Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hittin the pavement!

Paved roads are a serious luxury that we take for granted. The trip from Salta to Puerto Iguazu was as smoooooth as a baby's bottom! No breakdowns. No flat tires. No watermelons. We enjoyed some dinner, did some sleeping, and watched the career of Ricardo Arjona evolve across hours of music videos. This guy must be some sort of legend over here, holy shit they can't get enough. Who'd have thought that our 23 hour bus ride would be by far the easiest one yet?? I could ride a baby's bottom for days! Wait. That didn't sound right.


Friday, January 29, 2010

One month down...

Eleven to go!!

I can't believe we have already been gone a month. In each of those thirty days, we haven't ceased to be amazed and humbled by how lucky we are. What an experience.

We have already seen so much, and are so excited for all that is yet to come.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Accommodations #9

Hotel Munay
Salta, Argentina
150 Pesos (approx $40)/night

Coming off an exhausting 8-hour 4WD journey to an overnight train to a 3-hour border crossing to an all-day bus (including a late night breakdown and bus change), we were pretty beat upon our arrival to Salta. I'd say that's as good a reason as any to stay in a hotel (that's right, HOTEL) that was out of our budget.

It was actually a fair bit nicer than it appears in the photos. Free basic breakfast and (intermitent) WiFi. For what was meant to be one, but turned into three nights, we were livin high on the hog.



How can you not be happy in Salta?

Perhaps it's because we're so relieved to have made it out of Bolivia. Maybe it's because we're so happy to stay in one place for more than a night. Or possibly it's because this place freaking rocks. Whatever the reason, we love Salta.

It's beautiful, it's cheap, it's fun. The wine and the steak are to die for. A stroll through the park, a gondola ride overlooking the city, a beer in the plaza at sunset. Life is good here.

We like it so much that we decided to stay as long as possible. Which means instead of leaving today and breaking up the trip to Iguazu, we are leaving tomorrow and taking a TWENTY THREE HOUR bus ride to the falls. Salud!

For photos of our favorite city so far, click HERE.

Bolivia

Ah Bolivia. The country I have so endearingly named, "The land of if it can go wrong, it will go wrong".

Try to buy a train ticket, and they'll tell you it's not running cause of a holiday. Decide to book the bus and they'll say it's not operating cause of the rain. Attempt to book a flight and three different agents will give you three different prices, then the internet will go down so you can't buy any of them. Eventually you get on the bus, and it breaks down. Turns out the train was running all along, you just weren't on it.

Everything is ten times more difficult in Bolivia, with no real rhyme or reason that we could ever understand. Our ten short days here proved to be a true test of our patience.

I hate to express such negativity about any place we visit. But when every person you meet on the train outta town shares the same sentiment, hey, don't look at me.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Accommodations #7 & #8

You may have noticed that I've stopped giving our hostels a letter grade. I've realized that the things that make a place luxurious in one city (ie bathrobes and slippers) are very different from what make it luxurious in another city (ie hot water). But I think the accommodations we encounter in each country are probably still an interesting thing to keep track of (correct me if I'm wrong).

Here are the two places we stayed in on our Salar de Uyuni tour. I can't tell you the names or prices, since they were part of a package. I imagine they were quite a steal though.

Night #1 - Matrimonial Room. It looks way nicer here than it was in person.



Night #2 - Slumber Partay!

Salar de Uyuni

If you have ever had a dream about walking in heaven, I'm pretty sure I have a photo of what it looked like.

Our visit to Salar de Uyuni was well worth all the hassle it took to get there. If you are only going to look at one of my albums this year, I'd recommend THIS one. We may have inadvertently visited another planet.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hostel #6

Hotel Avenida
Uyuni, Bolivia
60 Bolivianos (approx $9)/night

I forgot to take a picture of this place. You aren't missing anything. A bed, a window, and a table. Communal showers that function between 7am and 9pm.

Everything you need for one night, before departing for the Salt Flats.
There is a reason google maps does not show a road between La Paz and Uyuni. Cause there isn't one. That doesn't stop Todo Turismo from operating a nightly bus connecting the two cities.

I shit you not, it felt like we were driving across a watermelon field. There were times we swayed so severely I was certain we would tip over. The best part was at 3am when we encountered a river in the road, yes a RIVER, that inhibited any further progress. We slept on the freezing bus for a few disorienting hours in the pouring rain, until 6am when the tide was low enough for us to cross.

Thirteen sleepless hours later, we arrived in the tiny desert town of Uyuni. But what we saw in the next three days made it SO worth it...

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hostel #5

Hostel Naira
La Paz, Bolivia
220 Bolivianos (approx $32)/night

We wound up at this place on accident, after our room was so rudely given away at the hostel we reserved. A bit steep for our budget, but our bags were heavy and the hills were steep and they caught us in a moment of weakness.

Worth every penny.

This place was a perfect oasis in the shitstorm that is La Paz. Did I say that out loud? More on that later.

Anyhow... clean as can be, REAL showers (not the weird wire kind that electrocute you), CABLE television (you'd be amazed how comforting it is to watch an episode of Friends), carpet and heat (which proved to actually be more stuffy than pleasant), and WiFi IN THE ROOMS. Once we heard that, there was no longer a debate to be had.

Is it sad how much we love WiFi?



Thursday, January 21, 2010

What I have learned in my transition from the production world to the travel world, is that advance reservations more often than not screw up your plans. We've had a studio apartment booked in Rio de Janiero, beginning February 1st, for months. And now we're in Bolivia, and realize there's no way to get there AND do the things we want to do on the way.

Thus, we've found a happy medium (arriving a few days late to our reservation), and created a VERY ambitous plan for the next two weeks. It's insanely rushed. I would never recommend it to anybody. But it saves us the $1200 we would have spent flying from Bolivia to Rio. And it allows us a glimpse Iguazu Falls (however brief).

1/22 - Overnight bus from La Paz to Uyuni (starting point for tours of the Salt Flats, which I am SUPER excited about).

1/23 - Arrive in Uyuni and find a hostel. Nothing online has ANY availability. We're only slightly worried about this. After all, it's not the kind of town where most places use the internet, if you know what I mean. Wish us luck. Oh yeah, and find a tour group too. Since the one we want has been ignoring my emails.

1/24 - Depart for three day tour of Salar de Uyuni.

1/26 - Return from the tour with 1000 pictures we want to post, curse the fact that we probably won't have internet access for quite some time.

1/27 - Overnight train south from Uyuni to Villazon, on the border of Argentina. Cross the border (fingers crossed it's easier than getting into Bolivia).

1/28 - 8 hour bus to Salta, Argentina.

1/29 - 18 hour bus to Resistencia, Argentina.

1/30 - 10 hour bus to Puerto Iguazu, Argentina.

1/31 - Visit Iguazu Falls (Argentinian side).

2/1 - Cross border, arrive at Foz de Iguacu, Brazil.

2/2 - Visit Iguazu Falls again (Brazilian side).

2/3 - Fly to Rio de Janiero.

Any set back will of course shitcan our entire plan. But we're feelin' lucky!! Send smooth travel vibes our way, we're gonna need em.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Isla del Sol

Lonely Planet warned us that a half day tour of the Bolivian islands in Lake Titicaca would hardly be worth our while. But when we woke up to pouring rain, we decided a full day tour wasn't in the cards. Okay, truth be told, I just wanted to sleep in and was pleased to have an excuse to do so.

Later that day when the skies cleared, we bought a ticket for the afternoon tour. $2.14 each. What a steal. (Have I mentioned how CHEAP Bolivia is?? It's awesome.)

What they neglected to tell us, is that our ticket was for the boat ride only. A tour would cost an additional $2.85 upon arrival. Okay, no biggie.

What they also neglected to tell us, is that we only had 30 minutes on the island before we had to catch the last boat back to the mainland. So, clearly not enough time to even DO a tour. Um, alright.

And what they couldn't possibly have told us, is that the boat ride alone was WELL worth our while. In fact, it may have been the most perfect afternoon we have had yet.

video

For more photos of our day on Lake Titicaca, click HERE.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hotel #4

Hotel Mirador
Copacabana, Bolivia
120 Bolivianos (approx $17)/night



On the plus side: It was available when we needed it most. Room was spacious and fairly clean and had a great view of the lakefront. Included a buffet breakfast, which we unfortunately slept through ever morning. Quiet. And had a private bathroom, yay!





On the down side: Freezing. Places aren't really big on that whole "heat" thing here. I electrocuted myself turning on the shower, but that's pretty normal here too. Oh yeah, and internet in the vicinity would have been sweet. But I beleive there is one dial-up connection being shared by the entire town, so that would clearly be asking too much.

Oh, and how could I forget. They had the prettiest toilet paper I've ever seen.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Welcome to Bolivia

We really strapped on our travel sandals today.

Waking up in our teeny, internet-less room in unappealing Puno, we decided Reece was just well enough to make a move. Ignoring our host's insistence that there are no afternoon busses into Bolivia, we ventured to the main bus terminal and found a 1:30 departure to Copacabana, a tiny lakeside hippy town halfway to La Paz. Sold.

Internet cafe for hostel reservation requests. Back to B&B to check out. Waiting for our laundry to dry in order to pack. We were off with just enough time to grab a cash supply for the next few days (there is no ATM machine in Copacabana) and jump on board.

Sometime after the fourth hour of our three hour bus ride, we approach the border. Reece and I are frantic, realizing we can't find the immigration forms given to us on entry that are required to exit Peru. We tear our bags apart on the side of the road as the rest of the passengers from our bus slowly disappear to the other side.

Eventually I locate them in my secret pocket that apparently even I can't find. Confusion ensues as we attempt to figure out the immigration process in a hurry with minimal understanding of the language. We seize our last opportunity to change all of our cash for Bolivianos at an embrassing exchange rate.

Successfully past the Peruvian officials, we line up for entrance to Bolivia. An armed officer surveyes the crowd and passes out the necessary documents, checking each person's nationality along the way. "Americanos?" We're pulled from the line and seated at a desk, where we're informed we'll each require a $135 Visa for entry. If I had referred to my guidebook, rather than the goverment website, I would have know this tidbit of information sooner.

I confidently pull out my wad of fresh Bolivianos, only to find they only take US dollars. What?? We're pointed in the direction of a teenage kid sitting at a desk outside with a drawer full of money. He's our exchange facility. So let's recap... We lost money on the transaction from our US Dollar bank account to the Peruvian Sole ATM withdrawal, then again on our Sole to Boliviano exchange, and once more to trade it all BACK in for dollars. Awesome.

Upon returning with money in hand, I realize I did the math wrong and need more money. But I'm out of Bolivianos. Luckily I stashed a large Peruvian Sole bill just in case, so I go back to exchange THAT for Bolivianos. I get in an argument with a pushy old woman over the rate, and have to rip the bill out of her hand. I'm about to lose it. Or maybe I already did.

Just when I thought we were home free, turns out we also require passport photos, immunization records, and copies of our passports. That's just swell. More frantic digging through bags. Some running to the copy machine hut, conveniently located near the money exchange facility.

By the time we wrap things up, the immigration office is closed. We aren't sure if our bus was meant to wait for us or not, but it was certainly long gone by then. We take a taxi the remaining eight kilometers to town, and get dropped off at an internet cafe with the slowest connection known to man. We are irritable and exhausted and can't wait to crash in one of the many choice hostels we emailed. Gmail is loading... loading... loading... My inbox finally appears and... NOTHING. Not a single response. It's dark and we don't know our way around and we're carrying 45 pound backpacks with nowhere to go. Ugh.

We head towards the waterfront, figuring that's where the nicer accommodations can probably be found. Around the corner we are greeted with Hotel Mirador, a beacon glistening in the streetlamp-light. We snag the very last room available, six flights of stairs up. It takes us ages to reach the top, under the combination of our bags and the increased altitude. I'll tell ya, it was the best $16 we've spent yet.

Later, Reece and I are asked by a shop owner if we're Argentinian. When we reveal where we're from she laughs and says, "Oh, American! You paid $135 to come here!" I guess word travels fast.

Hostel #3

Phajsi Aruma B&B
Puno, Peru
65 Soles (approx $23)/night

I was going to give this place a terrible review...

None of the luxuries it boasted on it's website (hot water, internet, TV) were functioning.

Laundry service was quite expensive for Peru, and it didn't even come back to us dry in time for our departure.

It was a fair distance outside of town on a road without taxis running regularly, so it was kind of a pain in the ass to go anywhere. But Puno is not a town you really care to be in anyway, so location wasn't really an issue.

Our friends at Phajsi Aruma were saved from a poor grade however, when they took us in like their own family and took care of Reece when he was sick. If you ever plan to get food poisoning in Peru, this is THE place to be. They made us chicken soup. They went downtown and got special herbs to make tea that soothes the stomach. They gave us some Peruvian wonder meds, and in 24 hours Reece was back and better than ever. All of this at no charge. The mom even hugged us goodbye and made Reece promise not to drink cold liquids.

Oh yeah, and we had a decent view.



Sunday, January 17, 2010

Andean Express

Now THIS is my kind of travel. A ridiculously overpriced train ride from Cusco to Puno comes with it's perks.

Free Pisco sours.



Reece was delighted.



Gourmet meals.



Reece couldn't get enough.



Afternoon tea time.



Reece could hardly contain his excitement.



Oh yeah, and the scenery wasn't bad either.



For more photos of the journey, click HERE.

Inca Trail + Machu Picchu

It's a daunting task trying to describe the experience of the past four days. What I can say, is that it was unequivocally the most difficult thing, mentally and physically, that I have ever done. And I could not be happier that we did it. Have a seat, this is gonna be a long one.


DAY 1

Actually, let me back up a bit...


DAY 0

We almost didn't do it. The altitude in Cusco is no joke. I would have posted photos and blog entries sooner, but they would have all been of me lying in bed. The headaches and exhaustion were bearable, but as soon as I finished the recommended two day dose of altitude meds, I couldn't keep food down either. This also happened to be our deadline to pay the non-refundable balance for our 4-day trek. Reece had the heavy responsibility of going to the office alone to beg for more time, and ultimately decide to commit or cancel if they wouldn't give it to us. Long story short - He scored two more days, I started to feel better, and the day before departure I signed the contract in terrified tears. I knew that I didn't NOT want to do it, but I was still scared that we just spent half our month's budget to potentially be miserable for four days. Did I mention it's rainy season? Oh yeah, it hails every afternoon.


DAY 1

Rise at 4:45am after no sleep. Walk past the late night partiers to our meeting place. Our group consists of two Australian guys, a mother and daughter from Canada, an American med student, a French woman, and two more girls from Australia. Our small size of ten is nice compared to the usual max of 16. Accompanying us are two guides, 15 porters, and a chef. I feel like a real professional mountain woman doing a hike that requires a walking stick. Onward!

It's staggering the effect that tourism has on a place. Driving down narrow dirt roads past modest homes of stone and clay, women in traditional wear doing their daily chores, children playing barefoot in the street, men hearding farm animals, stray dogs and dogs and more dogs... We reach the village on the outskirts of the trek and dozens of tour busses crowd the small plaza. Hostels and ATM machines and internet cafes and restaurants proudly serving "American Breakfast" dominate what was probably once a local gathering place. I know this is the case in every touristy place around the world, but for some reason it really struck a chord with me here. It's only been nine years since they started these large/regulated treks, and the relatively recent affect it has had on the community is palpable. It made me feel uncomfortable, like an inturder in their home. I wonder what their reaction is to the thousands of people from around the world visiting each day to see the sacred site hidden in their mountains. I am overcome with a desire for the profits of such tours to benefit the people and their small town. I begin to ponder the possibility of a future with some sort of organization that helps to make things like that happen, somewhere in the world. I am nervous and excited and hungry.

After breakfast, we continue through tiny villages to the departure point of our trek. 14 kilometers stand between us and our camp for the first night. Right off the bat I slip to the back of the group, and feel like I cannot keep up with the pace. I am discouraged, and the thought makes me feel weak and unprepared. At our snack spot, I realize we were only about 5 minutes behind, and that lifts my spirits. Seven hours of hiking, and I collapse in my tent. I'm completely exhausted and fearful of how tremendously sore I will be the next day.


DAY 2

Anticipation of this day was the cause of my contract-signing tears. The plan: Rise at 5:30am, ascend 900 meters to the charmingly named "Dead Woman's Pass", at a breathtaking altitude of 4200 meters (just under 14,000 feet). Three hour descent to lunch where all of the other trekkers are setting up camp for the night. Then, in order to get a head start on the final day, we'll climb up and down ANOTHER mountain, and call it a day after 12 painful hours on our feet. I start the day strong. I’m shocked to find that I am not sore at all, and manage to keep a steady pace up and up and up the mountain. Today, I am not straggling in the back of the group, rather I am close to the front. This makes me realize how much of a mental challenge the whole thing really is. Just knowing that I’m able to keep up makes me feel strong and healthy and confident. Those feelings give me a surge of stamina I didn’t know I was capable of. The top of the mountain is far, far away. The camp below grows further and the people below shrink to the size of ants. I keep telling myself, “It is irrelevant whether I can make it to the top - All that matters is that I can take one more step.” And I can, and I do, and it’s an incredible feeling to stand atop a mountain that you were looking at high above hours earlier. I feel like a million bucks.

video

Here is where the day takes a turn. Climbing down hundreds of stone steps, some the height of my knees, proves astonishingly more difficult than climbing up. The fog becomes so thick we cannot see how far the valley is below. It’s drizzling and the path is slippery. Large, loud groups of ostentatious Argentinians are eagerly passing us by. My knees feel like they are going to buckle underneath me, and the path appears neverending. Three times my eyes brim with tears and I insist to Reece that I can't go any further. My feet have never felt pain like this. When we finally approach our lunch camp, I break down sobbing.

Lunch is like an infirmary. The moring has taken a toll on everybody. People are laying down, vomitting, headaches and diarrhea abound. At the risk of exposing TMI, sore legs + squat toilets + unfamiliar food = a true test of strength. We are envious of the campers setting up tents for the night. We still have another mountain ahead of us. It starts to rain. It’s miserable.

We strap on our gear, bundle up in hats and gloves and rain jackets. We continue to marvel at what a small role physicality plays in this. It’s 100% mental. Our bodies think they can’t go any further, but our minds must know better. I am relieved to find that the uphill climb is actually a welcome break for my knees. One guy in our group, a marathon runner, can’t continue and lays down on the trail. They discuss sending porters back to carry him. I feel both tremendously sad for him, and tremendously grateful that I’m not sick. My biggest fear going into this was finding myself in his shoes. I count my blessings, and eventually reach the top on mountain number two.

Beginning our final ascent of the day, we are astounded by the beauty that surrounds us. Our pace is leisurely, pausing to take dozens of photos. Alone on the path, we can feel the spirituality that exists in this sacred valley. It is peaceful and mystical and inspiring and overwhelming. We are so happy we made this decision. We talk about the people who skip the trek and take the train directly to Machu Picchu. They have no concept of what they are missing.


DAY 3

Today is a short day, “only” 10 kilometers. We are permitted to “sleep in” until 6:30am, and will complete the hike by lunch. The group is somewhat recharged, after the overcoming the beast of the day before. (And yes, the marathon runner made it. After napping and medicating, somehow he was able to continue the trek. We are all in awe of his strength.) We are so pleased that the previous mountain is behind us, unlike the rest of the groups who began very early to catch up to us. The hike is mostly downhill today which is a relief for many, but not me and my knees. My feet want to know what they did to deserve this. It is the home stretch and I’m ready to be done. I power through much more quickly than usual. We take much fewer pictures. The carrot is dangling in front of me and I want it.

Lunch. Flip flops. Cold beers. Visit to Inka site. Dinner. Porter ceremony. Thank yous. Tips. Briefing for the next morning, the day we have all been waiting for.


DAY 4

3:30am. I have never rose at 3:30am in my life. Our goal is to line up at the entrance ahead of the other groups, so that we may be one of the first to arrive. The Key Man arrives at 5:30am to open the gate. Hundreds of trekkers are in a frenzy. I wonder what the point is of being in front. I’m going to go at my own pace when the stampede starts anyway. I’m tired and achy and irritable. And tired.

Gates open, and Machu Picchu is still two hours away. I walk briskly, realizing I don’t want my group to have to wait for me when they arrive. This morning is strictly business – Head down, pace up, don’t look back at the people ready to charge if you show the least bit of hesitation. We approach the Sun Gate, where one can catch their very first glimpse of the wonder of the world. All we see is fog.

We are nearing the end of our four day pilgrimage. We still cannot see anything, but we can feel that something is there. We perch atop the lookout point where the classic postcard photos are taken. Ever so slowly, the fog begins to disperse and Machu Picchu slowly reveals itself. It’s magical. I’m emotional. Reece is talking to his new Aussie buddy about football.

The sky clears just long enough for all of us to take turns getting our obligatory “we made it” photos. Just as we are organizing for a group shot, it rolls back in and envelopes the valley in a cloud. As we head down to have our morning snack and begin our tour, it begins pouring. Yet none of us are disappointed. Our arrival feels a bit anticlimactic somehow, and while it’s an absolutely breathtaking sight, we all agree it was nothing compared to the experience of the past three days. Whoever said it’s the journey, not the destination, must have hiked the Inca Trail.

We feel smug as tourists pour out of busses in jeans and make-up. 2,000–3,000 people visit Machu Picchu every day. Of those, only about 200 make the trek. The sense of entitlement is hard to supress. As a line forms at the entrance with plastic poncho wearing tourists protecting their hair from the rain, it starts to feel a little like Disneyland. We take a two hour tour of the ruins and find it impossible to get a nice photo without people swarming every corner of the background. We decide they should allow trekkers to have the place to themselves for an hour before opening up to the general public. My what a long way we’ve come since Day 1.

Eventually the rain relents and Reece and I head back to the viewpoint for more photos. We finally have a moment to reflect on that fact that WE DID IT! We are beyond proud :)


To view the rest of our photos, click HERE!


Just a few more things, should you be considering the Inca Trail, 4-day trek to Macchu Piccu...

- DO IT! If you have two functioning legs, you can do it. If you can’t recall the last time you excersized, you can do it. If I can do it, you can do it. Promise me you won't just take the train.

- Have respect for the altitude. Give yourself as much time in Cusco as you can (we did 5 days) before departing. They people we met who didn’t, regretted it. And, “Slow pace wins the race!” Okay it’s not a race. But I was so happy I never allowed myself to feel pressured to speed up. I picked a pace that was right for me, and I’m convinced that’s what kept me going.

- Go with Llama Path. Of all the groups we saw on the trail, ours appeared to be the most prepared and organized. The porters are treated much better than with other companies (provided with clothing and shoes backpacks and sleeping bags and health insurance... most porters we saw were carrying 60+ pounds in sacks on their backs wearing sandals!!) The food was great, and the campsites were preferable. And, it’s the little things... Bowls of hot water and soap placed out for you before every meal and at the end of each hike, hot tea delivered to your tent every morning, healthy snacks provided each morning to take with you. I can’t imagine being more satisfied with anybody else.

- Get the walking stick! Contrary to my suspicions, they aren't just trying to upsell you to make another buck. You really do need it.

- If you actually made it through this entire post, WOW! I'm impressed.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Peru

As we depart from Peru and head into Bolivia, just wanted to jot down a few impressions I gathered in the limited three weeks we spent here...

Police/security presence is massive. Everywhere you turn there is an officer or armed gaurd of some sort, and it’s not unusual to be eating lunch beside a man with a rifle. I am torn as to whether this makes me feel safer, or has the opposite effect.

The people are friendly and trustworthy. In most places I’ve traveled, I feel like a gringo ATM machine that the locals are just waiting to rip off. It’s an understandable fact that doesn’t bother me tremendously – I figure I’m a visitor in their country, and they will benefit from a few extra bucks more than I will miss it. But I’ve found Peruvians to be very honest with me the majority of the time. Taxi cabs have charged, what I have later found, to be fair and correct prices. Shops and stands have quoted the same price I overhear them telling locals. Our hostel in Cusco let us to check out without paying a dime (long story), allowing us to pay our seven day balance after returning from Machu Picchu. It’s a nice feeling being able to trust most people we’ve come into contact with.

Stray dogs are EVERYWHERE. They must breed like crazy, we pass about 100 of them on the street every day. Their chorus of barking keeps us up at night.

The sky is astoundingly beautiful. I can’t stop talking about and/or taking pictures of it. The deepest blue I’ve ever seen, with explosions of giant stark white puffy clouds. It might pour down rain all morning, but at some point each day it opens up and it’s glorious.

Street foods... I could probably devote a whole entry to this. In Lima especially, there are some really common street foods served on every other corner that I came to enjoy.
- Marcianos: Long plastic pouches filled with crushed fruit/juices and sold for about 15 cents along the paths leading to the beaches. Like a peruvian otter pop.
- Picarones: Deep fried rings of deliciousness, served with a sugary syrup drizzled on top. It’s amazing watching the women make them, a handful of liquidy dough expertly formed into a circle as she drops it into the bubbling oil. The flavor/texture reminds me of sopapillas.
- Papas con huevos: All along the beach and the surrounding streets, you see these carts everywhere. They plop a boiled potato and a boiled egg on a tiny styrofoam plate, cut into quarters and coat with some kind of creamy yellow sauce. You get a mini toothpick fork to eat it with. Simple and delicious.
- Ceviche: They can’t get enough of it. I however, do not partake in such delights of fishiness.

That's it for now. I shall return if/when I think of more.

Cusco, Peru



For more photos from Cusco, click HERE.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hostel #2

Piccola Locanda
Cusco, Peru
100 Soles (approx $35)/night





Yay! You get an A(minus)! Come on, I can't go giving out perfect scores right at the start of our trip.

This place was a real joy, especially after the last hostel. Quiet, calm and serene. Impeccably clean. Free WiFi (that's not supposed to work in the rooms, but we got lucky). Very nice staff. Beautiful view of the plaza. Free breakfast till 11am. Eleven am!

Things that weren't absolutely perfect, if I HAD to be nitpicky...

It's a three or four block walk up a steep hill and stairs from the main plaza. A bigger deal than normal in such high altitude. But it is after all what affords us the view.

No heat + wood floors = DAMN COLD. But there are about 9 blankets on the bed, so it makes for a good night's sleep.

Um... Oh yeah, we didn't have a private bathroom like I thought we would. That option was slightly out of our budget. But the shared facility was very close to our room.

Thanks tripadvisor.com for the recommendation!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

El primer día de escuela!

Reece and I just signed up for Spanish classes, so we can perhaps minimize our use of the phrase, "Lo siento, no entiendo."

We found a great program. It's a non-profit organization that employs single mothers, after 90 hours of training, to teach one-on-one classes. They get a fair wage, flexible schedule and time to spend with their children. We get a teacher who is proud of and dedicated to the work she is doing.

So for our remaining few days in Cusco, we'll be attending class for four hours each day. Two hours of grammar in the classroom, followed by two hours of conversation practice around town. It's about a 45 minute walk from our hostel, which provides a nice opportunity to get out of the tourist trenches.

Reece and I each have our own private teacher who we'll work with separately. So we look forward to meeting after class by the lockers to make out.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I caved!!

Just 8 days into the trip, and I've already committed the travel sin I swore I would try not to...



I wasn't feeling well, I was exhausted, and I needed the comfort of some salty goodness!! And boy was it salty. And goodness.

Jack was not pleased.

3400 meters

The flight to Cusco was breathtaking, and only slightly frightening ("We don't fly through clouds here, cause there are mountains in them.") We had to depart at 5:45am cause that's the only time of day they can count on visibility being good enough.

We're doing better with the altitude than we expected. Perhaps cause of the altitude sickness meds we're taking, which make all of my fingers and Reece's toes numb. It's a worthy trade-off.



Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Lima Photos

To view our Lima photo album, click HERE

Monday, January 4, 2010

Today we did this...



then some of this...


a little of this...


and finally this...


I could get used to this.

Muy picante!

I think my feet are getting too much sun...

We came. We saw. We ate pork.

I had my heart set on visiting the Larcomar complex in Miraflores. Standing proud atop a cliff overlooking the beachfront, it promised a hip al fresco shopping, drinking and dining experience. I'd look at it longingly from the graffitied pier in Barranco while eating my $1.50 arroz con pollo. Lacking an aircraft from which to take a proper photo, I'll borrow one from google for your viewing pleasure.



On Saturday, we decided to take the long beachside stroll to this mecca of gastronomic delights. We eagerly approached, and we're greeted by such culinary legends as Chili's and Tony Romas. Even the tradional TGI Friday's awaits! Hordes of fannypack adorned tourists poured from the Marriot across the street to take in the local Peruvian culture.

We choose a seat at the least-expensive looking cafe, and shared a stale pork sandwich and two beers. Below us the ocean view stretched clear to Barranco and our previous lunchtime spot on the pier. Our bill could have fed every person on it arroz con pollo.

Not only was the meal down below more delicious and budget friendly, but our ocean view wasn't obstructed by boisterous European tourists at the table beside us. Lesson learned.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

You must be wondering...

"How do you have SO much time to update your blog? Aren't you supposed to be, like, traveling the world or something?!"

Truth is - Yes, we spend at least 3/4 of each day doing what there is to do, seeing what there is to see... But that leaves a good three or four waking hours each day to devote to one of the following:

- sunning on the roof deck
- playing gin rummy
- surfing some free WiFi
- drinking a few beers
- reading our books
- chit chatting with other travelers
- more often than not, all of the above simultaneously

I'm sure we will reach a point when we get homesick and want to give this lifestyle up in exchange for family and friends and a home. But right now it's hard to imagine choosing to go back to work over this :)

Feliz Ano Nuevo

It dawned on me that I am supposed to acknowledge the new year we just celebrated. So here's a photo recap of the evening's festivities...

Anxiously awaiting the new year's eve feast! I'm anxious. Him, not so much.


Smile!


Getting festive.


Reece isn't quite as good at expressing his festivity.


That's more like it.


Obligatory midnight fireworks.


Making friends with the locals.


What you don't see here, is me taking a Tylenol PM and going to bed at 12:45am. I didn't even get to taste the pig!! Oh but how I slept like a wee baby in a basinet.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I've decided I need a theme, a topic of things that I can rate all along this trip. Perhaps because Reece is gonna be doing his beer reviews. Maybe cause I'm really judgemental at heart, and delight at a standard system with which to judge things. From this point forward (or until I get bored of it), I'll be assigning a grade to each hostel/hotel/etc we patronize.

#1: Kaminu Hostel
Lima, Peru
$24/night



I'm gonna give this a generous C.

Reece would be shocked and appauled to hear this, as he is ready to put a shotgun in his mouth to escape this place.

Negatives:
- LOUD
I tried so hard to convince Reece that hostels aren't the obnoxious all-night techno party he imagined. There are few things I hate more than when he is right.
- Accomodations
Nothing out of the ordinary, really. But I've stayed at some pristine hostels, and this is not one of them. Granted, this is my first hostel in South America, so I don't have much of a basis for comparison. The two twin beds in our private room are a bummer (Perhaps the norm? We shall see.) The lime green walls are, festive. What it lacks in windows, it graciously makes up for with a screened open door of sorts on the roof, a few feet from the sound system. It's like the party is right there in bed with you!
- Bathroom
Perfect, if you enjoy brushing your teeth at the reception desk.

Postives:
- Location, location, location
The neighborhood could not be better. After cruising around Miraflores today (the main tourist district) we are more sure than ever, Barranco is the place to be. We're on an adorable stone walkstreet, lined with old-fashioned street lamps and leading directly to the beach. Within one block we have access to a major grocery store, the hub of bars/restaurants, the local evening market, and a gorgeous little look-out point. It's peaceful and quaint and we're really starting to feel at home here.
- Friendly
The owner, Pierre, is nice as can be. And his dog was my best friend on New Years.
- Hot water
Is scalding and plentiful. I hear that is very hard to come by.
- Free WiFi
Accesible from anywhere on the property, including the rooftop deck. Without that, I'd be holed up in a lime green room right now.