Friday, August 31, 2007

Chilling in Cusco for a while--now with pictures!

Ok, so here is our first picure gallery! Enjoy. It took us 10 hours to upload all them (man, I miss T1 connections...).

After a few days in Cusco (no, not really, after about 3 hours here) we decided to stay in this town for a while. Then, since all of South America is COLD, we decided to stay here for a almost 3 weeks to take Spanish classes. We start on Monday, so we're looking forward to our last few days of freedom (nah, just kidding! total and complete freedom every day).

Deanna finally picked up her purse (we'll get a picture uploaded ASAP) and loves it more than anything (even me!). We found a sushi spot that we're excited to try, and we've already eaten at Cusco's version of the Grey Dog twice. There's live music just about every night--we're going to see some classic rock cover band tonight at the traditional Peruvian bar named "Paddy Flaherty's." Who knew that that meant "Gringo toursts" in Incan?

Check back soon for some more pictures of the town.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley and Cusco

So we closed Mancora out with a bang. Our last night we had a feast with Bobby D (pictured below with Deanna) and hit the town up with him.

We said goodbye to our beach paradise early in the morning with a cab ride north to Tumbes to fly down to Cusco, via Piura and Lima. I slept the entire time and Deanna finished reading "Places In Between" which she highly recommends. After landing in Cusco we took another cab 90 minutes into the Sacred Valley to our destination of Ollantaytambo. We checked in to the oldest hotel in town (that Deanna basically planned the entire Sacred Valley excursion around) called El Albergue (pictured below), which lived up to all of its hype.

The town felt like what the Peru pavillion would look like at Epcot Center combined with the Ojai valley region in California. As cute as can be (except for the hill we had to walk up every day, which took 15 minutes). We ate like kings (the second best spaghetti bolognese I have ever had--the best was in Bologna), relaxed, explored some Incan ruins and steamed in the eucalyptus sauna every night.

Our third morning in town, we took a 7am train to Aguas Calientes, the launching point for Machu Picchu. We got there around 8:15 and bought our MP tickets and our bus tickets (important travel tip: get your tickets before you go up to MP, as they don't sell them there). We took the bus up the 30 or so switchbacks straight up the mountain and emerged in a drizzly cloud at the entrance. We hired a guide, Olga (who was awesome), to take us around for the morning.

The rain was a blessing in disguise. MP was almost empty--they average 2000-3000 tourists a day and there were maybe 200 people at most when we were there. Everyone in brightly colored ponchos (one for 3, two for 5--all my Phish tour friends would have been happy) spread throughout the ruins, giving us plenty of room and space to explore without running into tour group after tour group like we were expecting.

That picture above is actually us standing on a ledge overlooking MP. We swear it is not a green screen or backdrop as it appears to be. Click the link at the bottom of this blog entry for our first Ofoto gallery slideshow. That being said, pictures just don't do Machu Picchu justice. The scale of the place is expansive and the way the Incas used the mountain in the construction of it was mind-blowing. They left every rock already existing on the mountain in place and built walls around them. When constructing all the agriculural terraces, they used the excvated rocks to build the walls and structures (so they didn´t have to schlep rocks from a quarry).

The below pic is one of our favorite parts of MP. In several places, the Incas sculpted large boulders into exact replicas of the surrounding mountains in order to summon the power of those mountans without having to climb those higher and more treachersous peaks. The mountains across the valley were as lush and green as any rainforest and the clouds added such an air of mystery and intrigue. It was right out of Jurassic Park or Lord of the Rings. We really took a step back in time on top of that mountain.

We hadn't realized that MP is a complete mystery... no clue why it was built--no gold or silver found, no king's quarters, and the spanish never knew about it. 120 mummies were about the only thing Hiram Bingham found there when he discovered it in 1911. Plenty of theories abound as to the function of the city, but our favorite (and what Olga believed) was that it was a brain trust where they brought the most important, intelligent, educated and refined Incan minds to experiment in agriculture, textiles and religious observances. Kind of like when the Apocalypse is about to come and the US sends a space ship to another planet with the best and brightest... (OK fine, we caught the end of a cheesy 80s sci-fi flick in Spanish in the hotel last night.)

Our other favorite part of MP was the llamas walking up and down stairs to feed on grass on the terraces (no lawn-mowing necessary). Deanna was very proud of me for making a Peruvian woman laugh with a spanish pun. When a llama walked right in front of us, I turned to her and asked "¿Como se llama?" :)

After about 4 hours we took the bus back down the mountain and hopped the train back to Ollantaytambo (though not before picking up a really cool handmade backgammon set with condors and llamas as the pieces). On the train, we were doubled over with laughter when the drink servers put on some techno music and did a full-on alpaca sweater fashion show, complete with runway struts and turns. Think Magnum and Azul Steel...

We got to Cusco yesterday morning and immediately fell in love with the town. We´re staying in the San Blas neighborhood, the bastion of bohemian life and artisans. We strolled around, exploring the crooked cobble-stoned streets (that remind us of Brooklyn Heights back home) and drinking coca tea (this city is at 13,000 feet). We stumbled upon a craft store where Deanna fell in love with some of the purses. We met the designer (pictured below). I decided to buy Deanna an early birthday present so she and Marcela designed a new purse together that Marcela is making by hand as we type this. She can´t wait to pick it up tomorrow!

After that we did some more strolling and found ourselves in a plaza with a delightful surprise--a Brazillian reggae/ska band (below) was setting up getting ready to play for free. We hung out watching them dance around, having a great time. Reminded us how much we have missed live music! Luckily this town is bumping with bands and DJs playing every night, which factored into our decision to stay here for a while.

Last but certainly not least, we met up with Raj and Carrie, friends from back home, for an amazing dinner (alpaca roast beef mmmmmmmmmm). Thanks for treating us to dinner!

Now the rest of you need to come visit and we promise we´ll treat you to a night on the town. Keep the email updates coming--we love hearing from you.

OFOTO LINK will come when all the pictures finsh uploading... check back later.

Friday, August 24, 2007

3 towns, 2 ailments, 1 week equals tons of fun in Peru

So here we are, sitting 20 feet from the beach in Mancora, a two block slice of paradise a few hours south of Ecuador, but let´s start from where we left off...

After the 20 hours of travel from NYC to Huanchaco, we spent 2 lovely (yet chilly and cloudy) days there, exploring the sleepy beach town and admiring the canoes hand-woven from reeds that the fisherman use to catch our yummy ceviche dinners. Pic below.

Next we went to the pre-Incan ruins at Chan Chan. The Chimu civilization existed on the coast of northern Peru and southern Ecuador for hundreds of years prior to Incan subjugation. Our sweet little tour guide tried really hard to teach us all about the Chimu in English but some things were definitely lost in translation. What we came out of it was that most of the ruins are reconstructed (well, redetailed) and that when a king died, they built a new palace for the new king and sealed off the old one, each time (for 23 kings). Below is a pic of the sanctuary. It was pretty impressive to see the scope of building from this moon-worshipping culture. Deanna´s favorite part was the sacrificial lagoon in the middle of the palace with 12´high reeds and lotus flowers (as traded for from Polyneasian merchants).

After that, we took a 7-hour bus ride east through switchback trails up into the Andes until we got to the 9000´high town of Cajamarca, noted for being the city in which Pisarro executed Atahualpa in the main square, thus crushing the Incan empire. Pic of the Plaza del Armas is below. Aaron got nailed with altitude sickness and Deanna got ¨New York Pizza¨ to nurse him back. Thank god that our hostel had a TV that we hooked our ipod into and were able to watch 2 movies and 4 episodes of 24 (season 4... see, NewsCorpians? Deanna is catching up!).

After exploring the bustling town, we embarked on what we thought was just a tour of pre-Incan aqueducts up at 13000´. It turned out to be a breathtaking 5km hike through amazing rock formations leading to the unbelievably engineered 3000 year old aqueducts. Our tour was completely in Spanish, so we never fully grasped the dirty limericks our guide kept making up (though thanks to a German tourist, we got the unrhymed versions). The rocks were spectacular, and we played the ¨name that cloud¨ game with them (in Spanish) and the whole tour group had a collectively dirty mind. Below is a pic of the us on one of the rocks.

Then we got out of the mountains with an overnight bus to a morning bus to an afternoon bus that finally put us here in Paradise. In Mancora, there is a beach, kite surfing, seafood, backgammon and tons of backpackers lounging around. And Bobby D. He´s here for a month to become an expert kite surfer. Good to have a friendly around! The rest of you better meet us somewhere soon...

If there´s any place to get knocked out of commission with a stomach bug, Hostal del Wawa certainly is the place. Deanna went through 10 hours of extreme hell, but is now back to eating the freshest tuna out there (sans red dye). Our hostel is literally on the great beach, has great food, plays great music, has great people, has great everything, and only costs $15 a night. Half the fellow travelers have been stuck here, some for 4 weeks, with no plans on leaving any time soon. As for us, it was hard to pull the trigger, but we bought plane tickets for tomorrow morning to head down to Machu Picchu.

The water is warm and the sun is about to set, beckoning us back to the water. We miss you all and we´ll get back in touch after Machu Picchu. Please let us know what´s shaking back home... we´d love to get emails from you.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

We´re safe, don´t worry

Wow... thanks to all 30 of you who emailed us to make sure we were safe. The earthquake took place in Peru (well, 30 miles off the coast and 25 miles below sea level) last night while we were at JFK airport. CNN made it into a way bigger deal than it is down here--nothing has really changed except a few broken windows (so we´ve heard) a few hours south of Lima. We landed safely this morning then got on a 9-hour bus ride north to Huanchaco. We´re staying in a great hostel a few blocks from the beach. Choppy waves, great for surfing (they actually have separate areas for professionals and amateurs).

Just had an amazing ceviche dinner and some pretty bad local pilsener beers. Tomorrow we´re off to check out some Incan ruins at Chan Chan and explore the town some more.

Thanks for all your concerns!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

One more day!

26 more hours until our flight... we couldn't be more excited. Just got back from our final dinner in NYC--gorging ourselves at Taro, the freshest sushi in Brooklyn. Excellent fish. mmmmm...

Doing some final packing tonight, cleaning tomorrow and then we're off. Since a lot of you have been asking, here is our itinerary for the year:
Aug 15 - Fly into Peru. Head up north to the beaches. Then southeast to Cuzco, Machu Piccu, Sacred Valley, et al. Then further southeast to the Nazca desert.
Septemberish - Either head east to Bolivia or South to Chile/Argentina.
Octoberish through late December- Either Brazil or Chile/Argentina. Hopefully a quick stop into Antarctica. A few days in Uruguay. Mendoza wine region in Argentina. Patagonia also.
Dec 25 - Fly from Argentina back to NYC.
Dec 31 - NYE with the crew
Early January - Hang out in NYC, catch up with friends, have fun.
Jan 19 - Cristina's wedding
Jan 21 - Fly to San Francisco, see friends
Jan 26 - Fly to LA, see friends and sister, nieces new niece or nephew
Jan 31 - Fly to Thailand
Winter 08 - See all of SE Asia - Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, et al.
Spring 08 - More of SE Asia
Summer 08 - Maybe the Olympics in China?
Summer 08 - Australia, NZ

Let us know if/when you'll be anywhere near us and we'll make it a point to meet up. Please stay in touch while we're on the road!

Monday, August 13, 2007

So much little time

With only 2 days left of having all the options that New York provides and of not having to adhere to a very strict budget, times have been yummy but busy. So far being unemployed has meant multiple trips to Duane Reade, visa pictures at the UPS store (**Travel tip 1: Bring 10 passport photos on your trip to expedite visa processing at borders and save $$ on fees) Grimaldi's pizza, Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory and bloody marys at Superfine - not a bad life. So left on the itinerary is Yankee game tonight, omakase at Taro tomorrow, lots of TV and packing up the apartment in between. Slade our "new roommate" moves in as soon as we leave so cleaning an apartment that we've completely neglected over the past few months has been overwhelming but nice...I'm going to miss cleaning my apartment :)

We are so incredibly excited to start the trip and to get on the road. Plans at the moment (which have changed a few times in the past couple days) entail flying into Lima and connecting to Trujillo. We will explore Trujillo, Chan Chan and Huaca del Sol, using Huanchacho beach as our base. After that we'll work our way up the coast to meet Bobby D in Mancora on the 22nd.

So our next post will be from the road. See ya in Peru!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

It's the Final Countdown (da nu naa nu...)

Excerpt of an email with a friend:

"no post-travel plans. I don't want to have any plans while I travel. this trip is about absolute and complete Freedom. mental, geographic, financial (well, to some extent...) etc. I want nothing weighing on me. I don't even have an end date to the trip.

that being said--there are two headhunters who have been actively recruiting me for a while... one call to them and I can easily get a job. just not sure I want to keep doing sales. I'm good at it, but it's not very fulfilling. working for relix is (rather, was) quite fulfilling. my passion and love for the subject matter easily outweighed the "used car salesman" feeling that every sales person feels (whether he admits it or not). so, if an opportunity came up for a travel, music, food, wine or backgammon magazine, I'd probably jump on it. otherwise, I'll wait until the right opportunity finds me.

and who knows, maybe I'll fall in love with a quaint beach town and open up a hostel. or become a sushi chef. or write a travel book. or just keep a pack on my back and live the dharma bum life for 10 years...

the possibilities for us are endless, and at this point in my life, it's the best feeling in the world."

That's exactly the mindset both of us are in. And it's amazing... :)