Machu Picchu

Then finally it was time to check off one of the most anticipated items on our itinerary: Machu Picchu. As you might imagine, it’s a bit of an ordeal to reach the remote former Incan capital. From Cusco, we had to take a one-and-a-half hour minibus to one of the main hubs, tiny as it may be, of the Sacred Valley: Ollantaytambo (I knowwwwww, what a mouthful, right? Thankfully many people shorten it to “Ollanta,” which is how I learned to think of it more as “Ollanta. Y. Tambo.” #protips). From Ollanta, it’s a three hour train ride to the town of Machupicchu, more commonly known as Aguas Calientes (apparently so-called for an actual hot spring on the north side of town, but we never made it there).

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touched-up google map of the route…

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larger map for scale

If flying over the Andes into Cusco was spectacular, then riding the train through them to Aguas Calientes was… also very spectacular. We rode Peru Rail, with the other choice being Inca Rail. What’s the difference? I don’t know, but it sounds like this guy does. And as I confessed in my LA post, where I committed the same crime, I couldn’t help but take some photos through the scuffed up, glare-y windows.

Though taking a bus seems to be by far the more popular means of going from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, we opted to hike. The bus ride may be only twenty minutes, but we were warned (and believed, as soon as we saw it) that the line to get on it could take up to an hour. As the hike was only supposed to be around an hour/hour-twenty itself, and the weather was so fantastic, we decided we might as well stretch our legs after the long train ride. It’s a steep (largely stair-bound) but easily-navigable trail; I’d definitely recommend it. Plus we saved $10! Each!

(And the answer is… Yes, we’re both wearing the City Sports shirts we bought at the Chinatown store’s going-out-of-business-sale [*pours some out*]. I’ll let it be known here that Marlon had packed his overnight bag first, though I wasn’t aware of his choice when I packed mine. #coupletwinning!!!)

Before exploring the actual ruins of Machu Picchu, we decided to continue our ascent to the Sun Gate. (Which… ended up requiring another steep, hour-long hike. Whoops! Yeah, keep that in mind ahead of your bus-vs.-walking decision, I suppose…) The views and our weather were so phenomenal the entire time, but we could see that clouds were collecting in the distance, and were told that there were two storms about to converge basically right above our heads. Huayna Picchu, the even taller peak whence you get the absolute best views of Machu Picchu (but which is actually just dangerous to ascend at this point and so is about to get shut down for maintenance work), got evacuated. Ultimately we just ended getting sprinkled on ever-so-slightly at the very end, though.

Fun facts: though I’ve spent my whole life saying “mah-chu pee-chu” (and, let’s be honest, still totally say that), notice there is an extra “C” in “Picchu.” It’s really supposed to be said “peak-chu“! And also, while still magnificent, while still impressive, the ruins are actually much less old than I was thinking: the Incas built the city around 1450 and abandoned it about a century later. The Spanish conquerors never knew of its existence. (There, I’ve summed up the Wikipedia intro paragraph for you. Read further, if you care.)

45 machu picchu plaques

one more fun fact! hiram bingham, the man being commemorated in the top right plaque for [re-]discovering machu picchu in 1911, was the inspiration for indiana jones.

Oh right and there were llamas at the end.

Omg somehow I forgot to include the RUNNING LLAMA GIF.

106 machu picchu running llama gif

Then we did take the bus back down to Aguas Calientes (as opposed to walking). While waiting in line we chatted briefly with an Austrian couple who very assertively said that Arequipa was the most beautiful city they’d visited in Peru. And with that, we more-or-less got the last leg of our trip planned.

But first– the unplanned night in Aguas Calientes. (We had booking issues the day before, remember? And couldn’t get on a train back to Cusco the evening of our Machu Picchu visit? So were forced to stay a night in Aguas Calientes and take a very early train back to Cusco, by way of Ollantaytambo, the following morning?) We stayed at TripAdvisor-approved Hotel La Cabana Machu Picchu, and ate at the Fodor’s-guidebook-recommended Tree House Restaurant for dinner. I’m happy to pass on the recommendations in both cases! In fact, Aguas Calientes as a town surpassed my expectations (we’d been told it wasn’t worth staying at). It was a pretty quintessential backpacker town, in a beautiful location, with lots of good-but-affordable food and lodging choices. Definitely worth at least one night’s stay– next time, maybe the night before the Machu Picchu trek, so as to do the sunrise tour.

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New Year’s Day in Cusco

We spent all of New Year’s Day in Cusco as well (as it turned out, the nights of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day were the only two consecutive nights we’d spend anywhere on the trip until reaching Arequipa, at the end). We had a leisurely morning searching for a place that was actually open for breakfast (and only reaching/settling on Paddy’s, “the highest Irish-owned pub on the planet” by lunch time). Then we did some shopping in the Plaza de Armas area, including a stroll through the huge market on Calle Santa Clara.

Then we went to buy our train tickets to go to Machu Picchu the next day and, surprise! It’s *super* popular to go during the New Year and there were no return trains available [that day]! So we booked a night in Aguas Calientes (the town whence you reach Machu Picchu) and it ended up being way less big of a deal than it seemed in the moment!

After recovering from the horror of having to change our travel plans (in South America! Of all places!) we grabbed some ice cream at Qucharitas– highly recommended by Jay Jay, our AirBnB host– and a road beer for the sunset trek back up the ‘mountain’ to our place. We ran into Jay Jay while snapping pictures of the stunning Mt. Ausangate in the distance. He made fun of us for looking like such tourists (NO BUT SERIOUSLY THE MOUNTAIN LOOKED SO NICE), then invited us to join him and his friend for dinner. We dropped our things off and went to join him. The two places he said he might be were both closed, but the staff at the second place (which was just in the process of closing) knew who he was and sent us in the right direction. We finally found him at Korma Sutra, a delicious Indian restaurant right in our very own Plazoleta de San Blas, had a great meal, and then went to get some sleep before setting off to Machu Picchu early the next morning.

New Year’s Eve in Cusco

Many of you are probably aware by now that the trip from Lima to Cusco (on December 30) had a slight hitch in that we didn’t exactly make it to Cusco on the first try. Or rather, we didn’t exactly land in Cusco, but we had a sweet flyover, and then, some time later, right after Marlon and I had mused to each other that there sure were a lot of clouds still around us, the pilot made the announcement that we’d be landing back in Lima in forty minutes. We had noticed lightning in the distance right before admiring the Cuscan rooftops, so we’ll trust in their claims of bad weather, but it was still frustrating.

01 lima sunset

sunset through the plane window as we descended to lima

We were informed that we’d be put on the 8 am flight the next day, that we needed to be to the airport at 6, that they (LAN Airlines) were putting us in a five-star hotel, and that they were organizing all necessary transport as well as a meal at the hotel. It took two hours in the notorious Lima traffic to get to the hotel (for reference, it took only ~twenty minutes to get back to the airport in the morning), so we were cranky and hungry and wishing we had more than 5 hours to sleep in the cush hotel bed before it was time to set out again, but whatever.

The next morning went just fine [thumbs up emoji] and the flight into Cusco through the Andes was once again spectacular. I… didn’t have a window seat, though. Nor do I have the permission of the stranger featured sleeping in his window seat in the gifs to share them. But voilà.

We arrived!

05 cusco airport

Then went against our soon-to-be-host’s advice and paid way too much for a cab to the AirBnB we had on the north side of town, in Jardines del Inca, just up the mountain from the Plazoleta de San Blas (which is right under the unfortunately-situated “16 min” tag on the below map). As in Lima, the main plaza in Cusco was the Plaza de Armas. We got situated in our room, which had an incredible view, and acquainted with our gracious and gregarious host Jay [Jay]. We thankfully didn’t feel too affected by the altitude (11,152 feet, or 3399 meters), so decided to make our way to the Plaza de Armas, by way of San Blas, with just one or two wrong turns in the narrow, labyrinthine (David Bowie reference! Drink!) streets.

Screen shot 2016-01-23 at 10.52.03 AM

When I said “up the mountain” earlier, I wasn’t exaggerating. Not only were the streets narrow, they were extremely steep, and the 1.1 km cited on the above map was almost entirely downhill on our way to the Plaza. Meaning that the 1.1 km return trip, with our lungs still adjusting to the thin air, was a little bit brutal. It got better over the couple days we were there, but we feel like we got plenty of exercise during our time in Cusco.

As the title indicates, our first day in Cusco was also New Year’s Eve! After the short night and busy morning/afternoon, we intended to get a nap to rest up for an eventful evening. Instead we trudged through the Jessica Jones pilot on our spotty wifi til it was time to get ready. Jess and Danny had told us how fun, though hectic, the celebrations in Plaza de Armas would be, so we wanted to get dinner somewhere in the area. After checking a few places’ menus, we opted for Mutu, which was serving a three-course Peruvian prix fixe menu and had a live band. We ended up being very happy with this decision. We wrapped up at about quarter to midnight, then moseyed over to the jubilant plaza. Fireworks were already being shot off in every direction (a little unsettling at times, tbh), and the Plaza was brimming with people decked out in the yellow accessories that are traditional in Peru. We kept to the edges, rather than getting sucked into the swarm in the center, but it was such a fun way to ring in 2016 (and we have the gif to prove it!).

67 cusco twilight

Lima

No sooner had I arrived back from California than it was time to set out once again, this time to Peru, and this time with ol’ Marlon by my side. (Alright, it was actually a full week that I was back, during which little things like Christmas happened. I actually [nerdily!] just went back and made a Christmas post because we’d taken a family photo and even made a cute video and I realized I hadn’t posted them [blush emoji forever].)

We flew overnight on the 28th from Reagan to Lima, with a brief layover in Miami. (UGHHHH THEIR SKYTRAIN DOESN’T GO BETWEEN EVERY TERMINAL AND WE HAD TO WALK FOREVER TO GET FROM D TO J AND THE STAFF EVEN SEEMED TO GET SOME SICK PLEASURE FROM CONFIRMING THAT WALKING WAS THE ONLY WAY TO GET THERE. STEP IT UP, MIA.) Some free international-flight wine and Trainwreck got us through the 5.5 hours to Lima, and we arrived at 6 am totally awake and ready to go. (Peru, though located on the west coast of South America, is still in our Eastern time zone! No jet lag! Geography is wild!) (But also “totally awake” is still a gross exaggeration.)

Our AirBnB was in the happenin’ Barranco district, about half-an-hour from the airport by cab. We checked in, showered, then went exploring. A few blocks from the apartment we found a little café we deemed suitable for our first meal in Peru: a chicharrón sandwich for Mar, a pejerrey sandwich for me, and lemonades we approached very timidly after being struck  by the possibility that they may have been made with tap water. (Ordering my sandwich was also kind of funny– Mar and I both have a decent command of Spanish, but didn’t recognize many of the sandwich fillings on offer. I asked the waitress which sandwiches were “sin carne,” and the first thing she mentioned was that the pejerrey was a kind of fish, which I was alright with. She then proceeded to list almost every other sandwich on the menu, including those with very vegetarian unfriendly sounding names like “salchicha” and “sangrecita.” It later dawned on us that she must have intended carne to mean “beef” only. In any case, stay tuned for later in the trip when we became VERY acquainted with pejerrey.)

After lunch we continued wandering until we found ourselves at the gorgeous murals near the city center (or “Plaza de Armas,” as we found the main square of each of the Peruvian cities we visited to be called).

I’d been in touch with Peruvian-Friend-Jess for insight and ideas during much of the trip planning, and it just so happened that our day in Lima overlapped her and Danny’s final day of their Christmas visit in the country. We didn’t have a reliable way to stay in touch, but loose “plans” had been made to meet up at our AirBnB at noon, so after taking in the murals we headed back. 12:30 rolled around without any sign of Jess and Danny; we decided we needed to maximize our time in the area, so I sent her a Facebook message saying to try meeting us in front of some museum at 2.

But what luck! As we entered the lobby on our way out, there our friends were: sweet-talking the doorman (read: exchanging two words with him, then being granted full access to the guest log, complete with full names and passport numbers), who had told them that we’d already left for the day.

With a local-friend on our side, we were easily able to hop on what would have otherwise been a very intimidating bus to make the short trek to Miraflores. Specifically, Kennedy Park in Miraflores, also known as “Cat Park,” because, oddly enough, it’s full of feral cats. We checked out some shops, then decided to get some drinks (Chilcanos/Pisco Sours, followed by coffees) on a leisurely trek to el Parque del Amor.

From there we made our way to Larcomar, a big shopping mall built into Miraflores’ seaside cliffs. I’ll admit to not having been terribly interested in Larcomar as a Lima-attraction, but it ended up being the perfect place to indulge in another perfectly Peruvian meal at Mangos (causas and ceviche) and watch the sun set.

From there we went back to Barranco, where we checked out the plaza and grabbed one more round of cocktails before it was time for Jess and Danny to catch their ride to the airport. (The causas and ceviche apparently didn’t stick to Mar’s and my ribs, so we went on a mildly entertaining late-night excursion for American comforts like frozen pizza. We learned the hard way that the frozen pizza phenomenon has yet to make its way to Peru, so instead got a sub-par bottle of wine from the grocery store and a sub-par pizza to-go from a late-night pizza place.)

Our flight to Cusco was at 4 the next afternoon, so we had what ended up amounting to too much time to sort of aimlessly wander around the Barranco district again the next day. We saw some more murals, popped into the Electricity Museum, switched up our intake of South American cuisine by opting for some Venezuelan fare at Arepa Café, wandered around a bit more… Then we were off to the airport, thinking we’d be bidding farewell to Peru’s capital for at least a week. As many of you already know, we were wrong, but I’ll get to that next time.

Oakland/San Francisco Part Two

On my Saturday in the Bay Area Meghan had a wedding to attend, so I was once again the responsibility of Parker (best friend of Old-Roommate-and-Now-Great-Friend-Emily, as I was reminded after my last post 🙂 ). And what luck! He lived just one BART stop from Meghan. We’d talked about hiking up in Marin– and the weather was actually cooperating so as to allow that– but ultimately decided there was too much left to see in San Francisco and opted to do some “urban hiking” instead. But first! The trek to brunch through Oakland (+Parker’s [roommate’s] cats).

We also stopped by Lake Merritt before taking that train underwater and getting reacquainted with SF. I identified the birds thanks to this handy little guide!

When we finally went into the city, we decided to just pick up where we’d left off the night before: in the Mission. Stop One, not far from where we got off BART, was what I’ve determined to be the Clarion Alley murals. The alley was covered top-to-bottom with vibrant (largely politically-charged) works of art. Really really lovely and inspiring. I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but you’ll probably want to just click and go through the following pics as a slideshow to be able to really catch the details of the murals.

Then, at Old-Roommate-and-Now-Great-Friend-Emily’s suggestion, we stopped by Dolores Park, where we enjoyed the salads we’d picked up for lunch from a nearby bodega. It was a great recommendation on such a beautiful day, and as a bonus we saw an Ollie lookalike. Then our “urban hike” commenced as Parker led me up through the Castro District to Corona Heights Park. (Note that I remained dressed for a normal hike. When I asked Parker [while we were still in Oakland] if I could stop back at Meghan’s quickly so I didn’t look “so ridiculous,” he was quick to remind me we were in San Francisco and I was probably going to be the least ridiculously dressed person around. “Star Wars just came out… there will probably be people in Storm Trooper masks!” he said. [There were!])

From Corona Heights Park we got some awesome views of the city at sundown. Our bonus here was that as we were ascending, we noticed a man standing at the top of the rocks, arms thrust out to his sides, and pants at his ankles. “Ohhhhh, San Francisco!” one (or both) of us probably said; entertained until we saw the man come down (fully clothed) with two young daughters at his side, at which point we were a little weirded out. Also San Francisco’s hills are no joke, so it even felt like we got a bit of a workout.

Then we went and tried to drink at Elbo Room, but they’re that uppity kind of “law-abiding” bar, and they asked for ID. And– surprise!– I didn’t have mine. (After the briefest fearful moment, I realized it was in the tote I’d been using for the majority of the trip, but which I’d left at Meghan’s house in favor of the excellent pink-and-purple elephant tote she’d given me the night before.) So we had to go find a less strict place, which wasn’t too hard. Parker’s friend from the night before met us at the bar we chose (don’t know the name, only that there were sketches/paintings of naked ladies everywhere), and after a couple drinks we went to eat a burrito (because I hadn’t had one on my entire trip).

Then it was off to to– stop me if I’m getting too stereotypical for you– some event at a bike shop that was teamed up with the salon across the street, where local bands were playing short sets throughout the night. Hipsters flowing to and fro between the shop and salon, Tecates in hand; not a care in the world! (I sound like I’m making fun of it all, but clearly I was in heaven.)

Or, practically heaven. It was definitely fun, but by the time the band we came to see (Parker’s friend’s band? Parker’s friend’s friend’s band?) finished, the day (and whole trip, really) had caught up with me and it was time to call it a night. But it was a fantastic day in the city– many thanks to Parker for playing tour guide!

And… I guess I don’t have any photos, but on Sunday Meghan and I got some more quality time together, strolling (in the miserable weather– Parker and I got so lucky the day before!) all the way down to Berkeley; checking out shops and drinking hot chocolates. Went back, packed up, watched Roman Holiday, ate at Zachary’s (Meghan has opinions on Chicago-style pizza.), and then it was time for my final BART trip back to the airport.

Then began a loooooooong night/day of travel (10 pm PST flight to San Diego delayed to 11:30 pm; no matter– my SD layover was scheduled for 7 hours! I switched airlines, though, so had to get my checked bag, recheck it, and go back through security. Except it was too late at night and all the check-in counters were closed. The area was desolate; abandoned apart from the handful of passengers in limbo like me: Gollum-like in the dim light, scavenging for outlets and secure places to attempt resting. The only functioning outlet I found was right next to the bathrooms; I downloaded a detective game and rotted my exhausted brain for a few hours. Before long a bunch of police started showing up at the bathroom, asking if I’d seen anything or heard about anyone fainting. I had not. But apparently some girl had fainted in the bathroom, and it wasn’t a big deal, but there were suddenly a lot of people around me, and the Einstein Bros across the way had opened, so I decided it was time to get up. Edited some photos listening to their cheesy Gavin DeGraw-heavy playlist on repeat until I could finally check in. Was able to doze off at my gate for approximately 4 minutes before boarding and flying to Detroit at 7 am. The tiniest layover in Detroit; back to DC at 5 pm EST [then the half-hour metro trip home]), but I’d rather not get into that. See you next time with Peru news!

Oakland/San Francisco Part One

Moving right along…

Arrived at SFO with no problems only to instantly experience problems on BART (or “the BART,” as my “the Metro”-accustomed self was so inclined to say) when the train ahead of us broke down and held up progress/caused general mayhem for all the innocents on their way to Oakland. Even so, I arrived with ample time to meet Meghan (not to be confused with h-less Megan in LA) at her place before getting back on BART and continuing east to Walnut Creek to do “Swedish Christmas” with her family. This was a fun time involving Swedish drinking songs (sung primarily by Mrs. Notti while everyone else mumbled nonsense syllables in time), pickled fish, and detailed accounts of Alaskan salmon fishing provided by Father Dominic David (the family priest, and my partner-in-simply-giggling-along-to-the-drinking-songs, as we were the token non-Swedes at the event).

01 swedish christmas

The next day Meghan and I BART-ed (surely another inappropriate use of Metro-isms, but it stays) to Embarcadero; whence she showed me the Ferry Building, the nearby piers, the resident sea lions (or “boisterous pinnipeds,” as a sign so delightfully described them), Fisherman’s Wharf, and, from a distance, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. This led us right to the Buena Vista, where her parents had recommended we get some chowder and an Irish coffee (as that’s where they claim to have invented Irish coffee on this side of the Atlantic). Following lunch we completed one last tourist requirement by catching a cable car (DING! DING!) to Chinatown then rushing home so Meghan could prepare for the rehearsal dinner she was attending that night.

From there I became the responsibility of Parker, best friend of Old-Roommate-Emily. He took me to the Berkeley Hills, where, had it not been a miserably rainy evening, we would’ve had a beautiful view of the East Bay. (The gesture was still appreciated.)  Then we grabbed sushi in Berkeley, and then we went to watch “the Golden Warriors” game (I couldn’t have sounded like more of a tourist if I tried, is what I’m trying to say) at his friend’s place in the Mission. One of the friend’s housemates had come into the possession of some fancy chocolates by virtue of some lucky mixup at work, and we all worked together to make this gif. Thanks, team! Good work.

46 chocolate gif

LA

We made it! The journey was lengthy and more-than-once frustrating from Lima to DC (via New York, with enough hours in JFK to last a lifetime), but after twelve exciting days in Peru we’re finally back breathing the oxygen-rich air of le District.

But I still have ~3 Cali posts to knock out! So here are my snaps from my first ever (and all-too-brief) stop in Los Angeles. I took the Pacific Surfliner train from San Diego while the sun set, which was a treat in-and-of-itself. (Don’t worry, I took pictures even though it’s almost always a bad idea to take pictures through a dirty/scuffed up train window. And– spoiler alert!– I did the same thing on our train to Machu Picchu so you have twice the subpar train window pics to look forward to!)

Megan graciously drove the astonishing two hours from Santa Monica to fetch me at [a bar near] Union Station (it took only twenty minutes to get back [shocked/pained emoji]. I’d heard tell of the infamous LA traffic but still found this unbelievable…), then we grabbed dinner at a pizza place in SM. She had work the next day, but her Venice apartment was just a short walk from Abbot Kinney Boulevard (and ultimately Venice Beach), so I was easily occupied until it was time for my midday flight to San Francisco. I found it all very happenin’. Will definitely need to make it a longer stop next time :).

Coronado Island

Hi from Peru! Mar and I have been having a really great time since arriving five days ago (wow, is it just five days?!). We got a crash course in Lima (with a little help from old buddies Jess and Danny), made it to Cusco on the second attempt (thankfully without any *crash* courses– GET IT? CUZ THE WEATHER WAS TOO BAD FOR OUR PLANE TO LAND THE FIRST TIME!), rang in 2016 in the festive Plaza de Armas, hopped out to the Sacred Valley/Aguas Calientes to check out the extraordinary Machu Picchu, and returned to Cusco this morning where we’ve been killing time til our bus leaves at 10 tonight for Puno/Lake Titicaca.

BUT! So much still from California to get around to, so without much commentary at all here are the pics David had on his phone. They’re almost entirely from our brief tour of Coronado Island, but the first one is from the mini party/jam session my second night in town (except I was jet lagged and crashed after ‘jamming’ for about three songs) and the last one is from our first taco stop. Because #importantthings.