And For My Final Trick…

…I’ll direct you to the New Blog, because I’ve run out of space to upload the promised Santa Catalina Monastery Gifs (which were going to be my Final Trick) here! It’s been a fun ride here at ollieinamerica, and I actually considered upgrading to a paid account this time to keep the good times rollin’, but it was still just a little too expensive for my taste.

So I’ve added a blog component to the LAZYAC portfolio I unveiled back in December, and have kicked it off with what are perhaps the Best Gifs of All Time — some very important people told me that they have, in fact, Made Gifs Great Again. So yeah. Check ’em out.

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Greetings from Dystopia City!

(As scrawled in a newly-exposed piece of street art we encountered on our walk yesterday.)

Re: the walk–
We took advantage of the wonderful weather and lack of other plans to join roughly half a million (at least? I feel like that’s not a bad estimate?) others at the Tidal Basin yesterday to witness the practically-peaking cherry blossoms. Even though it’s soooooooooooooo HashtagTouristy, the trees Japan gifted to us 104 years ago are undeniably picturesque and are a quintessential symbol of Spring in the City. Google Maps tells me we took a 2.9 mile route (one way), so I was able to snap pictures of a number of other (generally Spring-y) things along the way and back, to include newly-exposed pieces of street art. Also there are some particularly ace shots of Ollie in the mix.

(Also pardon my bad-itude right now… I’m still coming to terms with our dear Hoos getting knocked out of the NCAA Tournament :(.)

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^^^ The namesake piece of art of this post! I’ve been on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster regarding this! When we neared its intersection yesterday, I got excited, because I knew this piece was here and I’d always wanted to photograph it. Part of its aesthetic, however, was an awning extending from the building that read “WHAT IT IS,” which no longer seems to exist. When I peeped this yesterday, I was actually under the impression that it was a new mural with the same character and new commentary on all the destruction/construction around (which saw the demise of the “WHAT IT IS” awning).

However, the only photos I’ve been able to turn up of the missing awning show that the piece on the wall actually remained unchanged! And it was only in the adjacent building being torn down that the dystopian greetings were revealed. Also, said photos are from this anonymous blog on the website of one of the UVA a cappella groups, so basically everything’s just coming together in weird ways right now.

Update: When I zoomed in on my photo I noticed it was signed and so learned a bit more– Antarah Crawley painted it in 2011. He hasn’t tweeted in a year and a half, but when he did, sometimes it was in the form of pointed haiku. (And yes, while my basketball-fueled bad-itude has me being tongue-in-cheek and hyperbolic about the tragedies of missed photo opportunities, I do realize that there are far greater implications and consequences of the vast stretches of buildings that are being torn down in DC than the Instagram-That-Got-Away…)

Anyway. Back to all-cherry-blossom-everything…

Actually… not quite to the cherry blossoms yet. We got sidetracked by some food trucks, and while Marlon was back at his food truck of choice trying to figure out why his falafel burrito a) had no falafel and b) was so poorly wrapped that it barely qualified as a burrito, I entertained myself by taking photos of Ollie.

That last one is funny as a gif, but this still is probably my favorite picture I’ve ever taken so I’m making sure it gets the appropriate attention.

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On this decidedly dystopian day, the worst part was not the crowds, or falafel mix-up, or the grossly overflowing trash cans, or the fact that Caps fans on every corner were trying to touch my dog; but rather how hard it was to find ice cream on our way home, and the fact that we ultimately had to stop in at a Walgreens to get some.

We wrapped up the day with gimmicky cherry blossom beer (AND BASKETBALL, BACK WHEN BASKETBALL STILL MATTERED TO ME) and also I took some polaroids. The end!

Santa Catalina Monastery

Okay wow. Been home nearly 2 months… I think it’s about time I finished up with all this! (Except this won’t even technically be the last post because I’ve got some SuNsEt GiFs I’m still working on…)

The last thing we did in Arequipa was visit the Santa Catalina Monastery, which our hotel was situated just across the street from. It had a ~$12 (40 soles) entry fee, and you were expected to use and then tip out a guide, but it was worth it. The monastery– still functional, though on a much smaller scale than when hundreds of nuns used to reside there– was like a small village in its own right, with its own streets, and gardens, and courtyards. Our guide, Ada, was pretty funny in her sometimes irreverent telling of the history of the monastery and its customs. She capped off the experience by offering us a deal on the pisco she sold on the side, but which needed to be kept on the low down because obviously that was behavior unbecoming of a monastery guide. So we winked and nodded when she offered to “direct us to an ATM” after our tour, and followed her to the courtyard of the restaurants across the street after she’d secretly procured the liquor from her locker in the monastery. We’d been meaning to get a bottle anyway, and she had one with a cool bronze label, and we actually couldn’t think of a better way to come into a bottle of pisco.

Then we got a cab from the hotel to the Arequipa airport, which offered us really fantastic views of the Misti volcano we’d caught peeks of throughout our stay.

Oh right, then we flew to Lima, where we drank minibar beer and watched Making a Murderer, then slept and got up and went to the airport and (after a three hour delay) flew to New York. When we were scheduled to get in at 9 pm it seemed like a good idea to go see our friends in New York and sleep for a few hours on a couch before heading back to the airport for our 7 am flight to DC, but when our arrival got pushed back to midnight that plan seemed less sensible. So we spent the night in JFK and it was pretty miserable. Part of it we spent at the diner there, which was allegedly 24 hour, but which claimed to be closed for the first two hours we were there. When they finally let us in the service was almost comically bad, but the booths proved more comfortable than the floor we were on previously, so it was still an upgrade. Then our flight was delayed for nearly an hour– after we’d already boarded the plane. We were so happy to finally make it home, and Mops and Poppy even brought Ollie home to us that very day!


(As I’m sure you remember from the end of my last post, in the Puno bus station the ticket salesmen-and-women had a cute [and/or annoying, depending on how long you were in the station, I suppose] habit of singing the destinations their booths serviced. ‘¡CUSCO-PUNO-CUSCO-PUNO-CUSCO-PUNO-CUSCOOOOOOOO!’ was another big one, I want to say.)

So we took the afternoon bus from Puno to Arequipa after returning from the lake. This was the place so highly recommended by the Austrian couple we met briefly in line for the bus back down from Machu Picchu. They said it was the most beautiful city they’d been to in Peru. That (plus the write-up it got in our Fodor’s book, and the fact that a Peruvian friend said she hadn’t been there but had heard it was nice, and the fact that we were really ready to be done deliberating over how to finish the trip) was all it took!

We rode Cruz del Sur again, though an agent in Cusco had told us Cruz del Sur didn’t operate between Puno and Arequipa haha. (We learned at some point or another to take almost everything we were told by anyone with a certain amount of skepticism.) Marlon upgraded us to VIP this time (for <$10 a person) so we had nice, roomy seats in which to watch Ant Man.

We stayed at the Hotel San Augutín Posada del Monasterio, named for the Santa Catalina Monastery across the street. We arrived quite late but hungry, so we found some nearby pizza then got some really great sleep. Aside from the nights of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day (when we had back-to-back nights in Cusco), our time in Arequipa would be the only time on the trip we spent consecutive nights in any place, and we were really happy to have a home base for a couple days.

It really was a beautiful city, with beautiful architecture and Europe-reminiscent plazas and just generally a lot of character. We spent the first morning wandering the area around (you guessed it) the Plaza de Armas; checking out the fantastic Basílica Catedral, and then the smaller Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús, impressive in its own right on account of its age and intricate carved exterior. The neighboring cloisters have been converted to an outdoor shopping center while remaining quiet and tasteful, so we spent a good amount of time there too.

We wandered around a bit more then got lunch at Istanbul Lounge Bar before heading back to rest up for the afternoon/evening (read: we started watching Making a Murderer— available on Peruvian Netflix!). After a couple hours we convinced ourselves to get up and find some food, and then we got another good night’s sleep.

The next day we did more walking around and checked out the mummy at the Museum of Andean Sanctuaries. Except we didn’t see the main mummy that’s usually there, Juanita. We saw Sara, because they get swapped out every now and then for restoration purposes. They were child sacrifices to volcano gods in the 15th century. Lunch at a place that boasted vegetarian rocoto relleno back in the cloysters; more walking around; pisco sours at a bar with good views of the nearby Misti volcano; more Making a Murderer; then a sort of hilarious but frustrating excursion to find somewhere to have our last meal, where NoThiNg WaS aS iT sEeMeD¡!¡!¡! But we ended up at Casona del Pisco where I got some great ceviche and Marlon finally tried an alpaca steak (he said it was a lot like regular steak. He also never tried cuy while we were there, if anyone was wondering).

We had nearly another full day in Arequipa before flying to Lima the night before we came home, and we spent a good portion of it at the Santa Catalina monastery across from our hotel. But I took a trillion pictures so. This’ll just be the penultimate Peru post.

Lake Titicaca & the Uros Islands

So we took the overnight Cruz del Sur bus from Cusco to Puno. We left at 10:30 pm and got in at 5:30 am. The reviews made it sound like it’d be a pretty comfortable, pleasant experience, but I’m truly not sure if I slept at all.

In spite of the early hour, German, the representative from Titicaca Tour, through whom we were doing the Tour Uros Vivencial, was waiting for us at the station. He walked us through our itinerary for the day and night we’d spend on the nearby Uros Islands— artificial islands just off the shore constructed entirely of reeds. But! Things didn’t kick off until 9. So we had three excellent hours to spend in the Puno bus station which… is not the fanciest place in the world. And we weren’t feeling great after the bus ride and were wary of everything they served us in the sketchy restaurant. Not the highlight of the trip, really.

But before we knew it it was time to go. Had a quick tour of downtown Puno as we picked up a couple other travelers, then hopped on the boat to the Uros Islands, just five kilometers off shore.

A few things about the lake and the islands:

  • Lake Titicaca falls directly between Peru and Bolivia, and is split between them. The “titi” is for Peru, and the “caca” is for Bolivia. …Get it?! [laugh/cry emoji forever!] We were first treated to the joke by Danny, when we were hanging with him and Jess in Lima, and then we also overheard a guide telling it to his group in Machu Picchu. You’re welcome for passing it on.
  • Lake Titicaca is high. Higher than Cusco, even. You might even say it’s the highest navigable lake in the world. We maintained our chlorophyll and altitude pill regime and for the most part continued avoiding any real elevation sickness. (Yes, chlorophyll!) (And for reference: Cusco is 3399 meters high. Lake Titicaca is 3810 meters. Machu Picchu, by contrast, is only at 2430 meters.)
  • I’ve seen figures in the forties and sixties online re: the number of Uros Islands. We were told there were 93. Each island has its own president; presidents can be male or female.
  • Speaking of presidents, one of the current Peruvian presidential candidates is Keiko Fujimori. Her father, Alberto Fujimori, was the Peruvian president from 1990 to 2000 and was responsible for getting solar panels set up on the islands.
  • Rather than Spanish, or even Quechua, the islanders’ first language is Aymara (though they do learn Spanish in school). There is a primary school within the island community, but at eleven or twelve the kids must travel to Puno by boat every day to attend school.
  • Tourism is their main source of income. I saw a lot of reviews (thankfully after the fact!) saying the island visits were huge tourist traps and inauthentic. I can’t speak for the other tour options, but I really enjoyed our experience and (despite having souvenirs hawked to us a couple times) found it plenty authentic.

Our first stop was at Isla Mama Q’ota.

Then we stopped at Isla Santa Maria for quick refreshments, then Marlon and I were whisked away from the rest of the group for our stay on Isla Kantuta. (Cantuta being Peru’s national flower. Oh snaaaaaap, but also the name of a university in Lima/a massacre named after said university, on none other than the aforementioned President Fukimora’s watch! He gave solar panels to the Uros but was also convicted of human rights abuses! #themoreyouknow)

Anyway, we had the honor of receiving another run-down of how they construct their islands (this time in Spanish) from none other than the president of Isla Kantuta himself: Nestor. After a much-needed nap considering our sleepless night, we got to accompany Nestor and his twelve-year-old son Royal on their afternoon fishing and trap-laying trip. They fish with nets, and construct a sort of noose from– what else?– reeds (+1 piece of string) in hopes of catching a duck in its unique path. According to Nestor, every duck takes the same camino every day, and he doesn’t like other ducks in his camino. I’m not sure exactly how, but Royal was able to identify said paths and lay the traps.

Then we hung out with the family while Nestor’s wife, Anna, prepared us dinner. The youngest boy, Reynaldo, who missed the fishing trip, was exceptionally cute and funny (and played with all manner of questionable items, as you’ll see). The kids all got a kick out of our cameras (ESPECIALLY my Polaroid [Well. Fujifilm Instax, but. Is not every tissue a Kleenex?]), and while Anna cooked, Nestor created little souvenir boats out of reeds for us. We were a little abashed to receive six fish each to the rest of the family’s one or two, but after a long day with few meals they were very welcome (not to mention delicious! Not sure I needed a full six, but better believe I ate them…).

We went to bed (in our own private hut, with blankets galore. Anna was kind enough to fill up hot water bottles for us to take to bed too.) when the sun went down, which was probably around 8:30 pm haha. We didn’t really sleep the night before, remember?! Got an amazing 10 hours of sleep before heading out at 7 to see if the nets and traps had turned anything up. (Spoiler: They did!)

Then we went back to Isla Kantuta to say goodbye to/take pictures (in local garb! [They instisted! We weren’t appropriating their culture!]) with the family. Then Nestor took us back to the mainland by the same route Royal goes to school every day. We got dropped in the center this time, where we found a café in which to post up until it was time to head back to our favorite ol’ bus station. We had a couple more hours to kill once there, then it was off to Arequip-Arequip-Arequipaaaaaaaa (as all the bus ticket salesmen were so wont to croon).

Traveling Back from Machu Picchu and Final Hours in Cusco

One last quick post before getting to the behemoth that will be our stop at Lake Titicaca…

We arose in Aguas Calientes before dawn to catch our train back to Ollantaytambo, on which I took a couple more photos, but this time through an open door or window (to slightly better results).

We, like everyone else, got bombarded upon our arrival to Ollanta by taxistas offering us what we noticed to be better prices back to Cusco than what we’d paid in advance for a spot on a minibus. Still, we had paid for a spot on a minibus, and so dismissed all the drivers that approached us. Finally, one lingered around long enough to ask us more information about this supposed minibus. We told him, and he assured us that that bus only came around in the afternoon.

After a series of phonecalls to the agency back in Cusco, it was determined that the lady who booked our trip on New Year’s Day had in fact erred, so the agency would just pay the taxi to drive us the hour-and-a-half back to Cusco. We made mention of the fact that we’d paid the agency more than what the taxi would cost (and had now been inconvenienced), but those appeared to be moot points.

“At least we get this whole taxi to ourselves instead of being crammed in that minibus!” we thought, until the driver stopped in the square on our way out of town and picked up another couple (who looked none too pleased that they’d be split up between the front and back seats, as Marlon and I were occupying two of the back seats already). The girl sat next to me, but didn’t seem too interested in conversing or otherwise interacting, so a good portion of my ride was spent trying not to lean into her as we made our way through the windy mountain roads.

When we finally arrived we still had just about a whole day to spend in Cusco (where we’d left the bulk of our stuff up at Jay Jay’s) before catching a sleeper bus to the Lake. We finally got breakfast at Jack’s Café (the line had been insane when we tried going on New Year’s Day. But also it was so good! Go to Jack’s if you go to Cusco, even if the line is really long!), went up to Jay Jay’s to change, then did a victory lap of the Plaza area to take care of some last minute shopping. When we tired of that, we hit up Qucharitas one more time (indulged in some quinoa ice cream! That… was very much like normal vanilla ice cream haha), then, realizing the ‘Skins game was on, popped into Faces of Cusco where they were having a proper NFL Gameday, complete with a fridge full of Peruvian craft beer. Not a bad way to pass the last of our time.

Then we had to pack up and ship out to Puno on said sleeper bus. More on that later. (Spoiler: we did not get much sleep on the bus…)

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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.

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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!

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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.

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