Citadels and Sunsets

16 Apr

My family at Machu Picchu

I’m back in Tarapoto after a week-long vacation, one which got off to a rough start when I was robbed in Lima of my laptop and camera.  Luckily, the ensuing arrival of my family and our subsequent adventures went a long way in helping me put that incident behind me.

Like President Ollanta Humala and his family, my family’s Semana Santa (Easter week) was spent visiting Cusco and Machu Picchu before returning to Lima.

Due to the short nature of this visit, they could not come see what my life in Tarapoto is like, but between seeing Peru’s most famous tourist site, the capital city, and having less-common experiences like piling into a colectivo (shared taxi) on rural roads–my mom’s eyes popped at seeing a family stuffed into the trunk of the car we were riding in–they nonetheless had an unforgettable time.

Into Thin Air

I had been to Machu Picchu back in 2009, on my first visit to Perú with three buddies. That time, we eschewed the popular but touristy Camino Inca (Inca Trail) for an off-the-beaten-path route that involved camping in fields and climbing mountains as we passed through the Sacred Valley. The experience including climbing to heights of 15,000 feet, sleeping in tents in open fields, and shivering through cold mountain nights.

Sister goofing around at Ollanta ruins

This time around was a lot easier. We flew into Cusco from Lima and spent a day acclimatizing to the high altitude as we wandered up and down Cusco’s impossibly steep and narrow cobbled streets. From there, it was a breezy taxi ride to the town of Ollantaytambo (where my sister and I quickly took in the hillside ruins) to catch a train directly to Aguas Calientes, the tiny town which exists to host the hordes of tourists who come to see Machu Picchu.

Still, there were a couple difficulties to overcome. At the Inca Rail ticket station in Ollantaytambo the manager would not issue us the tickets we had reserved because we did not have the credit card used to make the reservation.  I had used my roommate Dan’s. Instead of allowing another form of payment, he informed us that Dan’s card would be charged and we would not be allowed on the train. In the name of fraud prevention, no service given, but money taken! It took 30 minutes of heated discussion, frantic phone calls, and my livid dad scaring the manager into profusely apologizing and personally seating us on the train right as it was departing.  For anyone headed to Machu Picchu in the future: bring the credit card you used and matching ID!

More pressing than that inconvenience was that my parents did not adjust well to the high altitude. The thin air of Cusco, at 3,400 m (more than 11,000 ft), is known for knocking unsuspecting travelers flat on their backs. My parents felt the effects of altitude sickness — a racing heart, headache, and shallow breathing for my mom; strong nausea for my dad — and initially did not do their best to help themselves. In fact, on our second day, when we arrived at Ollantaytambo, my dad vomited… for what our family agrees may be the only time we can remember in the past 25 years!

For anyone headed out to high altitude, a few tips:

  • Drink ridiculous amounts of water
  • Early on, eat light, easier-to-digest foods because your whole body is working slower than usual.  Caveat: You are welcome–especially if like me you have gone without certain comfort foods for a long time–to gorge at Jack’s Cafe on pancakes, falafel, or pretty much anything else they serve
  • Drink mate de coca (coca tea) — yes, it’s made from the same leaf that is eventually processed into cocaine, but that is with a lot of additional chemical processing and additives.  Consumption of coca tea is common throughout the Andes and its very mild, stimulative effect is equivalent to coffee’s.  Caveat: urinalysis tests in the U.S. typically can’t distinguish between coca tea and cocaine in urine and this will result in a positive test if taken within 48 hours of consumption.  On my 2009 trek, I abstained from the tea because I was supposed to start a new job immediately upon completing my vacation and was anticipating a drug test.  I’ve since availed myself of drinking coca tea and chewing coca leaves while trekking Colca and en route to Machu Picchu

The Lost City

The magnificent ruins

Sister at MP

A guide book would provide a much more comprehensive and interesting explanation of Machu Picchu’s historical significance.  I’ll just say here that, as someone who has done a decent bit of traveling around the world and sometimes found myself underwhelmed by certain acclaimed sites, Machu Picchu to me more than lives up to the hype. On my second visit, I remained in awe of the beautiful setting and the majesty the “lost city” conveys.

N…s in Lima

Ocean view from Larcomar before sunset

Lima for me is primarily about great food and–while the tail end of summer is still proving the perfect climate here–enjoying a city that has some beautiful spots.  The views from the oceanside cliffs at Miraflores in particular, or nearby Baranco, are lovely. The only redeeming factor of the over-priced and ridden-with-terrible-chains (e.g. Tony Roma’s, TGI Fridays) Larcomar shopping mall is that I love to watch the sunset over the sea. As my family was staying in a hotel not too far away, we took advantage of this view on consecutive nights.

Meanwhile, the day we returned to Lima was my sister’s birthday. My sushi-loving family celebrated (as I satisfied my biggest craving) with a terrific meal at Hanzo in the posh San Isidro neighborhood, where we gorged on a wide variety of terrific rolls (even the normally humble spicy tuna is a standout here).

With good friends and good sandwiches

Another highlight of the weekend was reuniting at La Lucha Sangucheria in Parque Kennedy with my friends Gaby (Mexican volunteer at Technoserve) and Pilar (TNS co-worker) and her son Johan (who made a notable prior appearance on this blog).  I was happy to introduce them to my family while munching again on the amazing sandwiches at this little spot.  My parents were thrilled to meet such lovely people as Gaby and Pilar (I wish I could’ve introducd them to so many other great people I know here!), and my mom was thrilled/horrified at finding out the full details of my various motorcycle misadventures through close interregation of Gaby.  (Oops, G and I forgot to coordinate our stories beforehand… haha!)

Additionally, my mom had frequently commented throughout the trip that I had lost much weight since she had last seen me.  Pilar assured her that I was more or less the same since my arrival at the end of September, and that I had perhaps even gained a little weight–Exhibit A being my burgeoning buchizapa (gut).  I wasn’t sure myself, until back in Tarapoto this past week I weighed myself for the first time and was shocked to discover I have lost 15 pounds!  It’s not quite the new miracle diet to be touted on Dr. Phil though, since I think that eating less healthfully here and being away from the regular training at a boxing gym I had been doing last year has caused me to lose mostly muscle…  something I need to remedy.

Toasting at a restaurant overlooking Barranco's "mirador"

All in all, it was a wonderful week.  I was happy to show my parents the country I’ve been calling home recently, and pleased to show off my much-improved Spanish — in Cusco a woman told us that she assumed I learned Spanish here since I spoke with a perfect Peruvian accent, and in Lima a cab driver after an hour of conversation was convinced my family and I were Latinos.

For my family’s part, they enjoyed and were fascinated by their time here.  I even got them hooked on the amazing aji spicy cream sauces that accompany virtually every meal in Perú — in fact, my mom insisted on a trip to a Wong supermarket in Lima to purchase a number of packets of aji amarillo and rocoto to take back to the States!

The truth is, even if I have not really felt palpably homesick while I have been in Tarapoto, it is so gratifying to see family after much time apart.


6 Responses to “Citadels and Sunsets”

  1. Mars April 16, 2012 at 1:06 am #

    What a lovely view!

  2. nj April 16, 2012 at 10:05 am #

    lost 15 pounds? bungles must be jealous.

  3. Andrew T April 16, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    Heeey, that viewpoint at the top looks familiar! Nice photos as usual. But you forgot to mention, not only is the Inca trail popular but touristy, it’s also impossible to get onto with last minute planning 🙂

    Kudos on your accent, too! But we already knew you could pass for Peruvian, after your encounter with the cop after you got your motorcycle.

  4. neharustagi April 20, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    sounds like good times! pia and your mom look very similar. and that ocean view is seriously breathtaking.

  5. Jen April 25, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    Glad to see you had a great time with the family! 🙂

  6. jhonatan August 11, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

    I invite you to try, new in ala carte and gourmet food, if you go to Cusco, and want to enjoy good food and have a good view.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: