Posts Tagged ‘Peru’

Round-the-World Honeymoon Pt. 10: Lima (25-27 June)

Monday, August 24th, 2015

From Cuzco, we flew to Lima, where we mostly did one thing: Eat! The Peruvian cuisine is excellent, and there is no shortage of amazing restaurants in Lima. Most of them are not in downtown Lima, but rather in and around Miraflores, which is where we stayed. Here are just a few of the places we went to:

Maido: Maido specializes in Peruvian / Nikkei fusion, which means essentially that you can get fish in various forms from ceviche via sushi to fried fish on “sanguchito” (literally, small sandwich). Everything we had was amazing.

Amaz: Amaz serves food that is inspired by fare from the Amazon. The flavors are fruity / tropical, and  we had delicacies like ceviche cooked in bamboo, fish with chorizo and snake fruit, and palm heart salad. For desert we had the “chocolate jungle”, which was served in a cocoa bean shell (?) and indeed looked like a little jungle. Delicious!

Chez Wong: A unique place, owner/chef Javier Wong Chong (Peruvian with Chinese roots) originally started this restaurant in his garage, and it looks like it still IS in his garage. He only makes ceviche from soles, and there is no menu, he just makes whatever he likes that day. He also stands behind a little counter in the corner of the room where all the guests sit (on maybe 10 tables). The ceviche has been called the best in the world, and it definitely is mouth-wateringly good.

Other than eating, we did not do much. We explored downtown one day, and watched the changing of the guards at the presidential palace, but other than that there wasn’t really that much to see.

Lima was the last stop on the South American continent, our next stop was almost half way around the world, in Tokyo.

Round-the-World Honeymoon Pt.9: Cuzco and Machu Picchu (20-24 June)

Monday, August 24th, 2015

From Puno, we took the last segment of our Bolivia Hop bus ticket to go up to Cuzco – this was an all-day bus trip with some nice scenery on the way. Arriving in Cuzco, we were pleasantly surprised: While the town is the hop-off point for many international tourists who want to see Machu Picchu, the town itself is very nice too. It used to be the Inca capital, and while today the historic center is dominated by Spanish colonial palaces and churches, many of them are actually built on Inca foundations – you can oft can see the Spanish adobe bricks sitting on top of the Inca rocks in the outside walls of colonial buildings.

Another great thing about Cuzco was the food. Of course, many restaurants are somewhat touristy, but the food was still so delicious and fresh in all of the restaurants we went to – even in some small holes in the wall where we were the only guests! Peruvians simply must know how to cook – no wonder Peruvian cuisine has become such a dominant force on the continent. We got to try some traditional Peruvian dishes as well, including alpaca meat (which was delicious).

On 21 June, we left for a two-day tour of the Inca sights in the nearby sacred valley and Machu Picchu. The sacred valley runs east-west and therefore is aligned with the Milky Way, which made it sacred for the Inca civilization who put great importance on astronomy. The Inca sites in the valley have mostly been destroyed by the Spanish and you can mostly see the foundations made out of humongous rocks. The Inca were slightly crazy in how they built cities – a lot of the time on the tops of steep mountains, using rocks of hundred tons of more that they moved to the construction site from many kilometers away over mountains and through valleys – all without having any advanced technology, they didn’t even know the wheel!

After a short night in Aguas Calientes, the small town / tourist trap which is at the foot of Machu Picchu mountain, we went up to Machu Picchu before sunrise. The site Machu Picchu was not known to the Spanish, since it had been abandoned for unknown reasons, and was only rediscovered in 1911. Therefore, in contrast to the other Inca sites, this one is in great condition. No gold or silver was found in the town, but the houses, temples and terraces are still in great condition. Especially considering that Machu Picchu was a small town compared to for example Cuzco, the engineering capabilities of the Inca are really impressive. The fact that they built these massive sites on the tops of steep mountains is just mind-boggling.

Visiting Machu Picchu was really an amazing experience. Even though there are of course quite a few other tourists around, it wasn’t nearly as crowded as we had feared. Especially in the morning, when the thick clouds of the night were still wafting through the mountains and the big tour groups had not arrived yet, the place really had a mystical feel to it. I won’t describe all the sights in Machu Picchu – there are books who do a better job of that, and I will include some pictures instead. In addition to the main site of Machu Picchu, we also climbed the neighboring mountain Huayna Picchu, which towers 360m over Machu Picchu. Going up was a steep and strenuous one-hour hike/climb, but the views from up top were great (not for those who are afraid of heights though since there are steep cliffs in all directions). The crazy Incas even built temples and houses on top of this mountain! After about seven hours of exploring Machu Picchu, we went back to Aguas Calientes, and then via train back to Cuzco for a couple more days.

Another highlight that we got to experience in Cuzco was the Inti Raymi festival, which was going on all of the days we were there and peaked in a celebration in the Inca site of Sacsaywaman on a hill overlooking the city. Inti Raymi is the Inca celebration of the new year, which coincides with the summer solstice. The celebration was banned by the Spanish as pagan and anti-catholic, and only resurrected in 1944 to celebrate the Peruvian / Quechua heritage. Today, it is a huge spectacle with thousands of costumed people dancing and parading in the streets for days, and one of the biggest festivals in South America. In addition to witnessing the parties in the streets, we also had bought tickets to the main ceremony in Sacsaywaman. This celebration recreates the Inca new year ceremony, including the different tribes coming to pay their tribute to the Inca (which means “king”, the civilization should rather be called Quechua civilization), as well as sacrifices of various goods including a llama, whose heart is then ripped out to read the omens for the new year. We read before that they no longer use a real llama for this offering, but they certainly did a good job at making it look real! Also, the whole ceremony including dances and songs by probably a thousand or so costumed performers in front of the background of the Inca sight were very impressive, so we were glad we got to see this! And while the tickets for the seats, mostly occupied by tourists, were quite expensive, there were also heaps of locals who flocked to the hills around the square to watch the ceremony.

We left Cuzco on 25 June to go to Lima.

Some pictures follow.

Round-the-World Honeymoon Pt.8: La Paz and Lake Titicaca (15-19 June)

Monday, August 24th, 2015

From Uyuni, we took a flight to La Paz, where we spent about one day only. Since we had some concerns around safety, and the city didn’t seem to offer very much in terms of sights, we didn’t do much there, except for walking around through the city center along the main axis, the Prado, for a bit. The one highlight was finding a German bakery – apparently Bolivia has quite a sizable population of German heritage.

The next day, we left via bus for Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca. We had booked a bus ticket with Bolivia Hop, which operates a hop-on/hop-off bus service all the way through to Cusco in Peru, and in contrast to many Bolivian operators they cater to tourists and are extremely professional and service oriented.

Copacabana is a tiny, relatively touristy town. It has the only public beach in landlocked Bolivia, but since it was obviously winter and quite cold, nobody was using the hundreds of small swan-shaped pedal boats that you could rent there. We stayed at Hostal Las Olas, which is definitely the most unique hostel I have ever seen. The rooms are in little huts with different shapes – there is a snail, a tower, etc., all beautifully painted in a terraced garden that even had some grazing llamas. Our room was called the turtle, and was a round two-story building, with a huge round bed at the center of the lower floor, and a small wood oven that we were able to use to heat the room. We were also able to find some really good breakfast food (eggs!) and coffee in Copacabana, at the little cafe “El Condor and the Eagle” – run by an Irish-Bolivian couple. Otherwise, we mostly relaxed for the one day we were there, since there was not that much to do.

The next day, before leaving by bus for Peru, we did a quick boat tour to Isla Del Sol, the biggest island on Lake Titicaca. The Incas believed that this was were the sun was born, and we visit see a small Insa temple on the island as well. Unfortunately, we had very little time on the island since we needed to catch our bus to Peru.

After crossing the border, which was hassle-free but took about an hour since very one on the bus had to clear immigration before we could continue, we continued to the town of Puno on the Peruvian shore of Lake Titicaca, where we had a hotel for one night. Puno is quite a big town, no comparison with Copacabana, but doesn’t offer much in terms of sights, so some people we spoke with on the bus had said there was nothing to do. However, we did enjoy walking around town and getting some food that was definitely much better than most things we had eaten in Bolivia.

The next morning, we left for the floating island of Uros Khantati, where we were going to spend one night. Uros Khantati is part of Las Uros, a “village” on Lake Titicaca made up entirely of floating islands constructed from the Totora reeds that grow on the lake. When exactly the Uros inhabitants decided to live on the lake is unclear (there are no written records), but oral transmission has it that they fled either the Incas or the Spanish conquistadors. Initially, they just lived on reed boats with houses on them, but eventually started building larger platforms like the one we stayed on, which was probably about 30 by 30 meters, with roughly ten small houses on it. The hosts, Cristina and Victor, have been running this home stay for some years now and were the first to offer accommodation on one of these islands to foreigners.

We didn’t just stay on the island, however: Victor also took us (and a few other tourists who were also spending the night) out on the reed boat to demonstrate fishing and reed cutting techniques (both to use the reed for construction, and to get to the edible root, also called “Titicaca Banana”), and Cristina showed us traditional attire which we were also able to try on and take pictures in. All in all, it was a great experience – of course still catering to tourists, but much less of a tourist trap than the short tours of Las Uros than you can book via a tour agency. Plus, our hosts were both friendly and entrepreneurial, which should be supported!

We left Uros Khantati the next day and spent another day in Puno before continuing to Cuzco.

Some pictures follow.

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