Sunday, November 28, 2010

Day 2 - Arrive in Cusco, try not to have heart attack

Day 2 Cuzco

We arrived in Lima after our 8h flight in first class with LAN airways. We gathered our bags, checked them back in and wandered around the airport a little bit. 

Our guide from GAP, Barbara, met us at the airport and gave us a quick run down on the basic plan for the day. Upon arrival in Cuzco our driver would meet us and we would head to the hotel. She gave us a briefing on the altitude sickness and to take it easy today so as not to wear ourselves out. 

We loaded ourselves into the van and and headed to the hotel. Along the way Barbara gave us a bit of info about Peru- the climate, the money, the fact that there are over 3000 types of potoes. This fact astounded me.

Once we arrived in the hotel we all tried some coca tea- the same plant from which cocaine comes from. I don't think any of us had ever tried it before and there were some mixed reactions. The general concensus was that it tasted like green tea. 

The common area of the hotel is absolutely gorgeous, with a big huge sunroof and couches and chairs to lounge on. We all sat around while waiting for our room assignments. 

I was paired up with Erin, from travelcuts in Saskatoon, and we ended up with a pretty large room with 3 beds. We showered and changed and met the group back at the courtyard an hour later. By this time my stomach was starting to eat itself.

The whole group set out towards a money change place and the ATMs. The exchange rate is pretty great- $30 USD got me about $84 soles.

After we were all funded, we went in the direction of lunch. Barbara took us to an amazing little café with huge portions. I got a veggie burger and a cusqueso (beer). When my burger came out it was phenomenal!! Shredded carrots and rice, caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes, fresh guacamole, and grilled eggplant, all on a fresh bun. 

By the time we all finished lunch the altitude had definitely started to take it's toll on us so the unanimous decision was made to go back to the hotel and nap. Upon arrival to the hotel  pretty sure I was asleep within moments of my head being on the pillow. 

Slept for about 2h and got up to get ready for dinner. We had our welcome dinner with GAP at an amazing restaurant with the most incredible view of cusco at night. Barbara made some recommendations of what to try and I think tha majority of us had some form of alpaca. I tried the alpaca saltada, a variation of the traditional lomo saltada which is made from beef. We were told that most Peruvian meals come with both potatoes and rice. This held true for my meal. 

After dinner a few of the group went out to the disco but the majority ended up being the responsible and going back to the hotel to sleep. I myself was still feeling the effects of the altitude and really just needed to sleep it off. Got some more great photos of the city at night and  poked our heads in a few shops on the way. 

Pretty sure my I was asleep within minutes of crawling under my two very thick llama blankets.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

And we're off!! Day 1!!

Arrived at Pearson at just before noon, decided not to go too far and just sit in the little cafe I've waited in before. Didn't realize until I sat down that I was directly infront of the LAN check in counter. Fantastic! Bought a chocolate croissant and a coffee and settled in to enjoy an hour and a half by myself before meeting the rest of the group.

An obvious but necessary thing to point out: the chocolate croissants at good ol YYZ are not anywhere near as good as the ones in france. 

Eventually after waiting for a while, I saw a pair of women walking past. One looked familiar so I called out to them and asked if they were CUTS people. Thankfully my instincts were right and they were.

Slowly we added people to our group, and when we thought we had everyone we headed to the check in counter. I thought I'd won the "lightest bag" title with only 10.7kg, but was beat out by the agent from victoria with only 8.8kg of stuff. Impressive!

We made our way through customs where the customs agent weirdly and monotonely asked me "are you ready for the trip of a lifetime?" If you've ever seen the movie Napoleon Dynamite, picture Pedro all grown up and working the customs desk at an airport. 

Made it to the gate and waited. While waiting we introduced ourselves to the rest of the group. Justin, the rep from GAP adventures joined us and gave out free waterbottles!! Yay free stuff! 

When we finally got on the plane the group was scattered around, but the plane itself wasn't super full. LAN is a great airline, with modern entertainment systems and a nice 2/3/2 layout. 

I slept the majority of the flight from yyz to jfk, waking up at the end with enough time to mash the buttons on the tv and see what movies there were to watch on the long flight from jfk to Lima.

We were informed that we were going to be treated to entry to the Oasis lounge in JFK, so once we landed we all made our way there. I've never had the luxury of free wine, beer and food while waiting on a 4,5 hour connection...with free wifi allowing me to brag to all my friends.

About halfway through the wait, Carolina our LAN rep informed us that there was the slim possibility that a few of us might get bumped to first class due to the flight being oversold. (omg!!) 

To make it fair we drew names to see who would get priority... Justin drew his name first followed by mine... There was likely going to be 4 seats available so I was pretty stoked!! I've never flown in anything but bottom of the barrell economy, so this would be amazing.

Justin and I took great pleasure in rubbing it into everyones face that we were for sure going to be sleeping  on flat out seats and watching movies and eating steak.

Once we got back through security we waited to find out who was going to be the lucky ones. Carolina went up to the desk and we watched her count out a few boarding passes, hand them back and walk back to us solemnly...

Who gets in??!

She looked us with a sad expression and said "no one...." We all pouted... And then she laughed and said "all of us!!!!"

We literally screamed. And immediately shushed ourselves.

Upon boarding we were given champagne, a travel kit with all kinds of goodies, and presented with the menu... I think I'll have the mahi mahi 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

This time tomorrow...

This time tomorrow I'll be sitting at Pearson, all checked in and ready to get on a plane!

Guess that means I should start packing for Peru, eh?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Outline of Peru Trip

It's getting close now - only about 4 days til I'm on a plane and heading to some warmer weather!

So that everyone knows where I'm going to be and what I'm going to be doing, here's my itinerary:

November 26 - Depart Canada
Leaving Toronto at 16:35pm - will be spending the entire day at Pearson though - so glad they now have free wireless!

November 27 -  Arrive Cuzco
Arrive in Lima and then transfer to Cuzco. The G.A.P guide will meet us at the airport and then take us to the hotel. Lots of time to unpack and relax before a welcome dinner in the evening.
November 28 - Cuzco
After breakfast, you’ll have the option to either do a horseback riding tour outside of Cuzco to nearby ruins or you can take park in a mountain biking tour if you think horseback riding is too tame. Overnight in Cuzco.
Thinking I might take the horseback riding option, since it's been ages since I got to ride a horse and perhaps I can take some fun pictures that won't result in me wiping out and breaking bones.
November 29 -  Cuzco / Ccaccaccollo
Free morning. Then, at midday, transfer to Ccaccaccollo and meet families. In the afternoon, volunteer at a project in the community.  Overnight homestay.
Don't know the specifics on the homestay but I'm pretty excited about this!
November 30 – Ccaccaccollo / Aguas Calientes
Continue volunteering with the community in the morning. In the afternoon, transfer to Ollantaytambo for the train to Aguas Clientes. If time allows, you can visit Machu Picchu in the afternoon on your own or you can just take in the thermal baths of the areas or even do some shopping in the local market. Overnight in Aguas Calientes. 
Ooo... market shopping... guess where everyone's Christmas presents are coming from this year!
December 1 -  Machu Picchu / Cuzco
Rise early to take advantage of viewing Machu Picchu in the early morning light. This is the best time to view the ‘Lost City of the Incas’. Our local guide will provide a detailed interpretation of the Inca history before the majority of other tourists arrive at midday.  For those looking for a bit more adventure, you can also choose to climb Wayna Picchu, an arduous hour climb that offers a spectacular bird’s eye view of the ancient site.  We’ll head back to Cuzco in the afternoon. Overnight in Cuzco.
Pretty sure "early" is tour-code for 4am. Hiking Wayna Picchu sounds like a good idea, since I really should be able to claim I've done some sort of hiking in Peru!
December 2 – Cuzco
Free day in Cuzco to do as you please.  We can help arrange a whitewater rafting tour if you wish, a city tour, a visit to our community project in Cuzco or maybe you just want to take in a cocoa tea at one of the sidewalk cafes surrounding the Plaza de Armas. Overnight in Cuzco.
So many options! Whitewater rafting would be amazing... but I do love a good cafe!
December 3 – Cuzco / Lima
After breakfast, you’ll transfer back to the airport for your early morning flight to Lima at 0900, arriving in Lima at 1025.    You’ll be met at the airport and shown the sites of Lima by our local guide.  With a population of over 10 million people, Lima is a bustling metropolis that has a lot to offer.  Many people think, “who’d want to stay in Lima?” . There is great shopping, a beautiful coastline, wonderful restaurants, museums and nearby ruins.  We’ll end the evening with a farewell dinner at Huaca Pucllana.  This restaurant is famous in Lima as it overlooks the ruins of the same name and makes for a perfect location for our farewell dinner.
December 4 - Depart Lima/Arrive home
Departing from Lima late at night and arriving back home to Toronto midday.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

More Links to Old Travel Stories

It occured to me today that while I had posted links to previous trips, I had neglected to post about my trip to London/Greece in 2008.

24 Hours In London - we did a very brief stopover on the way to Greece in London. Having friends there made it easy to spend a very busy 24 hours exploring the city.

Cruise with Contiki in Greece - Aegean Classic 7 day tour (definitely recommended)
Day 1 - waking up early in London, easyJet flight to Athens, meeting the Contiki Group
Day 2 - onto the boat, lounging around, Mykonos
Day 3 - wake up in Turkey, Ephesus, turkish coffee, baklava, Patmos, beach!
Day 4 - Rhodes - acropolis, beaches, fresh clean clothes
Day 4 pt 2 - drinking games with the Contiki group
Day 5 - Crete, Santorini, donkey rides, toga party
Day 6/7 - Athens, delayed flights, trekking between airports, home!

Links to Previous Trips

This blog isn't the first foray into blogging my travels I've taken... if you're interested in my views on previous trips, feel free to click the links below:

Waiting for the train at Termini station, Rome

A-Team Takes Italy - Alanna and Andrea head to Italy with Contiki with a brief stop in Amsterdam. 
Part 1: Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Rome, Rome To Naples, Naples to Sorrento
Part 2: Sorrento to Rome, Rome & Vatican, Rome to Florence
Part 3: Florence to Tuscany, San Giminango, Pisa, Venice, Rome and home

major downside of traveling alone? Having to take pictures of yourself in front of monuments.

Alanna Does Finland and France - otherwise known as "make friends world wide and you can crash on their couch.
Part 1: The bus driver is into druids? and other musings while traveling
Part 2: So I can't think of a good reason NOT to live in Europe
Part 3: Nice is Nice
Part 4: 5 Flights, 2 Trains and more tube rides than one should need...

Where to Next? Peru with G.A.P!

I started this blog for a few reasons, one of which is to chronicle the adventures I get to go on because of my job as a travel agent. Every so often a great opportunity will come along that I can't help but take and in this case that opportunity is heading to South America with GAP Adventures at the end of Nov.

This will be my first trip to South America (or anywhere south of the USA, for that matter), since most of my travels have been to Europe or the South Pacific. Rich in history, I can't wait to learn more about the Inca civilizations and get a chance to take pictures at one of the New 7 Wonders of the World!, Machu Picchu (I've already seen the Colosseum... next stop Egypt?)

Before going off to a place, I do try to learn a bit about the place I'm going - widely spoken languages, temperatures to expect, and since I'm big into food - what are some local dishes one absolutely must try? So today I've been doing some research in Wikipedia...

Peruvian Cuisine - I should probably try ceviche, and pollo a la brasa...and maybe even guinea pig?
And, since I like to learn how to say "cheers!" in every country I go to, maybe I'll cheers with a Pisco Sour, which is apparently the national drink.... and probably try a bottle of Cuzqueña, one of the country's beers.

I'll be visiting quite a lot of places in a relatively short time, though I'll still get a good feeling about the country. Horseback riding to some ruins outside Cuzco, exploring Cuzco itself, Lima, Machu Picchu, an overnight homestay and volunteer project in Ccaccaccollo, exploring Aguas Clientes amoungst other things.

Stay tuned for updates!