Archive for May, 2007

Day 10 -5/31 – Amazon Jungle

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

6:30AM – I woke up this morning not feeling so hot. Maybe the lack of sleep is finally catching up with me. We grabbed a quick bite downstairs and then checked out of our hotel. We couldn’t wait to get out of this place.

8:30AM – A big Exploroama bus full of tourists picked us up from our hotel. We made one more stop at another hotel before heading to Explororama’s main office. We dropped off our luggage and boarded the boat. We left the dock from the Italia River which meets up with the Amazon River. It would be a 45 minute ride to Ceiba Tops, our hotel.

10:30AM – After applying bug repellent, we met up with Carlos for a walking tour. He showed us birds, trees, frogs, fruits, and bugs that are commonly found in the jungle. I’m not sure how much Alice saw though; she was busy swatting away mosquitoes.

12:30PM – Lunch was a buffet where many common Peruvian dishes were served.

2:30PM – Roldan took us on a boat to see the pink and gray dolphins. It took a while at first, but we finally got the hang of watching the dolphins surface as they came up for air. The gray ones are female and the pink one are male. Next, we visited the Yagua tribe. They performed many ceremonial dances passed on from their ancestors. I even joined in on the fun. After the performance, they brought us outside to try their blow darts. When it was my turn, I missed to the left. So I recalibrated a little and hit the target on my very next try. Alice gave it a go too, but she couldn’t get any distance. After that, we went to the area where the tribe was selling their hand crafts. I got myself a miniature version of the blow dart. Watch out everyone; I’m armed and dangerous!

4:30PM – We got back to the hotel and rested before dinner.

7:30PM – We had buffet dinner st the lodge.

Day 9 – 5/30 – Travel Day

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

8:00AM – We got up early to pack up all our stuff and still managed to miss breakfast. I wasn’t hungry anyway, but Alice wanted to try this pastry shop across the street.

10:00AM – We checked out of our hotel, and Carina took us to the airport. She had already checked in for us online and provided us with boarding passes for both flights. As we were saying our good-byes, we were hit with a strong aroma of coffee. She explained that it comes from an area near Machu Picchu. We sampled the coffee, and it tasted pretty good. And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t normally drink coffee. We liked it enough that we bought two bags of coffee grounds for $4 each.

11:55AM – We caught our flight from Cusco to Lima. The airport tax was $4.23 per person.

2:00PM – We had lunch at Papa John’s at the airport. If I’m not mistaken, Papa John’s is a take and bake pizza joint in the States. But here in Peru, or maybe just at the airport, it’s a fast food pizza joint. Alice and I each got the 6″ ham and mushroom pizza. The meal also came with a drink. The pizza and drink sure looked bigger on the menu though.

3:20PM – We flew from Lima to Iquitos. The airport tax was $6.05 per person. It’s not that much money, but it kind of sucks that you have to leave the gate, pay airport tax again, and go through security checkpoint once again even when catching a connecting flight.

5:30PM – Since today was a travel day, it was pretty much going to be a boring day. We were supposed to be picked up from the airport, and we were going to call it a day. Little did we know that we were in for some excitement.
As we exited the baggage claim area, we were swarmed by taxi drivers. I tried to politely tell them that we already made travel arrangements. They were pretty persistent though, and wanted to see our voucher and know where we were going. They sounded like they were trying to be helpful, but we were wary of being scammed. At first, we were pretty annoyed, but when no one showed up to pick us up we started to get scared. We were stranded in a foreign country where we barely spoke the language.
With no other choice, we had to trust one of the locals, and he helped us call our hotel. It turned out the the hotel had arranged for our airport transfer and not the travel agency. We were given the wrong information and wound up missing our ride. The local then arranged for one of his taxi buddies to take us to our hotel for 12 soles (US$4). So our lives were in the hands of a complete stranger.
I don’t think he was a licensed taxi driver, or maybe there’s no such thing in this country. There were no decals indicating that his car was a taxi. I’m not even sure you could even call it a car. It was raining, and you could barely see out the window. Because of the humidity, he would have to wipe his windshield with a piece of cloth every five minutes. And every so often he would have to stick his hand out the window to give the wipers a kick start. Oh, and don’t forget about his diving. He was passing up trucks and tuc-tucs (those three-wheeled vehicles that resemble a motorcycle that can carry two passengers in the back) by hopping into oncoming traffic and dodging back into our lane. I kind of wanted to close my eyes until we got to the hotel. And to top it all of, the taxi driver had to stop for gas. It’s a good thing we weren’t in a race for a million dollars!

6:30PM – We finally got to our hotel, Victoria Regia, in one piece. Still scared out of our wits, we decided to stay in the hotel and ate at the CafĂ© Bar. Alice ordered the dorado (catfish) in garlic sauce, and I had the the beef in cilantro sauce. Both dishes were surprisingly good.

11:00PM – We finished packing for the Amazon. We are only allowed a duffel bag’s worth of clothing since space will be limited on the boat. Did I mention that I want to go home? Hopefully my mood will flip 180 degrees when we get to the Amazon tomorrow.

Day 8 – 5/29 – Cusco

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

11:30PM – We finally got a chance to sleep in, and we took full advantage. I did wake up pretty fatigued though. Can I still blame it on the altitude?

2:00PM – Two seems to be our typical lunchtime now. Today, we had lunch at Kusikuy. Guinea pig is their house dish. At first we were going to order roasted guinea pig, bit that dish takes one hour to prepare. Alice ordered the fried guinea pig instead, and I ordered bull’s heart kebabs (another typical Peruvian dish). The bull’s heart tasted like typical red meat, but it had a hint of crispness when chewed. This restaurant did a nice job presenting the guinea pig. It had a piece of carrot in its mouth and a half tomato for a hat. I tried a piece of Alice’s guinea pig. It tasted good, but you really have to work for your meat.

3:30PM – Our first place to visit for the day was the plaza outside of the Iglesias La Mercado. Since we had a museum pass leftover from our guided tours, we visited several museums. First, we went to Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporaneo, where paintings from the 20th century were on exhibit. Then we went across the Plaza Cusipata to get to the Museo Historico Regional. On display were ancient artifacts such as arrowheads, ceramic pottery, and even a mummy. Finally, we made it to the Museo de Santa Catalina, a half on hour before they closed at 5PM. It was a church that was converted into a museum.

7:30PM – We had dinner reservations at Cicciolina. I had the taglietelle with lamb ragu, and Alice had the beef fillet with risoto. Both dishes were good, but Alice’s choice was better. For dessert we split a filo pastry filled with warm fruit with a side of cracked pepper ice cream. Both Alice and disliked the ice cream; it was just too weird to have spicy ice cream.

Day 7 – 5/28 – Cusco

Monday, May 28th, 2007

7:00AM – After waking up at 5AM two days in a row, 7AM sure felt like sleeping in. The included breakfast was nothing to write home about. We’ll probably just skip breakfast tomorrow. A Cliffs bar will suffice.

9:00AM – Natalie and Ganita picked us up for a city tour of Cusco. Qorikancha was our first stop. Qori means gold, and Qorikancha used to be ornated with gold before it was stripped by the Spanish. It was a place of worship for the Inca before the Spanish conquisition. It wasn’t until an earthquake in the 1950s that the Incan walls were revealed. The Spanish had actually plastered over the Incan walls and built on top of them.

10:00AM – Our next stop was the Catedral Basilica. It’s a Spanish cathedral that took one hundred years to build. A lot of Incan blood and sweat was spilled during its construction. It houses more than 300 oil paintings. The altars are usually carved from cedar wood with intricate details and then coated with a layer of gold or silver.

11:00AM – Next, we visited Saqsaywaman. Yes, it sounds like “sexy woman.” It was most likely a temple but could have also been a fortress. The most impressive part about it was the enormous size of the rocks used in its construction. Every year, during the winter solstice (June 21), the festival of the Sun is held here. One thing we saw here that most visitors do not get to see was a live condor. We even got to take pictures with the three-year old condor.

12:00PM – Then we proceeded to Q’enko. It’s kind of like a labyrinth because of the way it was hollowed out. Religious rituals probably occurred here. In one of the caves, there was an altar where priests would perform the mummification of the deceased.

12:30PM – Our last stop was Puca Pucara. It was most likely the very first hotel in Cusco because of the number of rooms in the structure.

1:30PM – The guided tour portion of our day ended, and we returned to our hotel. Climbing up the stairs to our room, I was getting pretty winded. Maybe it’s the altitude or the lack of food. Or maybe it’s because I’m so out of shape.

2:00PM – Based on recommendations from Frommer’s, we decided to have lunch at Pacha Papa. One of their house specialties is guinea pig, so we had to have a taste. We ordered half a guinea pig. Not much meat on the thing; so it’s kind of like eating squab in that sense. But the crispy skin made it taste like fried chicken. It’s not bad; I’d like to try it again.

3:00PM – After lunch, Alice and I roamed the streets of Cusco. We tried to find a few sites listed in the guide book, and soon discovered how much we missed having a tour guide. On top of that, it began to rain, but it only lasted for maybe thirty minutes. Then we met this young local named Ruben. He began acting as a tour guide and began spitting out facts about the Inka Wall that was in front of us. And he showed us where the 12-angle stone was located; which Alice and I were having a difficult time finding on our own. Finally, here was the catch. He was selling postcards and wanted 20 soles for four postcards and to be compensated for his time. I was going to tip him approximately that much anyways, so I ended up giving him 15 soles (US$5) for two postcards and his time.

7:00PM – We had dinner at the Inka Grill. Alice had the aji, which was shredded poached chicken in some kind of light cream sauce. I had the tuca tuca, which was probably the best meal I’ve had in Peru so far. It’s a breaded alpaca patty with a fried egg on top. It’s definitely a must try if you go to the Inka Grill.

10:00PM – There was no hot water to our shower! It was finally fixed, but it delayed our bedtime. Good thing we are sleeping in tomorrow.

Day 6 – 5/27 – Machu Picchu

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

5:00AM – It was another early day for us. Our train leaves st 3:30, so we had to get an early start. We checked out of our room and had our luggage transported to the train station. Then we were off to Machu Picchu. This time we decided to explore the lower parts of Machu Picchu, and we made our way to the Wayman Picchu checkpoint. They only allow 400 people per day to climb Wayna Picchu, and we made it there pretty early. It would have been a difficult hike, so we decided not to do it.

8:30AM – We got back to the hotel just in time for breakfast, since they stop serving at 9:00AM. We ate and rested up before returning to Machu Picchu once again.

11:00AM – We finally made it to Intipunku after a 1 1/2 hour hike. The view from up here is pretty amazing. We can see our hotel and the entrance to Machu Picchu from here.

12:30PM – That’s it for Machu Picchu. There’s still so much we wanted to see, but we ran out of time. We went back to Tinkuy Restaurant for their buffet again. This time we had to pay. It was US$29 each. Apparently we were supposed to have eaten our box lunches yesterday, and then use the meal tickets for lunch today. It was much more crowded today than it was yesterday.

2:00PM – We boarded our bus to Aguas Calientes. Local merchants had set up a marketplace outside the train station. After some negotiations, Alice was able to buy a clock for 26 Solis (~US$9). It had a llama on the face of the clock.

3:00PM – Boarding began at 3:00, and we left the train station on time at 3:30PM. It’s a three hour and 50 minute train ride to Cusco.

7:30PM – David picked us up from the train station and took us to the Casa San Blas Hotel. After getting settled, we went to the hotel restaurant (Tika Bistro Gourmet) for a quick bite to eat. I had the beef tenderloin and Alice had the zucchini and eggplant ravioli.

10:30PM – It looks like I’ve figured out how to connect via WiFi, so I’m back online.