Category Archives: South America

In Search of: A Refuge in Cusco, Peru

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When I arrived in Lima, Peru I had an agenda: find Christy.  The plan was to meet during layovers in Lima then fly to Cusco.  As luck would have it, Christy decided to stop and get coffee at the precise place I decided to turn a corner in the airport.  She was sipping a latte (or some such contraption), reading her Kindle, when I spotted her.  Woot!  Vacation had begun.  We talked and plotted, then boarded a plane for one last flight.

One might think two normally clean girls would want to shower and remove the grime of 24 hours of travel once arriving at their intended destination.  But.  We’re special.  We arrived in Cusco, headed to the hostel and dropped our bags (Hostal Mallqui: super cute, nice staff, highly recommended).  We knew if we took the time to settle in, we would likely get tired and not want to leave.  So.  Donning the clothes we had been wearing since leaving our homes the previous day, we wandered into the city.  (But, hey, the dirty clothes part — that’s just between you and I.  Okay?)

As soon as I walked into the city, my little heart was smitten.  I took pictures of wooden doors and old stone streets and archways and big blue skies.  My camera kept clicking.  There was character around every corner.

After a while of walking we realized we were famished and found a restaurant called Good Chicken.  We sat down and stared at the menu.  It was in Spanish.  Have I mentioned my Spanish is, well, appalling?  It is.  We proceeded to take out the travel Spanish book I ordered on Amazon prior to the trip and began to translate.  After watching us for a good ten minutes, the waitress took pity and handed us English menus.  Note to self: always request the English menu.

We ate.  We talked.  We laughed.  And then we headed out for more wandering.  Thousands of people gathered at Plaza de Armas — men in red cloaks, suits, hats.  People carried musical instruments.  Priests gathered.  Unaware of the festivities, we surmised this likely wasn’t your average Monday afternoon.  We later learned we had entered Cusco during their yearly festival, Senor de los Temblores (Lord of the Earthquakes), celebrated the Monday before Easter each year in commemoration of the devastating earthquake of 1650.

We soon looked up to see the sky going dark.  The blazing sun of the afternoon was being replaced by heavy clouds.  We took notice, yet kept going.  Christy’s from Seattle.  I think we can handle a little rain.  We wandered through a craft market, window shopping.  Thunder rumbled.  Emerging from the market, the deluge began.  Rain fell from the sky in sheets.  We watched from an overhang as people ran from the streets, seeking cover.  We repeated our mantra, we’re not afraid of a little rain, and walked to the street.  Okay.  Maybe the rain is a bit much.  We sought a new overhang.  Caught up in the flow of people seeking refuge, we found ourselves entering a cathedral.  The crowd shoved and pushed and we nearly thought we’d be trampled.  To be trampled in a church — something about that seems terribly wrong.  Anyhow, priests ushered us inside.  We scrambled through the crowd and found a seat amongst the thousands of others.  But our attention spans are short.  After a few minutes, we decided to try our luck.  Surely the rain had subsided a bit.  Or it would soon.  Against the warnings of a nearby priest, we pulled up our hoods and found ourselves, yet again, in the open, in the rain.

My feet wore flip-flop sandals, the sole worn to a smooth surface.  Every few feet, I slipped on the stone walkway.  I walked slowly and deliberately, which unfortunately added to the amount of water my clothes took in.  Water rushed down the streets, turning Cusco into a river of sorts.  We wandered the streets, soggy photocopied map in hand, searching for the hostel.  Some time later, we arrived and rang the buzzer for the staff to open the glass doors in front.  They rushed to the doors, looked at the two travelers dressed in water and cotton, laughed, and led us inside.

We promptly walked to our room, took the longest, hottest showers the hostel would afford and ordered a heater.

Welcome to Cusco.

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In Search of: Lessons Learned While Traveling

I just completed 2.5 weeks of travel.  The first few days were in Indianapolis for a science teacher conference.  I got to geek out with a bunch of other science-types, and this made me a very happy girl.  Also, I’ve never been to Indiana, which moved me closer to another goal: visit every state in the U.S.  Indianapolis was surprisingly lovely, and I can’t wait to share a few pictures and the goods from the trip (interestingly, I made some great travel contacts!).

At approximately midnight on a Saturday, I arrived home from Indianapolis.  I did laundry, packed my bags a second time and got ready to head back to the airport.  On Sunday afternoon, I stepped on a plane to begin spring break — two weeks in Peru!  I couldn’t have been more excited.  Seriously.  My socks were ready to be knocked off.  (And the trip didn’t disappoint, I assure you!)

But before I get into the awesomeness that is Peru and Machu Picchu and the Amazon Rainforest, I have to admit I learned a fair number of lessons this time around.  Let’s be honest, I’m still a newbie traveler.  I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.  I just sort of jump in, feet first, and hope there are no piranhas near.  Don’t worry though.  I only required a few band-aids.

Without further ado, a letter to myself (and any other newbie traveler out there that would prefer to learn lessons the easy way and allow me to make mistakes for them).

Dear Self (yes, you), a few simple instructions for travel:

  1. SLOW DOWN.  I know you want to see everything.  But that’s sort of impossible.  And you’ll drive yourself insane attempting to do so.  Psychiatric bills are expensive.  Take the easy way once in a while.  Avoid the mental breakdown.  Slow travel is your ideal.  (You know I’m right.)
  2. Bring an appropriate first aid kit.  This includes more than two band-aids.  An antiseptic wipe, Neosporin and a bottle of ibuprofen would do you well.
  3. Pack said band-aids and antiseptic wipes in mini Ziplock bags.  Yes, you’re cheap.  And you think buying extra baggies will kill the planet.  But sometimes these things are super useful.  Like when you don’t want to dig through the gallon size plastic bag that’s holding everything from your shampoo, your razors and your mouthwash, and you just want to reach things quickly.  Mini Ziplocks are awesome for organization.  And you know you love to organize things.
  4. Spend extra money on direct flights.  Sometimes, you’re way too cheap.  Never forget: by the end of your trip, you would gladly pay a small ransom for a direct flight home — at which point, you’re dirty, you’re tired and more than a little cranky.  And let’s not forget, you’re also afraid to fly.  The fewer flights, the healthier your heart.
  5. Buy a super cute passport holder.  Okay.  It doesn’t HAVE to be super cute.  But it should be.  On the practical side, your passport turns into a wrinkled mess every time you visit one of those ridiculously humid locales you seem to love so much.  The damn thing’s going to fall apart before you make it to the last page if you don’t protect it.  Plus, did I mention it can be super cute?
  6. Bring your netbook.  I know.  You think it sounds romantic to be without internet for weeks at a time.  It’s not.  Enough said.
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In Search of: The Anticipation of Peru!

One of the best parts of travel is the anticipation that comes with an upcoming trip.  And right now, I’m full to the brim with anticipation.  On April first, I will be boarding a plane for Cusco, Peru!  Okay.  Not exactly accurate.  I will be boarding a plane for Mexico City, then Lima, Peru, then Cusco, Peru!  It’s going to be a damn long day.  But, seriously.  This will be the most awesome trip since the history of awesome.

Why, you ask?  Because I’ve wanted to take this trip for probably five years.  I even planned it.  Twice.  And finally.  Finally, finally, finally — I’m going!  My little self is doing kartwheels in my head right now.  That’s how excited I am.  (I would do actual kartwheels outside, but it’s a little late and kind of cold.)

I work at a private school, and we get two weeks off for spring break.  I had debated taking this trip over winter break, but I decided to move into my awesomesauce apartment instead.  It was a good move — I love the new place.  But the trip truly couldn’t be put off much longer.  My heart couldn’t take it.  Spring break it is!

My friend, Christy, and I fly out on the same day.  We’ll meet at the airport in Cusco and head off to start the adventure!  (I know.  Way too many exclamation points in this post.  But I can’t help it, peeps!!  Excited, I tell you.)  We’ll stay in Cusco a couple of days then be whisked away by train to Aguas Calientes.  Although Aguas Calientes has been described as the hole of all holes when it comes to tourist towns, we’re going to make it amazing.  We’ve got hikes planned up some pretty intimidating mountains (which include some pretty steep ladders).  We’ve got food plans.  Because you can’t visit Peru without tasting the guinea pig.  (Sorry Mr. Guinea.  You were a good pet.)  We’ve got early morning treks to Machu Picchu and photography and videos and dancing in the street planned.  At the end of our time together we’ll spend a couple of days in Ollantaytambo.  Who the hell knows what we’re gonna do there.  But I can promise, you’ll hear all about it when we do it.

After a week in the Cusco area, Christy goes home (sad face).  But I go to the Amazon rainforest (big ass happy face!).  Oh yes.  I’ll be sleeping in a room with 3.5 walls, staring through my mosquito net into the jungle at night.  Creepers.  But all kinds of amazing.  I’m going to climb trees!  I’m going to kayak!  I’m going to bird watch and hike and wander and get lost (but not too lost, ’cause I’ll have a guide).

I’m not sure the word anticipation quite explains what I’m feeling right now.  Freedom?  Exhilaration?  Child-like wonder?  But whatever it is — I’ll take some more of that, please.

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