Monday, May 28, 2012

Visiting Peru

Exibition Gardens in Lima

Typically, when Luiz and I take off on a travel adventure abroad, we spend 6 – 8 weeks in the country to get a decent feel for the people, culture, food, music and the rest. We move about at a quiet pace. No rushing from bus station to bus station. We unpack our luggage when we settle in at the hotel or hostal.

In this particular case, we had time constraints imposed by Luiz still attending tourism classes in Rio. Luiz had to negotiate time away from class with his instructors. The rules at school included a maximum number of missed classes before you are automatically disqualified from graduating. So we settled on a two week jaunt to and from Machu Picchu.

This year Luiz turned 60 years old on May 16th. His great desire was to spend his birthday wandering the ruins high in the Peruvian mountains. So we planned our itinerary around his birthday.

Basically we hopped on the gringo trail, arriving in Lima, then flying to Cusco, then riding a train to Aguas Caliente and finally a 20 minute mini bus up to Machu Picchu. Then back again.

Our one three star hotel. The towels were in love.
We were not disappointed. Well, actually, we found the price of hotels and hostals a bit high, but groceries, restaurants, consumer goods and entertainment were quite reasonable – certainly much cheaper than here in Brazil. Every hotel/hostal we connected with posted their rates in US dollars. Two and three star establishments ranged from US$40 – US$75 per night.

In Lima we enjoyed several excellent museums, amazingly cheap and tasty meals, and wicked scary private (as in not municiple) bus transportation. Our hostal was located near the Central/Historic district. I recommend the area over Milflores, which gets all the hype.

Spanish/Christian cathedral and convent -- too bad they used the nearby Inka holy site as a "quarry" to  gather stones to build the buildings. The Spanish/Christians were not the good guys...
After a few days in Lima we flew to Cusco, the celebrated biggest tourist destination in Peru. Travel agencies were lined up four and five on every block. Everyone wanted to help you get the train to Machu Picchu, or take you on a jungle hike, or hook you up with a day-long bus tour stopping at numerous Inka ruins (including a tasty lunchtime meal).

Luiz and I bought a tourist discount ticket for $130 Peruvian Soles (S/) that gave us access to 16 different sites (churches, museums, archeological sites, a cultural dance performance and more) over a ten day period. It was a GREAT deal. We went to 11 of the 16 sites. One of the sites was charging S/$70 entrance fee. Most were S/$10 – $30. So we saved a bundle.

We worked with the proprietor of the hostal we stayed at to arrange day trips and our train transportation to Aguas Caliente, the thriving little village at the base of Machu Picchu.

It was a surprise to me that the city of Cusco is actually higher in the mountains than Machu Pichu. From the photos of MP it appears you are way up in the heavens.  But in fact, Cusco is at an altitude of 11,800 feet, with Machu Picchu at 10,200 feet. It was cold up there! Both Luiz and I over-packed Tshirts and shorts and under-packed sweatshirts and long pants. But we managed…

After a few days in Cusco, we caught the train to Aguas Caliente (and then to Machu Picchu the following morning). More about that in my next post.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Traveling in Peru

One of the most pleasurable bits of traveling in Brazil is the lavish breakfast you get served at pousadas (bed and breakfasts). No matter where you stay, breakfast is overflowing with bread, cheese, ham, baked sweets, multiple fruits, multiple juices, fresh coffee and tea. And often granola and yogurt. All you could want.

Our brief trip, though a narrow bit, through Peru proved not so satisfying.

I’m not one to complain. We LOVED our trip in Peru! Really. But the accommodations left something to be desired.

First, by way of definition, it should be said that by law in Peru you cannot call yourself a “hotel” unless you have a private bath for every room. So we stayed in “hostals” (but we always had a private bath). In regular parlance a hostal is a casual hotel with a shared kitchen, often dormitory sleeping quarters and generally a shared bath. Backpacker ground zero. Not so in Peru. The variance can be striking.

We arrived at our hostal in Lima to see an exceptionally appointed old, large house since converted to a hostal (two stars). It was beautiful. Lots of art and culturally significant elements. Wonderful.  Check it out: 

The only problem was that they charged (in dollars) for any extra service. For example: breakfast was simply a crust of bread, butter, jelly and one cup of coffee. If you wanted another cup of coffee – US$1. If you wanted an egg – US$1, etc.. Give me a break!

Then we went to Cusco (sometimes spelled Cuzco or historically Quosquo). There we had a super comfortable three star hotel . Somehow our travel agent in Lima got us a rate of US$50 for a US$75 room. The breakfast was wonderful and plentiful on all fronts. And the room was heated (not common among the cheap seats… the city is chilly - above 3,000 meters in the mountains.)

Then we went to Machu Picchu, staying in Agua Calientes at Inka House . Our two star hostal there was nice and friendly . There was a bare-bones breakfast (we had become accustomed to buying our fruit and cheese the day before to eat the next morning). The donna of the hotel was super sweet, but did not provide food or drink beyond the basics.

Returning to Cusco, we went to a basic two star (probably should be rated one star – if there is such a thing) hostal because our three star place was fully booked (no website, but you can email them at This place sucked. The good thing was that the proprietor was well connected on the tour circuit and hooked us up with some really good local tours. But the room sucked, the breakfast sucked, and the internet connection was incredibly slow. And it was COLD! Breakfast with a scarf.

Then – much to our wondering eyes should appear – when we returned to Lima the previously stiff hostal melted into a very nice place to stay. (Maybe they knew I write a blog…) We still had to bring our own fruit and cheese to breakfast, but they gave us a wonderful room – so much nicer than our initial spot and they even offered us a second cup of coffee or tea at no extra cost.

In all – I would keep your expectations modest. Our experience in Peru was that breakfast is NOT like your experience at Brazilian pousadas. Take care of yourself. Enjoy. The people are indeed wonderful.

It should be noted that we took the expensive tourist trail from Lima to Cusco to Machu Picchu and back. Less expensive routes are possible. But we definitely had to fight against the tourist exploitation tide.

Luiz and I generally “follow our nose” when it comes to international travel. We book the first night and then just take it from there. In this case we found ourselves wanting a bit more advance work to avoid cold and clammy sleeping situations. Let it be a lesson to us. (Maybe we are just getting older…)

Do go visit Peru – it was wonderful! Our daily bed rates were US$40 – US$50 on our limited, cheap route. More is more – but we had a fine time.

 - still trying to get the photo right... sorry...

Monday, May 7, 2012

Be back soon

Signing off for a couple weeks. Off to Machu Picchu. Deatils to follow... (and hot springs in Aguas Calientes).

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ten reasons why you should move to Brazil

10 - You will never find pão de queijo that tastes as good anywhere else.

9 - Living in flip flops never felt so good.

8 - Surfing is not only a lifestyle, but you have infinite beaches.

7 - Everybody knows your name (especially if you are a gringo).

6 - Fruit and juices are taken to a whole new level.

5 - Holidays are really holidays (not shopping days).

4 - The ´village´ takes care of your (our) children.

3 - The cachaça is out of this world.

2 - These days - opportunity is exploding.

1 - Name your reason - what are you thinking?