Saturday, May 18, 2019

Return to Lima

Trip date: January 2019

Our big Peru adventure was coming to an end, we had flown back to Lima from Cusco, and were staying at the Inkari Luxury Hotel in the lovely Miraflores neighborhood. I have a theory that if a hotel has a descriptive name, it's usually the opposite experience (Comfort Inn/not comfortable!, Holiday Inn/that carpet is not a holiday make!) And the Inkari Luxury proved my theory. Not horrible but just enough fake luxury to make me annoyed. With so many well priced hotels in Lima I'd look elsewhere next time. You're welcome.

We dropped our bags and headed directly to Mayo Bar for cocktails. Chef Virgilio Martínez moved his famous Central restaurant into a stunning new complex in the Barranco district and just recently opened Mayo and another new restaurant Kjolle in the same space.
The drinks were very interesting, and incorporated ingredients from different parts of Peru. My drink, for example, was to represent the sea and had sea lettuce in it! We also had some casual bar food (suckling goat!) that was delicious if not overly rich.
We'd had a long day, both sightseeing in the Sacred Valley and traveling, so we headed back to the hotel where Forest and I taught the bartender to make a passable martini.
The next morning we made a quick stop at a grocery store for interesting things to bring home and then walked to a very cool shop called Dedalo back over in the Barranco. This place was amazing! There are a bunch of small rooms inside housing different artists' & designers' works. Everything you could want from jewelry, to clothes, to pottery, etc is here and everything is handmade. There is also a great outdoor patio cafe where you can get a beverage and a snack. Highly recommend this shop while in Lima!
The neighborhood is very nice to walk around in also, lots of old houses with very colonial design. It's definitely a hip and trendy area of town.

We were starving so made our way to our lunch destination Isolina, currently number (lucky?) 13 on the World's 50 Best list. We hadn't really planned this one well as we realized it was a Sunday afternoon and 1/2 of Lima was lined up for a table at the no-reservations restaurant. We put our name in and had a couple of pisco sours at a random spot a few doors down (which were delicious btw!)
After an hour we went to check in only to be told it would be another 30 minutes. We opted for another round of pisco sours, this time from the restaurant and served to us on the sidewalk.
We were finally seated after 2 hours of waiting! And we were famished! Luckily we had had time to peruse the menu and were able to order the minute our asses hit the chairs. Everything was absolutely delicious, especially the ceviche and the crispy pork ribs. I'd highly recommend but maybe work your timing out better than we did!
Caitlin had to dash for the airport and Thibault decided to head back to the hotel for a swim, leaving Forest and I up to our own devices. It took us all of about 5 minutes to decide to head back to Bar Ingles, which we'd visited when first in Lima 1 1/2 weeks earlier.
Thibault, Forest, and I set out the next morning to explore the Old Town. We had our Uber driver drop us off at Plaza San Martin, where the city's first hotel still stands. If you get up close to the woman on the statue you will see a tiny alpaca perched on her head!

We walked up the pedestrian only Jiron de la Union where honestly there isn't much to see until you get to the Iglesia de la Merced. The church is as old as the city and held Lima's first ever mass.
Besides the pretty alter, and impressive and funny Christmas manger scene they had constructed, the church also is home to a large silver cross that once belonged to Father Pedro Urraca who was known to have visions of the Virgin Mary. Worshippers were lined up to place a hand on the cross in hopes of receiving a miracle.

Next, we came into the Plaza de Mayor, the birthplace of Lima. It is huge and absolutely gorgeous! On one side is the cathedral and Archbishop's Palace. The Government's Palace is at the far end. The pretty fountain in the center use to be the city's gallows! That would make for a really different Instagram!
 
Businesses, shops, and restaurants are housed in grand yellow buildings on the other 2 sides. It's really one of the most beautiful squares I've seen!

It was also very hot! So after splitting up for a bit to explore the square on our own, we met back up at the Museo del Pisco bar for, you guessed it, a pisco sour! It's a cute little bar, just steps from the square, which made it a great spot for a sit down.

For our last lunch in Peru we decided to try some traditional roast chicken, Pollo a la Brasa. There are many, many "fast food" style places selling this most popular dish in Peru. We chose to go to Pardo's which was close to us and was a restaurant with outside seating. Their chicken gets marinaded in a tangy bath with 10-15 different spices and then is spit roasted. The skin is very crispy and the chicken is very juicy. What's not to love?

Then we headed back to the Museo del Pisco as we had learned while having a drink there that they do pisco tastings. It was very fun and interesting to have the bartender take us through the history of pisco, the distillation process, and taste through a few different styles.
We headed back to our neighborhood to do a bit of shopping before hitting the pool at our hotel for a refreshing dip.

My flight wasn't until 1am so I had one last dinner but it was a Monday and many restaurants were closed. We opted to go back to Kennedy park and ended up at a cafe next to where we had been before. I had one last meal of cuy and we also tried the skewers of beef heart which are popular in Peru. And there was also a stand in the park selling the picarones, fried donuts made of sweet potato, so we got to try those too!

I had arranged a driver to take me to the airport, which was strangely extremely busy at 11pm! I was on American Airlines in business class so I went to wait in the lounge but the line to get in was so long I skipped it! The cabin and seats were fine but again, as on my LATAM flight into Peru, not at the same level of business class flights as other airlines. I mainly took advantage of the lay flat bed and slept.
I had a 2+ hour layover in Dallas and then was in 1st class on American back up to Seattle which I had cashed some miles in for. On my way home I rode on the Alaska Way Viaduct for the last time, it would close 3 days later and be torn down! Crazy!

Getting to see so many sides of Peru, from the big city of Lima, to the remote & dangerous Amazon jungle, to the ancient wonders of the Sacred Valley, was an amazing way to learn more about this country. And a great bucket list experience!

All Lima photos here.

Other posts from this trip:
24 Hours Miami
Lima City of Kings
Welcome to the Jungle
Piranhas and Pink Dolphins
Ringing in 2019 in the Amazon
The Sacred Valley of the Incas
Discovering Machu Picchu
Dining at 11700 Feet
Cusco Daytrip



Monday, May 13, 2019

Cusco Daytrip

Trip date: January 2019


On our last day in the Sacred Valley, we checked out of the Hotel Inti Nan in Urubamba and had a taxi driver take us to the Incan ruins of Sacsayhuaman. The ruins, which are also called Saksaywaman, are in the hills behind Cusco, and were the largest fortress ever built by the Incas.

The fortress sits at 11,864 feet altitude and offers great views down onto Cusco. But the real reason to explore here is to marvel at the giant boulders which were hoisted to build the 60 feet high walls! There are also herds of cute alpaca :)

When we finished we had him drop us off at the Hotel Plaza des Armas which sits right on the main square in Cusco. The hotel nicely stored our bags for the day and we headed upstairs to their cafe for a coffee.
Cusco is beautiful! And it's down at a mere 11,152 feet in elevation. ha! The city is bustling with business people, locals in traditional village costumes, and tourists. And it is very easy to walk around.

Our first stop was to Qorikancha. This Inca temple was built in approximately 1438 and contained the Temple of the Sun, the most important temple in the Inca religion.


After the Spanish conquered the Incas, they built the church of Santo Domingo right on top of the temple in approximately 1680. That is some F-U! It also makes for a very interesting site!
Unfortunately all the sacred gold items were taken by the Spanish and melted down. What a huge loss!

Besides the Incan ruins and the cathedral, the 2nd floor houses an art exhibit which is interesting to wander through.

From here we walked to the San Pedro market in the central district. We could tell we were getting close when we started passing women, many in traditional dress, selling all sorts of things. There were wheelbarrows of watermelon, dragon fruit & prickly pear, food carts with fresh juice, or boiled quail eggs, piles of fresh herbs (which are used by Shamen), and blocks of cheese.

Once inside the large open market, my senses were assaulted with delicious smells. I would have loved to sit down at one of the stands, crowded with locals having lunch. But we had other lunch plans so we wandered the aisles checking out the many unique offerings!

Each aisle had multiple stalls selling similar items. All the bread products were in one, rows and rows of potatoes and tubers down another, and tables piled high with grains and rice.

There were butchers, and fishmongers, and lots of stalls which we had no idea what it was they were selling! It's a great market to wander thru, just don't go hungry as we did!

We made our way back to the Plaza des Armas and found the restaurant Rucula which had been recommended by a friend of Forest's. It's a bit hard to find, up a tiny cobblestone side street, but serves both lunch and dinner and happens to be very vegetarian friendly.
I had their take on the traditional Peruvian dish causa, which is a cold, layered mashed potato dish usually with tuna or chicken. It was very good and very pretty. In fact everything in the restaurant is garnished heavily with flowers and herbs, including our pisco sours!

The others decided they wanted to finish the afternoon at the restaurant over some cold beverages, but I really wanted to check out the cathedral in the square. The church is the oldest in Cusco and has the most amazing gold alter I've ever seen!

In here there is a painting of The Last Supper  with a roast cuy (guinea pig) as the main course!

Photos are strictly prohibited in the church so I had to hide my phone under my guidebook and shoot blind while pretending to read. Someone finally caught me and I was sternly reprimanded!

I had to meet the others back at the hotel, as we were leaving for the airport, so I didn't have time to go into the other church on the square. I also couldn't find a postcard anywhere near the square! Now that's a first.

It was a great day spent in the former capital of the Inca Empire!

All photos of Cusco here.

Other posts from this trip:
24 Hours Miami
Lima City of Kings
Welcome to the Jungle
Piranhas and Pink Dolphins
Ringing in 2019 in the Amazon
The Sacred Valley of the Incas
Discovering Machu Picchu
Dining at 11700 Feet
Return to Lima

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Dining at 11,700 Feet

Trip date: January 2019

On our 3rd full day in the Sacred Valley we hired a private taxi driver for the day. After another great breakfast at Hotel Inti Nan (this time with the owner's wife making us homemade tamales for breakfast!) we made the short drive out to the Salinas de Maras to see the salt flats. Our driver stopped on the road above the flats so we could get an aerial view; they are unlike anything I've ever seen!

As there had been a lot of rain the day before the ponds were colored with the runoff of the surrounding hills. Our driver explained that normally they are shades of brilliant white, which you can see here. 

Once inside, we were allowed to wander on paths around the ponds. There are about 5,000 ponds that are fed by a natural salty stream from the Andes mountains. The flats are at an elevation of 9,800 feet and have been in use since pre-Inca times. It was very cool to see the salt as the pond water evaporated. They looked like stalactites!

On the way out we were able to sample salt from the many families who harvest and sell it. I chose to buy from a father and daughter who also sold bath salts and chocolates. It is some of the most "salty" of the salts I have from around the world (I buy a lot of salt when I travel!)

Next we drove to the Inca ruins of Moray, which was the 3rd ruin we were able to use our pass for. The site is still a bit of a mystery, it contains no buildings, just circular terraces complete with an irrigation system. The terraces are dug down on this high plain, making it look like a giant crater.

We didn't have a lot of time so we skipped walking down into the site, as we had reservations for lunch at the newly opened MIL. Chef Virgilio Martinez, who owns Central in Lima, opened this restaurant on the same grounds as Moray. We just walked down a dirt road from the ruins to get there.

The restaurant is only open for lunch, and is at 11,700 feet altitude! We were led through the building and shown some of the experiments the restaurant is doing: working with chocolate & coffee beans, infusing plants (& fish!) in various alcohols, air drying meat & fruits, etc. It's all quite interesting!
We were seated in one of two dining rooms, with high ceilings and stone walls. It was explained to us that there wasn't any heat or air conditioning in the dining room and the temperature at this altitude can swing widely, so we were offered blankets made of the softest baby alpaca.

MIL only offers a set tasting menu which highlights Peruvian agriculture grown at different altitudes for $165USD. Forest and I chose the drink pairings, which consisted of some cocktails, beer, and wine for an additional $90USD.

The food was all really good; most of the dishes came in "pieces" and we were instructed on how to create the perfect bites. The courses had interesting names like Andean Forest, Diversity of Corn, and Extreme Altitude to reflect the dishes theme. And the service was really exceptional, not to mention the atmosphere.
I didn't think the beverage pairings were that great however. A few of the cocktails were quite nice, one was so highly alcoholic that both of us had a hard to drinking it (now that is really saying something!), and the others were just fine. But nothing felt like it really went with the dish it was paired with. I'd probably do a cocktail starter and then just choose wine if I did it again.

Also, as the altitude is so high , the staff offered to check our oxygen levels during the meal by coming around with a finger monitor. We were all fine but a gentleman in another party had to wear an oxygen mask for a bit!

The restaurant works with local farmers for the majority of their ingredients and even invite locals in to dine from time to time. It's a great community program and a very interesting idea. Forest wrote more about the restaurant and the program here.

We visited the shop after lunch where they have more displays of grains, potatoes, and corn that have been being grown since the Incas farmed here. I also bought one of those incredibly soft blankets!

On our walk back to Moray's parking lot to find our taxi, we passed crops of potatoes on one side of the road and the Moray ruins on the other. It's quite a unique experience and one I would highly recommend.

It's not often when you start your day exploring Inca ruins, then have lunch in a modern, high-end and expensive restaurant, and then drive home past Peruvians herding their flocks. Lots of extremes, not even including the altitude!


All photos from the Sacred Valley here.

Other posts from this trip:
24 Hours Miami
Lima City of Kings
Welcome to the Jungle
Piranhas and Pink Dolphins
Ringing in 2019 in the Amazon
The Sacred Valley of the Incas
Discovering Machu Picchu
Cusco Daytrip
Return to Lima

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Discovering Machu Picchu

Trip date: January 2019

Is there anything more exciting than standing in front of one of your bucket list sites? I have been to, and seen a lot of this fabulous world, but have very few things I'd consider on a bucket list; Machu Picchu is one of those few things.

Although most of Peru is very inexpensive, going to Machu Picchu is not. We started our day with an early morning taxi from our hotel to Ollantaytambo where we caught our Perurail train. The train goes from Urubamba station, where we were staying, but the cost was significantly more, and the schedule wasn't as good for us. Our trip out was $70USD and our return was $179USD. We had purchased our tickets to Machu Picchu months in advance ($70USD each) and had opted to spend the afternoon there (entrance rules have changed recently and you either purchase a 1/2 day morning or afternoon now).

The train ride to Aguas Calientes on the Vista Dome train is beautiful, but especially if you are sitting on the left side of the train (from the way the train is traveling), where you can see the river, mountains, small villages, and parts of the Inca Trail (the hiking trail for those making the pilgrimage by foot). Food/beverage service is extremely basic so we would have been smart to bring a snack. Luckily it was only about a 90 minute trip.

Aguas Calientes is only accessible by train and is the only way to Machu Picchu if you aren't hiking the Inca Trail. Most people choose to stay overnight here, but with nothing except souvenir shops and tourists restaurants, we decided to take the train back home that evening (and very happy with that choice as you'll read below).

Once in town there are two queues you need to get through. The first is for your bus ticket up the mountain. Everyone needs their passport to buy the bus ticket ($25USD round trip) and the line is actually up a side street, not the one pictured above. When we asked people in the main line if it was for the bus or the tickets most didn't know. I don't believe in standing in a line for no reason!

The 2nd queue is to board the bus for the drive up. It looks long but the buses come one-after-the-other so it moves quick. Optionally, there is a trail if you want to walk up from the town.

We had time before our afternoon entry so we grabbed a quick bite, and a pisco sour, at one of the tourist restaurants before boarding the bus. The ride up is a bit white knuckle, lots of switchbacks and sheer cliffs. And as we peered down onto Aguas Calientes, now just a spec below, we realized how high up we were too!

The entrance was easy and the trail well marked. There were a lot of people there but it didn't feel crushing. As we walked up the path though we again all felt the effects of the altitude. I popped some coca leaves in my mouth thanks to our hotel which provided them for free.

If you follow the Circuit 1 trail up and around to the left after you enter, you automatically start your visit with the famous view of the mountain and the ruins. Even with all the tourists taking photos, it is incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring. Here we were, standing at 7,970 feet elevation, peering out at a city built around 1450.

The city was then abandoned for unknown reasons approximately 80 years later and
remained empty until 1911 when explorer Hiram Bingham discovered it and had it excavated.

For almost 400 years, this city was hidden in plain site!

Not long after we arrived we noticed a large procession of people making their way up the trail. Some were dressed in the traditional brightly hued costumes of the village, but most were dressed in business attire, including women wearing high heels!

It was another parade celebrating the town's mayor like we had seen in Urubamba and Pisac! And they had all walked up from Aguas Calientes! Our timing was incredible!

There's a lot to learn about the Incas and Machu Picchu so most people choose to hire a guide, you can get one right at the entrance. We had heard very mixed reviews about the guides, and hadn't had the best luck when hiring in the past, so Thibault ended up buying a very good self-guided book in town while we waited for our bus.

The book was perfect for us! We followed the main route through the entire ruins with Thibault reading to us what each area was.

This entire city was built without iron tools or using wheels, and the stones were cut to fit together without the use of mortar.

There are about 150 buildings including homes, baths, guard houses, temples, and even this "Mirrors of Water" which allowed the Incas to view the stars reflecting in the small water pools.

The Incas also built about 600 terraces for agriculture. Those are some steep hills to farm on!

We spent about 3 hours exploring this wonder, it's incredibly beautiful as are the surrounding mountains. And then it started to rain. Like torrential buckets of rain! I was soaked through before I could even get my rain jacket out of my backpack.

Luckily we were near the end of the trail when this happened. We made a hasty retreat to the entrance only to find that there were no buses and the queue of people waiting for the ride down was long! The mayor and his entourage passed us on their walk back down the mountain! Peruvians are tough stock I'll say.

We stood in the pouring rain for about 30 minutes waiting for the buses to come up the hill. Everyone was completely soaked. When we got back to Aguas Calientes we had a couple of hours before our train left so we decided to warm up at a pizza place because it had a wood fire grill in the center of the dining room. We all stood around it like we were camping!

When we checked in for our train they told us we were the only passengers and led us to the platform. I thought we misunderstood and they meant we were the only passengers in that particular car. Nope. The 4 of us had a private train home to Urubamba!

Not only that, but our ticket included a 3-course meal with wine! We were definitely not dressed for this, but who was going to complain? haha!

They started us at the bar with a private demonstration on how to make a pisco sour. The bartender was great and gave us all a recipe card as well.

Besides the gorgeous dining room, the train also had a wood and glass observation room and a very elegant bar car. We drank our pisco sours in the observation room and then moved to the bar car for a martini. We were having an absolute ball!

Dinner and desert were fantastic as was our service. This was an awesome surprise to the end of an already awesome day!

We had a driver waiting for us when we pulled into the train station at about 10pm. It had been a very long, very amazing, and at ~ $350USD each, a very expensive day! And completely worth it!

Bucket list √


All photos from Machu Picchu here.

Other posts from this trip:
24 Hours Miami
Lima City of Kings
Welcome to the Jungle
Piranhas and Pink Dolphins
Ringing in 2019 in the Amazon
The Sacred Valley of the Incas
Dining at 11700 Feet
Cusco Daytrip
Return to Lima

Return to Lima

Trip date: January 2019 Our big Peru adventure was coming to an end, we had flown back to Lima from Cusco, and were staying at the  Inka...

Popular Posts