Thursday, May 05, 2011

Dinner party May 21st

Back in Argentina we realized what we really needed is to do some drinking and eating with friends and family when we get back home. So,we are planning a dinner party on Saturday May 21 at our home in Raleigh. I will try out some new foods and drinks we learned from this trip.  I want to get started on menu planning. If we do not already know you are coming, please let us know. All future communications on this will be moved to email.

We are looking forward to lots of catching up!

At the airport pickup in Roanoke, Virgina.
Back Home

The Dinner Table - May 21, 2011
Welcome Home Dinner - Raleigh, NC USA

Accidental South Florida

Because the accursed Spirit Airlines canceled our original flight, we find ourselves with extra days to kill in dull-ville Fort Lauderdale instead of atmospheric Peru. We had resigned ourselves to dedicate this time to rest and reentry. However, as we are not used to low gear, a day was planned for South Beach, Miami for a revisit to the art deco buildings.

Getting from Fort Lauderdale to South Beach on public transportation turned out to be an interesting research project that intrigued both of us. We eventually settled on taking the express bus e95 (just a 10 minute walk from our hotel) to downtown Miami and then transferring to one of several regular beach bound buses.

South Beach was a success, since John took 500+ photos in a 6-hour span, which in my estimation, was not only a trip record, but a personal record for him. That was not a surprise. What really impressed us was the e95 bus! We first became enamored with Bus Rapid Transit in Bogota, Columbia. Since then we came across it in several cities. But in South Florida?! We chose the BRT over the train because of the frequency, speed, and cost. The bus went 26 miles on I95 in the express lane without a single stop, came every 15 minutes, and cost $2.35. Both ways the bus was about 90-95% full, of mostly commuters. In Fort Lauderdale, people mostly drove to the bus stop; in Miami they walked and transferred to other public transportation.

This trip has opened up new ideas for public transportation for us. There seem to be so much physical, social, and cultural barriers to public transportation in this country. The e95 has given me much hope.

E95 Bus at the Broward BLVD stop.
95 Express bus stop at West Broward BLVD - Fort Lauderdale, FL

Couple of Miami Beach Art Deco buildings. More to come!
Waldorf Hotel - South, Beach - Miami, FL

The Breakwater - South, Beach - Miami, FL

Savoring Lima Centro

Downtown Lima is supposed to be an unsavory place. When we came through in December, we based ourselves in the fashionable Miraflores district, but found Centro to be more of our liking, so we are staying in Centro this time, which turned out to be an excellent idea.

Downtown Lima is humming with activities and people. Being at the end of our travels, we are taking it easy, popping into churches whenever their doors are open, a bit of shopping here and there, sampling the numerous vegetarian restaurants. Friday night there was a free outdoor concert by the National Youth Symphony orchestra. Saturday the city sponsors a series of events at one of the parks; the Literature Museum shows a free art-house movie. All week there was a book fair in front of the Government Palace.

Peru has exceeded our expectations. For a developing country, Peru feels very sophisticated. In spite of the high tourist volume, we found the people very genial. They are polite, helpful, and hardworking, more so than their neighbors. Not to mention that every bus ride is amazingly scenic. We are already plotting the route for our next visit to Peru.

Symphony Rehearsal in front of the Cathedral on Plaza de Armas.
Symphony Rehearsal - Lima, Peru

Lunch at Marvalous affinity Vegetarin Restaurant - Carabaya 715 - Lima, Peru
Vegetarian Restaurant - Carabaya 715 - Lima, Peru

The old downtown train station is now a Library and Museum. This is the indoor reading room.
Old Train Station - Lima, Peru

Concert - Parque de La Muralla.
Concert - Parque de La Muralla - Lima, Peru

Iglesia de San Francisco - Lima Centro.
Iglesia de San Francisco - Lima, Peru

A book fair in front of the Government Palace in Lima.
Government Palace of Peru - Lima, Peru

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Finally, Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is arguably the top destination for the whole of South America. We have always felt lukewarm about it because of the monopolistic practice of the train and bus to the site, and the astronomic admission that is disproportional to the rest of the country.

Fortuitously Machu Picchu happened to be our last stop before going to Lima to catch our international flight back home. With everything we have seen in the last 7+ months, the surrounding hills and valleys for Machu Picchu are very beautiful. If it were not for the archeological site, the area itself would have deserved a visit as a national park. As much as I am impressed with the Inkas, the ruins themselves were only so-so impressive.

Here is the rest of the details.

Monday after Easter, we boarded the train in Ollantaytambo for Aguas Calientes. The 40km ride cost $34US (the cheapest train). To put this in perspective, the 19km bus ride we took the other direction from Ollantaytambo cost $0.46US. We could have trekked in on the Inka trail. The multi-day trek would have cost several hundreds dollars each, with permit and guide being mandatory.

Aguas Calientes has nothing but tourist services, but the setting is magical, steep green hills and a roaring river. While there were plenty of reasonably priced guesthouses, food was mostly overpriced. From Aguas Calientes, it is 8km bus ride up a steep hill to Machu Picchu. The roundtrip bus fare was $15.5US. Again, we opted to ride instead of walking. We wanted to maximize our time at the site. The site admission is $45US.

Once we set aside the extortionary prices, we still needed to decide whether to climb the hill right beside the ruins, Huayna Picchu. Everyday 200 (7-8am) + 200 (10-11am) permits are given to climb the hill. In order to get one of those 400 permits, one has to queue in Aguas Calientes way before the first 5:30am bus. We were not sure whether we wanted to be a part of this insane business, so we decided to set our alarm for 5am. The next morning, John woke up at 4am and got us going. We were in line for the bus at 4:35am. By the time we took the bus and got in line for Huayna Picchu, there were permits only for 7-8am and we were well within the last 50 people to get in. It was madness.

Luckily we did not suffer any illness from the efforts of getting up at such ungodly hours, we took our time and went up and down the site. After 10 hours, we were pretty worn out. We wanted to make sure that we do a thorough job this time, since we have no plans to return to Machu Picchu, even as we have been talking about revisiting Cusco and the Sacred Valley. After we took the bus back to town and grabbed some dinner, we caught the 6:45pm train back to Ollantaytambo, $37US this time.

The scenic town of Aguas Calientes.
Aguas Calientes, Peru

Sunrise over Machu Picchu.
Sunrise - Machu Picchu - Peru

Proof we were there.
Machu Picchu, Peru

Various other "classic shots" of Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

And a few not-so-classic shots.
Machu Picchu, Peru

Temple of the Moon.
Temple of the Moon - Machu Picchu, Peru

Sun-Ling descending Huanya Picchu.
Descending Huayna Picchu- Machu Picchu, Peru

Wild Orchid on Huanya Picchu.
Wild Orchid - Machu Picchu, Peru

For the rest of the Machu Picchu photos click here.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Scenic Ollantaytambo

We are slowing approaching Machu Picchu. Through April, the train only operates from Ollantaytambo, while the tracks between Cusco and Ollantaytambo are under maintenance. This was okay with us since our original plan was to spend a couple of days in Ollantaytambo. Never mind it took us forever to learn to pronounce the name.

Unlike Cusco, Ollantaytambo is a continuous Inca town, undisturbed by colonial structures. It is set in a beautiful valley by a river; the surrounding hills littered with ruins. Since millions of tourists come through town, we were surprised to find the townspeople warm, helpful, and truthful; and little of the price gouging that we associate with Machu Picchu.

The Inca Fortress at Ollantaytambo.

Several photos of the Salt Pans at Salinas; just 15 kilometers from Ollantaytambo and still in operation today.




The original grid of Inca streets survives in Ollantaytambo.

The same day we visited the Salt Pans, we also took a walk across the river from Ollantaytambo. Great views of the Rio Urubabamba, the railroad tracks, and back to town.


Playa del Carmen, Mexico

From Aguascalientes, there is a very convenient direct flight to Cancun.  Since the wedding is at a private beach south of Playa del Carmen,...