Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

There's a very special (read: frightening) new Fruit of the Day available to get you in the mood. In case you're wondering, we're dressing up as backpackers this year, and I think our costumes are very convincing. Happy Tricks or Treats!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Day 5: Machu Picchu

We set alarms for 3, 3:15, and 3:30, and by 4 a.m. we had begun our flashlight-lit walk from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. It was a steep climb of about 1700 very uneven stairs (Ken counted), and at 5:15 or so, as the sky lightened, we were among the first 50 people to arrive at the entrance gate. We had our tickets stamped and received our passes (only 400 are distributed daily) to climb Waynapicchu, a mountain with literally breathtaking views of the ancient Incan city. At about 6:30 we began a two-hour tour of Machu Picchu with Enrique, then Ken and I set off to climb Waynapicchu. For me it was one of the most difficult parts of our trip. The "steps" were steep and uneven, and to get to the top took almost an hour. It was worth the effort. I stopped at a plateau near the top and Ken continued another 10 minutes or so to the peak. While I sat waiting for him in the sunshine, overlooking Machu Picchu, I felt incredibly peaceful.

We arrived back in Cuzco late Wednesday night and spent most of yesterday scratching our bitten legs and resting our tired feet. Today we treated ourselves to hour-long massages at the bargain-basement price of $7 each, then had lunch at the central market, where a huge bowl of soup and a generous portion of rice, salad, lentil stew, and fried fish costs all of $1. Including a glass of juice.

On Wednesday I swore it would be weeks or even months before I did another trek, but today I'm reconsidering. After all, in life, as in Peru, anything can happen, but nothing is for sure.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In Peru, Anything Can Happen...

...but nothing is for sure.

These were the words of wisdom imparted to us by our guide, Enrique, as we embarked on our 5-day trek to Salkantay and Machu Picchu. It was amazing, and it was really, really hard.

Day 1

A bus picked us up at our hostel at 4:45 a.m. After a few more stops in Cuzco (alt. 3350m) to pick up about 14 other adventurous souls, we drove on very curvy roads to the town of Mollempata (alt. 2800m) where we disembarked, slathered ourselves in sunscreen and bug spray, and started walking. We hiked, mostly uphill, for about 5 1/2 hours. After lunch (soup, rice, and delicious lomo saltado (beef stew) the road was blessedly "boring" (read: wider and flatter). We arrived at our first campsite at the base of Salkantay (alt. 4100m) around 5 p.m., just in time to beat the torrential downpours. Luckily there was a shelter in which we could set up our tents, so we stayed dry. We drank coca tea, ate dinner and were huddled in our sleeping bags by 8 p.m.

Day 2

At 5 a.m. our guides Enrique and Saturnino "knocked" on our tents and presented us with hot cups of coca tea. We packed up our gear and after a delicious breakfast (pancakes!) we were back on the trail. Day 2 would involve about an hour of switchbacks, or zig zags, up a steep mountain, a brief plateau, then another 40 minutes or so of steep uphill climbing to reach our highest altitude (4650m). By the end of the final climb Ken and I were resting after every 50 steps. It was beautiful and brutal, and when we got to the top we celebrated with cookies and apples and much picture-taking. Walking down the other side of the pass we passed completely different terrain: Huge rocks surrounded by mist that reminded us of "Lord of the Rings." After lunch we walked about 2 hours more and arrived at our camp, nestled into the side of a lush hill and also home to various chickens, dogs, and pigs. Bedtime was again early, and we slept soundly after our long walk.

Day 3

After another 5 a.m. coca-tea wakeup call and a hot breakfast of oatmeal and omelettes, we started out through the forest. We crossed a small river and then hiked a steep, rainy, and very muddy uphill for about 50 minutes. As we started to make our way down the other side, through the Andean cloud forest, we passed a small home with a yard full of wild turkeys, giggling away in the fog. These were some of the funniest beasts I've ever heard, and each time they gobbled (in unison!) I laughed and laughed. It was one of my favourite parts of the trek.

We continued our descent until we reached a dirt road, at which point we were also low enough that the rain had stopped and the sun was strong. The dirt road stretched on for many hot kilometres and included a small river crossing at which we had to strip off our boots and socks. The icy water felt wonderful! Unfortunately there were swarms of small blackflies waiting for us on the other side, and we all ended up with countless small, red, and indescribably itchy bites on our calves and shins. We finally reached Playa (alt. 2400m) and were finished our hike for the day: After lunch, a bus took us on the most treacherous road EVER to Santa Teresa (alt. 1800m). After we set up camp (and continued to slather on insect repellent in a feeble effort to fend off the relentless biting flies), we continued our scary bus ride (seriously, I was sure we were going to be part of a "there were two Canadians and an American on the bus" article) to soak our tired bodies in the loveliest of hot springs. On our return to camp we dined, and several members of our group celebrated into the wee hours of the morning. Ken represented on our behalf; I was in bed by midnight. (Apparently Ken's representation was strong, as the next day, Saturnino frequently sought him out to provide reggaeton beats as we hiked!)

Day 4

We slept in until 8, despite Enriques's warning the previous night: "If it's sunny, I know you're going to be up at 6:30, because inside your tent it will be hell." Breakfast included a birthday cake for our amazing cook, Isidro, who turned "at least 50" and who could climb a mountain faster than any of us 20- and 30-something gringos. After breakfast, we walked at a leisurely pace through a valley in the blazing hot sun, stopping for lunch at the Machu Picchu hydroelectric plant before continuing our walk along the railroad tracks to our penultimate destination, Aguas Calientes, a small town through which almost all Machu Picchu visitors pass. Ironically, our hostel in Aguas Calientes didn't have hot water. It did, however, have beds, and toilets. With seats. Glorious, glorious seats. Dinner was a very mellow affair at which we received our tickets to Machu Picchu and were instructed to begin our climb of approx. 400m (vertically, that is) at 4 a.m. the next day.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Gone Trekkin'

After a rather uncomfortable 23-hour bus ride from Lima to Cuzco, and two days in Cuzco (alt. 3300m) spent sleeping, drinking coca tea, and catching our collective breath, we're embarking this morning on the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. I confessed to Beto, the guide with whom we booked the trek, that I was a little afraid of the 5-day journey. He told me not to worry; that I could ask the spirits in the mountains for help, and that they would be there.

OK, Mountain Spirits, here we come.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ceviche in Lima

On our last night in Rio with Frenchy and Dutchy (aka Audrey and Eric), we asked them for a list of the best (and worst) parts of their six months in South America. They recommended cities and sites to see (and some to avoid), and told us their favourite places to stay. In Lima, they had been the first guests of the brand-new Kokopelli Hostel. Audrey advised us to ask Paolo, one of the proprietors, to point us to the ceviche restaurant to which he had taken them. Paolo offered us one better: To take us there for lunch on Monday.

(First, though, on Friday night, we went to a club. I know: I'm too old for that shit. We went with a few people staying at the hostel, all decked out in our best backpacker chic. At one point someone commented, "I'd never wear this to a club at home," to which I replied, "I'd never go to a club at home." It's true.)

Anyway, Monday rolled around and we were both very excited for lunch. Paolo rounded up a group of about 15 people from the hostel to join the festivities, and we piled into a few taxis to go to the neighbourhood of Barranco. Once there, he led us into a little market, past stalls selling raw chickens (with the feet still attached!) and even a little barber shop. The "restaurant" was a bunch of plastic tables under tarps, and we assembled enough chairs to fit our posse. We unanimously agreed that Paolo should order for all of us, and soon food started appearing on the tables.

We started out with chicha morada, a sweet and very tasty dark-purple juice that's made from purple corn. Small metal bowls of salted, roasted corn kernels also appeared on the table. We snacked on those until our first course arrived: A bowl of almost-clear broth with a mussel in each bowl and a generous sprinkling of cilantro leaves on top. It was refreshing and flavourful (especially with the addition of squeeze of lime and a rather potent hotsauce), and the mussel was particularly good.

Next came a dish called tiradito apaltado. Tiradito is like ceviche (fish marinated in lemon or lime juice with onions), but sometimes with oil in the marinade, and without onions. This particular tiradito was served with corn, a hunk of sweet potato, and half an avocado on top. The fish was incredibly fresh-tasting and the avocado was one of the best I've ever had, fresh and perfectly ripe. While we were devouring the tiradito, plates of crispy fried seafood (pescado frito) arrived, garnished with yuca fries and a bowl of mayonnaise for dipping. These were a mix of calamari, shrimp, and other fishy bits that had been battered and fried.

We continued the feast with ceviche - once again a mix of seafood, this time marinated in citrus and garnished with sweet red onions and more sweet potato. I loved the tiradito (especially the avocado) but the ceviche was probably my favourite dish. The fish was sweet and a little bit salty and oh-so-tender, and the thin slices of onion and sprinkling of corn added a perfect crunch.

Just when we thought we were winding down, two rice dishes appeared. One was very similar to seafood-fried rice, only not there was definitely no need to fight over the shrimp. The other was more like seafood risotto, with a lighter flavour than the fried rice but still packed full of fishy goodness. I limited myself to small portions of those (both were delicious!) so I could finish the remaining ceviche for dessert, and Ken busied himself with the leftover fried bits from the pescado frito.

Finally, Paolo announced the grand total: 14 soles (about $5) each, including tip. And we thought beef was cheap in Argentina!

More pics on in our Peru set on Flickr.

Cross-posted on Ultra Fine Food (there are a bunch of new fruits over there, too!).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Four Things We Love About Lima

4. The coast reminds us of San Francisco (so does the weather (foggy), but it's a lot warmer than our last week in Canada!).

3. The parks are beautiful and oh-so-well maintained. Last night we were walking in Parque Kennedy and came across a salsa party! Today we walked a few kilometres of park that run along the coast in Miraflores, and passed dozens of walkers, runners, families, and lovebirds taking advantage of the foggy-yet-mild afternoon.

2. Fruit is plentiful and cheap: In addition to our new fruits-of-the-day (chirimoya and granadilla, tonight we bought 5 bananas at the grocery store for about 20¢. We also bought a guacamole kit containing 2 ripe avocados, small containers of hot salsa, corn kernels and cheese, a lime, and a small pack of Doritos for all of $2.60.

1. The people are happy, chill, and so helpful! On Friday night when we tried to hail a cab a stranger stopped to tell us the taxis wouldn't stop on the corner on which we were standing, and pointed us to the correct location. And yesterday when I stopped to ask a municipal security guard about the salsa party (which apparently takes place every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights) he encouraged us to dance!

This half of our South American Adventure is starting out with great success! We've slept more in the past three days than we did in the month before, and we both feel like we packed the right combination of items, more or less. We're planning to stay in Lima until Tuesday and then embark on our first looooong bus ride (22 hours, over the Andes) to Cuzco. OK, I'm not sure I'm fully prepared for *that* adventure.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Vamos Ahora

We've been in Waterloo for over a week, and I'm sure you're all wondering how the much-hyped reunion went with our beloved feline, Memphis. While there wasn't exactly the slow-motion running across a field of daisies into each others' arms/paws (although I do appreciate the imagery, Tyler!), there has been much cuddling. There has also been a startling revelation: It turns out I don't have the "bad sinuses" I've been claiming to have for the past 12-ish years. That is to say, I am severely allergic to this furry orange beast. The first morning back I woke up with my eyes looking like I'd cried all night, and within half an hour of being out of the house I was back to normal. In fact, when Memphis curls up on my lap (or chest if I'm lying down), I can feel my throat close up. Good times. So far I've dealt with this situation by taking a Benadryl before bed every night. Denial rules! When we come back for good maybe I'll also try to stop rubbing my face in her belly, but I can't say for sure (guys, she's SO soft!).

Anyhoo, tomorrow we fly off to Lima, via Miami, for the second half of our South American Adventures. In honour of this special event, I have prepared the first of many very basic* maps to illustrate our whereabouts.

YYZ is the code for the Toronto Airport, and now you know where the Rush song name comes from! We have a five-hour layover in Miami, and we arrive in Lima at 4:30 a.m. on Friday with our knapsacks on our backs**. Let the games begin!

We've pared down our belongings to one backpack of about 45lbs each, containing mostly quick-dry pants and underwear (and in my case, enough sample-sized products to have my very own spa day at least once a month). The blogging will continue and I'll keep putting pics up on Flickr.

*I'm not bringing my computer. On a six-month trip. I'm already experiencing withdrawal.

**Val-deri,Val-dera, Val-deri, Val-dera-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha***

***Holla Onkel Hans!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Canadian Thanksgiving

Turning Leaves, originally uploaded by Kitty LaRoux.

That three days of sleep I keep promising myself still hasn't come to fruition. We've been bouncing around Waterloo since we arrived a week ago: Walking dogs and kissing babies and dancing the Chicken Dance [<--awesome Lawrence Welk video alert!] at Oktoberfest.

We're heading off to our third Thanksgiving celebration this afternoon, and the list of things for which I'm thankful this year just keeps growing. Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 05, 2009

No Sleep In Brooklyn

It's our last night in New York until May 2010. Give or take.

That seems like it's really far away, but then, so did September when we left for Argentina back in March. Somehow, though, it doesn't feel any easier to leave this time than it was back then, even though now we have practice.

We've had the most amazing two weeks, shuttling between Brooklyn and Manhattan, not to mention Cape Cod and Stamford and New Haven. I postponed any weight-loss efforts and thoroughly enjoyed all of our NY-favourites (bagels: check! pizza: check! burritos, sushi, bacon and eggs: check, check, check!). I practised yoga and ran in Prospect Park and took pictures of babies and dogs and perfect peaches. At times I felt like I hadn't been away more than a week or two, and other times I walked around all agog, like I was experiencing the crazy-awesome-weirdness of New York for the first time.

Tomorrow afternoon we're flying to Toronto, at which time we will immediately drive to Waterloo and smother Memphis with affection. (Friends have suggested that she might ignore me at first, as it goes with those of the feline persuasion, but I think that will be difficult as I don't plan to put her down for at least an hour.) Then I'm going to sleep for three days.

My mom always used to ask me why I was so tired when I went home to visit, and I always thought it was just because I stayed up late to pack. This time though, it's because I stayed up late to hang out with New York. We had some catching up to do.