Lima – Last Day in Peru

My stomach! I don’t know what I ate that decided to completely destroy my insides, but I totally regretted whatever it was. I couldn’t eat or drink anything all morning, which was really sad considering how delicious the food in Peru is.

After sleeping in as much as I could, I met up with the rest of my family to hop on our airport transport. It took about 15 minutes to get to the Cusco airport but almost 45 minutes to get checked in. There were a handful of people being carted around in wheelchairs from rolling / breaking their ankles hiking the Inca Trail! Thankfully, none of us were in that bad of shape, though I slept more on the plane to Lima trying to recover…

The plane ride was short and it didn’t take long for us to drop our bags off at the Hotel Britania and set off in search of lunch. We walked to the Cat Park, the unofficial central park of the Miraflores district in Lima called Parque Kennedy that is home to hundreds of stray cats, and found a very packed, walk-up sandwich place called La Lucha. Trying to stick to neutral flavors for my stomach, I got a deliciously simple chicken sandwich. Ryan ordered a cookies-and-cream milkshake with his meal. I had a sip and, without a single shred of doubt, proclaimed that it was the most delicious milkshake ever made (and it still unrivaled to this day). Usually, I do not indulge in milkshakes, but I made Ryan split his with me. He was not super happy that I took 50% of heaven, so we got another shake to split and took photo documentation of the glorious drink (below). If you go to Lima, you MUST got to La Lucha and try a milk shake!

Splitting a La Lucha milkshake in Lima, Peru

After we filled up, we headed back to the hotel which hailed a cab for us. Cabbies in Peru can be a bit sketchy, so it is recommended to have your hotel call a trusted service for the area to take and pick you up from where ever you go.

We decided to go to the Larco Museum, home to thousands of piece of ancient ceramics and pieces of South American history. The Larco Museum’s grounds are immaculately kept with amazing flowers covering the building and the adjacent gardens.

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The galleries inside were filled with amazing jewelry, warrior outfits, pots and everyday goods, and most importantly, Pachamama and Pachapapa. Pachamama is the embodiment of Mother Earth, protecting over fertility, the mountains and the harvests, and who causes earthquakes. We saw the female and male figures of Pachamama all over Peru. Not only are they adorable, but we also heard a song about them during our first night in Cusco which had been stuck in our heads and sung by at least one of us every day since…

Pachapapa in Lima, Peru

We explored the museum for a few hours and, before we knew it, it was time to meet our cab driver in front of the museum to go back to the hotel. We quickly freshened up for our fancy, last-night-in-Peru / sister’s birthday celebration dinner. We went to a very high-end restaurant and had a 7-course meal filled with drinks, laughter, and reminiscing. While I wish I could tell you what the restaurant was called and describe each immaculate dish and cocktail in detail, I spent about 75% of that dinner in the restroom and only took a small bite of my dishes (minus the seafood or acidic looking ones). Being the foodie I am, this was one of the most tragic meal experiences of my life.. seeing all of this scrumptiousness before me and having my body rebel to the point where I couldn’t stomach anything.

Between the food FOMO, the “we’re leaving tomorrow” depression, and the Montezuma’s revenge (that ended up lasting two weeks after we returned to the USA), sleep that night came quickly and, before we knew it, we were on a plane and the back in the States. Even with a stomach bug, all of the adventure, rich culture, and family bonding made for an absolutely amazing trip to Peru!

Pachamama & I at the Lima airport

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Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

After a 1.5 hour train ride from the Sacred Valley, through snow-capped mountains, past rushing rivers and lush valleys, we rode to a rainforest covered train station. We walked through a tent-market of trinkets to a wooden bridge that led us over a waterfall to our hotel’s entrance. Talk about an Eden!

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We checked into the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pubelo Hotel and walked through the resort’s rainforest grounds to our villa. Our room was on the second floor with floor-to-ceiling windows looking into the forest. It was so beautiful and relaxing!


We had massages scheduled upon our arrival, so we all changed into our robes, put on our slippers, and walked to the spa. We dipped our toes into the pools while we waited and then had our hiking induced knots kneaded out via hot stones. After such a fast paced vacation so far, it was nice to be able to take the load off our feet!

After our massage, we gathered by the fire in the hotel lodge for a pre-dinner pisco sour. The restaurant was just a few flights of stairs away and I enjoyed a delicious meal of quinoa stuffed pepper, passion fruit sweet potatoes, and white fish.

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Since we were only hours away from reaching Machu Picchu, the pinnacle of our trip and the reason we gifted this trip to my dad for his birthday, we celebrated with birthday cake and were all in an amazing mood. It is days like this that I feel so lucky to have such a close-knit family and the ability to travel the world with them!

Only a few hours of sleep later at 4:30 AM, our alarm woke us to get ready for our 5:30 AM bus up to Machu Picchu! I turned the bathroom light on and was startled into alertness by a giant spider in our sink – who knew that would be a better engery booster than coffee!

We met our unenthusiastic guide and walked to the bus station. There was already a huge line at the crack of dawn before the busses even started, so we had to wait about 35 minutes to hop on one of the 38 busses that raced up the switchbacks to the top of the mountain. I was starting to feel a little strange on the drive up, but I was much better off than the hikers trying to catch a ride half-way up the trail! The busses were specifically instructed not to pick hikers up and the stairway to Machu Picchu was a very, very steep one.

We finally made it up to the top and toured the bottom half of Machu Picchu first. There were huge block steps up and down the terraced mountain side and the views were incredible as we learned all about the history of the world wonder.

About 15 minutes into walking around, my stomach started cramping to the point that I had to sit down. Ryan would carry my purse when we walked around and then I had to sit wherever we went. A word of advice, bring a backpack or satchel, not a big purse, when traveling / hiking. I was getting really light-headed and we decided to sit at the top of the ruins for a bit in the shade. Unlike the 40 degree weather in Cusco, it was in the 80’s on top of Machu Picchu!

It was getting more and more crowded as the day went on and we quickly learned that personal space was a luxury. While there was at least 5 feet of space, this woman sat right next to me, literally so close we were touching hips, and this other woman sat on my other side in a space that was more like a crevase than a seat, and spit right next to my shoe! Ugh! Then, this guide stood on the rock my sister was sitting on and his group crowded around us.

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One of the women in the tour group asked if she could take a photo of me with her 60 something year old brother, while Ryan was right there. Again, very odd and I said “No”….


We decided to get out of there and hike up to Inti Punku, the Sun Door, once the main entrance to Machu Picchu. Both Ryan and my dad were wearing jeans which were not very conducive to an hour-long, all up-hill / stairs hike in the sun and heat! My mom sprinted ahead with my sister, so I walked with the guys since I was still feeling pretty awful. About half way up, Ryan lifted up his jean cuffs and steam came out. We couldn’t believe it so he lifted the other leg and, not kidding, there was a poof of steam. Crazy!

We finally made it up to the top and the view made every minute of the hike worth it! The shade felt amazing and the outcropping was the perfect vantage point to take in the whole experience and absorb how amazing whole trip had been so far.
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The hike down was much quicker and easier but, by this point, I had serious stomach pain and was very nauseous. It was time for lunch so I thought some food and water would help me out. For some reason, the only restaurant atop Machu Picchu had our reservation under the wrong name and it was for 7 people, not just the 5 in our group. We were let into the buffet regardless and we sat down but I couldn’t eat so I just drank water. The manager came over to us and told us we had to pay $50 USD per person for the lunch that was included in our tour for the day. Since I couldn’t eat anyway, I left the table to call our tour service and get everything straightened out. Thankfully, we got everything sorted quickly, but I almost passed out while waiting. While I wanted to explore more, my body couldn’t take it, so Ryan and I took the bus back down the mountain to relax at the resort while my family did the Inca Bridge hike. I was sad to miss out on the few hours we had left at Machu Picchu but, honestly, I was glad that I was the one to get sick so everyone else could get the most out of the trip. Ryan was happy to go back with me as he couldn’t walk much more in his skinny jeans!

We freshened up when we arrived back at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pubelo Hotel and lounged by the pool for a few hours. It felt nice to put our worn-out feet in the pool and we recommended it to my family when they finally arrived from their hike. My mom dipped her toes in… and then the rest of her fully-clothed self as she lost balance and fell in! Talk about a hilarious oops!

Unfortunately, we had to go back to Cusco that night, so we repacked our bags and hopped on the train. Talk about a long day! While I tried to sleep most of the ride back, it was a bit tough since there was a fashion show on the train selling all sorts of alpaca wool goods! The stewards played loud music, everyone was clapping, and there was a guy dressed as a tiger making weird purring noises while the models walked the isle “cat-walk”. It would have been quite fun if I hadn’t been basically dying on the inside!

Once we reached Ollantaytambo, we had another 45 minute, bumpy and winding drive through the mountains to get back to Cusco. We were exhausted but fate rewarded us with an upgrade at the Hotel San Agustin to a huge suite with the biggest tub I’ve ever seen. Montezuma might have been waging a terrible revenge, but being sick was worth it for such an amazing day!

Machu Picchu

Sacred Valley, Peru

Sacred Valley, Peru

6:30 AM wake up to meet our guides and head through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu! We hopped into our van with our guide, took a treacherous ride with crazy traffic through winding hills and, somehow, didn’t topple off one of the hairpin turns to our death. We were all very relieved when we made it to the various stops along the way!

Our first stop was at the Awana Kancha alpaca & llama farm to see the various types of indigenous animals. Apparently, there is a certain type of llama that gets so frightened when people approach, it is likely to have a heart attack and die! Talk about a poor fear reflex!

There were also native women weaving alpaca wool blankets and clothing in beautifully Peruvian patterns and, of course, all of their items were on sale in the gift shop at the end of our tour.

We then headed to a terraced, ancient city, atop mountains overlooking the Sacred Valley. The views from the city were astonishing and, though the air was thin, we were able to hike up to the top of the city.

Thankfully, we arrived early in the morning and there were only a few other people hiking the city while we were there. As we were leaving, we passed masses of tourist buses and huge groups that were about to climb up. Our driver had quite a time getting back down the narrow road past the big  buses – literally only an inch or two between us on either side! For almost all tours, it is worth getting up early to beat the crowds.

My dad and I looking over the Sacred Valley on the way to Machu Picchu, Peru

Along the drive to the next spot, we saw tons of stray dogs, cows, pigs, and kids running in and out of the streets. There were huge fields of quinoa and tarps lining the side of the road with huge corn kernels laying out to dry.

We were getting hungry on our road trip, so we stopped at a market. There was a silver factory there with a huge fire pit at the back for making empanadas. The store had guinea pig empanadas which I was going to try, but there was a cage with baby and adult guinea pigs right next to the fire pit and we couldn’t bring ourselves to eat one. Instead, we had a delicious chicken empanadas and bought some jewelry in the store.

Our empanadas were not enough to hold us over, so we headed to the Tunupa Sacred Valley  restaurant. There was a beautiful garden entrance with parakeets and other exotic birds. Inside, it was so packed with people through the buffet lines. After we ate, my sister, Ryan, and I went into the back garden to explore and make friends with some testy lamas. They give us the stink eye but I think we got through to them eventually!

Once we were shopped out and our stomaches were fully, we took off to Ollantaytambo, the town home to the train station. The town was surrounded by amazing fortress ruins and a temple for Sun God worship. We walked up 210 large stone steps to the top of ruins where there were 40+ ton rocks used to make the buildings. The crazy thing is, the huge rocks up at the top of the ruins were actually mined from the mountain across the valley. The Inca would mine the boulders from the top of the other mountain, push the boulders so they toppled down the mountain, and then, somehow, lug them back up to the top of other mountains to build their buildings. All of that at an average male height of 5’2!

After admiring the view for about 30 minutes, we had to catch the train. Our guide dropped us off and we almost took off in the wrong direction. Thankfully, she ran after us and pointed us the right way.

The views from the train were amazing, especially because there were windows from our seats to the ceiling and the over the ceiling, and it didn’t take long (1.5 hours) before we arrived at the Machupicchu Pueblo, the town below Machu Picchu!

Antigua, Guatemala – Day 2

Antigua, Guatemala – Day 2

For the first time on this trip, I got to sleep in… to 9:30 AM. I was ready to go by 10, but the other girls were a little more slow-moving as they tried to wake up. We finally left our secluded cabin around 11:30 to walk into Antigua for a traditional breakfast. We sat at a quaint little restaurant that had a big garden that was under construction so we were surrounded by equipment, but that didn’t matter. The food was scrumptious and there was tons of it with bread and oatmeal to start and sausage, plantains, black beans, eggs, and coffee to keep us going for the day. Almost all meals in Guatemala come with black beans and they are SO delicious! I must have had them at almost every meal.

We decided to walk off breakfast with a stroll through the market and main squares. We bought Guatemala’s version of M&Ms from a little girl who was selling them out of a basket on the side of the street but, in retrospect, shouldn’t have. Guatemala is full of kids and women selling trinkets and snacks, but you should only buy from the adults as buying from kids will keep propelling adults to use kids as sales vehicles instead of sending them to schools and the like. The income inequality in Guatemala is astonishingly apparent and it makes you feel very lucky to be in your situation instead of theirs.

A little girl selling candy on the streets of Antigua, Guatemala

After a few hours of buying gifts and souvenirs for everyone at home that we could think of and haggling prices like pros, we walked to a large, ornate, open wooden door. Again, Guatemala’s streets are lined with high, concrete walls so you never know what is awaiting behind each wall’s doors. Unbeknownst to my fellow USA traveler’s and I, the door Cass led us through took us to a small slice of paradise; a hotel called Santo Domingo in which Cass has her heart set on getting married in one day.

The hotel was beautiful with huge gardens full of rainforest type foliage and gorgeous parakeets and macaws. In the main outside square of the hotel, there is a river walk with over 3K candles lining the path that leads to a ruined Cathedral in the back of the hotel. It is huge and probably one of the most romantic settings I have entered in my entire life. I totally get the appeal of having that as a venue!

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After touring the hotel, we walked to a coffee shop and went to its rooftop for a drink and the view. Almost all of the restaurants and bars in Antigua have views like the below and it’s the place to be to watch the sun set over the volcanos.

A few of the girls decided to go to Mass, so Cass’s friend Isa and I walked down the street to a rooftop bar and had micheladas, basically a love child of beer and a Bloody Mary, while talking about Guatemala and watching the Fuego volcano erupt in the distance. Seriously, it was an evening out of the movies and it was so surreal watching lava slide down a mountainside!

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After the girls were done at Mass, we said our goodbyes to our new friend Isa and took off back to Guatemala City for a delicious home-cooked Pad Thai dinner at Cass’s casa and much-needed sleep before our trip to El Salvador the next day!

Antigua Tips:

  • Try micheladas – such a yummy and refreshing drink! (And you get your daily serving of veggies through the tomato juice.. right?)
  • Watch the sun set on a rooftop bar and stay until dark to watch the Fuego volcano erupt
  • Haggle in the markets for some great deals on trinkets
  • Do not buy from children selling goods in the markets

 

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

The girls and I recovered from our Volcano hike in the car ride back to Antigua, Guatemala. We had a full day planned post-hike, including a birthday party and dancing for one of Cass’s friends. We stopped at a local grocery store for party supplies once we got back to town. They had everything you could imagine there and it was packed with people. Once we finished gat the store, Isa (one of Cass’s Guatemalan friends who hiked with us) took us around town, through the main square, to the markets for shopping (which we did plenty of since the USA dollar is so strong in Guatemala), to an ice-cream store to get a mid-day snack, to a Guatemalan candy store to try out the local sweets, and then to her parent’s house to see what the house architecture in Antigua is like since 8 – 1o foot walls line the streets making house visibility impossible. Boy are the houses uniquely beautiful. Traditionally, there is a big, open garden in the center of the house. The rooms all surround the garden and the second story is a big patio with volcano views. Talk about a private paradise! The gardens as well-kept with beautiful flower and vine overhangs and lots of candles.

After that, we all piled into the Jeep and rode to the birthday’ girls house right on the outskirts of the city. When Cass told me we were going to be staying at her friend’s house and then her aunt’s house later on, I told her I would prefer a hotel with a bed, but boy was I wrong and glad Cass ignored me! We drove into the b-day girl’s house and wound up taking a drive up the mountain at the back of her property to their guest house. It had another amazing view of the city, nestled in the woods, and was our own little paradise! We had some very deserved and needed showers and got ready for the celebratory b-day dinner. We did a little pre-gaming in the main house and met loads of very nice people. I actually had mutual friends with some of the people I met as there is a large Guatemalan population at TCU – small world, huh?!

About 15 of us took off on foot to a rooftop bar and resultant for dinner. We had some delicious pizza and I tried very hard to stay awake. Sitting and eating after loads of travel and a long hike will make one very tired. Thankfully, we headed to an Irish pub called Riley’s that was not Irish in the slightest – more Spanish with cool murals and a huge dance floor with great Latin music – that brought the energy back. We had some drinks, danced, and people watched until the lights came on! It was only midnight but apparently cops with dogs were going to raid the bar! We left in a hurry and walked to a different club called Lucky Rabbit down the street that had a very “American, hostel-hopping, young tourist” vibe and more groovy music. I was getting tired and a little cranky, so thankfully, we left before the break of dawn and headed back to the guest house. Our “Core Four” of girls tried to walk back together but the guys in our group wouldn’t let us. Apparently, while the streets of Antigua seem safe, there is a lot of kidnapping all over Guatemala and girls should travel in groups of 6 of more, preferably with at least one guy.

Anyways Janine and Cass stayed at the main house to continue socializing while Kim, Isa, and I went to bed. I slept extremely well, with the startling exception of some loud screaming in the night as Janine and Cass discovered a clementine sized spider hanging in their bed when they got home. Those bugs in Guatemala are BIG!

Antigua Tips:

  • Travel with a group
  • Make sure you have plenty of room in your suitcase for market goods and bring cash for lots of shopping
  • Don’t forget potent bug spray