Seafood and serious relaxation at Hotel Paracas, Peru
Words and photos by Nadia Ibanez
I’m a sucker for a great hotel. Yes, I love the outdoors and I loved roughing it on the Inca Trail. But sometimes a girl’s gotta check into a four-star hotel and lay in the bathtub for a full reset after a strenuous adventure. Our travel group saw so much in Peru. From Rainbow Mountain and Macchu Pichu to city living in Lima, our bodies and minds were exhausted. So when it came time to chilling out on the beach in Paracas for the two days before we all had to head back home, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for a stay at Hotel Paracas.
After a three-hour bus ride from Lima, we landed in Paracas, a small beach town offering all kinds of tours (more on that later), water sports, seafood, and R&R. While the rest of our group checked into a super rad hostel down the street, the girls and I checked into Hotel Paracas. We were still a bit early for our room so we ended up checking out the grounds and grabbing a drink to kill time.
And what a place to kill some time. The grounds were sprawling, the property was quiet, and everywhere you looked, you found a comfy spot to just sit and relax for a bit.
Once we were able to check into our room, I could not have asked for anything better. The room was enormous, my bed was perfect, the rainfall shower head was calling my name, and the patio was just waiting to be sat on. The hotel also offered free use of their kayaks and paddle boards, as well as a 30-minute catamaran ride, weather permitting. Had we had more time at the hotel, we definitely would have hit the water.
We weren’t able to spend too much time in our rooms before we went back to the hostel to meet up with everyone and share a meal and some drinks. Our friends were staying down the road at Kokopelli and their place was so fun. The hostel had its own pool, bar, hammocks, games, dogs, everything. If you’re in town and need a cheap place to stay, this place is it.
Dining at Hotel Paracas
I’m usually weary of hotel breakfasts because they can be so terrible, but the one at Hotel Paracas was stellar. We had our pick from fresh breads, local fruit, eggs, bacon, yogurt, charcuterie, granola, and so much more. There was even a gluten free section and an entire slab of honey comb on the brunch spread. We seriously could not stop eating and we loved every moment of it.
One of the best meals we had in Peru (and quite possibly the best ceviche I’ve had) was from one of the hotel’s restaurants, Chalana. Located just a short walk from the pool, the restaurant sits on the hotel’s boat dock in a beautiful outdoor space. Sans electricity and fuel, the restaurant specializes in cold dishes and uses seafood caught in the bay that day. The menu was small, yet mighty: ceviche, causa, chalacas (Peruvian steamed mussels), and tiraditos (Peruvian-style sashimi). We ordered one of everything.
The dishes were amazing. I’m usually not a mussels person, but Chalana’s were bright and briny. The tiraditos were perfect and I could have licked up the sauce if the girls would have let me. The causas were packed full of flavor. And the ceviche…I’ve never tasted anything so fresh. The colors, the smell of the water, the sunshine…it all worked together to make for a wonderful lunch.
Our stay at Hotel Paracas was perfect and I made sure to make time for a dip in the tub. I just wish we had one more time to lounge around the pool. For more information, visit http://www.hotelparacasresort.com/.
Agradecido: How the Inca Trail showed me my true inner strength
Words by Nadia Ibanez, photos by Alaina Hower, Romina Rossel and Nadia Ibanez
Editor’s note: The times of day, our wake up calls, distances, anything number related. These numbers might be slightly off because I was likely delirious with bliss and pain on the Inca Trail and also because I’m really bad at numbers. My apologies, I’ll let my travel mates let me know if I miss anything 🙂
Spoiler alert: If you have not seen the finale of “The Great British Baking Show” Season 3, please scroll down few paragraphs until I tell you to stop. I know, a British baking show is a tall order, but I figured I’d offer the spoiler alert so that I don’t get my first piece of hate mail 🙂
“I am never ever going to put boundaries on myself ever again.
I’m never going to say, ‘I can’t do it.’ I’m never going to say ‘Maybe.’
I’m never going to say, ‘I don’t think I can.’
I can. And I will.”
These were the words that home chef, Nadiya, said after winning Season 3 of “The Great British Baking Show.” My roommate got me hooked on the show and just a couple days before I left for Peru, I realized I never watched the last 45 minutes of the season finale. I was giving my brain and body a rest before leaving for the trip so I turned the episode on…not realizing it would leave me bawling at the end.
When I heard this contestant say these words, I couldn’t help but put myself in her footsteps. And it wasn’t just because we shared the same name. Feeling like an underdog and having to prove herself (in a group of men, no less), Nadiya had a certain attitude and prowess I started to see within myself.
These words were haunting me because I knew I was about to embark on not only an amazing vacation, but the hardest thing I was ever about to do.
OK, THE COAST IS CLEAR! SPOILER ALERT OVER.
When Romina asked if I would be interested in hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I said yes without even thinking about it. She mentioned words like “long trail” and “camping” and “trek”. I still instantly said yes. I had an approximate idea of what the trip would be: Hike and camp for a couple days. Be out in the middle of nowhere. Altitude.
No joke, you guys. I’m not going to lie. This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
As I’ve grown as a traveler, I’ve found this weird new habit of deciding to go to a new place or check out a new thing without doing a lick of research. I love the surprise of just showing up somewhere and having no preconceived notion of what that thing would look like. I did it once before when my man took me to Gas Works Park in Seattle and I have loved that moment of awe ever since.
I knew the Inca Trail was going to be insane. Yet, I continued this habit of doing zero research…other than what to pack. I knew I was about to walk — a lot. And I figured that I knew my body enough to understand that it was possible to do this trek. I work out pretty much every day. I’m fit and I can walk long distances without a problem. It sounded like I had all of the prerequisites to do this trip.
I didn’t know anything. No clue how many miles we would do everyday. No idea about the change in altitude or how to treat it. (I ended up getting some meds from my doctor, and hallelujah that worked out.) I had no idea what I’d see and I didn’t mind keeping it that way.
We acclimated in Cusco, approximately 11,100 ft. in elevation, for two days before we left for the Inca Trail. The night before, we met with our guide, Clima, to get a brief on what to expect each day and how to prepare. He named off historical places we’d see, the slowness of what our pace should be when we started Day Two, what we needed to pack, and so much more.
All I kept thinking about was how crazy day two was supposed to be. It would be the hardest day but the shortest distance. We’d have to climb something called Dead Woman’s Pass with a peak of 13,800 ft. What the eff did I just get myself into?
Alas, I played it cool in front of everyone. I even remember telling my boyfriend the night before on the phone, “Oh, I feel so much better now knowing what I’m getting myself into!”
We woke up around 3:30 or 4 a.m. to catch our two or three-hour ride to Kilometer 82 in Piscacucho (9,200 ft. above sea level), the start of our trek. Clima started us off on the trail, teaching us the medicinal values of a few of the plants we’d pass along the way. We were a group of seven friends with one trekker who was dealing with food poisoning from the night before and another who was still nursing a neck injury from a surfing accident. Clima called us the Sexy Llamas but really we should have been the Sexy Tortugas (turtles) because we just needed some extra time. Clima probably thought we’d be hopeless and take forever to everrrything.
We started day one and it was hot. We must have been in the desert, or at least that’s what it felt like to me. We were baking and my altitude pills said I couldn’t be in direct sunlight. Grrreat. We made it to our first stopping point after what Clima said would be a five minute hiking sample of what the insanity of day two would look like.
Good lord, these hills do not love you. They want to break you down so much so that you can feel every muscle fiber light on fire. It burned and day two was starting to sound even more nuts. After a few more hours of hiking and Learning Corner with Clima, we made it to our lovely campsite alongside the Urubamba River.
The food on the trek was unbelievable. Sure, our blood sugar levels were probably through the roof when it came to meal time everyday so anything would have tasted delicious. But our chef, Florenzio, was fantastic. We had some of the best guacamole, grilled fish, lomo saltado, fresh vegetables and salads, the most amazing popcorn, and hearty soups. Each meal was like sitting down for a private three-course meal from a fancy Peruvian restaurant in our own little tent. One of our porters even took it upon himself to sculpt animals out of food for all of our meals.
I will forever be grateful to our porters on this trip. They took care of us in every way we needed, from serving Romina and I Chicha Morada when we’ve had enough of the trail to preparing warm water for us to wash our hands before meals when it was freezing out. While we had a bit of a language barrier, we made friends with each other. I called them my “novios más fuerte” and I will always remember you all.
Washingtón, descansa en paz.
The start of day two was hours away. I popped a sleeping pill, since we had an early wake up call, and fell asleep underneath the stars and to the sounds of the river.
The entirety of day two was a bit blurry. We were to hike up to “Dead Woman’s Pass” (because the shape of the mountains resembled a woman, not because it’s named after a horrendous incident). Clima warned us again to take the trek very slowly. I took the tiniest of steps as we started approaching the peak of the Pass. I could barely breathe. I would take a few steps and instantly have to stop because I felt my heart pounding unlike I’ve ever felt before. Nonetheless, I was determined to finish and I kept telling myself, “The more steps you take, the closer you will be to the peak. Just get there. You are stronger than you think you are.”
The scenery on day two was amazing. We passed through the tundra, mountain ranges, the forest, and up into the clouds.
That entire morning, I kept hearing
I’m never going to say, ‘I can’t do it.’ I’m never going to say ‘Maybe.’
I knew that my body was capable of getting to the peak. I realized that I’ve proven myself to my actual self and I started to cry. The closer I got to the peak, the more emotional I was getting. My breathing was becoming even harder and I knew that if I didn’t keep my cool until reaching the peak, I’d have way more problems breathing.
Finally. We made it to the highest point of our four-day trek. Clima gave us all hugs and congratulated us. We took a group photo at the top and everyone started to head down the crazy steep exit. Clima said I had three minutes until we all needed to get down. Apparently, your body can only handle a few minutes in that altitude. I climbed up a small hill (the breast of Dead Woman’s Pass, if you will) and sat for a moment.
“You did it. You f*cking did it. You made it. You are so strong,” I remember telling myself.
I started to cry — like full-on bawling. I couldn’t control it. I was so happy and felt an emotion I don’t think I’ve ever experienced. I had just accomplished something that seemed so unattainable. I will never forget that moment.
The insanity of day two wasn’t over. We still had to hike down some treacherous steps for a few hours to get to base camp. But we all survived and celebrated. Camp was in the middle of the most amazing mountain range and we arrived with enough time to watch the sunset. We even had our own stream alongside our tents for us to fall asleep to. It was mystical and magical.
Day three was definitely the most beautiful day of the trek. We climbed through mountainsides, the valley, clouds and jungle. We walked through tunnels and hugged the mountainside when the trail narrowed only to show off the massive and dramatic cliffs and drop offs just inches from our feet. Day three was the longest but somehow we didn’t notice because we were surrounded by beauty 100 percent of the time. We learned about the Phuyupatamarka ruins, the indigenous Andean religion, and the symbolism behind the native lands and animals.
We continued crossing through the jungle that seemed to closely resemble the movie Tarzan and I watched and listened as the birds and butterflies flew around us. We could see Aguas Calientes below us, a small town near Machu Picchu and the absolute finish line of our trek and where we’d say goodbye to Clima.
After hours on the trail, we made it to base camp. We shared our last meal with Clima and our porters. I think we all lavished in the idea that day four was going to be a breeze and that we’d end up at Machu Picchu by 8 a.m. the next day.
Our wake up call on day four was around 3:30 a.m. We started the trek when it was still dark out and we passed through the clouds and vines as the sun started to rise. It was such a magical experience and I took a few breaks to just sit and listen. We finally approached the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu. Unfortunately the clouds didn’t have enough time to burn off by the time we passed so we didn’t get a clear shot of the ruins.
Clima gave us a tour of the grounds and taught us the significance of the stones, how the ruins were discovered, how the sun and moon played a role in how people used to live in Machu Picchu and SO much more. We had our own time to roam before eventually making our way to the bus out of the ruins to start the next leg of our adventure.
I wish I had all the words to say about the four days we spent on the trail. Knowing that only 500 people (with only 200 as fellow trekkers) are allowed on the trail on any given day, June 27-June 30, 2017 will always have a special place in my heart.
Pachamama, te recordaré. Siempre estoy agradecido.
And for all of you numbers people out there… (Thanks to Alaina’s Fitbit)
Puff, Pass & Pastry at Cannabis Creative: Integrating cannabis into cooking classes and beyond
Words and photos by Nadia Ibanez
Work and life has been pretty insane lately. I’ve had to use the critical thinking and logical part of my brain heavily for the last few weeks at work and I’ve found myself mentally exhausted each evening. My workout routine has amped up and I love it, but I’ve found myself looking for more creative hobbies to mellow out my brain and body.
Cannabis has become a huge part in my effort to find the creative side of my brain again. I’ll find an uplifting and creativity-inducing strain and take a long walk in the park, re-organize my room, color, paint, or watch a movie. I’ve always been a creative and imaginative person and cannabis has really helped the functions of the right side of my brain shine through again.
Enter Puff, Pass & Pastry. My love for baking, eating, and weed all in one room? And with like-minded people who also think it’s OK to smoke a little before starting a new creative project?! YES, please.
The Puff, Pass & Pastry event is an off-shoot of Puff, Pass & Paint, a Denver, CO-based company specializing in offering pottery, painting, and culinary classes in a cannabis-friendly environment. Local edibles chef Sallie B of Slim’s Baked Goodies lead us through a 2.5 hour class as we learned the basics of cannabutter and how to integrate medicated oils into everyday cooking.
The class was held at Cannabis Creative in West Oakland at a super rad warehouse in the middle of an emerging neighborhood. Upon walking in, we were greeted by the owners who handed us mimosas, a vape pen presented by Alchemy, and a sweet little joint rolled by one of the lady bosses.
The work room was covered in art from previous Puff, Pass & Paint classes, bright murals, plants, and other adorable accessories. If I had my own creative studio, I’m pretty sure it would be identical to this place. (If you guys make it to the studio, ask about the baby pineapple they’re growing!)
We had some time before class to settle in while all of the students arrived. We sampled all kinds of vape pens and drank mimosas while a FAT joint was passed around. The energy was festive and silly; everyone was in the mood to learn and create.
Chef Sallie told us a bit about her story before diving into the basics of cooking with cannabis. We nibbled on some brunch items she had already prepared before we made our own stuffed French Toast infused with cannabis. The food was awesome, the conversation with everyone at the table was engaging, and I was already thinking about when I’d come again for another class.
Oakland Cannabis Creative and the Puff, Pass folks have definitely helped to shift the way I think about cannabis and its integration into everyday life. I’m still a pretty new smoker, but I’m so happy that the Bay Area is able to offer events like this one.
Chambers eat + drink: Perfect for rainy day dining and nighttime indulging
Words and photos by Nadia Ibanez
It’s taken me nearly two years, but I think I’ve finally found peace with the amount of rain in SF. Growing up in San Diego, we barely ever got rain. Now that I’ve accepted the fact that SF literally gets flooded every winter, I’ve found ways to embrace it. I recently spent an evening at Chambers eat + drink at the Phoenix Hotel and found that it was a perfect place to enjoy cocktails, a meal, and watch the rain.
Located in the Tenderloin, Chambers has always been one of those spots where the cool kids go for drinks and to be seen. But it’s also a place where you’d see a bunch of suited men sitting around a long table talking shop. And by far, you’re going to see A LOT of woo girls posting up in front of the “Be Amazing” sign at the back bar.
Equally as popular as Chambers is the neighboring Phoenix Hotel, in which it shares patio space. On a SF summer day, you might see guests taking a dip in the pool or lounging outside during a guest DJ set. But during winter, grab a seat by the windows and enjoy the show – both inside and outside of the restaurant. Rows upon rows of vinyl line the walls of Chambers, which would put any local record store to shame, and there are nooks all over the place to cozy up with friends.
We started our meal with a couple cocktails. Start with the Chambers 75, a flute of gin, champagne and elderflower – all of the best things a cocktail could ask for. My man is a whiskey drinker and I always go for gin so the cocktail menu appealed to both of us. Go for the Midnight Rambler with whiskey, scotch “essence,” and rhubarb bitters, or the Harlem Shuffle with lemon-infused gin, lime juice, agave, and a malbec float. Or, you can tell your server what you’re in the mood for and they’ll whip something up for you.
Whether you’re visiting for dinner or just a couple small bites before you continue your night, the food menu is definitely worth checking out. We tried the Brussel Sprout Salad with herbed goat cheese, spiced walnuts, Asian pear, and arugula, which paired nicely with the Confit Octopus served with chorizo, butter beans, and olives. If you’re one for different textures in all of your bites, these starters are perfect. Other options include items like Sizzling Kobe Tri-Tip, Tuna Tartare, and Pan Seared Foie Gras if you feel like indulging.
If you stick around for dinner, the Short Rib and Pork Chop are winners and are both served with complementary vegetables and starches. And to round out the evening, we finished the meal with a Chocolate Pâté served with a matcha whip cream, berries and pistachios. The meal was totally decadent but we didn’t feel weighed down by the meal.
The attention to detail and service at Chambers is striking. Along with the cordial hellos and niceties, our server and her helpers took note of my man’s left handedness and actually paid attention to how they were dropping off utensils or serving cocktails. It’s the little things like this that make for fantastic service.
Homestead in Oakland offers an ever-changing Sunday Supper that’ll blow your mind
Words and photos by Nadia Ibanez
One of my new favorite things to do while dining out is finding a restaurant that specializes in one dish on their menu. From Mac and Cheese restaurants in SF to an amazing Chicken Rice spot in Portland, when a place does one thing, you can almost guaranteed that it’s near perfection. I recently found a spot off Piedmont that is doing its own thing when it comes to the idea of one dish to perfection. Each week, Homestead in Oakland offers a Sunday Supper where guests sit down for a three-course meal at the whimsy of the chef.
Homestead serves up seasonal items on their ever-changing menu – seriously, the menu changes so quickly that you might need to drop by every few weeks to try it all. Their farm-to-table approach is fancy, minus all of the pretentiousness you’ll experience at other places. Owners Fred and Elizabeth Sassen have some serious culinary guns to show off and you can absolutely see and taste their passion.
Upon entering Homestead, you’ll be greeted with repurposed antique furniture, chillies drying in the windows, and a huge open kitchen where you see, smell and hear everything. The drink menu is sizable and includes French and Italian wines, as well as beers and ciders from across the country.
The Sunday Supper prix fixe menu changes every week and is determined by the season or a specific theme. Homestead also collaborates with wine growers and local beer makers for special collaboration dinners so be on the lookout for special events. The restaurant was celebrating Oktoberfest the night we came by and we couldn’t have picked a better evening.
We started our meal with a Parsnip & Apple Salad and it was freaking delicious. Chicories, pomegranate, walnuts and fiscalini cheddar helped round out the seasonal salad. The main attraction was a Pork Schnitzel, served with herbed spaetzel, house-made sauerkraut, pretzel rolls, and brussel sprouts. The spaetzle was perfectly tender, the pork was incredibly juicy, and the sides all worked together to create a perfect plate. We ended our meal with an amazing Chocolate Cake drizzled with a stout caramel sauce and sprinkled with caramel corn.
We nearly licked our plates clean. The chef must have taken notice because he brought over a second serving when he saw us fumbling and fighting over crumbs. Seriously, the meal and the whole dining experience at Homestead was one of the best I’ve had in the Bay. We’re definitely coming back.
While Homestead doesn’t technically offer just one thing on the menu at all times, the idea of offering one thing each Sunday night to absolute perfection is this restaurant’s strong suit. Homestead takes pride in the dishes it does well, the prevailing ingredients for the season, and it’s amazing attention to service and ambiance. For more information, visit http://homesteadoakland.com.