The City in the Clouds

The drive was a doozy. It was 15 hours overnight through steep winding passes. The bus moved swiftly and constantly jerked side to side. While the reclining seats were lovely, it was hard not to get slightly ill on the long drive to Cusco. The poor mother and son who sat across the aisle from me couldn’t hold it together and were sick at least 3 times a piece. Eventually we arrived at our destination more than 11,000 feet up in the Peruvian Andes. We had made it to Cusco; the capital of the ancient Inca Kingdom.

Cusco was more beautiful than I expected. Due to its proximity to Machu Picchu and other incredible mountain treks, it sees massive amounts of tourists. The streets seemed cleaner, the food options better, and the ambiance slightly more relaxed. HOWEVER, the altitude was immediately noticeable. Walking the shortest distances would leave you with winded. The massive hills throughout the city did not help with this. The thin air was not the only thing that could leave you breathless. The architecture of the city and its Spanish style cathedrals was magnificent.

I spent my first 2 days exploring the city and adjusting to the altitude. My hostel, The Wild Rover, was quite nice and it did live up to its party reputation. I was able to watch the NE Patriots defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship game which was lovely. It was even sweeter watching it with a steelers fan who brought his own ‘terrible towel’ with him from home.
When I felt my body was ready for the mountains, I decided to book one of the more popular treks in the city’ the Inca Jungle Trek. It was a 4 day excursion that would end at Machu Picchu. I signed up with a few new friends and packed my HikePro. The next morning we loaded up a van and headed up higher into the mountains…


Where the Desert Meets the Sea; Paracas

Just a few hours south of Lima is the small coastal town of Paracas. What I was expecting was a nice little resort town with decent beaches, cafes, and some pleasant scenery. To my surprise, what I found was a massive desert. Right where the sands met the sea was the village of Paracas. It had a certain charm to it with a handful of shops and restaurants. Lucky for me, my hostel was located right on the beach.

(view out the back of the hostel)

I had a nice time my first 2 days meeting a group of fellow travelers at the hostel and exploring the town. We enjoyed Lomo Saltado (stir fried beef) and checked out the shops and stretches of beach. Its always great to meet and interact with people from all over the world. My small group in Paracas consisted of people from Ireland, Denmark, England, Scotland, and Norway. While beautiful scenery, new cities, and delicious cuisines are all highlights of traveling, this is what truly makes it a great experience. You get to interact with people with different ideas, perspectives, and stories. In the end, it’s the people who make these trips memorable.

On my 3rd day, I was off to explore what makes Paracas a unique destination in Peru; Islas Ballestas. These islands off the coast of Paracas are considered to be the ‘Poor man’s Galapagos’ due to the diverse wildlife that calls the island home. After a big night out, it was a little rough crawling out of bed and making it to the marina. Luckily, me and my Danish friend made our boat on time and were quickly steaming out into the Pacific. On the way to the islands we passed the north face of the Paracas Peninsula which was adorned with a massive prehistoric geoglyph. Dating back to 200 BCE, the 595 ft design looks like a giant candelabra and can be seen from nearly 12 miles offshore. No one knows the true purpose of the ancient symbol carved into the side of the sea cliff.

 

Our boat pushed on, and after 25min we arrived at the islands. Before we got to close you could hear and smell that the rock formations were buzzing with life. Overhead were hundreds of blue-footed booby, a bird unique for its hunting style. They will fly anywhere between 30-100ft searching for schools of fish. When they spot their prey they drop into a straight dive and hit the water at upwards of 60mph. This allows them to capture a fish almost 80ft under the water. It was pretty amazing to see them in action. When we approached the island we saw a wide variety of animals. There were pelicans, humboldt penguins, sea lions, fur seals, starfish, and more. The sea lions were amazing to see up close in their natural habitat. Some of the males were absolutely enormous.

 

Overall, Paracas was a fun little stop on my trip towards Cusco. For only 10$ I was able to see the unique wildlife of the Ballestas, a true ‘Poor man’s’ experience. But after a few days on the beach and enjoying the sun, I was heading out of the desert and into the mountains!


Landing in Lima

As soon as I landed in Lima, I was aware I had a slight problem. I had taken 7 years of French. Quick tip for anyone visiting; they don’t speak French in Peru. I’d been completely spoiled in Asia. English was spoken and written just about everywhere. In the big cities and small villages alike, it was fairly easy to communicate and the locals were willing to work with you. Looking back, I wish I had done a little language prep for this trip. That’s my mistake and I’ll own it. But what better way to learn a new language than to be thrown into the fire, right? Or at least I hope that’s true…

Anyways, I stayed in the Miraflores District of Lima, which is an upscale area right on the coastal cliffs. The location was beautiful, and the prices unfortunately reflected that. As per tradition, I overpaid for the first few days. My lack of Spanish was a factor but I always overpay when I arrive in a new country. It’s a tradition, like my own personal right of passage and one of my many flaws. I think I spent 70$ the first few days I landed in Bangkok which is borderline impossible. But I learn quick and I’m sure it’ll be no different in South America.

Lima was a big and vibrant city. There was Latin music playing from the restaurants on every corner and people seemed to be enjoying the warm summer weather. I spent my two days wandering through the streets and strolling through Parque del Amor. The park sits high upon the coastal cliffs overlooking the Pacific. Situated in the middle of the park is the Iconic statue, El Beso (the Kiss), depicting two lovers entangled in a passionate kiss. Even though I was exploring the park without a romantic partner per usual, it was a nice place to spend a few hours.

A few miles down sits La Marina Lighthouse. The 72ft tower is the most visited lighthouse in peru and casts its beam 18 nautical miles out into the Pacific. The walk along the cliffs was an awesome way to watch the locals and just hang out. You can stay entertained by viewing the surfers 100 feet below trying their luck against the cold ocean swells. In the evening I enjoyed my first Pisco Sour and watched the sun go down. The national drink of Peru is a combination of Peruvian pisco, lemon or lime juice, syrup, ice, bitters, and an egg white. Perhaps its an acquired taste, but I’m not sure if they’re for me. I switched to cervezas quickly.

Lima has a lot to offer. Unfortunately I was on tighter schedule and was in and out of the city in about 48 hours. I’d love to explore more! Many people use the capital as a jumping point to the bigger attractions of Peru and I unfortunately made the same mistake. Lesson learned.



Arriving in Bangkok

Honestly, I should have looked up the weather in the South Pacific before I took off. I’ll take the blame for that one. My bad. Was not aware Typhoon Merantis was going to be smashing into Taiwan during the only 4 hour stretch in my lifetime I needed to be in that f’n country. Good news, it hit the South of the island. Bad news, its 185mph winds caused turbulence so bad I was convinced I was going to wind up like John Denver. In the end, still not dead. So that’s a plus.

After 24 straight hours of travel, we finally arrived in Bangkok. The big apple. The city by the bay. And as tired as we might have been, there is no greater shock to the system than that city. It’s different. It’s loud. It has a certain aroma. The traffic moves in a form of organized anarchy. Cars, mopeds, and tuk-tuks pass one another at will, driving on whichever side of the road they seemingly pleased. The sidewalks are filled with stalls selling clothing, bags, and jewelry intertwined with food stands hawking pad thai, chicken or fish on a stick, and more eccentric delicacies (bugs and scorpions deep fried with soy). It’s like a weekend market in NYC or Boston, except it’s everywhere, every day, all the time. It’s easy to get lost in. And we did. Pretty much immediately. As in 5min after we left the hostel we had no idea what we were doing.

We must have looked lost too because right off the bat we were sucked into a tuk tuk scam. Sure he took us to the standing Buddha and a few other temples with a smile and a nod, but then we got dropped at the Thai Cultural Center. Except it wasn’t the Thai Culture Center it was the Tie Culture Center, selling bootleg custom fit suits for half the price. Basically had to fight our way out of the store. It was 2 against 15 pushy salesmen trying to pitch me a suit in 87 degrees and 90% humidity.

We followed that up with a lovely river cruise on the greyish-brown waters of Bangkok. You see quite a wide range of lifestyles along that river, from tin shacks to luxury condos. Eye opening to say the least. Except for the fact that I was so tired I fell asleep in the boat. So we grabbed a beer and some pad-thai on the khao san road and we called it a night.

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(our boat looked like this one but 3x smaller)

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(dinner on Khao San)

After 10 hours of sleep we took off for our second day in Bangkok, refreshed and already much wiser. Day 2 consisted of 9.77 miles of walking. It was a lot. Especially in the 95 degree heat. We also had to be in pants as we visited Wat Pho (reclining Buddha) and the Royal Palace. Thank god I brought my sweet zip-off pants from EMS and dope Teva sandals. Swagger like you read about 100 100. It was actually an awesome day that ended at the train station as we awaited our overnight train up North.

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 (wat pho)

Bangkok was an abrupt welcoming to SE Asia. But it was everything I wanted it to be. And I’ll be back to explore more in 2 weeks. I think you could spend years in that city and still not understand a thing about it. Anyways, off to Chaing Mai. I’ll be turning 24 on a 2nd class sleeper car. Just how I drew it up.

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(palace decor)

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(palace)

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(budha on budha)

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(palace Wat)


Huntley Meadows

Growing up I have fond memories of my parents taking us to Huntley Meadows Park. It’s a local nature preserve and wetland. Located in the southern end of Fairfax County, just south of Alexandria City, it’s a great location to head to for a few hours to get away from the busy life of the surrounding area. It had been years since I had visited and one spring weekend before the weather got too hot, I ventured out with my family. There is walking trails, boardwalk trails, a historical home, an observation tower, and plenty of wildlife. If you’re in town and enjoy nature, or live locally looking for a place to get away, or enjoy nature photography, I highly recommend a visit.

Huntley Meadows

Huntley Meadows

Huntley Meadows

Huntley Meadows

Huntley Meadows

Huntley Meadows

All of the thoughts and opinions are my own.

Interesting Links

Fairfax County Parks, Huntley Meadows

Friends of Huntley Meadows Park

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