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Treasures of Peru come to Granite Bay

Peru Cultural Fest highlights cuisine and conservation tourism
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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To contact SA Expeditions, call (415) 549-8049 or visit

To contact The Travel Store Sacramento, call (916) 929-5555 or visit


California’s top travel experts on Peru believe so strongly in the land’s enthralling ruggedness and warm, indigenous energy that they brought the Andes directly to the Granite Bay Pavilions June 12, offering an afternoon of traditional music and cuisine from Lima, as well as presentations on the broader arc of Incan history.

The Peruvian Cultural Festival was hosted by SA Expeditions, a global travel company whose co-founder is from Nevada County. The event was co-sponsored by the Travel Store in Sacramento. Both groups settled on the popular Peruvian restaurant La Huaca in East Roseville to muster enough culinary arts and ambiance to transport locals to a pre-Conquistador past.

Throughout the afternoon, Peruvian musician Hirtzon Velasquez and La Huaca’s chefs from Lima dazzled a crowd with creative flourishes from their homeland. A discussion on Peru’s mountain trails and archeological sites was given by Nick Stanziano, a man who truly has a foot in two worlds. Stanziano was raised in Grass Valley but has made Peru his base for a decade. His wife and children are Peruvian, and he now has dual citizenship. He says he founded SA Expeditions partly out of fear that the centuries-old way of life would disappear in the global economy without a certain type of traveler helping the small villages survive.

“Growing up in the Sierra Nevada, I was always hiking through the hills to see the relics of how our Native American tribes lived before the Gold Rush,” Stanziano recalled. “You could only try to get hints of how it was, because that way of living is gone now. In the Andes, it’s like stepping through a time machine, because the peoples from the same era are still living their traditional way of life. You can experience the real thing. But it is threatened – it is in danger of disappearing.”

As the world “flattens” and interconnects, a lack of income is pushing young people from isolated Andean villages into Peru’s major cities of Lima and Cusco in search of jobs. As a company, SA Expeditions’ mantra of Conservation Tourism seeks to work against that tide by bringing American sojourners to remote Peruvian villages – people who want to experience the real Peruvian lifestyle without altering it or running it through unintended consequences of their travel habits.

“It’s conservation through economic development in tourism,” Stanziano said. “We are working on doing it in a way where our guests will be visiting villages that are not on the main path of the Inca Road, places that aren’t getting crowded with other travelers, and then contributing to the people of those villages’ income, so they can continue their traditional existence.”

One way SA Expeditions plans to make this vision a reality is by sending Stanziano and a team of explorers on a 2,000-mile trek by foot in April 2017, probing the ancient Inca road system between Cuenca, Ecuador, and Cusco, Peru. The estimated five-month journey will take the team from the far northern point of the old Inca Empire to its most southern capital. All the while, the team will be looking for ways to perfect responsible, low-impact tourism that helps the native villagers profit and keep their identity.

In the meantime, SA Expeditions is already taking people on private, small-group travel excursions to Peru’s top destinations, from the Amazon rain forest to Lake Titicaca. With now naming three of the top 50 restaurants in the world as being in Lima, South Placer’s Peruvian Cultural Festival was a chance for locals to get a complimentary glimpse of the kind of gastronomy they’d experience in South America. During the event, La Huaca’s restaurant put out a buffet of anticucho, a marinated, shredded chicken dish; causa de pollo, a yellow potato mash filled with chicken bits and spices; leche de tigre, a "tiger milk" ceviche with lime juice, lomo saltado, juicy cut, sautéed beef marinated in onion and tomato; Aji de gallina, a creamy chicken sauce dish with spices; and pachamanca, an Andean slow-roasted pig with seasoning.

“These are all traditional dishes,” said Riva Bacquet, managing partner for SA Expeditions. “What we were looking to do is create a menu that represents specialties from each region of Peru, from the mountains to the coastline.”

Like Stanziano, Bacquet is a Californian who now calls Lima her permanent home. She added that all of her company’s travel guides have lived in Peru for long periods. With a base of operations in San Francisco, the group has partnered with Sacramento’s Travel Store to make expeditions fast and easy for South Placer adventurers. The Travel Store’s master planner Tracey Kleber said her own group wanted to sponsor the Peruvian Cultural Festival because it already holds regular “meet-ups” for its travel club all over the region.

“We put on a lot of destination seminars like this,” Kleber explained. “So we decided it made a lot of sense to partner with SA Expeditions to put this festival in the Roseville area.”

The Travel Store’s next destination seminar will be on New Zealand on Wednesday, July 20 at 5:30 p.m. at the Landmark Building at 1750 Howe Avenue, Sacramento.

 During the fest, Stanziano’s lecture on Peruvian history — starting from the Neolithic era and ending after the “Shining Path” terrorism events of the 1980s — was well-received by the sizable crowd. For locals who want to learn more about Peruvian culture, Stanziano recommends books such as Hugh Thomson’s “The White Rock,” Mark Adams' “Turn Right at Machu Picchu” and William H. Prescott’s classic “The History of the Conquest of Peru.”

At the same time, he hopes people with a dream of seeing Peru will consider his conservation mode of traveling.

“There is a lot of new stability and economic growth in Peru,” he said. “But by distributing tourism into the more rural areas, the traveler gets a more genuine experience with the indigenous people while also helping their culture survive.” 

Scott Thomas Anderson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at STA_reporter or on Facebook at