Saturday, March 16, 2019

Welcome to the Jungle

Trip date: December 2018

This year's annual New Year's Eve trip was to Peru. It had been on my bucket list for a very long time and didn't disappoint! And the #PeruCrew2018, Caitlin, Thibault, Forest, and myself, is a tried and true travel team! I was more than excited!

We started and ended our trip in the capital city of Lima. From here we flew to Iquitos, the gateway to the northern Amazon jungle and a town only accessible by plane or riverboat. It was pretty incredible flying over the Andes Mountains, they are so high that it looked like our plane was just barely above them!

We had chartered our boat, the Cattleya, which came with a full crew, thru Rainforest Cruises. When we landed in Iquitos we were met at the airport by our naturalist Hilde and loaded into a private van. Originally we were to immediately take off for the 1 1/2 hour drive to Nauta for boarding, but the boat wasn't quite ready for us so Hilde took us into the town for lunch.

The town of Iquitos is quite cute, it reminded me a bit of Havana with it's pretty buildings slowly crumbling from lack of funds and infrastructure. Many of the buildings have incredible tile work that looked very similar to what I've seen in Lisbon.

On the river the houses are built on stilts. Since we were there in December, which is considered the wet season, the river was high and people used their boats or canoes to get around. These same houses would be surrounded by ground during the dry season. Incredible!

We had a very good lunch, and a few rounds of pisco sours, at Restaurant Fitzcarraldo, named for the movie which took place here. And then finally we were on our way to Nauta, the roads filled with tuk tuks and motorcycles, passing dirt lanes which led to neighborhoods of corrugated metal shack homes.

When we arrived in Nauta, I think we were all a bit surprised by the extreme poverty. There were dirt roads, thatched-roofed buildings, children running around shirtless and shoeless. There was no marina or even a real dock, just a mud bank busy with taxi boats and motorized canoes, loaded down with fruit, charcoal, and people.

We were helped into our skiff, along with our luggage, and motored across the Marañón River, a major tributary of the Upper Amazon, to the M/V Cattleya.

Our 75.5 foot boat had 8 crew members, 4 cabins, each with their own bathroom, as well as an observation deck, bar and dining room. We were super excited to have the entire boat to ourselves! My room had a huge King size bed and floor to ceiling windows; I couldn't wait to watch the views of the river! As we got settled, our bartender Ronnie came to each of our rooms with some delicious fresh juice and cold towels.

We would sail during the day, but moor at night. These rivers are very swift moving with lots of downed trees that can be very dangerous to boats.

After settling in and exploring our boat, we had Ronnie make us a round of pisco sours and Forest set up a 1000 piece puzzle of Machu Picchu on one of the dining room tables. As we sat down to dinner we could tell that the boat was having problems with the A/C. Not something that we wanted to deal with in 100% humidity! The lights also started having some issues. Luckily my room's A/C and lights were working fine so we all gathered there after dinner for nightcaps.

It wasn't the best start, and the replacement came from the mainland at some god-forsaken time the next morning, but it was fixed!

Our daily breakfast was an assortment of fresh fruits, yogurt, cheeses, meats, fresh juice from various Amazon fruits, bacon, grilled hot dog (??), and freshly cooked eggs. The coffee was terrible but the rest was great.

That first morning after breakfast, we boarded the skif and made our way on the Ucayali River to the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve for a 2-hour hike thru the jungle. This protected area of the Amazon jungle is 8,000 square miles large and is home to over 449 bird species, 100 mammals, 69 reptiles, 58 amphibians, 256 fish and 1,204 plants!!!

It was very warm and very humid but with mosquitoes acting more like piranhas we were encouraged to cover up fully. Because of the muddy trails, Caitlin and I also borrowed wellies from the boat, they were suppose to have a pair in each our size but didn't.

Hilde led us through the jungle, hacking away with his machete when the vines were over growing the path. I've hiked in the jungles of Costa Rica and this was completely different! First off there were no other people anywhere around! Just four of us following a guy with a machete!

With so many species of plants and trees in the rainforest, Hilde did his best to show us as many as possible. He cut into trunks to show us the sap; some rubbery, some reeking of garlic, others of natural camphor. Shamen still live in these areas, treating the locals with natural remedies.

We also met up with a local man John, who seemed to be hired by Hilde to spot things for us. He brought us a poison dart frog, insanely tiny and perched on a little leaf. When we were done taking photos, he let the frog go and we watched it hop away.

A bit deeper into the jungle, and near an impossibly large kapok tree, John brought us a fruit bat to check out. Again, it was released and flew high up into the tree.

And finally, as we were nearing a stream, we could hear John yelling to Hilde... ANACONDA! We found him off the trail on the bank, pointing excitedly to a very large snake coiled up in the water. Hilde was very excited and encouraged all of us to come down into the stream and take a closer look. "I'm good here, that's what zoom is for!" was my reply!

Continuing back on the trail, we were crossing a bridge over the stream and as I looked back at the snake I noticed it was slithering away up a small embankment. And it was pretty damn fast!! Hilde and Thibault took off in chase with videos going while us girls watched from the bridge.

It was a pretty adventurous hike, and it wasn't even lunchtime yet!

All Amazon jungle photos here (including a video of the anaconda).

Other posts from this trip:
24 Hours Miami
Lima City of Kings

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Lima, City of Kings

Trip date: December 2018

After spending Christmas in Miami, Forest and I are were off to Peru (my 46th country) for our annual New Year's Eve trip! We had business class seats on LATAM airlines and were looking forward to a relaxing and boozy flight.

Now I've flown in business class on many different airlines (and it's hard to complain about any business class) but I have to say that this LATAM flight was soooo disappointing! The seats were really old, the leather ratty, and the buttons sticky. ugh. They did lay flat, and they were comfortable so that was good. There were no amenity bags; no slippers, no eye masks. For a 5 1/2 hour evening flight? I've flown coach internationally and have had that!

There were no menus handed out, no courses to the meal (the salt on the tray was Himalayan pink salt which we thought was quite bougie however), and we had to continually ask for beverages. Really poor service which really seemed not very different from coach. If that is how business class is, I probably would be really disappointed in their coach. Needless to say, I won't be flying LATAM internationally if I can help it again. Entitled rant over.

We arrived in Lima at 10:30pm and had a car waiting for us. A friend of mine who lives in Peru was extremely helpful in recommending her car service, and arranging for them to pick us up. The driver greeted us with our name on a sign, took our luggage, and away we went into town. Note: taxi drivers do not take credit cards but they do take American dollars or Peruvian Sol (you can get either from cash machines in the airport or bring your own dollars.)

It only took us about 30 minutes to get to our Airbnb in Miraflores where we met Caitlin and Thibault who had arrived a few hours earlier. The apartment building had security and the elevator opened directly into our apartment. Very cool! It had 2 bedrooms and a small "maid's quarters" room off the laundry room. A big living room/dining room and kitchen as well as a small balcony. It was perfect for us and I'd recommend it to others.


Since it was late when we got it, and Thibault had bought some empanadas for everyone, we just had a little bite and a nightcap and were off to bed. But the next morning we all headed out to explore our Miraflores neighborhood and walk around the city.

First stop was Parque Kennedy, the central park of the area. The park is filled with beautiful gardens, lots of vendors selling traditional Peruvian snacks, and cats! The cats were initially introduced to help get rid of a rat problem. Now there is a group that takes care of them and puts on adoption drives. And people go to the park just to play and hang out with the cats!

We stopped for our first pisco sour at Cafe de la Paz, across from the park. pisco sours are the national drink of Peru. The local liquor pisco is a distilled clear brandy. We planned on trying a lot of them while in the country!

Being so close to the park, we had a tiny kitten stop by our table. She was not much bigger than my hand. Awwwwww!

From here we continued on our walk and headed to Larcomar, an outdoor shopping center with fantastic views of the sea.

This neighborhood of Lima is really quite pretty, and upscale. We never felt unsafe except for the near run-ins with joggers!

Lima also has a good network of Ubers so we called one to pick us up and whisk us to the Country Club Hotel for a pre lunch pisco sour. The hotel, which dates from 1927, is very old-school glamourous. In the wood-paneled Bar Ingles, we found a lovely menu of cocktails, both classic and contemporary.

The drinks here were much more expensive than we'd seen elsewhere. But the service was great, explaining to us all the different styles of pisco, and which ones lent best in certain preparations. We all ordered a round with a different expression, and all of us thought they were delicious! In fact, they'd be at the top of the list by the end of the trip.
Thirst quenched, we Ubered to the very popular La Mar for a late lunch. This restaurant, known for their ceviche, doesn't take reservations, so we figured showing up late on a Thursday would reward us with a shorter wait. Wrong.

From what I could tell, this place is always packed. And for good reason! The food was some of my favorite of the trip! We waited with another pisco sour before being seated after about 30 minutes. We decided to go with a combo of 3 styles of ceviche; the classic with white fish, the mixto with primarily shellfish, and the nikkei with tuna in tamarind marinade, referred to as leche de tigre. All were fab, but that tuna was really something!

That evening we headed to The Reserve Park to take in some of the incredible Magic Water Circuit. This beautiful park is filled with lit fountain displays of all sizes that run daily (except Monday). It's pretty incredible and I'd highly recommend it!

Because of our tight schedule, we didn't have as much time to wander around as we should have. I'd give this a full hour if not a few. The park is large with lots of different fountains to see.

Drinks were had at Carnaval Bar, a very fun spot with unique and creative cocktails. We were greeted with little bottles filled with a boozy libation to sip on as we perused the menu.

The bar was really busy and originally we were at a stand-up, but soon the bartender found us a little booth we could share with some others. We settled in a for a couple of rounds of great drinks, great service, great atmosphere! I'd say it's a do-not-miss!

After tabbing out, we made our way to Astrid y Gaston, housed in the amazing Casa Moreyra, a 17th century palace. The space is absolutely beautiful, with many rooms filled with gorgeous people dining on gorgeous food. I was surprised as I had expected something smaller. But I wasn't disappointed.
I had made reservations for the á la carte menu as I wasn't sure what everyone would be in the mood for. When we inquired if we could change we were told no. I could have sworn I had read on the reservation site that it wasn't a problem to switch. But I just went to reread it and the menu isn't served past 9:30pm. So a little miscommunication due to language barriers let us to believe the service was a bit snotty.

We were all pretty worn out from our full day of running around so it was for the best that we did the á la carte. I started with this fantastic duck taco!
And then I had my first cuy (guinea pig). This one was anything but traditional (grilled whole and served on a stick). Crispy, tender, and served with corn gnocchi, the flavor and texture reminded me of suckling pig.

Everyone enjoyed their dishes but we all agreed that the mains were entirely too big and the sauces were all a tad sweet for us. But the presentation and ingredients were lovely.
Book well in advance if you plan on dining here!

We'd be back to explore more of the City of Kings in 9 days, but the next morning we were up early, with our car service driving us through crazy insane traffic, to the airport so we could catch a flight to the Amazon River!

All Lima photos here.

Other posts from this trip:
24 Hours Miami
Welcome to the Jungle

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

24 Hours, Miami

Trip date: December 2018

For our 15th annual New Year's Eve trip, my friends and I were heading to Peru. The trip was happening on the heels of my 3-day over-the-top birthday celebration weekend in Seattle, which Forest had flown in for. We would be meeting Caitlin and Thibault in Lima, but seeing that there were no direct flights from Seattle, we decided to do a sleep over in Miami.

We were up super early for our direct 5 1/2 hour flight. I had used one of my companion fare tickets on Alaska Air, and had also booked us in Premium. Hello free mimosas!

The flight was actually to Ft. Lauderdale, which was just a quick 30-minute Uber away from our hotel on South Beach. The Kimpton Angler's Hotel had just been newly remodeled, was in a great location, and had a lovely rooftop pool.

As we were checking in, the girl at the front desk asked if it was my birthday, and mentioned there was something in the room. That is nice! When we entered the very cute hotel room, I found a bottle of champagne and some little petit fours and a card. I assumed by the way she had spoken, that it was from the Kimpton, turns out it was from my friend Kate in Switzerland! What a nice surprise, and thank goodness Forest knew about it and clued me in!
Both of us were a bit run down from the recent festivities, and so decided to check out two cocktail bars, grabbing some food along the way, vs. doing a big dinner. First up was Broken Shaker at Freehand Hotel. The hotel itself is very cool, it looks really old and old fashioned. The bar takes up the outside space around the pool with lots of little table and couch set ups, as well as adirondack chairs.
The entire space was really cute, the drinks were good, and it was busy even on Christmas night. I've been to Broken Shaker in Chicago and didn't love it. This one was much better!

Next we grabbed an Uber to Sweet Liberty. Unlike Broken Shaker, which when you are inside the actual bar is stand up only, this place is huge! It looks like a big old dive bar that you would go to for a game of pool and to watch the game. But the cocktail menu is more than just shots and pints.
Unfortunately the air con was cranked and I was absolutely frozen solid. We had a couple of rounds with some good bar bites and headed back to the (warm) hotel.

The next day we had planned on laying by the pool until it was time to head to the airport, but the weather had other ideas; it was cold and rainy! We had a very good breakfast at The Local House which was just off the beach, but it was too stormy to sit outside.
This time our Uber took us to Miami Airport, just 20 minutes from the beach, and after checking in we did a bit of duty free shopping before hitting the Business Class Lounge for drinks and snacks.


I'd say this lounge was above average. There was a big buffet with serve-yourself wine and liquor as well as an assortment of little sandwiches and snacks. There was a dessert and coffee buffet set up separately. And servers were always coming around to clear away dishes, which I appreciate.

And then it was time to board our flight to Lima! Disappointed not to get to take advantage of Miami's normally sunny weather, but very excited to be heading to Peru!

Miami photos here.

Other posts from this trip:
Lima City of Kings
Welcome to the Jungle

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Dear Greg, Wish You Were Here, xo Hawaii

Trip date: June 2018


Originally my Big Island itinerary was to spend 2 nights at the Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast, before doing a big drive south around the island to the Volcanoes National Park area. Here I planned to stay 2 nights so I could hike and explore the area, and see lava! I would drive back to the Fairmont and the Kohala Coast by heading north up the east coast and then over through Waimea, basically circling the entire island. And then the Kilauea volcano erupted just weeks before my trip. For years I had put off going to see the lava flowing! And now it was shooting out of the sky! But that also meant the park had to close and the area was dangerous.

So as I wrote here, I decided to cancel my plans and just kick it at the lovely Fairmont and the surrounding area. But I also really wanted to do a big drive in my rented convertible, so one day after my morning hike I decided to drive up to the north part of the island where some of my family once lived.

I started by driving up towards Waimea, where the hills are so lush and the sky was so blue, it was breathtaking! At Waimea, I turned north up the Kohala Mountain Road, which is the spine of the 1-million year old Kohala volcano, the oldest in the Hawaiian islands! I stopped to watch a crazy cloud formation off in the distance which was also unfortunately blocking my view of Maui. I was almost to the crest of 3550 feet.

Once I reached the peak of the volcano the road started down towards the sea and I passed one of the large cattle ranches that the island is known for. The air was heavily scented with earth, pines, rain, and of course cows. It smelled amazing!

A bit further and the weather changed dramatically! I had to pull over as I got surprised by a big rain storm. I was soaked by the time I got the convertible top up!

It lasted only minutes and soon I was driving out to Keokea Beach Park. I hadn't been sure I was heading to the beach I was looking for, but as soon as I entered I knew the place.

20 years ago, my uncle Greg tragically passed away after suffering a heart attack while driving his motorcycle. I had come to his funeral, here at this park, where his friends and stepson had swum his ashes out to the sea on their surfboards. We had tossed leis into the water after them. It was a beautiful service and a beautiful location. I was so happy to be able to spend some time here thinking of Greg, and how much I still miss him after all these years.
After some time I left this beautiful park and drove east to the end of the road. The Pololu Lookout is a stunning vista of the sheer cliffs that face off against the pummeling north surf. You can take the trail down to the beach, I didn't, or just enjoy the views, I did.
Oh my way back out, I pulled over on the side of the road as I thought I saw a waterfall. It turned out just to be a loud and lush river, on private property, but things like this are everywhere on the islands. Always an adventure!

My uncle had lived in the sweet little town of Hawi, so I headed there for a bite. It was past lunchtime and not quite dinner so my options were limited but some folks pointed me to The Hub where I had some good bar snacks and a cold beer. This community organized non-profit supports the local community with events, classes, workshops, etc. A great find!
Hawi is a very small town, just a main drag of shops really, and I wandered around for a bit after lunch, doing some window shopping. It felt really nice to be back there.

As I am a sucker for (my own personal) unchartered territory, I decided to drive the Akoni Pule Highway home, which follows the northwest coast south to the Kohola area. This area is in the rain shadow of Kohala volcano so it is dry and arid, quite a difference from the lush area I had spend the afternoon in. It's also the road that my uncle died on.

I was bummed to not get to see the active volcano, but super happy with my day remembering my uncle and reacquainting myself with the area he lived in. It was an great day driving with the top down and taking in all the beautiful sites, even if some were bittersweet.
And I made it back to the Fairmont in time for Mai Tai Happy Hour by the pool!

All photos of The Big Island here.

Prior post from this trip:
Big Island Bliss

Welcome to the Jungle

Trip date: December 2018 This year's annual New Year's Eve trip was to Peru. It had been on my bucket list for a very long time an...

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