Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Apologies & Parents’ Trip to Argentina

So I have to apologize for being TERRIBLE about updating this blog but since I started blogging for a local wine company and facilitating a blog for my students, I’m usually all blogged out by the time I get to my personal blog. Anyways, here’s the link to the wine blog I write, as well as a link to my students’ short blog responses to our conversation classes.



Additionally, here’s a short video on my parents’ recent trip to Argentina! Smile It was so much fun having them here—I’m always so proud of how they’re generally easygoing about cultural differences, etc. I must admit, however, I never feel homesick UNTIL family and friends come to visit so I’m glad they came to visit towards the end of my trip. Now the countdown until one of my best friends Ali comes to visit for Oktoberfest in a week and my brother comes to visit in three weeks! Enjoy the video!

My parents’ recent two week trip to Argentina :) so much fun!

Monday, August 22, 2011


All of Peru photos, including Machu Picchu HERE ***Takes a minute for the photos to come up

Machu Picchu meaning “Old Peak” is a pre-Columbian 15th-century Inca site located 7,970 ft. above sea level. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, which is 50 miles northwest of Cusco and through which the Urubamba River flows. Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). Often referred to as the "Lost City of the Incas", it is perhaps the most familiar icon of the Inca World. (wikipedia)

Day 5
We spent most of Wednesday traveling up to Aguas Calientes, which is the tourist trap town right outside Machu Picchu. It’s the only option for lodging really, but there’s nothing to do there and very little authentic about it. We stayed at Supertramp Hostel, which was nice enough. Everyone passing through Aguas Calientes is going to Machu Picchu so we picked up some good advice from travelers and the owners. We actually walked in on a conversation on how to sneak into Machu Picchu at night (and on our way back actually saw the guys hatching their plans….poor guys had plans to camp out in the dark in the forest outside of Machu Picchu—which wouldn’t be so bad except it was rainy. Everything was wet and they were going to get poured on!)

Day 6

You always read online to leave for Machu Picchu (MP) really early to beat the crowds and see the sunrise, but the hostel owner informed us the sunrise isn’t that special and MP is more crowded in the mornings anyhow. Despie the hostel owner's advice, we still planned on going at 4 a.m. when we went to sleep, but when I woke up in our ten-bunk hostel dorm, I heard a terrible noise: pouring rain. If you knew how much planning went into making MP happen, you would’ve wanted to cry too. There was no way I was climbing two miles up to MP in the pouring rain when it was pitch dark outside that early in the morning so I went back to sleep. No objections from Brad. We got up at 6:00 a.m. to eat a little breakfast (which would be our only food until 8:00 p.m.) and opted for the tourist bus up to MP. Excellent decision because later on in the day we met a fellow traveler and hostel mate who had the discipline to get up at four a.m. and make the two-mile hike; when we saw her at 9 a.m. inside the historic site, she looked exhausted and miserable.

Prancing around in ponchos, once we saw Machu Picchu, we forgot all the rain, lack of sleep, hunger, whatever. It was absolutely breathtaking and well worth the hassle. In the morning, there was a mist, called a “cloud forest,” covering the ruins, which added to the mysteriousness of this colossal Incan site situated on top of the mountaintops.

I don’t want to bore you with a book on Machu Picchu because it’s really the photos that you want to see but here are just a few interesting facts.

Interesting Facts
  • The Incas were masters of a building technique ashlar where they cut enormous stones to fit together so well that they didn’t need to use mortar (which they considered an inferior method). They were so skilled in the ashlar method that not even a blade of grass can fit between these massive stones.
  • Hiram Bingham, an American historian, “discovered” the ruins in 1911. However, it’s debatable if he was the first to discover the ruins, or just the one to publicize the ruins to the world.
  • Yale University excavated and exported ruins from Machu Picchu to the U.S. in 1912. There was a huge controversy between the university and the Peruvian government that the artifacts were just a loan and needed to be returned. Yale University JUST returned the items a few years ago…just a century late.
  • In 2007, MP was voted one of the Seven Wonders of the World in an online poll by UNESCO.
  • Machu Picchu was built in 1472 at the height of the Incan empire as a sacred religious site for emperor Pachcuti. It was abandoned 100 years later due to the Spanish conquest.
  • The site is endangered due to tourists (oops…) but the government is now controlling how many visitors enter the site, as well as selling separate tickets to enter Huaynapichu (a second mountaintop you can enter once you’re inside MP).
  • No one really knows how the Incas got these massive stones to these mountaintops.

Huaynapichu or Wayna Picchu, meaning Young Peak, rises over Machu Picchu. The Incas built a trail up the side of the Huayna Picchu and built temples and terraces on its top. The peak of Huayna Picchu is about 8,920 ft. above sea level, or about 1,180 ft. higher than Machu Picchu.

According to local guides, the top of the mountain was the residence for the high priest and the local virgins. Every morning before sunrise, the high priest with a small group would walk to Machu Picchu to signal the coming of the new day. (wikipedia)

As I mentioned, the Peruvian government is limited the number of daily visitors to ascend the mountain to 400 per day; half enter at 7 a.m. and half enter at 10 a.m. This climb is unreal and if it were the U.S., you’d have to sign a waiver to climb it.

“A steep and at times exposed climb leads to the summit. Some portions are slippery and steel cables provide some support. At times during the rainy season, the tours are closed. From the summit, a second trail leads down to the Gran Caverna and the Temple of the Moon. These natural caves, on the north face of the mountain, are lower than the starting point of the trail. The return path from the caves completes a loop around the mountain as it rejoins the main trail.”

It had just stopped raining when we started to climb up the mountain so the steep, tiny stairs hugging the mountain were wet. Brad and I tried not to talk about it, but if you slipped, you would get seriously hurt. In a few places there are steel cables to hold onto, but this seems to be a new installment so there are not nearly enough as you might need. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos that capture it that well—I was too busy hugging the mountain to pull out the camera. Imagine the stairs from the photo above but steeper and wet.


Brad was still sick so when we finally reached a landing, he called it quits.I have no compassion and told him I’d hike the loop and come back for him. I actually was sick the whole time as well, but there was no way I wasn’t experiencing MP to the fullest. The full hike was amazing because there’s so few people who do it and it’s a very personal experience exploring the Inca ruins on your own. As you can tell by my red face, however, it was quite the climb. AND THE CLIMB DID NOT LOOP AROUND TO WHERE BRAD WAS. Yes, friends, I had to climb this ridiculous mountain twice because I had to go get Brad at the top and the trail looped back to the bottom instead of where Brad was waiting for me. I could barely walk the rest of the trip because my legs were so sore.

Wayna Picchu=Wilderness Incan Boot Camp

Brad and I stayed from opening to close at Machu Picchu and if we weren’t so exhausted and hungry, we’d have wanted to stay even longer. It blew our minds that some people only stayed for a few hour. As a recommendation, the best time to be at Machu Picchu is after 2:30 p.m. My best recommendation, however, is to place Machu Picchu high on your "Must See Before I Die List." Certainly one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Peru: Part 1

Brad and I had the opportunity to go to Peru a few weeks ago before he left for the United States because our previous flight to Iguazu Falls got cancelled and we needed to use our flight vouchers with LAN airlines. So we took the plunge and headed to Peru to see Machu Picchu for the 100th anniversary. Not a bad deal…except getting to Machu Picchu from Mendoza, Argentina takes longer than it takes to get from Mendoza, Argentina to Raleigh, North Carolina due to the many layovers. On our way there, we left my apartment at 1:30 p.m., flew from the Mendoza airport at 4:30 p.m., arrived in Santiago, Chile at 6:30 p.m., left Santiago, Chile at 8:30 and arrived in Lima, Peru at 10:00 p.m.

I have a lovely friend, Chiara, who I know from high school, who is Peruvian and was living in Lima with her grandparents. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see her in Lima so we took advantage of our eight-hour layover to go out with her in the city. We ate anticuchos (cow heart on skewers!!) and had pisco sours (pisco with egg white, lemon and cinnamon) We stayed in the city until around 3 a.m. and then headed back to the airport (45 minutes away) for the last leg of our flight. We arrived in Cusco, Peru at 7:00 a.m. but at that point I was so tired, I hardly knew my own name.

Day 1-Cuzco
Brad slept until about 3 p.m. but since I slept on the plane a bit more than he did, I went out and explored. By the way, we stayed in a four-person dorm (four bunk beds in a room) and the other couple in the room was from Raleigh, N.C. What are the chances!! They warned us that the tickets to Machu Picchu were actually sold out until Thursday so I ran around town all day changing our train tickets, buying our Machu Picchu train tickets online, rebooking hostels, etc. It was a mess, but luckily by the time Brad woke up, I had mostly figured it all out.

We stayed pretty low key at night since Brad had a cold. Also, Cuzco is at a very high altitude so when you get there you have to rest for a few days and drink tea with coca leaves.

Day 2
We got up with plans to head to the Sunday market and ruins in Pisaq, a small pueblo just outside Cuzco. We walked past the bus station four times because it was nothing more than a small gated gravel driveway, and the buses are actually small white 12-passenger mini-vans. We got in the van and chatted with a local for the whole time. Once we got there, we decided to go local and eat at a picnic table where a woman was cooking a pasta dish. It was good but my American cultural background really jarred against our cook's cultural background as she was serving the food with her bare hands and I saw no antibacterial hand sanitizer. However, we both decided to loosen up and just enjoy the meal, thinking perhaps it adds a little flavor…;)

No one ever talks about the Pisaq ruins, but they’re absolutely amazing.

Day 3
We visited some nice museums on Monday to try to get the most of our tourist museum pass. Photos (from top left to bottom right):
  • Recipe for Pisco Sour
  • Reenactment of how Peruvians cook the guinea pigs (yes, guinea pig is part of local cuisine)
  • Another view of the main plaza—it was nice and warm while we were there which is a nice contrast from Mendoza’s winter;
  • At the Chocolate museum they serve a clear/yellowish tea that is made from cocoa and tastes wonderfully like chocolate tea. We also splurged for hot chocolate. Brad knows how to make me happy Smile

Day 4
We left Cuzco to start our voyage up to Machu Picchu, stopping at Ollantaytambo on the way. We stayed at the BEST HOSTEL called Casa de Wow, which is actually run by a woman named Winn from Asheville. Seems North Carolinians are loving Peru. Wow, the owner of the hostel, pretty much built the place and made all the furniture inside, but he was quite a mysterious guy as we only caught a glimpse of him once the whole time; he was drinking tea and pondering life and didn't say a word to us. I think it added to his mystique.

We got to the Ollantaytambo ruins and climbed the ruins immediately. Absolutely amazing—and we got lucky because right when we reached the base again, three or four tour buses showed up with hundreds of tourists pouring out. We quickly returned to our hostel to avoid them.

Ollantaytambo (48 miles from Cusco): A beautiful town that preserves Inca urban planning of houses, streets and waterways, safeguarded by a breathtaking fortress with temples, hillside farming terraces and walls. The Incans built this military, religious, administrative and farming complex strategically on top of two mountains to view the whole valley.

Look for Peru Part 2 later this week!


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Weekend Trip to Malargüe


I wanted to make a weekend getaway to Malargüe to do basically one thing: eat chivo (goat). Supposedly, they have the best in the region, perhaps even in the country. However, my housemates and I made a grievous error when heading out on the 6:30 Catamarca bus to Malargüe: we had no plans for transportation outside our round-trip bus fare. It takes about six and a half hours by bus to get to Malargüe and getting there is no issue. Yet, there is little to nothing to do within the city—all of the attractions are at least 12 km away, most MUCH farther. So after visiting the tourist office and realizing there really were no public transportation options, we made a plan B.

Our next option was an organized outing. Karen Travel on the main drag (San Martin street, of course) was very friendly and informative and only 200 meters away from the tourist office. However, all of the day trips had obviously already left and for the trip the next day, it would be 200 pesos to go see La Caverna de la Bruja (Witches’ Cave) and maybe Lake Llancalemo, weather permitting. However, for three of us, it would be 600 pesos, which is a good amount of money for young travellers, and we figured we could rent a car for cheaper.

Lastly, we investigated car rentals. By investigating, I mean we went to the car rental business, Nord Patagonia, and waited until they opened. Malargüe takes their siesta very seriously so business hours were as follows: 9-12:30, break for siesta, 5:30-9. We waited and waited for it to open at 5:30 and by 6:15, we gave up. At this point, my roommates had basically given up and were opting to either take the 1:00 a.m. bus back to Mendoza after eating a lot of chivo for dinner, or taking the morning bus back after eating a lot of chivo from the night before.

We had a few more strokes of bad luck before our fate turned around: our hostel informed us the rental agency was closed because all of the cars were already rented until Tuesday. We also went to a few local places that had run out of chivo.

Finally, our luck really turned around when a local offered to show us around the next day. He dropped us off at La Cima to eat chivo (great restaurant: both the chivo stew and parrilla were delicious!) and promised to meet us the next morning at our hostel. We were skeptical after a day of such bad luck (or rather poor planning) so when he showed up the next day at 8:30 a.m., we knew our Saturday would be much better than our Friday.

El Pozo de Los Animos: On Route 222 you can see several attractions: Laguna de la Nina Encantada, Valle de Los Molles, Pozo de los Animos (below) and Valle Hermoso.


Las Lenas: ski resort with 14 lifts, 29 slopes, open for day and night ski, 10 miles to ski free, and 1,500 meters Terrain Park with jumps, bumps and rails. (Height above sea level: Base: 2,240 meters; Summit with access: 3,430 meters)



^^They even drink mate on the slopes!

Los Castillos de Pincheira: volcanic cliffs 27 km west of Malargüe where you can hike to a cave, cross a pedestrian suspension bridge and eat malargüino goat at the local restaurant. You pay 15 pesos to enter, place your chivo order at the restaurant and go hiking for an hour to return just in time for fresh chivo, all you can eat. Absolutely delicious (note: Our Malargüino friend informed us it is acceptable to eat chivo ribs with your hands)



Other sites to check out near Malargue:

The Manqui Malal cascade, The Payunia Natural Reserve, Malacara volcano, Laguna Llancanelo, Caverna de las Brujas, hot springs, golf course and food route (goat and trout road). More information available at www.malargueamatur.com.ar

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A week in Buenos Aires

It’s been a few weeks since Brad and I were actually in the capital city of Buenos Aires but I needed time to relax before I could blog about it—very fun and vibrant city, but like all big cities and travel, it comes with stress, crime, expenses, etc. Not to mention Brad and I are used to the very laid-back Mendocino lifestyle…

Here are some highlights from our trip. To see a slideshow of all of our photos: click here.


Japanese Gardens: A beautiful garden in Palermo just to walk around in, especially if you can manage to go when a there isn’t a field trip there (we failed in this aspect); we just barely missed the Manga and Anima Event from the weekend before…

Bomba Del Tiempo

Bomba del Tiempo, or Time Bomb. It’s a fantastic drum show on Monday nights. This is actually their guest drum group that came before them, which I liked better than the real deal. A very “free” atmosphere (people dancing in circles by themselves, etc); take that as you will.

Our hostel, The Art Factory, had several live bands while we were there.