Tilting back a bottle of Los Haroldos white, I think back upon the past six months on the road while we relax in a pedestrian only block at Sarmiento in Mendoza. In general Melissa and I have not had many crazy nights out bingeing with other backpackers in bars, clubs, and party hostels. It’s not that we’re too proper for such revelry only that we prefer to get more value on our buzzes. Whether you keep to a strict budget or let the money fly, spending while traveling is about weighing choices. This is especially true for prolonged excursions like our current 2-year wind.
In general we try not to get ripped off in social drinking situations. It is easy to get fleeced and burn through your cash at overpriced tourist bars and common spaces. These experiences don’t offer great value for the proof you imbibe. We prefer buying bottles from local businesses like bodegas, liquor stores, and supermarkets and inviting new travel friends to our lodging. We listen to tunes on our iPod or computer, talk travel, discuss world politics, and delve into aspects of local customs. Best of all we resist idling for hours and wasting money in pubs with nasty grub. I could have stayed and done that in New York.
Researching licores for the sake of the website
Once in a while we travel to a place where a unique type of alcohol is prevalent and somewhat ingrained into the culture of the region. This is true of Sonoma in California and the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky. Most recently, we traveled to Chachapoyas, a small city in an isolated part of Peru and had the chance to sample the local hooch known as licores. Licores are alcoholic drinks infused with innumerable combinations of foods like fruits, milk and coffee. Served in a big bottle or beaker looking glassware, licores are commonly sipped out of tiny glasses. Varieties include cafe (coffee), mora (blackberry), leche (milk), and guayaba (guava).
While we were in Chachapoyas, Melissa and I visited four establishments that serve this potent spirit. Each had their own style and served colorful concoctions of licores.
Licores #1-La Reina
After a full day tour of the ruins at Kuelap including a long, cramped roundtrip van ride we were ready to push off dinner and explore an institution on the Chachapoyas bar scene. We met three new Australian friends and a Dutch girl in front of our hostel and took a short walk to La Reina. Reina has indoor and outdoor sections and when we arrived both were empty. By the time we left the place was packed, mostly with young Peruvians. At other times Reina converts into a club and live music venue.
As soon as our party of six sat down, a bartender delivered eight shot glass sized samplers of licores. Strips of paper had them labeled as chuchunai, leche, mora, siete railes, sauco, guayaba, cafe, and poroporo. We divvied them up and poured them back. I was the only one interested in continuing with licores, so I ordered 1/2 liter of the guava. It cost 8 soles or about $3US. The music was relaxed with rock songs from bands like Maná. Portraits and mosaics lined the walls and they served some complimentary chips. We did manage to eat a small dinner at Mari Pizza and parted for the night.
Licores #2- Silvia
The next day we lounged around town meeting the Australians for lunch and checked out the local market. When our friends moved on to a new city, Melissa and I decided to check out our next round of licores. Silvia’s invites guests through saloon doors and offers a typical assortment of colorful bottles at their bar. We didn’t get a great vibe from the bartender while perusing their wares and quickly ordered 1/4 liter of naranja (orange) for 4 soles (~$1.50US). While taking sweet sips from a small glass we eyed Bob Marley and Bon Jovi posters on the wall.
A spiral staircase led to a second floor. A pair of leather pants and a motorcycle lent more authenticity to the wild west theme of the bar.
Licores #3- Licores Kuelap
Licores Kuelap takes its name from the nearby fortress built to defend the Chachapoyan people around the sixth century AD. A friendly patron in front tried to explain the history of the regional spirit but apparently he had one or five too many. We ordered uva (grape) which was a bit sour and settled into a booth in the back. 80’s hits like Queen of Hearts and Take on Me entertained us and an identical Bon Jovi poster from Silvia’s graced the wall, next to Michael Jackson.
Blue and orange Christmas lights decorated our booths splashing color through hurricane lamps. Our grape licores cost 3 soles (just over $1US) for 1/4 liter. Licores Kuelap also has a fireplace for cold nights in the mountains.
Licores #4- Hechizo’s
At Hechizo’s bar the customer is the entertainment. This multi-level licores dispenser is also a karaoke joint. I’m not really sure which beverage I sampled or how much it cost because I had my face buried in a songbook. I do know that they had four licores to choose from. Huge wall-framed portraits of an international array of Latin icons stares down at would-be singers. J-Lo, Shakira, Nino Bravo, and José José dared me to sing in Spanish which suited me since the English pickings were few and slim.
I was second to go and listened in amazement as a guy named Nilser broke the ice performing Como quien pierde una estrella by Alejandro Fernandez. He was great which forced me to step up my game. I could have copped out and sang La Bamba but in the end I chose Hechicera, a relatively short song by Maná. As the song started, I struggled with my breath due to the altitude, but eventually worked out the high pitch of the singer’s falsetto. Licores kept my vocal chords lubricated and I managed to get an applause from the crowd. They probably clapped out of respect since I tried a song in another language but I’ll nail it better next time.
If you make it to Chachapoyas visit any or all of these bars around the corner from the Plaza de Armas on Ayacucho Street. They are a great way to end a day of touring the Kuelap stone fortress too.