Friday, April 4, 2014

Bienvenidos a Ica, Peru!

My friends and I decided to book a day trip to Ica, a small city four hours away known for pisco brandy vineyards and sand-surfing. I was nervous about sand-surfing (I can't do sports) and super excited to see my first vineyard. The bus ride there was superb, almost first class compared to Greyhound back home. We got spacious full reclining seats, pillows & blankets, a decent meal with coffee, and a good film.

Ica is in the middle of the desert rich with indigenous culture and tradition. It's very dry, incredibly flat and surrounded by gorgeous mountains. It felt like a place where time stood still. Our first vineyard, Bodegas Vista Alegre, was like a beautiful Spanish hacienda and was founded in the mid 1850s and is still run by the same family to this day.


copper pot still or alembic, part of the pisco distillation process

 After a couple pisco tours we went for a lunch feast at El Catador restaurant. My friend Isabel ordered a braised beef dish that looked sooo good, I almost broke my no meat rule. I did pick at her beans and noodles, which were fantastic. I couldn't get enough of the cebiche; it's the perfect balance between sour and spicy and super healthy. And it always came with canchas, a special type of popcorn made from an Andean corn variety called chulpe. It's salty crunchy on the outside and popcorny on the inside and went really well with beer.

Our final vineyard, Tres Generaciones, was really fantastic because it uses very old distilling techniques. The distillery is mainly used by local producers who create small quantities of wine or pisco.

where grapes get crushed
where the juice gets filtered through and the skins left behind
ceramic pilars where wine gets stored for aging
the condenser coil, part of the pisco distillation process
where pisco gets stored for aging

Several tasting shots later, we were off to the Las Dunas for some sand-surfing. Thank God I had a nice pisco buzz going on. I had no idea how insane the sand buggy ride would be.

The sand buggy was equipped with seat belts that resembled upside-down roller coaster harnesses... why I wondered. I was already nervous because I suck at sports, so this didn't help. Our driver raced off to the dunes and took us on the scariest ride ever! We went up and down these massive sand dunes at full speed with an old rickety engine spitting oil and steam, while we lifted off our seats. I was so terrified and just imagined our buggy tipping over and us rolling around in the sand.

To my relief the sand-surfing we did was nothing like real surfing. Instead, we laid across our boards on our stomachs and sled down head first. Our first dune (pictured here) was so high and so steep, I chickened out. Once upon a time I used to be fearless and would have loved this, so I was kind of annoyed by my inner wuss. With the help of my friend I mustered up the courage to sled down and it was really, really fun.


After the dunes, we headed back to Lima and flew out the following day. I had such a great time and wanted to say thanks Ica for the good times and to my girlfriends for making Peru so memorable. 
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