Saturday, August 08, 2015

Peruvian Journey: Part 2 - Up to the Sacred Valley


While Lima is the capital of Peru, the heart of the country is the Sacred Valley. This is where the heart of the Inca Empire was based and that history and culture is still a source of pride for many Peruvians. The evidence of that civilization and the testament to their building prowess is easily visible at the many ruins in the valley. 

For tourists, Cusco is the gateway to the Inca ruins. The city sits more than 11,000 feet above sea level and is a quick 40 minute flight from Lima. Ticket prices are surprisingly reasonable and flights are frequent. LAN provides the most mainstream service with the best planes. Other airlines like StarPeru and Peruvian (which I flew) provide decent service and lower prices... but with a few trade offs. For example, this is a fine specimen of a 737-200 has been around for quite a while. It may very well be as old as I am. 

Once in Cusco, the most sensible thing to do is leave, immediately. It is not that the town is a bad plus, but the the high altitude is likely to have an impact. 11,000 feet up is the same as standing on top of Mount Hood or Mount Fuji. Other towns in the valley are actually lower altitude and better suited for adjusting to the thin air. In my case, I stayed in Ollantaytambo.

For transportation, nothing prearranged is needed. Ignore the taxi hustlers that speak excellent English when you first step out; They are just trying to get you to pay four times as much as you should. They originally offered $60 to drive out to Ollantaytambo (1.5 hours), which by US standards is great, but you can hire a private cab at the collectivo terminal 15 minutes away for $18. Or take a collectivo for the whole journey for a couple bucks!


Ultimately, I took the short local cab to the terminal and bought a seat in the cab. The cab normally takes four people and their stuff for a trip and leaves when full, but I opted to by out the middle seat for a more comfortable ride. I highly recommend this. In total, I spent $9 for two seats and an hour and a half trip through the Scared Valley.







This was the first view of Ollantaytambo (above). If I were to do the trip again, I would stay here and use this as the launching point for touring around the Sacred Valley. The place we stayed at Hostal Iskay was really nice and relaxing. Fortunately, there will have to be another time because there is much left unexplored.

Next time: The ruins of Ollantaytambo and More from Cusco!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Peruvian Journey: Part 1 - Lima



Welcome to Peru! My most recent trip was back to South America (by way of Toronto) for a journey up to Machu Picchu. Naturally, the first stop for virtually any trip to Peru is going to be Lima, the capital city and main international airport for the country.

If you are traveling to Lima, a couple pieces of advice: From the airport, you are going to want to grab a green cab. There will be a huge group of them and for airport to the city, the is the easiest option. In terms of expense, it's about $18 from the airport to Miraflores or Barranco, where you are likely staying. The price is fixed and tipping is not expected, however before you run off be sure that you check the sign and confirm the price. If not, then you may end up with a guy that tries to get a couple extra bucks out of you. Not the worst in the world, but it ends up being an ignorance tax.


The city itself is on a bluff next to the Pacific Ocean and is massive. More than ten million people call Lima home, which gives rise to some very stark contrasts between the haves and have-nots (as everywhere). Areas around Centro and closer to the airport are going to show a much more modest version of Peru, while Miraflores and some of the surrounding neighborhoods are lush and high end. Miraflores and Barranco both felt perfectly safe to walk around, even at night. Some of the other areas were obviously places that I wouldn't want to be out there as a tourist. As for when to go, summer in Lima means rain in the Sacred Valley, while dry season in the Sacred Valley means grey days as seen above. It is still warm, but it's not especially pretty.

I was in the city for a total of two and a half days. By far, one of the more interesting places that I visited was the Larco Museum, which houses and extensive collection of Inca artifacts. I'll go more into my thoughts on the Inca empire in another post, but this was what wet the whistle. The level of creativity and playfulness on display was very cool.





In addition to the pottery, there is also examples of the gold working of the Inca empire. One thing that I learned from this was that most of the gold on display that impressed the Spanish so much (and triggered a bloody subjugation driven by their greed of the native people) was actually thin sheets of a gold alloy. In reality, it really wasn't the solid gold treasure that we hear about.

Larco Museum is also home to a collection of very NSFW clay pottery in another section. Obviously, pictures are not forthcoming, but it is pretty obvious that the Inca relationship with sex was not the same as after the Catholics got there. Not at all.

In the next post, we'll take a look at some of the tastes of Lima, including Amaz, Pan de la Chola, La Lucha, and the fantastic Ayahuasca bar.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

McDonald's Around the World: Toronto - Featuring the McLobster!

Ah, Toronto. The last time I was here, it was 20 below and freezing. This time around I was here on a layover and had a couple hours to run into the city. Naturally, I wanted to check a couple local specialties off my list, which happened to include a peek into McDonald's to see if they had one of the great myths of Canadian McDonald's: The McLobster.

 Oh. There it is. Is there anything else that I can do double down on the Canadian-ess of this meal?

Maple bacon McDonald's poutine? Don't mind if I do! Naturally, I have to say that this was for the experience. I mean, non-breaded and fried seafood at McDonald's? That just sounds a bit risky, but the McLobster exists and I had to tried it.

First up, the appetizer. There's real maple syrup on there, in addition to the bacon, cheese, and gravy. Overall, it might not have been that bad without the maple syrup. Or if you were horribly drunk and stumbling home, I imagine.

Truth in advertising here: "Get ready! You're about to try something new!"

I really didn't know what a $7 lobster sandwich from McDonald's was going to be like, but here it is. It exists. The lobster meat is cool, rolled around in mayo, with bits of standard MickeyD's lettuce. Did I try it? Yes. Did I finish it? After this, I had a 9 hour flight ahead of me and the last thing I needed was a parting gift from Canada that involved getting sick, so I was satisfied with my three bites.

Maybe things will be better at McDonald's where I'm off to next?

Friday, July 10, 2015

McDonald's Around the World: Mexico

Sadly, I did not much ability to take photos in Mexico. The manager there with his hand up was not very happy with my camera coming out. I will not understand why these guys don't want free advertising... From the looks of it, pretty standard except for that chicken sandwich on the left might be a little fancier than usual...

...But, we did end up trying the cones above. Dulce de leche is a pretty common flavor in the latin world and here they had dulce de leche cones. Quite good! The Oreo version I had tried before in Buenos Aires, but the dulce de leche I had to try. Overall, the best McDonald's cone I've had!



Thursday, July 09, 2015

Noise Cancellation Performance - Sony MDR-ZX770BN

This is a follow up to the overall review that I wrote over here. The last time I had a bluetooth headphones (Sol Republic Tracks Air), I found that they were nice overall but pretty useless on a plane. Since my handle is "SeattleFlyerGuy", that shortcoming is a big one.

My new headsets needed to be put to real world tests and my recent flight to South America provided the perfect opportunity to test the noise cancellation features of my new Sony MDR-ZX770BN headphones. I am happy to say that they ended up performing well. I am sure that the Bose probably outperform there (for another $100), but there is something to be said for the around-the-ear design and comfort of this set.

I'll keep 'em.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Hola from Puerto Vallarta!



...On to something a little more relaxing...

Although April ended up being a very busy month for travel, my trip to Puerto Vallarta was the only one that I actually planned as a vacation a couple months back (everything else came up pretty unexpectedly). This was my first time in Mexico and I ended up getting a good deal on Alaska Airlines for a direct flight from San Francisco. Usually when I travel I pack in as much as possible (9 days and 4 cities ? Sure!), but this time I really had three basic goals: Do nothing, have a couple beers by the beach, walk around and see the city a bit. It is difficult, but I managed to avoid trying to do too much this trip.



I stayed in Zona Romantica, which is the opposite direction from the newer all inclusive tourist resorts and just south of the Cuale river. The area here is still very touristy, but it doesn't feel like you are on the set of The Truman Show: Tropical Vacation like in some resorts. Although you are definitely being catered to as tourists here, there is more interaction here with locals. The "hotel zone" was built from the ground up north of the airport for tourists is more like a different world. It is designed to keep people apart.

What's the fun in that?

For those concerned about safety, Puerto Vallarta is just fine. The streets felt safe, people were friendly, and nothing we encountered raised concerns. The only big advantage to staying in the hotel zone on this front is that there are probably fewer people on the beach trying to sell you stuff, but that's about it. We were out at all hours too. No issues.




I didn't get a chance to ride these below, since taxis were pretty cheap and walking got us most places. Just to the north of the river is the main boardwalk area. It has been built up more recently than the Zona Romantica, but it a bigger draw of people at night. We ran into a night market/family night on the boardwalk one of the nights that we were there. Nothing wrong with a little street food and people watching.

Overall, I'll be back at some point. I enjoyed my couple days on the beach with no plans whatsoever. :)



Friday, June 26, 2015

Stockholm in a Dozen Pictures

I am not going to share too much about my trip to Sweden this time. I was there due to rather sad circumstances and much of it isn't really sharable in the usual way. Instead, I'll just share some photos from the journey.