Account of travels across the world. This blog provides descriptions of travels in different parts of the world. Pictures related to many of the blogs can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/7330879@N05/ and for more information I can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Airlines flown: Delta, Song, Copa (Panamanian), LAN Peru, Bebo had a total of 10 flight segments
Geographic highlights: crossing of the equator, staying at the highest altitude we ever have, seeing the southern most tip of the Amazonian rain forest, experiencing Spring in October, visiting beaches of the Atlantic and the Pacific in the same trip
Other: Seeing the similarity between Peru and India, seeing the old Inca civilization and Machu Pichu, the protesters in Lima, the football team in Cusco.
September 29, 2006
We left from home about 10:00 am and drove to Raleigh Durham airport. Parked the car and checked in with Delta. Security was quick and then onto the flight to Atlanta. Mikku had bought some lunch and that was wise. The flight from Atlanta was on Song Air a subsidiary of Delta. This was a really neat aircraft with satellite TV on every seat back TV screen. The flight was on time too and we eventually got to Miami where it was warm. Took the bus to the Fairfield Inn and ordered a pizza dinner and went to bed early.
September 30, 2006
We had to get up really early to be ready for the morning flight. Unfortunately, the taxi came late but thankfully the check in at Copa airlines (of Panama) was quick enough, as was security. We left from Miami on time and the aircraft was comfortable and the meal good. We reached Panama City in about 3 hours and saw the Panama Canal from the plane. The Panama City airport was nice and we browsed the duty free stores. They boarded the Lima flight on time, but soon after boarding they told us to get off (most of the announcements were in Spanish with no English translation, this was true all through the trip and people do not speak much English at all, so it is good to know some Spanish). There was a mechanical problem and the flight was to be delayed. What was amazing was the way Copa treated the passengers. They first handed out snacks and drinks by setting up a table next to the gate. Then, since it was getting to be lunch time they offered a sandwich and drinks. I do not think I have seen any airline treat people so well. Since they could not fix the aircraft (which BTW we had just flown in on from Miami!) they got a different aircraft and we were on our way to Lima. We reached Lima in about 3 hours. I had arranged with the hotel (Lima Sheraton, very reasonably priced at $100 per night) to have transportation sent to pick us up and Mr. Israel who was a Peruvian who spoke good English was there to receive us. Getting into Lima was uncannily similar to getting into Delhi. It was as if we had suddenly reached India, because the place smelled the same, sounded the same (car honking all over), looked the same (somewhat ill kept houses) and the people looked the same. The experience was unreal because we were really stunned and as the taxi went through Lima, we did not know how to react. The minibuses drove exactly the way they do in Kolkata with the conductor hanging out of the door banging on the door and announcing destinations. They are called in Combis in Peru and they race each other like they do in Kolkata. They stop where they want and go where they want. Traffic crossings had no rules, and people would try to outwit each other as they drove. There were people on the streets and many auto rickshaws imported from India and made by Bajaj. There were Marutis on the road and the air was thick with pollution and the sky was the same dirty brown one sees in Delhi. Of course, being in the Southern Hemisphere it was spring there and it was still cold and the weather was exactly the same as winter in Delhi. Once we entered the Sheraton lobby it smelled just like the Sheraton in Delhi (they must use the same air fresheners!) and just as it happens in India, once you enter the lobby of a good hotel you leave India outside in a same manner once we were in the hotel we simply left Peru outside. The hotel had a casino attached to it but Bebo was not allowed there so we did not go. It was a little later and so we just stayed in the hotel and watched the sunset that we have seen numerous times in Delhi, an orange sun setting in a brown sky! We had room service and called it a day.
October 1, 2006
We did not have to rush too much in the morning but had a relaxed breakfast which was very good (included with the price of the room) and then brought our stuff down from the room. Check out of the hotel was quite smooth and we took the black cab for Soles 52.50 to the airport. The check in process took a while with a bunch of school girls in front of us! After the check in we had to pay the airport fee and then had to rush to the gate because it was getting late. The flight was on LAN Peru and it was a pleasant flight. Even on an hour's flight they fed us a good meal. We flew South East over the Andes and landed in Cusco the old Inca capital and one of the major cities of Peru. The altitude of Cusco is about 3,300 meters which makes it about 10,500 feet. The air is very thin at this altitude and breathing is a problem. As soon as we left the aircraft I realized I was in trouble. I could hardly breathe and so had to walk slowly and do everything slowly. Mikku and Bebo were having less breathing difficulties. Picking up the suitcases was a real problem and we eventually left the tiny airport and Edwin and Yanni our travel guides were there to receive us. I could hardly walk. We took the transport to Hotel Savoy. There were a load of police in riot gear all over the hotel. Evidently they were protecting the football team from Lima which was in Cusco to play a game that evening. They were expecting trouble and so had the police all over the hotel. As we were checking in the hotel staff offered us Coca tea which is a brew made from the leaves of the coca plant which produces the fruit from which cocaine is made. The coca tea has no narcotic effect but is supposed to help with altitude sickness which I was feeling as a dull headache. We all had the coca tea and we sat in the lobby and worked out the afternoon city tour. We then went off to our room freshened up some, and I went out to get some bottled water. Other than in 5-star hotels (which Hotel Savoy was not, BTW, the room with breakfast was $55.00 per night, and the room was quite OK) the water in Peru is not drinkable for foreigners and we needed to have bottled water with us all the time. No wonder it felt like going to India! I also got some dollars and soles out to pay for the Machu Pichu trip the next day. We came down to the lobby around 2:00 and Yanni was there to greet us. There were more police there now and we walked towards the main square. There was a huge procession of fans approaching our hotel in this dusty old town and we watched them go by. We then took a taxi to the main square where we met up with the tour which was led by a very knowledgeable woman. She showed us around Cusco Cathedral constantly reminding us how bad the Spanish conquerors were and how they deviously converted the indigenous Inca to Christianity. Cusco was the capital of the Inca civilization until the Spanish came to make it civilized and destroyed the Inca civilization and replaced it with a European Catholic system. Our next stop in the tour was a museum about this process where the Spanish basically took the old sun temple of the Incas in the middle of old Cusco and built the Spanish power base around that. We then left Cusco to travel up the mountain towards the old Inca town of Saksyhuman. This was built out of stone and the Spanish destroyed much of this too, but some remain as ruins and we walked around there. Every step there was torture since we were now at about 12,000 feet and I felt like there was no oxygen there at all. Anyway, it was a beautiful place up in the Andes. At the next stop on the tour they showed us the old sacrificial place where the Incas used to sacrifice children and animals. Bebo proceeded to climb the altar where the sacrifices were done and the guide was not happy since many people have been killed on that altar. The walk was excruciating for me and I had to stop often even to go 30 feet. The next stop was another ruin. It was getting to be evening and the air had gotten even thinner. The guide said we would have to walk 20 minutes each way to see the ruins. I decided not to go and both Mikku and Bebo also stayed back in the bus and we watched the sun set over the Andes highlands. After that we climbed down to the Cusco main plaza and the bus dropped us back at the hotel. After a brief stop in the room we went over to the adjoining restaurant called Charlotte Restaurant and had dinner. There was a little issue about making sure there were no nuts in the food, but we eventually had a nice dinner and arranged with the restaurant to deliver a packed lunch to our room next morning for our trip to Machu Pichu. After that Bebo and Mikku were both complaining of headaches and nausea which are common signs of altitude sickness, so they went to bed and I went out with Edwin and Yanni to pay for the Machu Pichu trip and also to the market to get some snacks and supplies for the trip the next day. I did not have my jacket with me and it was quite cold. They eventually dropped me off at the hotel and we finally called it a day. Some police was still there but there was no trouble because the match was a 3-3 draw!
October 2, 2006
We had to get up quite early today. Right around 6:00 am the guy from the Charlotte restaurant brought over the packaged food. We got ourselves ready and went down to the lobby. Edwin came to pick us up around 6:20 in the morning. It was a sparkling day but any movement was quite agonizing because of the lack of oxygen in the air. I was certainly suffering more than Mikku and Bebo. The train station was quite small. We were introduced to our guide there and we got our seats on the Vistadome car right at the back of the train. We were in the last compartment. The train was clean and comfortable and left on time at 7:00 am. Getting out of Cusco valley requires having to cross a mountain range and the train takes a zig zag switchback path to do this. It went through Cusco city and the area looked exactly like a city in Rajasthan. Without a doubt the people were very poor and the trash lying around the railway tracks was very reminiscent of India. It was like taking a Shatabdi express luxury train in Western India. Soon after departure they offered a breakfast of sandwich and coffee. Bebo chose to drink coffee instead of the coca tea this time. This was the first time he had coffee on this trip. The train journey was marvelous. It takes about 4 hours to get from Cusco to Agua Cilantres the jumping off point for Machu Pichu. The landscape changes quite dramatically. First, the train climbs out of Cusco valley and enters the Andean plateau. The elevation is around 10,000 feet. It continues at this altitude for quite some time and then it catches up with the Urumbamba river and follows it down towards the Agua town. Here the highland gives way to lush Amazonian forests and the elevation goes down to about 7,000 feet and I could breathe again! The train track follows the river for the last hour and a half eventually reaching the last stop. We got off there and went to the bus stop for the bus ride to Machu Pichu. Buses run every few minutes and the ride up is quite harrowing on unpaved roads. It started to mist up and began to rain about half way through the 30 minute bus ride and eventually when we reached Machu Pichu it was raining quite hard. Mikku had an umbrella (we knew it would rain being a rain forest), Bebo had a raincoat and I had a jacket and hat. Machu Pichu is a town that was built by the Incas in the 1500s. This was hidden from the Spanish conquerors and so survived the colonial destruction. However, the Incas had left around late 1500s and since then the town was overgrown by the rain forest. In the early 1900s an American professor from Yale University came to the Urumbamba valley to find another legendary Inca town called Vilabamba, however, he ran into the relics of a town next to the old (machu) mountain (pichu). Hiram Bingham had first thought this was Vilabamba but when it was clear this was a different hidden city Hiram named it Machu Pichu. The place took several years to clean up and now it is one of the World's top tourist sites. We had an excellent tour of Machu Pichu with a very well informed guide. It rained some, it was misty at times, and then the sun came out. We had a two hour guided tour and then we had a little time to spend by ourselves. Bebo got to see the llamas and take pictures with llamas. We then went to the picnic area near the restaurant and ate our lunch from the packed boxes. It was a nice meal. The tour was over at that point and we took the bus back to the railway station. There was a huge market of handicrafts and souvenirs near the market and we bought some stuff there and eventually boarded the train at 4:30. The train left at 5:00 pm. The journey back was very pleasant. At one stop I got off the train to have a smoke and there was a fashion show on the train along with a guy who did a little Inca dance. This was a really amusing part of the train ride but it kept us engaged. We eventually reached Cusco about 9:30. Edwin was there to pick us up and we got back to the hotel. I was again having difficulty breathing. Bebo went off to bed and I went down to the restaurant to get a take out dinner. Mikku and I ate in the room and eventually called it a day.
October 3, 2006
Having had a late night we decided to sleep in a bit. Did not get out of bed until about 7:00 am. After the shower and stuff had breakfast in the restaurant of Savoy. Taking the suitcases downstairs was a real trick since I was having serious difficulty breathing. The batteries had again run out in the camera and so we could not take any pictures. The driver with the van arrived around 9:30 and it was a fifteen minute quick drive to the airport. Checking in was relatively smooth and we got some batteries to take a few pictures outside Cusco airport. Mikku did a little bit of shopping. We then paid the airport tax ($4.50 per person) and went through security into the waiting area. It was a bare area and the announcer was using a portable PA system to make flight announcements. The flight left on time and we arrived in Lima OK. I had already called Mr. Israel and he was there to pick us up at the airport. It was again $20.00 to get to the hotel. Being a week day the city was busy. Lots of school children because they have a three-shift school system with some morning schools, some afternoon schools and some night schools as well. The pollution was amazing and the odor of diesel fumes, very reminiscent of Delhi and Kolkata was all over. We got to the hotel OK and after checking in we freshened up and came back downstairs. In the meantime, I had done some research on the daily tours and realized that it would be best to do things by ourselves and not go with organized tours since they were really expensive and are very time-bound. We debated taking a regular city taxi but decided against it and took a black cab to Plaza Armes also called Plaza Mayor. This has the town hall, the palace and the Lima cathedral around the square. We entered the Lima Cathedral (entrance was Soles 10.00 per adult) and we were given a private English speaking guide to accompany us and show us around the cathedral and its museum. It was quite interesting to note the obvious hostility that the people have towards the Spanish conquerors and it is an interesting mixture of hostility and gratitude. After the cathedral tour we walked around the plaza. Got a book on Lima in English and then had coffee at a café. Went into the major departmental store in Lima and left quickly since it was nothing special. We then walked down Union Street with its numerous shoe stores and walked all the way to Plaza San Martin. By then the batteries had run out again and so we could not take any pictures here. We then walked down a narrow street where we did find a nice souvenir store back towards the hotel. The street, the smells, the pollution and the general atmosphere was like walking on Sudder Street in Kolkata. It never ceased to amaze us how similar Lima was to an Indian metro. At one point after we got back to the hotel as we were standing in the tiny balcony hearing the cacophony of horns, I asked Bebo to shut his eyes and think of another city and he naturally said Delhi. We had a room service dinner and called it a day. Bebo and Mikku watched a movie on TV and I went to sleep.
October 4, 2006
The day was not too dreary and we got ready quickly and went downstairs for the breakfast. It was a good spread and we had a relaxed meal. Around 9:30 we left the hotel. We debated taking a yellow taxi, but since we were going a bit of a distance we decided to take the black cab the hotel offered. This is a bit of a racket with the hotels and they give you a sense that the regular cabs are unsafe. That thing might work with inexperienced travelers but I was not getting convinced. But the black cab driver, our good old Mr. Israel, was only asking for Soles 20 and since I was still unfamiliar with the city I decided to go with him. It was a 25 minute ride through the crowded streets of Lima, constantly being reminded of India, and we eventually reached the Pueblo Libre neighborhood to see the Larco Museum. We let the cab go at that point. The entry into the museum was expensive and I paid in a mixture of dollars and soles. It is important to note that there is a racket going on with money which I was just beginning to figure out. Here is how it works, if you were to take out Soles 100 from an ATM machine it would cost about $30.86 at a rate of Soles 3.24 per dollar. Now, they accept dollars and soles at all places. So, if a taxi driver says that it is Soles 12 to go a distance, and you do not have the Soles they would take $4.00 for the same distance. Note the Soles 12 is really only $3.70. While one such transaction might be not a huge difference, when you begin adding it up it gets big. All ATM machines offer you the opportunity to take out Sols and Dollars, and I was making the mistake of taking out dollars and paying for things in dollar effectively offering myself an exchange rate of 3.00 when it should have been 3.24. Once this was clear, obviously all the dealings were in Sols from then on. Anyway, the Larco Museum was mostly about the Inca civilization. It was pretty nice and there was a special show of Inca gold. This is a private museum and they let you see their store house which has thousands of artifacts stored in there. We strolled around the garden and went on to the café in the garden. While we had coffee Mikku and I separately visited the special gallery (can tell you about it when we meet). Bebo had some coffee too. After the coffee we took our first regular street taxi and went over to the National Museum of Archaeology for about Soles 7.00. There was a crowd of school kids there and we spent a fair amount of time in the museum. Bebo's translating machine was very useful. We saw a good view of the history of Peru. The same taxi driver picked us up at 1:00 and we drove along Costa Verde along the Pacific towards the upscale neighborhood of Miraflores. There we went to the Larcomar Mall which was reminiscent of an open air Mall somewhat like (but smaller than the City Center of Kolkata) with touristy stores and a food court. Had lunch there. The Peruvian batteries were really bad and I had to buy new batteries every day. The only other place I have had this experience is in Kolkata. We hung around there and went to a café for a bit. We then walked out of Larcomar and walked down Avenue Larco towards the Miraflores plaza. This takes you on a busy street with the JW Marriott at one end and the Miraflores roundabout at the other. We took a leisurely stroll stopping at stores and when we got to the Miraflores Park there was a big celebration going on there about the Peruvian Special Olympics for disabled people. We stood and watched the proceedings. The mayor of Lima was there and we took some picture of him. Nice festive area. The entire park here also had free wireless Internet access. This was quite unique. We went on to the main roundabout and took a yellow cab (most of these are Tico cars while some are the Indian Marutis). These are ramshackle little things and the drivers almost never speak any English. Anyhow what would have cost Soles 30.00 on the black cab, we paid Soles 10.00 to get back to the hotel. The driver brought us along the highway that runs through Lima and it still took us a while to get back. It is important to remember that by Lima, they really mean the central part of the city from Plaza Garu to Plaza Armes. The other areas such as Miraflores, Barranco, San Isadora are different municipalities, so if you are in Barranco and want to go to Plaza Armes in Lima you need to say that to the taxi driver. Just saying Plaza Mayor or Plaza Armes is usually not sufficient. Once back at the hotel we just kind of took it easy. Bebo wrote his journal and we ordered room service and called it a day.
October 5, 2006
It looked really dreary outside when we got up. We had a bit of a later start and went down for the breakfast. As always it was pretty good and after a good meal we got back to the room to pick up the camera and stuff. We eventually left at about 10:15 in the morning. We took one of the small cabs to the San Francisco Cathedral close to Plaza Armes. It was a Soles 10 ride and took about 15 minutes mainly because of the diversions and the traffic. The church was really old and was infested with pigeons. There was pigeon poop all over the courtyard and Bebo had a fabulous time chasing the pigeons. There was no charge to enter the church. There was actually a sermon going on inside when we entered. Being in Spanish we understood nothing but did note the elaborate Catholic ceremonies. We then went to the museum and catacombs. There was an entry fee there (Soles 10 for adults) and we were told that we could only enter with a guide. So we waited thirty minutes for an English speaking guide and when no one showed up we got our money back and left. There were a lot of school kids at this museum too. Bebo fed the pigeons while we were waiting. We then took another taxi (Soles 7) to Plaza Armes. There was something going on there with tons of riot police all over the place. As we sat and had coffee in one of the cafes they started to shut the plaza down. We managed to walk in and the whole place was shut off with no one allowed in or out, luckily we were among about 50 people who were in. We strolled over to the palace and waited for the changing of the guards at noon. As the changing started we realized why the plaza was shut down. There was a huge throng of protesters with placards and shouting slogans who were approaching the plaza. The riot police went after them and chased them away. When the changing of the guards was over Bebo wanted to see the protesters so we walked back down the way they had come (this is Union Street which connects Plaza Armes with Plaza San Martin, it is a pedestrian only street with shops all around). We did not see the protesters but saw a good amount of riot police all over the place. We took another cab and for about Soles 12 the driver took us to Barranco. This is a residential area with a nice park with vendors selling all kinds things. We strolled around the stalls and discovered that there was one stall selling Hindi music video compilations on DVD for Soles 8.00 each. We got a few of these given the price and the oddity of finding Hindi music video in a neighborhood of Lima. Later we walked over to eat at Rustica where we had an authentic Peruvian lunch buffet (I did not find too much I liked! There were no fish and chips or any recognizable food!! Actually, in terms of food, with all my travels across the globe I have seen that one can be pretty confident about finding fish and chips nearly anywhere in the World, but I did not see much of that in Peru. Mikku and Bebo had a good time with the Peruvian food). It was not expensive and the restaurant was really quite nice. There was only one manager who spoke English and he was really nice and helpful. After lunch, since it had gotten nice and sunny, we took another cab for Soles 7.00 to a Barranco beach. The beach was misty and the Pacific surf was high. We were prepared for Bebo to get into the water and he had a nice time and he stayed in the water for about 30 minutes. I got some nice pictures of the Pacific Ocean in Peru. We then flagged down a taxi and for Soles 12.00 went back to Union Street and got to the store that sells bags and bought the cheapest bag in the store and walked on to Plaza Armes. It was about 4:30 by then and the police was all gone. We all took a horse carriage ride (Soles 3 per person) around the square and then walked back to the hotel taking a different route along a street which was reminiscent of many streets in Kolkata as usual. This was a street that had a series of stores selling electrical goods. Unlike the "mega stores" of the USA, here were numerous similar stores selling the same category of goods. This was quite fun. It was getting a little chilly and we eventually got to the hotel and took some pictures outside the hotel and got back to the room to pack. Bebo did his journal and I got ready for my paper and finally we called it a day and ordered room service.
October 6, 2006
I got up early and got ready quickly. My paper was at 9:00 and went down and ate breakfast. Then went over to the conference area. Place was quite deserted. Eventually people showed up and we had a good group for the paper. As usual the material was translated into Spanish and French. The papers went well. Had some coffee after that and met up with Mikku and Bebo. They came back to the conference area and took some pictures. We then walked down to the small shopping arcade in the basement of the hotel. Finally got back to the room and completed all the packing. We left the room around 11:15 and it took about 30 minutes to complete the check out since it was really crowded downstairs. Walked outside and talked with the taxi guys and got the car for the airport. It was Soles 52.50 as we had negotiated earlier. The drive to the airport was busy. As usual there was quite a bit of traffic, but we got there in plenty of time and got checked in with Copa. Then went on to pay the airport tax and got a sticker shock. It was $30.50 per person and they only take cash. Thankfully I had the cash to dole out $90.00. Security was easy and we ate lunch at the solitary but nice restaurant and did some souvenir shopping. Flight was on time and I watched TV shows on my Zen and Mikku and Bebo watched a movie. Reached Panama City OK and changed to the Miami flight. There was another security check there and they took away the bottled water. Food was good on the flight as always with Copa. Watched the movie "Click" on flight and got to Miami about 11:00 pm. Immigration and customs was very quick and we were out of the airport and in a cab in about 30 minutes. Took a taxi ($32.00 flat fee) to the Days Inn Miami Beach South. This was the cheapest option on the beach and so the hotel was a little off, but we got a corner room which was huge in size and had a beautiful view of the ocean. It was a full moon night and looked really pretty. Eventually got to bed at about 1:00 am.
October 7, 2006
I got up early and went out to the balcony to see the sun rise. It was a pretty and got some really good shots. Then showered and got ready and went down to meet with the person from Coral Gables. She got there about 9:00 am and we drove over to a local Starbucks and had coffee and talked about the project. Back in the hotel about 9:45. Mikku and Bebo were still getting out of bed. I went down to the beach and rented the chairs and the umbrella for the day (very expensive - $30.00) and sat and read a book on the beach. Quite the perfect day for the beach with lots of sunshine and a mild breeze and it was not too warm. About 11:00 we all went and ate a really greasy breakfast in the hotel's breakfast room (we had to pay extra for this). Being one of the cheapest hotels in the area, it was a little run down and ill kept. We then all went to the beach and Bebo entered the water around 11:30 am. Mikku and I sat under the umbrella and occasionally went into the water. Around 1:30 I walked over to the restaurant by the hotel (turned out to be an English pub kind of place) and had a couple of drinks and ordered food. It took a while but eventually got the food to the beach and we all sat and ate on the beach. We then hung around there till about 4:30 (which meant Bebo was in the water for about 5 hours) and got back to the room. Showered and cleaned up and then went out along the strip for dinner. Found a Middle Eastern restaurant and had dinner. That was quite expensive too. Back to the hotel after a stroll on the beach which looked excellent in the full moon night and in bed to get ready for an early morning flight the next day.
October 8, 2006
We had an early start from the hotel. The morning wake up call did not work, but we were up. Went downstairs and got a cab driven by a guy from Pakistan. We were at the airport in good time for the 7:10 am flight. The flight was delayed out of Miami and we got into Atlanta in barely enough time to change planes. Were able to pull it off in spite of a gate change. Got into Raleigh in time. Went off to Tower restaurant for lunch and then to the temple. Spoke to the priest and headed back home. Back by about 4:00 to pick up Snowy.
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