Saturday, March 28, 2009

Peru Day 10 - Lima

Our last day in Peru was back where we started - in Lima. After breakfast, we decided to wander around Miraflores, the neighborhood in Lima where we were staying. While wandering in a park, the craziest thing happened - we ran into Francios! (Our friend from the ISU summer session.) He's on a year long trip through South America, and just happened to see us walking by!

We planned to meet up later for drinks, and then went on sightseeing. One of the highlights - the Mariel Hotel! I almost never find things with my name, so it was kind of exciting.

Jeff and I had lunch at Punto Azul again (the same place we had lunch the first day we were in Peru). We had ceviche, and Jeff had a beer, while I had frozen maracuya (passion fruit) juice. The food was amazing! (again!)

At 2pm, we met Francios at the Larco Mar mall and had beers at a restaurant called Mangoes that overlooks the ocean (another coincidence - the restaurant next to our ISU housing in Barcelona was called "Mango"). He told us about his trip through Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru. We recommended some things for him to do in Ecuador - his next stop (and the only American country Jeff and I have been to, other than Peru). It was such a surprise to run into him - what were the odds!

As the afternoon went on, Jeff and I went to Parc de Amor, overlooking the ocean. It was a pretty park with mosaic tiles and a statue of people kissing. A nice way to relax before heading to the airport and back to the states!

Peru Day 9 - Lake Titicaca

We completed our Lake Titicaca tour on Saturday. After pancakes and Munya tea for breakfast, we headed back to the boat. Our final stop was the island of Tranquille. This island is run like a communist community - a closed community sharing all work and income equally.

They run restaurants for tourists, but only serve one meal - trout, rice, fried potatoes, bread, and a pancake for dessert. Our guide said it's the same every day, no exceptions. The island was pretty and interesting.

Back in Puno we did some last minute shopping - jewelry for me, an alpaca sweater for Jeff, and alpaca winter hats for some of our friends, and then headed back to the hotel. We grabbed sandwiches and bread to go and caught our arranged cab to Juliaca.

The airport at Juliaca was tiny, with just two gates, and presumably only a couple flights a day. Everything (stores, ticketing, security) was closed when we got there and stayed that way until about an hour and a half before our flight. But the flight home was nice and comfortable, and we were happy to land back in warm Lima.

Peru Day 8 - Lake Titicaca

On Friday, we headed out for our trip around Lake Titicaca and its islands. Our tour had 20 people on it - from France, Switzerland, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Norway, and England. The boat moved pretty slowly, so there was time to talk - about healthcare, Obama's economic stimulus plan, traveling, and more. The French couple was from Bordeaux and worked in the wine industry; they had just finished a two-year job in San Francisco, also in the wine industry, and then had driven south to Panama City, sold their car, and continued touring South America by bus and plane.

Our first stop was on one of the floating islands. It was so cool - the islands are made of many layers of reeds, so htey float and can move around the lake. All the houses and other buildings are made of reeds. It reminded me of when I was little and visited my friend's lake - I tried to make an island out of grass - I guess I gave up too soon. :) We met some of the people on the island and went on a trip on a reed boat to another floating island. With little local industry to provide funds, tourism allows these people to have money to buy extra food and other things from Puno.

Our next stop was Amantani, where our group was split up into groups of tow and three to live with a host family for hte night. Jeff and I went "home" for lunch - potatoes, cheese, rice, and soup.

The large group met again in the afternoon to walk up to the highest point on the island - lots more inclined path and stairs - this time at 4000 meters.

Then it was back for dinner before an evening get together in traditional dress for traditional dancing. It was fun, but we were a bit tired.

We talked to our host dad over meals a couple of times. He hosts people a few times a month, more or less. He has never been to Cusco or even further than Juliaca (45 minutes away from Puno). He said during his grandparents' time, there were no tourists, but his generation has grown up with them. Everyone on the island does some farming, though some also do other jobs, like making the roads.

We slept in an extra room in the house - which seemed to have two other rooms - one for eating and one where the family slept.

It poured rain and thundered all night, though we were lucky to glimpse some amazing stars before it started - at the high altitude and with no light polution at all, you could even see the Milky Way!

Peru Day 7 - Cusco to Puno

We spent Thursday on the bus headed from Cusco to Puno. We left the hotel at 8am and arrived in Puno at 5pm. There were five stops along the way. The first was a town with an old Jesuit church with lots of old paintings and gold-covered walls.

The next was a site of the Incan temple, houses and Incan storage buildings, followed by a buffet lunch.

We made a brief stop at the highest point on our drive - 4300 meters!

The last stop was in a town with a museum of pre-Incan artifacts. It was a cool museum, but we were only there for 20 minutes or so, and Jeff got mysteriously sick while we were there (we never figured out what made him feel so ill all of a sudden).

When we got to Puno, we wandered a bit, grabbed some dinner, and got to bed early.

Peru Day 6 - Machu Piccu

Machu Piccu!

Today we got up at 4:50am - it was still pitch black, and it was raining, but we made it to breakfast and then onto the first bus up to Machu Piccu at 5:30am. It got lighter as we climbed the switch-backs to get up the mountain. We waited for a few minutes in line for the doors to open and then went in.

We first climbed up to the Watch Tower. The view was spectacular - the rain was down to a sprinkle and the huge clouds and mist were moving quickly across the landscape, so it was constantly changing.

When the rain stopped, we decided to walk to the Incan Drawbridge. It's a 20 to 30 minute walk and is pretty level, but hugs the edge of the mountain, with sheer cliffs if you look over the side. It offers some beautiful views, but definitely makes you watch your step - at most points if you took a couple steps to the side, it'd be a long way down.

From there, we crossed the ruins and decided to head up to Waynu Piccu, the large mountain you can see in the background of pictures of Machu Piccu. I thought at first that the hike might take you up the smaller peak near Machu Piccu, but as we climbed what seemed to be endless stone stairs, we realized that wasn't the case. Jeff guesses we climbed the equivalent of 80 stories, maybe more. We were out of breath the whole way!

We started the hike at 7:45am (you have to sign in when you start, because they only allow 400 people per day to climb). By 8:45am we had made it to the top. The views of Machu Piccu as well as the surrounding mountains and valleys was incredible - worth the hike. We were pretty proud to have made it.

Having done quite a bit of hiking, at 10am we just found a shady spot in the ruins - against one of the terrace walls, and relaxed and read books. I finished "The New Invisible College" and started "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," which is a fiction book about a nerdy kid from the Dominican Republic.

Around 11:20am, we headed to the ticket gate to grab some food and meet our guide. After some very refreshing passion fruit juice and a chicken sandwhich, we were ready for the tour. We spent two hours being shown around and hearing about the monuments - normal houses, the temple of the three windows, the sun dial, the temple of the panther, and lots of other things.

After the tour we did a bit more reading, relaxing, and enjoying the view. Around 2:30pm, we could see storm clouds coming in, and content with our eight and a half hours at the ruins, decided to head back to town. We had some palm-heart pizza and Cuscquena beer before catching the train back to Cusco.

Peru Day 5 - Aguas Calientes

It was Saint Patrick's Day, but it doesn't seem like that holiday is celebrated in Peru. Our day started early - we took the 6:50am train to Aguas Calientes, also called Machu Piccu Pueblo. We had some beautiful views of Cusco as we were leaving town.

Aguas Calientes is on the side of a river, surrounded by incredibly steep mountains, covered in green moss and plants - it's incredibly beautiful. Our hostel overlooked the Urumbamba River, which is beautiful - you can hear the rushing water inside the room.

We were hungry when we arrived, so we had lunch at a cute place with a balcony overlooking the river. We had a set menu and had a chance to try roasted Alpaca. After lunch it rained a bit, so we popped into a cafe with an overhang and a cup fof tea and read our books. Jeff was reading a philosophy book by Karl Popper, and I was reading "The New Invisible College," which is about science networks and international development.

When the rain stopped, we decided to walk to the Machu Piccu Museum, whihc is at the base of the walking path up to Machu Piccu. Though it was raining, it was a nice 20-30 minute walk with beautiful views - it's jungle-like here and very green. The walk back was even nicer, because we knew how far it was and it wasn't raining.

Back at our hostel we relaxed, rested, and read books again before heading to dinner. We ate at Chez Maggy and had a ham, sausage, banana, and egg pizza. Jeff tried the Chica Morada drink - made from purple corn - it was sweet and pretty tasty.

Peru Day 4 - Sacred Valley

On Monday we went on a tour of the Sacred Valley - the area around Cusco, full of Incan ruins. Our first stop was in Pisac, which had terraces built into the mountains and some small houses.

We had lunch at a cute outdoor buffet restaurant in Urubamba, where we finally got to sample the various Peruvian desserts (they make lots of great pastries and cakes).

After lunch we went to Ollamtaytambo, another site of Incan ruins, with more terraces and houses high up on the mountain.

Chinchero was our last stop - it's a 16th century Catholic Church built on an Incan temple. The side alter is the original stone Incan alter, and since we were there close to sunset, you could see how the light comes in the door and lines up exactly with the alter - very cool. We also saw how the Incans carved the rocks to make them fit together perfectly rather than using filler in between.

Back in Cusco, Jeff and I had dinner on the plaza again, and enjoyed beautiful views again. Jeff had cuy (guinea pig), and I had rocoto relleno (stuffed pepper). We also tried on of the traditional Peruvian drinks - Pisco Sour, which was pretty good. However, the restaurant was completely empty, despite its great location, which was a little weird, so we moved to a different place for tea and dessert.

Peru Day 3 - Cusco

On Sunday morning we flew from Lima to Cusco, arriving around 10am. We checked in at our hostel - Los Portales - which is more hotel-like, with cable TV and a nice room.

After talking to the person who'd be arranging our trip to Machu Piccu in a few days, we went to see the city. We started in Plaza de Armas, or Plaza Royal. We toured the Cathedral, which is very cool and has some interesting art. The art was funded by the Spanish, but done by local artists, shortly after the conquest. There is a painting of the Last Supper done by local artists a couple centuries ago - it's at a round table and the main dish is cuy (guinea pig) and there are peppers and other Peruvian foods. Also, they say Judas' face is modeled after Pizarro - the Spaniard who conquered Peru. Also, in a painting of Jesus being taken away, the soldiers are Spanish instead of Roman, supposedly because the local people said that's the only kind of soldiers they've ever seen.

After seeing the cathedral, we had lunch on the plaza - soup, tomale, chicken and rice for 12 soles ($4)!

When lunch was done, we went to the San Blas neighborhood and toured the church there. It had an amazingly ornate pulpit and some interesting art work. We went in the artisan shops, and I bought some earrings. I also ended up buying a llama-wool knit hat.

We decided to have dinner on the plaza - there are a bunch of restaurants with balconies overlooking the square. We took our time over dinner and shared a bottle of Argentinian Malbec. We had a fruit pizza - normal pizza, but with no tomato sauce covered with banana slices, mango, and apple pieces. It had a very unique taste, but we both really liked it - maybe we'll try to put banana on our own pizza sometime. ;)

Peru Day 1 & 2 - Lima

We arrived in Lima, Peru at 9pm on Friday night, checked in at the Barranco Backpacker's Inn, and slept for 10 hours.

On Saturday morning we had breakfast at the hostel and then met with Julio of Julius tours. We usually like to do as much on our own as possible, to save on costs and be a bit more adventurous, but it was a bit difficult in Peru. We had a short time in Peru and planes were the only realistic mode of travel, since we couldn't spend 24 hours at a time on buses. Also, things like Machu Piccu can sell out.

So we gave in and got a tour - actually, it doesn't include that much guided touring, but does include transport to the places we wanted to go: Cusco, Machu Piccu, and Puno (Lake Titicaca). It was a little expensive, but even coordinating everything on our own, we couldn't have done it much cheaper.

After figuring that out and moving to a new hostel (ours was booked for that night), we finally started seeing Lima. We had lunch at Punto Azul in Miraflores. The food was great - we had a rice and seafood platter in a tomato-based sauce, a plate of fried fish and calamari, and a tres-leches cake for dessert.

After lunch, we went downtown for a walk from Plaza Mayor to Plaza San Martin. We stopped first at the San Francisco Monestary for a tour and to see the catacombs. Downtown Lima is nice - lots of big colonial buildings and a modern pedestrian shopping street.

From there we went to Larco Mar, a very modern open-air mall on the cliffs over the Pacific Ocean. We watched the sun set from the railing.

We had some nice juice at Cafe' Cafe' - I had guanabana. After that we wandered around, indecisive, before settling at 'Sofa Cafe' for tea and an empanada, followed by a glass of Peruvian red wine. We played scrabble, which they happened to have there. We didn't keep score since it was the Spanish version and didn't match up well with English scoring. Still lots of fun!

Peru Trip Highlights

Jeff and I were in Peru from Friday, March 13th until Sunday, March 22, 2009. It was a great trip, and I kept a journal while we were there, so I'm going to transfer my notes into this blog!

Highlights of the trip:
*Amazing seafood at Punto Azul in Lima.
*Spending over six hours at Machu Piccu so we could hike, tour, and still have time to relax and read a book.
*Actually making it to the top of Waynu Piccu!
*Trying fruit pizza and finishing a bottle of wine while looking out over the Cuscu Plaza de Armas.
*Sitting on top of the boat in the sun, looking at Lake Titicaca.
*Seeing (& walking on) actual floating islands.
*Driving, training, and boating through beautiful Peruvian scenary.
*Randomly running into Francios on the street in Lima.
*Finding the Mariel Hotel in Lima!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Our book club book for March was "Watchmen" by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. It's a graphic novel (actually originally released as a set of individual comic books), but now hailed as one of the top 100 novels (by

I did really enjoy the book - all of the heroes (except one), are just normal people that for varying reasons decided to dress up in a costume and fight crime. Some are insecure, or crazy, or have other issues, and most seem aware of how weird it is to, for example, dress up like an owl and fight bad-guys. I thought this aspect of the book was really interesting to think about - the nature of a hero and what makes people do what they do.

It also presents a very interesting basic ethical dilema - what's more important - principles, or accomplishing the best end result. In Spiderman, when he has to choose between saving his girlfriend or saving a speeding train, in the end he's able to save both. In this story, the characters don't get to skirt around the difficult issues. I think this makes you think about what makes a hero (or a person) seem 'good' - is it because they actually make the right choice, or just because of the situation they were in.

Of course, the movie "Watchmen" has now been released, and having read the book, I had to go see it. I did enjoy the movie, and there were some aspects in the beginning that were remarkably similar to the book - including the way the scenes were set up and shown. The characters, particularly Rorschach, were very well cast. There are some changes from the book that seem major on the surface, but the spirit of the book is definitely still there.

However, the fighting in the movie was a big 'larger than life', which took away from one of the aspects of the book I really enjoyed - that they were all real people with no special ability, just an odd urge to dress up and fight crime, all for very different reasons.

It's hard to judge the movie, having read the book, because it's hard to imagine how it's perceived by a first-time watcher, without all the background included in the book. I'd be interested to hear how other people like it.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Charleston, SC

This week I headed to a work meeting in Charleston. The meeting actually ended a day early, and rather than go through the hassle of trying to change my ticket (flights were pretty full and it seemed likely I would just sit around at the airport hoping to get on as a stand-by), I decided to do a bit of sight-seeing.

I've been to Charleston before, but always for business, so I've never had much chance to wander the city. This Friday was 70 degees and sunny, so it was the perfect opportunity. (In fact, I think I got a little sun burnt.)

One of the nicest things about Charleston are all the old, giant, Southern style houses - the residential streets south of Broad Street are beautiful to walk through.

I was staying downtown, so I could walk from my hotel. I headed down King Street, which is a big commercial street with lots of boutiques and little shops.

I spent a good amount of time seeing all the architecture in the southern-most tip of the city, including the famous mansions overlooking the water on East Bay Street.

Lunch consisted of a great salad and Blue Crab Bisque, after which I decided to be a real tourist and take a carriage ride. The carriage ride was actually a lot of fun, and it was nice to hear all about the city and learn some of the history.
Around 3pm, having walked quite a bit, I decided to leave downtown Charleston and head to the nearby Isle of Palms, which is right on the Atlantic Ocean. I spent my last couple hours in town walking on the beach.