Friday, November 25, 2011

Peru: Lima and Cusco

We arrived in Lima on schedule and the taxi driver was waiting for us with a sign that read "Monica Semergiu." It couldn't have been any easier to get to our hostel--well, besides the insane Lima drivers. I've never seen anything like that. It was the most aggressive driving I could imagine. We walked around a bit and did some exploring, though Monica had been to Lima before. That night we did what has become our usual routine: Went to bed early and watched a TV show on my laptop with the headphone splitter. We are talking about renaming our blog to "Two old grandmas."

See my car? It was the only volvo I've seen in Peru so far.

The chillest mascot I've ever seen.
There he is in real life! Look at those eyes ... so chill.

Our first meal in Peru: I got the lomo saltado and Monica got a dish with chicken and rice. The Inca Kola tastes like bubble gum flavoring to me. We both agreed that this would be the first and last Inca Kola for us.

This speaks for itself. I found it in a supermarket.

I guess these people help navigate the crazy traffic? What a stressful job.

Monica found the hostel she stayed in last time she was in Lima.

This was a whole rabbit, including ears, head and tail. It was a very tempting purchase, but not very practical for us.

They love creepy mannequins in Peru.
Our second day in Lima, we met up with a friend of a friend of mine, Diana. She is from Lima so she was able to show us around a bit. We even took the local bus a couple times, which would have been very intimidating for Monica and I alone. We went to the Miraflores district and then to Barranca. Both were worlds away from the Lima we had previously seen: Miraflores is one of the fancy, expensive neighborhood of Lima, and there is a path that hugs the cliff looking down into the Pacific. Barranca is a bohemian neighborhood where we ate lunch.

Part of the path in Miraflores.

Diana and Monica with the hose. They keep this area very clean.

Also called "Lovers Park."

After saying goodbye to Diana, we went to catch the bus to Cusco. It was delayed a couple hours due to supposed maintenance, but we just hung out in the cafe upstairs and ate some snacks. The bus took about 22 hours, but it was great! The seats were comfy and reclined, they played movies (American movies dubbed in Spanish with English subtitles), they served us dinner and breakfast, and there were great views out of the huge windows.

Monica settling in for the long ride.

View from the bus. Lots of painted advertisements for products and for politicians mostly.

The scenery got more and more green, lush and mountainous.

A cute hill.

Passing by huge stone cliffs on narrow mountain streets, but we weren't scared.

The juxtaposition of beautiful landscape with less-than-beautiful rundown manmade structures was very common.

Lots of corn and cactus crops. I'm not sure what this one is.

Finally, we arrived in Cusco and shared a taxi to our hostel with another traveler. Cusco sits in the valley between many mountains and is a very touristy city, since it is the jumping off point for Macchu Picchu trips.

This dog posed for me. I love how he's sitting on that step, so civilized.

To prove my point: Another creepy mannequin. I don't know if you can see it, but he has a silver-capped tooth.

In Cusco's Plaza de Armas.

The famous, perfectly formed and placed stone walls.

Close-up of the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the Incas.

It was probably 75 degrees outside--hot and sunny--then, all of the sudden, it started hailing.
It must be the elevation: 3,300 meters.

Grocery store eggs in a bag.

Milk in a bag.

Condiments in a bag.

During the hailstorm, we took cover under an overhang with a Cusquean man. He told us about some off-the-beaten-path places we should check out, all in one area. Then later that night, a girl staying in our dorm told us all about the volunteering she's been doing in some tiny village somewhere. It turns out they were both talking about the same place. I think we are going to check it out this weekend, before we leave for the Inca Trail on Monday.

Posted on 11/26/11 at 8:40 am from the Pariwana Hostel in Cusco.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pre-Departure Thoughts

"The best journeys answer questions that in the beginning you never even thought to ask." - Yvon Chouinard in 180 South, one of my favorite documentaries.

It has begun and I still cannot believe it. Sitting on our first flight from SF to Miami with Anne taking a nap next to me, I realize this is the first moment of calm and relaxation I’ve had in weeks. I am starting to relax and see the first glimpses of excitement on the horizon.  During the last few weeks, the dominating state of mind was one filled with anxiety, sadness, worry – and not excitement. Everyone I’ve been talking to has annoyingly asked the same question over and over again: “Are you excited?” And my answer was always an evasive and polite “Yes.” Catching up with Anne just now on the plane, she confessed a similar experience, which made me feel more at ease with my bizarre state of mind. 

Taken over Lima right before landing. November 22, 2011.
You see, when you are rooted in a life somewhere, and you have bills to pay, a job and tons of ties to the many things that make your life what it is, putting that life on a shelf while preparing for a new nomad life takes a lot of research and planning. And for that to work out properly, you need your head on your shoulders. And for your head to be on your shoulders, you hardly have energy left for euphoria and excitement. But now that all the stressful planning is behind, let the excitement begin!

This plane is now taking me from my current established life to the new nomadic life.  On a symbolic level, I see this flight as the borderline or transporter between the two. It’s also the first moment of “nothing to do” – what a bliss and strange concept. I am looking forward to moments like this, of “nothing to do”, and the thrill of dedicating them to myself, to introspection, reading, writing, taking notes on the things I did, saw, smelled, tasted, loved, hated and adored during the day. I believe that introspection, time-to-self, time for reflection and meditation is what my old life lacked the most. I was too busy with my day-to-day responsibilities and too tired at night to do anything for myself, to nourish my soul spiritually. 

I am excited to not have a smart phone, to not obsessively check email and Facebook on it every 30 minutes, to not text like a maniac instead of talking on the phone or in real life, to not chat with people who live a few blocks away or in the same house. I am excited to leave technology behind, to not hear people talk about “checking in on Foursquare,” or about some new iPhone app. That may seem ironic coming from someone who has worked for a tech company until a few days ago, but yeah, I think we’re doing the tech thing way too much in San Francisco. We’re too connected, our lives are too much on display online, we’re too compelled to post updates about every single mundane detail. 

Posted from the Miami International airport at 12:54am local time.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Anne's Family Trip to France

So I am back in San Francisco now, back to my temporary home again after two weeks visiting family in southern France. We saw both of my father's sisters, who we haven't visited in 16 years. Joelle and Erwin have a 16-year-old daughter, Laura, who was born shortly before we arrived in Belgium during our last visit. I remember going to the hospital to visit Joelle while she was waiting to be released with baby Laura. They also have a 14-year-old son, Thomas. My father's other sister, Chantal has a 13-year-old daughter, Charlotte, who we had never met before.

It was great to visit with family and explore places that I'd never been before. I am grateful that we were able to see what life is really like there, and not simply have the tourist experience. Some photos from our trip:

(left to right) Joelle, Erwin, Nina (my mom) and Daniel (my papa) at the market near Regusse, France

Joelle, Laura and Daniel at a lookout point

Joelle and Nina shopping for famous French dish towels from the Provence region

Overlook of a village near Regusse
Driving from Regusse to Arles, heavy rain and flooding. We hadn't seen the worst of it yet.
The Arles clean up crew, pumping water from the streets into the Rhone River
The Rhone, taken at about 7:00 pm
The Rhone, taken at about 9:00 am. You can see that the water level rose significantly over night. Look closely at the tree second from the left.
The Arles amphitheatre, built in 90 A.D. by the Romans. Today it's used for bull fights.
Inside the amphitheatre. You can see they added seats at the bottom level. It's currently under renovation.

The Roman theatre. You can see it was still raining.

Walking through Arles. These narrow streets were no joke. It was not fun trying to navigate through them in a car.
The ubiquitous door knocker. Very common in France.
On our way from Arles to Limogne-en-Quercy to see Chantal and Charlotte. That is the Millau Viaduct in the background.
Dinner and Foosball at The Galopin in Limogne-en-Quercy. Papa and I beat them by a long shot.
Trying to speak French with Charlotte. Lots of laughing and little understanding.
Chantal and Charlotte love animals. These are a few of their pets.
This is what most of the roofs look like in the villages of southern France
Me, smelling lavender–a very popular crop grown in the Provence region of France
This is Charlotte's grandfather showing us how to make a "brick" out of paper. First you soak the paper over night, then you tear it apart and put it inside this press. Push the two levers down and away from one another, let it dry out over the warm summer months and voilá, you have a paper brick that will burn in the fireplace for 2-3 hours.
Dinner at Chantal's, can you see some resemblance between us cousins?
A day trip to a place called Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, built straight out of the side of the mountain
An excellent photo taken from the car window by my mom. A real snapshot of what most of the small villages in southern France look like.
Charlotte, myself, Chantal and Daniel
Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, supposedly one of the oldest villages in France
Another view of the village
Charlotte and I walked to the top of this viewpoint, while the elders stayed at the bottom
Stone walls with moss. This is France!
Chantal, Charlotte, Daniel and Nina
This is common in public bathrooms in France. They call it a "Turkish toilet." Pretty much just a hole in the ground. I wouldn't have expected this outside of third-world countries...
This speaks for itself. WTF
A French twink

Interesting spelling and all-around strange item. I don't imagine anyone would be wearing these during a game of strip poker. Only in France...
We went to Villefranche-de-Rouergue for the weekly Thursday market
Overlooking the Aveyron River, a beautiful city
The scene in place Notre-Dame, the main hub of the market
Lots of cured and smoked meats. Lots of cheeses.

Berets and baskets
Olives and some sort of cured lemon
Dried fruits. I got the kiwi.
A French dish with sausage and a quite cheesy mashed potatoes. It was almost more cheese than potatoes. Yum...
Drinking Pastis, a favorite aperitif
A castle wall
The rental car had a glass roof
The Devil's Bridge in Cahors
Close-up of gargoyles on the Cahors Cathedral
On our way to the Pech Merle cave, where we saw cave paintings from 25,000 years ago
Driving back to Nice with a stop at Aix-en-Provence
You put money in that thing on the left and the silver stopper in the middle of the
street goes down and allows a car to pass through. This is Aix-en-Provence.

Tiny marzipan desserts made to look like different breads
Finally eating some French onion soup
In the Nice airport, waiting for my flight
Do you see the Golden Gate Bridge? I'm home.

Unfortunately my backpack did not make it on my flight back, and was delayed for the last couple days. I started to get really worried and spent most of the last two days on the phone with Air France representatives. Fortunately my bag was delivered last night, so I'm ready for the big trip! Only three more days left in San Francisco...

To see more photos from France, click here.