Sunday, June 1, 2008

lima last day continued & final review

so i'm now home finally, lying down on my futon upstairs, and my stomach is killing me. i got some anti-bacterial to take along with my sulfur tablets. i also got something to stop the actual diarrhea. it seems to be working but it's definitely doing a number on my stomach.

let's see. so after i posted last, we took off for lunch at punto azul. it came highly recommended by angelo and we saw tons of locals there. it was trendy but not too expensive. we ordered the standard ceviche which was awesome! fresh whitefish soaked in lime juice with a side of huge corn kernels and some kind of sweet potato. that seems to be the traditional way of doing it. man, peru has huge corn, seriously. this was the first real food i'd allowed myself to eat in some time and it tasted really good. but of course it came right out. we also ordered a hot dish made of fried fish in a tomato/seafood sauce. there was calamari, shrimp, and maybe octopus in the sauce. that was good too, but not as good as the ceviche. nick also got a cream pudding dessert, mostly to allow my stomach time to settle and take advantage of the restaurant's facilities. it was pretty good. i just had a tiny taste. i didn't want to press my luck too much by eating a ton of dairy.

after that, we took off shopping. i'm not sure if i've ever walked so damn slow. in the end, we had to duck into a casino to use their restroom. i thought it was a fancy hotel initially, but there is this whole strip in miraflores with huge casinos. apparently they're very popular with the locals. anyways, it had a really nice bathroom, but the cleaning lady was in there the whole time which made me uncomfortable. it was after that that i decided i needed stronger medication.

we then ended up at all the artisan marketplaces. i really did have trouble finding stuff we wanted. we got a few more scarves, some gourds carved in the shape of guinea pigs, and a highland ceremonial mask for nick. it's craziness. it barely fits over his head. and lastly, we got a stuffed baby alpaca doll with alpaca fur. it's sooo soft! we also had to beg a cop to find us a bathroom in the middle of this shopping expedition as well. oh yes, and we picked up a few more t-shirts too. that really was the extent of our shopping.

by now, it was 5 pm and i was exhausted. we decided to walk back to our hotel and wait for our dinner reservations at astrid y gaston for 7:30 pm. there, we bumped into the same american who previously kept saying "so you're from LA, huh?" anyways, first thing he says is something about trying to unload $6M worth of gold bullion. you heard that right. he started talking about all the different businesses he owned and how much money he had. i couldn't decide whether or not to believe him. turns out he's this guy. serious weirdness.

anyways, before we knew it, we had to excuse ourselves and run to dinner. astrid y gaston is a super famous restaurant run by astrid, who's german, and her husband, gaston, who is peruvian. they're both excellent chefs supposedly. honestly, i didn't feel like eating anything at this point. the evacuation of lunch was exhausting enough, but since it was our last night, i was determined to try to eat. nick got a pig suckling dish and i got short ribs. both were good but it was a serious struggle for me to eat mine. nick's appetite was also not back completely so he wasn't able to help me much. they had a bread bowl which included lard bread. even if i were well, i'm not sure i could've handled that!

for dessert, nick chose the sampler. he got some cake made with the purple corn sauce, a medley of fruit sorbet, and fried chocolate truffles. the latter items were the best. by then, it was already 9:30 pm and our taxi was coming at 10. we rushed out of there and got to the hotel and saw our taxi was already there. we walk in, and there was this other guy wanting to share our cab, but he didn't have the change to split with us and it was a mess. considering how i was feeling, i just wasn't in the mood. fortunately he found himself a cab and was off. his flight was before ours and he didn't even have a cab already scheduled? how do some people survive when they're so unorganized?

anyways, we got to the airport just before 11 pm for our 1:40 am flight. man, waiting around for the flight was awful. we were both just exhausted. also, since we had some peruvian soles left, we decided it was better we just spend it than exchange it back to dollars. nick got a peruvian cookbook and we got some more small souvenirs. now i only have some change which is perfect.

we got to sit in a pair of seats by ourselves which was nice. nick ended up watching the matrix and i tried to sleep. after that, he took ambien, and i continued to try to sleep. we skipped the first meal. fast forward to this morning, and i tried to eat the omelette breakfast. the flight was pretty uneventful. the entertainment stuff this plane had was really nice, but i was just too tired to use any of it. and again, the plane was like half full of japanese tourists. i don't think i'm really a fan. they neither speak nor read english or spanish which is pretty annoying. when it's time to board by seat rows, they have no clue and just block up everything. and everytime i was using the lavatory, even though i locked it to say "occupied," i'd feel people trying to push their way in. sucks.

anyways, we got in this morning just past 8 am and my stepmom picked us up. i'm downloading photos now onto picasa.

i do have some regrets for this trip. first off, i wanted to try cuy (guinea pig). it's a highland specialty, but whenever a restaurant had it, i wasn't in the mood. and when i wanted it, the restaurant wouldn't have it. and later, we were just too sick to eat anything that heavy. also, i had hoped to try many good restaurants in lima. instead i feel i tried very little actual peruvian food. and walking around lima just wasn't much fun. between all the honking and air pollution, it was pretty unpleasant. but i also have to admit that my sickness took a lot away from the enjoyment of it. i also don't feel like i saw much of cuzco. between the tours and the trek, i never even got to hang out in the main plaza de armas. it was a gorgeous square but i never even got to photograph it. we always found ourselves in it late at night when it was freezing. besides the walk from our hotel to peru treks, i hardly saw that city at all. we also slept horribly there. it seemed every night some bar or club had live music playing. it just seemed impossible to get peace and quiet. it was more of a party city than i had anticipated.

and regarding the trek itself. i was so excited about it. i had decided to lug my heavy camera so i could take good photos. this actually proved to be a major liability when i became too weak and sick to carry it, and nick was suffering from altitude sickness as well. but both nick and i were just so tired most of the time that we just didn't bother with photos at all. even nick, who usually loves taking weird photos, hardly took any. we spent so much time focusing on the steps on the ground in front of us, we rarely got to look up and see the beauty around us. generally i think challenges build character and i like our trips to be a little hard. but i feel we may have overdone it this time. we managed to suck all the fun out of it. it was too much work.

i did meet some genuinely great people on that tour, any of whom i'd love to see again. but on the whole, i'm not sure i will look back on this "honeymoon" with the fondest of memories. it's definitely going to leave some scars.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

lima last day

so i'm sitting here bored since nick is still taking a shower. they had turned off the hot water and i guess i used it all up. they started heating it up again for nick.

the sulfur tablets aren't working but i think i'll buy a few more and keep taking them till monday. if by then i'm still sick, i'm getting antibiotics.

so yesterday, after i posted, we did nothing. we sat around our hotel room and ate tons of bread and watched some tv. they have some of the same spanish-language soaps here in peru as in america. i shouldn't know this, but unfortunately i do.

i also figured i'd mention a few random things i'd forgotten. apparently lima is always overcast but never rains. like they might get some drizzle but that's it. but several years back they got a drizzle that lasted all day or something, and since there are no gutters, it actually eventually closed down a major highway or something. pretty funny.

another thing, we learned a lot about respecting pacha mama during our trek. she's mother nature and you have to be nice to her. whenever you drink chicha or something, you have to spill a little on the ground for her. but i must've pissed her off or something cuz she certainly punished me. fortunately, she was still generally very happy with us and we did have fantastic weather for all four days. we had clear skies and no rain. it was so clear we could see a lot of the snowy mountain tops. nighttime was freezing though and i ended up sleeping fully clothed with long underwear, beanie, and gloves every night. also, some people were bitten by mosquitoes on the last day. our theory is that only the people who showered the third night got bitten. us dirty people had natural repellent. both nick and i got off bite free :)

so it's already about 10:30 this morning. we're gonna try to do some last-minute shopping for stuffed alpacas. honestly i've hardly bought any souvenirs this trip, just a few scarves. i haven't really seen anything i'm just dying to have. still, i wanna give it one last try. then we're gonna try this ceviche restaurant angelo recommended for lunch. i'll probably just sit and watch nick eat. and finally for dinner we're going to astrid y gaston, which is a famous seafood restaurant here. i'll probably just eat anyways and deal. if eating boring bread is gonna make me sick, i may as well eat something i really like and still get sick. then i guess off to the airport. we have a red eye and won't arrive till tomorrow morning. i miss my bed so much. it'll be nice to come back to our new home.

Friday, May 30, 2008

inca trail review

i have survived the inca trail. it was an incredibly emotional and difficult experience for me, and i've probably lost close to 10 pounds now. this was probably the single hardest thing i've ever done and i'm very proud of myself.

see, the thing you guys don't know is that along with my previously-mentioned cold, i also came down with a serious case of diarrhea the first day. i completed the whole four-day trek virtually starving myself, consuming only gatorade and glucose tablets. my body was basically eating itself for energy. but not only did i finish the trek as i had planned, i even managed to climb the huayna picchu mountain at the end, out of stubbornness or stupidity, i'm not entirely sure.

our trekking party consisted of two guides (freddie and cesar), 19 porters, two cooks, and 16 trekkers. there was another american couple, a canadian couple, a kiwi couple, an aussie couple, two british girls, a single british guy who had been traveling for seven months on his own, and a british father and his daughter and son. i want to mention that we totally lucked out with our group. seriously, everyone was really cool and decent. i had so many people offering to give me medications and constantly asking how i was. it really was touching to have so many strangers actually care. those glucose tablets were given to me by the aussie couple, and i'm not sure i would've made it through the third day without them. and on the last hike up huayna picchu, it was one of the british girls who intentially stayed behind with me so i wouldn't be all alone. small things like that make all the difference.

so monday morning, we were picked up at 5:20 am and driven to ollantaytambo where we had breakfast. the day before, my stomach was a litte off but i figured it was just a fluke. i ordered banana and caramel pancakes with hot chocolate. it tasted excellent, but within minutes i had to go to the restroom. that was the beginning of the end. we started hiking at 9ish that morning and stopped for lunch.

let me stop and say the chef on our trek was amazing! there was just one head cook and his assistant. and everything he made had to be carried up the mountain by porters. he cooked on two tiny stovetops and yet managed to make an amazing array of food. every meal was like four courses. he even made pizza! i was sick at that point, but i decided to try it anyways. it was excellent. he never repeated a single dish and even made special meals for the one vegetarian in our group. he was really creative too. he made this fruit salad with sprinkles! and rice with alphabet noodles! he came up with stuff i'd never imagine but it all tasted good. some highlights included the trout, orange chicken, chinese fried rice, sangria, garlic bread, and of course the pizza. it's almost a shame he's only the trekking company cook because he really was capable of so much more. unfortunately, i was only able to smell and see most of it. he did make special meals for me, but they were intentially boring and bland for my sake. they made all sorts of weird soup and tea concoctions for me, but nothing helped. but man, sitting at the dining table as everyone else ate his food was painful! go apolinar!

anyways, so it was after lunch that i started realizing that there might really be a problem. i finished off the first day, staying with the group, and we settled into camp by 4 pm. the first day is considered the easiest and is 12 km.

after dinner on the first day, i told freddie and cesar about my problem. cesar gave me some pills he said would take care of it. but you know what, the next morning, it was worse.

the second day of the trek is considered the most challenging. it's also 12 km but includes a huge climb up to dead woman's pass, which has actually killed a few people. it was also on this day that i pretty much lost all pride and dignity. i had to run off the trail and into the bushes on so many occasions it was no longer even embarassing anymore. and cesar had to stay with me and nick the whole day. at one point, he even asked if i wanted to go back. or if they should rent a donkey for me to ride back. i had been planning this damn trip for so long there was just no way i was going to give up that easily. but maybe for a second i considered it. i spent the rest of the day just focusing on the one or two steps in front of me. and when i wasn't doing that, i was up ahead by myself on the verge of tears. when we finally arrived in camp, 30 minutes after the last trekker, they clapped for me. still, i've never really been last in anything before, and it really hurt. i hated being the weak one. i'm happy to say it never happened again. i found out later on that the guides had serious doubts i would make it. we didn't have mirrors so i have no clue what i looked like, but i'm told i was pretty ashen and had noticeably lost weight in just that one day. that day was hard for everyone, even the healthy ones.

so the third day, i had given up eating completely which helped a lot. by not eating, i wasn't going to the bathroom which saved energy. squatting in the bushes starts to kill your legs, especially when you're already weak. my legs were probably getting more of a workout from the constant bathroom breaks than from the hiking itself. anyways, the aussie couple gave me the glucose tablets that day, and i think they helped at lot. if nothing else, they tasted good. this day was also the longest at 16 km and considered the most beautiful. the morning was easy and gorgeous as promised. but the afternoon ended with 2000 steps down! before i said something about 200; well i was wrong. it's probably actually closer to 2700. walking down jagged crude stone stairs for over two hours is absolutely killer on the knees and feet. we got into camp later at around 5 pm. there were showers at this place, and i meant to take one since we'd been hiking for three days totally dirty, but we ran out of time. after dinner we went and met all the porters and it was pretty cool.

a note about the porters. apparenty peru treks takes good care of the porters by supplying sleeping bags, sleeping mats, jackets, and actual backpacks. they also have a max weight of 18 kg. but along the trail, we would see other companies' porters and their conditions were awful. some of these guys had sandals and were carrying bags the size of their bodies. and they may be carrying everything tied up in a huge blanket. it was really sad. they really aren't treated any better than animals.

that also reminds me. we saw tons of alpacas, llamas, cows, mules, and donkeys on the trail too. it was really neat.

also, before i forget, sleeping in the tents sucked. the mattress pads aren't very thick and i ended up messing up both hips over the first two nights, and on the third night i figured i'd be smart and sleep on my back. well that just messed up my tailbone, so on the last day i had bad hips and a bad tailbone. not good at all. pretty much gimp. i slept maybe max two hours a night. also, my stomach problems forced me to get up every night, put on my hiking boots, and wander around in the dark with a flashlight in search of the restroom. these campsite restrooms were no more than porcelain holes in the ground.

okay, so the last morning, we got up at 3:40 am in order to get to the sungate by sunrise. we walked six kilometers total. it was a pretty easy walk that morning which is good cuz i was really pretty banged up by then. we got to machu picchu at around 7 am. it really was beautiful, but i didn't get as emotional as i thought i would. then again, i had an emotional breakdown the night before in the tent, so i guess i already had gotten it all out of my system.

once we got there, i realized we would be able to get tickets to climb huayna picchu after all. in any photo you've seen of machu picchu, there's always a tall mountain in the background. i had told myself i would climb that if i could. they limit it to 400 climbers a day. nick refused to do it, so i tagged along with the two british girls, the kiwi guy, and the aussie guy. i had my glucose tablets but no water. nick didn't want me to do it since he was worried my legs were too shot by then. but i figured, i've already survived four days, what's two more hours right? it was stupid, but i knew i'd regret it later if i skipped it, even if i did have a really good excuse. there are about six fatalities on that mountain a year. i'll admit, about 10 minutes into it i started to seriously question myself. but like i said, one of the british girls stuck with me and it really made a huge difference. in the end it took me one hour 40 minutes to get up to the top and back down.

after that, we took a bus to aguas calientes, a nearby town, to meet everyone for lunch. again, i ate nothing but nick had some good pizza. we also realized we had like four hours to burn till our train back to ollantaytambo. nick, me, the british family, and the single british guy ended up just walking around town and looking at all the shops. man, walking up and down stairs just about killed us! but we had a good time and got to get to know each other much better. people who were previously so reserved became so open after the whole ordeal. i guess that's what happens after you've also been through something like that together.

anyways, so we got back at around 10 last night and we just went immediately to bed. this morning we woke up and sorted out the hotel fees with the owner and everything was good. we just arrived in lima around 1 pm. we're back at the same hotel, and angelo told me i have a bacterial infection. i've taken some sulfur tablets and i hope that works. i said i wanted to lose weight, but not that much ;)

right now, thinking about the trek is just very emotional for me. it's still too recent. maybe i'll have fonder memories later. the people, food, scenery were amazing, but the trek itself was just too painful. i had people constantly tell me they couldn't believe i finished it in my condition. on the one hand it makes me proud, but on the other it just makes me wanna cry.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

cuzco 3rd day

it´s official. i´m sick! it sucks. i´ve been feverish and with chills all day. we had signed up for the sacred valley tour today so we had to be outside the main cathedral by 8:40 am for bus pickup. of course it was late and i was getting worried we missed it.

anyways, both of us didn´t sleep so well again. i really can´t tell how much i sleep at all. to be honest, i´m not really having the greatest time. the lack of sleep is getting to me.

anyways, we started out at pisaq where we went to the main market as well as a smaller independent market run by koreans. we bought some scarves at the first one, and we ended up spending all our time at the main market looking for a sun hat big enough for nick´s head.

after that we got dropped off at allpa manka, where we had another gringofied overpriced buffet. it was alright but it´s not what i wanted really and i was feeling really sick.

after lunch we went to ollantaytambo, an incan town with ruins. the tour guide was from here so he had a lot to say. in the end, the tour moved so slowly we barely got to see the ruins. then it started raining! we´ve been dreading this. i don´t want to hike in the rain to machu picchu. anyways, after that we stopped at this bar and had chicha. i know i said i wouldn´t, but the tour guide didn´t mention anything about spit. he says there´s a similar drink in the amazon where they use spit to ferment the potatoes. hopefully he´s right. we also played this game called toad or sapo, like horseshoes kinda.

after that we went to chinchero and sat and watched ladies spin alpaca thread and dye the stuff. of course after that we had to tip or buy something so i got a scarf. by then it was dark. we then saw chinchero ruins in the dark and the cathedral. by this point, i was really over it. it was totally dark and freezing.

also worthy of note is that there was this huge dork on the tour. an american guy in an ozomatli shirt tucked in to slacks that were tucked into his hiking boots. sorry for being superficial, but come on! nick was threatening to go over there and rip the shirt off his back, saying "bitch, you ain´t allowed to wear this shit!" he asked so many damn questions so loudly. nick wanted to punch him in the throat. i hope to god he isn´t part of our trekking tour group tomorrow, but it seems like he will be. i just have to ask, haven´t i suffered enough? i haven´t slept in days and i´m sick. what did i ever do to deserve this?!

anyways, the tour got back super late like after 7 pm. we got more cash for the trek and went back to the hotel. when we were heading back out for dinner, the hotel staff finally asked me to pay. i´d been offering to since we arrived. but of course now there´s a ton of stupidity. the owner had quoted me the price in dollars over email. but of course he´s nowhere to be found and the ladies up front insisted on soles, which would be fine, but they wanted to charge me more since the exchange rate had changed. now if they had simply asked me to pay more to account for it, i would´ve. peru treks had a similar situation where they asked people to voluntarily pay more, and we gladly did it. but the damn hotel confirmed as recently as last week i owed them exactly $180 in dollars. ugh! i ain´t paying till i talk to the owner. i like how the absentee landlord can tell you one thing but the hotel staff has totally different ideas. i´m not going to be leaving a very positive review of this place on tripadvisor. the damn hotel in lima stuck with the dollar price they quoted me.

by the way, we finally got to have a pretty basic peruvian meal for dinner, at los aromas de nucchu, for less than $3 each. there were locals there, plus it was recommended to us by our hotel front desk, so we figured it would be ok. we had this cold potato salad thing, creamy spinach soup (good), and some pollo a la plancha. they also gave us some pineapple juice that we opted out of once we saw it had been sitting in this container all day.

anyways, it´s past 9 pm and we need to get back and shower and pack. we´re getting up at 4:45 am tomorrow...

signing off till at least thursday night. here´s hoping i wake up tomorrow well again.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

cuzco 2nd day

so my cheeks are no longer on fire. instead my head was throbbing all day. but at least that has now stopped since i finally popped two aleve.

so since we did like absolutely nothing yesterday, we had decided to go spend quality time with alpacas today. the peru treks lady had recommended this place called awana kancha. it´s like some community project by a bunch of the highlanders, where they have different varieties of alpacas, llamas, vicuñas, and guanacos for petting, and demonstrations of the processing of the wool, and finally completed goods for sale. nick had an amazing time! we videotaped a bunch of the interaction. and no, they didn´t spit on us ;) since they didn´t charge any entrance fee, we figured we had to buy some stuff so we purchased a baby alpaca wool hat and scarf for nick for the upcoming trek. it´s sad but roberto said that for every 100 people who visit that place (for free, mind you), maybe 10 people will actually purchase something. balls!

by the way, we both slept like shit last night. it´s like impossible to get a decent night´s sleep here in peru. our first night in lima was facing the street and all the honking cars. our second night they moved us, so it was better. and last night, our really cute room in cuzco also faced the street and there is a bar like two doors down which had live music all night. they played covers of classic rock. also, maybe it is the altitude since we really couldn´t get to sleep at all it seemed. they´ve moved us so i hope tonight is better. i brought some ambien for an emergency, and i´m getting pretty damn close to using it.

anyways, so we barely dragged our asses out of bed this morning to make it for breakfast. we had some scrambled eggs, fresh bananas and papaya (or guava, i really couldn´t tell), bread and jam. i also had some more coca tea. i´ve been having lots of coca tea lately.

so first thing, we set out to get some cash. we also went to a pharmacy and picked up baby wipes for the trek. did i mention we´re getting picked up at 5:20 am monday morning to start the trek?! also, the third day is considered "unforgettable." ha, cuz it´s gorgeous or cuz there are over 200 steps you have to descend?

anyways, since we were near peru treks, we also decided to stop by an office supply store and pick up school supplies to donate. we got pens, pencils with erasers, notepads, and color pencils (we mustn´t deprive the poor children of art after all). peru treks collects tons of donations and distributes them to the neighboring poor villages.

anyways, after that, we went back up the damn hill to our hotel and asked the lady to call us a taxi to the alpaca place. lucky for us, we got roberto, who also was the one who picked us up from the airport yesterday. he offered to take us to the alpaca farm, show us around, and give us a tour of the pisaq ruins. we´ve signed up for a sacred valley tour for tomorrow but pisaq wasn´t included, so this was perfect.

well i also told you about the alpaca place, so about pisaq. wow, it´s gorgeous. it´s like a mini machu picchu. roberto offered to wait for us while we explored the ruins on our own, which would take probably 1-2 hours. well there is this main fortress at the very top of the hill (by the way, the sacred valley is super hilly and apparently grows the best corn in the universe), and we took our time climbing it. the top of it gave a great view of the pueblo of pisaq. so we then headed back down. it was only when we got back to the main trail that nick noticed he lost his little notepad. the fool decided he had to climb back up and retrace our steps and find the damn thing! man, we were both exhausted from lack of sleep and high altitude climbing but he was going to redo the whole thing for some stupid notes. anyways, i didn´t want to split up so i ended up going back with him. by some miracle, he actually found the damn thing. i heard clapping and whooping coming from the top of the mountain so i knew he´d found it. unfortunately i started getting worried since retracing our steps wasted a lot of time and it was getting late. i forgot to mention, but apparently saturday afternoons are not busy tourist times so we had the alpaca farm and the pisaq ruins like almost entirely to ourselves. anyways, to make up time, we practically jogged/ran the rest of the way down the mountain. so at least i now know that the massive headache i´ve had is not due to altitude, but is instead entirely attributable to the lack of sleep. not much consolation, but it makes me happy. however, the very end of the trail was totally uphill to the parking lot where our taxi was. nick got so tired he finally resorted to this knock-kneed alpaca walk. it was ridiculous. and good news, i actually almost fell asleep on the ride back to the hotel.

actually by the time we got back to the hotel, not only was the headache out of control, but the flaming cheeks were back too. i laid down and maybe sleep for about an hour. meanwhile, we hadn´t eaten anything since breakfast so we were both starving. finally i dragged myself out of bed, took two aleve, and we headed out to eat. by the way, it´s really cold in cuzco at night. our hotel beds have like six layers of comforters, which we at first thought was excessive, but it´s absolutely necessary. we both took super hot, long steaming showers this morning. and while nick showered, i stood outside by the shower cuz i didn´t want to enter the freezing main room.

so we went back into the main square and tried this restaurant, tunupa, which we had tried to hit last night but didn´t serve food till later. we did the buffet which included pisco sours. i had to at least try these since peru is famous for them. but considering how i was feeling, i didn´t think a lot of alcohol would be a good idea. overall, the buffet was a great idea. it was huge so we got to try a bunch of different peruvian specialties and some cool desserts too. i had a banana and orange slushy-type thing, and nick had that and two more glasses of pineapple juice. the pig. oh yeah, and we ate more alpaca. aren´t we horrible? pet and eat, pet and eat.

anyways, the aleve seems to be working cuz i´m feeling alright now. i need to wash some t-shirts tonight and then go to bed as early as possible. our sacred valley tour starts tomorrow at 8:30 am. tomorrow will be our last night here before we leave for the trek. by the way, i neglected to mention just how touristy cuzco is. like when we got to our gate at the lima airport it was kinda a joke cuz everyone there was white. everyone in the main square is either foreign or trying to sell shit to the foreigners. but seriously, their plaza de armas is beautiful. one of the coolest squares nick or i have ever seen. i need to photograph it before we leave.

i think that pretty much sums up today. i´ll try to update again tomorrow and then nothing for four days. i need to feel better tomorrow. i´m not enjoying the prospect of four days of hiking with throbbing headaches and cheeks of fire.

Friday, May 23, 2008

cuzco 1st day

my cheeks are on fire!!!! but more on that later.

first off, correction: cebiche/ceviche is made with lime juice, not lemon.

also, i forgot to mention but it appears it's practically impossible to get pulled over by a cop in lima. our cab driver even honked at a cop, and nothing!

also, last night we had chicha morada which is a sweet drink made from purple corn. there's also another chicha which is made from fermented corn, fermented by spit. i don't plan on having that.

okay, so we got up nice and early at 6:30 am this morning to catch our flight to cuzco. it was pretty straightforward and we were even able to bring water on the flight so we didn't dehydrate. they also fed us some snacks of mini muffins and chocolate. as soon as we landed, i could tell when the plane doors opened and let in the "natural" air. i had on both my backpacks and was sitting on the armrest, and suddenly everything felt heavier. apparently, there is less than 50% less oxygen in the air here than at sea level. we weren't huffing and puffing or anything, but man did my limbs feel heavy. also, i think my heart is beating faster. mostly, i get the same weird sensation when i've swallowed a huge vitamin and it's like stuck in my esophagus. i just have trouble swallowing or something. however, now my face is like on fire. you know how all the photos of the highlanders show people with bright red cheeks? well i'm apparently turning into them or something. and it ain't from the sun.

anyways, so we arrived around 11 am and got picked up and dropped off at the casona les pleiades in san blas, which is unfortunately on a hill. getting up this hill from the main plaza is hard. and it's all cobblestone. i hate cobblestone. it's awful on your feet and super slippery. i saw two poor burros being driven down a steep hill by a muleteer, and i was so afraid one would slip.

another thing we noticed. while lima had a very similar look and feel to mexico city and the yucatan, cuzco definitely felt more like the small towns we hit in extremadura, spain. quaint with cobblestones.

so we were immediately served some coca tea when we arrived at our hotel and sat around in the courtyard for a while. finally we were let into our room and just laid in bed for a few hours. i'm not sure if i actually fell asleep, but we both had to jump out of bed every 30 minutes or so and pee. not sure if that's the altitude or the coca. all i know is the first time i jumped up i nearly ate shit and fell. kinda loopy i guess. oh and the hotel is super cute. i'll have to post photos later. it's all natural woods and pretty new and modern.

so at around 3ish, we finally decided to head out, mostly cuz we were hungry. we also found out the owners of the hotel are on vacation and won't be back till tomorrow afternoon. that kinda sucks since i was hoping to have someone recommend stuff for us. a bit disappointing.

anyways, the lady at the front recommended some place we couldn't find, so we then decided to head to peru treks and finalize our trek. the lady at the front had to run out somewhere to xerox our passports, and i guess she really rushed cuz she came back totally out of breath. i felt bad for her. she looked like she was about to puke. i guess the locals have some problems too.

the stupid trek place was closed for siesta so we had to sit around for a while. then at 4 they reopened and we took care of all that stuff. by then we were starving. we'd only had bread and jam for breakfast and then the few snacks on the plane. we tried to go to this one restaurant they recommended, but they weren't serving food till 6:30. finally we ended up at inka grill, which was super fancy and totally full of rich old white people. i've never felt so yuppie or white, but unfortunately it was practically the only place serving dinner at that point. peruvians eat dinner really late like 8 or 9 pm.

i should mention i got to pet a baby alpaca! there were two super traditionally-dressed women with babies on their backs standing on some corner, and one had a baby alpaca. so i sat down with the two and nick took a photo. unfortunately i gave one of the ladies a tip thinking they worked together. of course, as soon as i paid, she ran off and the other lady stood there clearly waiting for hers. i barely had any change left so i felt all crappy. then again, they probably do it on purpose and pretend not to know each other so they get more. who knows. it was awkward though.

with that said, i ate alpaca for dinner! i had three alpaca medallions with quinoa (this local grain like cous-cous). it was pretty good actually. kinda like beef i guess but more gamey. nick had aji de gallina which was chicken strips in a creamy aji pepper sauce. also very good. after we ate it, we were both like, it seems really familiar. then it hit me. he ordered that exact same dish at this new peruvian restaurant in LA near where we live. he says the one he had tonight was a little better. it's supposed to be a very traditional dish. for dessert we had ponderaciones con manjar de yemas, which was a crispy spiral cookie in a condensed milk sauce topped with vanilla ice cream. again, very good. i had inka kola and nick had orange fanta. it doesn't taste like the stuff in the US or Spain, more diety. nick wants me to mention the music in the place was totally lame.

also, massages are all the rage for tourists here. it's kinda indecent, like chicks on the corner ask you if you want "2-for-1 massages."

so now that i've eaten alpaca, we are going to an alpaca farm tomorrow to pet them :)

nick believes that the alpaca can sense his kin in the stomach of another, a realization which often provokes an intense existential dread. we'll see if i get spit on tomorrow.

lastly, both of us can't remember shit today. we both couldn't remember where we put our hotel key. i hope i'm closer to normal tomorrow. and as much as nick may like my flaming cheeks, i wish they would return to a more normal hue.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

lima 1st day

i've finally found myself in front of a computer! i'm sitting in the office of my b&b and they were kind enough to let me use their computer. i think everyone's gone to sleep so i'm not monopolizing.

so we flew in last night, after 8 hours. nick actually got sick and puked like four times! i think it was the turbulence and the fact he's still sick. i swear i even felt like puking myself a few times. anyways, they fed us lunch. i had a canneloni thing and nick had chicken and rice. it wasn't bad actually. we also got to watch movies on demand. they were mostly bad, and i'm ashamed to admit i watched p.s. i love you. i only watched it for gerard butler and he didn't even look good in it! he was hottest in dear frankie, pre weird tan and some sort of plastic surgery around the eyes. anyways, it was really really bad. i also watched juno, since it won an oscar and all. seriously, the dialogue/script kinda sucked. the story was kinda sweet but it's like they were trying way too hard to be all hip and slangy. lastly, i watched the bucket list. funny cuz i only watched that on nick's recommendation, and in the end it was my favorite of the three. right before we landed, we also got some ham and cheese sandwiches. it was right after this that nick blew chunks. he's also rather fond of describing the spewing in great detail.

anyways... so we landed right after midnight and went through customs with no problems. we got picked up at the airport by a guy named floyd who held a sign saying "ellie lio." they also seem to have this idea that my first name is actually "lio." anyways, after a 20-minute taxi ride, where i swear we went in circles, we arrived at our b&b tradiciones. angelo met us at the door and showed us our room. we actually got a huge dorm room with six beds all to ourselves. the beds were even comfy. only thing: lima is a loud-ass city! people communicate with their car horns here. it's like saying "here i come and get out of my way!" and of course our room like faces the street. so we didn't get much sleep. also, i totally fucked up my neck the morning of our flight. it had been kinda iffy for a few days, and while drying my hair that morning, it totally went stiff. just my luck. so moving while sitting or sleeping is rather difficult. i kinda drag my head around.

so this morning, we were awakened by a knock on the door from a guy bringing breakfast. it's basically continental breakfast: bread, butter, jam, orange juice, coffee, and tea. it was pretty good though. the shower also has hot water so i was pretty pumped. we finally dragged ourselves downstairs by 11 am. we were supposed to be picked up by an independent guide named deltom at 11:30. turns out he showed up early and was about to leave since the b&b owner only knew my name, while deltom only knew nick's name. fortunately we came down just in time to stop him.

so deltom drove us to el centro de lima in this super old dinky car. now the taxi ride late last night did not prepare us for the drive today. cars come inches from hitting each other. like at any moment, there are like five cars, all within one inch of your car from all sides. and everyone is cutting everyone off, while honking. i was shocked i didn't witness any accidents. i also saw a guy peeing on the side of an overpass on the side of a highway! apparently you can't be arrested for that here. you can also drink in public. craziness.

so anyways, after like an hour in traffic, we made it to the center of town and parked. we first went to the plaza mayor, which used to be called plaza de armas till as recently as 2000. it actually looked a lot like merida, mexico. they had similar architecture and a fondness for the same shade of orangey-yellow paint. we then headed to the monasterio de san francisco. normally churches/cathedrals really bore me, but this one had catacombs! it was pretty creepy. some archaeologists had decided to "organize" them so they are all neatly compartmentalized: all skulls in one box and all femurs in another, etc. anyways, that was kinda neat. also, there was one ceiling in the church they said was modeled after the spanish. seriously, it looked just like a ceiling from el real alcazar de sevilla, spain. and that was a moorish ceiling! it kinda cracks me up that the moorish design ended up in tons of catholic churches.

we then walked to the parque de la muralla, where they discovered an ancient wall in 2000. it had been a myth or something that lima used to have a wall around the city, and they even found paintings depicting a fortress, only they didn't know where the matching fortress was. pretty cool. there was also this huge statue of some spaniard on a horse. some people say it's pizarro, but it was a gift from mexico, so it could very well be a re-gift of hernan cortes. either way, it's some spaniard the natives hate.

from there, we took a tour bus to cerro san cristobal, a hill with a huge cross on top. from there you had a panoramic view of the city. the ride up and down was kinda scary since the road is two-way but super narrow. the solution? the bus driver would honk right before every corner. like i said, the honk basically means "here i come and get out of my way." nick also tells me that whoever is going downhill has the right-of-way. i don't know how he knows this. probably cuz he was speaking in spanish with deltom the whole time! i just stared out of the window like a retard. whatever. i'm used to it.

by now, it was 3 pm and we were starving. deltom took us to one of his family's favorite places: aires peruanos. we had two peruvian specialties: cebiche and lomo saltado. cebiche is fish basically cooked in lemon juices served with onions. and the lomo saltado was beef sauteed with onions, all on top of french fries with some fried bananas. we also had cancha, which were these huge roasted, salted corn kernels. we had inka kola too of course :) the place had live music too which was pretty neat.

we then got back in the car and drove through barranco, which is right by the ocean and very artsy and nice. we also stopped by chorrillos, then el salto del fraile (all by the sea) which is named after some heartbroken monk who jumped out in to the sea. they even had a guy running around dressed like a monk, who actually jumped in the sea. it looked pretty cold. after that we went back to barranco, parked, and walked around a bit. i got to use my second public restroom here. let's say i'm getting very good at squatting over toilets. my thighs are getting a workout on this trip.

lastly, we drove back to miraflores to try to find some hats for our hike. everyone has been telling me to buy my souvenirs and goods in lima since cuzco is so expensive. so i was determined to buy our beanies and sun hats here. well, apparently everything in lima is also targeted towards tourists. i wanted the super colorful beanies and cheap straw hats the highlanders wear, but instead i found modern-looking beanies and leather cowboy hats. this put me in a very bad mood. i think i scared deltom. after this we went straight back to our hotel.

so finally we got to chit chat a bit with our host angelo. we were also joined by a fellow american guest. i forget his name, but i know he lived in shanghai for a while and seemed to have serious disdain for the fact we were from LA. he kept repeating, "so you're from LA huh?" whatever. i embrace my superficiality!

angelo turned out to be super cool, and we also met his son beto. we ended up going to a mexican restaurant with beto. turns out his best friend from like childhood owned the place, and he kept us company too. we had sincronizadas which i've been horrified of since mexico city. in mexico city, they were like quesadillas with butter, mayo, cheese, and meat (i had ham and nick had carnitas). HEAVY!!!! here, they don't have the butter or mayo, but did have guacamole, and were rolled up. they weren't bad but definitely not like any mexican i'd had before. apparently the owner's father was mexican.

well i think that's it. we gotta get up at 6:30 am tomorrow for our flight to cuzco. i am very glad to have finally hung out a bit with our hosts though. and i'm looking forward to coming back. we'll spend our last two days in peru in lima next friday and saturday.

alright, off to bed now!