Friday Links: Russian Cat Portraits and Dolly Parton

Welp, I made it through another week as a single pet parent and house caretaker. I’ve only peed my pants imagining someone was breaking in to murder me about 25 times this week, including one very terrifying instance where I was woken up at 5 a.m. by the sound of XFE’s shower mirror falling in his shower. There were some tense minutes while I crept around the house, wielding a high heel as a weapon, until I finally pinpointed the source of the clatter.

Needless to say, my nerves are a bit thin. Every the dutiful boyfriend, even from thousands of miles away, XFE has bought me a nice, long massage tomorrow. And I’m very much looking forward to that.

While it wasn’t a good week for rest, it was a good week for random stories on the Internet. Enjoy!

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  • Since I dug around and learned about my heritage, it only seemed fitting that I would do the same for Princess Petunia. Turns out that she’s Russian royalty, of course. We’ll be commissioning one of these cat portraits to hang in the Hermitage any day now.
  • XFE was in Japan for work last week, and well, I love bunnies, so a story about a Japanese island that used to be testing grounds for chemical warfare and has now been left to be overrun by the former lab bunnies suits my weird sense of humor.
  • First Subway footlongs are not actually a foot long and now this? Oh, I smell a future class action lawsuit, by the way, which I will join and from which I expect to be paid in mounds of insufficiently stuffed Oreos. I’ll make it a work. I’m a survivor.
  • According to people who were there, members of this Peruvian “uncontacted” tribe asked for bananas, rope and a machete (ummm, quick tip: don’t give the strange angry people machetes). I think they were asking for Double Stuffed Oreos.  They obviously got worked up and hostile because they couldn’t make themselves understood.
  • Travel is so exhausting. This kid has the right idea.
  • Dolly Parton is my spiritual guru. I decided this while walking quite tipsily in the middle of the day in London in 1997. Me, and my older and way cooler British friend decided right then and there that Dolly was an absolute genius and we bonded over our love for her. Suddenly, the American Revolution seemed ridiculous and the key to British-American relations swas so clear: Dolly. Parton. This video sums up that day pretty damn perfectly.
  • Being blunt is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, insults just bounce off of you (slide 1) and you’re the life of the party because of your honesty and big mouth (slide 14). On the other, people are just so damn sensitive (slide 2 and 7). Here’s hoping you think I’m an ironic genius anyway (slide 20).

Hotel Crashing: Two Starwood/Libertador Hotels in Peru

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it on the blog before, but I sometimes have trouble sleeping. (I know I’ve told it in person to every person who’s crossed my path. And everyone on Facebook and Twitter. And in the comments section of a couple of other blogs).

Anyway, it’s actually a fairly frustrating form of insomnia – I am quite able to fall asleep on my couch at 9:08 in the evening but find myself awake at 3 or 4 am, unable to quiet my mind enough to fall back asleep until somewhere around 6 am, or 15 minutes before the alarm goes off.

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The funniest part about all of this is that I used to be an amazing sleeper. Seriously, I could have done it as a job. If there had been a Sleep Olympics back in the day, I would have taken gold, silver and bronze. I’m practically a founding member of the National Sawing Logs Association of America (acronym: ZZZofA).

In my 20s and early 30s, I used to be able to sleep for 8, 9, 10 hours at a time. On weekends in my wasted 20s, I would sleep even more if left to my own devices. My mind was never racing at 4 in the morning, although considering the very sad state of my finances and job security prospects at the time, I should have been bugged-eyed and wide awake with worry.

Now, with a good job and a comfortable bank account, I am very, very wakeful.

(Although, knock on wood, for the last week or so, I’ve been in one of my good sleeping stretches. Probably due to getting up in the pre-dawn hours to go to the gym with XFE. Who knows how long it will last, but I’m definitely enjoying it.)

But, I slept like a champion in Peru.

I’m not sure if it was because there were exceptionally early morning flights (5:30 flight to Cusco) or because of the WuaynaKihlPhoe parasite, but most nights (parasite-symptom-wakefulness excluded), I was knocked right out and did not wake up until it was time for another delicious breakfast.

I’m working on a self-funded (OK, fine, an XFE-subsidized) study on the correlation between sleep satisfaction and expensive luxury resort hotels. The key to a sound sleep might be related to the weave in a set of Egyptian cotton linens + peace of mind from having a concierge/butler at one’s beck and call.

Tambo bedroom

This was confirmed at Libertador hotels in Peru. I was not familiar with the Libertador hotel collections (funny fact: when you get to a certain price point, I’ve noticed that the language changes from “hotel chain” to “resort collection.”) but apparently, they’re a really nice line of hotels in Peru.

Thanks to their alliance with Starwood Properties, we stayed at two of Libertador’s seven hotels – Hotel Paracas in the southern coast of Peru and Tambo del Inka, near Machu Picchu.

Hotel Paracas was a typical beach-type resort—white stucco buildings, lush green manicured grounds, a beach view with white sands, an outdoor beach lounge/bar area near the beach with those big round wicker chairs and an outdoor fire pit and tiki torches.

Hotel Paracas lobby

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The pool, which looked huge on the website, was actually a narrow strip of pool that got crowded with vacationing families pretty fast. We also ran into some difficulty renting a cabana, which limited our pool time a bit.

hotel paracas pool

The other problem we had was with the onsite tour agency, T’ikariy. They were unresponsive to our (admittedly, numerous) emails ahead of our visit, and gave conflicting information when we went in person. We were trying to book a sunset sand buggy excursion with them and after a few starts and stops (“We can’t do same day bookings.” “We can’t book you for tomorrow because it’s less than 24 hours.” “We can’t book you at all because our jeep is broken.”), we gave up and went to our concierge who gave us the number to another excursion place (he couldn’t book it since he’s supposed to use the onsite agency. Who didn’t have a working jeep. So, that makes sense.)

At Hotel Paracas, we stayed in a balcony suite, which, oddly enough is on the first floor. It had a lovely porch overlooking the grounds, which we made good use of, buying our own beer and cokes from the nearby town. We’d sit out there in the evenings with XFE’s iPod, eating snacks we’d brought from Trader Joe’s and drinking beers. It was probably my favorite part of the day.

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The room was very spacious. It had clearly been two rooms converted into one with a living room (with sofa bed), wet bar, and full bathroom with shower on one side; and a bedroom with king size bed and large bath on the other side. It’s the perfect set up for a family.

hotel paracas living room

hotel paracas bed

The service from the hotel staff was overall impeccable – everyone on the property was very friendly and quick to help with anything. Not that we put them through their paces or anything…other than a few calls for ice, we stayed pretty low during our two night stay.

Tambo del Inka would be where I really put Libertador hotel staff to the test.

Tambo del Inka is Incan for “Rest Stop of the Incans” and it was the perfect rest stop for us on our way to Machu Picchu. It’s located in the Sacred Valley in a town called Urubamba, about 50 minutes from Cusco. It opened only about a year ago and it is obvious that no expense was spared.

tambo facade

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The resort is small—only 128 rooms—and the entire place blends beautifully into the countryside. It’s got a whole, ski-lodge kind of vibe, with giant wooden doors opening onto the lobby with its floor-to-ceiling double-sided stone fireplace and a soaring ceiling with exposed wooden beams. However, the colorful Peruvian folk art hanging from the walls and decorating the surfaces reminds you that you’re not in Colorado.

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tambo lobby

We checked out the indoor/outdoor multilevel swimming pool, but unfortunately it was too cold to swim. It’s supposed to be heated, but I would have to say, no way. We also peeked into the spa area and water circuit, which looked amazing. Our biggest regret was that we didn’t book a spa treatment at Tambo.

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But the most stunning place was the bar right off the lobby. It had this jaw-dropping wall of translucent, backlit golden marble. The bar also has a lovely outdoor deck that made it even more difficult to choose where to sit.

tambo bar

tambo deck

The check in was slightly unusual, but in a very nice way. They lead you over to one of the comfortable couches in the lobby area, and bring over some mate de coca tea (it’s supposed to help with altitude sickness) or a choice of other beverage. Since I wasn’t feeling too well and we’d been up since 3 am, we tried to rush our check in a bit to get to our room. The staff was understanding.

We were immediately upgraded to a very spacious senior suite room overlooking the Urubamba River, which came with its own butler, Alan. The room was just as gorgeous as the lobby, with a large walk in closet and one of the best beds I’ve ever slept in. Which I promptly did, right after a long bath in the sunken tub.

tambo room

tambo bath

tambo living room

I was full on sick by this point (thanks, coconut popsicle in Lima!) and XFE was left to his own devices. He went to the afore-mentioned bar for a late lunch and then wandered into Urubamba for a look around. While taking pictures of the square, he made this little friend, who kept popping up just as the camera clicked.

Urubamba photo bomber
Urubamba photo bomber

I still wasn’t feeling well that evening, so I ordered chicken soup from room service. I think it was great soup, but honestly, I was just incredibly hungry by that time. It could have been dirty bathwater and I think I would have slurped it down. They also brought me a birthday cake, which, while it didn’t help my stomach, it did make me very happy.

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We chose Tambo del Inka because it has a train station taking hotel residents to Machu Picchu, which is a huge perk. The train leaves at the crack of dawn (Of course. Why must everything on vacation occur when the sun is not even up yet?) and a staff person walks you over to the station. Not because it’s a long and confusing walk. More likely, because you’re so sleepy and bleary eyed, they’re afraid you’ll end up snuggled up next to an alpaca in some farmer’s field somewhere. That’s just a lawsuit waiting to happen.

But we're so soft and cute, come sleep with us....
But we’re so soft and cute, come sleep with us….

Most of the Tambo residents went up to Machu Picchu for just the day, but we stayed overnight at the Sanctuary. We packed a small overnight bag and the staff at Tambo held our bags for us, bringing them back to our room upon our return (we were put in the same room, which was nice.)

We had breakfast at the hotel restaurant our final morning (full buffet plus cooked-to-order eggs) and it was delicious. Well, as delicious as two scrambled-to-oblivion eggs could be, since I was still pretty sick and not feeling adventurous enough to try the quinoa pancakes (although I really wanted to).

Another lobby view.
Another lobby view.

We also looked at the dinner menu while we were checking out and really regret that we didn’t get a chance to eat there. It looked incredible and the prices were very reasonable.

Just like Hotel Paracas, the service was spot on, perhaps even a bit better. When walking through the lobby of Tambo del Inka, you literally ran a gauntlet of “buenos dias” and “hellos.” Our butler Alan was very helpful and concerned about my health, and offered to call a doctor to the hotel. I stoically, and stupidly, refused. Regret #3: if you’re sick, let them call a damn doctor in.

More grounds at Tambo.
More grounds at Tambo.

We loved our Tambo del Inka experience and just wished we’d booked a couple of extra days to enjoy the resort some more. Or, as was my case, roll around in that giant soft bed some more.

It’s a gorgeous place and definitely on my list of top 5 places we’ve ever stayed, intestinal parasite notwithstanding.

Hotel Crashing: Westin, Marriott in Lima

I love, love, love hotels.

I love the sometimes modern, sometimes classical, sometimes retro, but always sweeping and grand front desk areas.

I love the smiling friendly people who work at the front desk area and the way they focus so intently on their little screen while trying to find you the absolute best room upgrade.  I love the concept of a concierge to help you with every single little request, no matter how weird of small.

I love the music they play in the lobby and all the lovely flower arrangements. I love the free coffee in the lobby in the morning or the free wine in the evening and the chance to make small talk with fellow guests.

Lilies (my favorite) in one of our rooms.
Lilies (my favorite) in one of our rooms.

I love the huge, luxurious beds with the fresh clean sheets and towels every single day (and sometimes in the evening, if you’d like) and the pillow menus that let you pick the firmness and composition of your pillow. I love room service and I definitely love the toiletries.  Oh, and the turndown chocolates.

Basically, I wish I was Eloise (especially since she lived at the Plaza. Can you just imagine what the robes must be like?? I. Die.)

One of the best compliments my co-decorator XFE and I ever got was, “You’re house looks like a W Hotel.”

To me, walking into a hotel is kinda like opening a present. And then opening the door to the room is like opening a present inside a present. There have been many a time when we’ve opened the door to our room and I’ve looked back and thought, “Is this all for us? All of it? We don’t have to share it with anybody?”

Which is all to say: We stayed in some pretty freaking great places in Peru.

Like this one.
Like this one.

We stayed at two hotels in Lima. Because, really, why wouldn’t you hotel hop when you get the chance? Actually, our Lima hotels bookcased our trip down to Paracas, so we chose the second hotel based on its proximity to the car rental drop off. I mean, that wasn’t the only reason we picked it, but it did make it an attractive option.

First we spent two nights at the Westin Lima Hotel and Convention Center in the San Isidro neighborhood. It’s the newest major hotel in Lima and was the tallest building in the country when it opened in May 2011. The lobby was gorgeous with lots of dark wood, and low couches and open-sided fire pits in the lobby bar area.

Fire pits!
Fire pits!

We were immediately upgraded to an amazing executive suite on the 19th floor. This suite had a living room, eat-in dining area, powder room and master bath; and a humongous bedroom with panoramic views of the financial district. In total, it was 700 square feet. Basically, a little more than half our house. Yeah. It was basically, slightly bigger than the lower half of our house.

westin bedroom

 

westin bathroom

They had the most amazing lilies in vases throughout. Our “room” smelled like a really upscale florists’ shop.

Our living room. For two nights.
Our living room. For two nights.

We also got access to the Westin Executive Club Lounge a couple of floors up (home of the legendary best pisco sour we had the entire trip). Poor people: listen up. There’s this big secret amongst the rich people out there, which is: They get to eat for free! Like, every meal. And sometimes even drink for free! And it’s pretty good stuff! I mean, it’s not like a full menu or anything, but there are usually meats and cheeses and salads and sandwiches. In the morning, there are even free mimosas to go with your pastries, sausages and eggs (although, if I do have one complaint, it’s that the scrambled eggs are always a bit runny for my taste at these executive lounge places. But the same could be said at any breakfast buffet, really. Blech.)

Free food! In our room! Thanking us for staying with them. KRAY-KRAY.
Free food! In our room! Thanking us for staying with them. KRAY-KRAY.

I swear, if I’d known all of this free food stuff was going on when I was a poor college student, I would have spent all my time lurking outside hotel executive clubs. It’s insane.

Between the amazing room and the free food and wine, I really didn’t even want to leave the hotel. Ever. And we didn’t even have time to check out the other amenities, (although I hear they had a fantastic heated indoor pool.)

Oh, did I mention the walk in closet?
Oh, did I mention the walk in closet?

Eventually, we did have to leave, and it was a very sad day indeed when XFE had to pry my claws off the door frame so we could check out.

The JW Marriott in Miraflores was our next hotel in Lima, and while not quite as amazing as the Westin, it was still pretty damn nice.  Or, actually, I should say that the room itself wasn’t as luxurious, but I actually preferred the executive club at the Marriott better. It’s true I liked the Marriott club food slightly better, but primarily it was because our fellow club attendees were vastly more entertaining (there was a fighting couple sitting nearby who it turns out weren’t a couple, but were actually work colleagues who were quite fed up with each other. Also: an exceedingly large man explaining a diet that he was on, and a bunch of other personal things, all very loudly).

It’s been a long time since I stayed at a Marriott. I guess I thought they were a bit dated and appealed more towards and older clientele. Our room basically enhanced my pre-conceived impressions. There was nothing wrong with the room per se (in fact, the ocean view was very nice), but after the grandeur of the Westin, it seemed kinda basic.

marriott room

However, it did the trick and provided a good home base for our last, short evening in Lima. Also, the front desk staff was great and we were particularly grateful they remembered our 2 am wakeup call so we could catch our 5:30 flight to Cusco.

mariott view

Couple of other notes about the Marriott: the location is great. You’re right across the street from the Larcomar mall, and there’s a casino next to the hotel. In case you’re feeling lucky. In fact, we saw quite a few people straggling in as we were leaving for the airport at 3 am, including a proud Longhorn dad explaining craps to his two young UT-togs-wearing sons as they waited for the elevator. If I hadn’t been so bleary-eyed, I might have grabbed a cup of free lobby coffee and made small talk with them. But I had other hotel rooms awaiting me in other parts of Peru.

 

Nice to Meet You, Machu Picchu

I’m fairly convinced that “Machu Picchu” is Incan for “stay the hell away.”

I say this because honestly, I don’t think they could make this place any more difficult to get to.

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I think this guy is saying, “To enter, you will need to hand over your precious pet cat and part of a lung.”

(OK, fine, I will acknowledge that Machu Picchu actually means “Old Peak,” which is kinda funny when you think about it since we were there to celebrate my 41st birthday, and my super supportive travel organizer and concierge XFE loves to point out all the time just how old I’m getting.)

But back to remoteness: Machu Picchu is a plane, a train, a car and a bus away from the capital city of Lima.

Continue reading Nice to Meet You, Machu Picchu

Do These Goggles Make Me Look Brave?

“The tour…..you want fast or slow.”

These were the first English words spoken to us in the hour or so since we jumped into the sketchy van that would drive us out to the desert.

(By the way, it’s alarming to me how often my travel buddy XFE and I just willingly jump into vans of questionable provenance. It’s like all those years of authority figures warning you not to get into dark vans with strangers have just flown out the window.)

We were on a dune buggying and sand boarding tour of the desert near the Paracas National Reserve. And our dune buggy driver, after ascertaining that we did not speak Spanish, wanted to know exactly what kind of adventurers we were: Do you want to go fast or slow?

sand parking

The Paracas Peninsula of Peru is where the ocean and the desert meet and the Ica region is home to one of the driest deserts on earth. Just south of Ica, the sand dunes of Huacachina are the largest in the world — visitors can sand board white dunes up to 700 feet tall.

We opted for the fast option. And while I don’t think we went up any 700 feet sand dunes, we did whirl around like maniacs for about an hour at sunset, with lips firmly clenched to keep from ingesting the sand.

Dune

We arranged the tour through our hotel. According to the receipt, the tour group was Maveco Sand Tour S.R.L. and they say they have a website (www.sandtours.com) but that’s not really a working website. You can also, allegedly, email them at maveco@terra.com.pe

Anyway, we had arrived at the desert with three other tourists, all male, all Spanish speakers, picked up from various other hotels in the area.

An elderly gentleman handed us each a pair of goggles, rattling away in Spanish the whole time. I suctioned my goggles onto my head and fretted that we were missing vital safety lessons that would keep us from hurling headfirst into the sand. (Seriously, I had jerked the headband so tight I had red marks around my eye sockets for the rest of the evening. No speck of sand was going to work its way into in my delicate, special eyes).

Goggles

The elderly gentlemen indicated where we should sit and helped us buckle in. At first, we were all in the same buggy, but about 15 minutes out into the dunes and a backup guy came and extracted us two gringos. We were apparently the less-adventurous of the crew and had not signed up for sand boarding, unlike our other three companions. So we’d be going off on our own.

buggy

At least, that’s what we think was happening, but it’s all very confusing because in the end, we did try sand boarding. I went down seated like a kid on a sled, amid much screaming. I went down on my stomach, amid much butt clenching. And, I even tried standing up, which lasted all of about 15 seconds. (XFE, by the way, did much, much better, not surprisingly. He’s a regular famous surfing type person, if only I knew the name of even one).

These very fast downhill bursts were followed by grueling efforts to trudge back up the sandy hills to our dune buggy. Our driver mistakenly took my flailing arms as an indication of, “no, it’s ok, we’re on our way up,” when really, I was trying to flag down the nearest rescue vehicle with an oxygen tank and perhaps some cerveza, if that’s not too much to ask?

But my favorite part was dipping in and out of huge sand bowls, racing around the rims before going vertically up and then down again and again. Every once in a while, we’d stop, cutting the engine and plunging everything into absolute silence. We knew the other three guys were around somewhere, but it really felt like we were the only people in the world out there.

We’d try to get photos of the setting sun reflecting orange on the ripples of sand, but not a single picture really does the whole experience justice. It was amazing.

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After an hour of dermabrasion treatment of very fine flying sand, we headed back, settled our bill and returned to our hotel, with sand in many, many unmentionable places and big smiles across our sand-streaked, goggle-indented faces.

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Listless in Lima

OK, I’m sufficiently recovered to talk about Peru. A couple of days of antibiotics has put me on the road to normality and I’m all caught up on laundry. Yep, vacation is definitely over.

But let’s jump in the way-back machine and start with the chaotic and intriguing city of Lima.

lima sunset

We got there at around 10:30 pm, after an 8 hour flight, arriving at the busy airport bleary-eyed and confused. My adorable travel buddy XFE (sorta) quickly located our driver and we were off on a terrifying, death-defying ride through Lima.

It was supposed to be about a 40 minute ride to our hotel, the Westin Lima Hotel and Convention Center, but the Lima traffic and a slight miscommunication that took us to the entirely wrong part of town meant we didn’t get to our room until after well after midnight.

Quick discussion about Lima traffic: it’s kray-kray. It was just unbelievable. The only thing I can compare it to was Thailand, but it was actually even more undisciplined. The painted lanes meant absolutely nothing. The shoulders of the road were just considered another driving lane. I rode the entire time with my eyes cast down and my hands clenched.

Our driver explained that the population of the entire country of Peru was around 30 million and Lima’s population was 10 million. This is because in the 1980s and 1990s, there were two major domestic terrorist organizations in Peru that wreaked havoc out in the countryside, causing a large influx of country people into the city of Lima, which was perceived as slightly safer since it was the capital.  This was a false sense of security. In 1992, there was a bombing in Lima that killed 25 and wounded 200.

Pretty crazy recent history. I’m sorta embarrassed to say I had no idea that all of this had gone down. Also: Peru’s recent presidential history, which includes not one, but TWO exiled presidents who were totally corrupt and stole money from aid organizations, like the World Bank. And they keep trying to sneak back into the country and run for president again! It’s madness, I tell you. Madness.

All of this goes to explain the other main observation I had about Lima: there are gun-toting, bulletproof vest-wearing security guards EVERYWHERE. Especially, obviously, at the banks. But lots of other places today, including the main square, the Plaza de Armas, which we visited on our first full day there.

Yep, those are police. In riot gear. On a normal Friday afternoon.
Yep, those are police. In riot gear. On a normal Friday afternoon.

The Plaza has been used for everything from a market to a bullfighting ring to a place for public executions. The Spanish Inquisition was quite active here in Peru, a Spanish colony, and the square was used to burn heretics.

I think heretics were burned on the opposite side of the square. Not by the fountain.
I think heretics were burned on the opposite side of the square. Not by the fountain.

Lima’s historic center is beautiful, surrounded by bright mustard yellow Colonial buildings with arches and wooden balconies. The Government Palace is also located here, and a very fancy Changing of the Guard occurs at noon every day. There’s also the Cathedral of Lima, which we did not go in.

Cathedral

Instead, we went to the Monastery of St. Dominic, which houses two of Peru’s three saints, including Saint Rose of Lima. She was a pretty extreme chick who cut her hair and smeared pepper on her face to make herself less attractive to potential suitors. Ironically, we were on a tour of the monastery with an entourage of three men, including one young gentleman who was wearing a Mr. Teen Peru sash. He posed for many, many pictures throughout the monastery and did not smear his face with pepper at all.

Mr. Teen Peru and his guardian.
Mr. Teen Peru and his guardian. XFE wouldn’t let me take a better, yet more obvious, picture. 

The other really beautiful part of Lima is Miraflores, which is an upscale neighborhood overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It’s full of parks and shopping and restaurants and is quite chi-chi. It’s also very safe and full of tourists.

love park miraflores

The Larcomar shopping mall has a lot of great shops and restaurants, including a place we stopped for our first lunch in Peru, Mangos. It was a great place that was full of locals, and had a pretty damn good buffet, plenty of ice cold Pilsens and Cuzquenos, and ocean breezes. Service was indeed slow, but who’s in a rush when the view is that great?

We spent our final day in Lima walking around Miraflores. About 10 blocks north of Larcomar and the JW Marriott are a bunch of artisan malls/shops up near Kennedy Park. There is also a food market, Mercado Surquillo, that’s fun to walk around, and has a huge variety of fruits and vegetables. Fresh juice places were also pretty popular in there. I guess I should have had one of those instead of the coconut paletta of death I had later on.fruits

As we picked up our rental car for the next leg of our journey, I wrestled with my feelings about Lima. It seemed like an incredibly vibrant city with lots to offer. I even felt a twinge of regret when I saw a poster advertising an art exhibit featuring Picasso and Banksy.

But while I felt like I had barely scratched the surface, I wasn’t really sure I wanted to know more. We had driven past so many rundown neighborhoods and seen so much poverty in a city that was obviously still struggling to absorb its massive population influx and recent violent history.

Lima definitely piqued my interest to learn more.

Peru Eats that May or May Not Make You Ill

Well, well, well. Looks like I brought a souvenir back from Peru and I’m not talking about the gorgeous alpaca sweater I got at Sol in Lima.

giardia pack

No, I’m talking about a parasite in my small intestine. Actually, there’s probably more than one of them. So, a pack of parasites, if you will. (they look so happy in the picture above. Very disconcerting.)

I went to the doctor on Tuesday and she quickly diagnosed me with Giardia. Doesn’t that sound like some sort of lovely plant or bush? “Just look at that Giardia flowering over the balustrade over the portico.”

It’s apparently quite common in cats and dogs. Guess I should have taken my preventative Frontline before the trip.

Anyway, it all continues to be unpleasant and fairly disgusting. I’m on antibiotics for the next week.

Not surprisingly, my new favorite pastime is to go over (in my mind) again and again everything I ate or ingested during the trip. I thought it was a fairly clean cut case against the coconut paleta I had in Lima, but who really knows? Let’s review some of what we ate while in Peru.

Pisco Sour

The lovely national drink of Peru. It’s composed of Peruvian Pisco (it’s kinda like a brandy), lime or lemon juice, simple syrup, ice, egg white and a drop of Angostura bitters.

Pisco sour

Our scientific findings, which included consumption of Pisco Sours at no less than four upscale hotels and more than a couple of restaurants, was that the best Pisco Sour in Peru can be found at the executive lounge at the Westin Lima Hotel and Convention Center. Amazing. The bartender didn’t use a mix (as some other places did) and he vigorously blended it in a shaker by hand – not a blender, as was more common. It was our first Pisco Sour of the trip and it was smooth and creamy and not too sour. We spent the rest of our time chasing another one like it.

Ceviche

The lovely national dish of Peru. It’s made from fresh raw fish marinated in citrus juices until the chemical reaction causes a sort of cured/cooked state. Sorta like pickling.

ceviche

I’d like to think that the three or four times we had it the fish was fresh, but who knows. When we had it, we shared it, and while XFE has had some slight stomach issues, they’re not nearly the scale of my own, so I’m willing to give ceviche a pass as the culprit.

Cuy

Yes, despite my sworn protestations, I did partake in some guinea pig. BUT, it was a very small bite and was one course in a 17-course tasting menu at Astrid & Gaston, one of the finest restaurants in Lima. It was done in a Peking style, so I could barely taste it between the corn crepe and the sauce.

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Alpaca

I had an alpaca loin at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge on the night of my birthday. I’m not sorry to say: It was really, really good. Kind of like a cross between lamb and a pork chop. Very tasty. I’d definitely eat it again.

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Cancha salada

Toasted dried chulpe corn,salted and crunchy. These awesome little snacks were frequently put out when we ordered drinks. Delicious. I loved them. Sorta like  Corn Nuts (but not as processed).

cancha

Peru in 16 Pictures

In a complete departure from my usual blogging style, this post is going to be light on text and heavy on visuals. This is because I’m currently in the ongoing throws of a “food bourne illness” to put it delicately. Day seven of the ancient Incan stomach bacteria that I’m lovingly calling WuaynaKihlPhoe (sound it out).

So….yeah. I have an appointment tomorrow morning with le doctor.

BUT, even with all that, Peru was amazing. It’s beautiful, diverse and enigmatic. You’ll hear all about it in additional posts, I promise. In the meantime, here’s a taste:

The incoming customs form. We, of course, filled in the "other" bubble.

The marital status question on the incoming customs form. We, of course, filled in the “other” bubble.

guinea pig pottery

Guinea pig pottery at the Gastronomy Museum in Lima. They love their guinea pigs there. Especially around dinner time.

Brass band

A brass band serenades us at the Governor’s Palace.

Astrid & Gaston

17 course tasting menu at Astrid & Gaston in Lima. Including cuy. (I swear, I only had one tiny bite)

caught in a protest

While on our way down to Paracas on the Panamerican Sur highway, we got caught in a protest involving 200 fishermen. We were stuck for two hours and according to this story, the line of cars stretched back 5 miles. Listen, I’m all about civil unrest and all that jazz, but it seriously cut into my pool time and I was not amused.

tuk tuk

One of the most popular forms of transportation are these super flashy little three-wheeled cabs. I totally want one. I’m looking into it. I plan to decorate it pretty obnoxiously, of course. Lots of fringe and stickers.

Classy in Paracas

In Paracas, we stayed at this super fancy resort full of overpriced beer and snacks. So, we walked 5 minutes down the road to the small seaside town of El Chaco, where even with gringo prices, we paid a lot less for beer, sodas and snacks. Here’s me on the way back with my Cusquenos (Listen, it was hot and I was thirsty after watching all those protestors.)

Sand duning

Action shot: We went sand buggying in the deserts outside of Paracas. We even gave sandsurfing a shot. I sucked at it. XFE was actually pretty good.

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Back in Lima before we traveled to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, we swung by the Surgillo Food Market. Not pictured: the innocent looking and 0h-so-tasty coconut palleta that started all of my stomach problems.

sunset

Last night in Lima. This was the sunset from our room at the JW Marriott in Miraflores. Pretty stunning. The calm before the stomach storm.

cake 1

Birthday cake number one (oh yes, there were two) from the wonderfully nice people at Tambo del Inka resort in Urubamba. Amazing, amazing resort. (the cake, ironically, was coconut, but no hard feelings. Can’t hate on a cake).

Peru rail

The slowest train in the whole damn world. That’s because everybody — people, cows, sheep, backpackers — use the railroad tracks as a road for walking on and blocking.

Llama

What’s that? Oh, yeah, no biggie, just a freaking LLAMA hanging out at Machu Picchu. There were like, 5 of them up there. CRAY-CRAY.

Poe picchu

Not to be outdone: Poe at Machu Picchu. I look like a giant looming over the ruins in this picture. Hilarious. Machu Picchu looks like a tiny little board game that I’m about to smash with my giant-ness.

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Cake TWO: this time, from the staff at the Sanctuary at Machu Picchu. And it was chocolate. And it was delicious.

procession

I’m not sure what this was. As we were driving back to Cusco for the start of our very long flight home (about 24 hours of travel, including a looooong layover in Lima), we came upon this procession. I thought it was some sort of parade for like, a saint’s day or something, but it actually might have been a funeral. Yikes. Awkward. I would never knowingly photograph a funeral. But all of these guys seemed so happy! I was confused.

Nerves of Jello Over Here

I am very nervous about our upcoming trip to Peru, y’all.

I’m not nervous about packing. For once. Although, my new laissez faire “take what you wore yesterday and throw it in a bag (*plus clean underwear)” attitude won’t work for this trip. For one thing, I wore a bulky turtleneck, wool pants and a heavy coat yesterday. That won’t really work for a destination with temperatures in the 60s-80s.

I’m actually following this girl’s advice on packing for a safari, since our trip to Peru is sorta similar in a lot of ways. (Seriously, she has packing advice for just about every conceivable destination/time of year. Very helpful site)

safari packing

This trip is heavy on the moving around and outdoor adventure front, so no need for heels or going-out clothes.

I’m also not scared I’m going to be eaten by sharks, like I was when we were planning our trip to Australia. (Turned out that reef sharks are kinda small and wimpy and are in no way prepared to take a bite out of my flailing body. Also: we’re not diving in Peru. Sooooo…there’s that.)

No, I have lots of other things stressing me out.

Don't worry, Poe! I won't try to eat you. (Wait....do llamas bite?)
Don’t worry, Poe! I won’t try to eat you. (Wait….do llamas bite?)

For one thing, it’s our first trip to South America together and well, South America is a whole other ball of crazy coca tea (I’ll explain that reference a bit further down).

Peru in particular appears to be a bit, well, how shall I put this…..flexible in terms of criminal justice and acceptance of bribes. To be fair, it does appear that Peru is cleaning up its act a bit in terms of corruption. According to this lady in Peru who I’m sure has no reason whatsoever to make up such an assertion.

So, I’m worried that we’ll get ripped off repeatedly by cab drivers (related: cabs don’t have meters). Or worse – I really do not want to be shot in the stomach. That would suck.

I’m, of course, scared I’m going to be mugged. This apparently happens a lot. Even in nice neighborhoods in Lima.

I’m worried that we should not be driving on the roads, particularly not out into the desert. I’m worried that my pigeon Spanish won’t be good enough to keep us from being thrown into a Peruvian jail for some minor infraction like not having our side mirror at a 45 degree angle.

If Peruvian prison scares this guy, what do you think a mushball like me is going to do?
If Peruvian prison scares this guy, what do you think a mushball like me is going to do?

I’m very worried about altitude sickness when we go to Cuzco and Machu Picchu. And that to combat said altitude sickness, I’ll have to drink the local cure, which is a tea make out of cocaine leaves. That’s right. Cocaine leaves. Something I don’t need in my life: failing a random drug test at work and trying to explain THAT.

I’m worried that I’ll accidentally eat cuy—guinea pig, a local delicacy. (I’m tipping a 40oz for my guinea pig homies and childhood pets, Peanut and Walnut, right now.)

Also: This British travel website? NOT HELPING. Some snippets:

Spiritual cleansing – Shamans and other individuals offer ‘spiritual cleansing’ to tourists, especially in the Amazon area and Cusco. This service is not regulated and there have been serious illness and deaths following such ceremonies.

Sand buggies – There have been deaths and injuries involving recreational sand buggies, particularly in the sand dunes around Ica and Lake Huacachina. These buggies are unregulated and the drivers and agencies take no responsibility for the welfare of passengers.

Ugh. This is what I do now that I’m in my 40s. I stress and worry. I fret and overanalyze about all the things that could possibly go wrong.

I know—at least in my head—that none of these things are likely to happen to us. That we’re seasoned travellers. That we’ll be safe and smart. I know that we’ve arranged a car service to take us to and from the airports. We know not to get into just some random old hoopty cab and we’ll always negotiate a price first.

I know we won’t carry valuables (I’m not even bringing jewelry, or my phone, or any electronics) and we will stay vigilant in public places.

I know XFE will not let me become a drug mule, and that he’s already gotten a prescription for non-cocaine-laced altitude sickness pills for us.

I know that I will not take part in any spiritual cleansings or drive sand buggies in a reckless manner or eat furry little childhood pets.

I also know damn well that I should never look on the Internet for things to worry about because you will always, always find them.

In Peru, they can hate, they just need to not masticate! (wow. that was bad.)
In Peru, they can hate, they just need to not masticate! (wow. that was bad.)

Mine’s Bigger

Sorry about the lack of blog posts. I’ve just been been biting my nails down to the quick over our upcoming trip to Peru. And, making and discarding numerous packing lists in my head at 3 am when I’m supposed to be sleeping.

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But, I did want to check in and say, What the Tummy, Kate Middleton? Are you kidding me with that baby bump? You’re due in JULY. JULY. That’s like, a trimester or three months or something. And that’s all you’ve got? Have you even seen Jessica Simpson? Or Kim Kardashian? Hell, Fergie just announced she’s pregnant and she’s showing more than you.   I just ate lunch and my stomach is bigger than yours. Geeze. Eat some ice cream or something. 

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