Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Vegetarian in Peru: A Love Story...Part Three

Please blame the Marathon Monster for the delay between posts. My life is work, run, eat, sleep not necessarily in that order...

We had a 4 a.m. wake up call to get to Cusco. We met in the lobby at 4:30 then headed to the airport where we faced another round of extensive security checks including leaving our shoes on and carrying outside liquids onto the flight. This was also the first time I figured out how to use my calling card so I was able to leave The Colonel a little message before we hopped the flight. I'd been keeping up with my family via Facebook messages when I had wifi but this was the first opportunity I had to call...he didn't answer. The flight to Cusco wasn't too bad and the coolest part was that the mountains were literally higher than the clouds!

I always knew I was fond of mountains but it wasn't until I was literally in the Andes that I realized my true love for them. My dream is to now live somewhere with a mountain view. The Andes are a truly breathtaking range. I'm obsessed. Once we landed and stepped outside it was like a totally different world from Lima. For the first time since we'd gotten to Peru we saw the sun and some major mountains and it was cold. Very cold. 

Before we even made it to the bus people were running up to us trying to sell us things. Hats, gloves, magnets, pens and most importantly, coca leaves. Yes, coca leaves are the leaves used to create cocaine. Notice I said create cocaine. These leaves have to be highly processed and mixed with however many other ingredients before they create a drug. The natives chew the leaves and drink coca tea (and coca sours which are alcoholic) to help with altitude sickness and a multitude of other ailments. A lot of people brought altitude sickness pills they got a prescription for in the states but being the "naturalist" I am I refused the western way and decided when in Rome...or know how it goes. Our new guides hopped on the bus with us while our first guide Roxana took a much needed break and spent some time at home. The first place we stopped was at a street corner where a few people were exchanging dollars for soles. Yep, right out on the street hundreds of dollars and hundreds more soles were changing hands and nobody seemed to notice or care. We felt safer already. It wasn't until we were walking up to the exchange zone though that we really felt the altitude. Now, I like to consider myself in decent shape as did several other people in the group but aside from our guides we were all huffing and puffing like crazy once we got to the top of the hill. I was seriously panting to the point of wanting to sit down or at least put my hands on my knees. You'll be happy to know my ego did not allow me to do either of those things and I pretended to be feeling great. We made a lot of stops just seeing the sights of the city and I was snapping pictures like crazy. Nothing I can say and really no picture I have can truly capture the beauty of the city. We stopped in the Sacred Valley, Chinchero and Urubamba before making it to Ollantaytambo where we were spending the night.

Did I mention the llama farm? Peruvians love their llamas and eat their alpacas...but love them too. We sat with women who explained the process of spinning and dying yarn and weaving blankets and clothing and that was a pretty cool demonstration my mom would have loved. I managed to snag her some pretty great balls of yarn of all different kinds throughout the trip since I was going to miss her birthday and luckily she was thrilled when I gave it to her. By the time we reached Ollantaytambo several hours after landing I was starting to really feel the altitude. My head was throbbing but I was determined not to miss a moment of the trip so I journeyed on. We did a little shopping and a little hiking and then finally stopped at the hotel. We had a little time to rest so I took a little walk around the grounds to of course enjoy the mountains.

I was still feeling bad by dinnertime and in fact I was feeling a whole lot worse. We walked down the street to a cute little restaurant (all of the restaurants in Peru, except for maybe in Lima, are adorable little hole in the wall places) where they seated us upstairs in the private room. I sat against the wall and though I was fighting it found the wall was literally holding me up. My head was absolutely pounding and the idea of waiting and even eating was just too much for me. I ordered a coca tea since that was supposed to help and laid against the wall considering death for about 30 minutes. After a half hour my mug of hot water came with a tea bag on the side, Peruvian time is questionable. I drank my tea before anyone's food had come and left some money with the best roommate ever whom I was lucky enough to call my own before heading back to the hotel. Our guide Cristian was quite bothered by the idea of me walking the 1000 feet back to the hotel alone in the dark but I assured him I'd be fine although I was secretly hoping to be hit by a car to end my suffering. I was in the most amazing location I could think of and was still hoping for death. That should tell you how bad I was feeling. I got back to my room and took a shower, rearranged a few things in my bags then hit the hay. Believe it or not, by morning I was cured! I was a little tired but drank and drank and was feeling pretty good. The hotel was cold since there was only a small space heater but it had the most incredible blankets imaginable. Made for the perfect night's sleep! The next day was a train to Aguas Calientes from which we would take a bus up to the main reason people can find Peru on a map, Machu Picchu!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Vegetarian in Peru: A Love Story...Part Two

Day two in Lima was also our last day in Lima. Still cloudy but no rain really and for that we were grateful. We did a lot more walking and saw all kinds of cool sites like Huaca Pucllana which are clay and adobe (maybe?) remains of pre-Inca/Lima culture. Apparently the story goes that over time the structures broke down and crumbled over themselves creating a big mound that for years people thought was just a mountain. The city of Lima built up around it until one day someone decided to start digging and discovered this city. Cool stuff huh? As a faux anthropologist I definitely enjoyed checking the site out and was also reminded that I'm not an archaeologist who could sit in holes and actually dig this stuff out!

After a fun day climbing around the archaeological site and visiting a museum with a really sobering exhibit regarding the Peruvian revolution (which I'm bummed was entirely in Spanish) we headed back to the hotel to get changed for the Magic Water Park! What's that you say? Yes! A magic water park! In Peru! In the cold... but we were still excited because how could you not be? Turns out in Peru a magic water park is a bunch of fountains. Still cool, but only a little bit of magic ;)

The Magic Water Park was the end of our fun in Lima and afterwards we geared up for a 4 am wake up call to fly into Cusco. Now Cusco is where the real love affair begins. My favorite eat from Lima would have to be their version of a veggie burger. For one, it's enormous. I don't know what it's made of entirely aside from beans and potatoes but whatever they put together turned this thing into a piece of heaven on a bun I didn't eat.

The best. Enjoy a few more pictorial gems from Lima and stay tuned for the glory that is Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu and Cusco!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Vegetarian in Peru: A Love Story... Part One

Buenos Dias Amigos! Welcome to the first installment of Vegetarian in Peru: A Love Story. I don't know how to explain my love for Peru and more so, Cusco. But we didn't start that way. First, we met.

Our flight was at noon-ish from Louisville to Atlanta and was largely uneventful. Actually, all of the travel in the states was uneventful including the flight from Atlanta to Lima. It takes about 6 1/2 hours to get there and surprisingly it really wasn't all that bad. There's something about the size of international flights that makes me feel more comfortable. It shouldn't make sense that an enormous plane would float magically through the air easier than a smaller plane but to me it does. It's the same way I (used to) feel safer on big cruise ships than on tiny row boats. But I digress. I slept a little on the plane but also watched The Hangover Part 2 (eh) and Side Effects (crazy!!!). There were no crying babies, snoring adults or serious turbulence so the flight was easy peasy. Once we landed that familiar culture shock hit where English is no longer the first language spoken or listed on any signs but luckily in Peru they speak tourist so they knew how to handle us.

Peruvian customs...well, it's not American customs and for that I am grateful. I walked up to the agent and it was time for the questioning we were anticipating:

Agent: Buenos Dias.
Me: Bbbbbuenooos Diiiias?
Agent: *scans passport, types a little, stamp, stamp, stamp, write* Gracias.
Me: *blank stare* ...That's it?
Agent: *blank stare*
Me: Uh gracias! Buenos Noches!

Just like that I made it through the rigorous entrance requirements and was granted a 90 day travel visa to the great nation of Peru. I was a lucky one though. Some people did have to answer questions like, "Are you here for business or pleasure?" Luckily none of our Spanish was good enough to make a joke about that. We picked up our bags then sent them through the scanner where the operator in charge was a 19 year old girl giggling with her friend and texting. They keep their TSA on short leashes. We exited the terminal and it was like we were celebrities. People everywhere were creating a sort of aisle and holding signs for their passengers. Somebody spotted Roxana from ISA and she took us to our bus. By now it was pretty late, maybe midnight but excitement outweighed exhaustion for the moment and I snagged a window seat to start my sightseeing immediately. What did I see you ask? Well, on a Wednesday night in Lima you can see a lot of characters including young people, old people, bingo and casino goers walking on the streets and everyone who wasn't walking was driving their cars wildly with reckless abandon. The traffic is truly terrifying. Think Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, New York City. Then add in construction. Add merging. Smush it into 3 lanes. Subtract any sort of speed limit and actual lines for those lanes. And that will give you an idea of what Lima traffic is like. But still only an idea.

Finally by the grace of God we made it to Hotel Habitat and were assigned our rooms. I didn't know my roommate before this adventure but I'm pretty sure we're best friends now. Hoping she'll confirm that. The hotel was nice even though it was small. We put together my converter (yes, it needed to be assembled), questioned whether or not we could rinse our mouths out with the faucet water, decided against it, then went to bed. In the morning we got the beautiful overcast view of Lima city that it holds from May through December of every year (what?!).

Off we went in the morning for our walking tour of the city which meant battling more traffic but we got to visit the second largest cathedral in the Americas (we would also get to visit the third largest later) and see the catacombs. But most interesting would have to be the tear gas. What? Tear gas? Yes. Peru is kind of known for it's occasional political unrest and civil protests so we probably shouldn't have been surprised to see a march going right down the street next to the bus amid the terrifying traffic. We got further into downtown and had to detour our stop since there were also demonstrations in the main square. Lima is definitely a big city with that big city feel. It has that NYC I should probably keep all of my things as close to me as possible feel. Not to speak badly of it, it's just a big city and they all kind of have that vibe. We exchanged some money and then headed out.

We were lucky enough to catch the changing of the guard outside of the president's palace which was complete with a marching band and armed guards with AK's.

After a long morning we headed to lunch which was just a quick walk away. Or so we thought. The streets we had been on earlier suddenly had metal gates and barricades up and were trolling with policia. Our dear Roxana was doing her best to detour us but it wasn't easy. At one point we were hiding out between stores behind a metal gate while policia on horseback patrolled around. Every little while people would come rushing from some direction covering their faces and when I finally got a little too close to the action I understood why. Tear gas stings and messes with your contacts. But not to worry, we made it out alright and after nearly an extra hour made it to lunch where we were introduced to a few Peruvian staples, Chifa (Chinese/Peruvian food blend) and Inca Kola.

I waited for what seemed like another hour for vegetable fried rice and a big ol' heaping of stir fry veggies. Like a bad little food blogger I didn't take pictures of the actual food but just imagine a big plate of Chinese and you've got it.We got back home and all kind of vowed not to tell our families about the day's events until some cases much much never. Tear gas just isn't something you want to bring up in a conversation about your first day in a foreign country. Later that night we had a welcome dinner and show which was super fun even though I was exhausted and I tried to drink my first pisco sour. Pisco is a typical Peruvian drink made up entirely of alcohol and gasoline (that may or may not be true) which leads to drunken shivers and other reactions that come from taking shots after just one sip. 20 year old me would've been embarrassed by my performance because I didn't even get through half of it, and trust me, I tried.

Day 1 in Lima was definitely a success. Despite the hang ups and chemical warfare it was an amazing day 1and I'm already missing it terribly. Stay tuned for part two with more pictures, more adventures and less gas

Monday, July 15, 2013

Oh, Hey America.

Did I mention that I've been in Peru for the past 2 weeks? I'm sure I mentioned it but in my haste to ship out I neglected to say a proper goodbye! Forgive me! Also, stay tuned for the 6-10 part series Vegetarian in Peru: A Love Story where I will captivate you all with numerous tales of my travels. In contrast to my usual posts, I think this series might actually be interesting! South America is amazing and it was truly a life changing experience. Part One is scheduled for this week so make sure to be on the lookout! Here's a 5 word preview of what's to come: Riots, Lima, Spanglish, Hanger, Traffic. Intrigued? You should be :)