Thursday, September 09, 2010

Here are the books I finished while on vacation -

The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins.

This is a really enjoyable book, and a great resource.  It lays out a very strong case for the theory of evolution, starting with why the complaint that it is "just a theory" is silly, and moving through a variety of the strongest evidence, from historical to genetic.

Crown of Stars by Kate Elliot.

For a number of years, this series has been one of my "airplane" series.  Usually epic fantasy books that are large enough to last me through a flight or two, but also disposable in case I want to toss them while travelling.

This one wraps up this series, but in an almost half hearted way.  All the various plot lines and characters are dealt with, but none of the revelations or twists at the end seemed to add up to much and it felt more like an exercise in wrapping things up rather than an exciting conclusion.

Peru Trip Diary

Aug 27th.

Flight from SFO to Miami was delayed. First delay made it difficult to make connection. Second delay (to manually start an engine) made me miss connection for sure. AA put me up in a Doubletree hotel overnight. Miami was shockingly hot and humid - my glasses fogged up when I walked outside.

Aug 28th.

Flight to Lima was also delayed by a couple of hours. Got into Lima about 16 hours later than schedule. Met up with Stacey at Hotel Antigua Miraflores. Lima looks very poor, particularly the slums that are near the airport. The next day, we walked around the Miraflores neighbourhood. Saw ruins at Huaca Pucllana, then had a nice lunch of ceviche at La Mar.

Then walked over to see a neat shopping center built into a cliff over looking the sea, then back to the hotel to get our bags and a taxi to the bus station. Caught an overnight bus to Arequipa. The bus station and bus itself were a lot safer seeming than what you read about. But the trip itself was rough. Sleeping on a moving bus, with turns, rough roads and stops is difficult.

Aug 30th.

Arrived in Arequipa and checked into Casa Andina Classic hotel. Very nice hotel with a huge room. Went out and had lunch at a local restaurant then walked down to the plaza and checked out two nice churches. Hung out in the plaza a little and then had nice diner at ChiCha. Back to hotel to write postcards.

Aug 31st.

Checked out the huge Monasterio de Santa Catalina.  Built to house numerous nuns, it's like a little town of its own. Had crepes for lunch , did some alpaca shopping, then saw "Juanita of the ice" at Museo Santuarios Andinos and an art exhibition of all bullfighting pictures. Also saw Casa Moral, a restored colonial house, then a little more shopping before picking up our bags and catching the overnight bus to Cusco.

Sept 1st.

Arrived in Cusco after another hard bus ride. Another nice hotel - Rumi Punku, with an original Inca doorway.  Outside the classic core and tourist neighborhoods, Cusco looks very poor. The tourist neighborhoods are like old parts of Italian cities, with narrow cobblestone streets and old construction. Lots of churches. We saw five - La Catedral, Capilla de Sagrada Familia , Capilla de Triunfo, La Compania  and Templo de San Blas. Had a nice guide for four of them and a good audio guide for San Blas. Did some alpca and silver shopping and looked at all the remaining Inca walls. Out for supper to Limo, a very nice fusion style restaurant on the plaza.

Sept. 2nd.

Up very early to catch train to Aguas Calientes. Train ride very nice and scenic, with a fashion show and folk dance routine, but ran a little late due to a blocked track. In Aguas Calientes, we got into our nice hotel Rupi Wasi. Amazing accommodations with great views. We walked around the small town a little, getting Machu Picchu tickets, etc. Had an OK lunch at Indio Feliz but terrible service  We were going to go on some smaller local hikes but it started to rain pretty hard.   We tried to wait it out for while but when it looked like it wasn't going to stop, we went out to get rain ponchos. By that time, the hike we were going to do was going to get us back too late for the cooking lessons we had booked at the gourmet restaurant attached to out hotel. The cooking lessons were given by the head cook at the restaurant and were excellent. The first dish we made was chupa , a soup made with red onions, yellow peppers and quinoa. Very nice but mostly demonstration. The next dish was quinotto, quinoa based risotto with a grilled chicken breast. We got to make the risotto ourselves , mixing red onions , chopped yellow peppers, quinoa and a large amount of cream. Both were delicious.  Afterwards the rain had stopped and we walked around the two main streets in Aguas Calientes.

View from our hotel

Sept 3rd.

Decided not to get up early because we expected it to be cloudy. Turned out to be wrong and it was a bright sunny day. Caught a bus up to Machu Picchu around 8am. Got a guide to show is around. The whole thing was amazing.

Got back around 2pm and got ready for train back to Cusco. Train ride back was more boring. It was dark for part of it, so no scenery to see and the scits/shows were the similar. Got checked into hotel (Casa Andina Classic Cusco) and went out for dinner at Patchapapa, a San Blas restaurant focusing on local cuisine. Afterwards, there was a dance class or something going on in the San Blas square. Looked like all locals doing some kind of line dance with a few live musicians.

Sept. 4th.

Slept in a little. Had breakfast in hotel then off to check out Sacsayhuamán, the ruins of the Inca fortress on the hill over the town. The walk up was long and steep with some good views along the way.  The remaining walls of the fortress were very impressive, huge pieces of stone fitted together without gaps. Then back down to San Blas area to have lunch at Patchapapa, but it wasn't open yet and we didn't have time to wait so we ate at the Meeting Place, a cafe ran by American ex missionaries who have moved here. Nice food, but lacking any local character. Checked out some of the street fair going on the San Blas square before catching a taxi to the airport for the flight to Lima.  After flight and hotel check in, we went out to a local organic, vegan restaurant Stacey had discovered on her first day here alone - Alma Zen.  Great food, and extremely nice people.

Sept. 5th.

Decided to check out a few of Lima's museums.  First we went to Museo Larco, which has a lot of great pottery and other pieces from pre-Inca Peru, including an amazing erotica pottery collection.  Then over to the Museo de la Nación, which was much less interesting and under renovation.  Getting there also involved the only time in Peru that I felt less than safe.  The cab we got into was on its last legs and I was just happy to get out of it without crashing or getting carbon monoxide poisoning.  After that museum, we walked around Miraflores a bit more, had dinner and then headed for the airport to fly home.

Overall impressions:
- Machu Picchu is a must see.  Simply amazing.
- Peru is great value for the money.  We stayed at reasonably priced, very nice hotels in every city.  Food was also very affordable.
- Contrary to all the warnings, we never felt unsafe in Peru.  And the people, with the exception of the occasional cab driver, were very, very nice.