In tonight's Places 2 Check Out, I take you to a Peruvian restaurant and also tell you a little bit about my trip to Peru.
In a mall that's losing its zest for life because of the Moana Lane widening project, sits a restaurant full of life and spice.
El Tumi is a Peruvian restaurant in the heart of Reno. And if you don't think of Peru as a culinary capital, it's only because you've never tasted the cuisine that is inspired by thousands of years of immigrants. "Peruvian food is a combination of food from Spain, West Africa, Japan, Italy. We have a lot of varieties of food over there, ya."
Raul was just five years old when his mom and dad left him and his sister in Lima, Peru with his grandmother to move to the United States. It took years for the family to be reunited in Reno. "They left when I was around five. So then we meet again when I was 12."
The years apart were tough on Raul's mom, Susana. So when her son and daughter asked her to make Peruvian food and sell it to friends and family to raise money so they could go to a concert in Las Vegas - she agreed. The sales picked up even after the tickets were purchased.
And that's how the idea of a restaurant was born.
And now we can all taste the delicacies of Peru. Fire literally sears the meat, peppers and tomatoes on lomo saltados.
While across the kitchen, lemon juice silently cooks the fish marinated in Peruvian chili, garlic, ginger and other spices. The ceviche is probably the best known Peruvian dish.
And the causa criolla has peas, carrots, corn and chicken blended with homemade mayonnaise and stuffed between two mashed potato cakes.
And while guinnea pig is on the menu everywhere in Peru. (Yes, I ordered it.) You won't find it at El Tumi which doesn't bother me a bit.
But I was happy to see chi cha morada - the non-alcoholic version of corn beer.
El Tumi definitely gives you an authentic taste of Peru. And that's coming from someone who just got back.
El Tumi is located on Moana Lane in Reno just west of where it crosses Kietzke Lane.
I remember sitting in Mrs. Hedges' 4th grade class and hearing Lake Titicaca for the first time. Titicaca is a funny word at any age, but especially when you're 10 years old sitting in a co-ed classroom full of kids who would get in trouble for saying either half of that word at home.
Finally, when the laughter wore off, the teacher continued her talk on Peru and moved onto a mystical place called Machu Picchu. She told us how the Inca Indians built this beautiful city high up in the Andes Mountains. The granite stones were perfectly cut and linked together in a way no modern architect can figure. They survived partly on food grown on dozens of terraces. The spring water tumbled down the hillsides through a maze of intricate waterways carved out of stone. And what amazed me most, was the temple where the sun shone precisely through a window during the Summer Solstice and precisely through an opposing window during the Winter Solstice. Think Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark.
The Incas built Machu Picchu, thrived there and vanished from that mountaintop city all in a 100 year span. How did they built it? Where did they go? Why did they leave? No one knows for sure. The Incas didn't have a written language.
Since that classroom lesson in 1982, Machu Picchu has been on my bucket list. So, on September 1st 2011, myself, my husband and 14 of our greatest friends hopped on a plane to Peru and began the journey of a lifetime.
We hooked up with a company called Bio Bio Expeditions World Wide. They are an amazingly local company out of Truckee, CA. Our first adventure was horseback riding through ruins right above Cusco. Ruins are everywhere in Peru. They all have ancient stories and give us a better understanding of the incredible Inca culture. The second day we mountain biked on ridge top single track, through small villages, even around herds of sheep causing a traffic jam.
We also toured a gigantic hole in the ground which was an agricultural laboratory where the Incas tested crops at different elevations. We had a gourmet picnic lunch overlooking glaciers 20,000 feet in the air. We ended this day in the Sacred Valley and prepared to pare down our clothes to just a few pounds.
Porters will carry all of our things. Several years ago, the Peruvian government made the use of porters mandatory and they are only allowed to carry 50 pounds. On a sunny warm day we set out on a four day hike on the Inca trail.
My fourth grade dream was finally being realized at age 40!
The trail has a little bit of everything. It's hamstring burning steep. It's ankle rolling rocky. Its beauty makes you gasp. And its altitude (14,000 ft) leaves you breathless.
It is a physical challenge as much as it is a spiritual pilgrimage. It's like being on a StairMaster for four hours straight. But along the way, you're energized by seeing the tiniest orchids in the world. Hearing the jungle come to life with a cacophony of frogs. And knowing the gourmet meals made by our porters on the trail will be served in our big orange tent.
Perfectly rugged. Surprisingly luxurious. And then, after hiking 26 miles you come to the sun gate and finally, finally rest your eyes on Machu Picchu. I've studied the beauty of it in books and pictures for decades. But nothing can compare with seeing it for yourself.
Our trail guides, Piero, Jose, Reuben and Jairo got us there in the late afternoon so no one else was there. During the day, 2,500 people are crawling all over it like ants on a sun baked candy bar. But during this magical hour, it was just us - 16 friends who crossed over to the southern hemisphere to catch our glimpse of one of the world's wonders. A group who had laughed and joked and chatted the entire stretch of the Inca trail was left speechles on this mountain perch.
Now that I'm back at work, my hectic daily routine tapped into once again, I catch myself daydreaming of the Inca trail and the magic of Machu Picchu. And then my phone rings. It's my daughter, Eva, asking me, "Mom, what's your next dream?"