I am in the midst of transcribing the rest of my Perú trip narratives and yet I am knee deep researching for my next trip… How do these narratives begin to backlog? That is how! Maybe I should just plan a month off and catch up on all the trips from the past I want to share here??
My next trip will be to South Africa, mostly for work but I expect some opportunity to take a good peek at some key places. Almost like a “research trip” for a future vacation?
There are so many places to go to and so little time and money. Well, the money part is perhaps not as bad as I do believe that if one looks hard enough, one can find good places and good deals that do not make every trip a major expenditure. Anyhow, among the places I want to head to are those where I know people who are in ex-pat situations. I enjoy my trips best when there is a “local” who will know the real ins and outs and when I can also take advantage of the vacation time to get to spend time with friends I normally don’t get to see. In that category fall South Korea and Australia… I think I have another friend still in Bulgaria, but have to double-check.
Also in my list of “I want to see soon on vacation” are Iceland, Portugal and New Zealand.
How to really pin down the next destination? I guess partly it is a matter of cost, who else may be interested in the trip, and if my ex-pat friends are available when I can take time off.
Alright, these were just random thoughts about vacation. I think I need one is what it is…
Cusco may be better known for being the launching point to Machu Picchu (MP) but the city and its same-name region hold a LOT more in store than just MP and the Inca trail – so make extra time in your schedule to explore! I flew to Cusco, the older continually inhabited city in the continent, from Lima on a Saturday morning (read more about Lima on my earlier entry http://ilivetotravel.me/lima/).
Arrival in Cusco
Arriving in Cusco, which is around 11,200 ft (3,400 m) high, is an experience because of the very thin air. Thankfully, it was clean which was a welcome change from Lima. It was actually hot that morning under a beautiful blue sky.
Upon getting to the hotel, I was offered mate de coca (coca tea) which helps the body adjust to the altitude (though I wonder if it is more about one not feeling anything; I didn’t perceive any different sensation out of drinking the half-cup size portions). I also took my altitude sickness med for nausea, lightheadedness, etc. (I didn’t have the symptoms – it was a preventive measure). All day long I had the slightest of headaches. Other than that and shortness of breath when walking up flights of stairs, I was OK. However , you are recommended not to do anything for a couple of hours after you arrive. Once I got to my hotel, I felt tired and actually slept about 1.5 hrs (deep sleep as I would have late that night too) until my Cuzco city tour was to pick me up later that afternoon.
Cusco is quite a picturesque and pleasant town. I liked it a lot. Its main square (“Plaza de Armas”; there is one in practically every Latin American town) has really beautiful architecture.
Building by the main square in Cusco
Church in the main square
Local couple taking a stroll in the main plaza
There are sights to see within the town itself and around it. The city tour showed me the key sites in an afternoon (the Corikancha which was the most important temple in the Inca empire in the city center; Sacsayhuamán, an Inca complex in the outskirts of the city; etc.). After the tour, I had time to stroll about as I pleased but I pleased to eat and go to bed… BTW, in Cuzco, as in Lima, hotels had 110v outlets; I have had Blackberry access; there have been ATMs everywhere. Traveling is so much easier these days than 20 years ago… (Here is a quick link to a clip from the ruins of Sacsayhuamán, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and what makes the construction of it so impressive http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yH6HtFKz63E.)
Sideview of the Corikancha in central Cusco
Getting to Machu Picchu
The trip to Machu Picchu (which was built around the year 1450) can be done in several ways. One can certainly do it on one’s own. There are a few things to coordinate and I didn’t feel like dealing with all that given the altitude “sickness” (slight as it was, you feel drained the first day) and the fact I was going solo and only had one day – I could not afford mistakes… There are tons of tour companies that will coordinate logistics if you are not inclined to do it on your own. Due to work constraints keeping my MP visit to one day, I went with an organized tour (the company, “Nuevo Mundo” went above and beyond for me).
Modes of travel include the Vistadome train (roof is partly glass so you can see more and not feel enclosed) which takes 4 hrs. My train left at 6 AM with my pickup at 520 AM. There were later trains but I needed to go as early as possible. Waking up around 445 AM wasn’t an issue as I crashed at 9 PM the night before out of sheer exhaustion… Another way of getting there is hiring a helicopter and getting there way faster – for a price. Finally, one can spend a few days hiking the Inca trail that the Incas used to take to get to MP in its heyday. Secondary trails are being developed and I am sure they would be better than the more popular one…
I had met some interesting folks on the city tour and ran into them again on the trip/tour to/of MP; they were neat people to hang out with and it made the tour a little more enjoyable.
At Machu Picchu…
(I realize tons has been written about MP. so I won’t try to re-write the great American novel…) Visiting the ruins wore me and others out. There are steps to be walked up and down and, though MP is lower in altitude than Cusco, it is still about 8000 ft (2,430 m) high. I strongly recommend that if you want to see it, see it sooner rather than later! However, you can see it at any age, you will just have to go slower or perhaps arrive 2 days ahead to better acclimate. There was a man who, I estímate, was around 80 yrs old (and who didn’t look younger than his age) and he was doing it!
One recommendation I was given but could not do was to stay in the town at the base (Aguas Calientes) so you can go back up to see sunrise (if it isn’t foggy which I heard it was that day) and to hike up to the famous mountain you see on the shots you see of MP (which is NOT Machu Picchu; when you see the famous pictures of MP, you are standing on the mountain called MP; this other iconic mountain is called Huayna Picchu). The picture below does not show that there are fairly decent looking hotels in town!
Street in Aguas Calientes
Me? I hope to come back and go up that mountain and then see the rest of the Sacred Valley which probably can use a few days to explore. I have heard a good place to stay is the town of Ollantaytambo; people seem to like it a lot (I just drove through it on the way back to Cusco).
The standard and obligatory picture of MP!
My impression of MP? Tourist trap? Amusement park? Overrated? Most absolutely not. It is as impressive and magnificent as people say it is and it exceeded even what I envisioned encountering. It is a powerful place due to the history, the architecture/engineering feats, and one of the most beautiful natural settings on earth.
They are called ruins for a reason!
Terraces in Machu Picchu
At the end, we visited the market and I had a slightly different experience. While you have to haggle, two things they didn’t do:
Be pushy or be “cat calling” you to come to their stall; when they did it was very soft and they only did it once
They didn’t run after you when you walked away to sell whatever object you had tried to haggle on; they left you alone and/or they had a price point after which, they were just not interested. I kind of liked seeing that as they seemed proud of their goods and didn’t seem to feel they had to make a sale if they didn’t get what they wanted.
Visits to Economic Development Projects
I visited some development projects my organization had worked on. It was neat to see, as I saw in Tanzania, how my organization makes a difference. My first week in Lima I heard everything about our approach in Peru and was impressed at how progressive they were in advocating the governments at various levels to take on their responsibility, and in building the government’s capacity to do so. The scale of poverty in Peru, while it can be extreme, takes place in a country with more human capacity and better infrastructure than sub-Saharan Africa.
Kiwicha field near Mollepata
The organization was working to help mountain communities diversify their economic activities so not all are farmers or so those that are farmers don’t all plant the same thing (which depresses crops’ prices). Also, they receive help to find products that aren’t commodity (say, in the textile industry) so they can reach and be successful in international markets, since China and India can produce things cheaper than countries like Peru. They can differentiate their products from the mass scale production that takes place in Asia by producing better designsor distinctive (not mass-produced) products, by developing organic produce or things that can address more discerning developed world consumers (think premium coffees vs. Maxwell House – no offense to any M H drinkers!). Anyway, the economic activities I saw were:
an artichoke farm (new product being grown in the region and sought after by the U.S. and European marketings), growing proven varieties and continuing to experiment with new ones
high quality and design textile workshops where the women can work from their homes to produce for the larger entity they belong to and be able to pick up kids from school and take care of them (vs. being at a factory for the entire day) with minimal disruption to their work activity
jewelry artisan workshops producing (or trying to) for the international market.
Artichoke farmer in Urcos, in the Cusco region
NOTE: This is the first of a series of posts that relate my experiences during a 5-week trip to Perú earlier in 2008.
Arrival in Lima
I arrived in Lima in a direct flight from Atlanta. The airport in Lima is very modern but the lines were long, especially landing at midnight US time. The taxi ride took about 30 minutes and I finally went to bed around 1AM.
The hotel, as many hotels around here, is a standalone operation. The building itself looks like from the 1970s. You would be amazed at how little concern for safety there is in the design, something probably that would not pass muster in many places… I can open the window (which is over 6 ft wide) almost to the full extent but the worrying thing is that the wall below the window is about 2.5 feet tall. Yikes! All you have to do is trip on some shoe left around and, sayonara room and hello gravity!
Said low wall on the window looking out from my 11th story room
View from my hotel room
Hard City to Move Around
The first work day started with the car that was supposed to pick me up not showing up. It was to be an omen for later in the day when waiting for a taxi to take me back to the hotel took 2 full hours by the clock! This all was a good reminder to not expect things to be like they are at home – always a good reminder.
I was advised against renting a car due to all the construction going on re-paving streets. I was told the government decided belatedly to tear them up and re-do them ahead of an upcoming international summit – but they were doing most of the work concurrently making driving even more chaotic in this labyrinthine town. However, I also suspect that even with perfectly paved roads, the city road layout was confusing enough that I would not want to drive on them!
Street on the outskirt of Lima
The Parts of Town Where I Operated
The area where I stayed was called Miraflores. It is a very nice residential area. Not an area of mansions per se but lots of high rises, nice streets, etc. The hotel, as most places around here, does not have A/C or heating. It seems the weather is fairly mild for the most part. With the windows open, the climate in the room is quite nice but you get the traffic noise. After a night, you are used to it so it isn’t as bad as it may seem (plus I always have earplugs handy!).
A street corner in an older part of Lima
Work is in another district called Jesús María (“Jesus Mary”, kind of odd-sounding even for a Catholic like me…) with a lot of old houses that have, for the most part, been converted to offices but which retain a lot of architectural charm.
Old style building near work
Near work is an old ministry building (about 10 or 12 stories high and monstrously large) which has a very large crack running through the outside of the building caused by the recent earthquake in Pisco – the building has been condemned, thankfully, but the building sits there as a reminder of the risks Lima runs as a large city in an earthquake-active zone…
My First Lunches – A Great Sign of What to Expect in Lima!
On my first day, lunch was at an early 130PM… I was starving! There was nothing around work so a colleague drove me to a restaurant where I committed 3 cardinal sins in the span of 3 minutes. The restaurant was very nice and my colleague told me not to worry… My 3 sins were:
eating sauces that were cream or milk based (milk here is not always pasteurized)
eating raw fish (ceviche)
drinking a lemonade that I didn’t see prepared with bottled water.
If there was a good time to teach me a lesson this should have been it… 36 hours later, I was still good – whew!! Of course, a good restaurant would not be a problem but I was still a little out of sorts to remember that with it being my first day in a new country with little sleep, and in a new work situation…
Another day for lunch we went to a home-style place that had a nice and complete lunch for 8 soles (about $3). It was delicious (chicken soup was the appetizer and it isn’t the run-of-the-mill chicken soup!). With prices like these, I knew I was going to eat like a king!
A Lunch I Will Never Forget
I tried the traditional mountain / Inca delicacy at lunch one day: guinea pig. It took a bit for me to accept the idea I was to take a bite of it but a coworker invited me to her restaurant, her treat, and I could not refuse the hospitality. I made sure I drove a deep work conversation during the lunch so I would not think of what I was eating.
Yes, folks, it tastes “like” chicken though it has less meat on it (some say rabbit but I disagree, though it has been 25 yrs since I had rabbitt…). I was lucky enough (God takes care of me) to mention to my colleague that I didn’t want to see a picture of one before eating it. Boy, was I glad I said that flippantly! When ordering, my colleague was kind enough to specify to the waitress to bring it without the head on mine and on hers. Can you imagine if that had shown up with a head??!! I would have likely gagged.
A Couple of Interesting Areas of the City
- The area of Barranco is a beautiful, seaside part of town. It is just a few minutes from Larcomar, the mall hanging off the cliff by the Pacific Ocean, and offers quite a few options for dining and shopping.
- I visited the Lima city center at night. It was VERY impressive. Colonial architecture on a grand scale which makes sense since Lima was in effect the capital of South America (more or less) during the colonial times due to the riches of Perú. It was very well policed, lively, and I felt safe.
- My hotel was in Miraflores, on Ave. Larco which ends at the JW Marriott and across from it, Larcomar, a shopping center with lots of restaurants overlooking the Pacific Ocean from its perch on what seems to be a cliffside. Cool place to go.
- Miraflores has a park, further inland than my hotel, on Ave. Larco that is very charming with a plaza and neat architecture around. There is also a GREAT and big place to buy arts & crafts from Peru nearby (Mercado Artesanal, close to Narciso de la Colina). Finally, lots of shoe shiners who, for like 40 cents, will do a great job shining your shoes!
Miraflores Church in the Parque Central de Miraflores
Building on the Parque Central
The after (left) and before (right) of the well-priced shoe shine!
On the Road Again
I found out on the first day I was not to be based in Lima as I had understood before the trip. In fact the first week was the only full week I was to spend in Lima. The flipside was that I was going to get to see the country!
That first weekend I was to leave for Cusco, the base for going to Machu Picchu, to spend 3 days visiting projects and, over the weekend, go to MP (as a tourist). Originally I was planning to see MP at the end of the trip but since the local office had decided I should go to Puno (which is higher than Cusco), it made good sense to go to Cusco before Puno to acclimatize first to Cusco which would then make acclimatizing to Puno a tad easier. I liked the plan because Puno is up at 12,421 ft (3,860 m)!
- Read about my Puno visit here and here.
- Read about my Cusco visit here.
Some Random Observations and Musings about Lima
- I got to try a Peruvian Malbec wine while in Lima. I haven’t had wine so sweet without it being supposed to be sweet! Clearly sugar was added to the wine by the “winemaker” to cover its poor quality… I couldn’t finish it. Of course it cost only $4 – you get what you pay for. I was just hoping that good, basic local wines would exist. I switched to water…
- The city streets are kept very clean of trash and all streets have street signs with their name (not something I have seen consistently outside of US/Canada/Europe)
- Though the city is very polluted, it is not as bad as, say, Beijing.
- They have this dish called tacu tacu which consists of smashed beans and rice served with beef or seafood. I tried it with seafood. Though I don’t eat calamari and other seafood items, I ate it ALL, except the octopus. The sauce was superb.
- They always serve a plate full of corn kernels to snack on while you wait for appetizers or food. It is a different type of corn than regular corn (it is larger and whiter) and they toast them and put some salt on it. It is quite nice.
- Oh, and did I mention I worked close to Chewbacca from Star Wars? It took me a few days to realize the Chewbacca noise I heard every 15 mins or so was a creaking door around the corner from where I sat…
- Finally, Peruvians are super nice! I would love to see more of this beautiful country and its great and proud people.
These are my impressions and experiences in the bustling, large, and noisy city that is Lima, Perú. What have been yours??
There are SO many places to go and enjoy a meal or a drink in Paris. Whether it be haut cuisine, a pastry, a glass of wine, or coffee, you will never run out of options in Paris and, many of the options, are quite good. Exploring these places is one of the guilt-inducing pleasures of any trip to the City of Light! What grabbed my attention and palate? Here they are…
Hot chocolate anyone?
My all-time favorite, and I have tried hot chocolate in quite a few places, is Angelina’s in the Rue de Rivoli in Paris, just across the street from the Tuileries (226 rue de Rivoli, 75001). Conveniently, they also have great pastries so I can kill two birds with one stone… I wish it had an outdoor sitting area but given where it is, that is not possible. It has become a little over-priced due to people like me raving about it. I am sorry…
Heaven for ilivetotravel!
Best little former secret family restaurant
Well, I say former because I have even seen it on Anthony Bourdain’s travel/food show a couple of years ago… But I went there before the show, for the record! This place called “Robert et Louise” is a little gem of a restaurant in Le Marais district (64, rue Vieille-du-Temple 75003).
Robert and Louise were the owners who started the restaurant in the 1950s. Robert has since passed away and I believe the restaurant is owned now by others. But, last time I was there, Louise still lived above the restaurant and would come down to get food…
The place is tucked away on a street with small antique shops, etc. but on a part of the street that at night is completely dead… except for Robert et Louise. The red and white checkered window curtains hide the restaurant from the passerby. You almost have to know it is there. My friends Chris and Wendy had discovered it two days before and took me there. The place would not pass governmental health regulations in the U.S. and I am so glad it is not in the U.S.! (Please don’t be scared away by that statement.)
The dish to go for is the steak to share by 2 or more folks – it is cooked in the fire pit right next to the main wooden table in the back of the restaurant (there are normal tables in the front of the restaurant). The fire pit, the nights I have been there, is fed by wood from a crate that the cook is breaking apart as needed to keep the fire going. The fire pit is located next to the small sink used by people to wash their hands (yes, this may sound gross to some but you will soon ignore it once you begin to enjoy the casual, non-touristy ambiance and eat the food!). Another spot in the back is the salad maker who is also the potato cooker. (The first I went the lady who cuts the meat was having a heated argument with the salad/potato-maker; she was the one with the big knife. We prayed they were only arguing about how much seasoning the meat should have…).
The dishes are simple but when simplicity is delicious, who needs anything else! Advice: Go early to avoid a long wait since the place is small and no one is in a hurry to leave.
A Supermarket with Flair
Paris has les Grands Magasins, the big fancy department stores that everyone wants to go shopping at. Galeries Lafayette near the Old Opera is my favorite. Colognes, clothing, you think? NOOOOOOO!!! The food section!!! It has a supermarket in it, as do other big department stores in Europe.
The spice section
But this one has a special place I like to go to every time I go to Paris. Their focus is Spanish ham (I forget the name, if it has one; but print the picture below if you are going and you will find it!). They serve other things but I love going to it to get me some Spanish ham, paired up with a good red wine!! You sit at the counter, order, and people-watch while you enjoy. Or tweet
And… More Chocolate!
I have to say that a real treat in Paris for any chocolate-liker (and, definitely, for chocolate-lover!) is to try the fine chocolates at any of the fine chocolate makers in the city. Some are on or near the Rue St. Honoré. Viator.com also offers some chocolate tours that are well worth the price. No need to name names, try any of the “maisons du chocolat“, and you will NOT be disappointed! I highly encourage tasting with a theme in mind whether trying only pure chocolate, trying different ones with different perfumes, trying only ones with nuts, etc. It can be overwhelming and you cannot have too many as they are filling! Bon appetit!
Pieces of heaven at Hugo & Victor
More about Paris and places to eat at from my friend’s Chris’ guest writeup! Check it out, lots of good info for those planning – or wanting – to go to Paris!