Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Farmers Market Reason #347

Trying new things. One of the highlights of my work week is perusing the green market on my lunch break to see what new fun vegetables I can find to try. Since we’re now in full swing of the summer produce explosion, it’s always an interesting adventure.


Generally speaking, in the past I have hated eggplant. I just am not a fan. To me it always seemed to be a slimey tasteless gross vegetable. However, I saw these adorable eggplants at the market and couldn’t resist. Even if they tasted bad, I still wanted to take a photo!


Aren’t they cute? I love the color and the stripes and the little witches hat top.

The stand I got these from, Boditree Farms, always has the most fun stuff. She specializes in gourmet Asian produce, and her veggies are always the most beautiful to be found, guaranteed. I also picked up some peppers from Laney this week, not green or red or jalapeno, but shishito peppers! Not hot, but flavorful, perfect for me!


I decided I was going to make a vegetable green curry with my haul last night, so chopped everything up, stir fried it up with some garlic and oil and then crafted a green curry using coconut milk, green curry paste, ginger, fish sauce, brown sugar, and garlic, basically following Erin’s idea. We also threw in some shrimp as well. This was delicious! And the eggplant was good too! And so colorful and looked so pretty on the plate! All told it included the Indian Paint Eggplant, Shishito Peppers, Green Pepper, Carrot, Onion, Garlic, Broccoli, Kale, and Zucchini. YUM!


Thursday, July 15, 2010

City of Blue Doors

From Machu Picchu we headed back to Cuzco, with a stop in the Sacred Valley village of Ollantaytambo. Here we stayed in the most adorable little inn, and I really wish we could have had more time! The owner was so sweet and the town was nice and quiet.

Sacred Valley

So many stairs.

We hiked some ruins here, of course!, and then took a little minivan taxi thing back to Cuzco.

Overall I really liked Cuzco quite a bit. The little windy streets reminded lots of Toledo in Spain, and although it was quite touristy, it was definitely charming as well. We ended up eating almost every night at this adorable little Italian place called Vittorio, if you're ever there, you MUST go! Oddly, we ate more Italian food in Peru then we ever eat in New York. Very strange.

Plaza de Armas in Cuzco

Anyway, Cuzco was lots of wandering around, up hills of course. We saw the main ruins on top of the city and also took a bus to the little city of Pisaq. Pisaq was really cute and we had fun perusing the market there, eating delicious empanadas, and hiking up more mountains. (I have made Alex promise that I get to pick the next trip. Which involve approximately ZERO mountains and ZERO ruins. :-) )


Little Cuzco streets.


I also had lots of fun taking pictures in Cuzco, and became really intrigued with the doorways, they were all the brightest shade of blue! A little series for your enjoyment.











Finally, this is one of my favorite things we found in Peru. This was painted on a random wall on a back street in Cuzco. The exploitation of indigenous people wearing traditional dress by tourists is absolutely appalling, especially in a place like Cuzco. For this to depict things the other way around I think is absolutely perfect. I wish more people could see and understand what's going on here, and maybe, just maybe have a modicum of respect and think about why they're taking that snapshot in the square of the woman with her llama.


On a more positive note, though I complain about all the hills Alex made me climb up, the trip as a whole was a wonderful experience. The views from the top were also worth the climb, something I have found to be true on every trip I've taken. I feel like we just got to experience a small glimpse of an incredible country in our short 2 weeks. We've both said Peru is a country we would love to return to. It has so much more to offer then just the small tourist trail we hit. Most of all, the Peruvian people made the trip. They were so warm and gracious and went out of their way to help us whenever we asked. Someday soon, we'll be back!


Monday, July 12, 2010

Machu Picchu!


After Puno, Alex and I grabbed a bus to Cuzco. We opted for the "panoramic" option, which basically meant we were on the top of double decker bus, right in the front. In theory, this was a pretty cool idea. And yes, the scenery was pretty spectacular. However, it also meant we had a front row seat to the daring antics of our driver, which certainly led to us having second thoughts when he would speed around a semi while going around a sharp turn in a cliff side mountain road with no guardrail.. EEK!

View from the bus.

When we arrive in Cuzco, we found a taxi, and headed up the super skinny winding streets to our hostel. It was pretty beautiful, with a view overlooking the city. Alas, we only had this room for one night, but pretty cool nonetheless!


We would be back to Cuzco, but for the time being left the next morning for Aguas Calientes, the town that exists for no other reason then to be a sort of base camp for Machu Picchu. Due to mudslides earlier in the season we had to take a combination of bus and train to get there, but all worked out. I must say Aguas Calientes is a very strange place. It's extremely fake, almost a disney land of sorts for people coming to see Machu Picchu. There are no cars, and just hotels, restaurants, and tourist shops. Kind of icky, but it is in a spectacular setting, surrounded by green mountains and cloud forest. Kind of unfortunate.

Alex and I wandered around a bit when we arrived, bought our tickets for the next day and relaxed. Well, I relaxed. Alex decided it would be a good idea to hike into the woods and climb a broken down rope ladder up a mountain. Luckily, he made it back. :-)


Clearly this was a good idea.

The next day we set our alarms for the bright and cheery hour of 3:45am in order to make it to the bus stop first. (Buses begin departing from Aguas at 5:30am for MP) We'd been told only the first 400 people are allowed to climb Wayna Picchu, the huge mountain behind the ruins, and we wanted to get our shot.

We made it to the bus stop at about 4:20 and were about 20 or 30 back in line. People also hike up in the morning, but we figured we would take the bus to save our legs for the ruins. We waited and waited, and then finally the buses were starting up so we got ready to board. As we approached the front the woman asked for our tickets, and so I gave her our tickets. To the ruins. She again asked for our bus tickets. I looked at Alex who looked back at me. CRAP. We had been sitting there the whole time and had forgotten to buy our tickets!

We left the line and luckily one of the attendants saw our plight and said we could get right back in at the same spot. This was super lucky as the line now stretched all the way up the huge hill of the city. We ran over to the ticket person bought our tickets and ran back. We were knocked decently far back though, so were pretty sure we weren't going to make it and had gotten up early for nothing. Shoot.

The ride up to MP is a pretty motion sickness inducing one, back and forth and back and forth up the switch backs of a huge mountain. We reached the top and the gate just after sunrise. You stand in line once you arrive as the gates don't actually open until 6 or 6:30. As we were standing in line a ticket agent came down to stamp our tickets for admission to Wayna Picchu! We made it, 336 and 337! Hurray!

At opening time we headed inside and straight up hill to get our first glimpse.




From there we hiked down into the ruins to make our way over to Wayna Picchu. I'm really glad we got there as early as we did as the ruins are only quiet in the really early morning before the massive tour group busses arrive. This was one of the only times during the day we had things about to ourselves.


There are llamas roaming the main grounds, and I swear this one was posing for all the cameras!

What we were about to climb. You have to sign in at a gate, for crowd control, and to make sure you come out safely, as you have to sign out as well.

Wayna Picchu is the huge mountain in the back of all the ruin pictures, and it was quite a feat to climb. Old stone steps, a few rope ladders, and scrambling up some rocks. There were definitely a few areas where a fear of heights kicked in for me and I was having no more of that.

However, if you can handle the vertigo/fact that you are multiple hundreds of feet up with no safety net, the view is pretty outstanding. Just watch your step and hang on tight!

View about half way up.

This particular ledge was kinda scary as everyone takes their photo there, but a Spanish family was ahead of us, and taking forever!, and then the dad half slipped as they were backing off, and proceeded to give me a heart attack.

We made it to the top!

View of MP from the top, including the switch backs the buses climb to get to the site.

Ruins with surrounding valley.


We relaxed at the top for a good half hour or so and then made our way back down. There was so much step climbing this day my knees were killing me by midafternoon!

We spent the rest of the day exploring the ruins, we were there probably until about 1:30 or 2pm. I was plenty ruined out by that point, but glad I had gotten to experience everything they had to offer. The site also starts getting really crowded by this time, so it was the perfect time to head back!



Overall I would say of the three major ruins we've been to (Angkor, Tikal, and MP) I still like Angkor Wat the best by far, but Machu Picchu has such a spectacular setting, it's worth going just for that. The mountain surroundings truly are incredible and completely take your breath away!



Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lake Titicaca and the Islands

So, it's taking me forever, but I FINALLY finished going through all my photos today, so I should be able to wrap up the Peru posts soon! Yay!

For any of you who are curious, you can find all of the photos here and here.

Anyhow, from Arequipa, Alex and I took a bus to Puno, the main port city on Lake Titicaca. The bus ride there in itself was an experience. As soon as we boarded, I was a little suspicious of our company, as the bus was clearly not in good repair. We were scheduled to leave at 10:30, but that clearly was not going to happen. Most to my surprise was that the Peruvians on the bus did expect to leave on time and were yelling Vamos! Vamos! to the bus driver trying to get him to leave. Once we finally got moving, we were entertained by a constant barrage of traveling salesmen. These guys basically put on infomercials for everything imaginable, from herbal cures to good parenting books.

Much to our surprise, we actually arrived in Puno basically on schedule, even after a few unscheduled stops. Who knew?

Upon arriving in Puno, we made our way to our hotel and huffed it up the three flights of stairs to our room. Arequipa was a little ways up, but in Puno, at over 3800 meters, you can definitely feel the altitude. I thought Alex was going to have a heart attack after carrying our pack up the steps! Although I felt decently ok, aside from being short of breath, Alex definitely came down with altitude sickness and we spent the next day or so just taking it easy.

Our main goal in Puno was to spend some time on the islands of Lake Titicaca. This was something that wasn't decided upon lightly. In fact, at first we weren't even going to come because we had heard the exploitation of local cultures in the area had reached pretty awful levels. This is something we both feel really strongly about and don't want to take any part in.

However, after doing our research we found that it was possible to visit the islands and still experience all the beauty the lake had to offer without going through a tour agency and contributing directly to the livelihoods of individuals living on the islands. We decided that this option would work out for us and I'm so glad we did, visiting the lake was one of my favorite parts of the trip by far.

Port at Puno.

Looking back at the city.

We ventured our way down to the port in the morning and asked the locals for the boat to Isla Amantani. As there is only one boat that goes there, we figured we'd get the local one. Success! We paid our captain directly, who spoke basic Spanish at best (they speak quechua on the islands) and looked as though he had weathered his fair share of storms on the island, and set sail at 8:30. It was great! We were on board with a few other islanders, one Frenchmen, two French ladies, and a girl from Austria. It was about a 3.5 hour trip to Amantani, but the scenery was beautiful and it was a gorgeous day so no complaints.

Headed out on the lake.





On the way we stopped at the Uros islands, which are the part that have been over touristed, but the section we stopped at was much quieter, and we didn't stay very long. The Uros people are very interesting in that they build their islands and boats completely out of reeds from the lake.

On the Uros islands.




From the lake we could also see the bordering snow capped mountains, which were pretty far away, but still beautiful.

Isla de Amantani

Once we reached the island, we got off the boat and the captain divided us up into groups and told us where we would be spending the night. Alex and I as well as the girl from Austria, Karin, were sent off with the Captains wife. After walking up the rocky beach we headed straight up hill, the wife in her sandals clearly easily out walking all of us huffing and puffing behind her.

Their home was perched overlooking the lake with a little corn and a number of sheep. They had a small guest house attached to their main house where they allow guests to stay. It was nothing fancy, but perfectly quaint for our evenings accommodations.

I forgot to take a picture of the inside, but here's the house from the yard.

Corn in the courtyard.



Also, baby sheep are ADORABLE!



The wife cooked us lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next morning and all were delicious. Vegetable soup, a main dish with squeeky cheese, potatoes and rice and hot tea. For the 25 soles each we paid her, about $8, for 3 meals and accommodations, I'd say it was well worth it! Considering we also felt so much more a part of the culture, if you head to this area, I highly recommend a home stay.



After heading out to explore around the island, we got directions from the Captain and headed up to trek to the top of the island where we heard the sunsets were amazing. His wife led us most of the way, and then we trekked up the rest. It was quite a hike, and FREEZING once the sun went down, but it was certainly beautiful from the top.



A little more to go!

We made it!



After making our way back down after the sunset (much easier, but a little tricky in the dark) we enjoyed dinner and got to bed pretty early. However, we did make sure to step out and see the stars though. Holy moly. I have never seen so many stars and galaxies in my whole entire life! It was breathtaking.

The next day after breakfast we caught the boat and headed back towards Puno. On the way we topped off at the other main island, Taquile, to do some more hiking and enjoy a few more lake views.

On Taquile.






Alex and I just couldn't get over how beautiful the lake was! If we had had more time, I would have certainly stayed longer!