Monday, May 11, 2015

A DETOUR: Peru Travelogue (Part 1)

I have taken a break from writing movie reviews (as I suspect you’ve noticed).  Priorities and interests fluctuate over time and, at present, my interests lie elsewhere.  To that end, a detour to Peru.

Machu Picchu had been on my bucket list for over ten years.  In early April I was able to check that off my list.  What follows is a travelogue of my trip -- warts, Atahualpa’s Revenge, and all.  (Okay, maybe I’ll gloss over the Atahualpa’s Revenge.  All you need to know is that Atahualpa was the Incan ruler when Francisco Pizarro arrived in Cuzco on November 8, 1533.  Pizarro betrayed and killed Atahualpa, thereby ending the Incan expansion in Peru and beginning that of the Spanish.)

(Also, I have a Shutterfly album with pictures that correspond with the four travelogue installments.  I have endeavored to send these links to anyone who subscribes to this blog.  However, if I've inadvertently missed you, or you would like a separate email with links to the pictures, please email me directly at  Thanks.)

April 4, 2015 (Saturday)

Super Shuttle dropped me off at the Tom Bradley international terminal, which was bustling.  Yet, despite this chaos the process of check-in felt more civilized than in the domestic terminals.  Belts and shoes did not have to be removed, so the process moved along much faster.  Once my baggage was checked, security passed, and I was safely in the terminal, I bought bottled water, with the foreknowledge that tap water was unsafe to drink in Peru.

The 8½-hour flight to Lima was, all things considered, relatively comfortable.  I was seated next to a Scottsdale couple, retired, who, as it happened, were on the same tour as I was.  John and Joy were very pleasant companions for the duration, though I will admit to initial trepidation about their politics.  No need.  They were from Colorado originally and moved to Arizona because their two daughters had settled there.  They had recently been to Costa Rica and traveled extensively.

My baggage arrived in Lima without a hitch.  Customs inspectors milled about the claim area with a dog whose job, I assume, was to sniff out drugs and other contraband.  As I made my way to the exit, the dog had become fixated on a woman’s luggage.  She cooed how cute the dog was.  I don’t think she understood its purpose.  Yet.  I didn’t hang around to see the adoration turn into dismay.  10 of our tour group assembled in the meeting area, but there was no sign (literally) of our travel liaison.  One of our group, an elderly woman named Sally from Taiwan who was traveling with 3 other Asian women, told us that she had been told that our bus was waiting outside.  So, baggage in tow, we walked to a lot about 100 yards from the terminal where several buses were waiting.  Ours was not among them as it turned out.  After a time we began to make our way back to the terminal when Julio finally turned up, very apologetic.  The other 3 of our group had arrived on an earlier flight from Miami, and he had already dropped them off at their hotel.  He claimed confusion (believing the later flight departing for LAX was the flight arriving from LAX), but John theorized to me that he (Julio) and our driver had shuttled someone else in between the arrivals and were late returning.  Not implausible.  Also Peruvians are notorious for their “flexible” views of punctuality.

April 5, 2015 (Easter Sunday)

Our flight had arrived around midnight on Saturday/Sunday, and we were scheduled to fly to Cuzco at 9:30 a.m.  For domestic flights you are supposed to be at the airport 2 hours prior to departure.  Therefore, our first night at a hotel was, by design, brief.  About 2-3 hours of sleep, then a quick shower and breakfast (which was nothing but toast, juice and coffee, to the chagrin of all), then check out and a bus to the airport that left the hotel at 6:30 a.m.

The domestic terminal in Lima was even more chaotic than LAX domestic.  And, to add to the chaos, the 3 Miami tour group members were on a separate flight to Cuzco that had been delayed.  On the plus side you could bring outside bottled water and food on domestic flights in Peru.  The LA 10 arrived at Cuzco airport and promptly cooled its figurative heels waiting for the rest.


On the bus to our first hotel, Julio gave us the Peru rules.  Only drink bottled water.  Local water can be used for showering and washing the face but should not be used for brushing teeth.  Also, always “speak sole.”  Sole is the local currency.  One sole is worth about 1/3 of a dollar.  Apparently cab drivers like to quote a fare without specifying soles or dollars (hoping you'll assume soles) and then insist on dollars at the end of the trip.  Always specify the currency.  And try to pay in soles.


The Miami 3 arrived, and we bused it to our respective hotels in Cuzco to adjust to the altitude (Cuzco stands at 3,326 meters, or around 11,000 feet) and rest for the remainder of the day.  At the Lima airport John, Joy and I had picked up coca lozenges, which Carolyn Wilson, a friend who had traveled to Peru recently (and gave me her power converter for this trip – thanks, Carolyn!), had suggested.  She recommended carrying them in your pocket, so you could take them whenever you felt unwell.  The Polo Cuzco, the hotel for 7 of our number (the other 6 had upgraded), had coca tea in the lobby.  After checking in I drank a cup of the tea, had a light lunch (a sandwich purchased in the Lima airport) and, finally, took a nap.

I noticed the altitude sickness mainly in a shortness of breath.  However, between the tea and the lozenges I powered through the first day.  After my nap I walked to the Plaza de Armas (the main plaza) to get the lay of the land and scout some place for dinner later.  Most of the restaurants recommended by Lonely Planet were within striking distance of the plaza.  On the walk I had to slow my usual brisk pace to a casual saunter to prevent aggravation of altitude sickness.  I also felt a mild headache on occasion but wasn’t 100% sure if it was the altitude or bad sinuses or both.  My guess is a little of both.

Heading back to the hotel I met John and Joy who had just eaten an early supper (by this time it was probably around 5:00 or 5:30 p.m.).  Tomorrow we would meet our first guide around 8:30 a.m. for a day-long tour of the Sacred Valley.  Peru is known for its cuisine (Lima, primarily, but Cuzco as well), and I was determined to try as many restaurants as I could while there.  My first real meal in Peru was at Green’s Organic.  It has an LA hipster look without the pretension -- dark wooden tables and seating.  The staff was young but very professional and friendly.  I was alone, so they seated me at the bar.  I ordered a pisco sour (the drink Peru is known for) with African Curry as my main course.  They brought out sliced carrots and something hummus-like to snack on.  It was lucky I arrived when I did.  By the time my meal arrived, the place was hopping.  Even the bar was soon filled with diners.  I topped the meal off with a quinoa brulée, a healthier version of the standard crème variety.  The meal was excellent.  I already love the food.

April 6, 2015 (Monday)

The hotel breakfast buffet consisted of fresh fruit and juices, coffee and hot water for tea (coca or otherwise), yogurt, cereal, ample varieties of breads, and a selection of jams.  John and Joy joined me.  They, along with the 4 Asian women, were in the Polo Cuzco; the others in the upgrade.  Our 7 were pleased with breakfast.  Of course our only comparison was the meager offerings at Lima’s Girasoles Hotel.

The tour group would be spending the next night in the Sacred Valley to facilitate an early start to Machu Picchu.  The evening after that we would return to the same Cuzco hotel, so we were encouraged to check our luggage in Cuzco and bring only a small overnight bag to the Sacred Valley.  Though it took some planning, it was a smart suggestion.  Diego (our Cuzco travel liaison) and our guide, Raquel, met us the next morning.  The group was given 2 additional options.  Golden Peruvian Tours offered a ½-day tour of Cuzco and surrounding sights on Wednesday at an extra cost.  Also, we could purchase a box lunch for Machu Picchu.  I chose the box lunch but opted out of the extra tour.  I needed one day where I wasn’t on a bus and could walk around the city at leisure.

We drove past the Sacsaywaman ruins, which overlook Cuzco and would be explored in more depth during the Wednesday’s ½-day tour, then drove to a tourist market in Pisac.  We stopped at a silver jewelry manufacturer and seller, as well as a bakery.  The other members of my party were shopping fast and furious.  Jewelry really isn’t my thing.  After a great buffet lunch at Tunupa, we moved on to the ruins at Ollantaytambo.  This was the appetizer to Machu Picchu – 260 steps, and they were quite steep.  So steep, in fact, the older Asian women only went part way up.


Doreen, part of the Asian contingency -- and the oldest of our number at age 75 -- and her sister Sally were travelling with Angie and Nancy.  Nancy is the youngest of the contingency (I’m guessing a little younger than me), and she has chosen me as her camera buddy.  I take a picture of her with her IPad (in a Hello Kitty case), and she takes a picture of me with my camera.  The arrangement is fine, though she wants to be photographed at every vista imaginable.  This mania will reach its zenith at Machu Picchu.


The climb up Ollantaytambo winded me a little, but I seem to have overcome the worst effects of altitude sickness.  At elevation 2,800 meters or 9,200 feet Ollantaytambo is lower than Cuzco, and Machu Picchu (elevation 2,410 meters / 7,900 feet) is lower than Ollantaytambo.  The guide books suggest drops of 500 meters (1,500 feet) to alleviate some of the altitude misery, and so far it seems to work.

After Ollantaytambo, which is my favorite so far, we drive to the Agustos Valle Hotel in Urubamba, the town named after the sacred river wending its way toward and around Machu Piccu.  Compared to Cuzco, Urubamba is in the middle of nowhere.  John was hoping to find a sports bar to watch the final game of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, but there were no restaurants within walking distance.  So we agreed to meet at the hotel restaurant for dinner.  The Asian women declined the invitation to join us.  Perhaps they were tired from all the climbing or wanted to get to bed early.  It was a 6:00 a.m. pick up tomorrow.  Everyone requested a 5:00 a.m. wake up but me.  I asked for a 4:30 a.m. call, because I know myself too well.

Dinner was very nice.  I had the trout and a large dinner salad.  Though there were pisco sours on the menu I was in the mood for a beer.  Back in my room I found a Spanish-language ESPN station broadcasting the NCAA final.  I thought about calling John and letting him know but figured he would have found it already.  (He hadn’t, which he kicked himself over the following day, but I guess it was better than kicking me.)  I went to bed just before half time, and Wisconsin was up by 2 points.


  1. Thanks for sharing. This trip sounds like it was amazing!

  2. Traveling the world, embracing cultures other than our own and making international friends. . .makes the world a smaller place, grand as it is in its majesty and diversity! Enjoying reading about your South American adventure!