Travel: Cusco, Peru (Plaza de Armas, Sacsayhuaman)


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I’m so excited to share the incredible experience Sean and I had travelling around South America this August. He’d been working in Chile and Argentina for a couple of years now, and it was the first time I’d flown nearly 40 hours each way to see him. It’s always been a dream to experience Latin America! It had always struck me as a place with so much diversity, colour, warmth and fascinating cultures. We visited Peru, Ecuador and Brazil over three weeks. And I’ll be sharing about all that in the coming posts.

But first, let’s start in Peru.

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Plaza de Armas

Sitting at an elevation of 3,400m, Cusco (or Cuzco) is arguably the historical crown jewel of Peru. It was once the capital of the ancient Inca civilisation and is known today for its mind-boggling archaeological ruins and traditional Spanish architecture.

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Lima felt a lot more like the financial heart of Peru (more on that in another post!), but I thought it was Cusco that revealed its true soul.

From children with colourful wide-brimmed hats playing in the narrow cobblestone alleys of Plaza de Armas, to old shophouses spruced up with merry flags dancing in the wind. Cusco felt like it was awash in a constant buzz of activity.

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We ran into a traffic-stopping strike of hundreds of teachers armed with huge hastily painted banners and megaphones, and tour agencies and souvenir shop owners touting in halting English to passing tourists. I loved everything about it. It had a kind of life I’ve never quite experienced in any other city.

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A seamless blend of the crumbling ancient and the spanking new, cool winds frolicked with the warm sun, the impatient swearing drivers of rumbling vehicles stalled alongside passersby taking life languid and slow. The people had fire in their bellies, but yet were always laid back and polite.

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Following the advice of many locals, Sean decided to take the plunge and try Peru’s most iconic dish – Cuy (pronounced kwee). Yes, Peruvians love their guinea pigs. I’m generally game to try anything. But this I couldn’t stomach because I actually have a pet guinea pig at home and it was just impossible to do it without feeling like I let him down.

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Travel: Day Trip to Basel, Switzerland


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It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is.

– Erasmus

Basel is definitely, in my humble opinion, one of the most underrated cities in Europe. People don’t generally rave about Basel, but most know that it’s located in northwestern Switzerland on the river Rhine. It’s really a city bursting with an incredible amount of life, beautiful cathedrals and fine museums. It’s also famed as the city where humanist thinker Erasmus left his legacy.

Before we get into the highlights of the city centre itself, I’d like to recommed taking a little tour off the beaten path to hunt down a little historical gem tucked away in a small town just 20 minutes’ train ride away from Basel’s main railway station, Bahnhof Basel SSB.

Augusta Raurica

The ancient ruins of the oldest Roman amphitheatre on the Rhine makes for a spectacular picnic spot and a wonderful morning stroll.

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I was lucky enough to visit at a time with blue skies and plenty of sunshine, and it was so obscure that there were only a group of three other visitors there.

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When they left, I had the whole place to myself, soaking up the peaceful sound of birds chirping, the gorgeous view and half imagining i’d returned to 44BC (yes, it’s that old)  to the time of Julius Caesar when a Roman colony thrived there.

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Recipe: Tibetan Buffalo Momos & Tomato Chutney with Yangchen


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One of the highlights of my trip to Nepal has got to be spending an afternoon with Yangchen in her home in Pokhara. We chatted about everything under the sun while making traditional Tibetan Momos or dumplings together. There was just something about her presence that was so calm and peaceful that made the experience truly unforgettable.

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Yangchen comes from Tibet and lives with her husband and 5-year-old son in Tashi Ling Refugee Camp. After the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1950,  there was an influx of over 60,000 Tibetan refugees into Nepal. There are officially 12 settlement camps in the country, 4 of which can be found in Pokhara.

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It was a windy day and the sky was somewhat downcast. But the merry prayer flags dancing in the breeze and the sight of the colourful painted homes brought cheer into my heart. Especially so, when Yang Chen welcomed me in her apron with a generous, warm smile. She’d already prepared for our little cooking session!

Here’s what you’ll need to make delicious Momos:

Ingredients

3 Onions
2 Potatoes
1 Carrot
1 Cucumber (grated)
handful Cherry Tomatoes (sliced)
Flour and Water (mix to form dough)
3 long beans (chopped)
1/2 radish (grated)

We began by mixing flour and water to form a firm, sticky dough.

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Knives at the ready, it was time to get chopping! The tomatoes will go into the chutney, while the rest of the veggies will end up as filling for our vegetable Momos.

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After that, it was time to mince the buffalo meat. These are a Nepali staple and can be easily found in the local markets. It tastes a lot like beef, but is slightly tougher and a little more game-y. Do be sure to try it when in Nepal! They’re often served with noodles as well.

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Then came the fun part. Learning how to stuff and fold the Momos.

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Musings: North Korea – The Method to its Madness


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claps with military officers at the Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in an unknown location in North Korea

The media is often portrays North Korea as a mind-boggling rogue state, led by a maniacal trigger-happy dictator who acts on complete whim and fancy. But don’t be fooled. Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions are not the pursuit of a madman. In fact, if we dig deeper into the tensions on the Korean peninsula and the motivations of all the parties involved, it will all start to make sense.

Let’s start with North Korea. Former US Defense Secretary William Perry says the North’s priorities can be distilled into three simple goals:

1) To maintain the stability of its regime
2) To gain international recognition
3) To improve its economy

Now take a look at its current situation. One, it’s an isolated authoritarian state shunned by the international community for various reasons, including crimes against humanity. Two, it faces ongoing tensions with its neighbour in the South and military threats from the US. Three, it’s claimed to have successfully tested a miniature hydrogen bomb that can be loaded onto its newly developed ICBMs.

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Given the progress it’s made so far with its nuclear technology, why would it stop? It’s effectively the only deterrent it has against external threats.

Not surprisingly, Kim has taken nuclear weapons off the negotiating table. He knows his ability to wreak nuclear havoc at the push of a button is what is keeping the international community on its toes. Deplorable, no doubt. But fair game given the country’s current situation. It’s the extreme means with which he’s hoping to achieve his goals for the nation.

Then, let’s explore the motivations behind the other parties involved. Obviously, the US is feeling the heat, with the ICBMs pointed in their direction. North Korea now poses more than just an ideological threat. But talking tough and stepping up military drills with South Korea just isn’t going to solve the problem. It’s still hell-bent on getting the North to denuclearise. But it has to accept that it makes no sense for Pyongyang to back down on its nuclear plans now, given how much it’s invested in it (on top of the lives of millions of citizens).

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Instead, it has to re-examine North Korea’s goals for itself. Nuclear weapons are a means to an end. Not the end itself. Negotiations thus have to take into serious consideration the ability to help North Korea grow its economy, allowing it (however grudgingly) to maintain its toxic regime and ultimately giving it some recognition on the world stage. This would take time, and many concessions on the part of the US, but it may produce more effective results than a zero sum stockpiling of weapons.

How about China? Why does it have its finger in the pie?

Here’s a reality check. To the rising economic giant, a nuclearised North is better than a collapsed one. Apart from the disaster of having millions of North Korean refugees cross its border, there are also other strategic considerations.

Namely, North Korea serves as an effective buffer against the heightened US military presence in the South. It has underlying interests in keeping it afloat. Hence its reluctance to place too much pressure on its irreverent neighbour.

It may take a lot of time, and the world may yet experience many moments of cold panic, but the key to success might lie somewhere between China coaxing the North into terms of non-escalation of its existing nuclear capabilities and the US and South Korea paying closer attention to what it is the North really wants.

After all, even madmen are capable of reason.