Back to Lima for the last hurrah!

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After having dreams about being buried alive in a coffin…oh no, wait, it’s not a dream…it’s my 7′ x 3′ hotel room! Alright, enough about that; we have just a few hours to have breakfast and a stroll around the charming town of Cusco before flying to Lima for my last few days before going back to LA. Javier takes me to Jack’s Cafe (www.jackscafecusco.com), an American style diner with really delicious American breakfast fair (a welcome surprise after three days of Lama meat, coca salads and Quinoa everything!). Hey, I’m a real gourmand and love all new foods, but sometimes you just need some bacon and eggs and some French toast with maple syrup…which is exactly what I’m going to have (bring cash…they take NO credit cards).

 

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Jack’s Café

 

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Jack’s Cafe’s menu

 

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Banana French Toast…Mmmmmm!

 

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Javier’s scrambled eggs, bacon and kidney beans (can’t take the brit out f him!)

 

The walk to the Cafe takes us through an ancient Inca street that features a famous, enormous stone that has 12 perfectly cut facets…I don’t really get all the fuss! This street is one of the most famous examples of Inca Masonry. Nevertheless the street is supposedly built in the beginning of Spanish rule by Inca workforce but ordered by the Spanish. In any case it is amazing to see these huge boulders fit perfectly without the use of modern tools. The architecture is definitely a blend of Inca and Spanish style that really compliment each other (though I’m sure the Inca’s didn’t quite feel the same…). I even run into a Peruvian old lady dressed in full traditional Peruvian regalia known as: Cuechua clothing. Though she wasn’t keen on getting photographed, I pulled a fast one of her behind.

The main square, Plaza de Armas, is stunning with its 2 cathedrals and a mountainous background that make it even more spectacular. The center of the square is a nice place to rest on the benches, soak up the gardens, and admire the fountain in the center. The area is also very lively and beautiful at night, with people mulling about and the architecture lit up with spotlights. I catch a meeting of local policemen having their Morning Prayer and discussion on the daily affairs (probably how to deal with the many drunken foreigners that seem to clutter Cusco’s streets at night).

 

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Cusco’s beautiful architecture

 

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Cusco’s narrow ancient Inca streets

 

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The famous 12 facetted Inca stone at the base of the structure

 

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Cuaechua Peruvian lady running from me and my camera

 

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Plaza de Armas

 

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Plaza de Armas

 

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Plaza de Armas

 

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Plaza de Armas

 

IMG_3425 Compania de Jesus is a Jesuit church built in the 16th century.



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Construction on the Cusco Cathedral was begun in 1559 and completed in 1669, in the Renaissance style. It is built on the site where the Inca Wiracochas Palace once stood.

 

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The Cusco Cathedral houses an impressive collection of art work, with over 400 paintings

 

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Stunning gold gilded altar

 

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Police men and women morning prayer in front of the cathedral

 

All right, it’s time to head to the airport and back to oxygen: Lima! I mentioned to Javier that I am interested in developing a gourmet fast food rotisserie chicken place in LA in the near future, so Javier is taking me to what he claims is the best chicken rotisserie restaurant in Peru. After a very long 1 hour drive in the boonies of Lima and through miles of shanty towns filled with skinny wild dogs running in every direction, we arrive in this walled, enormous oasis that is: Granja Azul (which belongs to his uncle). The restaurant is huge, with a hacienda style interior and a vast terrace and garden; I would say it hold 1000 people. At first I’m hesitant, looks a bit like a massive family, Disneyland style place with all you can eat chicken…not my-cup-a-tea. But after seeing the kitchen with its old fashion wood burning brick ovens and the 8 weeks old chickens being roster…I’m hopeful!

The menu is surprisingly minuscule: all you can eat baby chicken, green salad with secret dressing, French fries and hot buns. Javier and beautiful Tabata, his friend Soli and family sit around a large reclaimed wood table ready to feast. Well let me tell you, the food arrives and it’s the best damn rotisserie chicken I have ever had in my life!!!! It is so tender and juicy with a crisp skin…perfection! The green salad with secret dressing is also amazing (I beg for the recipe but they laugh at me!) and the hot buns that arrive in a-oh-so-cute chicken pouch made out of fabric are irresistible!!!! There you have it…I was ready for disappointment and instead I am beaucoup impressed. Rightfully so, the place is packed and though there are a million children running around like loose chickens, the amazing food along with a few Pisco Sour act like a noise reduction headphone…loving it!!!

6 whole chickens, 3 special salads, 6 French fries, 10 hot buns and 3 Pisco Sour later (on my own ladies and gentlemen…) It’s time to head home to Javier’s place to get ready for the evening! I’m exhausted and bursting to the seams, but there is no escaping Javier’s plan…as my mom says: NO rest for the wicked!


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Beautiful flower arrangement at the entrance of Granja Azul

 

IMG_3540Large reclaimed wood tables at Granja Azul


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The amazing traditional kitchens with brick, fire burning pits

 

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Granja Azul china

 

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The very cute chicken pouches holding the hot buns

 

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Chicken roasting on the wood burning pits

 

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Our peruvian group having lunch

 

After a very short disco nap it’s cocktail time at Hotel B in Barranco (www.hotelb.pe), the most beautiful and super cool hotel in Lima. This place is truly fabulous, it’s an old converted estate, done with such taste and sophistication; we sit in the small black and white tiled terrace and start drinking gin tonics with a myriad of Javier’s friends that kept doubling up as the evening went along. Now that we are pickled, we are ready for Lima’s club scene…I think! Next stop is Gotica, Lima’s premier nightclub at the über chic Miraflores shopping center overlooking the ocean: Larcomar. Immediately, I notice that the age group is substantially younger than my own; I’m starting to feel like the dirty old man lurking around the young lambs…not attractive! Javier reassures me that there will be a few dinosaurs at the club and shoves me trough the VIP line and into the front door. Once we descend, what seem to be 20 stories, you enter a full-on discotheque, complete with light shows and jammed with…yes, you guessed it, young people! The final hit came compliments of the Macarena blasting from the speakers…THAT is enough for me to make a U-turn and run for the hills and back home! 3AM…going to sleep…one more day left in Peru. Zzzzzzzz

 

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Hotel B in Barranco

 

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Hotel B’s stunning bar

 

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Javier Millership and Robert Kass at the Hotel B terrace

 

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Club Gotica

 

IMG_2987Javier Millership with the beautiful Tabata at Club Gotica

At last…Machu Picchu and Cusco

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Today is the day…Machu Picchu!!!! After a lovely hot shower…just kidding; there is no hot water in the house and this is day 3 of no showering; thankfully I still smell pretty good. I pack my bags and off to the Machu Picchu train station to catch the highest elevation train in the world to Machu Picchu. The train is lovely and designed with a panoramic ceiling for maximum enjoyment; and so they should at $180.00 a pop for the 1 hours journey to Agua Caliente (that is of course just for foreigner; Peruvians pay $60…so annoying!!!) www.perurail.com or www.incarail.com. But you can rejoice to the fact that they do offer a cup of coffee and day old sweet bread. On the way there I casually ask Javier if he had purchased the ticket to enter Machu Picchu to which he replies that he tried doing it on line but had no success. Slightly concerned, I ask him to call the ticket office to make sure we can get in and after a few suspenseful phone conversations in Spanish with different offices, it turns out we cannot buy a ticket because they reached the maximum allowed per day! Shock and rage start pulsing through my veins…imagine, I come all the way to Cusco for 3 days just to visit Machu Picchu, I’m on a $180 train ride to the site, gasping for air the entire time and I can’t get in!!!!

Needless to say the rest of the train ride is deathly silent; I contain myself from lunging over to Javier to strangle him. Eventually, my self-preserving instinct that always finds a solutions to all problems, tells me that no matter what, I will find a way to get in; even if I have to bribe a Peruvian for his or hers ticket…I am going in!!!! At last we arrive in Agua Caliente, the semi “shanty town” at the base of Machu Picchu; all right, it’s game time!!!! We walk over to the ticket counter, where there is no line what’s so ever, and with the fear of god, we ask for two tickets for Machu Picchu, to which the teller so very calmly said: “$62 please!”…Javier and I burst out in hysterics after panicking for the last two hours. Apparently there is NO limit of people allowed to the site and there is no problem buying a ticket…ever; we were just given the wrong information. Now it’s time for another ticket counter, this time for the bus ride up the very steep mountain to Machu Picchu: Peruvians 10 Solis, foreigners 80…boooooring!

 

prices-ticket-machupicchuMachu Picchu entrance fee chart

 

Finally we’re in the brand new Mercedes Benz small bus to the top; the ride is beyond terrifying with its narrow streets and no guardrails to prevent the very long fall to the bottom. By the time I’m finally at the entrance to the Inca wonder I am a basket case! That is until I cross over a small path that leads to the iconic view that is Machu Picchu; here I gasp over the magnificence of this ancient site, 12,000 feet high in the heavens. Just like at the pyramids of Giza, my breath stops (probably also because of no oxygen in the air…); you can’t imagine how beautiful and majestic this site is. They talk about people’s spiritual exhalations when they see Machu Picchu and I totally understand why. I did not have an out-of-body experience, but I will tell you, I am touched behind believe!

 

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Machu Picchu train

 

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The Iconic view of Machu Picchu

 

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The token Lama…they DO spit!

 

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Javier Millership and Robert Kass in front of the iconic view of Machu Picchu

 

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The amazing carved stones in Machu Picchu

 

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Inca homes in amazing condition

 

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More amazing stonework at Machu Picchu

 

Javier and I start the slow climb to the top of the mountain to get the better view of the Inca ruins; needless to say, I am gasping for air taking all the time I need to climb one step at a time. At some point, a gentlemen in his 80’s skips right by me, totally fine and with no sign of effort whatsoever; he stops and tells me: “Your breathing is too high…slow down young man, there is no rush to get to the top! Ohh and by the way…I’m a doctor!”. Clearly, I am now totally humiliated witnessing grandpa skipping by me as if he was a 20 year old while I’m gasping to make the next step (time to stop smoking!!!). So much is to be said about Machu Picchu, but my blog is less about the history and more about the personal experience, so I’ll let you do your own reading on the millions of articles written about Machu Picchu and I’ll just tell you that it is definitely a one in a lifetime experience that needs to be done if you have the opportunity; no words can describe how awesome this place is. Regretfully, it’s time to leave and make our way to Cusco. Once again, we go down the terrifying narrow street to Agua Caliente where, after a 2 Pisco Sour stopover at the local bar, we stumble on the train to Cusco.

 

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Train ride back to Cusco

 

It’s now 9pm in Cusco and Javier is adamant on going to his favorite Pub in Cusco: Paddy’s (www.paddysirishbarcusco.com), with it’s claim to be the highest Pub in the world at 15,000 feet above sea level (how can you even drink booze when you cab barely breath? I guess I’ll find out soon enough). The town of Cusco, the old capital of the ancient Inca Empire, is absolutely beautiful and charming; here you really feel the lack of oxygen and any movement is a challenge. But nothing will stop these two semi-English lads from going to the pub for a few pints of beer and some Shepard’s pie!!! Another charming fact about high altitude is that you get twice as drunk with anything you drink, so after a few cocktails, Javier and I have barely enough strength to get back to the hotel. Reading back this post it looks like I’m always drinking and drunk, but I assure you, it’s not the case!!!! When in Rome…

 

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Paddy’s Pub in Cusco

 

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Interior of Paddy’s Pub

 

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Cusco charming colonial town square

 

It’s time for bed and Javier chose this centrally located hotel with rooms as large as a she box (literally!!!). Needless to say, I won’t write about this hotel for I would never suggested it to anyone…regardless of its central location! I think Javier was drunk when he booked it! Tomorrow we go back to Lima for the last few days before going back to LA. Where is my oxide tank?

It’s Inca culture day: Moray Inca ruins, Maras Salt Mines and Ollaytaytambo’s Inca pyramid and baths

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After a freezing, sleepless night, I certainly wasn’t expecting what was coming: I walk out of the house in the early morning hours and witness the most beautiful and majestic mountainous landscape I have seen in a long time…suddenly everything is just perfect!!!! The crisp air, the Andes mountain range in the background and the tall skinny eucaliptus trees slightly brushed by the morning mist takes my breath away; it’s exactly where I should be, I can’t explain it. Now I am super happy and looking forward to the Inca experience marathon; even though I get bored pretty fast with archeological sites, except the really amazing ones.

 

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Javier’s family mountain retreat

 

Our driver picks us up at 10AM and off we go to our first destination: Moray. By the way, you can follow the herds of tourists to visit these archeological sights on your standard tourist buses (which I loath and won’t use under any circumstance) or you can go ahead and get your own private driver who will take you around for the full day for around 180 Solis, which is less than $56; so if you have 3-4 people, it comes to just about the same price as busing it…duh!!!

This unique archaeological site is one of the best examples—along with Machu Picchu—of what might be called extreme Inca landscaping. Three enormous pits, each with beautifully curved sides that staircase down like the interiors of titanic flowerpots, have been carved out of the earth to depths of up to 100 feet and more. Air temperatures between the top and bottom layers can differ by more than 20 degrees, which has led some researchers to theorize that Moray was an Inca agricultural site where experiments on crops were conducted.

 

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Moray Inca Ruins with some guy in plaid pants

 

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The spectacular Moray Inca ruins

 

Next stop is Maras Salt mines, which I am particularly interested in since I’m running low of good salt at home. The drive to the mines takes you trough the town square with it’s colorful statue celebratring Peruvian daily life; we also cross a herd of sheep with it’s lovely Peruvian sheep herder…it doesn’t get much more real than this. Once out in the open planes, we see miles and miles of Quinoa fields; quinoa is very popular in Peruvian cuisine as it is in the west with all the health junkies. We finally arrive at the checkpoint where, yet again, you have to pay a fee to go down the slightly terrifying steep narrow road with no rail guards to the salt mine.

40 kilometers north of Cuzco lies the town of Maras, well known for its nearby salt evaporation ponds, that’s been in use since Inca times; thousands of uneven square-shaped ponds dot the slopes of the hillside less than a kilometer west of the town. These pre-Inca salt pools were constructed during the Chanapata culture between AD 200 and AD 900. Highly salty water emerging from the Qoripujio spring, close to the head of the valley, is directed into an intricate network of tiny channels constructed so that the water runs gradually down onto the several hundred ancient terraced ponds. As water evaporates in the arid Andean air, salt crystals of various size form on the floor of the pools and then collected.

As expected, tourist commerce has arrived here too with a row of dozens of shops selling everything from Peruvian fabrics and just about every kind of salt product you can imagine, all made from the local salt. Regardless of that, the salt is actually amazing and I have to buy my share of it for my home cooking. Back in the car and off to the final destination for today: The Ollaytaytambo’s Inca pyramid and baths…Thank God; I’m already spent!

 

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Peruvian sheep herder…loooove the hat!

 

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Staue at the center of the square portraying daily life in the Peruvian Andes

 

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Quinoa fields

 

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Selfie with salt pools

 

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Maras salt pools carved throughout the mountain

 

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Ollantaytambo is an attractive little town located at the western end of the Sacred Valley. The town has been built on top of original Inca foundations and is the best surviving example of Inca town planning. In 1536, this settlement was the site of the Inca’s greatest military victory over the invading Spaniards. Today, it is one of the only towns in Peru that retains its original Inca walls and street grid, dominated by long, ancient stone walls that once divided groups of homes around communal courtyards. An imposing set of stone terraces (from which the Inca assaulted their Spanish invaders with slingshots and arrows), capped by six enigmatic slabs of pink granite, looms above the town. 

Tourist are lining up for the grueling climb to the top of the step pyramid where the well preserved fortress still dominates the skyline; me, on the other hand, I’m looking for a bar because I need water and a “Loo”. The view of this immense terraced mountain in front of you is pretty daunting; I just have a hard time understanding how these ancient civilizations managed to build such unachievable monuments that, even today, can’t be replicated. Javier, wearing his well planned mountain shoes, is all ready for the challenge up the Inca Mountain; yours truly, in his Converse flat sneakers, is most definitely NOT! After a short negotiation we agree to visit only the “baths” part of the monument, which are located at the base of the mountain with it’s intricate stone carvings that show, once again, the genius behind these ancient cultures. Now I am really, really tired; I am parched, my feet hurt, I am drenched with sweat and ready for a cocktail and a comfortable seat. We go back to Javier’s pad where I make one of my famous (at least I think so…) Italian pasta with the few ingredients I find around the kitchen, a bottle of red Chilean Cabernet and off the 2 degrees below zero bedroom for another freezing, sleepless night.

 

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The terraced Inca mountain with all the crazy tourists climbing it

 

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Stunning fountain carved in solid rock in the Inca baths

 

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Statue of Inca King, so beautifully preserved

 

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Traditional Peruvian shop selling hand crafted textiles

 

Today’s post is very cultural and probably not as entertaining as my usual posts but hey, you got to mix in a little culture here and there; if you can’t appreciate the history of our beautiful world..well then you just won’t get the present at all. Tomorrow is the much-anticipated visit to Machu Picchu before going to Cusco for an overnight stay before going back to Lima in the morning. Nite nite possums!

Trivia snippet: Water takes forever to boil in high altitude because of the lack of oxygen and cooking pasta properly is a real bitch.