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I Left My Heart in Peru, Lima–Part V

Lima was my first and last stop during my Peruvian trip.

During the drive from the airport to the hotel, the city unfolded before me. Or at least attempted to.

The fog was the thickest I’d ever seen in my life and when it did clear, harsh, barren landscapes saluted me before precipitously dropping towards the ocean. The stark scenery disoriented me after basking in the beauty that was Cuzco and Machu Picchu.

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Thankfully, 3B’s Hotel, which is a beautifully decorated place in the Barranco neighborhood, soothed my senses. When booking, I had no idea that Barranco was Lima’s bohemian, artsy area.

Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have stayed there if I had known. Though I’ve sometimes been described as one or the other, I’m not a fan of hipster/bohemian culture. I’m too much of a pragmatist and have no patience for glorifying suffering in the name of art.

After living in NYC for five years, I’ve decided that I like to write with an A/C blasting in the summer time, heat gurgling in the winter, and a full stomach in every season.

Yet there I was loving Barranco. There were musicians singing in the streets, plazas inviting people to lounge amidst their statues and greenery, and graffiti art adorning buildings.

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My first day in Lima I walked across The Bridge of Sighs, lunched at Songoro Cosongo, and made my way to Larcomar, a mall built right on the beach. After living with constant shortages in Venezuela, the mall amazed me. As an American fed on consumer culture, my astonishment at seeing fully stocked stores of clothes and the like was nothing short of ironic.

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The next day, Good Friday, saw me making my way to Plaza de Armas via De La Union street.

That was a mistake.

Because Holy Week worshippers combined with shop customers, crowds were everywhere.  De La Union reminded me of Brooklyn’s Fulton Street, and I’m a fan of neither place.

I was hot and beyond done with the hawkers selling everything from intricately braided palm fronds to tattoos. Permanent tattoos.

The day had a carnivalesque nature to it that I didn’t expect. For instance, even though the cardinal was giving mass in the cathedral people milled about inside snapping pictures and talking. The perpetually-present hawkers were there and I just wanted a calmer, less crowded experience. Eventually, I decided exploring the area was not feasible with the crowds, but I got lost trying to find the bus station.

Of course I got lost. I always get lost.

By the time I got back to 3B’s I just wanted some sleep and a meal.

And what a meal it would be.

After a crowded, hot day in Lima’s Plaza de Armas, my night was spent delighting in a meal at Huaca Pucllana. This restaurant, which is nestled up against ancient indigenous ruins, had me in love with its food. From the warm bread and butter to the fresh juice and paella with black rice, I enjoyed every bite, sip, taste, and smell.

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The soft rock music playing in the background took me back to my 90s childhood when Sunny 99.1 was all that played in my parent’s car.

Originally, I was seated in a corner that reminded me of Patrick Swayze’s famous line in Dirty Dancing “No one places Baby in a corner.”

I was a young, single woman in a restaurant full of couples and groups. I didn’t mind the corner seat, but I would be lying if I said it would’ve been nice to have a friend with me.

Then, without my prompting, the hostess came and moved me to her favorite table in the restaurant, right in front of the ruins. As I crossed the restaurant’s open floor plan I couldn’t help but smile inwardly.

Yes, I was a young, single woman.

And I was enjoying myself immensely despite the occasional pinches of loneliness.

Throughout the night I practiced my Spanish with the waiters (they inevitably asked me about Venezuela when curious as to how I learned Spanish) and ate.

Huaca Pucllana was my goodbye meal to a beautiful country, a vibrant food scene, and simple pleasures.

The next morning when I boarded my Avianca flight back to Venezuela I decided that I would have to break an old habit. I would have to learn how to return.

Just like I almost never re-read books (I can think of only two in my lifetime of reading), I’ve never made re-turn visits to countries I’ve visited in the past.

Peru, extraordinary Peru, will change that.

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I Left My Heart in Peru, Part IV-Cuzco and Lima

When I returned to Cuzco after visiting Machu Picchu it was in the middle of Holy Week.

While walking back to Greens Organic for another delicious meal, I stumbled upon processions that reminded me of medieval Europe. Men marched through the streets bearing ornate altars honoring Jesus and what I assumed was The Virgin Mary (head to my Instagram page to see a short video clip of the parade).

As the band played and the men in suits bore the heavy altars on their shoulders, I had to stop and honor the moment. Though I’m no longer Catholic, I respected and understood a community’s devotion to the point of physical pain. 

Shoulders must be bruised, backs aching, and limbs stiff after carrying such weight in the name of the Lord. One thing is for sure, religion has driven people to deeds of immense beauty and immense cruelty.

I decided that this parade was a moment of beauty.

I Left My Heart in Peru, Part III-Machu Picchu

I didn’t know the trek from Cuzco to Machu Picchu would be 4+ hours.

Traveling to the famed locale during the rainy season, I had to take a 90 minute bus ride, a two hour train ride, and then another 30 minute bus ride to reach the entrance.

And it was worth every minute.

20150331_084003As the beautiful and prompt Peru Rail train snaked through breathtaking natural scenery of river and forest, I couldn’t help but be in awe of the Inca’s archaeological feat.

Here we are in 2015 and it still takes 4+ hours to reach Machu Picchu. Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu Pueblo, the nearest town to the site, is inaccessible by car. In 2015.

Yet the Inca’s built a city in the mountains that continues to awe despite today’s airplanes, space shuttles, and deep sea exploration. Where would we be as a society if the Spanish conquistadors hadn’t destroyed Incan civilization and the knowledge that went along with it? 

Machu Picchu, considered one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, boasts of living quarters, religious sections, areas for science experiments and star gazing. The city opens up to wind breezes and contains religious symbolism to honor the gods. It is the City Upon the Hill that the Puritans wanted and the Incans created.

Though I went from wearing a sweater, to a poncho, to a shirt, to a jacket and scarf all within one visit thanks to temperamental weather, Machu Picchu entranced me. By the time I visited the small museum located about 15 minutes from Aguas Calientes, I was exhausted but still in awe (side note: I wouldn’t recommend touring Machu Picchu the same day that one arrives from Cuzco).

DSC04504The day closed with me shamelessly eating two entrees at The Tree House, a beautiful little restaurant tucked within Aguas Calientes. While working on my first helping of ravioli, I ended up chatting with an American father and daughter. They stroked my ego when they admitted they thought I wasn’t American because they heard me speaking only Spanish with my tour guide while in Machu Picchu (yes to language progress!).

That night as the river roared outside my hotel room window I couldn’t help but think I have to return. Peru is nothing short of magic, and Machu Picchu is the spell.

I Left My Heart in Peru, Part II

DSC04371I told myself I wasn’t going to do it, yet there I was getting harnessed into a contraption that would send me whirring Lord knows how many meters above canyons, gorges, rocks, and everything I said I wouldn’t be flying over.

I’ve gone skydiving in North Carolina (and turned down a second opportunity to do so in New Zealand), scuba diving in Australia, and rappelling in Venezuela. At this point, I figured I’ve tested my luck enough. I didn’t need to go zip lining in Peru.

But, of course, my girls wanted to go zip lining in Peru.

And, of course, I wanted to just hike and hang out with them one last time before they headed back to the States and I continued traveling alone.

My adamant “no,” to “I’ll hike while y’all zip line,” to “yes, I’ll zip line since I paid for it anyways,” to just “yes” has made me realize that some of the best experiences in my life have been from saying yes when I originally wanted to say no.

Zip lining an hour outside of Cuzco fits into this category.

Though my eyes watered as the cool air whipped my face and the whirring of the safety clip against metal cables had me praying every time I swung out on the line, I got to see magnificent views like this:

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Sheep trundled beneath me as I literally flew through the air Superman style (ok, ok…I only did Superman style once and it was in tandem with an instructor), the air smelled fresh–almost sweet–, and I felt at peace within the mountains. Peace, for me, is in the mountains and beaches.

20150330_145203Leaving nature’s embrace for a city lunch, the girls and I  ate on Marcelo Batata’s terrace until the rain ushered us inside. The view of baked orange rooftops  and church domes was breathtaking and made the laid-back lunch all the more special.

After the ladies left for the airport, I went to dinner at Limo. With a stunning view of La Plaza de Armas, I ate to my heart’s contentment. Limo was just one more reminder of Peru’s huge food culture, which was something I was not aware of before visiting the country.

The walk back to my hotel was stressful because La Plaza de Armas was packed with people for a Holy Week celebration. One could barely move.

Eventually, I managed to be back in my hotel room snuggled under the covers as…club music pulsed all night. My hotel was across the street from two night clubs, but no matter.

Tomorrow I would be boarding a train to visit one of the Wonders of the World.

Tomorrow I would be going to Machu Picchu.

I Left My Heart in Peru, Part I

The pig head dangling from the meat hook could easily have been a turn off for some Americans. DSC04307 This was my first full day in Peru, Cuzco to be exact, and I found myself in a large market where not only did animal heads hang from stalls, but cow tongues too. As my heart stopped for a second and the smells of life, death, and blood filled my nostrils, I realized I had come to a completely different culture, a completely different country. And I loved every second of it. Continue reading