Moving to…JAPAN!

As most of you already know, our next big step is Japan! We’ve spent the last year visiting with friends, getting back into old habits in San Diego (hello GOTR), and planning our next move.

As of this week, my ticket is purchased, and I’m off to Japan next month!!

Image Source: Daily Signal

Image Source: Daily Signal

Zac is not really interested in teaching English anymore, so he signed up for Japanese classes, and I’ve been looking for jobs nonstop for two months.

Finally, after lots of interviews, some okay options, and some really big corporate companies, I’ve accepted a job and will be leaving January 22nd! My feelings are slightly mixed: I’m very excited to have a plan, and I really like the school I’ve chosen, but I have to leave 2 months earlier than Zac (he has to wait in the states for his student visa), and the schedule will mean that we will go back to not having a day off together. Which is not my favorite thing. But, it might not be so bad, so we’ll just have to see!

We’re currently trying to figure out what to store/toss/sell/take, and we’re both in the market for warm winter clothes, and I’m trying to build up my business professional closet without spending a fortune. (Oh, how I’ll miss you running clothes, sweats, and slippers!)

And for those of you looking for the deets:

We’re heading to Yokohama (see weather details here), which is about 30-45 minutes by train south of Tokyo. It is the second largest city in Japan, with a population of almost 3.7 million. (Kinda around the same number of people as Los Angeles.) It’s on the water (a port), but surf is about an hour train ride away. (Poor Z Heis!!)

Yokohama January Weather

Plan is to be there for the foreseeable future (minimum 1 year!). I’m leaving in January, and Zac will follow at the end of March. Hopefully we will become super pros at Japanese!

I just wanted to share this with everyone who has been keeping tabs on us, and hopefully we’ll have some fun adventures to keep you guys entertained in the next year(s). Fingers crossed that it doesn’t rain inside our apartment in Japan!

Categories: Asia, Japan, Teaching English | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Living in Lima’s Perpetual Gray – A Year In The Fog by Zac Heisey

Hi Everyone!

I write this from the fireside recliner at my aunt Robyn’s house in New Jersey. Three inches of snow on the ground, a massive Christmas tree, and all the clean water I can drink! I’ve spent the last four weeks bouncing between Virginia and New Jersey, catching up with friends and family after 10 months away. It’s been excellent, but not without nostalgia for Lima (shocking!), and the stress of restarting an old life in San Diego. It’s hard re-assimilating to life in the states. I miss my friends in Peru, the freedom of easy public transportation and I’m certainly bummed to miss the amazing summer in Lima, but it’s been a great few weeks back.

This blog post is really just an excuse to share this link with everyone. Most of you probably know that Zac has a surf blog, and writes content for TheInertia, TheBombSurf, and more. He recently wrote a really amazing post that really sums up a lot of what we experienced emotionally during our time in Lima – so here it is: A Year in the Fog – In the Name of Surf. Skills I tell ya.

Zac in front of the Huaca

FOG FOG FOG – Zac in front of the Huaca

Thanks and enjoy!

Categories: Expat Living, Lima | Leave a comment

Mexico City + This Is The End

We are back! It’s very strange, but we are completely done with our 11-month adventure of expat life and travel. Zac and I are in our respective parents’ homes for the holiday season, drinking clean water and throwing toilet paper in the toilet. Yep, it’s a very different world here. But about Mexico City.

As most of you know, my sister (Jayme) and her husband (Jorge) live and work in Mexico City. They both love it immensely, and have been nagging me to visit for over a year. It was not unwanted nagging, and we finally got our chance to spend 10ish days with them on our “way” back to the States.

We spent a lot of time working on our computers, making food, eating food, and drinking beers.

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Banana-Oat Muffins, Hummus, Pan-Seared Salmon w/ Spicy Quinoa, Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta and Roasted Brussels Sprouts

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Fancy Negra Modelo Bottle, Cheese & Chicken Street Quesadilla, Bread of the Dead

On the first Saturday night they took us to downtown Mexico City (D.F.) and Jorge, the by-night tour guide, told us all about the history of the city, pointing out monuments, and places where you can see evidence of the city sinking. It’s pretty fascinating. He was a good guide, pointing out Benito Juarez monuments, then explaining who he was and why he matters. It was great!

Mexico City

The Angel of Independence

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String Quartet on the Street! (well…quintet?)

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Light Display

Display of Skulls & Altars: Day of the Dead

Display of Skulls & Altars: Day of the Dead

We spent a Sunday at Teotihuacan ruins. This place is a pretty cool set of pyramids not too far out of the city center. These ruins are actually pre-Aztec ruins, so not a lot of information is known about them.

Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan – Jorge, Zac, Jayme, Caitlin

Before the WATERBOTTLE Incident

Before the WATERBOTTLEPOCALYPSE Incident

The tallest pyramid is mostly a reconstruction, but it’s inaccurate. Apparently the architect decided there were supposed to be 5 levels instead of the original 4. Sounds like a cocky guy to me. Anyway, we were on, say, level 2 or 3 when I took this picture. Immediately afterwards I stood up with the group backpack and my 1-liter, completely full Nalgene water bottle fell out and bounced and rolled it’s way down the side of the pyramid. It actually hit a (drama queen) women in the leg who kind of made a big deal about it. I mean, I’m sure it hurt a lot though, but she ended up making it to the top of the pyramid anyway.

Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan

Jayme & Caitlin Teotihuacan

Jayme & Caitlin Teotihuacan

The next, mmm, Machaca de J&J.

Machaca Breakfast

Machaca Breakfast

Also, we got to do something super duper cool and visit Jorge at his office: GOOGLE!!

GOOGLE

View

View From Google (Grainy iPod photo – sorry!)

That's a Video-Conference Room

That’s a Video-Conference Room

Gigantic Google Maps

Gigantic Google Maps

During the week, Zac and I took a (VERY LONG) journey to Tepoztlan, a small puebla outside of the city. They have a couple of pyramids as well, so we took the 45-minute climb to see El Tepozteco, the ruins at the top of the mountain.

In Tepoztlan, on the way to Tepozteco

In Tepoztlan, on the way to Tepozteco

Tepoztlan

Tepoztlan

Stairs to Tepozteco

Stairs to Tepozteco

Tepozteca & View

Tepozteca & View

Man, so as we got to the top, we saw these strange possums together in a family. We were a little scared of them, but excited, thinking that this was a rare chance to see these four creatures. NOPE. There were like 20, and they would follow you around if you made any sort of rustling noise. Want your water from your backpack? Nope nope nope, we will follow you and try to jump inside the pack. We just tried to ignore them and stay away, but as we left, a man came up with a bag of dried pork rinds and started feeding them! Bad move, buddy. A quick Wikipedia search tells me they’re Coati, and they’re members of the raccoon family. Thanks Wiki!

I should really donate to Wikipedia.

Man feeding the Coati

Man feeding the Coati

For our last few days in Mexico, Jayme & Jorge had a 3-day holiday weekend, so we took the arduous drive to Oaxaca. (Arduous mostly for Jorge…thanks for driving guys!)

Oaxaca is a state in Mexico and a small, relatively conservative town. I’ve actually only ever met Mexicans from Mexico City or Oaxaca. The drive was about 6 hours, but we did get stuck in some awful road block at 5:00am because people were protesting something in the middle of the Interstate. Get it together, people, we’re just trying to be tourists and spend money in your country.

We ate some AWESOME Oaxacan cheese (do I talk about food too much? False, no such thing as talking about food too much), went to a balcony bar and watched some sort of wedding parade, visited the Monte Alban ruins, checked out a Convent-turned-Museum, and played games in our hotel!

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Convent Museum

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Cathedral – Oaxaca

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Monte Alban – Oaxaca

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Monte Alban Ruins – Oaxaca

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Liiiiiittle bitty lizard – Monte Alban, Oaxaca

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Loving the warm weather and sunshine at Monte Alban, Oaxaca

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Well, also loving the shade.

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Ruins – Monte Alban, Oaxaca

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View from the balcony bar – Oaxaca

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Wedding Parade

On the first day there, we actually came across a small display in the street that was aiming to bring attention to violence against women and femicide. We participated in solidarity by leaving our purple handprints on the sheet. (I wish I’d taken a picture of that.) Seems to represent some sort of commitment to keep the purple on your hand and not on someone else’s face. That’s what I’m going with. I loved it. And activism for women, especially in Machismo societies, is much needed. Peru, can you get on board with that one?

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Purple Hands for Peace

Purple Hands for Peace

And then we returned to Mexico City on Monday afternoon. Just in time to eat WAY TOO MUCH POPCORN at a fancy fancy movie theater. The Butler? Amazing. Go see it.

OH MY GOSH. I totally forget to tell you guys. CHILAQUILES. SO DELICIOUS. They sound (sorry) disgusting, but are in fact incredibly amazing. Fresh tortilla chips are smothered in sauce (red or green or both) and topped with a fried egg or shredded chicken, then served with cheese, fresh cream, and refried black beans. For realz, probably the best thing I ate in Mexico. Yes. I basically had nachos for breakfast, and I’m okay with that. Sorry I didn’t take a picture.

Then, the good bye trip to the airport. Oddly enough, my flight was originally for 7am and Zac’s was for 9:30am, but with numerous flight changes and updates, they ended up leaving just 4 minutes apart! 9:08 for Zac and 9:12 for me. Am I the only one that thinks that’s super interesting? Probably. Don’t answer that.

Bye bye!

Bye bye! – 7am at the airport.

SO, this is really it you guys! You probably won’t hear from us again for a while, unless we do something really awesome next year in San Diego. BUT. 2015. Japan. Nihon!

Thanks for following us around on yet another journey. And thanks for letting me communicate with you in one massive blog post instead of lots of individual emails and calls that would all say the same thing! If you feel like you miss me, (there’s a plug coming here) then you can check out my food meanderings over at Frugal Nutrition! It’s pretty cool, I swear.

Until next time friends.

Adios for now!

Adios for now!

Categories: Mexico | 2 Comments

Iquitos & The Amazon Jungle

Have you been to the jungle? Cause if you haven’t, you should go. But you should know, it’s pretty much The Forbidden Forest. I’m thinking J.K. based The Forbidden Forest on the Amazon. I swear the tarantulas felt as big as Aragog’s family.

It wasn’t all bright green curly vines and crazy bright birds and snakes. It’s not The Rainforest Cafe, like you might expect. But it was still pretty awesome. It was also terrifying, especially at night. I might not recommend the 30-minute night hike. Zac and I had a safe word for that. (It was cabbage.)

Anyway, we started with 3 days in the city of Iquitos. How pretty is this picture of the cathedral in the Plaza de Armas?

Plaza de Armas - Iquitos

Plaza de Armas – Iquitos

The jungle pretty much butts up to the city of Iquitos.  Walk one block away from the Plaza and you will find this:

Marshy Inlet - Iquitos

Marshy Inlet – Iquitos

There are a lot of homeless/stray cats and dogs throughout Peru, but apparently they’re not really considered pets when you get into the deep jungle, which makes sense, because they’re a drain on limited resources. In the jungle, they’re often used as bait for animals and fish! However, this little guy was only a couple of weeks old, and had an owner, but no mama. So cute and so sad. The owner said he didn’t eat anything because his mom disappeared while he was supposed to be breastfeeding. She didn’t think he would survive much longer, but I like to think he bounced back!

Maybe 2 weeks old? Sin mami! :( Poor guy.

Maybe 2 weeks old? Sin mami! Poor guy.

Also, you start to wonder about a town when these are the warning signs posted in your hostel room.

Recommendations - "For Your Safety" in the Hostel...read the last one.

Recommendations – “For Your Safety” in the Hostel…read the last one.

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There is so much to say about the jungle, it’s going to be impossible to capture it all. We spent one of our days in Iquitos at Quistococha, which is kind of a reserve/conservatory that protects different species. It’s kind of like a really poorly maintained zoo. All of the animals were in exhibits or cages, but we didn’t see many other people or employees of the conservatory very often. We entered at just the right time, when the dolphin was being fed. Dolphins are great, but apparently the pink & gray dolphins of the Amazon are very aggressive, so watch out.

Quistococha - Dolphin Trainer

Quistococha – Dolphin Trainer

We come across this relatively small enclosure that housed 15-20 alligators. WAY too many, if you ask me. But, look at this guy? There’s no way that’s a real alligator. So then we figured that the super-still alligators on the land were fake, and those in the water were real. Why would they do that?

This Alligator is real.

Alligator – real or fake?

We walked away to check out some jaguars and stuff, then passed by and the alligators again and his eyes were closing. Okay, so he’s not fake, just really freaking scary. In that moment, I realized that I am terrified of alligators. I was reading/re-reading the Divergent series during this trip, and I’m certain that if I were Dauntless, these guys would be in my fear landscape. (Is that too many fantasy-fiction novel references for one blog post?)

Alligator - It's Alive!

Alligator – It’s Alive!

There were lots of jungle monkeys and hundreds of turtles and fire ants and snakes and such. But the jungle has this really funny-looking creature. It’s like a gigantic guinea pig. So these two gigantic guinea pigs decided to take a little dip in the pond of their enclosure. That one in the front stayed in the corner away from the alligator, but the second one must have thought the alligator was a log! He swam up to it and tried to climb on top of the alligator’s back!! The alligator shook him off and snapped a little, and the hog-like creature swam to safety.

*UPDATE: My dad, the encyclopedia, just informed me that this creature is the Capybara.

Some sort of Amazon hog preparing to hang out with the alligator...

Some sort of Amazon hog (capybara) preparing to hang out with the alligator…

Here we have a monkey. We watched him ESCAPE from his enclosure, with all his monkey friends cheering him on! He tried to get back in, but knocked over the broom he’d used to climb down and ended up escaping into the jungle after chatting to his friends. It was a medium-sized monkey, so we didn’t get too close. I’d have a lot of pent-up anger against humans if I’d been locked in a cage my whole life. We didn’t want him to tear our faces off.

Escaped Monkey!

Escaped Monkey!

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Parrots!

Zac - Quistococha

Zac – Quistococha

I’m glad we ended up going to Quistococha because we saw a lot of jungle animals that we wouldn’t get to see in our part of the jungle – including those awesome parrots!

After relaxing as cheaply as possible for a couple of days, we began our 3-day, 2-night jungle tour. And it was awesome.

Day 1: We woke at the muy madrugada hour of 5:00. We packed up a school backpack full of spare clothes, bug spray, and a flashlight, ate a little oatmeal and fruit, met our guide, and left the hostel at 6:00am. We took a 2-hour drive to the city of Nauta, then a 10-minute mototaxi to the port, where we waited for an hour for the guides to get the last supplies, and then about a 2-3-hour boat ride to the Jungle Wolf lodge.

On the Amazon

On the Amazon

Our Lodge - Jungle Wolf Expeditions

Our Lodge – Jungle Wolf Expeditions

Meal 1. We were SO HAPPY to have more than just rice! Fried plantains, hearts of palm salad, and catfish.

Meal 1. We were SO HAPPY to have more than just rice! Fried plantains, hearts of palm salad, and catfish. (Lil fuzzy, sorry!)

After a leisurely lunch, we got on the little green boat and spent a few hours on the river, checking out birds and big clans of tiny monkeys. I didn’t get a lot of good pictures of the monkeys because they stayed well hidden in the trees. They were so loud though!

Mama Vieja Hawk (Ancient Mother)

Mama Vieja Hawk (Ancient Mother)

We returned to the lodge for a few more hours to play UNO, read, and apply lots and lots of bug spray before venturing into the jungle at nightfall. We also got to watch our host go dig up a huge yuca (tapioca, cassava, manioc) root for our dinner. I love stuff like that.

Yuca Root! (Tapioca, Manioc, Cassava)

Yuca Root! (Tapioca, Manioc, Cassava)

There were SO MANY mosquitos out at night, and we saw lots of horrible critters – poisonous centipedes and caterpillars, spiders, fire ants, a cockroach the size of my palm, and a tarantula the size of a dinner plate. We were both pretty scared, being in The Forbidden Forest and all, which is why halfway through I suggested the safe word in case we were too scared to continue. I spent the entire 30 minutes chattering nervously about various things, and Zac pretty much didn’t say a word. He was a little more scared than I was though because he’s a true city boy. At least I’d lived in the woods for several years as a child so I wasn’t quite as terrified. And also he really really hates spiders.

Female Tarantula - LARGER THAN MY HAND. Way too big.

Female Tarantula – LARGER THAN MY HAND. Way too big.

Afterwards, we returned to the lodge to find this little guy in our bathroom. (And the bathroom was in the bedroom without a door.)

The gigantic spider I trapped for Zac on day 1. Zac was terrified.

The gigantic spider I trapped for Zac on day 1. Zac was terrified.

When he was fully stretched out on the wall, he was about the size of my hand, including the legs. I was able to trap him in this glass, and we later learned that these types of “house spiders” are apparently not poisonous. If only that were true of the gigantic scorpion we found in our room the next night. Zac got up to go to the bathroom around 2am and shone the flashlight on a massive scorpion, highly poisonous, just hanging on our door, like 3 feet from the bed. After he came out of the bathroom, the scorpion was gone. I didn’t sleep the rest of the night.

Day 2: What an exciting evening we had! We rose to the loudest birds ever, around 6:30, and had an omelet and fruit for breakfast. Our food on the trip was pretty good, but they kept serving fluffy white sandwich bread with everything. (Bimbo’s!) Like wonderbread, not toasted or anything. Do people eat that? I was confused by it.

After our breakfast I got to feed a Tapir named Chico! The host of this lodge found a baby Tapir who was injured and close to death. Being an animal lover, he nursed it back to life, gave it a “necklace” (collar), and now leaves breakfast and dinner for him every day. Chico spends the rest of the time wandering through the jungle escaping jaguars and poachers. He has an adventurous life. Also, his nose looks like an anteater or a mini-elephant trunk or something. He was so cool!

Chico! The "pet" Tapir.

Chico! The “pet” Tapir.

The majority of the morning was spent back in the jungle, but it is a much friendlier place by the light of day. We did find a boa constrictor in his hole though, which is hard to see from this picture. For the rest of the 3-hour hike I was repeating, “Oh dread, he’s up to my head,” in my mind.

"I'm being eaten by a boa constrictor, and I don't like it one bit."

“I’m being eaten by a boa constrictor, and I don’t like it one bit.”

We learned about medicinal plants, found this super cool fruit called Ivory Fruit, which looks and feels like a hard quartz rock. I took that home for my souvenir. It’s really really hard, and our guide had to slice into it with his machete. Maybe Zac’s Bear Grylls knife is strong enough to peel the outer layer.

Ivory Fruit

Ivory Fruit

Our guide found a “very clean” worm inside of a fruit for us to eat. Apparently it tastes like coconut. We didn’t have the courage to try it though. The Suri worms are very very common for jungle folk to eat, and when cooked, they taste like chicken. This white worm is not quite the same as the chicken-like variety, but is still a common feature of the jungle person’s diet. I’ll settle for a picture.

Edible worm - apparently it tastes like coconut.

Edible worm – apparently it tastes like coconut.

Deathly poisonous mushroom.

Deadly poisonous mushroom.

Edible mushroom.

Edible mushroom.

This strangler ficus is unable to perform photosynthesis – meaning it has to prey on other plants to get nutrients. It strangles palm trees and steals their nutrients, and when they die, it’s roots and branches crawl out in every direction to find other palms to strangle. Pretty insane and really cool.

Strangler Ficus

Strangler Ficus

Not-poisonous centipede.

Not-poisonous centipede.

600 year old tree in the Amazon!

600 year old tree in the Amazon! Do you like Zac’s machete?

After lunch, we headed back out on the river to view some pink and gray dolphins, but we found ourselves in the midst of a deluge, so we docked at a nearby village – Puerto Miguel – and waited it out. Also, did you know that butterflies like to get high on gas fumes? Cause that’s what this guy was doing around our motor.

Caught a (drunk/high) butterfly!

Caught a butterfly!

Puerto Miguel is a really cool little village of about 400 people. We hung out at our guide’s friend’s place, which was the most amazing part of our trip. Here’s why:

BABY SLOTH. ON MY BODY. BEST MOMENT EVER.

BABY SLOTH. ON MY BODY. BEST MOMENT EVER.

They had 2 pet sloths. And I got to hold one. This sloth is about 3 years old, and they found it when they were out hunting or gathering in the jungle. Screw monkeys, this thing is AWESOME.

A few days before we arrived, their dog discovered an alligator’s nest, and the owners decided to raise them for a little while in a tub in their home, to make sure they survived the first few months, since they’re becoming endangered. I also held this little guy, who was VERY aggressive for being only a week old!

1 week old alligator!

1 week old alligator!

We headed back to the water to see the pink and gray dolphins, which was pretty cool. They don’t come out of the water very far, so I wasn’t able to snap a picture. The guide told us that they are gray when they are young, but as they age and are exposed to the unique waters of the Amazon, they start to turn pink. So normally around 10 years old, they begin changing from gray to pink. Pretty interesting.

At nightfall, we began a slow boat ride back to the lodge, hoping to see some alligators along the way.

On the river.

On the river.

We didn’t really know what to expect, but we spent like 45 minutes in the shallows, in pitch black, with 1 flashlight between 4 people, being eaten by mosquitos, while our guides spoke to each other in hushed tones. We were a little scared, since an adult alligator was moving around nearby (we could hear it) and could have easily tipped our boat over. But that didn’t stop our guides! The 17-year-old assistant actually climbed out of the boat several times and then caught a small alligator! It was only about 2 years old, but he could still bite your hand off if you weren’t careful.

2-year old alligator - significantly scarier.

2-year old alligator – significantly scarier than the 1-week old.

Time for dinner, sleep, and bedroom scorpions! (ACK)

Day 3: Our final day in the jungle began with breakfast and fishing. We spent a few hours out on the boat fishing for piranhas, which was really really fun. Before we even started, a piranha and a baby catfish both jumped in our boat and flopped around for several minutes, scaring me to bits. I wasn’t very good at the fishing; I’d yank the pole out of the water before the fish was hooked so it would just fly up a few feet and then let go, but I did end up catching two! Zac caught 3 piranhas and 1 baby catfish.

Fishing for Piranhas! Zac caught 4!

Fishing for Piranhas and he caught a baby catfish!!

I caught 2!

First catch!

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TERRIFIED. You can’t see it on my face, but I was.

On the way back, they offered Zac the chance to try and drive the boat. He did it, and at first he did a great job. But he did a lot of overcompensating, and we ended up stuck on the riverbank for a couple of minutes while they tried to pry us loose from the vines and logs. Also, you might note that Zac donated his awesome highly coveted yellow sunglasses to one of our guides.

Zac trying (and sort of failing) to drive the boat.

Zac trying (and sort of failing) to drive the boat.

Me being the semi-aggressive got-something-to-prove feminist thought, “Hey, I can do better than that, and I should show these Machismos that women ARE capable.” And even though they never asked me, I made them let me drive the boat. I’m pleased to report that I didn’t crash into anything, and I would have made my mother proud with my driving skills. ONE SMALL STEP FOR WOMANKIND! Take that, sexism!

Caitlin successfully driving the boat.

Caitlin successfully driving the boat.

Back at the lodge, the host’s son, Romy, and Zac went for a swim in the piranha-infested waters. This kid was awesome.

Zac and Romy

Zac and Romy

We returned to the lodge for showers and lunch, and headed back to Iquitos for our last 2 days of relaxation. All in all, our trip to Iquitos and the jungle tour were both absolutely amazing! Definitely one of the major highlights of our time in Peru. For those of you wondering how much this crazy adventure cost, I’m including a price breakdown below. Now we’ve got a week in Lima hanging with friends and making final goodbyes before our Adios para siempre Lima, and 2 weeks in Mexico.

Cost of Iquitos + Jungle Tour

  • Roundtrip Flights, Lima – Iquitos: $150 each
  • Food (5 days in IQT): about $35 for two people (we shopped at the market and the grocery store and cooked at the hostel for almost every meal)
  • Accommodations: 40 soles per night, 200 soles for 5 nights: $73 total (2 people)
  • Quistococha (bus +entrance): 24 soles – $8.70
  • Jungle Tour: 450 soles (150 soles per day) – $165 each + 20 soles tip ($7.25)

So our trip came to about $377 per person for 7 days, including flights, which is pretty good for what we got! When it comes to tipping your guide, I have no idea what the policy is. We pay a lot for our tour, but we just about ran out of money, so all we could tip was 20 soles. I never really know how much to tip down here.

Categories: Amazon Jungle, Iquitos, Peru | 5 Comments

Update + Trujillo Tips

First and foremost, I am going to embarrass my sister by saying how incredibly impressed I am with her. She is working in Mexico now, 100% in SPANISH! This is a girl who didn’t take Spanish until graduate school. Who blundered through French and Japanese though middle school, high school, and college (like me). Who grew up on the east coast with a lot more Italian influences than Mexican or Spanish, in a place where the only “Mexican” food was at Guadalajara. And now she works totally in Spanish. SO PROUD!

I would have even posted a picture of her, but she’s cranky about photos and I think I’m pushing it with all this attention anyway.

So, for those of you interested in my travels, not my family, we are gearing up for our last big stop in Peru. The Amazon Jungle!! I couldn’t be more excited about this. We were originally going to do a volunteering program in Puerto Maldonado, but we missed our first chance cause we had trouble getting the Yellow Fever shot, and then the whole thing fell through. Instead, we’re heading to Iquitos for about a week. This is a part of the jungle towards the north of Peru, and it is very popular among tourists. We will stay in a Iquitos for about a week, including a 3-day-2-night jungle tour!

Iquitos, Peru

Iquitos, Peru

I’m not looking forward to bug bites. I’m sure there will be plenty, so we’ve got 2 cans of terrible chemicals to spray all over ourselves and our clothes to keep the mosquitos at bay. We’re going to see so many crazy animals and wild monkeys and awesome Amazonian fish. My camera is charged and ready.

We head out in the morning – leaving at about 5:30am to catch a cab to the airport. I look forward to sharing some awesome photos with you all next week!

We just spent the weekend in Lima, staying at our friend Maria’s place. We were FINALLY able to buy our flight to the jungle – which we couldn’t do online, so we’d been worried we couldn’t go. Apparently you can go to the Star Peru office to buy your flight, but there aren’t any offices in Trujillo.

Anyway, we did some clothes-swapping, some hanging and eating and card-playing, and it was great.

Zac, Maria, and Miranda!

Zac, Maria, and Miranda!

La Lucha Treat - Peruvian Fries and Milkshakes

La Lucha Treat – Peruvian Fries and Milkshakes

Additionally, we ate fried peanut butter, banana, and jelly sandwiches. Better than they sound.

Soren = our guru on all not-so-healthy foods

Soren = our guru on all not-so-healthy foods

Let it be known that this was the follow-up to Beef Burgundy with fresh green beans.

Swimming B, PB, & J's

Swimming B, PB, & J’s

Finished Product

Finished Product

I’m not big on battered & fried things. And I (gasp) don’t like peanut butter and jelly. But, this was surprisingly good. I know, who am I?? It was like eating a peanut butter and banana beignet a la Cafe du Monde. (New Orleans) Go ahead, try it.

Trujillo Tips

So, for the travelers out there, here are the tips I have to share about Trujillo!

There really doesn’t seem to be much to do in Trujillo. I think there is a museum – maybe two – and you can check out the Chan Chan ruins. After we left, we heard they were really awesome, but we didn’t get the chance to check them out.

We liked Huanchaco a lot; it’s a small little beach town without much to do though. There’s a good market for produce and starches and some packaged goods like tea and pasta. I wouldn’t recommend buying meat there, ever, but you can get super fresh fish right off the boat if you’re paying attention. There are lots of fishermen that come in throughout the day, and they’re more than willing to sell you a fish as soon as they hit the shore.

If you arrive by Cruz del Sur, walk RIGHT out of the terminal, take a RIGHT at the end of the block, and continue walking until you hit the main road near the blue walls. You can cross the road and continue straight to get to Plaza de Armas, or you can take any bus marked Huanchaco (on your side of the street, heading to the right) to get to the little beach town. To get back to Cruz del Sur, you’ll take the B bus from Huanchaco, which will take you to this same corner.

On our time back in Huanchaco, we stayed at Hostel Oceana again – which was a pretty comfortable place at a decent price. However, try to get room 5, NOT room 1. Room 1 sucks. We had to stay there during our second time in Huanchaco. No windows to outside, super super loud because it’s at the very top of the stairs, across from the roof exit, so you get whiffs of smoke every time the employees head out for a cigarette. Request room 5 instead. Room 5 is great.

Also, if you make it to Huanchaco, you should eat lunch every day at the same place. We did! Find the My Friend Hostel, and walk about a block (away from the beach) past it. You will see a restaurant with a 6 – soles lunch menu written on a chalkboard. Lots of items like lomo saltado, arroz chaufa, arroz a la cubana, etc. Go there. It’s the best meal for the money in the whole town. Soup + huge Peruvian dish for about $2.16. Zac and I normally shared our meals. I’m not a big fan of most chinese food or Chifas, but this place has some killer Arroz Chaufa.

BEST ARROZ CHAUFA EVER

BEST ARROZ CHAUFA EVER

Okay well, see ya in the Jungle!!!

Categories: Peru, Trujillo | 2 Comments

Mancora & Sunshine!

We don’t have a whole lot to say about Mancora. It’s a decent-sized beach town in the north of Peru with plenty of sunshine and warm ocean water! I can give you the details of the three different places where we stayed, or show you picture after picture of tiny little waves in beautiful sunshine, but beyond that, I don’t know of any ruins or museums or sights to see. We enjoyed our time in Mancora, mostly because our San Diegan blood is sun deprived.

Our Kontiki Bungalow

Our Kontiki Bungalow

Mancora reminds me a bit of Kuta Beach in Bali, but without all the trash and motorbikes. Much like Kuta, there is an active nightlife that we never experienced,  and a main street lined with tourist shops and restaurants, selling some of the exact same clothing items we found in Bali over a year ago.

Shop-lined street.

Shop-lined street.

However, the water here is very clean and relatively warm, and since it is the offseason, the streets aren’t too crowded, but they are full of tuk-tuks instead of motorbikes.

View from Kontiki's

View from Kontiki’s

We began our stay in Mancora at Kontiki Bungalows, which is up a hill away from the tourist insanity below. We enjoyed the breeze, the hammocks, and being away from the night club noise, but it was overpriced for what we got and far out of our budget. Although there was a really cute kitten who greeted us each time we walked up the hill to the hostel!

Walter the Kitten

Walter the Kitten

View from the Bottom + Zac carrying water

View from the Bottom + Zac carrying water

As nice as it was, Kontiki wasn’t really worth it. We decided to spend 3 nights at a campground we found by the beach. The camping fee included rentals of tents and sleeping bags, as well as a mattress, and they had a kitchen for us to use (we love that!), so we were excited.

Well camping at Tito’s was nothing like we’d hoped. We left Kontiki and the morning didn’t start off very well as Zac was struck with a stomach bug. So he needed to rest as soon as we got to the campsite. However, the zipper on the tent was broken, the sleeping bags were clearly dirty (and very smelly), the other campers were young, lively hippies in it for the all-night party, the hot water was nonexistent, and sleeping was basically out of the question. We spent one night, asked for our money back, and found another place for our last 2 nights in Mancora.

The final place was excellent – clean, comfortable, private, quiet, and overall enjoyable. (Yeah, we’re old!) We had access to a decent kitchen, and there was Internet available. More hammocks, more sunning, more beach days. So, if anyone is heading to Mancora and wants a quiet but very affordable place to stay – Las Cabanitas is the place to go.

Otherwise, more about Mancora. This is the northernmost destination on our Peruvian trip. Many people come here straight from Ecuador, or vice versa, but we’re staying in Peru. Mancora is also Peru’s most popular beach destination, complete with tourist restaurants on the beach and mid-day Pisco Sours. We walked around, discovered fried empanadas (delicious), ate a lot of vegetables and watched the batteries on our kindle readers dwindle. That’s about it!

Fresh Coconut - Tastes NOTHING like the store-bought stuff, Jayme!

Fresh Coconut – Tastes NOTHING like the store-bought stuff, Jayme!

Kids on the beach: Pimpin' ain't easy.

Kids on the beach: Pimpin’ ain’t easy.

Zac found a donut! Filled with Dulce de Leche.

Zac found a donut! Filled with Dulce de Leche.

These donut-makin' ladies asked for several pictures of them and with them.

These donut-makin’ ladies asked for several pictures of them and with them. And Zac didn’t wear a shirt the whole day.

Bye sunshine!

Bye sunshine!

We’re heading back to Huanchaco for a week, to kill some time before we head to the jungle. So very excited for the Amazon!

Categories: Mancora, Peru | 3 Comments

Beaches + The Longest Wave In The World

Trujillo is considered the most dangerous city in Peru. There is a lot of crime there, mostly thefts and burglaries, but crime nonetheless. We didn’t stay in Trujillo, and we don’t have much to say about it. Instead, we stayed in a little beach town called Huanchaco, about 20 minutes by taxi, or 45 minutes by bus, from the city center of Trujillo.

Too many kites! Huacachina

Too many kites! Huanchaco

Z Heisey

Z Heisey

The surf was small, but pretty decent in Huanchaco, which is great for Mr. Crankypants. He’s a big ol’ baby when he doesn’t surf for a couple of weeks, but I get it, I’m an unhappier and much more obnoxious version of myself without running. In fact, my return to running program hasn’t been going well at all so after 2 days of pain, I’ve decided to put it on hold until I return to the states where I can get proper physical therapy and really stay off my foot. So you can imagine how nice I was during the week in Huanchaco while Zac was surfing it up. Not very!

Huacachina by Night

Huanchaco by Night

After the first few days in Huanchaco, Zac said that there was an excellent swell moving in to Chicama (Puerto Malabrigo), so we headed up there for a night and Zac was finally able to surf the longest wave in the world!

Getting to Chicama isn’t the hardest thing in the world, but it’s kind of a pain. We took a 45-minute bus – the A bus –  (1.5 soles each) from Huanchaco to Trujillo, and used broken Spanish and no map to find our way to the Santa Cruz station, where you just ask around for the bus that takes you to Puerto Malabrigo. This 2-hour bus (5.5 soles each) was pretty comfortable and easy to find. After about 3 hours total, we found ourselves at this place:

Chicama "Puerto Malabrigo" The real name of this beach town.

Chicama “Puerto Malabrigo” The real name of this beach town.

The longest wave in the world is actually in Puerto Malabrigo, about 2 hours from Trujillo. It is common for people to refer to this wave/beach/town as Chicama, but it’s technically Puerto Malabrigo. So when all your surf friends talk about the longest wave in the world in Chicama, you now know that it’s really in Puerto Malabrigo.

While Zac surfed, I attempted the final run-jog that put me completely out of commission again, but I brought my camera and snagged some good shots. I also found a lot more restaurants and markets and other areas of the town that even Zac didn’t know about! (He’d been there before.) That’s the nice thing about running – you get to see so much of the world that many other people never see. Let’s just hope I can return to that world by 2014.

Chicama - View from our hostel - El Hombre

Chicama – View from our hostel – El Hombre

Chicama is a tiny town with nothing to do but surf. Sitting on the beach would be nice, but it was pretty chilly.

Chicama

Chicama

Chicama "Plaza de Armas"

Chicama “Plaza de Armas”

CRAB - Chicama

CRAB – Chicama

After Chicama, we headed back to Huanchaco for a few more days, mostly just to relax because it’s so incredibly cheap!

This is a small surf town with incredibly cheap accommodations (like $8-$10 for two), and relatively decent weather. We originally stayed in a hostel called My Friend Hostel, for just 20 soles a night (total). But, we didn’t have a toilet seat and the hot water wouldn’t work, so we headed over to Oceano. It was AWESOME. It was really nice and clean, much more like a hotel than a hostel. AND they let you use their kitchen. It wasn’t a great kitchen or anything, but we definitely saved some money and got some much-needed veggies in our system.

The second oldest church in Peru. Built in the 1500's - Huacachina

The second oldest church in Peru. Built in the 1500’s – Huanchaco

Some sort of bright orange Turron - Huacachina

Some sort of bright orange Turron – Huanchaco

Huanchaco is definitely a touristy place, and the weekend brought hoards of Peruvians from the surrounding cities. The weather was only so-so in October, but we had 5ish hours of sun everyday, so it’s much better than Lima’s current weather. The nice thing about this town is the street food! They didn’t have anything epic, but we were able to find anticuchos, brochetes (chicken and veggie skewers), papa rellenas (fried beef-stuffed potatoes), carrot cake, the best picarones (sweet potato doughnuts) ever, and tamales. Each item is only about 1-2 soles! We plan to spend another week there when we head south again, supplementing with lots of market vegetables. :)

Now we’re up in Mancora for a week, Peru’s most popular beach. Pictures and updates to come!

Categories: Chicama - Puerto Malabrigo, Huanchaco, Peru, Trujillo | Leave a comment

Stopover in Lima + Things to Do

Lima.

Yes. Jump-starting our bus. Unsuccessfully.

Yes. Jump-starting our bus. Unsuccessfully. CRUZ DEL SUR

Puno was our last stop in southern Peru, so we took an afternoon bus to Arequipa (plus an exciting afternoon in the bus parking lot waiting for the bus to start), spent the night (and picked up my charger) then took an incredibly long overnight bus to Lima. It was nice to arrive in Lima since it’s technically our home, so we didn’t have to wander around looking for anything.

Unfortunately, I got sick after a few days back in Lima and ended up sleeping our last two days there, so we didn’t get the chance to hang out with our friends as much as planned. By the time we got on the bus at 10pm on Saturday night, I was feeling mostly better, so I’m very thankful for that! The biggest problem with my stomach bug was that we were unable to get our Yellow Fever shots – again! Now we have to find a way to get them while we’re in Trujillo. More on that later.

I’ve decided to use this week’s blog as a way to share some of the best things to do in Lima. After living there as American expats for 8-10 months, we know all the cheap things to do and all the great places to eat! So, for those of you with a stop in Lima, you can probably do everything in just a couple of days.

In no particular order:

1) Eat anticuchos at La Grimanessa. She is famous because Gaston Acurio loves her anticuchos, they are the best we’ve tasted. You can find it by walking down Enrique Palacios until it turns into Avenida La Mar. Turn left on Ignacio Merino. It’s the second door on the left (“Anticucheria”) It opens around 6pm, and get super packed. If you go around 8, you’ll be waiting in line for a while. (But a good trick – tell them you’re ordering to go “para llevar” and you can jump to the front of the line and eat them across the street on the benches.)

Anticuchos - Beef Hearts. Delicious!

Anticuchos – Beef Hearts. Delicious!

2) Parque de Las Aguas. This is an amazing water/music/light-show park that is better described in pictures. Take a bus from Ovalo Miraflores that goes “todo Arequipa” (all of Arequipa) tell them you’re going to Parque de las Aguas and just ask them when to get off. It’s about a 20-30 minute bus ride. You really want to go when it is dark to see the light show; we normally go around 8 or 9.

Parque de las Aguas

Parque de las Aguas

3) Eat at one of Gaston’s restaurants; he’s considered a Peruvian gem, and really put Peru on the map when it comes to cuisine. Two recommendations – La Mar on Avenida La Mar (for ceviche) or Panchita on Dos de Mayo (for meat, parillero-style)

4) Visit Mercado de Surquillo, definitely in the morning, and preferably on a Sunday. This is a huge open market on the edge of Surquillo and Miraflores. (Near Paseo de Republica – the Via Espresa)

Mercado de Surquillo MEAT. I definitely DON'T recommend buying your meat here though. This open market is for vegetables and produce.

Mercado de Surquillo MEAT. I definitely DON’T recommend buying your meat here though. This open market is for vegetables and produce.

5) Central Lima & La Cathedral. Okay, so there is a downtown district of Lima, which the historical center, government officials’ houses/mansions, and a huge church. But, my favorite thing about this area is the restaurant called La Cathedral’s HUGE Pisco Sours. They’re doubles, they’re 20 soles, and they’re amazing. You want to go to the place to the right of the fancy hotel. The fancy hotel has the same drink at their fancy bar, but it is twice the price, so go to the cheaper one next door! It’s amazing!

La Cathedral - The Pisco Sour & the Place. Do it all in one! Central Lima!

La Cathedral – The Pisco Sour & the Place. Do it all in one! Central Lima!

6) Barranco – the coolest little artsy district. I would recommend taking a Lima Bay Tour with Lima Bike Tours, because they take you through Barranco and give you some history as well. We love to go to La Piselli, an old Italian bar, for little snacks and Chilcanos. You should also visit the Bridge of Sighs (Puente de los Suspiros), and learn about the myth and the history of the area.

Okay, other things to eat: Ceviche (the national dish!), Pollo a la Brasa (Pardo’s is really good), Lomo Saltado, Arroz con Pollo, Papa huancaina, Tacu Tacu, Picarones. Make sure you try a Pisco Sour at some point, and the Cusquena Red Lager or Malta. (Most of the rest of the beers taste like Bud Light and will give you a wicked hangover.)

Also recommended by others (but too expensive for me) is the artifacts of the Incas at the Larco Museum. It’s 30 soles, which is a lot when you live here on a teacher’s budget. We did go to Huaca Pucllana, which is a series of ruins from the Lima tribes. It’s not bad, but kind of a short tour for 12 soles.

Huaca Pucllana - Miraflores, Lima, Peru

Huaca Pucllana – Miraflores, Lima, Peru

Also, if you want to experience “gourmet” food at lower prices – check out Le Cordon Bleu Peru’s school restaurant Wallqa. We went for lunch and it was pricey but well worth it. The food is amazing.

Rocoto Relleno in Crema de Quinoa - unfreakin' believably delicious.

Rocoto Relleno in Crema de Quinoa – unfreakin’ believably delicious.

For those of you looking for a day trip out of Lima, we went to Cieneguilla twice, which was pretty easy to do and a nice way to find the sun during those gray-gray-gray months of winter. (uck!) You can also hit up Punta Hermosa, Lurin, Chosica, or Palakala Falls.

Let me know if you have any questions about any of these places!

Categories: Expat Living, Food, Lima, Travel Tips | Leave a comment

Lake Titicaca + Puno

Nobody likes Puno. Apparently we’re the only ones.

When we mentioned we had a hotel in Puno for two nights after our Titicaca tour, each person was respectively dumbfounded. “Por que? Es feo!” “Es aburrido.” “Ohh, strange, why?” “Ack, we hated Puno, I wish we’d seen the Bolivian side of the lake.”

Well, sure, if you’ve got limited time, there’s really no need to stay in Puno. It’s small. The food isn’t quite up to the Arequipa and Lima standards, there are a lot of ugly unfinished buildings. But it feels like a real Peruvian city, not just a facade thrown together for tourists. Plus, we are time-rich, so a hotel room for $14.63 a night with HOT WATER in a city that’s smaller and quieter than Lima in which tourists normally don’t stay for long…perfect. But we’ll get back to Puno.

Our Lake Titicaca trip began with the overnight bus from some alternate universe where it’s okay to drive a double-decker bus at 55 miles an hour down a rumbling, curvy road, STRADDLING THE YELLOW LINE. I mean, I really thought I was used to the driving here. If we survived Lima traffic for 8 months, surely we could survive anything. Maybe not; on our 7-hour overnight bus, Zac and I each managed about 2-3 hours of sleep. In fact, at some point, I exited my halfway-sleeping state to specifically tell Zac, “Don’t go through the front window, okay?” We were sitting in the very front of the 2nd level, complete with gigantic windows to display the terrifying driving. Note to Self: don’t peak behind the window curtain, you won’t sleep a wink.

We arrived sleepy, but less cranky than you’d expect, at 5:00am to the bus terminal. About 15 minutes later, a woman holding a sign, “Caitlyn Seff” directed us to the group taxi, and we were shuffled off to the tour agency where we spent 2.5 hours waiting around for the tour to start. We weren’t the only ones; every couch and chair surface was covered by backpackers and blankets, trying to grab those elusive ZZZZZs from the night before.

First View - Lake Titicaca in the morning

First View – Lake Titicaca in the morning

Here’s a quick breakdown of the tour:

DAY ONE

7:45am Taxi to Pier

8:00am Boat to one of the Uros Islands – the artificial island made of reeds!

Model of old houses, new houses, old boas, and tourist boats that are used by the Uros people on the Lake.

Model of old houses, new houses, old boas, and tourist boats that are used by the Uros people on the Lake.

This place was really cool! There were 9 little homes on this island, all of which were run on solar panels. They made their islands from the reeds growing in the lake, and add fresh reeds every few weeks or months. It was a little weird walking on this thing.

They even eat the reeds!! We did too!

They even eat the reeds!! We did too!

Look how tiny the island is! Just 9 houses - all running on solar panel!

Look how tiny the island is! Just 9 houses – all running on solar panel!

11:30am Boat to Amantani – assigned to a family for the night.

AWESOME ROOM in Amantani family house. This place is baller!

AWESOME ROOM in Amantani family house. This place is baller!

2:30pm Lunch with Family

Quinoa Soup - They really eat a lot of soup here.

Quinoa Soup – They really eat a lot of soup here.

4:00pm Climb mountain Pachamama to view the sunset!

Pachamama

Pachamama

Pachamama - Amantani Isla

Pachamama – Amantani Isla

Climbing Pachamama (Mother Earth)

Climbing Pachamama (Mother Earth)

Sunset.

Sunset.

Pachamama artwork on the path to the top.

Pachamama artwork on the path to the top.

7:30pm Dinner with Family

8:30pm Dress in traditional Amantani garb and go to a local party.

Awesome traditional Amantani garb.

Awesome traditional Amantani garb.

9:15-10:00pm DANCE. DANCE. DANCE. (Or rather, run around in circles with the locals dragging you along.)

Dancing! Hah!

Dancing! Hah!

10:01pm Sleep

DAY TWO

6:30am Wake up call for breakfast.

"THEY HAVE PANCAKES ON THIS ISLAND????!!!!!"

“THEY HAVE PANCAKES ON THIS ISLAND????!!!!!”

7:30am Meet the boat at the harbor. Take necessary pictures.

Awesome host, Anna-Julia

Awesome host, Anna-Julia

Amantani Family - Complete with a couple from LA.

Our Amantani Family – Complete with a couple from LA.

8:00am Leave Amantani (bye!!) and head to Isla Taquile (where our guide was from!)

9:45am Arrive at Taquile and meander slowly, with many breaks to the top of the island for lunch.

Arch on Taquile, Amantani in the distance.

Arch on Taquile, Amantani in the distance.

11:30am Early, but MUCH DESIRED lunch.

View from Lunch

View from Lunch

All in all, we loved our Lake Titicaca tour! I know it’s a somewhat touristy thing to do, but it was really fun, we got to stay with a local Amantani family, we learned a lot about the different islands, and we did some decent climbing. It was beautiful, the weather was lovely, and we weren’t even that cold! I definitely recommend the 2-day, 1-night Titicaca tour to anyone. And just in case the other tours are different – our tour company was Jumbo Travel.

At 12:30pm we took our 3-hour boat ride back to the port in Puno.

Square in Puno

Square in Puno

It was remarkably easy for us to find our hotel. We didn’t have a map, we just kind of wandered in the way that my directions sort of seemed to go, then asked a security guard. After showers and email check (pathetic, I know), we wandered out for SO MANY EMPANADAS and dinner. I really love empanadas. Can you make them with whole-wheat flour?

The best thing about walking the streets of Puno alone is that there’s 1 less person to judge you for eating another empanada. For real, it’s reason enough to leave Zac at the hotel. It’s also pathetic. I’ll get a picture up soon.

Just like every other city, there’s always SOMETHING going on. There was some sort of march near the Plaza that had something to do with healthy foods. I saw (in Spanish) “hands off my healthy food” or something, and also “To feed your kids: quinoa, amaranth, oranges…” and a list of other healthy foods. I’ve heard that there’s a flurry of action across the Andes because the people are desperately trying to keep big agriculture and GMOs out of Peru. Can’t blame them for that!

Otherwise, Puno is kind of a quiet town, except from the hours of 1:30am-2:30am when Zac and I were both wide awake due to an insane amount of traffic on the streets below. I mean, we’re on the 4th floor with closed windows, so that’s LOUD. Perhaps that’s why we’re the ONLY GUESTS staying in this entire 5-story hotel. I hope that’s the reason.

Additionally, I woke at like 3:30am to a splitting pain behind my right eye, which was leaking (tears, I think), and swollen halfway shut. When I propped up my pillow, the pain subsided, and all traces of the swelling were gone by morning. Maybe a sinus infection, but then again, Zac may or may not have elbowed me in the eye in the middle of the night. I wonder how many chocolate bars and empanadas I would get if that were true. Form your own theories in the comments!

Our next step is a 5-hour daytime bus to Arequipa, where we’ll simply pick up my computer charger from the hostel where we stayed last week (UGH, oops!), and maybe stay one night. After that, it’s back to Lima to swap out our warm clothes for SUMMER CLOTHES cause we’re heading towards the equator!

Categories: Lake Titicaca, Peru, Puno | 3 Comments

Cusco + Machu Picchu

We did it! Machu Picchu!!

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

But more on that in a moment.

I just remembered how much I dislike being cold.

Yes, I grew up in Virginia and withstood the blizzard of ’96.

Yes, I went to college in New Jersey and lived with minimal heating on a budget.

But, still, I don’t like to be cold. I’m sure my parents kept us warm in VA with fires, wood-burning stoves, and central heating, and in college I spent a lot of time at work, in the library, or, inevitably, reading or writing papers under my covers.

Here in Cusco, the weather vacillates between about 57 degrees at night, in the mornings, and in the shaded areas that never get sun, to blazing sunshine and sunburn at 75 degrees. That is quite a change, and our hostel doesn’t have any form of heating whatsoever. Bedtime is good because we get 2 alpaca blankets, a sheet, and a down comforter. Evenings are hard because the sun leaves our corner of the mountain around 5:00pm, making for a very cold and cranky Caitlin by dinnertime.

Luckily, Zac lets me wear his awesome hat. It’s very helpful.

WARM HAT

WARM HAT

Now, it’s really hard to go through two seasons in one day, but you manage. We are enjoying our time in Cusco, and I think this might be Zac’s favorite city so far. I prefer Arequipa, but I couldn’t really tell you why. Maybe it’s the weather.

We arrived early (again) after an overnight bus ride from Arequipa, and settled into our hostel with a “big hill to climb,” according to the hostel’s online reviews. Hah! A big hill to climb? It’s Cusco, of course you have a hill to climb. And then, oh wait…

Hill to our hostel - well, part of it.

Hill to our hostel – well, part of it.

Yeah, okay, that’s a big hill to climb. We like it though. It makes us plan our trips a little better since we don’t want to climb it 10 times a day, but it also gives us a little exercise to help us get used to the altitude. We normally take a break halfway through, hoping our hearts don’t burst from the exertion.

When I signed into my Gmail on day 1, I found an email from Cusco Cooking stating that we could join the 5:30pm cooking class with the menu I wanted. Excellent! We ate breakfast and relaxed a bit, then realized that I left my incredibly expensive Apple Macbook charger in Arequipa (#F&@$*&^&*@*$K) so we headed into the more dangerous/local part of town to find a copycat version. (Thanks, APPLE.) $70 later, I had a fake charger and we’d seen more of Cusco than most tourists ever would. We also enjoyed a $1.50 lunch for two. Can’t beat that!

Anyway, the charger has already paid for itself in online work, and the cooking class was excellent fun! We made Crema de Choclo (cream of corn soup), Lomo Saltado (um, a stir-fry like chinese-peruvian beef dish with french fries), Pisco Sours (the Peruvian way!), and enjoyed chocolate fondue (I ate mine and 50% of Zac’s! oops!).

APRONS! - Watch the knife, Zac!

APRONS! – Watch the knife, Zac!

Making Soup

Making Soup

Finished Product - Yum!

Finished Product – Crema de Choclo – Yum!

Fuego!

Fuego!

Fuego!

Fuego!

Lomo Saltado

Lomo Saltado

Chocolate fondue w/ fresh fruit - banana, mango, kiwi, chirimoya, fig, strawberry.

Chocolate fondue w/ fresh fruit – banana, mango, kiwi, chirimoya, fig, strawberry.

On Friday the 13th, we hit up good ol’ Machu Picchu for the day, which was absolutely amazing! This is how you get to Machu Picchu from Cusco:

  • 25 Minute Taxi to Poray Peru Rail station ($11)
  • 3 Hour train to Aguas Calientes ($68 one-way)
  • 25 minute bus to Machu Picchu ($10 one-way)

That’s like 4 hours and $89 from Cusco (one-way), the closest major city, before paying the entrance fee. Taking the train was inevitable, since we decided not to do a trek, but if you don’t want to take the bus, you can hike up a series of staircases and a dusty road and sweat your way to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. This, of course, we did, and it was excellent. It took about an hour and 10 pounds of sweat, but it was nothing compared to Colca Canyon! To arrive at MP after that much work makes it a much more desirable destination, and to anyone with the physical fitness and time flexibility, I recommend it: TAKE THE STAIRS.

IMG_1127

Slightly hidden stairs to Machu Picchu

IMG_1126

Bridge from Aguas Calientes road to stair passage.

Just like climbing The Great Wall and hiking part of Mount Fuji, Machu PIcchu is just one of those things that’s way better than you expect. Walking through the ruins makes you feel like you’re back in 4th grade learning about the local Native Americans’ ingenious ways of living. Except that you’re 26, and what have you done with your life?

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu – token tourist shot

We took the half-mile walk to the Inca Bridge, which was built into a cliff face, and used to be a secret entrance to MP for the Inca Army! We enjoyed our lunch of peanut butter-banana sandwiches on the grass (shhh, I’m not sure you’re supposed to bring food into MP), then hiked a mile to the Sun Gate.

Inka Bridge - built into the cliff face, with no barrier to the sheer drop. Closed to the public.

Inka Bridge – built into the cliff face, with no barrier to the sheer drop. Closed to the public.

The Sun Gate is the end of the Inca Trail.

The Sun Gate from a distance.

The Sun Gate from a distance.

This is where you will find an amazing view of Machu Picchu, and one of the reasons why people pay big bucks to take the Inca Trail 5-day hike over trekking the other trails. It is really an amazing view. There’s something about being there that makes you feel closer to history, and closer to something amazing, even though we’re just a couple of 20-something American tourists…and the Incans had their fair share of corruption and chaos.

View from the Sun Gate

View from the way to the Sun Gate

We walked a total of 5-6 miles, at least half of it up hills, so we were pretty tired by the time we got to the main ruins of MP, but even that was awesome! There are a few huts that are recreated versions of what the empire previously looked like, and it seems like the rooms were rather large. No one knows for sure what purpose Machu Picchu served: either as solely an estate for Inca royalty, or possibly as an agricultural station.

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Llama friend, just chilling in MP

Llama friend, just chilling in MP

Common knowledge tells us that the American Hiram Bingham discovered this “Lost Empire,” but we heard a tour guide say that plenty of people knew about it long before HB arrived, just that Bingham brought major international attention and hoards of tourists. Before we go coronating Bingham as a finder of this amazing attraction, we should remember that he took a good 40,000 artifacts and mummies from the site before he helped MP gain historical acclaim and significance. Typical American.

After a long day, we consumed well-deserved Alpaca Montana and Peruvian-ish Steak Tacos while we waited, um, 4 hours for our train.

Alpaca steak + egg, potatoes, avocado

Alpaca steak + egg, potatoes, avocado

Tacos in Aguas Calientes

Tacos in Aguas Calientes

What MP probably looked like back in the day.

What MP probably looked like back in the day.

After MP, we didn’t have much to look forward to in Cusco, except for the 7am-5pm sunshine in our hostel’s courtyard. So, we spent a lot of time working, reading in partial sunlight, and exploring the local restaurants and markets a little more off the beaten path. (And stealing Zac’s hat.)

On Sunday there was this parade/festival which recognized the Incan tradition of initiating boys into adulthood. Hundreds of boys from the schools dressed in Incan garb and traveled around the squares and up to the high ruins of Cusco – Sacsayhuaman. (Sounds like “socks-eye-waman.”) It was pretty interesting. There’s alway something going on in the square – festivals, parades, protests (against immigration), and car shows. At least it’s exciting!

Incan initiation to manhood parade/festival.

Incan initiation to manhood parade/festival.

You might know that a delicacy of the Andes is guinea pig – yes, that somewhat cute rodent. We finally got the chance to try it, and decided we have no clue what all the fuss is about. There isn’t much meat to be had, and it is served with claws and all. We had a half of a guinea pig at the Sunday plaza market. Glad we tried it though!

Guinea Pig (Cuy)

Guinea Pig (Cuy)

On Monday, we finally had time to attend the free walking tour of Cusco, which we’d been planning to do since day 1 (but for my macbook-related forgetfulness). It’s great that it’s free and all, but THREE HOURS? These walking tours are getting a little ridiculous. Cusco is a city rich in culture, history, traditions, and tourism, so it was time for us to actually learn a little more about this European-looking mountain town. We ended up joining the tour an hour late and peeling off 30 minutes early. Oops!

12-Sided Stone (ancient Incan wall)

12-Sided Stone (ancient Incan wall)

When we left the tour group, we walked up yet another gigantic hill to see the Sacsayhuaman ruins, and take in a view of the entire city. It was pretty great!

Sacsayhuaman Ruins

Sacsayhuaman Ruins

And now we’re taking yet another overnight bus to Puno, where we’ll spend two days on Lake Titicaca – the highest navigable lake in the world! This will be our highest altitude point of the trip, so I’m crossing my fingers for no ill effects. It’s going to be SO COLD. But worth it, I hope! No Internet for the next couple of days, so maybe we’ll be forced to relax or something. After Puno we’ll slowly make our way back to Lima and then up the coast to Mancora. Later!

Categories: Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Peru, Travel | 2 Comments

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