Saturday morning, Sean and I took a quick flight to Lima. After checking into our adorable hotel (which felt more like a bed & breakfast), we walked through Larcomar, the mostly Americanized mall in Miraflores, and down to the water to La Rosa Nautica, a restaurant on the water, where we enjoyed ceviche.
After resting in our hotel, we got picked up by the Lima Gourmet Food Tour, which we had booked a couple of months ago. Despite being full, we enjoyed dishes at some of the most famous restaurants in Lima: Cala, a waterfront bar with great Pisco Sours, Amaz, an Amazon-themed restaurant, and Huaca Pucllana, a restaurant set in pre-Incan ruins. We learned about the different fusion cuisines of Peru, including Chifa (with Chinese), Nikkei (with Japanese), and Spanish-Peruvian and Italian-Peruvian dishes. We also made friends with a couple from San Francisco, and bonded over their upcoming trip to La Paz, the guy’s expertise in photography, and foodie life in San Fran.
After the tour, we walked around Barranco, the more hipster neighborhood of Lima, which Sean remarked felt a lot like New Orleans. After wandering around and looking for a place to go out, we stumbled up El Dragon, a bar that we had been searching for and accidentally found. The music was great, the vibe was fun, and we danced for a few hours before heading back home, exhausted.
On Sunday, we made it to La Mar, one of the most famous ceviche restaurants in Lima. The ceviche was AWESOME! I especially loved the Nikkei dish – so yummy!
We then went to the Inca Market, a market of stalls selling souvenirs and Peruvian goods, bought presents for our families, and took a taxi Barranco. We checked out the MATE gallery, featuring prints of famous photographer Mario Testino.
After some ice cream at Crem Dela Crem and a waterfront walk back to Miraflores, we picked up our bags, had a drink at Larcomar, and headed to the airport to drop Sean off and meet my family, who were arriving almost at the same time.
Lima with the Fam
I found my family – my parents, aunt and cousin – quickly, sent them off to their hotel, and stayed with Sean for a couple of hours until his flight. After a tearful but less difficult goodbye than the first one in NY, I went back to Miraflores, joining my parents in their hotel for the night.
The next day, my family and I had an organized tour of Lima, which was cool because it took place mainly in the historical city center, which I had not visited on my previous trip. We saw the main plaza, learned about the history of the neighborhood, which turned from a thriving center to a desolate and dangerous place, to now somewhere safer but still barren.
For lunch, I took them back to La Mar, which they loved, and we did a similar walk along the waterfront all the way to Barranco. It took a couple of hours and was pretty exhausting, but was also beautiful. We stopped at Dedalo, a funky store/gallery selling local artisans’ work, enjoyed the unique pieces we saw there and had a coffee in the backyard café. We then walked around Barranco before heading home to rest.
Tuesday we all traveled to Cusco – me, early in the morning so I could work that day, and my family a bit later in the morning. They spent the day wandering the city while I caught up on work, and we met up after dinner to explore Plaza de Armas and observe the festivities (did I mention June is parade month? It never stops…). We had avocado sandwiches and tea at Café Ayllu, the oldest café in Cusco, which was filled with locals and tended by a stressed waiter.
The following day, my family, now with the addition of my mom’s best friend from childhood, had their trip to Machu Picchu for the whole day. I spent the day working, and after a failed attempt at going to yoga class (it was canceled), getting a much-needed massage. (Walking around Cusco, you’re accosted with, “Masaje, senorita? Massage, lady?” – they know what a trekker needs! A couple of Remotes had recommended the spa at a hotel near ours, and I had a 1.5-hour massage for 50 soles – less than $20. It was a little painful, and fantastic.)
I took the next two days off from work to spend time with my family. On Thursday, we spent the day touring the area surrounding Cusco. Though we made many of the same stops as the Panoramic Bus Sean and I took last week, the addition of our guide, Raul made the trip much more colorful. (My parents booked their trip with a Russian tour agency, so all their guides spoke fluent Russian. Raul grew up in Peru and spent many years in Russia, but his language still never stopped impressing me. He spoke fluently, with a rich vocabulary and almost no accent. I’m always surprised when non-native speakers are able to learn Russian, let alone master it.)
The notably difference on this trip was we stopped to explore Sacsayhuaman. The ruins are truly impressive, and are thought to have been a religious site for important rituals in Cusco. We also saw a throne in the complex, which was where Inca rulers would come to pray.
After the tour, we got lunch at Green Point, a vegetarian restaurant near my place, checked out my hotel and a little bit of San Blas, and made our way back to the main square for a bit of shopping. My dad went home to rest, while we had a mini-ladies night at Museo del Pisco.
On Friday, we got picked up early for our ten-hour tourist bus to Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca. While most Remotes went to Lake Titicaca from La Paz, I knew I had this trip coming up and waited. The bus ride on Inka Express was comfortable and interesting. We had stops every couple of hours, and got to see the Peruvian version of the Sistine Chapel, an old Inca bridge, a couple of sleepy villages with beautiful churches, and finally, an old Inca monastery at Raqchi.
We also drove through the outskirts of Juliaca, one of the biggest cities in the Puno region, and my family commented on the lack of infrastructure – bumpy roads, unfinished buildings and manufacturing materials abounded. It was an interesting realization, since I thought nothing of Juliaca, having seen plenty of the same scenery in La Paz and on our drive to Cusco. Just goes to show you how quickly your standards change.
That evening, after we arrived in Puno, we had a folklore dinner-show at Balcones de Puno. I was skeptical, since it seemed touristy, but was pleasantly surprised with both the quality of food and the show. The costumes were colorful, the dancing was fun, and the musicians were spectacular. It takes a lot of talent to play windpipes, and the speed and variation I saw that night really impressed me.
Lake Titicaca & The Floating Islands
On Saturday, we had an all-day tour of Lake Titicaca, shared by Peru and Bolivia, and the highest navigable lake in the world. Our morning started off rocky, with boat delays and some less-than-calm waters, but we soon arrived to the floating islands of Uros.
We learned that the Uros people had traditionally lived in and near what is now Puno, but after years of attacks, retreated to live on boats on Lake Titicaca. Eventually, they figured out how to make floating islands from chunks of land tied together and covered with straw. It is really something to see an island of straw, with a teepee-like house, have a normal bed in it and electricity from solar panels. The people on the island we visited were charming, with the head of the family (a woman, of course) taking us out on her traditional boat. The water was crystal-clear, and she showed us where the family casts its fishing nets in hope of a catch. Year ago, fish were plentiful here, she tells me in broken Spanish (Aymara is the most common language here), but now you’re lucky to catch one fish. We paid her for the boat ride – tourism is one of the only ways these people make enough money to sustain themselves – and headed onward to the island of Amantani.
On Amantani, elevation 4,300m, my parents stayed behind while the rest of us hiked up to the main plaza. We looked around the plaza, took in the beautiful lake (you can even see Bolivia in the distance!) and had lunch. At lunch, we learned about the distinct wear of the Amantani island peoples. Men, who oddly enough are the primary textile-makers/weavers here, wear hats of different colors to signify their marital status. Women make only one item: a belt that is given as a traditional gift to their grooms on the day of their wedding.
We hiked down, got back on our boat, and coasted the three hours back to Puno. My mom and I mostly sat outside, enjoying the sun and the waves, and spending some quality time together.
Back in Puno, we got dinner, celebrating our last night together as I was leaving the next morning and they were heading back to Lima, and turned in early.
Back to Cusco
The next morning, I said goodbye to my family – always emotional for me, ever since college – and got on the bus to Cusco. The bus ride was uneventful, aside from being unbearably hot for the last couple of hours, and I got sucked into a few really terrible movies that were playing on the bus.
Once home, I met up with my fellow Remotes, who were just returning from their monthly Service Day, which this month was building a garden at an orphanage and hanging out with the kids. They all seemed so fulfilled by the day that I was sad to have missed it. Having been away for so much of this month, it was great to see my fellow travelers again, and catch up. We went to dinner at Chicha, which was fantastic, and reflected on the fact that our last week in South America was coming up.
After all my visitors and travel, I was exhausted. Since I was out and was going to be on vacation again shortly, it would be a busy week at work the next week. I took a nice, early bedtime of 9:30 and was fast asleep shortly…
Up next: my last week in South America! That went fast.