Saturday, May 25, 2013

DAY 2 - Lima

Saturday May 11, 20013
The first night's accommodation was at La Castellana Hotel in the area of Miriflores, which is a touristic and relatively safe area of Lima bordering the Pacific about 40 minutes from the airport. The hotel was of Spanish architecture with a center courtyard and it reminded me of colonial times when the Conquistadors dominated. I had arrived at the hotel at 2:30 a.m. the night before and given that the hotel provided breakfast until 10:30 I was able to have a bit of a sleep in.

I was very glad that I had booked to arrive 1 day early in Lima, otherwise I would have needed to be back out at the airport at an ungodly morning hour to journey to Puno. Today is a day of leisure and sightseeing.

I had a pleasant chat with a couple from England during breakfast. They were on a several month retirement holiday and he had taken a spill on some stairs on a boat trip to Galapagos and was unable to do the trip through Peru. Instead they had spent several weeks in Quito recovering and now were catching the final leg of their tour two weeks before heading back to England. What an unfortunate event! I vowed to be careful on stairs!

I had to smile as the waiter came to take our breakfast order. He explained that the couple could have eggs, since they had booked American Plan, but I could only have bread and jam, since my breakfast was included. The coffee was thick and syrupy, but there was hot water provided so I just diluted to my liking. Sadly, I had to change hotels in the middle of this one pre-trip day in Lima and so was kind of limited to local sightseeing and a walkabout before the transfer arrived at 12:30.  

 I set off to walk the neighbourhood down to the see the ocean - a 30 minute stroll.

 Observing the chaos at each busy intersection, I could see that the drivers were practiced in the art of crossing intersections in a busy downtown street without traffic lights. If you look at the photo you will see no stop signs or traffic lights anywhere - they don't have them! These were busy streets! The method seemed to be for cars to nose into the intersection and if oncoming traffic didn't stop to make way then the horn was used to signal a request for the other direction to have a go. It seemed that everyone was well trained as cars wove their way through intersections quite capably. A lot more difficult for pedestrians though - as there were no signals or ways to get the cars to stop long enough in one direction for a person to actually get across the street. I just watched for locals crossing and sidled up. It seemed a little like a game of frogger.

Lima and Miraflores is perched on the side of a mountain. The views down to the beaches and coastal highway were breathtaking.
We met up with our G-Adventures Leader and the other tour participants just after noon hour. There are 7 of us on the tour, Dawn and Ron, who were from Victoria, Cheryl and Rory, two ladies from Edmonton, Cathy and Carla from San Diego and moi. With the tour leader, Manuel, we are 8. A nice cozy group and as luck would have it, all of us are around the same age. Ron was the only male in the group. If our group is representative, it seems women like to travel with girlfriends and leave the hubbys behind. I was the only single traveller - both in marital status as well as travel status.

Lima is known as a Foodie City and so Manuel suggested we go try out one of the better Chifa restaurants - Madam Tusan's. According to Manuel, Lima has a large Chinese influence and Chifa - which is a Peruvian-Chinese fusion, is a popular food in Peru.
The group at our first meal, which was called lunch but was actually larger than most dinners I would eat when out on the town in Toronto. Manuel ordered several dishes for us all to share. The feast was set out on the table and we sample of each dish. It was delicious! Also, the price was right and with drinks each of us paid equivalent of about $20.00 -- Sol/51.90 Peru uses the Neuvo Sol which is worth 2.6 CAD. I was told the price of this restaurant was very good by Lima standards and it was no dive - quite the opposite, it was fine dining with nice table linens and expertly plated dishes.
The specialty drink in Peru is the Pisco Sour. I will need to buy a bottle of pisco liquor to bring home for my Peruvian night party (in the planning!) Pisco liquor is made from distilled fermented grape juice. The cocktail is mixed with sugar syrup, lemon juice and egg white along with the liquor and is really delicious!! The first pisco sour was included in the meal.
I can't name everything I ate, but it was sort of Chinese food like - stir fried veg and meat and rice, but it definitely had its own set of flavours setting it apart from what we would be served as Chinese food here.

After the huge lunch and 2 pisco sours, we walked down the the lakefront park. Rory wanted to do some hang gliding and had seen a cliff-side location for this earlier, but the wind was not right so she was not able to go. Hopeful that today might be a better day for that we all joined her on her quest.
On our way we passed the "Love Park". Seemed like an area set up to facilitate those hormone driven teens who need to sit and cuddle and make out. The statue of a couple doing just that was the focal point, with lots of areas around for sitting and cuddling.
I left the group and Rory by the field where the wanna be air-borne set were patiently waiting for a shift in the winds and set off down the pathway to get to the waters edge. I needed some stones from the Pacific Ocean to add to my pebble collection.
On the way I saw the most curious drone vehicle flying above the buildings. I am not sure what it's purpose was, maybe traffic reports?? Anyway, it hovered and zipped back and forth a bit and then made a beeline for some distant point and I lost track of it.

There were lots of surfers in the water - everyone wearing wetsuits. It was a nice walk down from the cliffs and down to the beach. There was a walking path down from the park on top of the cliff which made going easy peasy.
Sadly, Rory was disappointed as the wind never did pick up enough to give the wind surfers the ride they were waiting for.
After a long leisurely walk I got back to the hotel in time for the welcome meeting and trip orientation. We decided that dinner was not really necessary after the feast we had so we went our separate ways - and me to an early bed to get ready for the early start the next day.
Tomorrow we have an early breakfast in the hotel and a 9:30 flight to catch to Puno. I am feeling a bit head-achy from the altitude I think but other than that I am doing ok.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Day 1: Travel Day to Lima, Peru

Friday May 10, 2013
As I write this, it is actually Day 6 of my trip and I am sitting on a bus traveling from Puno to Cuzco in Peru. Just 2 more sleeps and I will be trekking the Inca Trail! It is a 7 hour bus ride and as I haven't been able to do much in the way of blogging as yet, I thought I would try to catch up. As you can imagine, since I haven't been spending much time blogging, I am having a great time and every minute is full of new and different things and times with fun people. You will need to wait until the Day 2 blog to hear about it though, Day 1 was just a busy and tiring travel day.
Another pre-blog comment, I am having trouble uploading my blogs from my offline blogging software, so I am not sure when you will get to read this. I don't have any time to trouble shoot the issue, but I have sent a note off to the support people and hope that they will have a simple answer. I used the software without problem last year when I traveled Europe, but they have had several major upgrades of the software since then, so perhaps I have to do something to sort it out.

In retrospect, I did not spent enough time planning what to take and getting organized. In stark contrast to my travels of last year, for which I devoted hundreds of hours planning and organizing right down to the last detail, this trip prep has been quite different. Because I am doing a G-Adventure Tour, everything has been done for me (used to be called Gap, somehow they lost the "ap" from the name), and so except for getting myself to the starting point in Lima, everything has been arranged. So not much to do to get ready I thought - but in hindsight I could have been better prepared. I forgot a few things I would have liked to have with me, but since none of those things were essentials, I guess I am doing just fine.

The flight consisted of 2 legs - the first leg, Toronto to Atlanta was via a tiny plane sitting only 4 across. The layover was not too bad - only 2 hours, enough time to find the gate for the next flight easily with only a short wait gate side before the flight to Lima.
The flight from Atlanta was relatively uneventful. I chatted to the young lad from Raleigh who was with a group of 25 young folks who were heading Peru for a month and after a trip to Machu Picchu would be studying Spanish in Cuzco. The plane landed at Lima at 10:30 in the evening and dumped hundreds of tired travelers from the Airbus to stake out a place in the long, long line through customs. Someone said that there were 3 arrivals at that time and so the crowds were thick.
I have to say that the Lima Airport was the most disorganized and frustrating of all the airports I have been through for waiting in line to clear immigration. The airport time and motion "experts" funneled locals to the right side at the start of the line up and the tourists were put in a long line on the left. After going maybe 20 yards in this single line we arrived into the immigration hall proper and where our line started to snake left then right on the left half of the room as we made our way forward towards the customs wickets. The line on the right side, for locals, was just about empty, so at one point someone decided it was OK for tourists to use this line. I watched with feelings of frustration as I saw folks from the back of the line be directed to fill in this void. The next step was to merge the two lines so when my line snaked to the center, the divider was removed and now my line had to travel the entire distance to the other side.
The snaking lines ended about 10 feet from the front and turned into single file lines in front of wickets, where the rule it seemed was that chaos should prevail. There was no one directing folks to the various wicket lines and in fact as I stood and waited in the line which I thought was a good bet, I noticed the line beside me actually was serving 2 wickets and so was moving rather quickly. Being very tired and slow witted at this point I just held my ground rather than move over into a line which seemed to have twice as many people as my line. As the time passed, I noticed that the 2 agents in the other line also were able somehow to serve more people. My agent seemed to be working in slow motion, and processes half the number of individuals in the same time as the other agents to my right. **sigh**
By the time I got clear of Immigration and then customs (2 separate lines), changed my money and had collected my baggage, I was semi catatonic and just wishing for my bed. I had done some investigation on taxis from the airport and was advised to get a "Green Taxi" within the airport to assure that one would not be overcharged. I went to Information and was directed to the proper door to find the cab - and happily followed the cab driver to his vehicle. I asked the price - and he said $40 - and showed the rate card quoting $40 US or Sol 125*. So off I went.
When I got to the hotel I realized I had been scammed - there was a sign in the hotel which provided cab information - $22 to the Airport , not $40!
Oh well, I guess I should be glad that it wasn't worse than that. The hotel was all right and I had arrived in Lima safely and could have a good night's sleep. Tomorrow I would be seeing Lima and meeting up with the G-Adventures Tour group.

*The currency used in Peru is the Nuevo Sol -- 1 CAD is about 2.6 Sol.