The Good // The Bad // The Ugly Vol. 8
Food: This GBU edition is late because well, we have just been too busy eating. After we left Mexico, we consoled ourselves through most of Central America with the knowledge that good food was waiting for us in South America. We put our heads down and powered through the land of rice and beans by cooking for ourselves, a lot. We weren’t exactly roughing it either. We intentionally packed truffle oil, dried chilis, coconut milk, and Thai curry pastes to keep our palettes primed until we crossed the Darien Gap. Colombia and Ecuador were punctuated with a few notable meals, but overall, I was initially a little disappointed Since my copilot has editing rights to this piece, I will proactively say that he vehemently disagrees with me. He had no problem with salchipapas (French fries topped with hot dogs and a mayo sauce), greasy roadside burgers, and a lot of fried chicken. I on the other hand get REALLY cranky without my daily intake of vegetables and stopped eating the “comida tipica” - who knew proper motivation could lead a person to master roadside stir fry while traffic zooms past. Honk once to say hi, honk twice if you would like to place an order! Then, we entered Peru. Hello fresh fish in delicious local ceviches, amazing roasted chicken, and a wide variety of vegetables! We went from primarily white and brown food to eating the rainbow again and I became a much happier camper as a result. Here is the short list of our food highlights (full list coming soon, separately)
Lima, Peru (A FOOD MECCA!!)
Isolina: If you’ve ever been to Gjelina’s in Los Angeles, you can imagine this restaurant. It’s a small, corner restaurant in the Barranco neighborhood locals covet and swarm to after work. The floor to ceiling windows are always wide open, taunting the patrons waiting outside with aromas from the open kitchen. The chef takes typical Peruvian dishes to the next level and the fact that you can order half sizes meant Nick and I completely over ordered in our need to try everything. We recommend the tripe and blood sausage and the fried stuffed mashed potato - oh my gosh.
amaZ: This was definitely one of our best date nights. Why? Because the chef is creating unique Amazonian jungle fare! Think snails drizzled in chorizo oil, wild boar empanadas, and bread made from yucca. Also, in my statistically significant sample size of 1, I declare this place the winner for the best Pisco Sour in Peru.
The Cheese Corner: I wish a hidden camera could have captured the moment we saw this cheese shop. We didn’t walk towards it, we ran. We have been on the hunt for parmesan reggiano since Mexico. Local cheeses have their place, but nothing beats a good parm. Unfortunately, the local purveyors don’t agree with us because we haven’t been able to find a block or wedge anywhere - and don’t you dare put a jar of that pre-grated crap in front of us. I will never forget the smell when we opened the doors and saw at least 16 gigantic parm wheels stacked on top of each other. It was completely overwhelming and instantly felt like some version of home, Nick and I just stared at each other for a solid 2 minutes. Did we just time travel to a small town outside of Tuscany? We had cheese for dinner that night, cheese for lunch the next day, and maybe one of us snuck cheese whenever the other wasn’t looking.
El Chinito: If Milk Bar in New York can claim crack pie, this place can claim crack sandwich. The perfectly baked ciabatta loaf maintains it’s structure while it hosts warm, oven roasted meats, mayo, and a little bit of the drippings for added flavor. It’s so simple, but packed with flavor. It also might be the perfect hangover food. We heard from a friend.
Nuevo Mundo: Nick guided my journey into surfing and I guided him into the lifelong pursuit of being a wino. However, his love of really good beer does occasionally come out. To put it simply, Nick had a side love affair in Cusco. This craft beer house is located on the eastern side of the main square and we happened to time our arrival with sunset. We sat at the table next to the window and Nick ordered a Muertecita (ie. Little death). It was a double IPA and his first pint went something like this: “this might be the best beer I’ve ever had”, “this is definitely, at the very least, the best beer I’ve had on this trip”, “should we go back to camp and get our growler so we can get some to go?”, “I have to order another one”, “I know you don’t like IPA’s, but I really think you might like this one” (I didn’t). <Insert two American men sitting down next to us and looking at the menu> “Ïf you guys need a recommendation, I’m having the Muertesita and it is quite good” <Men take Nick’s recommendation and two pints arrive in front of them> Now a chorus of beer pontification erupts “ Wow, this is better than I expected” “Cusco’s beer scene has really taken off”, “Thanks for the recommendation, you’re right, this is really good”. 4 hours later — we have two new friends and the three of them have drained the bars keg supply (I’m not kidding).
Cicciolina: What happens when Megan has two dirty martinis at the end of a high elevation day that somehow severely lacked food? I don’t remember either. BUT, I do remember the tapas sampler plate here, especially the mango chutney and red trout tartar. We recommend sitting in the cocktail area and ordering from the tapas menu - you get to try more. Also, the casual atmosphere lends itself to meeting new people. The Kirby’s are about my parents age and were discussing whether or not to order the tapas sampler when they first arrived. I’m generally not shy about inserting myself into conversations and this becomes especially true when gin is involved. So, I gave my unsolicited advice and a fast friendship resulted. We discussed Chilean wine recommendations, American politics (Texans but Austin, Texans but over 60 - it was a fast mental calculation on how far this conversation should go), travel ideologies, the pros and cons of working with a spouse, and our future visit to Austin, TX so we could play a round of golf with them in Horseshoe Bay and open a bottle of something. We learned something from them too - the power of positively praising your significant other publicly. They never missed an opportunity to show their respect and admiration for one another and it was contagious. #lifegoals
MIL: We both tried to hide it from the other, but we were pretty disappointed we couldn’t get reservations at Central, the 5th best restaurant in the world, while we were in Lima. Fortunately, fate stepped in. And when I say fate, I mean weird rabbit holes of internet research. Nick stumbled upon an Eater article talking about Central’s new restaurant experiment that just opened next to the Moray ruins - 2 hours from where we currently were in Cusco. We were baffled, we had already been to the Moray ruins on our way to Machu Picchu and didn’t remember seeing anything that resembled a restaurant nearby, let alone a gastronomical restaurant experience. We were intrigued. We clicked on the reservation link and miraculously, there was one spot left for the following day. We decided it was meant to be, packed up our stuff, and took off two hours in the wrong direction, the direction we had just come from, to go do it. Sure enough, tucked up on the left corner of the ruin was a very unassuming adobe structure. The timeless lesson to not judge a book by a cover still holds true. As soon as you walk through the humble entryway, you are transported to an architectural gem where natural light reigns supreme and modern, Scandinavian design is beautiful executed. And that was just the design. The seven course tasting menu is high altitude focused and it honestly feels like you are eating the region while each course was accompanied by an infusion of sorts (think rock water, flower tea, and fermented apples). Personally, I have never felt more connected to the land. We got to camp outside of the ruins that night and it was one of our top 5 nights of the the trip so far. Pure magic.
La Paz, Bolivia
Gustu: When we discovered that the co-founder of Noma had a restaurant in La Paz, Bolivia we quickly hopped on wifi to get a reservation - we did not want a repeat of Central. Brazil, Argentina, and Peru are known as the culinary leaders in Latin America, but this gem is putting Bolivia on the map. It was an 18 course tasting menu paired with Bolivian wine and cocktails. The food was inventive, all locally sourced and strictly BOLIVIAN. This really simple raw carrot dishes actually stands out as one of my favorite bites. Nick’s was banana balsamic over fried hearts of palm and basil oil over mushroom ice-cream (sounds weird, but insanely good). The best part was the price. Bolivia is insanely inexpensive and this whole experience cost us ˜$100pp.
Mountains: The promise of Peru’s left surf breaks propelled my journey south, but it was actually her mountains that captivated both of us. We didn’t get to spend nearly enough time in the region, but we loved Parque Nacional Huascaran. We did multiple day treks and found some of the bluest lake water either of us had ever seen. As we continued south, we debated on how we wanted to approach the beloved Sacred Valley. Since Nick had already done a trek there, we opted for a 3 day excursion through a lesser known but equally stunning area, Colca Valley. The abundance of falcons and condors flying over our heads while we hiked down and up a 2k feet canyon was especially memorable. Last, but certainly not least, was our time in Sacred Valley. We hiked, we biked, did a ton of wild camping, and snuggled in very close at night because the temperature significantly dropped at the higher altitude. A word of advice: If Machu Picchu is on your *must do list, go soon. Very soon. They are closing down a lot of the walking areas given the impact tourism is having on the site. Also, starting this summer, you will only be able to enter with a guide. We heard rumors that in 1-2 years from now, they will start to charge up to $1000 per entry to deter the crowds and will be redirecting people to an archaeological site nearby they are preparing to open. Times, they are a changing.
Kite Surfing: Nick and I can officially kite surf on our own! We spent a week at a remote kite surfing school, Kangaroo Kite, in Paracus and honed our abilities. I really enjoyed a few more days with an instructor and now feel comfortable launching, getting up, going up wind, and landing the kite again (you could seriously hurt yourself or someone else if you don’t know what you are doing). Nick only needed help launching the kite from land for the first time and then he was off flying in the water on his own - he’ll be doing jumps in no time. We really enjoyed the crew working at this place and became fast friends. Since they were surfers too, we all decided to rent a boat, wake up at 5am, and go surf a secret local island point break SURROUNDED by sea lions. It was initially a little intimidating to jump in the water and have a very big sea friend pop up next to you, but they were harmless and even caught some waves with us. This was our likely our last surf until August and it was amazing to share it with such good people.
Experimentation: I’m so curious where your head went with that bullet point :) Nick and I have decided to experiment with a few month long tests to proactively push our boundaries and abilities. We are both pretty healthy eaters, but we had developed a few bad road habits we wanted to break. For example, any time we saw a bag of tropical skittles, we would buy it. Why? I don’t know. It started because they sounded really good after a long, crappy road day and the sugar rush brought us out of our slump. Then it kinda became this funny tradition. Any time we had really long days in the car, over 5 hours, we were allowed to split a bag. Well, over the course of 11 months, that was a lot of sugar to consume. So, we gave up sugar and most carbs for April. Why? Because we needed to make all of this 10x harder than it already is by bringing on even more work :) Our biggest struggle was breakfast. We both hate eggs for breakfast but the regimen included beans, eggs, and avocado for breakfast everyday. We give ourselves a B- on the experiment. We decided not to be rigid about it when we were in towns with fun restaurants but we stuck to it when we were out in the wild. We liked the introduction of more beans, lentils, and nuts into our daily life, but we didn’t like that food fell into these “good and bad”categories. I refuse to label mangos as unhealthy. I think we both significantly curbed our pull towards sugar and liked the overall awareness it brought towards what we put in our bodies. The month of May challenge - we have to create art everyday!
Trash: There have been two countries on this trip where the trash situation has literally made me cry, El Salvador and Peru. The coastline of Peru could rival parts of California, but instead, it’s littered with a copious amount of garbage and some parts are unbearable to spend time in. I broke one Sunday afternoon while we were camping with friends at a surf break. We had surfed the clear water all morning but took a break for lunch and to warm up again. When I went back out to check the waves the locals had arrived for their Sunday funday and the water was filled with discarded chip bags, popsicle wrappers, and the worst, styrofoam plates. I couldn’t believe it. My friend Liz and I ran back to camp to grab our gloves and a trash bag and went back to get to work. Initially, it kinda felt like we were publicly shaming people. Everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at us. It was uncomfortable and awkward, but it felt too important to stop. Then, something beautiful happened. Two locals walked up to us and thanked us for the work and brought pieces of trash to add to our bags. Then, a group of young kids joined in and asked us a lot of questions about why we were picking it up. It was a teaching moment. We tried to explain to them that the garbage that goes into the ocean goes into marine life’s bellies and either kills them or contaminates them. We all spent an hour together cleaning the area and by the end of it, the place actually felt clean again. The experience lit a fire in me and propelled us to organize an Overlanding Trash pick up day to coincide with Earth Day. We all declared we were #overtrash together and the community supported it in a really meaningful way. We ALL have to do our part. This part of the world needs a lot more education on the importance of recycling and not littering, but more importantly, the government needs to step in and provide infrastructure support. The trash goes on the ground or gets burned because there is no where else to put it.
Breaking Points: Nick and I have each had a day where life on the road just kinda broke us. Mine came first. The roads in Peru are rarely paved, meaning we have been traveling by dirt roads for a long time now. This also means that dirt has been everywhere, on everything, for a long time now. Every piece of dirt pissed me off that day - dirt crept into the kitchen drawer and coated all of our utensils, dirt was caked onto the outside of trailer and refused to come off, dirt was on my toothbrush, dirt was all over the floor mats of the car, dirt was under my nails, dirt was on my clothes, dirt was EVERYWHERE and I mildly (not so mildly) freaked out about it. Nick’s breaking point came when everything about the logistics of our day blew up in our face. A 2 hour drive turned into 5 because of the road conditions, the Bolivians refused to put gas in our car (this is apparently a thing) so we had to walk jerry cans back and forth to fill up, we got forced into a parking lot with no exit strategy and a trailer that made getting out a lot more difficult - especially when a line of cars is laying on their horns at you, and last but not least, the trailer connector got ripped off (probably from the 5 hour ride) and killed our tailer lights. On these days, it’s best to give each other some space, feel the feelings, and open a bottle of wine at the end of the day to toast that we made it through. We all have our off days, even on the road.
Singing: This goes in the bad category because our singing voices should never be celebrated. Nick and I have developed a beautifully strange, sometimes mildly passive aggressive, coping method to get through the less glamorous moments of this trip. We sing. We ruin perfectly good and well known songs by inserting absurd lyrics to either explain what we are doing or what we need to do. We do this A LOT. Like, 30% of our communication with one another is now in the form of a terribly improvised song.
Bike Wheels and Shotguns: When we get back to the states and meet up with you, order two whiskey’s and ask us to tell you the story about the bike wheel and shotguns. We promise, it’s better if we tell you in person, over a drink.
What Are We Reading?
I recently published a separate list here!
Dear Madame President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World by Jennifer Palmieri
"We think a woman shines brightest when she is selflessly putting others' interests above her own. It is more flattering than seeking her own spotlight."
"Woman are particularly uneasy with drawing fire. Which is too bad. Because nothing draws fire like a woman moving forward."
"People take their cue from you. That's it. If you act like you belong in the room, people will believe you do."
Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
"Men of lofty genius sometimes accomplish the most when they work the least...for their minds are occupied with their ideas and the perfection of their conceptions, to which they afterwards give form."
Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
Ï often imagine what humans could do if there were no scarcity. Nothing to fight over. Just an unending expanse to explore and name and fill with life and art. I smile at the pleasant fiction. A man can dream."
What Are We Listening To?
Peru is a BIG country. We have had a lot of driving time and have found some really good podcasts.
WorkLife with Adam Grant
We particularly enjoyed the "How to Love Criticism"and "Your Hidden Personality"
Christopher Kimball's Milk Street
This is a great food podcast, we learn something new every episode!
This is a series that follows 6 astronauts who lived in a dome on Hawaii for a year as part of a NASA study to understand the implications of sending humans to Mars. Stuck in a small space with someone for a prolonged period of time - this was a funny one for us.
Pod Save America
This is our go-to resource for staying up to date on the absurdity that is Washington DC right now.