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Trip Report Lima, Ollanta, MP, and Cuzco

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Lllamas, ruins, ocean views, cool people -- I'm still floating following an incredible two weeks in Perú!

Because this forum was so helpful to me in planning my trip, I wanted to leave some details about my own travels. First, here's a high-level overview of how I spent my time:

- Three nights in Lima's historic center (at the Gran Hotel Bolivar)
- Two nights in Ollantaytambo (El Albergue)
- Two nights in Aguas Calientes (Andina Luxury)
- Five nights in Cusco (La Piccola Locanda)
- Two nights in Lima's Barranco district (Second Home Peru)

This was probably the most ambitious trip I've undertaken on my own. As a child (and military brat), I traveled extensively in Europe with my family, but as an adult, it's only been in the past few years that I've had the opportunity to travel internationally. I've been to Montreal, Grand Cayman, St. Lucia, and now Perú. I chose Perú because it has, among other qualities, a few attributes that I was particularly drawn to: a world-class city, a gorgeous landscape, and of course its incredible Inca heritage. In all these areas, it surpassed expectations.

Now... on to the details!

Saturday, Nov. 19 - travel day

My flight, via Continental, landed on time at about 10 p.m. After gathering my bag and getting through customs, I emerged from the airport around midnight.

I was met by Américo, a taxi driver I arranged when booking my room at the Gran Hotel Bolivar. He spoke some English and was very friendly. Following cautionary advice I'd read on TripAdvisor, I put all my stuff in Américo's trunk -- my money was stashed all over my person in various hidden pockets -- but I didn't see anything that made me feel this was really necessary.

A small white rosary swung from the rear-view mirror as Américo navigated the streets. While he drove, he told me about the city and pointed out a restaurant with a sign that said "Chifa." That means Chinese food, Américo said, reminding me that Lima has a large Chinese diaspora.

Américo estimated it would take 30 minutes to reach our destination, but it seemed hardly any time had passed when we pulled up to the Gran Hotel Bolivar, which is on the Plaza San Martín, a square named for the man who led Perú to independence from Spain. The square is lined with graceful white colonial buildings and is particularly beautiful at night, when it's all lit up.

If you've read a few reviews of the Gran Hotel Bolivar, you probably have a good picture of what it's all about, but here's a quick summary: It is a historic hotel that was quite grand in its day. Today it's a bit worn around the edges, but still glamorous. The hotel's lobby has a stained-glass domed ceiling, and a Model T is parked near the front desk. Unfailingly polite doormen are stationed out front 24 hours a day. Curiously long corridors wind through the upper floors, and the spacious guestrooms have 12-foot ceilings, walk-in closets, and tasteful wooden furnishings. I had requested a room with a view, but they gave me one facing an interior courtyard. This was probably just as well, since even in the interior I could hear traffic from the streets.

The bed was hard, but I slept like a rock after the long day of travel.

Saturday, Nov. 20 - Lima

My first day in Lima was amazing!

It started with breakfast at the Bolivar, which featured strong coffee, juice, and a basket of breads. The highlight was a soft croissant that had a layer of caramel baked in -- delicious! The waiter tried to serve me scrambled eggs with ham, but I'm a vegetarian and had to decline.

After that, I was off to explore the city! First I walked to the Plaza de Armas. My idea was to walk through it on my way to the catacombs, then return to the plaza to see the changing of the palace guard at noon. But when I arrived at the plaza, I was surprised to see it packed with people. Surely all these people aren't here to say the changing of the guard, I thought... but it was unclear what was going on. I wandered over to where the crowd was thickest -- near the Cathedral -- and, after perhaps five minutes, a procession started up. At this point, I should mention that I have only rusty college Spanish, but based on what I was able to glean at the time and through a little reconnaissance later, I learned that this was the start of a month-long celebration of San Martín de Porres, the first black saint from the Americas and a much-loved figure. The procession included people carrying a litter that held a statue of the saint, followed by a brass band, the highlight of which was the cymbal player. At times confetti was tossed, and the scent of incense hung heavily in the air. During one stop in the procession, children were lifted up so they could get a closer look at the saint's likeness. Meanwhile, all around the area, vendors sold trinkets commemorating the event. San Martín is often pictured with a broom because he got his start in the Dominican order by cleaning and doing other menial tasks, so among the items sold were small brooms decorated with ribbons and sequins. My broom, bought for 1 sol, is is now a treasured memento of the day. Here's a short video I took of the procession:

I followed the procession half a block out of the Plaza de Armas, where it stopped for a lengthy reading of verses. I continued watching for a while, then decided maybe it was time to wander away. At this point, I looked behind me and saw still more activity in the plaza. I went back and found myself on the sidelines of a lively parade! This was yet another celebration, totally unrelated, marking the 67th anniversary of an area in Perú called Pasco, which includes several mountain communities. As a nod to the chilly, high-altitude Pasco climates, many of the parade participants wore blankets and other symbols of warm clothes, and dancers sometimes had bright red circles pained on their cheeks. Others wore elaborate face masks. Here is a short video I took of a few of the dancers:

After the parade, I visited (finally!) the Monastary of San Francisco, also known as the catacombs. An English-speaking guide showed us the church's beautiful hand-carved choir, its paintings, the peaceful courtyard, and the library, which contains texts so old they pre-date the conquest. But of course the highlight of this church is its crypts. Apparently, back in the early days of Lima, there were no cemeteries. People were always buried in crypts. Eventually, to make room, bodies were sorted out into groups of skulls, femurs and so forth, and you can see bins of each type of bones in the crypts.

After the Monastary, I just wandered around, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city. I loved the Plaza de Armas. In some ways it looks Spanish, yet the bright yellow buildings and the palm trees give it a different flavor.

Another thing I liked about Lima is that there are so many cafes situated in alcoves along the streets. That is, they do not have exterior walls -- you can just step inside and grab a table, which makes having a snack very tempting. Another enjoyable thing is that many of these cafes have cases and cases of pastries right along the sidewalk to tempt you. The Peruvians most love desserts! Anyway, that afternoon, I found a small cafe and had a towering slice of cake topped with a cherry. Then I headed back in the direction of the Plaza San Martín, and the Museo Andrés Del Castillo. This museum is housed in a beautiful colonial building, and its exhibits include mineral samples from all over Perú, and, on a seemingly unrelated note, textiles and pottery from ancient Peruvian cultures. I especially enjoyed the pottery, which included many depictions of animals. I particularly liked a sculpture of a dog nursing several pups.

Afterward, I walked to El Bolivarcito, a small bar connected to my hotel. This bar offers wonderful nighttime views of the square. I had a pisco sour, the classic Peruvian cocktail made of lime, whiskey and a frothy egg-white topping. I can say now that the pisco sours at this bar were the strongest I had in Perú -- almost too strong! Also, it really struck me that at this bar, every single person was drinking pisco sours! I didn't see a single other beverage being consumed!

Following the cocktail, I drifted into the Bolivar dining room, and asked in imperfect Spanish for a vegetarian meal. I was served a mushroom risotto that was much cheesier than I prefer, but it had no meat so I won't complain!

More later...

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    qwovadis, thank you so much! Regarding Ollanta, I walked by the Apu Lodge once or twice and thought it looked really nice. In retrospect, I actually wish I had stayed in that area rather than out by the train station, although there were things about El Albergue that I liked.

    Idahospud, thanks so much! I really loved Lima. I'll post a gallery of photos with my next day's summary...

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    Monday, Nov. 21 - Lima

    I woke up my second day feeling well rested and firmly in vacation mode (it always seems to take a day or two). However, it was hard to believe my time in Lima was already half over! For my last day, I decided to visit more of the historic churches and colonial mansions described in my guidebook. Most of the mansions you cannot actually go inside of, but you can admire their exteriors. I had also wanted to visit the "Magic Circuit of Fountains," but an attendant at the hotel's front desk told me it isn't possible to go on Monday. (I ended up doing it later in the trip...)

    Before leaving for the day, I had breakfast (this time a very good vegetarian omelette along with the same basket of delicious breads). I also decided to take some photos of the interior of the hotel. A member of the cleaning staff saw me doing this and gestured for me to come in and take photos of one of the suites. This was fun -- the suite was big, with a living room and a balcony overlooking the square. I'd heard that, in the past, this hotel has hosted many notable people, including Robert Kennedy, Ava Gardner, and Ernest Hemingway. I couldn't help but wonder if someone famous had ever stayed in this suite.

    Then I was off! My first stop was el Palacio Torre Tagle, an 18th-century baroque mansion now home to Peru's Foreign Ministry. The first thing you notice about this building is the perfect color scheme, which includes rose (the exterior walls), mahogany (two elaborate Moorish-style closed balconies), brownish gray (the stone doorway), and bright white (the frothy looking decoration over the door). The overall effect is really striking.

    My next stop: La Iglesia de San Pedro. This 17th-century structure isn't too exciting on the outside, but the interior -- wow! Everything is golden and fabulous. The arched white-and-gold ceiling is especially beautiful. I learned later that the church has three doors, but because having three doors is considered appropriate only for cathedrals, the third door must always remain closed. I did not see any other tourists inside -- just people praying -- so I didn't take any photos.

    Next I walked to La Iglesia (y Monasterio) de Santo Domingo, which is the church associated with San Martín de Porres. As I walked into the chapel, I immediately recognized the statue of the saint that had been carried around the day before. An altar near the statue also contains the saint's skull, along with the skull of another saint. After looking around a bit, I went to the monastery, where two English-speaking guides showed me different parts of the grounds.

    The first guide showed me the bell tower, which had impressive views. I asked about the area to the north, where I could see houses nestled into hillsides. She said that that was just more of Lima, adding that this area also has beautiful churches, but she warned that tourists need to be careful when going there.

    The second guide showed me the rest of the monastery (though he said it was more properly called a "friary"). He showed me a beautiful courtyard and pointed out how the arches on the lower level are basic rounded arches, but the ones on the upper level reveal a Moorish influence. We also viewed the library, which has many ancients texts, and a room with an intricate hand-carved cedar ceiling. I believe my guide said that the cedar came from Nicaragua and that the ceiling took 20 years to make.

    We also visited a chapel devoted to San Martín. My guide pointed out a large clear case into which people place prayers to the saint. Apparently San Martín was illegitimate, the child of a Spanish nobleman and a free African woman from Panama. He was exceptionally compassionate, and he considered all work sacred, no matter how menial. My guide mentioned that San Martín is particularly well loved in Perú. Later I learned that San Martín loved animals and was a vegetarian, just like me. ; )

    I asked my guide where he was from and he said Lima, but that his family originally was from another area in Perú. He said that this is the case for many people from Lima -- they trace their original home to somewhere else in the country.

    After Santo Domingo, I wandered a bit, passing two more historic mansions: la Casa de Oquendo and la Casa de Riva-Aguero. Of these two, I thought la Casa de Oquendo was the prettiest. I also passed la Iglesia de San Agustín and admired the elaborate facade but did not try to go inside. Unfortunately, a bird pooped on me here -- I was thankful to have a moist towelette with me. One more reason to carry those around....

    My next stop was the cathedral. In the past, the cathedral has been damaged by earthquakes, so the interior is not entirely original, but it's very beautiful. My English-speaking guide, Cristian, was excellent. (The tours are free and you tip the guide at the end.) Among my favorite sights in the cathedral was a painting showing past leaders of Perú. Most are Incan emporers, the last of these being Atahualpa. From there, Spanish kings are shown. I also saw the hand-carved rococo-style choir, the sacristy, and a number of beautiful chapels. There is also an office-like room where I am pretty sure Cristian told me that paperwork related to Peruvian independence were signed... though I could have some part of that wrong.

    The cathedral also has something slightly disturbing -- an elaborate chapel that houses the remains of Francisco Pizarro. Given all the bad things Pizarro did, it's disconcerting to see him laid to rest in such a prominent place. I asked Cristian about this, and he said that the crypt does not represent the sentiments of the people of Lima so much as those of the Catholic Church, which honors Pizarro as the founder of the cathedral. An engraving in the chapel also reminds you that Pizarro was the founder of Lima.

    Like my last guide, Cristian said that he was from Lima but that his family came from an area to the far north, near Ecuador, where the beaches are exceptionally nice.

    After the cathedral, I walked south, stopping in at la Iglesia de la Merced. The inside was crowded with worshippers, many of whom lined up to place a hand on a historic cross that belonged to a 17th-century priest said to have had a vision of the Virgin.

    I then continued south, past the the Plaza San Martín, until I reached a greenway bordered by two busy highways on each side. I walked through the greenway until I came to the end. Along the way, I took photos of the Palace of Justice, to the east, and several sculptures. Near the end of the greenway is Lima's art museum, also known as MALI. I looked at my watch and was disappointed to see that it was 5 o'clock -- too late to go inside. (But I did end up returning on my last day in Perú, and I loved it!)

    At this point I was hungry. I bought a caramel-flavored cookie from a woman across the street from MALI, then headed back. If I had felt better about my Spanish, I probably would have made a reservation at the Huaca Pucllana restaurant and taken a taxi there. But I was tired, and given my early flight the next day, not to mention a lack of confidence in my ability to handle a Spanish phone call, I opted for a cheap chifa restaurant near the hotel. After a laborious conversation with the proprietor, I ended up with a bowl of soup which, sadly, did contain a chunk of meat, along with a plate of rice and vegetables that was really not very good. At least it was only 7.5 soles! Afterward I eased the pain with a pisco sour at El Bolivarcito and some pleasant conversation with a server there named Walter.

    Then I retired to my room, packed up my things and prepared for my flight to Cusco the next day!

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    Just a note -- there might be a mistake in my next-to-last post. Re-reading my description of la Iglesia de Santo Domingo, it suddenly seems doubtful that it would have taken 20 years to complete the ceiling, especially since I believe the guide said that many people worked on it. Googling it is not turning up anything, though. If anyone knows more about this, please jump in with the correct details!

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    Tuesday, Nov. 22 - Lima to Ollanta

    It was with reluctance that I checked out of the Bolivar. Besides feeling that I could have easily used another couple of days in the city, I had really enjoyed the hotel itself, despite its little quirks. In fact, of all the hotels I stayed at in Perú, this is the one I most want to return to.

    My flight was scheduled for about 10, and I got there a little before 8. Upon arriving at the Taca counter I met an American family, and an American couple. While waiting for the airline's domestic check-in counter to open, we became engrossed in conversation, and later I felt fortunate to have met all of these people, because our flight ended up getting delayed for several hours. As the morning and then afternoon wore on, it was nice having these kindred spirits to talk to -- all had interesting stories and travel experiences to share. So what might have been a boring few hours was actually quite memorable.

    At the Cusco airport, I was met by Eloy, a driver I had arranged for through El Albergue. I was impressed that the pickup went seamlessly, despite my flight's long delay. Originally, I had wanted to stop at Salineras and Moray on the way to the hotel, but given the time (it was about 3), Eloy and I both thought it was too late, and we just headed for Ollantaytambo, which is about a two-hour drive.

    At one point during the trip, we came around a bend and in the distance below us was a town surrounded by soaring green mountains. Overheard, the sky was gray, and after a moment a thunderclap punctuated the air. It was very dramatic! I asked Eloy the name of the town and he said “Urubamba,” obviously pleased that I was so impressed. As it turned out, this is his hometown.

    We chatted off and on during the drive. I asked Eloy if he speaks Quechua and he said it's his first language. As we drove through the countryside and small towns, I noticed the word “Keiko” in big letters on the sides of many buildings – the name struck me as familiar, but Eloy had to remind me of Keiko Fujimori, who lost the recent presidential election. These had been signs of support for her.

    We arrived at El Albergue and I got all checked in. El Albergue was exactly as I had imagined it. My room had dark wooden furniture with perfect white bedding. There was a writing desk, fresh flowers, and complimentary water. My room (#15) also had a great view of the mountains on one side; the windows on the other side looked out across a common garden area to other rooms, so I ended up keeping those shutters closed most of the time. The room was larger than I needed, but I had chosen it after e-mailing the hotel and asking which room would be both quiet and have a good view, and this was one of the ones suggested -- overall a good choice, I think.

    After getting unpacked, I had dinner at the hotel's restaurant. For some reason, I chose fettuccine with pesto – usually I avoid pasta if there’s another vegetarian option, but I was in the mood for comfort food. As it turned out, the entrée was just OK, but I really liked the complimentary potato appetizer, and the pisco sour was tasty and strong. There was only one other party dining, but otherwise the atmosphere was nice -- the tables were lit by tapered candles, and the view of the train platform made the setting unique. A musician provided entertainment -- very relaxing.

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    Wednesday, Nov. 23 - Ollanta

    During my first morning at El Albergue, I decided that the bed in my room was miraculous and that the plumbing was a bit dodgy. (Nothing terrible happened, but the toilet made me a little nervous, and the shower went ice-cold one time before coming back a few minutes later.) Given some of the much-worse shower problems people have in Perú, overall I thought it was a good tradeoff. ; )

    For my first full day in Ollanta, I wanted to explore the ruins. First I had breakfast at El Albergue, which was excellent: fresh papaya and kiwi, scrambled eggs, toast, juice, and coffee. My server was the same pleasant person who had waited on me the night before. I never got her name, but she brought me every meal I had at El Albergue and was always wonderful.

    Before visiting the ruins, I wanted to buy a pair of sunglasses – the sun was so bright! – so I walked into town and headed for the square. At the shop where I bought the glasses, I noticed that the proprietress also was selling Kingston memory cards. I felt I was going through memory a lot quicker than I’d expected, so I asked her how much she charged for 8GB. She said 125 soles. About 20 minutes later, I saw another shop closer to the ruins selling the exact same card for 90 soles, so I guess the moral is shop around (or bring enough with you!).

    My first impression of Ollanta was that it was more touristy than I had been expecting. It felt a bit odd to look around the centuries-old settlement -- or at least the most heavily traveled parts of it -- and see so many iPhone-wielding visitors (and so much business geared directly to them). As a tourist myself, perhaps I shouldn't complain about a place being touristy, especially since it's the "touristy-ness" of a location that means you can do things like buy extra memory even though you're up in the Andes! I think I just had expected it to be a bit more sleepy.

    So, that was my first impression -- the following day I spent more time exploring some of the town's quieter paths, and that was a lot better. In fact, nice as El Albergue is, walking through the quieter parts of Ollanta made me wonder if I should have found lodging in one of *these* areas -- perhaps doing so might have let me better soak up the feeling of the town, and get more of a sense of what makes it special. Maybe next time.

    Anyway... at the ruins, I bought my boleto turistico, and almost immediately a woman came up to me to ask if I wanted a guide. My feelings were mixed. I like to walk around ruins at my own pace, but I didn’t know that much about this site, so I decided to use her services. I paid her 60 soles for two hours.

    My guide's English wasn’t great, but I really enjoyed her company. She told me a lot of interesting things about the ruins, pointing out some of the finer stonework, for example, and showing me small outcroppings in stones that might have been used as handholds while construction was still in progress. But more than that, it was just fun talking at length to someone from Perú. For instance, she told me a little about what it was like living there during the internal conflict. She also asked me about the native tribes of North America, and I thought her questions were really interesting. After quite a lengthy hike up the hillside, we sat for a while staring at the view to the northwest, and she told me that sometimes she likes to walk way to the end of the ruins and just be by herself, which I thought sounded just like me!

    After the tour, I was both hungry and out of money, so I walked back to El Albergue to get some cash from my room. While at the hotel, I used a tiny laptop they have at the front desk to try to figure out what was wrong with the international phone that I bought prior to the trip, and which had stopped working as soon as I entered Perú. Finding no immediate answers, I e-mailed the company, then I walked back into town and had a piece of cake at the Hearts Café, and wrote in my journal for a while.

    While at the ruins, my guide had pointed out people walking around the “other” ruins on the hillside opposite us, but it wasn’t clear to me exactly how to get to that site. I could tell the general direction, but didn't want to wander down someone's private property or anything -- it looked like you had to go through a residential area. After consulting the Lonely Planet guidebook and seeing nothing there that helped, I walked to the visitors' office on the main square and they gave me a map. They also mentioned that the walk through this area, called Pincuyllana, takes about three hours round trip. It was about 4:30, so I decided it might be better to go the next day.

    Afterward I walked back to El Albergue and gathered up my things so I could be ready to check out the next morning. Then I headed back to the hotel's restaurant for my second dinner there. Perhaps for variety, I should have tried someplace else, but I hadn't really researched other dining veggie options, and I was curious about a Peruvian vegetarian entrée on the El Albergue menu. The entrée was a quinoa-potato dish, and to be honest it did not turn out to be that exciting, but at least I could say I finally had a meal that was more Peruvian than Italian or Chinese! Also, I was again served a complimentary appetizer (cheese and olives -- yum), and the restaurant was hopping with people this time.

    After the leisurely meal, I spent some time reading a book I'd brought with me about the Incas, before drifting into a sound sleep in that awesome bed.

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    Thanks, colduphere! I’ll talk more about la Piccola Locanda more when I get to Cusco, but my general feeling about it was that it was a good value, despite some quirks (including its location at the top of a steep pedestrian-only road, and noisiness on a few nights). Breakfast was simple but good, and overall the staff was friendly, though their approach is definitely more hostel-style than hotel-style. The immediate area is not very remarkable, but it is convenient to the Plaza de Armas.

    I loved my room (“Biblioteca”) -- this was my favorite thing about the hotel. The room was decorated with bright colors, interesting photos, a writing desk, and a comfortable bed. One of the windows looked onto the Plaza de Armas. My room was on a corner, so it actually had windows on two walls, which was nice – the views were especially pretty at nighttime, with the lights sparkling all over the hillsides. Just be aware that when they say on the Spanish version of their web site that the rooms have "balcones," this apparently does not translate to "balconies." (Don't trust Google Translate on this!) That is, these are not terraces that you can go out onto – they are tall windows, stretching almost to the floor, with flower boxes at the base. They actually are very pretty.

    As a sidenote, the taxi driver taking me there for the first time had a lot of trouble figuring out where to drop me off, even though I gave him the exact address – I guess it’s hard for them to know exactly, since the street is pedestrian-only and there's no way to drive directly to the right spot. I figured out later it’s best to tell taxi drivers to drop you at la Iglesia de San Cristóbal. From there you can walk down to the hotel.

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    Thanks Sasark - they sent us instructions on what to tell the taxi drivers. I think they said what you said. We are travelling with three tenagers so hostel is good. And the stairs ... well we might as well get used to them as we start the Inca Trail after 4 nights at the hotel.

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    Nice work sasark, I look forward to more. The plaza where Bolivar is located, and the downtown center of Lima seem to have improved even more in the past year, with the implementation of the Metropolitano transit system.

    I was able to visit some of Lima museums requiring a reservation or travel agent.. Casa Aliaga, Museo Amano and the astonishing Enrico Poli collection.

    I think Amano would be possible to visit as an individual by writing or calling ahead. What a fantastic collection of Chancay textiles.

    If anyone has questions about the Metropolitano or the special museums, before I can get around to a trip report, please ask.

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    Thanks mlgb! It sounds like you had a great trip! How awesome to go inside Casa Aliaga -- I can't wait to hear more!

    gg, I do not have direct contact info for either of those hotels. However, for the Bolivar, if you write to Tambos Peru ([email protected]), they might be able to answer your questions. (I made my reservation through, and that was the contact listed in the confirmation e-mail -- apparently it is just a management company that handles the hotel's reservations.) Anyway, I wrote to that e-mail address to arrange my airport pickup and verify that I could check in late, all of which went smoothly.

    With Andina Luxury, if it helps, I booked through and it was problem-free.

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    Thursday, Nov. 24 - Ollanta to Aguas Calientes

    My day started with another great breakfast at El Albergue. Then I turned in my room key and checked my luggage for the day.

    As I was leaving, a guy at the front desk mentioned that from the hotel there's a nice walk that takes you across the river and up to some Inca terraces. These are on a hillside to the southwest of town. From there, you are supposed to be able to see a pyramid shape in the landscape that points toward the Temple of the Sun. (My guide the previous day had also mentioned this -- she presented it as one of those things that might be intentional or might be accidental, but fun to think about either way.) I decided I would go there if I could get back from Pinkuyllana in time.

    So, next: Pinkuyllana! It was easy to find with the map. You basically walk through some quiet residential areas, and follow a path up a hillside. The walk has some steep drop-offs, however, and I hadn't been going long when I realized my fear of heights might be a problem. After some internal debate, I decided to turn back. As I was returning, I realized that the path branches -- I hadn't noticed this when starting out. I decided to try going in the other direction (to the south) and this was a lot better. I spent a few hours exploring this hillside and about 10-12 structures placed along it at various heights. I had the area all to myself, which was fun. I also enjoyed the views of the town and of the other ruins.

    Afterward, I walked around the area of town right in front of the trail entrance, then headed north, away from the town center. These paths were very quiet, with not much sound other than that of water rushing through small canals built into the cobblestone walkways. I almost felt like I was intruding, which made me wonder what it would have been like to stay in this area (and "belong" there). I walked past the Apu Lodge and it looked very peaceful.

    Eventually I headed back toward El Albergue, with some reluctance (I realized I probably wouldn't see the town again). But I wanted to check the directions to the terraces and also to get a snack. After doing both, I was off.

    So, to get to the terraces, you walk south along the train tracks until reaching a bridge. You cross the bridge and then follow an uphill path that runs northwest. It drizzled a little while I was walking, but I liked the excursion. It was fun to see the town and both sets of ruins from a distance. The area was very secluded and I wondered if it was smart to be doing this alone, but things seemed fine (though I did see a dog that didn't look too happy with my presence).

    Once I got to the terraces, I stopped to rest and take pictures. I have to admit, I couldn't really see the pyramid, but I liked the views. On the way back, the clouds cleared, and I could see the tip of an ice-peaked mountain to the north that was especially pretty.

    I got back to El Albergue about 4:45 or so, which was well-timed for me -- as a slightly nervous traveler, I had wanted to be back well ahead of boarding time (6:30). I stood at the outdoor bar on the train platform, ordered a Cuzqueño, the local beer, and chatted with the guy working there, Cristian. In the course of conversation, he asked if I'd had a chance to see the town at night, when it's lit up with street lights and apparently very attractive. Ack -- no, I hadn't! Ah well, another reason to return.

    While we were standing there, an Australian couple came by to see if the restaurant was open and were told it was closed for the whole night. I was surprised, then learned that the people were inside celebrating Thanksgiving! I had known that El Albergue is owned by Americans, but I had completely forgotten it was Thanksgiving.

    As it turns out, the holiday spirit was very much with this family, as evidenced when one of them came out and asked me and Cristian if we wanted Thanksgiving plates and then asked another very thoughtful question. ("Any dietery restrictions?" -- a query a vegetarian appreciates...) Moments later, a huge plate of wonderful vegetarian foods was brought to me (and a regular plate brought to Cristian). Talk about hospitality!! Some time later, plates of pastries appeared as well, and Cristian made cappuccino. As we ate and chatted, the shadows grew longer and eventually the light started to fade. I decided the platform looked especially romantic at this time of day.

    Finally it was almost 6:30. Cristian kept telling me I had plenty of time and should wait to board until closer to the train's departure time (7:00), but that's just not the way I roll! So I said goodbye to him and joined the masses lining up outside Car A.

    I was near the front of the line, and right behind me were three Chinese people. I used to study Mandarin Chinese, but it was a long time ago and I honestly couldn't tell whether they were speaking Mandarin or not. I asked them in Spanish if they spoke Spanish. They said only a little and that they were from Macau. When I said I was from "los Estados Unidos," they didn't seem to understand. Then boarding began, things got a bit hectic, and the conversation was lost.

    Seats are assigned on these trains, so I boarded and walked up and down looking for my place. When I finally found it, I was happy to see it was next to the three travelers from Macau, who greeted me warmly. They again asked me where I was from and motioned for me to open my passport. When I did, the man said, "oh, the US -- so you speak English?" This was said in perfect English, and we laughed about our previous struggles to chat. So began the pleasant train ride. It was too dark to enjoy the views, but it was fun talking to the people seated around me, which also included the Australian couple who had been seeking dinner at El Albergue.

    It's hard to describe the upbeat mood of the train that night. It was as if there was an electricity generated by all these people looking forward to seeing the same unique place -- everyone seemed happy, excited, and completely easygoing. You don't always get that on a crowded train!

    When we got to Aguas Calientes, I said goodbye to my new friends and looked for the person meeting me from Andina Luxury. Most of the hotel representatives had signs showing guests' names, but I didn't seem my name anywhere. Finally I saw a sign with the names of *hotels* listed, and my hotel was on that list. So I joined the hotel guy and, after waiting for a few other guests, we set off on the short walk to Andina Luxury.

    I got checked in, and was glad to see my room was very cozy. The river was right outside, and the sound of rushing water was soothing. While "luxury" might be a bit of an overstatement, I liked the room quite a bit.

    I spent some time getting ready for the next morning (laying out my clothes, counting out some cash, packing a wallet with my MP ticket, etc. -- that sort of thing). Finally I fell into bed exhausted and... couldn't sleep! Then I realized -- cappuccino! I never drink it in the afternoon, so the caffeine was having its way with me. Ah well! It wasn't too bad and eventually I fell into a deep sleep.

    The bed was incredibly comfortable, and one of my last thoughts before drifting off was that it was a shame I would never sleep in here. But my alarm was set for 4:30 -- Machu Picchu couldn't wait!

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    Great report sasark! I also stayed at the Gran Bolivar and can't believe you did too! The bed IS hard but worth it imo; it was a STEAL of a price for the location and the grand old glamour of the place. I loved El Albargue as well. I really enjoyed the dynamics of watching all the trains coming in in the morning and the buzz of excitement as people jockeyed to climb on for the highlight experience of their Peruvian adventure. I know what you mean by the electricity on that train ride; I probably had it tenfold self-contained just within myself! I could not stop marveling and smiling/beaming during that ride to MP. Looking forward to the rest of your adventures...

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    Thanks ncounty! Yes, I loved that hotel and now want to find someplace just like it in Buenos Aires -- and maybe Madrid, though I'm guessing wherever I end up in Madrid will cost a bit more! By the way, I noticed in your trip report it cost you only $28?! I'm impressed! How did you book the room? I paid $68 per night, though honestly I still thought that was cheap, given the location and all the other positives.

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    I think it must have been luck and timing and season, sasark; it went up to about $40 shortly after I booked it. I wanted to experience it just for the $28 bragging rights, lol! Although I wrote that I couldn't recommend it due to the hard beds (as you also noted), I would totally stay there again. It is just not for most people who need more creature comforts than I do. I booked the room through one of the customary sites, can't remember which. I usually use kayak or venere.

    I loved Soho in BA; that would be my preferred area to stay there.

    Madrid is so much fun; you've got some great adventures ahead! Don't miss a day trip to Toledo. I have some wonderful pictures from there.

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    ncounty, thanks so much for the BA and Madrid recommendations! I lived near Madrid when I was a child, but my memories of the city are hazy. I am looking forward to experiencing it again....

    eenusa, you're most welcome! It's hard to fit in everything, isn't it? Ah well -- we try!

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    Friday, Nov. 25 - Aguas Calientes

    I was keyed up but also a bit sleepy as I sipped a weak coffee Friday morning at Andina Luxury. Besides this disappointing brew, the hotel offered a large and varied buffet, which was adequate but not much more. On the upside, the woman tending it was very friendly. It was about 5:30, and two or three other parties shared the cavernous breakfast room with me. Against one wall was a loud flat-screen TV. Out front was a nice view of the rushing river.

    While I'm thinking of it, a few other comments about the hotel: The common areas of the hotel, in particular the large circular stairway in the center of the building, were always dark. Also, though I liked my room, the bathroom was odd -- the shower had no door or curtain. The water-spillage wasn't as bad as I was expecting, but the open concept made the shower experience a little strange. As a side note, at $110 a night, this hotel was the most expensive I booked in Perú. But despite the cost and little quirks, I was glad I stayed there. When initially researching options in Auguas Calientes, I came across so many inns that got bad reviews, and the problems mentioned (bugs, ice-cold showers, noise) were just not ones that I wanted to deal with. I'm sure there are other good options, but Andina Luxury worked well for me.

    Anyway, after breakfast, I walked to the bus stop and bought a round-trip ticket. It was about 6 at this point -- I'd missed the earliest bus by a half hour -- but I was glad to see lots of buses lined up and one leaving every few minutes. There were quite a few people waiting on the sidewalk, but not a mob.

    The bus trip took about 30 minutes. As we arrived, I saw guests milling about, and guides offering their services. I hesitated -- should I have a guide? I considered it, but I wanted to be able to go through the ruins at my own pace, and I also had a detailed book ("The Machu Picchu Guidebook: A Self-Guided Tour"). So I decided to go solo, and this turned out to be a good choice.

    I continued on, got my ticket stamped, and -- wow! It wasn't far to that first spot where you can see most of the ruins spread out before you. A grey-white mist hung in the air, so I couldn't see absolutely everything right away, but I didn't need to! It was breathtaking. I have seen American ruins before, but nothing that comes close to the size and completeness of Machu Picchu. Besides that, the mountains rising all around the city make the sight so dramatic. It reminded me of the first time I saw the Acropolis, also in the early morning, coincidentally. That was an all-time great travel moment, and this was too. Wow!

    The rest of the day was amazing. I spent hours exploring the site, staying basically until closing time, pausing occasionally to chat with people I'd met previously along the tourist route. I didn't really eat lunch, but I visited the outdoor lunch counter twice for snacks. The weather was sunny and beautiful all day.

    I decided to walk through the ruins in a generally clockwise direction, starting from the guardhouse. I also did a side trip to the Inca drawbridge, which was about a 20-minute walk away each way from the main site. The drawbridge area is interesting and it's a lot less crowded than other parts of Machu Picchu (so if you have yet to visit, this might be good if you want a break from the throngs during the day). By the time I returned from the drawbridge, the mist had cleared, and the view of the city was spectacular!

    Next I went through the city structures, starting with the "main gate," then down to the area that houses the Temple of the Sun. This area was very busy, and I had to wait for several tour groups to go through. If you are at Machu Picchu early, it might not be a bad idea to visit this area first, particularly if you want to get photos that don't include lots of people. As a side note, it was here that I first experienced that awful feeling when you realize that you have inadvertently stepped into someone's picture -- lots of people were trying to get photos of the temple, the cave below it, and so on. Fortunately everyone I encountered was good-natured.

    Near this area is a staircase with a lot of fountains, which I loved. The sound of falling water was very peaceful. It was also around this time I saw my first llamas stepping delicately through the agricultural terraces. They are so agile -- it was fun to watch them wander confidently up narrow staircases and byways.

    From there I headed up to the rock quarry, then into the Sacred Plaza. A guy who worked at the site offered to tell me about the plaza, which was nice, but then it seemed like he didn't want to leave my side, so I left, making a mental note to return the next day.

    I went along, walking up to the Intiwatana. My book's explanation of this sundial-like structure was a little convoluted -- I'm still not sure what it was for. However, the book pointed out one thing I really liked, which were two "image stones" -- stones meant to represent the mountains in the distance. I took some pictures of these, then went out onto the large empty platform just beyond the Intiwatana. This area was very peaceful. It was nice to sit for a while, look at the rich green expanse running through the city, and imagine it filled with people (guests today are pretty much kept off the grass in the center of the site).

    After a bit I crossed the main plaza and found the sacred rock. Unfortunately, at this point, a guy -- another solo traveler whom I'd met earlier -- came along and sort of attached himself to me. Unlike the guide at the Sacred Plaza, this person was harder to get rid of. Fortunately, it was late, so it wasn't too long before we realized that Machu Picchu was closing for the day and we had to leave the site.

    As we walked out, it occurred to me that Machu Picchu is particularly beautiful in the late afternoon, with the rich golden light and long shadows. It had also really cleared out of people – I felt luck to have been able to stay late.

    Upon exiting, I noticed visitors getting their passports marked with a Machu Picchu stamp, so I made sure I got that.

    My unwanted companion stuck by my side all the way to Aguas Calientes, when he pointedly said he had no idea how he would pass the hour until his train back to Cusco. I politely wished him luck and headed back in the direction of Andina Luxury.

    On the way, I stopped to look at a restaurant menu. A woman who spoke no English tried to entice me inside, and we conversed entirely in Spanish about different vegetarian options. In just the few days I'd been in Perú, my Spanish was so much better! Very exciting.

    I did end up eating there, and the meal (pizza) was just OK, but I enjoyed the view of the river and the cheerful colors of the restaurant. Afterwards, I headed back to the hotel and chatted for a while with the desk clerk, David, then headed to my room to wash up. I was sad to realize my hands were sunburned -- pretty badly, too. I had covered up everywhere else and had applied sunscreen in the morning, but I guess I forgot to re-apply. Oh, well. If you’re going, be careful!

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    What a highlight experience! I think you made the right choice to do MP on your own and take your time. I can just imagine how it must have looked in the late afternoon golden sun.

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    Saturday, Nov. 26 - Aguas Calientes

    Because November is the rainy season, I had arranged for two days at Machu Picchu, just to be on the safe side. As it turned out, the first day's weather was fantastic, but I was still glad I had the second day. Going through the site took longer than I expected (though this may not be your experience -- I am the sort of person who reads every placard in a museum).

    Anyway, the second day I again got there pretty early -- around 6:30. I decided to start with a return trip to the Sacred Plaza and Intiwatana, to see if I could get some better photos of it before it was crowded (mission accomplished...). Then I went to the buildings along the eastern side of the site.

    I spent several hours walking all around this area, which included some residences, more storehouses, and the building with the mortars (bowl-liked formations that fill with water and might have had an astronomical purpose). I especially liked an area that my guidebook said may have been used as a place for handicrafts. I am an artist and I love crafts, so I decided that was one of my favorite parts of Machu Picchu. ; )

    Later I went behind these buildings and noticed a steep narrow staircase leading down to some terraces. As I stepped down it, a park employee called to me, "con cuidado" -- be careful. The lower levels of these terraces were very peaceful and also offered some privacy from the crowds. I saw a trio of people sunbathing there -- I don't sunbathe, but this would be a great place to while away an afternoon.

    I climbed back up, and the park guide asked if I would like to see an area that had something to do with "las momias." He spoke no English but after some Q&A I figured out he meant "mummies." I agreed, and he led me back down the stairs to an outdoor area that had bowl-like indentations in the ground, which he said were for children's bodies. Next he led me to several other caves that he said were for mummies. After that, we visited the Intimachay, the cave altered by the Incas so that it would be pierced by light on and around the December solstice, but at no other other times. It was here that the park guide gave me some coca leaves and said I could leave them as an offering, which I did.

    By this time, the weather had turned and a light rain was falling, so I put on the rain poncho I had bought for 5 soles in Ollanta.

    I thanked the park guide and went back out on my own, going back through some of the other buildings. The main place I still needed to visit was the Temple of the Condor, which was as crowded as the Temple of the Sun. If you haven't seen it, this temple hosts a formation on the ground meant to represent the body of the condor. Up against two walls are long, dramatic formations that symbolize the wings. It's really quite beautiful and you can understand why the area is probably often crowded.

    Eventually, it was time to leave. Reluctantly, I started made my way toward the exit, and back onto the bus. I had a ticket on the 6:45 o'clock train to Ollanta, where I needed to pick up my bag and get in a taxi for Cusco. One of the staff at El Albergue had said she'd help me with a taxi (though this probably wasn't necessary to arrange in advance -- there are taxis all around). When I got there, she said she'd arranged a colectivo to take me for 10 soles. In the colectivo, I was sardined in amongst about six other people, with my bag on my lap and no way to move my arms -- but the price was right, I guess. The driver dropped us at the Plaza de Armas, and it was as beautiful as I'd been expecting.

    I hailed a taxi and asked him if he knew where my hotel was. He said that he did, but judging from the number of times he stopped to ask directions, it seems unlikely. I figured out later that the hotel, La Piccola Locanda, is on a pedestrian-only street, so that makes it harder for drivers to find. Eventually he dropped me and my luggage off on a side street and told me that I was close, giving me some directions that I didn't totally understand but had a few more turns than I really cared for. Vowing to pack lighter in the future, I hauled my bags up and set out looking for the inn.

    While I was walking, two guys looked at me sympathetically and asked if I wanted help. I thanked them but said no. They kept walking but then turned around and asked if I was sure. I paused... I'd gotten up at 4:30 am., and I was pretty tired. I like to be self-sufficient, but now I said OK.

    So these two came back. One of them picked up my large bag, carrying it all the way down the street we were on, then onto Calle Resbolosa. We walked all the way down the steep staircase, only to discover at the bottom that La Piccola Locanda was on the *other* end of the street, so we had to go all the way back up the stairs! They took turns carrying the bag, resting occasionally, but never letting me carry it. Finally we got to the inn. I told my two helpers that I felt I owed them a drink, so they waited while I tossed my stuff in my room. Then we went around the corner to a bar and had pisco sours. These guys were from Lima, and just staying in Cusco for a few days -- in fact they were going to Machu Picchu themselves the next day. When they asked me about Machu Picchu, one of the things I mentioned was that I had loved watching the llamas wander around the ruins. I must have gotten some words wrong, because they asked me to repeat myself and when I finally communicated that I thought the llamas were very agile, the way they could easily walk up steep staircases, one of my companions exclaimed, "Just like us!" which made us all laugh. Anyway, it was really fun, but I couldn't believe it when I looked at my watch and saw it was around 1.

    My new friends offered to walk me back to the hotel. On the way we stopped to take photos in front of the cathedral. There were so many people out and about, I asked if something was going on, but apparently this is just a normal Saturday night in Cusco. Finally, we all said goodbye, and I went exhausted to my room, grateful to have received assistance in reaching it!

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    Great report Sasark. I am looking forward to seeing how hard it is to find La Piccola Locanda. It looks easy on the map and so close to the main square. Mind you we have thought the same thing about every hotel in every city we have visited.

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    Thanks colduphere. I think as long as you remember the name of the church, you will be fine. My mistake was in just writing down the address, glancing at the map without remembering a lot of key details, and getting a taxi driver who didn't know the inn or Calle Resbolosa very well. I did recall that there was a church nearby, but I couldn't remember the name, and of course there are many churches in Cusco! If I were you, I would probably take a printout of the map just to be sure, but it sounds like you will be fine.

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    wow, you were so lucky to have those two guys help you out, sasark. I had similar problems finding my way back to my hotel one night but it was just carrying a light purse. Thank god for young gentlemen.

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    Sasark - we have now done the stairs up to Piccola Locanda twice. It certainly is a lot harder than it looked in the pictures I had seen. Maybe it will be easier after we acclimatize a bit.

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    I had similar steep stairs to climb to my place in Agua Calienete called Rupawasi. Tough with luggage; glad I had help. Hope it gets easier, cold. Fun to be following your travels!

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    Colduphere -- ugh, I hope it gets better. And I know what you mean; I thought I would be fine with the stairs, but I found them really exhausting and annoying. In fact, there were nights I wanted to head back to my room and change clothes before dinner, but I generally ended up skipping that just because I didn't want to face the stairs.

    Related to this, I never took altitude medication in Cusco, which I now think was a mistake. You may want to check and see if they have coca tea at breakfast (it looked like they did when I was there). That might help a bit.

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    Sasark - Yes they have coca tea all day. Today we went to Pisac and other places and got as high as 12100. I think everyone is now doing pretty well with altitude. There are just steep slopes everywhere that would be tough at home (altitude 240 feet).

    Sorry to intrude on your thread Sasark. But just one more thing. Ncounty tomorrow is rafting up above Cuzco. Nothing higher than 3.5 we are told.

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    Sunday, Nov. 27 - Cusco

    My first night's sleep at La Piccola Locanda didn't go so well. I was awakened a couple of times during the night, probably by the sound of revelers from Calle Resbalosa, though I'm not sure. Then my attempt to sleep in was thwarted by loud people in the hallways, and by the sound of the hotel doorbell, which managed to pierce my sleep even though I was on the second floor. (The door to La Piccola Locanda is always locked, and you can only get in by ringing a doorbell.)

    Eventually I got up and wandered into the communal bathroom to take a shower. The bathrooms were spotless, but small. There's no place to put your stuff other than the floor or on the toilet (from which they have a tendency to slide off). Some of the guest rooms do have their own bathrooms, though, so you could avoid this easily enough.

    Anyway, these negatives were offset by the fact that my room was really beautiful, decorated nicely and with wonderful views. I also liked the breakfast room, which was cozy and warm -- pretty much the opposite of the breakfast room at Andina Luxury. And though the selection was less varied, the food was far better. The rolls, jams, and cheese all tasted fresh and very good. That first morning we also had a plateful of toffee-flavored squares that were rich and delicious. The breakfast room has a couple of wired PCs, so you can check your e-mail or get online for whatever else you need. (It's best to do this in the morning, because this room is locked up in the evening. I think they will open it up for a small fee, but I just used the PCs in the morning to avoid the hassle.)

    Originally I had planned to spend the day at Pisac, but following two long days at Machu Picchu, I didn't want to be in the midst of crowds, nor to walk around ruins. Instead, I dropped off some laundry at a lavanderia across the street from the hotel, then headed down to the Plaza de Armas to explore. As luck would have it, something was going on... in the center of the plaza, a guy and a woman wearing red, black, and white costumes were speaking into microphones to a crowd. Eventually I figured out that they were holding some sort of Quechua tournament, or demonstration. People from the crowd would come forward, were shown pictures, and described the pictures in Quechua. On the ground in the center of the crowd were placards showing the letters of the alphabet, and participants used to them to spell out words on a board, Wheel-of-Fortune style. I thought the highlight of the event was when a girl from the crowd stepped forward and sang a song in Quechua a capella.

    I watched for quite a while, then decided to go back to my room for my hat (the sun was brutal). Ugh, what a haul up those stairs! Maybe at a lower altitude it wouldn't seem so bad, but I vowed not to forget anything else in my room for the duration of my stay.

    I wandered around the square a bit more, was approached by several vendors wanting to sell me things, and eventually sought refuge in a small cafe with a balcony overlooking the plaza. The restaurant was called Señor Aji. Here I had a banana juice and solterito cusqueña, a bean and vegetable dish that was excellent. While I sat there, the weather turned. First there was thunder, then a wind that was surprisingly icy. The staff hurried to shut the balcony doors so we wouldn't all freeze.

    After the rain let up, I went across the plaza to tour the cathedral. I bought the boleto religioso and was told that I could listen to a recorded audio tour via a little device that they lend you. The cathedral staff requires identification for this, so be sure to take a copy of your passport if you want the audio tour, which I thought was worthwhile.

    Following the cathedral, I went back to the hotel to put on warmer clothes, then walked around some more. The vendors in the square were incredibly aggressive, which is unfortunate because the square is so beautiful, but not a particularly pleasant place to be (or at least that was my experience).

    Eventually I stopped for dinner at a restaurant called Tobasco, which was near the plaza. I went in because a sign out front advertised papas a la huancaina, which is one of several vegetarian dishes that were recommended to me by a Peruvian passenger on my flight from Houston to Lima. It was a potato dish with peppers, onions, and cheese -- very good. The service, however, was forgetful, so I didn't linger too long.

    Afterward I went back to the lavanderia for my clothes, then returned to the hotel, making it a pretty early evening, though the night sky was already black. I was really struck by how beautiful Cusco looked from my room, with the city lights rising up all around. It does make you feel that you're at the center of the world, in a way.

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    Sasark you really have this place nailed. Friends are at the front of the building and found it noisy. We are at the back and it is deadly silent. The vendors are pretty aggressive aren't they. There are so many children involved in the selling. Our hotel host in Lima told us that in Peru if you don't go, go, go you won't survive. He went to school in California and found it sleepy compared to here.

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    Oh I am glad you have a good room! I thought about asking to change rooms, but decided it was too much hassle and just slept with earplugs. It did get a bit better after the weekend, at least.

    And yeah, the selling is a little crazy. I had heard about that before coming, but it was more intense than I was expecting.

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    Monday, Nov. 28

    For my second day in Cusco, I decided to visit some of the ruins around town. I took a taxi to Tambomachay, the farthest of the sites, figuring I would walk back and see all the others along the way. This was a suggestion from the Lonely Planet Guidebook, which had no map of the area, leaving me with the idea that the route would be obvious.

    The first two sites are close together. So I saw Tambomachay, then walked across the street to Pukapukara. These were interesting -- though after Machu Picchu, a little underwhelming. I do think they are worth visiting, but a better plan might be to visit them prior to Machu Picchu.

    The walk back was long and hot. Unfortunately, I also got turned around -- I came to a turn in the road with a sign saying to turn right for Sacsayhuamán. My recollection from the initial drive was that we had taken no turns, but I ended up following the sign's direction. I figured out later that both routes would have gotten me to Sacsayhuamán, but the one I took bypassed Q'enqo, which was disappointing (though I would see it later in the trip).

    At this point, I realized I was a lot more worn out than I would normally be after a walk of that duration (somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours). I'd brought altitude medication with me to Cusco, but for a variety of reasons I had not yet taken it. On this afternoon, I decided I probably *should* take it. (But then later I was concerned that the warning label said to avoid direct sunlight -- concerned because I was in such an incredibly sunny place and had already suburned once. I ended up not taking it at all, which was probably a mistake, as I never felt fully acclimatized, but oh well.)

    Anyway, I arrived at Sacsayhuamán, and unfortunately the visit didn't begin all that well. I asked a question of someone working in the office near where you enter the site, and the attendant looked at me with a mixture of irration and fatigue, and his response was not very pleasant. I mention this only because, of the people I met in Cusco, most were friendly, but a significant number seemed jaded, which I interpreted to mean that they get sick of tourists. I used to live in a place that was overly crowded with tourists, so I can understand getting tired of crowds, questions, etc. But at the same time, this was one of the things (along with the aggressive vendors) that made Cusco less enjoyable than other places I visited.

    In any event, once inside the site, I assumed I wouldn't stay too long because I was tired. But while I was exploring, a guy came up and tried to sell me some carvings. I declined, but he stayed and began chatting with me about the site. He offered to show me one thing, then ended up giving me an informal tour, which was pretty fun. I enjoyed seeing the giant stones that were part of the structure, and its incredibly tall doorways. When we were done, the guide/artist seemed quite insistent that I buy one of his carvings. I gave him 20 soles for a tip and offered to buy a carving for some amount less than he wanted. He seemed offended, so I told him I didn't have room in my luggage for the carvings, and upped the tip to 40 soles, which seemed to make him happy. All in all, I guess it was good that I ran into this guy, because he did tell me interesting things about Sacsayhuamán, but this was the moment when I realized I was getting sick of vendors acting as though I had some obligation to buy their wares.

    After that, I walked back to town and just wandered around for a while. I bought a small lemon pie with meringue from a bake-shop window on Calle Santa Catalina Ancha. I think it cost only 3 soles, and it was so good!

    Eventually I came to the Qorikancha, which I had not been planning to see that day, but a freelance guide talked me into coming inside. The guide was just OK -- a few times he told me things that didn't really jibe with the placards -- but the site itself was cool. I'd been reading a book that talked a lot about this site, so it was neat to be in a place where I actually knew some details about its history and significance. The stonework in the building is beautiful, and a placard points out one small spot where the building sustained minor earthquake damage (while Spanish buildings were falling all around it). The Qorikancha also has two paintings by a contemporary artist that are quite beautiful. One shows the Milky Way and describes how the Inca had names for the dark shapes in the sky (as opposed to naming only constellations of stars).

    After the Qorikancha, it was still pretty early for dinner (by Perú standards), but I was starving. I had not brought my guidebook with me, so I wasn't sure what my best bets for vegetarian foods would be. I wandered into a place called the Muse, which is near the Plaza de Armas, but the guy at the door seemed irritated by my flawed Spanish, so I made some excuse and left. I began walking down some side streets, got a little lost, and ended up coming back and doing something very obvious -- dining at a restaurant along the Plaza de Armas, at a table on the second-floor balcony.

    The meal was just OK, and the restaurant (called La Retama) was pretty empty most of the night, but the evening was fun. Sitting in the small balcony, and having some nice conversation with the server -- it was very relaxing. Also, partway through the evening, some musicians and dancers came to perform. It was briefly annoying when they pushed me to buy their CD, but on the upside, it was cool when they pulled me out of my seat to dance. Later, the restaurant had a huge array of desserts spread out on a cart, and I sampled quite a few. I followed my server's advice and chose one that was like a blue-corn pudding -- very tasty. After the long day of tramping around, this was a nice way to end the day.

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    Sasark I think those musicians came to our restaurant as well last night. We bought a CD. We always do and then never listen to them again.

    And one lady followed us 3/4 of the way around the square trying to get us into her restaurant. After that performance her place was the last place we were going.

    Boy they must really be rolling their eyes at our Spanish.

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    Oh, that's funny! Yeah, I am exactly the same with some of CDs that I've bought when traveling. Recently I decided I just have too much stuff and am trying to stop acquiring things I don't want.

    And yes, I don't understand restaurants that have representatives stationed outside trying to entice people inside. The fact that they have to have a solicitation effort makes me assume that the place probably isn't that great.

    Did you have a good meal?

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    Tuesday, Nov. 29, Cusco

    This was my last chance to see the market in Pisac (I was leaving the Sacred Valley early Thursday), but I found that once again, I just didn't feel like the excursion -- after my ruin-intensive afternoon the day before, I wasn't psyched for the Pisac ruins, and I couldn't muster much enthusiasm for buying stuff at the market, or fending off vendors. I suspected that later I might regret having skipped it, but I decided to do what I felt like.

    I still had a number of in-town sites on my list to see, so I decided to visit these, starting with la Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús. This church was nice -- and I am pretty sure it was here that my guide pointed out local touches in the altarpiece, including images of corn and avocado in the trim. I also got some good photos of the Plaza de Armas from one of the church's upper levels.

    Afterward I walked up to San Blas and visited the church there. This church was a lot smaller than others I'd seen, but it was pretty, and the carved pulpit was impressive. I had decided to go ahead and use a freelance guide, and this was a mistake -- he seemed a little sketchy and, toward the end of the tour, he led me outside. I followed, assuming we were going to look at something interesting on the church grounds. Instead, the guide led me into a pricy gift shop where he tried to interest me in buying pottery. So... that was the end of that tour.

    After leaving the church, I walked uphill a bit farther, then gradually made my way back in the direction of the Plaza de Armas, stopping in at a few art galleries along the way. One of these had beautiful stylized paintings of llamas. I also stopped at the same bakery window I had visited the day before. This time I bought a passionfruit mousse, which was unique and refreshing.

    Next I headed for El Convento de la Merced. The friendly woman at the door complimented my hat and insisted on giving me the student rate, which was nice. There was no guide here, so I just strolled around at a leisurely pace, enjoying the tranquil surroundings. Sadly, at first I could not find the room where the church's spectacular monstrance is located, and there appeared to be no one around to ask. I did see a couple of private tours going on, so I hung about and eventually when I retraced a path I'd taken earlier, I found that a room which previously had been locked was open, with a tour group inside... I went in and found the monstrance, which was really ornate, decorated with diamonds, rubies, and pearls.

    Unfortunately the chapel was not open at this time of day (I think it's open only in the morning).

    At this point, I decided to walk around and explore some of the other neighborhoods mentioned in my guidebook. I went by the Plaza San Francisco, making a small detour down Meson de la Estrella to find a vegetarian empañada. The plaza was really pleasant -- filled with dogs playing and local people relaxing. It seemed 100% more down to earth than the Plaza de Armas, and I wondered if I should have stayed closer to this area.

    Afterward I walked through a huge stone archway toward the Mercado Central de San Pedro, a market where people buy and sell just about everything, it seems. This place was kind of a vegetarian's nightmare -- around every other corner was the corpse of some poor, stiff individual. But I managed OK. It was fun to see booths where dozens of different types of potatos were sold, or many types of cheese, nuts, and bread. In addition to food, there were also vats of cooking oil, a constellation of household products, and clothes (and ladies hard at work, hunched over tiny sewing machines). Quite a few juice bars tempted me to sit down for a refreshing drink, so I had a mango-and-leche juice -- delicious! Before leaving, I also had my first chicha (a blue-corn drink).

    I decided to walk back via Calle Nueva, a busy commercial street. It was fun seeing all the different shops, which sell everything from stoves to underwear.

    Next I went by el Palacio de Justicia, a striking white building along Avenido El Sol, then up Calle Loreto, a long pedestrian-only street with tall Incan walls on either side. In the near-dark, with the golden lights of the plaza twinkling in the distance, the walkway felt completely different from anyplace I'd ever been.

    For dinner, I headed to Aldea Yanapay, which is supposed to have good vegetarian options. The restaurant is on a second floor along Calle Ruinas, and decorated with colorful child-oriented stuff, including large plush animals seated in many of the chairs. The meal -- risotto -- was just OK, but my server was nice. After learning I was from the U.S., he showed me a map of the states that he carries folded up in his wallet, with certain states marked with Xs. He explained that he collects state quarters and marks off on his map each state for which he has a quarter. I wished I could have helped with his collection, but I had no American money with me. Still, he seemed pleased when I told him that I too collect state quarters.

    It was pouring rain when I left the restaurant, so I headed back to La Piccola Locanda, thinking about how I would spend my last day in Cusco.

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    Sasark - did we have a good meal? We are all following your report so three of us had that spicy, cheesy potato (I can't find the name above ... Hua?). Great potato, great cheese but just a touch spicy for me though not the others.

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    that mango and leche drink sounds marvelous, sasark!

    Cold is joking about me rafting today, lol... I went rafting on my trip to Peru last April for my big birthday, a solo adventure. I think I said it was such a thrill I wouldn't do any rapids milder than a 3 from here on.

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    colduphere, ah yes, it is a bit spicy -- I hope your next dinner is more to your taste!

    ncounty, yes, the mango drink was amazing! The attendant made it it in a blender, and after I drank a whole milkshake-style glassful, she asked if I wanted the rest from her blender, and she gave me a whole additional glass -- yum!

    That's too funny about the rafting! I am now re-reading your trip report and it's all coming together. I might take your advice and fly first-class next time if I can swing it! I've only flown first class once before (and it was a "gift" from the airline -- it was on New Year's Eve, and the agent felt sorry for me because I'd been flying 20 hours due to some horrible American Airlines mixup. It was a wonderful few hours in a comfy chair, sipping champagne... that's the life!).

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    Okay the end of the joke is that we went rafting yesterday with a maximum run of class 3.5. The 12 year old never stopped smiling. We would love to come back someday and do their 3 day class five through a canyon trip.

    Inca trail starts tomorrow. If it is taking us 10 minutes to climb the 90 feet from the plaza it should take us about 7.5 hours to climb Dead Woman's Pass on day 2. My wife will kill me. I see a renaming ceremony ahead.

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    Wednesday, Nov. 30

    On my last day in Cusco, I decided to begin with a drive up to Salineras, Moray, and Chinchero, then in the evening visit the Planetarium Cusco, which offers presentations on the astronomy of the Incas (or... that's what I was expecting anyway).

    For the first part of all that, I went down to the plaza and found a taxi driver who could take me around the valley. The driver, Raúl, also offered to take me to a corral to see some llamas and alpacas, which I agreed was a good idea.

    Our first stop was Chinchero, which was much smaller than I'd been expecting, but I liked it -- I thought the village was really charming.

    On our way up to the church, I stopped to browse at a shop, and it was here I had a dilemma that looms large in my memory. To explain: initially, I had imagined that in Perú I would buy plenty of alpaca sweaters. However, after seeing alpaca listed on so many dinner menus, I had soured on sweater-buying -- I am a vegetarian, and because I think that the clothing industry and meat industry tend to be intertwined, I try to avoid animal products. I do have leather shoes, and some wool products. I will also admit that I drink half-and-half and eat butter (mainly for convenience when traveling -- not really at home). So it's not a perfect system, but when possible I try to buy synthetic clothing. Anyway, I was completely fine with my decision until I saw an exceptionally attractive baby-alpaca poncho in Chinchero. The proprietress assured me that the yarn used for her garments came from alpacas not used for meat, and she persuaded me to try it on -- and it was spectacular!! (Not to mention cheap.) It was so beautiful. It was not bulky, yet it felt incredibly warm. It had a trim around the border depicting llamas, and there were also two long scarflike pieces that you could wrap around your neck for extra warmth... Once I became convinced, more or less, that it was morally acceptable to buy the poncho, I was then stopped by the fact that the poncho was black and I have a white dog whose hair sheds **everywhere**, making it almost impossible for me to wear black. Seriously, no amount of vacuuming and brushing has protected my black clothes. I asked the proprietess if she had different colors (she did not), and then decided to think about it, and maybe come back. But I did not go back, and for some time afterward I was haunted by the memory of the phenomenal garment that I passed up!!! Oh well -- another reason to return.

    Anyway, to the more "important" parts of the visit: I really liked the church, with its intricately painted interior and out-of-the-way feeling. It had a decrepit feeling about it, yet the atmosphere was one of grandeur, too. Afterward, Raúl and I wandered around the ruins just beyond the church. The countryside around us was incredibly quiet and peaceful. Later, as we went back past the church and through town, Raúl pointed out where the colonial buildings are built atop Inca foundations, which was interesting.

    After Chinchero, we headed for Moray. Along the way, we passed through a tiny pueblo that, compared with Cusco, felt otherworldly in its smallness and simplicity. I probably should have asked Raúl if we could walk around a bit, but instead I just snapped a few photos from the car.

    Upon leaving the pueblo, we came across a woman and a baby. Raúl stopped to offer them a ride. They spoke only Quechua, so Raúl and our passengers visited in Quechua until we reached a spot on the side of the road where they wanted to get out.

    Eventually we came to Moray, the experimental agricultural terraces. The site was pretty, but after Machu Picchu, it wasn't the most astonishing place, and I'm not sure it was worth the effort it took to get there (though if you're out and about at some of these nearby places, then I guess it's not too much extra effort). We walked around a bit and were preparing to leave when a guy came up to me and said "Didn't I meet you recently?" He looked completely unfamiliar to me, so I replied that I didn't think so. He said, "No, I'm sure we did meet." Finally, he called out to his girlfriend, saying, "What island did we meet her on?" And the girlfriend called back "Santa Lucia!" As soon as I saw her, I knew who they were. They are a couple from Barcelona who I had met last summer at a tiny restaurant in Gros Islet, St. Lucia, only to discover that we were staying at the same nearby guesthouse. These two are traveling the world, and now, at Moray, they told me that since I'd seen them in St. Lucia they had been to several islands, several Central American countries, and then down through South America to Perú. What an incredible coincidence to see them again! We took photos together before saying goodbye.

    After Moray, Raúl and I went through another small pueblo, then we came to Salineras, the salt pans. This salt pans comprise what looks like hundreds of ponds colored all different shades of white: parchment, cream, chalk-white, and so on. It was very pretty, and here I bought several small bags of "sal de los Incas" to give as sourvenirs to people at home.

    I'd mentioned to Raúl that I'd missed seeing Q'enqo, so we stopped there next. It was interesting, but it wouldn't have been a tragedy to have missed it. Then it was on to a place where Raúl said we could see llamas and alpacas. The establishment, whose name I forget, had weaving demonstrations and exhibits on traditional dying techniques. But it was the animals that I loved seeing. We fed them straw and took tons of photos. They were so beautiful, especially the baby alpacas. I had mixed feelings about seeing the captive vicuñas, which were held in a separate corral up on a hillside -- I had been under the impression that these animals couldn't be or shouldn't be domesticated, though I admit that I don't really know a lot of details about this.

    This was basically the end of the day tour, so Raúl dropped me off at the Plaza de Armas. Before leaving me, he agreed to take me to the airport early the next morning.

    I had some time before the planetarium people were supposed to pick me up, so I went for a walk. I was a bit peckish, so I headed back for a *third* visit to the bakery-shop window I'd been frequenting. It appeared to be connected to an Irish pub -- Rosie O'Grady's -- but it still seemed Peruvian to me. It reminded me of the pastry cases I had seen all over Lima. I again purchased a miniature lemon pie. It wasn't as good as the one I'd had a few days ago, but I still liked it.

    Finally it was time for my pickup by Planetarium Cusco. Besides me, two other people were going to the evening's presentation, which took place at the planetarium headquarters, on a hillside overlooking the town.

    This turned out to be one of those things that sounds really cool, but in reality was disappointing. Perhaps I just didn't understand what the intent of the presentation was, but I was disappointed that it seemed to focus on everything *except* Inca astronomy. First, the presentation focused on Cusco. For about 20-30 minutes, a speaker offered a bunch of details about Cusco, and the Incas in general, most of which I already knew. Next we were shown a small model of the galaxy and lectured to about the fact that astronomical distances are often misrepresented in sci-fi movies (no... really?). Then we were led into a room where they projected an image of the stars onto the ceiling overhead, which was neat, but they used this display to talk only about non-Inca constellations such as Capricorn, Saggitarius and so on. Finally they got to the part about Inca astronomy, but this portion of the evening was woefully short on details. In fact, I don't think they said anything more than did the placard on this subject at the Qorikancha. Curiously, no time was set aside for questions -- though I did ask one question, which seemed to catch the presenter off guard and wasn't answered well.

    So, this was basically a disappointing evening, though at the very end things picked up when we were allowed a peek through the planetarium's powerful telescope -- we saw the surface of the moon, Jupiter and four of its moons, and the Andromeda galaxy. Very cool! Unfortunately, we were only able to spend a few minutes with the telescope because the planetarium people, who in general seemed disorganized, had apparently just figured out that their driver had to leave at the exact moment, so we had to scramble to get into the van and be off.

    If you do decide to go to the planetarium, make sure you bring a fleece and maybe even a jacket, depending on the time of year -- it was much colder on the hillside than it is in town.

    The Planetarium people dropped me off near the Plaza de Armas. After that, I just wandered for a bit. I came across a magic show in the street, led by a guy and a little boy. It seemed very theatrical and the crowd all around periodically burst into laughter or applause at the duo's antics. I didn't understand everything that was being said, but I thought it seemed cool -- and I felt like I was finally starting to experience a bit of the city's flamboyant, devil-may-care side, which so far I'd only read about.

    Next, I returned to San Blas -- I had decided to check out a restaurant I'd noticed when I was there before. Along the way, a little guy showed up and tried to interest me in some alpaca sweaters. I was still feeling the bitter sting of regret about the poncho, so I was interested. First I quizzed him extensively on alpaca welfare. Then, feeling tired and indecisive, I asked him if he would be around for much longer, and he said, no, holding up his satchel as if that explained things and saying "soy de las montañas!" After he assured me that the alpacas "no mueren," I bought a gray pullover from him and put it on immediately to shield myself from the chilly night air.

    I continued up the hill toward San Blas and found the restaurant I'd seen earlier. I don't remember the name, but it was a small establishment with about four or five tables, all lit with tapered candles. I ordered something that sounds boring -- sautéed tomatoes with avocado and rice-- but was delicious! It was also presented beautifully: the rice was served in the shape of a star, and the green avocado slices looked striking against the dark red tomatoes. After I finished eating I sipped a pisco sour and wrote in my travel journal while the propietor strummed a guitar. Eventually he went outside to talk to some friends or aquaintances. I waited a while for him to come back in so I could pay -- when he didn't, I went outside and he was nowhere to be found. I looked up and down the quiet streets and wondered what to do. I went back in and waited a while. At this point there were no other diners there. Finally I left my money on the table and left, hoping the cash would remain undisturbed until he got back.

    Then I went back to la Piccola Locanda, packed up my things, and made arrangements with the hotel for an early checkout the next morning.

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    Oh thanks, ncounty! And yes, I was stunned by that coincidence! We joked that we just had to run into each another again, perhaps in Argentina, where we all want to go, but I guess that might be more luck than we can count on. ; )

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    Thursday, Dec. 1 -- Cusco to Barranco

    I dragged myself out of bed early and went to turn in my room key. The attendant at the front desk offered me a brown-bag breakfast, which was thoughtful.

    Raúl was right on time, picking me up at la Iglesia de San Cristóbal at 6. We headed to the airport, and this time my flight was on time and uneventful.

    It was funny; in general I had been lukewarm on Cusco, but I'd just started feeling that I was getting a sense of the city's personality, so I was a little sad to leave. Arriving back in Lima, I felt I was in a whole different world.

    I had arranged an airport pickup through Second Home Peru, and that all went well. Arriving in Barranco, my sadness at leaving Cusco melted away -- I was thrilled with my new surroundings! Much as I had loved el Centro (from my first few days in Perú), this area was equally wonderful. The sight of the Pacific Ocean was so pretty and relaxing, and the smell of salt in the air reminded me of home. Second Home Peru is in a large house right by the ocean, with awesome views. And my room was gorgeous -- it had a large bed with a beautiful iron headboard, and a clawfoot tub. One downside is that the room's private bathroom did not have a door separating the toilet area and bedroom, so if you were staying there with someone, that could be annoying. The other downside was that there was only one window, and it looked out onto the interior of a shared patio. (However, it was nice being able to go onto the patio to stare at the ocean.) As a point of reference, my room was No. 4 -- I'm sure they're all different.

    After checking in, I decided to go for a walk. First I went by the Bridge of Sighs, which was nice, but not quite as compelling as the name suggests. What I enjoyed more was just walking along the main drag and snapping photos of the brilliantly colored buildings. Eventually I came to el Museo Pedro de Osma. This museum's religious art was not that exciting to me, but the building, with its towering ceilings (at least 14 feet high, I'd guess), dramatically long halls, and ornate detailing, was just amazing -- it might be the most beautiful building I have ever entered. How extraordinary to think this was ever someone's house! I also liked the exhibits that featured lush antique furniture, housed in a secondary building (also beautiful) on the property.

    After a bit, I headed back to Second Home Peru, changed clothes, then got in a taxi headed toward La Rosa Náutica. This restaurant, which sits on a pier amidst the waters of the Pacific, is really stunning. I arrived around 6:15, just as the sun was starting to sink low in the sky, and the body surfers bobbing along in the water were probably thinking about calling it a day. I went into the dining room and, as an aside, I will mention that, on previous trips, I've often found that my guidebooks are overly cautious with warnings that reservations are "essential." In this case, the caution was warranted. Even at that early hour, the restaurant was packed, and the hostess told me to come back at 7, which was the time I'd made my reservation for.

    In the meantime, I went to the bar section of the restaurant, which faced away from the setting sun and therefore had a slightly inferior view. At many restaurants, there's not *that* big a difference between the bar and main dining room. In this case, there was. The main dining room seemed formal and perhaps a bit staid. By contrast, the bar section was loud and raucous. The view was of the "other" side of the water, away from the sunset, but it was still quite pretty. I felt like I was practically sitting on the water, and the atmosphere was enhanced further by the sight of an illuminated cross sitting high on a hillside in the distance. I sat down and ordered a pisco sour. Sitting near me were two Guatemalan businessmen -- a guy about my father's age and his nephew. They invited me to join them, and I was enjoying myself so much that when the time for my reservation arrived, I just decided to stay where I was. We ordered some vegetarian snacks, had another round of pisco sours, and remarked on the pleasant view of the darkening ocean.

    Sadly, the taxi driver had asked me for an exact time that I wanted to be picked up and I had given one -- mainly because I didn't feel confident enough to handle it later by phone. As a result, I felt a bit like Cinderella as the evening wore on, trying to wrap things up and be ready to run out to the parking lot to make my pickup on time. As it grew closer to the time for me to depart, my companions also decided to leave and head for El Bolivarcito, which I had told them about. When the bill came, they generously insisted on paying for the whole thing. They invited me to come with them to El Bolivarcito, but it had been a long day, so I decided to stick with the original plan and head back to Second Home Peru, leaving them with the promise that I will look them up should I ever make make it to Guatemala City, which I hope will happen.

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    Friday, Dec. 2 -- Barranco

    In the night and early morning at Second Home Peru, I learned that having a room right next to the central staircase in a three-story B&B isn't necessarily a good idea. Light from the common area of the inn shone brightly at all hours through the yellow stained-glass window above my door and, of course, I heard people pounding along the stairs on their way in and out. I made a mental note to sleep with earplugs the next night.

    Breakfast took place in a huge eat-in kitchen with a single large wooden table -- for some reason, the scene reminded me of a French country house. Except for a lady who worked there, the kitchen was empty when I arrived. The food (eggs made to order, bread, jam, fruit, coffee, juice) was outstanding. I think they also offered pancakes, but I always chose eggs. These were perhaps the best breakfasts I had in Perú.

    So, eating at a communal table is a funny thing -- a bit like a game of cards. The mix of people can be a good hand, a bad one, or somewhere in between. Eventually an American couple showed up, and I'd say altogether we made an average hand at best. ; ) When they came in, I smiled at them, but they looked away and were silent. Eventually they began speaking to each other in hushed tones, all the while studiusly ignoring my presence, which felt a bit awkward given we were all seated together (though certainly I can understand not being up for chatting with a stranger first thing in the morning -- or at all, if that's your personality). Anyway, I mention this only because ever since arriving at Second Home Peru, I'd been wondering whether the inn might merit a return visit. But it's this sort of thing -- awkward communal breakfasts and forced socializing -- that generally makes me favor anonymous hotels or apartments over B&Bs. (At the same time, I have to admit, for a B&B, Second Home Peru was pretty appealing in most ways).

    After a bit, the lady of the house, Lilian Delfín, showed up and quizzed us on what we were all doing for the day. When I said I was heading for el Museo de la Nación, she made a face and said, "Don't waste your time." Slightly surprised, I mentioned that I wanted to see the exhibit on the internal conflict, and she loosened her judgment, proclaiming that that exhibit is the only worthwhile one, in her view.

    As I finished up breakfast, Lilian said I should join her and some other guests for a tour of her father's (Victor Delfín's) art studio, which is on the inn's grounds closer to the water. This was a lot of fun. I am an artist, so it was a thrill to meet an artist who has accomplished so much. We met the master himself, and he very graciously agreed to let me take his photo. Lilian showed us several of his pieces, including one that I particularly liked, two large carved panels inspired by the internal conflict. I should mention that his artwork is also displayed throughout the inn itself (including the guestrooms), which adds to the appeal of the already beautiful house.

    While showing us around, Lilian asked the only other woman on the tour what she does for a living. When she said she was a lawyer, Lilian proclaimed that "you look like a lawyer." I had previously told Lilian that I have a day job but am an aspiring artist. Now, during the tour, she gave me a long look, then said, "And you look like an artist." For some reason, this completely thrilled me!

    Afterward, I walked on a path along the ocean to Miraflores. It was a wonderful walk, with spectacular views of the ocean. The route took me through a park with meticulous landscaping -- there were palm trees, colorful flowers, and winding paths. A sign proclaimed that dogs were allowed ("Zona de perros," it said). Proving this, quite a few local people were out and about walking their pets. I fantasized, not for the first time, about moving to Perú!

    I got to Miraflores and stopped into a few shops. I bought a hand-painted mirror for myself and one for my mom, plus a few other little trinkets. I stopped for a late lunch at a very busy cafe, where I ordered a stuffed avocado and strawberry juice. Then I got in a cab and headed to the museum.

    I arrived later than I'd intended, and my plan to start with a quick viewing of the museum's quipus was shot down when the staff at the front desk said that they did not have a map of the enormous museum. Not wanting to waste time, I decided to head straight to the internal-conflict exhibit (I knew where that was). Upon arriving at the right floor, I was shuttled into a room where they showed a 20-minute Spanish-language video on the internal conflict, which unfortunately I didn't really understand. After that I started browsing through the exhibit of photos. Sadly, I did not have enough time to see the whole thing. However, I was there long enough to determine that the English-language placards were not very good (I mainly tried to read the Spanish ones), but the photos were incredibly moving. I wish I'd had longer there, but oh well.

    After the museum closed at 5, I had some time to kill before a concert (also at the museum) by the national orchestra. I bought a piece of cake at the museum's cafe, wrote in my journal, and chatted with a museum attendant. I also watched some young ballet dancers as they practiced in the museum's huge lobby. Eventually it was time for the concert, and it was wonderful! The orchestra played two pieces by Mexican composers, two by Peruvians, and Beethoven's Sixth. I'm not an expert on classical music, but I could really hear the difference between the style of the Latin composers compared with the Europeans I'm more accustomed to.

    I occasionally go to the symphony in Boston, so it was also interesting to compare the two styles of events. In Lima, the audience was smaller, but also a lot younger, on average. The setting was much more humble than Boston's spectacular Symphony Hall, but it was made elegant by a border of crimson flowers strewn along the edge of the stage, and by the staff's dress -- all of the ticket takers and attendants were dressed in black, with long peach-colored sashes draped over their shoulders. I was surprised that there were no warnings to turn off our cell phones -- and shocked when the woman next to me *answered* her phone during the concert. She kept it short, so it didn't really bother me, but it was just striking how different this was from what I'm used to. I think in Boston, you might get arrested for that. Anyway, it was a wonderful evening, and I hope to see Perú's orchestra again sometime. I also decided to try and see the local orchestras in other major cities that I visit in the future.

    My taxi picked me up right on time, just as the concert was letting out. On the way back to the inn, we stopped to see The Kiss, Victor Delfín's wonderful illuminated sculpture on the waterfront in Miraflores. In the park around the sculpture, affectionate couples cuddled in the moonlight.

    After that, the taxi shuttled me the short distance back to the inn. So ended my first full day in Barranco. How sad that it was almost my last!

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    Still enjoying your report, sasark, I like the way you travel.
    Yes, Lilian does have a personality. But how often do you get to sleep inside an art museum? I hope you also saw the silver room at Pedro de Osma, I nearly missed it myself.

    On my recent trip I stayed at 3B Barranco which is a new small hotel in Barranco, about half the price of Second Home Peru for an individual, and located not far from the Balta Metropolitano station. The breakfasts are at individual tables, no need for forced interactions. Extremely helpful staff (24 hours) but some issues with noise. I would still return, with earplugs, to either of those lodgings.

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    Oh, thanks mlgb! You always have the best suggestions! That place looks very copacetic.

    I did see the silver room at Pedro de Osma -- it was spectacular! Still, I think what liked best were the buildings themselves. I especially loved the ceilings in the building at the back, the one with the furniture. By that point, I had been asked not to take photos (I hadn't seen a sign about that, so I'd assumed it was OK -- wrong!). Still, I couldn't help sneaking a photo of the beautiful colored ceilings in that smaller building. So pretty!

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    Saturday, Dec. 3 -- Barranco

    My last day began with another wonderful breakfast at Second Home Peru, then I reluctantly packed up and left my room, checking my bags with the inn for the day.

    I had thought a lot about what I wanted to do on my last day. I was interested in quite a few different stops, which conceivably could all be combined into one tightly plotted itinerary -- but I didn't want to spend my last day racing around, so I decided to choose one thing, and it was MALI.

    To get there, I decided to walk along the ocean again to Miraflores, then grab a taxi. It was cloudier on this day, but I enjoyed the walk just as much.

    I found a taxi easily and, upon arriving at MALI, felt a bit of nostalgia at the memory of myself from 11 or 12 days earlier, buying a caramel cookie on the sidewalk outside, with most of my trip still ahead of me.

    You enter the museum grounds through a gate in a tall wall. Inside is the museum building, plus a huge park, which was teeming with activity on the day that I was there. It seemed as though there were some organized youth events going on, plus lots of people were just wandering about.

    I bought my ticket and entered. There were three exhibits, two focusing on pre-Colombian art, probably from the museum's permanent collection, and an exhibit of ink drawings by an artist named Fernando Bryce. I spent a few hours looking at Bryce's drawings -- these unique pieces were inspired partly by images and text from old newspapers and magazines. The exhibit explored themes related to colonialism, along with other ideas related to political and national identity. The artist also seemed concerned with the way events and people are represented in the media. I liked those aspects of the work, but mainly I wanted to examine the techniques Bryce used in his portraits. After that, I moved on to the pre-Colombian exhibits, which were also impressive. It was cool to look at these pieces and think that 1,000 years ago (sometimes more), people worked to make these things pretty -- and they are still here for us to enjoy.

    I spent a few hours in the galleries, which are set up around an interior courtyard with a classic black-and-white checkered floor. The day I was there, the very top of the courtyard (quite a ways over my head) was covered with a tarp, but you could still hear the frenetic sounds of traffic on the busy streets outside the museum walls. Rather than being obnoxious, though, these sounds just made the museum feel like more of an enclave.

    Afterward, I went into the museum's cafe and had gnocchi, juice, and coffee. While I sat there, three girls came in to talk conspiratorially over a table of snacks. They wore long red-and-black flamenco skirts, paired with various different casual summer shirts. While they talked, one of them made a flamenco-style gesture with her arm, whether to demonstrate a move or accentuate a point in her story, I'm not sure.

    Before leaving, I visited the gift shop and bought a handbag that, to my eye, looked very South American, with an image of the Virgin surrounded by tiny sequins and mirrors. I also bought a papier mache seahorse, and a cheap-ish MALI tote to serve as a carry-on for my breakable purchases. (The old carry-on got checked.)

    When it was time to go, I crossed back through the open grounds of the museum and briefly saw the flamenco dancers practicing, but unfortunately their session was just ending.

    I went out on the street in front of the museum and saw various combis pulling up. I had not actually taken a combi before, and they looked like fun. I had with me the names of a few combis that would go by Second Home Peru, but I never saw one of these, so eventually I just got in a taxi.

    Back at Second Home Peru, I went into the office to rearrange things in my luggage. Then I went outside and sat on the yard, watching the sun sinking low over the ocean. I so didn't want to leave!

    I had arranged for a taxi to take me first to el Circuito Magico del Agua, then to the airport. As an aside, I will mention that I had been using the same taxi driver for most of my stay in Barranco, and unfortunately he seemed to have gotten a bit smitten with me. It probably wouldn't have been too awkward, but I had to sit in the front of the taxi with him (because my luggage was in the back seat), and he "accidentally" touched me a few times too many. I didn't think it was bad enough to storm out and call for a different taxi in the middle of a basically unfamiliar city, but it was icky. Still, I refused to let anything spoil my last excursion!

    The fountains were fun -- I can see why one might think they're a little cheesy, but I liked seeing so many people enjoying themselves there, especially the little children posing for photos in front of the colored water. The area was a lot larger than I'd expected -- I'd thought there would just be a few fountains -- but it's an expansive park with many fountains quite spread out, end-to-end. In fact, I was way off to one side and didn't even realize at first that I was missing the main music and light show, but I did get there for the grand finale, which included an image of a couple ballroom-dancing across a wall of shooting water.

    I was dropped at the airport around 9 p.m. -- in other words, right on time for my midnight flight, which would take me home via Houston and Newark. At the airport, I had another meal of papas a la huancaina, not nearly as good as what I'd had in Cusco, but followed by a unique caramel dessert that I really liked, probably incredibly fattening. Then I bought a Spanish-English dictionary to replace one that I believe I lost at La Rosa Náutica, boarded my plane and began a draft of a Spanish-language note to one of my new friends in Perú.

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    Final thoughts

    My favorite places that I saw, in no particular order:

    * Lima -- What an amazing city! I definitely want to return. I loved the beauty of the architecture and of the ocean. The public spaces were wonderful. I also thought the people were lovely. Another thing I liked was that, unlike most everywhere else I went, I felt anonymous and was rarely treated as a tourist, at least not in the same way as in other places. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure I stood out as a foreigner, but in such a big city, no one cares! Or at least they don't seem to.

    * Machu Picchu, Qorikancha, Calle Loreto, and various other Inca ruins. I'll never forget these places. Seeing the royal retreat of the Incas, the sites they chose for other settlements, the way they designed structures and public spaces, their incredible stonework -- all this really helped the Inca civilization come alive in my mind.

    * The Andean countryside -- its land and villages. The Sacred Valley and the mountains around Machu Picchu were so incredible. I loved the natural beauty of all these places, and it was all the better since prior to my trip I really hadn't really looked at photos of the landscape (I'd been so focused on seeing ruins). These mountains were as impressive to me as the Alps (though I admit to having only hazy childhood memories of those). Also neat was seeing the pueblos such as Chinchero nestled in these impressive landscapes. Though I didn't spend too much time in any particular pueblo, I thought they were cool... They felt so far removed from everything I know in my own life -- I love having that type of discovery while traveling.

    Other favorite experiences:

    * I met so many wonderful people -- both locals and other travelers. I loved hearing peoples' stories, both of other places, and especially of life in Perú. I was lucky to meet so many nice people who were interested in sharing their experiences and having some pleasant conversation over a coffee or cocktail -- to me, this was as important as seeing the sights.

    * Los postres. They were so delicious! It has to say something positive about Peruvian culture that they prepare pastries like this.

    Things I probably should have done differently:

    * Taken altitude medication -- I am young and in good shape, but I did get winded easily in Cusco, and even at Machu Picchu. I probably would have had a better time if I'd at least *read* more about altitude sickness before I went.

    * Brought less stuff -- I overpacked. I was worried about being cold in the Andes, so I brought a lot of warm clothes that I didn't really end up needing. I was glad I had flannel PJs and a fleece, but I didn't need the mittens, the scarf, the long underwear, etc., and it was annoying having to lug a big bag to so many different destinations. (All that said, I do wish I'd brought more nice clothes for Lima.) I also grew weary of carrying around all my various guide books and recreational reading. Since getting home, I did something I said I'd never do -- bought an e-reader (a Nook). I love it, and I hope this will help on future trips.

    * Allocated less time for Cusco -- When I first posted a draft of my itinerary on this forum, a few people mentioned that they thought I was budgeting too much time for Cusco. I now think they were probably right -- both because it was not the most relaxing place to be (IMO), and because I didn't think it had all that many must-see sights. I don't feel *terrible* about the way things panned out, because the long stay did allow me to get to know the city a little better, and because my last day was probably my favorite, but with hindsight I think two nights could easily have been taken away from Cusco and given to Puno or another destination.


    * I had no problems with bugs anywhere on the trip, even in Aguas Calientes. That might just be luck, though. Sometimes mosquitoes tend not to like me. It might be an old wives' tale, but I take plenty of vitamin B ... you never know!

    * Everyplace was hotter during the days than I expected, and Lima less cloudy. My sun hat was indispensible.


    * If like me, you are someone who has a debit-card PIN that you remember because of the word it spells (not the numbers), make sure you memorize the numbers before you go. Most ATMs in Perú have only numbers on the keypads, which threw me for a loop at first, especially since it's not quite as easy to remember where the letters would go as you might think.

    * Don't forget to take Kleenex with you everywhere -- the restrooms almost never have it!

    Thanks again to everyone who contributes to this forum -- I have found it so incredibly helpful and really appreciate everyone sharing their tips and insights.

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    Great trip report, sasark! I completely agree with you on your final thoughts/conclusions. I luckily did take altitude medicine upon starting the trip and therefore had little trouble. Even so, steep climbs would get me winded (especially to the tops of the islands of Titicaca) but that is always the case for me.

    I cautioned colduphere to have his Kleenex on his trip; I learned that day 1 in the Sacred Valley!

    I so agree about Cusco; we may be the only two. I was not as favorably impressed with it immediately upon arrival as everyone else. I started planning my escape within the first hour. I had allocated extra time for Cusco after MP and right away booked one day white water rafting and another 2-3 days to Puno/Lake Titicaca. I was SO glad I did. Those two adventures were major highlights for me, along with MP.

    I also overpacked even though I packed very lightly. There was so much I wanted to buy and did buy there; there is very little clothing I needed to bring other than a 3 day supply.

    Glad you had such a great trip!

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    hey mlgb - nope, not Fermin!

    ncounty, thanks!! Regarding Cusco -- and allocating the right amount of time to places -- that is hard to do in advance, isn't it? When planning these things, I generally want to book everything in advance, just so I know I'm not going to get stuck someplace with no accommodations (or stuck in a crappy hotel). On the other hand, it would be nice to build in flexibility, but then *that* seems sketchy -- do you book only a night or two if you're not sure you'll like the city? But then what if you *do* like it and now you have to give up your hotel room to someone else? It is a dilemma...

    Speaking of Cusco, I really like your photo of the moon over the cathedral -- great shot! Your photos of and around Lake Titicaca are also gorgeous. Nice work!!

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    thanks sasark!

    It is hard to plan it just right. For me, I felt lucky to have been able to quickly adapt and fill my time allocated for Cusco with other stuff that I ended up loving. Things work out more often than not, eh? :)

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