seller to ask if he can come a bit later than 9am. He is suspicious. We reassure him everything is fine. He says he will come no later than 10am. We agree. We have to find a way to get the rest of the cash.

TUESDAY
6.30am: $1800
World Remit can’t tell us when our money will arrive. Our only option is to try and take it out at ATMs. I tell our banks what I am trying to do so they don’t block our cards.

9:00am: $4800
We have tried every ATM we have seen, and used every card we own. Somehow we have managed to get $3000 out over the past 2.5 hours. We have now been blocked by most of the ATMs. I go into a toilet and shove the massive wads of cash down my pants. It’s all in 20s.

In a city where Mao’s been robbed of his shoes, I’m freaking out carrying so much cash. I feel like everyone can see it, and like everyone is following us.

9.15am: $4800
We realise our last chance is dodgy bank 8. Of course they only open at 9.15am. The guy tells us no way we can withdraw the money. The max withdraw they allow from the ATM is $150. We curse dodgy bank 8.

9:30am: $4800
We are exhausted, paranoid, and shaky. We need the last $1000. We have come this far. We return to the ATM where we’ve been blocked. I try every card we own, over, and over again, in every machine. The security guard is starting to look at me funny. By some miracle, I get the remaining $1000.

9.45am: $5800!!!

We sprint home with the cash stashed down my pants. We can’t trust a taxi, we might get mugged. My heart is beating so fast.

The guy calls and is waiting for us at Mao’s house. Again, we assure him we are good for it, and we’re on our way. It crosses our minds that he could potentially mug us. He knows how much cash we are holding.

10.05am: $5800
I run upstairs to quickly count the cash. We drive with the guy to the Notario to do the paperwork.

11.30am: $5800
The paperwork states the vehicle is only $4800. I go to the bathroom and count out $1000 on the toilet floor, and stash it down my pants. 

We get a message from World Remit. Our money has finally arrived in Mao’s account. We curse World Remit for not getting it to us earlier, before we had paid $300 + in transaction fees.

12.00pm: $5800
Mao has to pay a fine before we can make the transaction. We have to go to a bank about 1.5kms away. We are in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. I’m still carrying all the money. I am freaking out.

1:00pm: $5700
The bank won’t accept our card to pay the fine. We don’t have enough Peruvian Soles. I have to pull out $100 from my pants. It’s fine, we think. We’re getting the van for $1000 less.

2.30pm: $5700
We finally finish the paperwork. The guy asks if we can drive around the corner to pay him. We give him the cash. He’s pretty annoyed that it’s in 20s. All of us are looking around to make sure no one can see out.

He counts out the $4700 asks why it’s not $5800. We realise we’re not getting a discount, the price in the paperwork was just for tax. We give him the rest of our money. There’s still the $100 missing.

After trying to work out what to do, I stay with the guy, who now has both the money and the van and keys. Mao jumps out to get the remaining $100. I pray the guy doesn’t just take off.

3:00pm: $0
All’s well that ends well. We get home. We have the van. We have no money. It’s now spread across multiple accounts and across two countries.

But we have the van. We made the drop. We cry with relief.

If you need anymore info on taking money out in Peru, or the process / paperwork for buying a car, please get in touch with us. I’d be happy to share what we learned.

(*Actual price changed because my inner concerned uncle told me not to write about this.)

A timecapsule

Uncategorized

What if someone asked you to recall every place you’ve been in the last 10 years?

That’s something I was tasked with recently. And to be honest, I really couldn’t remember.

IMG_9531

An ordinary evening in Lima. The view from the family apartment.

Not because the moments or places were not memorable. In the present moment I always think, how could I possibly forget this experience?

But then, time creeps up, and suddenly you can’t work out what memory belongs to which place.

Sometimes it’s just a small moment that falls out of memory. Like someone you met, the place you slept, or the delicious dinner you had. But when you do recall, it brings a flood of feeling for that moment, in that time.

I want to remember better. But I suck at keeping travel diaries. I do enjoy taking photos, they help me record adventures. But they don’t always capture these small, or every day moments, or even the feeling.

This particular trip is incredibly close to my heart. Mao and I have dreamed of it for so long. We want to capture and share our memories. Even the every day ones. The little, and the big, and everything in between moments.

So we can remember what we were up to in 10 years time. And be flooded with the feelings of the moment.

A timecapsule of sorts.

IMG_9502

Strolling in the afternoon with good company, watching Lima go by.