Thursday we moved into bigger room at lovely Los Torres de Ugarte; their two Tortoises followed our transition with interest. I gave the boys their homework assignments (Aleks online math, Duolingo spanish and journaling) while Sue and I went for a leisurely exploration of the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, a walled village full of cloisters & cocinas, painted in beautiful azures rojos and blancas. Santa Catalina is chock-full of gardens, history, furniture and artwork, but for us the appeal is the spartan brawn of buildings built to withstand earthquakes and time. We’re fortunate to catch a local symphony rehearsing in the chapel: music wafting into the adjacent courtyards enhanced the ambiance of our photo-tour. We were glad we’d left the boys behind.
Gathering them up we wander down to the market for another photo-fest. Downstairs are produce, cheeses, fish, meats, pet supplies. First floor: restaurants and clothing. Second floor: guinea pigs and unhealthy looking chicks.
Next it’s Museo Santuarios Andinos, which houses Juanita the ‘Ice Maiden’ mummy, a 12yr old virgin sacrificed atop nearby Nevado Ampato about 570 years ago. The museum includes a brief video documenting her discovery and the archeological race to exhume related treasures ahead of inevitable looters. Juanita’s discovery was accelerated by a volcanic eruption that melted glacial ice, but as climate change progresses and glaciers recede, I expect similar archaeological races are on world-wide. The museum also had a good relief map of Colca Canyon, so helps me explain our newly booked tour to the family.
Friday morning I get a message from the Rafting outfitter that the water level is down. Sue and the boys aren’t up for it but I am, so after breakfast and some blogging I get picked up at 11AM by our outfitter and we make the rounds gathering other clients before driving down to their office for wetsuits, helmets, paddles and rafts. It’s a short drive to the Rio Chile put-in; I’m clearly the geezer of the 20-something group, but I’m also the only one with whitewater kayak experience so I get a spot in the lead raft with Italo, the jaunty trip leader.
We’re first on The Chili and it is… this is a swift river squeezed by a sillar gorge and pimpled with boulders. Our little raft bounces through a number of Class III+ rapids like “pinball”, “headache” and “Mother in Law” (she’s a bitch). The water isn’t big like the Zambezi, but it’s non-stop and the small rafts make the waves and boulders feel bigger than they are. We have a great time squeezing through rapids and into eddies for an hour. The take out and return are just as easy and by 2PM I’m back at Los Torres del Ugarte learning about my family’s afternoon adventures at the llama place.
Sue booked a chocolate class for Thursday afternoon, so by 245 we’re with 5 others at Chaqchao Chocolate‘s upstairs chocolate bar facing Adrian, an energetic Le Cordon Bleu-trained chocolate chef. Adrian has a flair for the dramatic so starts the lesson by scattering a bin of beans across the large granite bar top. We learn some chocolate history (it’s native to these equatorial Andes – not Mexico), and quickly get into the making of this black bliss.
Chocolate is a fruit (?!?). Their ridged pods look like pint-sized Tom Brady footballs… a bit deflated. Inside are milky balls surrounding seeds… it is these we seek, but not until they have fermented in their own juices for a bit. Once fermented the chocolate seeds are set out to sun dry; dried chocolate seeds can be stored for 4 years without any degradation in quality or flavor. We separated the skins by hand but this is better done by mechanical sifters and pressurized air. We then ground the seeds into a thick paste using a mortar bowl, a pestle and a lot of elbow grease. Modern machines do a better job, but it cannot be hurried… it takes 4 days to mechanically grind good chocolate seeds into a creamy paste. This is then pressed to separate chocolates two key ingredients: white chocolate butter and dark mass. Our obsession is with the dark matter, but it turns out the chocolate butter is more precious.
To these two ingredients we add only unrefined sugar to make Dark Chocolate, and also powdered milk to make Milk Chocolate. Adrian tells us these are the only legitimate ingredients in real chocolate – anything else disqualifies the delight. But the ratios are also important… true chocolate must have at no less than 23% chocolate mass and 10% chocolate butter; the rest is sugar and – in the case of milk chocolate – powdered milk. Dark chocolate must have at least 40% mass (no milk); the mix I liked best was dark chocolate with 70% mass, 10% butter and 20% sugar.
After making the mix and some more politically-charged pontification on modern chocolate history (Hershey’s is fake chocolate, Belgians have the best dark choc, Swiss the best milk choc, the French got in the game late with pralines…), we moved downstairs to their small chocolate processing center where we each donned aprons, hair nets and 12-trough bon-bon trays; these we filled with pinches of almonds or peanuts or brazil nuts or dried banana or raisin or quinoa or salt or chili or coffee beans or…. While these cooled and the boys licked bowls, Adrian explained that chocolate must be tempered to create smooth crystalline structure by cooling, warming and again cooling the mix (that’s why your once-melted chocolate bar looks so sad – it lost its temper). A few minutes later we retrieved our chilled edible souvenirs… and Max sneaked off to buy Ben a few extra white chocolate bars for his birthday tomorrow.
We let their coupons, legit pizza oven and the promise of artisan beer lure us into the adjacent La Gringa pizza parlor. The brick barrel-vaulted room has a day-of-the-dead feel, with a technicolor skull grinning a greeting from one wall. After dinner Sue and I sent boys home for game time while we set out to stroll to take in the beginnings of Semana Santa. The Plaza de Armas and surrounding streets swarmed with the devout and the decadent… as we shopped for Ben’s birthday one mall pulsed with over-amplified rappers accompanying male models strutting their strip. It was a pleasant walkabout and we bagged some birthday loot; I spend the late hours packing clothes and wrapping presents for Ben’s big 13th and our tour of the Colca Canyon.