Thursday, September 17, 2009


After a nice, heary brakfast at the hotel, we set out for a hike in the sussounding mountains.  There is a huge volcano overlooking the town, but it has been obscured by clouds.  We had beautiful views of the town as we hiked.  The town architecture is not all that attractive, since it has been oblitterated by volcano eruptons in the past, but the valley is quite pretty and the greenery of the tropics makes it quite pleasant.  Lots of agriculture here - Ecuador is the largest exporter of fresh flowers (roses and carnations, mostly), but the local frams are mostly tomatoes and fruit farms.  The hike was quite lovely - inspiring views, farms, farmers, and pretty well-marked trails.  Spent most of the day hiking, then went down to the motel room to nap.

Dinner was pretty good - I had a nice steak (lots of cows here) and Allegra had trout.  Two American girls blabbed on and on about their Ecuadorian boyfriends - luckily we got out of there before their third round.

By the way - for the worriers out there - Anywhere outside of Quito is pretty safe - we walk here at night - lots of people out enjoying life....


Got up and headed to the bus station, which maps showed convenetaly located a few bocks away from our hotel in the Old Town.  When we got there, there was a problem - no buses.  The policeman told us to take the trolley (bus rapid transit system) to some place we never heard of.  Went to the trolley, and the person told us to take it to that stop, but there did not appear to be that stop on the map.  Confused, we gave up and grabbed a taxi.  Turns out the new bus station is about a 20 minute drive outside of Quito.  It has to be the most amazing bus station I have ever seen  -gleeming steel and glass.

We grabbed a bus to Banos, a tourist destination for both locals and foreginers about 4 hours outside of Quito.  The ride was nice - we went through the highlands, with peaks of the volcanic peaks every now and then (it is kind of cloudy here).

Banos is quite nice - in a subtrpical valley about half way between the highlands and the Amazon basin.  It is famous for it´s "baths" - mineral baths that you pay a buck for.  We found an awesome motel room with wrap-around windows facing  the steep peaks and the hotel garden.  After dinner, I went for a quick dip in the baths.  It was quite nice - about hot tub temp, but there were also cold pools that you could dip in.  Lots of Ecuadorians milling about with their families.

Had a nice peaceful sleep for the first time in days....

Wasted Day

Started the day with a trip on the tram up one of the volcanoes surrounding Quito.  Expensive, but a lot of fun.  The City was laid out beneath us and we could see everything, including the planes landing at the airport several thousands of feet beneath us.  The tram went up to about 12,000 feet.  At first glance, this seemed like on e of those tourist boondoggles that the developing world is quite good at - we seemed to be the only ones there.  However, on our way down, the lines were forming and people were heading up at a steady rate.  Apprantly, the place is mobbed on the weekends.

After the volcano, we headed to to the tourist ghetto (Mariscal) and shopped for a Galapagos tour.  Wasted a lot of time doing this, but eneded up getting a half price deal (not that cheap to begin with, though) on a decent boat.  Our travel agent was great - we go the sweetest cabin on the boat, but we have to pretend it is our honeymoon.

Food here is not as good as Lima - we´ve had enough meat, potatoes, and rice to last a lifetime.


After a not so good night´s sleep, we headed out into the street of old town Quito.  It is quite a beuatiful city - lots of colonial archeticture and people wandering about (during the day, of course).  We wandered the plazas (lots of them) and went to some chruches and museuems.  Quito is pretty high in altitutude (a little under 10,000 feet) and surounded by mountains, some of them volcanoes.  It is also pretty dry - similiar to Cusco, in many ways.

We went out to dinner while it was stilll dark.  There were still some people walking around, but the shops cloase up not long after sunset and people did a lot of looking at their watches.  The place we ate dinner at was literally two blocks away from our hotel.  The first block was fine (still a fair amount of people), but the secind block was deserted and made us a bit nervous.  The guide book suggests taking a taxi for a block or two, if need be, and I can see why.  The taxi drivers are what makes the City operate after dark.  I think the problem is more physcological than anything else - people think it is dangerous, so they don´t go out, there fore the streets are empty and it is really sketchy.  Perception is everything, and I think the perception of unsafety is preventing a critical mass of people from taking the streets back.


Oh my God - didn´t have to leave early for our flight to Quito.  Strolled through Lima and then had a big lunch.  I had fish and garlic - wanted to make sure the person sitting next to me on the plane stayed as far away as possible (unfortunatley, this included Allegra).  Our filght went to Panama City first (free ticket), which was mobbed - "Hub of the Americas¨" apparently.

Got into Quite late on Sunday night.  Took a taxi to the Hotel in "El Centra," Lima.  No one was on the streets, except for the occasional groups of young men.  When we got to the hotel, the driver told us to wait in the car while he got th security guard.  The gurad came to the car, hand on gun, and usheredus into the hotel.  I must admit, it was really freaky and scary.  Quito feels safe during the day, but certainly not at night.


Left Cusco early for a flight back to Lima.  This early thing is getting out of hand.  In Lima, we decided to try the "cheap taxi" route.  We got one, but it was about to fall apart and we had a couple of instances were we almost feared for our lives - but we saved three bucks!

Went out to lunch at an upscale restaurant.  I think I mentioned the cerviche before, but, good god, it is excellent in Lima.  We had one with shrimp and some sort of whitefish.  They used a slightly creamy sauce and hot peppers.  I think Seattle needs a Peruvian style cervicheria - it would be mobbed.  I told the waiter I loved hot food - I don´t think he beleived me and brought out some special hot sauce for me to try.  He was surprised I ate it and we had a good conversation - nothing like the love of spicey to break the cultural`/language barrier.

Strolled down to the waterfront and watched the surfers.  Some pretty cool public art in Lima, as well.  On the way back to the hotel, we stopped into the supermercade, which was the Whole Foods equivalent.  We bought good bread, cheese, ham, and wine and ate in the garden of the hotel.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pottery Barn

Today is the day to hang out in Cusco, since our flight back to Lima is not unitl tomorrow and we´ve seen pretty much everything (that we want to see, that is). One thing we didn´t do was the Inka Musuem. Decided we might as well. It was, surprise, full of pre-columbian pottery. Pre-columbian pottery in Peru is like calligraphy in China, Renissance art in Italy, espresso stands in Washington State - you defnitly continue to appreciate them despite trpeated viewings, but the wonder starts to ware thin around piece number 5,000.

The novelty of empenadas has not worn off yet, though. I see them as the hamburger of South America - we´ve had some great ones, some with too much bread, some with too little meat, some too greasy, some not greasy enough. Most of the other Peruvian food here in Cusco is wearing thin, though. We went to a place that was kind of a mexican/hamburger place. We don´t usually eat at backpaer, bannana pancake places, but the sheer amount of bread and portatoes we´ve had in the past week has sent us looking for alternate cusines. It was nice to have some beans. the fiber is much needed. Looking forward to the food of Lima....

Friday, September 11, 2009

Man-Made Wonders of the World Death Match

Angkor Wat vs. Machu Picchu

Remoteness (a must for cool ruins): MP
Ruins: AW
Site: MP
Size: AW
Blow-Yer Mindness: AW
Angkor Wat - 3 Machu Picchu - 2
The Winner: ANGKOR WAT!


Up early again this morning. This is starting to get on my nerves. We wanted to get in line for the first buses to Machu Picchu (MP) so we would beat the crowds. We made it to the bus stop at 5:15, only to encounter about 300 people in line for the bus. Only two ways up to MP - walk or by overpriced bus. The walk is, of course, very steep - we chose the bus. Great ride up - beautiful views of the valley as it opened up above.

What to say about MP? It is truly amazing. The amount of stone work is staggering. They basically took a mountain peak and leveled it, using the stone for structures and terracing. The view is breathtaking - steep, sharp peaks adjacent, snow-capped moutains in the distance, and a river valley winding around it in an oxbow below. If the site were in your run-of-the-mill valley, it would be popular and interesting, but nothing like it is now. As the day changed, so did the light on the mountains and the fog in the valley below.

Of course, we were not the first ones there, by a long-shot. One thing I noticed was that there were lots of young (mostly) white people posing for pictures by jumping up, arms and legs out-stretched, face in astonishement - while the person takes the picture. What is the reason for this? Is it supposed to be a physical expression of the pure joy these people are feeling? Are those who view the pitures supposed to beleive that the energy of the moment was so overwhelming that the people just floated off the ground, only to come back down when their experience subsides? Odd. Also odd where the asian kids who wre posing for pictures by bending slightly at the waist, flashing the "v for victrory" (or peace sign), and holding their mouths agape. Are they claining victory over the challenge they set forth on? Showing their commitment to world peace? Sorry - no pictures - I was too captivated by the jumping and sign flashing I forgot.

Went back down to AC after about 6 hours among the ruins (about the right amount). Got back on the train to Cusco. This time, we had to take the "Vista Dome" train - a second class train - since the 3rd class was sold out. It had skylights, which were nice - you could see the mountains. They served cold, flavorless empenadas on nice ceramic ware. They had an Alpaca sweater fashion show - very odd. The train attendants put on sweaters and strutted down the aisles, while technco played in the background. People clapped and whistled. Great fun. You could, of course, by the sweaters they were modeling.


Got up really early again, since we had to catch a train to Aguas Calientes (AC), the town at the base of Machu Picchu (MP). Getting up early seems to be a theme of this trip - so much for catching up on all that sleep I´ve not been getting. We shared a cab with another Dutch couple to the station, which is 10 minutes out of town. About a four hour trainn ride through some very pretty country.

AC is pretty much like a town dump in Hawaii - crappy to be in, but once you are 10 feet out of it, it´s paradise. Everything in town seems to be under construction - even the places that are finished. Everything is geared toward tourists, so you can´t walk ten feet without being accosted by a tout for a restaurant, someone selling something, etc. Kind of depressing. But, again, it is in a beautiful setting. It is in an incredibly steep and narrow river valley and very tropical (compared to Cusco). Wild orchids growing on sheer cliff walls, parrots, etc.

We had a wood-fired pizza for lunch, which is one of the amazing things about Peru - there are wood-fired pizza joint everywhere. I have no doubt there are more wood-fired ovens in AC than in Seattle, and perhaps Rome. Now, someone only has to tell them how to make a proper pizza and I may never leave.

Went to an OK museum on the history of Machu Picchu, hung out, and then went to bed.


Didn´t get much sleep last night due to our room´s position right on the edge of an alleyway across from another guesthouse. In order to get into the guesthouse, you have to ring the doorbell ("ding!") and then they buzz you in ("Bzzzzzz"). So, all night long, Ding! Bzzzzzzz. Ding! Bzzzzzz. That and the altitude (about 10,000 ft.) made for a lousy night´s sleep. We grabbed some breakfast and then hopped a bus for Pisac, a small town in the "Sacred Valley" about an hour outside of Cusco. The mini-busses here are awesome - we paid before we got on the bus (about $0.80) and we even got an assigned seat number.

Had lunch in Pisac, which was holding a¨"market" that day - more of a tourist thing. Exclusively a tourist thing, actually. Anyway, the town is located in a pretty deep river valley, with Inka ruins situated right above it on the top of a mountain. You can hike up, but it is four KM pretty much straight up, so we decided to take a taxi. Found some Dutch people to share the cab with (Dutch tourists are like fleas on street dogs - everywhere). Ruins were great - massive terraces, walled of with stones about 10 feet high. Every promitory seemed to have some kind of structure on it. It is mind-boggling, the amount of stone that went in to these things. Eneded up walking down, which was still pretty difficult. Took the bus back to Cusco (not quite as nice as the one to Pisac - my ass still hurts from the "seats"). Had an Alpaca steak for dinner. Quite tasty - looks and texture where like pork, but it had a slight gaminess, like lamb.

Monday, September 7, 2009

¡Down with Globalization!

Flew into Cuzco this morning.  We had to leave for the airport at 3 AM, because our flight was at 5:30 and they tend to give your seats up if you don´t show up two hours ahead of time.  Flying to Cuzco was amazing - sunrise over the Andes.  I can see why the Inkas worshipped the sun.  The approach to the airport reminded me of the approach to the old Hong Kong airport, but instead of swerving through a phalynx of skyscapers, you go between terraced hillsides.  Made it in one piece.

We spent time preparing our trip to Machu Pichu this morning.  I´ve come to the conclusion that no travel is cheap anymore.  Even in develolping countries, the cool places are not much cheaper than the West.  Those really out of the way places are still cheap, but it takes so long to get to them that you need tons of time (and, as we all know, time is money).  That aspect of globalization sucks, IMO.  I was obviously born twenty years too late.  I want to travel in opulence and eat mounds of food and drink for pennies!  Damn this lack of exploitation.

Off to see some ruins tomorrow.

¡Viva Nescafe!

OK, when you think of Central and South America, what´s the first agriculatural crop you think of?, not Cocaine.  OK, so when you think of Central and South America, what´s the second agriculatural crop you think of? Coffee, right?  So why does everyone in Lima drink powdered Nescafe?  It´s really odd and seriously throwing Allegra for a loop.  We did find an Italian restaurant on Saturday night that had espresso.  We went Sunday morning, but it was closed, of course.  Ended up getting coffee from a cart, who used some sort of coffee syrup - close, but still not the same.  He did have Chorizo burgers, which were both terrifying and fascinating.  We opted out of those.  Did have a rockin cerviche for lunch.  Better than in Mexico or Costa Rica.

Today was the musuem day.  Not much to report, expect for this private pottery museum, which was awesome.  This place had rooms with floor to ceiling (high ceilings, at that) filled with pre-columbian pottery.  They also had an "erotic" section, which was full of penis pots, vagina pots, sex pots (no pun intended), anal sex pots, oral sex pots, masturbation pots, animal sex pots, etc.  Crazy shit, indeed. 

Went to swanky Miraflores for dinner and got stuck in a parade put on by a supermarket.  Floats full of dancing suasages, biscuits, etc.  Too scared to take pictures - sorry.


After a day of traveling, we finally touched down in Lima super early in the morning (4;30 AM).  It is pretty cool travelling through the empty streets of a city that early in the morning, especially one with 8 million people - no soul, just hulking, skeletal buildings and trashy sidewalks.  I wasn´t sure whether to tip our taxi driver, who we got through the hotel.  Nothing more awkward that trying to determine tipping ettiquite in a foreign country - especially at four in the morning.  Decided not to tip, which seemed to be a mistake since he obviously expected one.

Once we slept for a while and hit the stereets, it was much more livley.  Lima really is a beautiful city, in parts.  The colonial archticture can be quite stunning - intricate facades, balconies covered in detailed woodwork, massive doors, etc.  The first thing, though, I noticed about Lima was the amount of security - army, police, riot police (didn´t see any riots, though), K-9 units, bike police, private security, and on and on.  Seems like one in every four persons is employed by some sort of securioty firms - public or otherwise.

We were too tired and hungry to do the fine-dining thing, so we went to a roast chicken and fries (pappas) place.  This was kind of the Chuck E. Cheese of Lima, I think.  We watched kids go down slides and jump in boucy castles - it was awesome.  Pretty good chicken.  We drank Inka Cola, which seems to be the Lima equivalent of San Pelligrino in Italy - everyone had a huge bottle at their table.  Tastes good, but kind of weird, like a cross between a cream soda and Sprite.

The coolest place we went to was the Franciscan Monestary.  It was super elaborate - exotic wood from Central America, tile from Spain, marble from Italy, etc.  I always thought the Franciscans led kind of austere lives(?), but apprently not in Peru.  Lots of talk about their "benefactors," who popped up in the corner of paintings - kind of like the Chase Bank of the 16th Century.  There were cool catacombs beneath the church where they estimated 25,000 people were buried.  They dug them up and just threw the bones in huge piles - creepy.  I think there is a great novel in here - greedy Franciscan priests, wealthy benefactors currying favor, colonial setting, massive death, etc.  Dad - any books in the Holy Cross library on Peruvian Franciscans?  Oh - lots of pigeons, too - the only thing St. Francis would have appreciated, I think.