A Travellerspoint blog

Maras y Moray

Today, we hired a tour guide to take us on a half day tour of Maras and Moray. Saúl, the guide, and Davíd, the driver, picked us up at 8 am and drove us to a small village outside of Cusco. We visited a compound where 12 families live and weave textiles. They gave us a demonstration. First, they wash the sheep or alpaca wool in "Inca shampoo" which is just a local root vegetable they grow that produces soap. Then they spin the wool into yarn and dye it using local flowers, roots, and bugs. She crushed a beetle to show and added lemon to the beetle's blood to create a bright red. She then used the blood lipstick. They dyed some yarn and showed us that they weave the yarn with an llama bone. She first said the bone was from a tourist who didn't buy anything after the demonstration.

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After, the demonstration we decided to help the local cottage industry (read as: we just really wanted alpaca blankets as souvenirs).

On our drive to Maras, Saúl pointed out vegetables growing on surrounding farms, including quinoa and potatoes. Maras is a small village with 5,000 salt pools on a steep mountain. In the rainy season (our winter), the village farms. In the dry season (our summer), they mine salt. Each family tends to a handful of salt pools. The pools are fed by a hot spring that has a high salt content. The Andeans believe it is a gift from Mother Earth (Pacha Mama). The geologists say there is a large salt block under the mountains from when the ocean used to cover this portion of the world.

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The salt filters through all the pools. Evaporation will leave salt behind for the locals to collect and sell to salt factories. We learned there are 3 classes of salt. Class 1 is table salt. Class 2 is salt for meats and cooking. Class 3 is salt for animals. Silly me, I thought all salt was made by that girl with the umbrella on the Morton's salt box.

We drove through more fields of quinoa to Moray which means May in Quechuan (the local language of Andeans). Moray is the site of ancient Incan ruins. There are 3 circular depressions made of many levels of terraces. The terraces had an irrigation system that provided water to each terrace, allowing the Incas to produce many crops. Upon arrival, Saúl made us turn our backs to the largest depression and guided us backwards. Then he made us turn around to see the site. I mean it was a cool site, but not the type of place where you need a big build up before seeing it. Saúl gave us a brief history of the Incas which was great since I didn't pay any attention to that chapter of World History in high school and was just relying on my memories of Disney's The Emperor's New Groove.

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Saúl asked our opinion on what to name the tour company he plans to start with his brother. 98% chance his company will be named YOLO Expeditions thanks to us. We then encouraged him to name it "You Only Live Once Expeditions," as we are not sure the phrase YOLO is internationally known.

We returned to Cusco around 1 pm and ate at Los Toldos Chicken. We had quinoa and chicken soup and pollo a la brasa, a Peruvian rotisserie chicken which was delicious. We walked to the San Blas neighborhood of Cusco. San Blas looks like Oia, Greece as the buildings are white wash with royal blue trim and doors. The neighborhood has narrow cobblestone streets with many cafes, restaurants and shops along them. We decided to follow a sign to el Cristo Blanco which is translated quite literally. It is a white statue of Christ. The sign was misleading. After climbing 200 stairs, we reached a dead end, and Cristo Blanco was nowhere to be seen. However the view of Cusco was worth the climb.

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We stopped for coffee at La Paccha, and then stopped into a souvenir store. I am very proud that the store owner thought I was a Spanish speaker. I guess those 4 years of high school Spanish stuck with me a little.

We then went to the museum dedicated to my one and only love, chocolate. When in South America, eat chocolate. After all, this continent is where Christopher Columbus discovered the cacao bean. We bought some chocolate and wandered around La Plaza Espinar. In front of the Minor Basilica of Mercy, there was a group of ethnic dancers. Saúl had informed us the celebration of Pentecost began today which is a four day festival here. The dancers travelled throughout La Plaza de Armas performing traditional dances. They were waving the Cusco flag which is a rainbow flag; however, it has nothing to do with gay pride.

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After watching for a while, we ate dinner at Bondiet. By dinner, I mean dinner as defined by me. Think tres leches and a chocolate torte. Earlier in the day, I taught Alyssa how to say "I am hungry" in Spanish. However, she mispronounced "tengo hambre" as "tengo hombre." Her mispronunciation translates to "I have man," and she insists on mispronouncing it on purpose now.

We came back to the hotel to pack our bags. We go on our three day alternative trek to Macchu Picchu tomorrow. Since we will be checking back into this hotel after our trek, we decided store the majority of our belongings here. We both brought foldable tote bags for this purpose of lightening our loads before our trek.

Other things we learned today:
-Alyssa and I keep hearing really loud noises. Saúl said the noises were either fireworks for Pentecost or rocks falling on nearby mountains. We are convinced they are gun shots or cannon blasts. We also decided not to google crime rate in Peru until after our trip to confirm if gun shots are a possibility.
-There are signs throughout Cusco that have an X over a horn. I am convinced it means no bugle playing. Alyssa says it means no honking.
-The largest industry in Peru is mining for gold, silver and other precious metals. Second on the list is the fishing industry.

We have to be ready to go at 6 am, so we are calling it another early night. Hosts luego!

Posted by lsto90 19:20 Archived in Peru Tagged peru cusco inca maras moray Comments (0)

Perusing for a Bruising

Prior to departure, we did look Peru up on a map. Other than that, my insurance agent informed me the water will circulate in the opposite direction when you flush the toilet in Peru. Despite our lack of preparation, we made it safely to Lima after a 6 hour flight where I sat by a guy named Isaac. Isaac spent 5 of the 6 hours picking his nose. I was thoroughly disgusted and chose to intently watch movies to block him out.

We arrived in Lima around midnight, found out there are police dogs in the baggage claim sniffing luggage for fruits and vegetables, and safely found our driver waiting for us. There was a huge crowd waiting outside of the airport. Using my high school Spanish skills, the driver informed me there was a rock concert the next day, and the band's fans were waiting their arrival at the airport.

We checked into Peru Star Hotel which was a pretty nice place. We had a 2 bedroom suite. Props to Alyssa on booking the hotel. Luckily, Peru is in the same time zone as Texas, so we didn't have jet lag to worry about when we crawled into bed at 1 am.

Friday, we started the day with my successful ordering bread and scrambled eggs for breakfast. Then, we headed back to airport to catch a 1 hour flight to Cusco. The moment I sat on the flight, I fell asleep. Mid-nap, I reclined my seat thinking we had already taken off. A few minutes later, I woke up and realized we hadn't taken off yet and put my seat back into the upright position. Our flight was delayed an hour which provided me ample napping time. Note: LAN Airlines plays elevator music in the plane for the duration of the flight.

We arrived in the Cusco airport which was rather tiny and looked like it might still be under construction. Tip: if you need a cab, go to the task desk inside Peruvian airports to get one. People outside the airport will say they are legit taxis, but supposedly, they will rip you off.

Our taxi dropped us off at Tierra Viva Centro Hotel (another great reservation by Alyssa). The hotel could blend in in Santorini, Greece with its white walls and blue trim. It is a nice hotel that I would recommend to real adults.

Our hotel serves free coca tea to prevent altitude sickness which supposedly is a big problem for people who visit Cusco at 10,913 feet elevation. The coca plant contains alkaloids to produce cocaine. Per Wikipedia, "a cup of coca tea prepared from one gram of coca leaves (the typical contents of a tea bag) contains approximately 4.2 mg of organic coca alkaloid. In comparison, a line of cocaine contains between 20 and 30 milligrams." Per some research at more trustworthy websites like DEA.gov, the United Nations has banned the coca leaf and considers it a schedule 1 drug (e.g. Heroin, LSD, etc.) even if it is used for traditional purposes. Coca tea is similar to coffee which contains the alkaloid caffeine. Now, that Alyssa and I have learned this information after 2-4 cups of coca tea today, we will consider discontinuing our consumption.

After check in, we went to Lorenzo Expedition to pay for our Macchu Picchu alternative trek. We had to pay in USD, and it turns out they will not accept USD that are slightly crumpled. We had a bit of a mess on our hands as we got the lady to convert the amount due into Peruvian Sole, but we think we figured it out.

We explored Plaza de Armas, the main square. Alyssa bought two llama sweaters and is well on her way to having a great Bill Cosby costume for Halloween. We visited four churches (making up for my absence at mass last week). We went to the Society of Jesus first and climbed a tower to get a view of the plaza. We visited three churches that are connected: el Triunfo, the Cathedral, and church of Jesus and Maria. This is where I learned about Black Jesus. Yep, the patron saint of Cusco is el señor de temblores(earthquakes), but they call him Black Christ for short.

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All of the churches had incredible altars gilded in gold leaf. I noticed Jesus is more modest here and art of him on the cross usually has him wearing a towel/skirt wrapped around his waist, not just a loin cloth. One of the churches had a painting of the Last Supper where they were eating guinea pig, a Peruvian favorite that I plan on trying.

After the churches, we were starving and went to dinner at 4:45. Grandma status. We decided on Inka Grill which Alyssa's coworker recommended. We both got chicken dishes. Mine included a risotto made of quinoa which was delicious. We also got Pisco sours which were first created in Peru.

We were exhausted and decided to head back to the hotel after dinner to watch some TV which is all American shows in English.

From our 24 hours in Peru, we have learned:
-a police officer will blow a whistle to signal you to cross the street
-you cannot flush toilet paper in the toilet
-and I am sure we have learned much more, but it is time for bed now.

Posted by lsto90 20:45 Archived in Peru Tagged peru cusco coca_tea Comments (0)

I make my best decisions over a mojito...

I make my best decisions over a mojito at a Hawaiian themed bar adjacent to sketchy gas stations. I may only have one example to evidence the previous statement, but I believe you will agree with me once I explain.

On a cold dreary Friday night in January, I escaped the busy season audit room for my allotted 2 hours of socialization for the month (slight over exaggeration. I am allowed 10 hours of socialization during busy season.) I headed to Lei Low (the cool tiki bar located next to a sketchy gas station and dumpster) to meet some friends. I had previously discussed a summer vacation with my friend Alyssa, who is the spitting image of Aubrey Plaza and has the same sarcasm and tendencies to have ridiculous events occur in her life as Aubrey's character on Parks and Rec does (read as: ideal travel companion or worst travel companion depending on your travel preferences (I.e. Do you like having unnecessary travel mishaps?)).

We had thrown around the idea of visiting Peru in May, and a month later, we had made no plans. Thus, after a mojito, we decided the time to act was now. So we got out our phones (thank goodness for modern technology) and found a direct flight to Peru. We closed out our tabs in order to retrieve our credit cards to book the flights, and after our friend reviewed the flights, we bought plane tickets...to Peru...while at a bar.

As I said in the introduction, all my best decisions are made over a mojito. New life rule.

Fast-forward to tonight (2 days before departure) where I am sitting on my bedroom floor with my trusty backpack pulled out with contents that should probably at some point be put into the backpack. Have we planned much for this trip? No, but I got a yellow fever vaccine because my insurance oddly covers it. Does my insurance cover 100% of a trip to the dermatologist? No, but it's got me covered for yellow fever. Typical. Are we prepared for the 40 mile downhill bike ride we signed up for? No, but I watched the Tour of California a few weeks ago. Same thing, right? The better question is if Alyssa can even ride a bike. How about the altitude of Cusco? Alyssa did get altitude sickness medicine from a clinic that specializes in taking care of homeless people... Because that's what happens when you leave Alyssa in charge of adult things.

But hey, at least we booked flights and hotels for once we get to Peru, albeit they were booked as we rushed to a concert. In summary, stay tuned. This trip will surely be a series of mishaps that end up with us featured on the Discovery Channel's "Locked Up Abroad" series (my mom's worst nightmare) or stranded on an alpaca farm where we earn our keep by learning how to knit sweaters. I feel good about it. !Hasta la vista, Los Estados Unidos¡ (did I mention I have 4 years of high school Spanish to get us around?)

Caveat: Per the usual, this blog is coming from the handy iPhone. My apologies in advance for any typos or grammatical errors. Shout out to my uncle Fred who is probably the only one reading this and isn't picking up on the grammatical errors after a nightly beer or two.

Posted by lsto90 20:51 Archived in USA Tagged peru Comments (0)

Brecking Crew Takes the Slopes

This past weekend marked the “first annual friend ski trip.” Six of my friends and I headed to Denver on Thursday night (well, one of those six booked the wrong flight and arrived in the afternoon instead). Our flight from Houston was delayed by 30 minutes. We finally took off and a few minutes after take-off, we saw flight attendants running to the back of the plane. Then, a flight attendant got on the intercom and asked if there was a doctor or nurse on the plane. A doctor raised his hand and rushed to the back. Apparently, some lady had fainted and was too feeble to get back to her seat.

All I was thinking was, “This doctor better be able to stabilize her. Ain’t nobody got time for an emergency landing.” However, I would have been understanding if we had to stop before Denver. Luckily, the doctor whom we found out was named Dr. Brian saved the day. He stayed with the lady the majority of the flight. The flight attendant asked if there were any off-duty Southwest personnel on the flight who could help with the flight attendant duties since they were a bit busy. Two off-duty pilots ended up serving us snacks. You could tell it was totally out of their element, but it was so sweet and hilarious. Dr. Brian sat back down in his seat, and as soon as he did, the flight attendant asked if Dr. Brian could head back to help the lady to her seat. The attractive Dr. Brian sure was a trooper.

We landed in the Denver International Airport which Alyssa informed me was full of Free Mason symbolism and had a whole conspiracy theory behind it. Apparently, if the world ends, we need to get to the Denver International Airport and stay in one of the bunkers underneath the airport. Seriously, look it up.

All was going well until Alyssa’s snowboard bag didn’t show up in the oversized luggage. We waited around for about 2 hours since there was another flight from Houston landing at 10:45. We had our fingers crossed that Alyssa’s snowboard bag that also carried her ski clothes would show up. We met the nicest Southwest employee named Lyric. She was from Hawaii and hilarious. She was trying to help us out and holding out hope the bag would appear. If it didn’t come on the flight, she would give Alyssa vouchers for snowboard rentals and to buy new ski clothes. So we had a back-up plan, but luckily the snowboard bag showed up on the next flight!

We rented two cars and headed to Breckenridge which is a 2 hour drive. Since Trey had arrived early, he had checked into our condo (Powderhorn Penthouse) that we found on homeaway.com. It had 3 bedrooms, a loft sleeping place, a fireplace, 2 full baths, and 2 ½ baths. It was conveniently located by the Peak 9 chairlift which services easy green terrain and can take you over to more challenging blues.

Since it was nearly 2 am when we arrived, we all crashed immediately. Friday morning, we woke up early and were first in line at Base Mountain Sports to pick up our ski reservations. Home boys at the rental shop were high (per the usual in Colorado), were having computer problems, and were overall inefficient. However, it was the cheapest rental place we could find, and we were first in line so we were all ready to go in about 40 minutes.

Alyssa, Trey, Erin and I headed to Keystone (30 minutes from Breckenridge), while the other 3 took lessons at Breckenridge. The first wipe out of the day was when I stepped foot on the frozen Keystone parking lot. I totally ate it. My friend Liz whom I went to college with and who happened to be in the same hostel in Iceland that Erin and I stayed in now lives in Denver and met us at Keystone to ski with us. Since it was early in the season and a week day, Keystone was pretty quiet which was nice. For early season, the snow was pretty good, and the weather was perfect!

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We stopped for lunch and all drank 2 beers each which was a bad idea because it made us feel sick during our afternoon skiing. Around lunch was when the quote of the trip turned into “blame it on the altitude.” It’s the perfect excuse for anything. Seriously, try it. There were no bad wipe outs the rest of the day, and we headed back to Breckenridge once the lifts closed.

For dinner, we ate at Breckenridge Brewery which was in walking distance from our condo. After some food, we watched tv at our condo and went to bed early. On the walk home, I had my second wipe out of the day. Ice and I are not friends. This time, I got about 3 feet of air and was parallel to the ground. I smacked the concrete hard but luckily was unscathed.

Saturday, we woke up and headed to the Quicksilver lift at the base of Peak 9. Liz met us, and we skied the whole day. It was great because we could all split up, ski what we wanted, and meet up for lunch or after ski drinks. We all met for lunch at noon per our agreement earlier in the day. We didn’t know where Trey had gone. Turned out he couldn’t find us and for some reason, thought we all went up the mountain again. Typical.

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Scott, who learned to ski the day before, decided to brave a blue with us. He was doing great but then got too much speed. He zoomed pass me as I waited for him, and a guy near me started narrating the situation that was unfolding. Scott smartly sat back on his butt and crashed, but it prevented him from going into the trees. He was unharmed, but it was a great wipe out! Andy’s snowboard binding came off at the same time, so Scott and Andy walked to the nearest lodge.

We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to get the most out of our last day of skiing. I learned I could get off the Mercury lift, ski down Cashier, and get back on the Mercury lift within 5 minutes, and made that my goal for the last 40 minutes of the afternoon. It was a good work out and made me feel good about our final afternoon of skiing.

We headed home and cleaned up before walking around Main Street. The town was all lit up for Christmas, and sadly, we missed the Santa run they had earlier in the afternoon. We ate at Flatbread Pizza, and then headed back to the condo. This time, we lasted to 11:45 watching football and SNL. We sure are party animals. As Scott said, our hashtag for the trip should have been #breckingRAGE.

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Sunday, we woke up and headed back to Denver for our early afternoon flight. I would deem the first annual friend ski trip to be a huge success. No one sustained any injuries besides normal ski/snowboard soreness, and we all made it home safely. I can’t wait for the next ski trip with the Brecking Crew!

Posted by lsto90 19:41 Archived in USA Tagged brecking crew_breckenridge_keystone_colo Comments (0)

Fredericksburg Friendaversary

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My sophomore year of college, I went on a Business Honors trip to Boston on which I made 5 of my closest friends. This fall was our 5 year friendaversary. It’s a holiday. To celebrate 5 years of friendship, we headed to the Texas hill country for a long weekend.

Kelly and I departed Houston after work on Thursday, got stuck in some traffic, and arrived at McKinney Falls State Park in the outskirts of Austin for my very first camping experience. We drive up to see an old lady sitting on a park bench outside. This is when I dubbed her OLPR (Old Lady Park Ranger). She was very thorough in her check in process—giving us the rundown. For instance, the park gate is locked at 10 pm, but she gave us the code to get out in case there is an emergency. She told us sight 26 is a really nice space and continued to rave about it. It was 9 pm. We were sure that if it were or weren’t a nice space, we would have no idea in the pitch dark.

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Kelly and I head to spot 26 and started the fire while waiting for Erin and Megan to arrive. This is when the trip turns from McKinney Falls to McKinney Fails. HEB’s firewood is shoddy. It was cold, and we couldn’t get the fire to stay lit. Kelly and I waited in the car, eating cold s’mores until Megan and Erin arrived. Once they arrived, we tried the fire again. The fire starter obviously worked, but still not luck getting the wood to catch fire. We quickly made some s’mores, and then Megan said the famous last words, “man, I could watch a fire burn all day” as the fire went out. Luckily, I took a quick picture of the fire before it went out to document my camping experience. Kelly commented on the photo saying, “This looks like a really good fire. Did you get it off Google?”

Next, we decided to set up the tent. Kelly brought a new tent that she had never used. Then Erin said the famous last words, “Oh, it’s never been open, so it will have all the parts.” We laid it all out and realized the poles were missing! Luckily there was no rain in the forecast, so we slept under the stars instead of in a tent. With no fire or tent, we decided to “shake it off” in the words of Taylor Swift.

We decided to head to bed, and Erin’s biggest concern was someone stepping on her glasses that she put in her boot. Kelly kindly told Erin that she was the biggest risk factor here. When we were about to fall asleep, Kelly noticed two raccoons which freaked us out. It was pretty chilly that night, and Kelly said I should have pulled the table cloth trick to get her extra sleeping bag from under her during the night since I was so cold.

We woke up early, cleaned up, and went to the two falls at the park. After about 20 minutes of walking around the falls, we headed to Sam’s parents’ house in Austin. Sam had flown in the night before, and we had to pick her up. Her parents served us coffee and breakfast, and then we headed to Enchanted Rock. We climbed the rock and had a Whole Foods picnic at the top. After about 1.5 hours, we headed to our cute little house in Fredericksburg. We stayed at Das Tejas which we found on Homeaway. It was adorably decorated in a rustic fashion and comfortably slept 6 with its 2 bedrooms, 1 loft, 2.5 bathrooms, large living area, and working fireplace. It was a couple of blocks from Main Street. We were in love with this house.

Sam, Kelly, and I made a grocery run to HEB while waiting for Jenny to arrive and for everyone to clean up. Then we headed to Fredericksburg Brewing Company for dinner where I ran into some of my sister’s friends. It’s a small world after all, right? After dinner, we headed back to our house to make s’mores, work on a puzzle, and head to bed early. We are the craziest 24 year olds you will ever meet. I mean trying to put together a 1,000 piece puzzle is a pretty wild endeavor if I do say so myself!

The next morning, we woke up early and made a brunch consisting of mimosas and breakfast tacos, with an adorable table setting and Saturday brunch playlist to play up the ambiance of the morning. Per the usual, we had to have a friend photo shoot since we haven’t all been together in a year.

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After our photo shoot around the house, we headed to the 290 Wine Shuttle that picks up by the Admiral Nimitz Pacific War Museum. For $20, the shuttle will bring you to various vineyards. We started at Grape Creek Vineyard and did a tasting there. Another small world moment was running into my old camp counselors there. After our tasting, we headed to Becker Vineyard which was far better than Grape Creek. Grape Creek was a little stuffy. Becker had better wine and was more fun in general. The weather was perfect, so we hung out outside and watched pumpkin chunking where these men used a catapult to chunk a pumpkin into the field. While at Becker, various groups of people asked if we were celebrating a bachelorette party. No, we are celebrating a friendaversary….duh. Two 30-something year old ladies came up and said they had been talking about us and wanted us to have so much fun being young. No need to tell me twice.

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After Becker, we were wined out and took the shuttle back to town. We walked around the town and ate an early dinner at Pasta Bella where Sam paid with a personal check like the 90 year old she is. It was delicious! As the party animals we are, we headed back home early, ate s’mores, and watched the Lindsay Lohan version of Parent Trap and the old Disney Channel classic Wish Upon a Star.

After more breakfast tacos Sunday morning, we headed back to Austin and stopped at Sam’s parents’ house to watch some football and eat some snacks before heading to our respective hometowns in the early afternoon.

Our Fredericksburg weekend was a perfect girls’ trip and a wonderful way to celebrate 5 years of friendship! The friendaversary trip will continue to be annual tradition, and I am already looking forward to next year’s.

Posted by lsto90 19:08 Archived in USA Tagged hill girls trip grape becker fredericksburg_texas country_ vineyard_ creek_texas_enchanted rock_mckinney falls_ Comments (0)

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