Amantani Island – Doesn’t Float but Still Cool

Amantani Island - Lake Titicaca, Peru

Amantani Island – Lake Titicaca, Peru

We moved on to Amantani island next. This is not a floating island, but a fairly round hilly and rocky island home to about 800 Quechua speaking families. It’s a very picturesque place with hillside terrace farming with a few original structures and temples in higher areas. We had a nice lunch and watched the people play instruments and dance – then sell us textiles. I won’t lie, things were pricey and they got a little pushy, but I get it.

These indigenous people have fewer options to those in Lima selling the same stuff at cheaper prices. I bough a few items, probably paid too much but again felt like the purchases actually benefited the people and their livelihood. The most important crops in Amantani are Andean potatoes, bailey and green beans. Once married, it is custom for the women on the island to cut their hair and use it to weave a belt or waistband for their new husband.  By using it along with alpaca hair, it creates a beautiful and very strong belt that her husband will wear for the rest of his life.

So if you’re planning a trip to Peru – go to Lake Titicaca, you won’t regret it – beautiful people and sights.

 

 

Floating Islands – Really!

Uros Floating Islands

Uros Floating Islands

Ah the Uros floating islands, pretty fascinating stuff. The Uros people built these floating islands made of bundled totora reeds in order to prevent attacks from hostile Inca neighbors. Obviously these floating islands aren’t needed today and the Uros families living on them make a living from tourism.

They were very friendly and showed us how they make the reeds and maintain the islands. There is a main island with a store and school. They made various handy crafts (similar to what you can find all over Peru). They claimed to make everything themselves right there on the island, but I saw the same stuff in Lima and Cusco so I’m not so sure. It doesn’t really matter because the fact is, buying directly from them made me feel like I was actually contributing to their well being. Our guide told us this kind of life is hard to maintain and many of the Uros people are moving into Puno and other towns to make a living. They just aren’t sure how long the floating islands will be around.

Have you ever been here? Tell us your thoughts.

 

Forgive My Typos

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 9.55.39 AMYes, this blog has typos. If you have a problem with it, it’s your problem (see what I did there?). But seriously folks, sometimes I just like to write and be free of all the editing mumbo jumbo. I work in a profession of perfectionism. Don’t get me wrong, I love PR, but its riddled nit picky perfectionists – and yes, I can be one from time to time. However, this blog is my outlet to just write and share interesting things – at least I think they’re interesting. Maybe the typos are my rebel showing up? If so, good for you rebel! Life isn’t perfect, why should my blog be?

For me, perfectionism is like a wet blanket that for some reason feels comfortable and safe. It can take many forms. For me it’s usually all about unrealistic expectations and procrastination. For example, I sign up for a writing class and need a new notebook. So of course it has to be the right/perfect notebook – otherwise anything I write for this class will be garbage. I spend my Saturday driving around to several stores in search of this elusive notebook. Should it be leather bound? What color? College rule or wide rule? The options seem endless. I end up buying the same plain black cover composite notebook I always get for about $1.35 and I’m convinced the class is going to be a waste of time and I’ll never write anything worthwhile.

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 10.00.38 AMNow this is some serious quality problem shit, right? Horrible atrocities about on this planet and I can’t find the right notebook? Yeah, I have some perspective. I have the luxury of taking an f#$% writing class! I also realize its not about the notebook. It’s about the fear I have for taking the writing class. Fear that I’m not good enough, blah blah blah. We all have our stuff. Being present helps a great deal, but it isn’t always an easy practice. Another cool trick is sharing – perfectionism seems to fizzle out when spoken. My whole Saturday notebook search was me on autopilot – I didn’t even know what I was doing until much later.What’s the solution in all this? I share with a trusted friend, they laugh and I feel better. Let go. Move on. Do better next time. Let’s face it, we’re all just a bunch of bumbling primates trying to figure this whole life thing out – anyone who tells you differently may just be a perfectionist.

Oh, High Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca (yes it’s the real name and yes I like to say it) is the largest lake in South America and the highest (altitude) navigable lake in the world. It sits on the boarder of Peru and Bolivia. We had to hop a flight from Cusco to Puno for this adventure. Puno is the largest town on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. It reminded me of a smaller Cusco, a bit more authentic and less touristy. Not a whole lot to do in the town itself – jumping on a boat tour to the various islands (some of which are floating islands) is the thing to do.

After a restful nights sleep, we got picked up early for our day trip to the islands. The weather was chilly (50s – degrees F) but the sun was bright. The water was a beautiful blue with a contrasting arid tan rocky shore. It felt Mediterranean, not that Iv been to the Mediterranean but I’m a lot more familiar to it than southern Peru. Originally we were going to do an overnight homestay island tour, but we changed our minds. Given my bratty behavior on the 3-hour van ride into Cusco, I’m glad we did. No running water and living with a family and not knowing what there was to eat and possibly doing chores may have sent me over the edge. Yes, I know I’m a typical spoiled American. At least I’m honest.

Next stop…Uros floating islands….

#TBT – Thailand!

IMG_1156_4183692337_lFigured I would do a little “Throw Back Thursday” (or #TBT as the kids say) about my trip to Thailand several years ago (2008). It was such a good time. I found a great deal through Gate 1 Travel – I know, I know…you’re thinking “Chad, you old man” getting on one of those “tour” vacations. Well, first – I like the tours. Second, it wasn’t like that and there was a good mix of people/ages – quite a few were around my age, and yes we are still friends on Facebook. Anyway, back to Thailand. If you are thinking of making a trip to this wonderful mysterious land, I say go for it! Why did I go? I love Thai food, really. OK, this wasn’t my entire reason for the trip but it was a big part of it.

When I moved to L.A. in 2000, I started eating lots of Thai take out. Fun fact: Los Angeles has the largest population of Thai people living outside of Thailand. So, needless to say they have an amazing Thai food scene. Falling in love with the food made me look more at the country. Another deciding factor for me was affordability. Thailand has amazing prices – the airfare there from the US will be your biggest expense. The food and accommodations available are top notch. I took lots of pictures. I like taking pictures, can you tell?

Want some more in-depth practical Thailand travel tips? OK…check out this great post from Nomadic Matt (click here).

For some visual inspiration…here are some of my favorite photos below. Have you been to Thailand? Tell us about your experience…

 

Cusco or Cuzco?

IMG_4960I’ll say it now, at the time of my visit I wasn’t a fan of Cusco (and yes its known as both Cusco and Cuzco). Looking back at my photos, I have changed my mind. It seemed everyone we met in Lima raved about Cusco – maybe my hopes were up and poor Cusco never stood a chance. Or maybe the TERRIBLE bus/van ride from the Ollantaytambo/Urubamba train station (following Matchu Pitchu) was to blame. It was a 3-hour drive to Cusco from the train station – I think it was three hours, it felt like six or more. Ugh. Were told by our host to just grab a community car pool at the train station – the ride would only be $8 – $10 US dollars (tip: book a private car if you can). This option proved to be too authentic for this snobby American tourist. We were crammed into a van, there may have been a rooster roaming around. It was dark and the roads were winding on and on. Needless to say, when we got there I was very tightly wound.

They let us off in a town square and I couldn’t really understand the instructions our AirBnB host had given us. I think we walked the wrong way a few times – but we finally got there. Our little townhouse for two nights was quaint like a cabin, although not as close to the town square as we’d of liked. Our host was very friendly and offered us tour options to the Sacred Valley the next day. I was still traumatized by the recent ride so I declined. Kind of wish I hadn’t but oh well.

IMG_5006We went into town and had a nice meal – as always, the food was amazing. The next day we took a city tour on one of those double-decker buses. When in Rome. This city is the original capital – steeped in history. The main town square is pretty touristy and old colonial in style, cobble streets and everything. It was nice, but I guess I’m more of a Lima guy.

Should you skip it if you go to Peru? HECK NO. Go, it’s amazing – don’t base your trip off my cranky American perspective. Have you been to Cusco? What did you think?

Quechua Pit Stop

IMG_4695When we flew into Cusco, we hired a shuttle to take us to Auguas Caliente near Matchu Pitchu. On the way we had a little pit stop in a predominately Quechua town. Quechua is the language of the Inca Empire. Although most people in Peru speak Spanish (the national language thanks to those pesky Spanish invaders), more than 8 million people throughout the Andes section of South America speak Quechua. Our driver told us it’s a fading language, mostly spoken in more rural communities – taught to children by their families as it’s not taught in school.

Just as North America has its Native American named cities and landmarks, you can see the Quechua language woven throughout Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. We even use quite a few words originally derived from Quechua – lima, puma, quinoa, jerky, coca, condor and llama.

We stopped in this small town to visit a group of indigenous people. Sure, kind of a tourist trap deal, I get it….but when in Rome. A group of six woman and one older man greeted us and offered us coca tea (well known tea of the coca leaf thought to aid with altitude sickness and aid in digestion. No, it doesn’t make you high like cocaine – if it did, there would be a lot more different kinds of tourists here).

IMG_4690They had us sit down and showed us how they create dye from local berries for the wool they use to make various clothes and blankets. They also had a small pen of Cuy (Guinea Pigs) – cooked for special occasions. Yes, they eat Guinea Pigs in Peru, it’s a delicacy and yes I tried it (tasted a bit like dove or some other game bird).

Then came the tourist trap part – the gauntlet of merchandise they were selling. Basically the same stuff you can find all over Peru. I bought a few items (can’t remember what) but I do remember them getting awfully pushy. Now you really have to haggle a bit – you can’t ever take the first price. Although they got a little pushy, it was still a great experience and I highly recommend doing it if you’re in Peru. I had similar experiences in Thailand and while I wouldn’t do them again – I’m glad I did it once. When traveling abroad – go all-in.

 

 

Ahh Matchu Pitchu

IMG_4888I could go on about the history of this place (cutting and pasting from various places on the internet) or you can do your own research. Instead I’ll keep and short and sweet and share the photos I took along with a few interesting nuggets I learned. We had an incredible local guide take us through (which I highly recommend). It’s a short bus ride up a rough ride. The crowds are heavy so going in the early morning is a good idea. It’s also much warmer and sunny so sun screen is key.

 

It is set up like a park with a main gate you pay and enter. Our guide took us around explaining things here and there about the history. The Inca were an amazing people. Matchu Pitchu was primarily used as a capital and royal summer palace. Most Inca people would travel here via the famous Inca Trail to pay taxes. The Inca Trail was extensive and went all around South America (then the Inca Empire). One interesting thing we learned is that they had “runners” would run the trail all day to relay messages to another runner. They had no written language so this was a very important job. Can you imagine the telephone game here?

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Matchu Pitchu has many mysteries. What happened to it? Where did all the people go? How was it built? Our guide told us there wasn’t much of a mystery to how it was built – it took about 85 years and there were nearby rock quarries as evidence. Although many people believe there are energy vortexes here, it is a sacred place. I didn’t feel any different but I will say it felt calm, even with all the people around. The Inca people worshiped the sun and they even had an ancient sun dial to help manage harvests, etc.

 

Matchu Pitchu is slowly sinking, it wasn’t designed to have so many people walking around up there. Docents keep the people moving along, its not a place you can sit and hang out all day (at least not the main part). There are rumors it will close down but I don’t think they are true – at least not forever (it’s a major revenue generator for Peru).

It’s an amazing site to be seen.

Hot Water

We left Lima and flew to Cusco and hopped a train to Aguas Caliente at the base of the fabled matchu Pitchu. It was suggested we do this to avoid altitude sickness (since Cusco is higher than Matchu Pitchu). It worked for me, but not for my friend who had insomnia and flu like symptoms for about two days.

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The train ride was a few hours and very scenic. We sat across two European girls backpacking through South America (very brave). One was from German and the other from Switzerland. They were nice and one was on a round the world ticket – she was travelling for a year. Seemed like a cool idea, not sure I could handle it – but maybe some day if I feel I need an Eat, Pray, Love experience.

 

We got to Aguas Caliente – known for its hot springs. Its an interesting little village that isn’t too old, mainly built for the mass of people coming to see Matchu Pitchu. There are some great places to eat, shop and get a massage. Not sure how reputable the massage places were so I skipped that part of the journey. The hotel was basic but nice enough. We rested up for Matchu Pitchu the next day…

Lima, Lima, Lima!

IMG_4546First stop on my Peruvian vacation, Lima. What can I say, I loved Lima. I read all about it’s interesting history but really had no idea what to expect. The climate reminded me of San Francisco or Seattle – although we went in winter season, locals told me it was pretty much always overcast and in the 50s and 60s. (Fahrenheit).

 

If you want to enjoy Lima, you need to do your research. It is a HUGE city and most of it isn’t that pleasant. The city has a bad rap since most travellers fly into the airport and maybe stay the night (and the airport isn’t a great location). Remember, it is still a developing country (especially compared to the United States). We chose to stay in the Miraflores neighborhood on the coast. It was amazing.

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It was totally walkable with great restaurants, shops and generally nice people. OK, here is where I need to get honest. I wish my Spanish was much better than it is. I had the typical American thinking of ‘oh surely they will cater to me and know some English’ and this just wasn’t always the case. In fact, it rarely was. This is a busy city and much like here in America, people don’t have time to try and figure out what someone wants or needs if they don’t know the local language. It was a little wake-up call for me. Everything turned out fine and made me appreciate the Peruvian culture even more. It also forced me to learn more Spanish phrases quickly.

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We took a day tour downtown and saw the more colonial side of Lima. It was great and I recommend it, but I personally had more fun walking around Miraflores.

 

Next stop…Aguas Caliente!