Peru Travel Tricks and Tips: Part 2 (Puno, Ica & Lima)

Peru Travel Tricks and Tips: Part 2 (Puno, Ica & Lima)

If you’re thinking about Peru travel, start here with Part 1 to learn general tips or a suggested itinerary for things to do near Cusco.  Here’s a continuation of our itinerary, through Puno, Ica and Lima. Day 8. Lake Titicaca and Puno. Ideally, we wanted to do a 2-day Lake Titicaca tour which included a homestay on Amanti Island which was a better deal (two-day tour, three meals and accommodation for 75 sol… we paid 40 sol just for the day tour/ transportation and had to purchase lunch separately) but it wouldn’t get us back in time to make the bus to Ica. Instead, we booked the one-day, two-island tour through our Qoni Wasi hostel. We first went to Uros, the small man-made floating bamboo islands. When we first pulled up to an island smaller than my house, we weren’t sure how we would spend an hour there… it only had three huts and maybe five people living there. But the time passed quickly, as we learned how about how they built the island, how they find food and how the educational system works. What a fascinating way to live… and I guess family squabbles are pretty easy to resolve… they cut the island in two and anchor their half somewhere else! The next stop on our boat tour was the natural island of Taquile, to see a completely different lifestyle and, fortunately for us, completely different weather (sunny skies!).  Here, the island was large to support brick and concrete buildings, farms, animals and all things needed for a fairly modern life.  Although life looked a lot more “typical” on Taquile, they still had unique governance and dress that made it interesting to visit.  Unmarried men wore plain white hats whereas married men wore flashy rainbow colored ones… before they could get married, they had to knit this hat themselves.  Having a “pre-marriage challenge” like this one, probably gives you some idea of what a peaceful people they are… they also have a town council where they manage village decision-making safety and such without a police force. After our tour of the islands, we headed back to Puno, where the skies had turned stormy again.  As one of the poorest cities we visited so far, there wasn’t too much we wanted to do in the city itself but we did check out the Plaza del Armas and the shops and restaurants around the adjoining Jiron Lima street (the main pedestrian path in town).  Puno’s proximity to the highlands and Alpacas make this one of the best places in the country to find cheap, homemade textiles.  I rarely buy anything when I travel but I couldn’t resist thick knitted gloves (10 sol), wooly leg warmers (10 sol) and a warm, knitted poncho with llamas marching around the perimeter (30 sol). We also had an incredible three course meal (including beverages) for 18 sol at Lago de Flores restaurant- taquitos with homemade guacamole, Jimmy tried alpaca and indulgent chocolate cake for dessert.  It seemed to have won the locals over too because we basically shared the restaurant with a dozen Puno security officers who were happily stuffing their faces. Day 9.  Epic Bus Ride from Puno to Ica.  Our 9th day involved an epic bus journey from Puno to Ica, which you could potentially avoid with a flight.  It was easier to find nice, direct, comfortable night buses to Arequipa (we were pleased with Peru Bus) but options to Ica were more limited.  After arriving at the Arequipa terminal, bleary-eyed at 4 AM, Jimmy picked out Flores bus (the option the locals use) to get to Ica.  In general, we had been advised to splurge on reputable buses since some buses can get held up by thieves who want to hold the bus hostage steal things.  In order to board the Flores bus, we had to get fingerprinted and videotaped and we squeezed into seats as far away from the smelly toilet as possible.  The bus made stops along the way and random townspeople would board and walk down the aisle selling pears, meat pies, popcorn, jello, fruit popsicles and small sandwiches.  They’d join us for a stop or two, until the driver dropped them off in the middle of nowhere.  In addition to the excitement of seeing who was going to hop on the bus, the scenery also helped entertain us for the 12-hour ride.  Most of the route followed the coast, so we loved to peer out the window at abandoned beaches and wild, untamed coast.  We also knew Ica was famous for its desert but we didn’t expect our whole route to be sandy hills and dusty roads. Day...

Peru Travel Tips And Tricks Part 1: Cusco Area

Peru Travel Tips And Tricks Part 1: Cusco Area

Between having a dissertation to finish in the next month and a half, jobs to apply for and a million other things to do and only one hand to type with, I won’t be able to write as much about my trip to Peru as I would like to. Peru is a colorful, spirited and incredibly diverse country. In two weeks, we visited desert, beach, cloud forest and islands on the highest-altitude lake in the world.   If we had more time, we could visit the jungle, more beaches up north and/ or the Colca canyon, famous for its Condors. Peru is also an incredible bargain when it comes to tours, food and accommodation (especially outside of Cusco… anything related to Machu Picchu will be more expensive). Peruvians are quieter and more reserved than I expected from people of South America, but still warm and friendly. Huffington Post recently published an article where Peru placed 9 on their list of 15 top countries to visit in 2015, claiming the country will reach levels of culinary excellence akin to Thailand or France (I’m not sure what the French would say about that). Peru is still developing so especially in cities like Puno, most restaurants appear a bit dingy, potentially unclean, causal mom-and-pop operations and it took my brother and I a little while to warm up to the chicken and rice- based diet (especially since he got sick early on). But toward the end, we began to appreciate the fresh seafood, zesty dishes with an incredible flavor without being drowned in spice. It’s not the healthiest food but quite satisfying, especially when paired with an energizing, citrusy Pisco Sour or, my brother’s new addiction, the radioactive yellow Inca Cola. At the very least, I thought I’d share the two-week itinerary for the trip my brother and I just completed and non-trivial Peru travel tips and tricks we learned along the way. First, if you are planning your own trip to Peru, wait to book most of your tours until you arrive in the country. If you plan to trek the Inca Trail, securing a permit will need to be done months in advance (unless you go in the rainy season like we did, but I don’t know if I’d recommend that). You’re better off waiting for everything else (for example, tours of Lake Titicaca, bus transfers from Cusco to Puno, desert fun in Huachachina/ Paracas) since there’s a million tourist companies everywhere and prices will be three times cheaper booked in person, instead of online. Furthermore, tour companies have basically synched what they offer so you could pay a little more for a faster boat or a smaller group but basically all the tours follow the exact same schedule and take you to the same places. In almost every country I travel these days, I usually just withdraw money from the ATM (I have a Charles Schwab Checking Account with no foreign transaction fees) but Peruvian ATMs charges 12-14 sols for each withdrawal (~3 sol= $1 USD) so you might be better off bringing cash to exchange. Peru also has incredibly varied weather that can change quickly so when they tell you to dress in layers, they aren’t kidding. We went in mid/late January so it was hot, sunny and dry in Lima, Paracas and Ica, and the strong sun made sun protection important. In Cusco and Puno, it was the rainy season and weather could change from blue skies and hot (because of the high altitude, the sun is also very strong here, even if it feels cooler) to cold and rainy in the blink of an eye. In general, it’s not worth trying to look pretty in these cities- everyone is in hiking boots, wearing practical layers and a backpack with rain gear and sun protection. Day 1: Cusco. Everyone recommends that visitors to Machu Picchu spend a day or two tin Cusco to acclimate to the high altitude (3300 m above sea level) and explore the “center/naval” of the ancient Incan empire. We took altitude pills prior to arrival so we had no major problems with nausea and lightheadedness but we did notice getting winded really easily. Mint tea, coca leaves and rude water are local remedies that can help if you don’t have pills (I read somewhere that smelling lime or your armpits also helps haha. It’s a rather small, incredibly historic city with gorgeous nature and fresh air easily accessible beyond city limits. We arrived around 11 AM, walked around the main plazas (Plaza de Armas) and cathedral in the city center and headed up the hill to the Sacsayhuaman ruins,...

Southern Soul Road Trip: Dance And Eat Your Heart Out Part 2: Asheville, Raleigh and Philadelphia

Southern Soul Road Trip: Dance And Eat Your Heart Out Part 2: Asheville, Raleigh and Philadelphia

Part II of the road trip went through North Carolina which has been my stomping grounds for the past four years as a graduate student.  Asheville is the perfect mountain getaway for fresh air, good beer and wacky people.  Tourists do not usually flock to Raleigh but there’s a lot of free, fun stuff if you know where to look (and thanks to me, you’ll get some good tips!).  This was our first stop in Philadelphia for years and we only had an afternoon to spend but it’s a fun, blue-collar, down-to-earth city, covered in colorful murals and mosaics, cobblestone streets and interesting neighborhoods. Asheville, NC: • Nine Mile Restaurant: A vegetarian-friendly, Caribbean fusion restaurant and one of my favorite places to eat on the planet.  The restaurant is in more of a residential area of Asheville and has a low-key atmosphere with reggae music spreading the love. Stop by for lunch served from 11:30-5 for generous portions of gourmet pasta and rich dishes.  Two of my favorites (I’ve been to this restaurant three times) are Soon Come (fresh sliced bananas, apples, currents & grilled pineapples, sautéed with white wine, butter & pumpkin spice- tossed with cheese stuffed tri-colored tortellini and onions) and the Empress Menen Salad (apples, toasted almonds, chickpeas, smoked gouda and house tempeh with sesame garlic tahini dressing). • Bend and Brew yoga:  Beer and yoga?  You can find almost any activity paired with beer in Beer City USA, known as the “hoppiest place on earth” with the largest number of microbreweries per capita.  A traveling yoga teacher offers a 1-hour beginning yoga class followed by samples at a local brewery.  We participated in the Tuesday 5:30 PM class at Highlander Brewery.  Highlander is one of the biggest breweries in Asheville and its right next to Asheville Distilling Company where you can get a free tour and tasting, fridays and saturdays at 5 and 6 PM.  If you want to skip the yoga, definitely check out The Wedge brewery in the River Arts District.  The extensive lawn, lawn games and art galleries near by makes it one of my favorite places to hang out.  For even more suggestions on how to have fun with beer, check out #12 on the “unusual beer experiences in the USA” article I wrote for Epicure & Culture. • Pritchard Park: It’s a small park in the middle of downtown but it’s a magnet for Asheville’s famous weirdos.    You can find jugglers, free hugs and people adorned in leather assembles challenging you to chess matches.  It also hosts a friday drum circle from ~5-10 PM which is a great way to satisfy your inner tribal creature. • Moob Music Factory: Moog Music synthesizers and other electronic musical instruments are designed and lovingly handcrafted in the Moog factory in downtown Asheville, N.C and they open their factory and showroom to the public for tours and playtime.  I stopped by to play with these motion detector instruments, inspired by Soviet security alarms.  The staff is knowledgeable and fun and it’s all free. • French Broad Chocolates: I’ve had friends that come to Asheville just to stock up on chocolates and baked goods from this factory.  Their Factory & Tasting Room is now offering 1.5 hour tours on Saturdays at 11am which take you through the entire process from cacao harvest and fermentation to chocolate bar, as well as backstage access to the facility, and an in depth tasting of our chocolate for  $10.00 (reservations recommended!).  Even if you can’t go on the official tour, you can visit the factory for daily self-guided tours from 2-5:30pm or just stop by to get a sugar rush of yumminess. • Art Loeb Trail:  This 30.1 mile trail is one of the longest (but most popular) in North Carolina.  Many people backpack and spend 2-3 nights on the trail but we hiked section 3 as a day hike.  The most popular section of the trail has spectacular views of the valley, transverses several mountain balds and ends in the Shining Rock wilderness.   When we went in mid-October, the post-summer wild flowers made the hike especially memorable.  It’s an unmarked trail but we encountered plenty of people so the route was relatively obvious. • Stay in a teepee (Eagle Rock Cove, Swannoanoa):  Slightly outside of Asheville, but if you’re looking for a cheap way for alternative mountain living, check AirBnB for unique housing accommodations including this tipi.  The owner, Everest, is undergoing a permaculture operation and he’ll be happy to tell you about his mushroom growing and show you his cute little bunny rabbits (which he eats).  I’ve written articles on USA glamping opportunities, where similar accommodations will cost...

Southern Soul Road Trip: Dance And Eat Your Heart Out Part 1: New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville

Southern Soul Road Trip: Dance And Eat Your Heart Out Part 1: New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville

If you like free live music and hearty soul food, this road trip is for you! Explore the origins of jazz, blues and bluegrass where it all began. We moved quickly across the south with only a night in each city so here are budget-friendly attractions suggested by locals. We tried to keep admission prices under $5 and meals under $10 so you can have fun without breaking the bank. I’ve included a few things that we didn’t get to see but were highly recommended to us. Much of what we decided to do depended on the day of the week so I highly suggest you check out event calendars for each city you visit. New Orleans: I wrote a whole post about this city back when I was feeling ambitious.  Find the detailed itinerary here! Indianapolis, MS: You’ll feel like you’re the Deep South with this stop because there’s not much going on in this town beyond cotton fields. We stopped here to break up our drive with an amazing museum visit. • B.B. King Museum and Mississippi Delta Interpretive Center (400 Second St, Indianola, MS, ): Fantastic, interactive exhibits that provide an overview of Mississippi Delta region, B.B. King’s life and the beginning of Blues. We debated this museum or the Blues Museum in Clarksdale, MS. There’s probably more to see in Clarksdale (especially if you can go to Ground Blues restaurant and live music venue, opened by) but after comparing our options and experiencing this, I’d highly recommend you chose the same!  Tickets for students are a steal for just $5. • Blue Biscuit Café (501-503 Second Street): good southern soul food and authentic, live blues right across the street from the B.B. King museum. Apparently, you can even spend the night in one of their two villas! Memphis, TN: Although there’s not much shaking on Sundays (when we arrived), Memphis had a surprising number of things going on and could have easily spent a second day. • Explore an Egyptian obsession: Apparently, the people of Memphis love to compare themselves to Egypt, the country who houses Memphis’ namesake city. Both Memphis and Egypt strongly depend on their rivers (The Mississippi and the Nile respectively) and the city is dotted with tributes to this ancient nation. The University of Memphis has an impressive Egyptology Gallery (142 Communication & Fine Arts Bldg.
The University of Memphis) and a giant Ramses II statue on a lawn. The city’s skyline includes a giant pyramid that will house the world’s second largest Bass Pro Shop. It wasn’t opened when we visited but they expect to open December 2014 and the building will include climbing walls, laser galleries, bowling alley archery range and fitness facility. • Riverfront: The city has built paths along the Mississippi with beautiful views of the skyline and the river. Check out the Steamboats at Beale Street landing. • Mud Island: Right near the riverside visitor center, there’s a monorail station that will take you to Mud Island (by monorail $4 or by walking). At Mud Island, you can walk along and get your feet wet in the giant sidewalk scaled model of the Lower Mississippi. It’s a good place to go to spend time outside and learn more about America’s biggest river at their Mississippi River Museum. • Civil Rights Museum (450 Mulberry St): We didn’t have time to visit but everyone raved about this museum and we checked out the interesting exterior. Partially housed in the Lorraine Motel where MLK was assassinated, you can stand where the assassin shot him and see the room he was staying the day he died. • Central BBQ (147 E. Butler): “Go where the locals go” for Memphis-style barbeque. Here you can taste the slow-cooked pork served wet with the sweet, tangy, molasses/tomato/vinegar-based sauce that the city is known for. • Cheesecake Corner (113 GE Patterson Ave): This unassuming cheesecake, quiche and wine bar doesn’t look like much from the outside but all the locals know it as the best place to get dessert in town so you will probably have to wait in line. $10 buys you a mighty slice of delicious cheesecake and you can chose from dozens of flavors. • Duck Parade at Peabody Hotel (149 Union Ave): What began as a joke after a hunting trip has become a true tradition at the fancy Peabody Hotel. Each day at 11 AM, a red carpet is unrolled for the hotel’s ducks to march from their penthouse on the top floor to the fountain in the lobby. At 5 PM, the ceremony is reversed as they march back to their home for the night....

Keeping It Classy in Crescent City: 36 Hours in New Orleans, Louisiana

Keeping It Classy in Crescent City: 36 Hours in New Orleans, Louisiana

“Welcome to the wild, wild west. There are no rules,” Lauren shrugs dismissively. It’s an interesting city for sure. Bourbon Street seems to invite you to leave your morals behind, encouraging recklessness with sweet, watermelon flavored hand grenades drinks to loosen your sense of restraint. You wander down the street, nudged by nerdy guys in suits who raise their eyebrows, look you into the eyes, “Titties! A room fulllll of tit-tit-titties!”. If you respond better to commands than personal invitations, a big guy from a competing bar across the street blows into screeching police whistle with bulging eyes and a red face, “Naked ladies! Right here! Right NOW!”. His urgent shouting made it sound like your life depended on taking advantage of this opportunity, as if after tonight, bare breasts would be extinct forever. If titties aren’t your thing, a young black guy silently shoots you a sweet, dreamy smile from a few doors down. You can see sophistication in his face and an intelligent gleam in his eye and you wonder what he’s doing here… until he does a suggestive shimmy and points your eyes down to his bare chest, a cartoon elephant trunk over his junk. He feigns disappointment as you nod “no” but it doesn’t last long as he’s mobbed by a crowd of fifty-year old cougars in red boas and shirts that say, “Aged to perfection”. Another crowd of people dressed in black clustered near a cardboard cross in the middle of street, passing out Bibles and trying to pray over the infidels who evaded their outstretched arms. They duck as people on the balconies try to get them in a celebratory mood by flinging Mardi Gras beads at their heads. We passed a dirt-encrusted, guy in his upper 20’s who wobbled by us, promising to friend us on facebook if we obeyed his cardboard sign command, “Keep me drunk and high”. Behind him, a break in the line of bars reveals a cathedral, adorned with a crucifix-like shadow projected from a spotlight illuminating a watchful Jesus statue. Just like the street cleaners that power wash away the previous night’s debaucheries, most of these people will probably cleanse their souls by walking across soapy streets to piously pray for forgiveness at church the next day. “If I could put my finger on it, I’d bottle it and sell it. I came down here originally in 1972 with some drunken fraternity guys and had never seen anything like it — the climate, the smells. It’s the cradle of music; it just flipped me. Someone suggested that there’s an incomplete part of our chromosomes that gets repaired or found when we hit New Orleans. Some of us just belong here.” – John Goodman It’s easy to drink away your time in New Orleans but make sure to explore the city’s distinct cultural heritage sober too. Here are some suggestions for a more classy, semi-touristy 36-hour itinerary in Saint City. We started our day as most tourists do, with café au lait and beignets at the famous Café Du Monde (800 Decatur St). Is it worth all the hype? Fried dough covered with a mountain of sneeze-inducing powered-sugar is bound to be good, no matter who makes it. A local recommended New Orleans Coffee and Beignet in midtown as a less touristy and tastier alternative, if you’re ok with skipping the famous one (4141 St. Charles Ave, ~$5 for a coffee and 3 beignets). After we were all sugared up, we wandered by the riverfront to watch huge platforms of boats moosy on down the Mississippi. From there, we headed to the National Park Service Jazz Historic Park (916 N. Peters Street) who has a bunch of interesting free programming happening. We just missed the free jazz yoga at 10 AM but we were able to catch the free walking tour of history of jazz at Armstrong Park (710 Rampart St). We learned about the “gumbo” of cultural groups that made up New Orleans: the indigenous native Americans, the French who came down from Canada, the European prostitutes, ex-convicts and misfits that were sent over to populate the swampy, buggy land, Germans hired to build things and Africans brought over to execute everything. We learned the roots of jazz began with gospel, drum circles at Congo Park, brass bands which led to the traditional of jazz funerals. Jazz funerals involved a slow, drudge-like march to the graveyard then a brass band beat after the burial that exponentially attracts the neighbors that culminates in a life-celebrating dance party. Louis Armstrong, born in New Orleans, gave birth to jazz when he began stealing the spotlight with extended trumpet...