Dear Family and Friends,
One of the unintended benefits of writing this annual letter and creating the card is the opportunity to look backward and count my blessings. This year, I left home on December 3 and traveled to Peru for a two-week journey with my daughter Rosa. In 1988 and 1989, when I traveled to Peru as an adoptive mom, I was presented with a tiny baby the morning after arrival. It hampered my ability to do more than explore my immediate surroundings (more about that below), and this time I was able to travel freely and really see the amazing country where Sam and Rosa come from.
Instead of telling you everything about my year, I'm mostly going to write about my trip. I'm so lucky to have seen what I saw and do what I did. If you don't want to hear about the trip, skip to the bottom.
December 3-6: Lima
I didn't actually get to Lima until midnight December 4, due to missing by minutes my connecting flight in Fort Lauderdale. The weather was a mess in New England, my flight from Boston took off 2 hours late, and there I was in Fort Lauderdale with the next flight not for 24 hours. Andy found me a great hotel, and while I didn't want to be there especially, I enjoyed my stay at the TRYP Windham. It was really nice! And expensive! The next afternoon I went back to the airport, got on my flight to Lima, which was on time, got my stuff, got my ride with Walter of Gringo Taxi.
We did touristy things around Miraflores and Barranco areas, had some great meals (Edo Sushi! Amazing. Ceviche - great stuff!) We visited the wonderful Amano Pre-Colombian Textile Museum. I wanted to go there because my mom would have loved it, and I recommend it even if you aren't my mom.
I had arranged to visit an Arpillera workshop, but the plans disintegrated. We did get to visit with the woman who had arranged it and to pre-shop the bazaar they had planned for the weekend. If I ever go back to Lima, I will try again to visit a workshop. It's an art form that I fell in love with in 1988 and I can't get enough of it. I brought with me a box full of odds and ends - trim, stockings, sequins, beads, etc., to give to the workshop ladies, and I was able to deliver it. Maybe my trim and stuff will start to show up in their work.
Another fun stop was El Cacaotal - a coffee and chocolate shop, run by a US ex-pat archaeologist named Amanda and a Chilean-born chocolate specialist named Felipe. They are as serious about the coffee and chocolate as wine connoisseurs are about terroir. It was really fun to try the different chocolates from various areas of Peru.
December 7 - 8: Cusco
Early on Saturday we took Gringo Taxi to Lima's Jorge Chavez Aeropuerto for an 8:30 flight to Cusco. From Sea Level to 3,399 meters above sea level - or 11,152 feet. It's a dramatic change and I had come prepared, or so I thought. We checked in at the Cusco Bed & Breakfast, a family-run hotel managed entirely by women, all sisters and cousins. They say if you want something done right, ask a busy woman to do it. These women are proof that it's absolutely correct.
We explored Cusco for a couple of days, in order to acclimate to the elevation, and also because it's a fascinating city. The Conquistadors leveled what they could of the old Inca and pre-Inca city, but they could not eradicate all of it, and they failed to extinguish the culture and spirit of the people, which changed, evolved, and mutated to survive. Architecture is one thing - but people are another. There is a really strong movement to local, organic farm-to-table, fueled no doubt by the tourist industry. And the food is delicious and beautiful, and it mostly is safe to eat. Click here to see a photo of me trudging uphill on my first day in beautiful Cusco.
Walking past the Cathedral on the way to our lunch at Organika, we heard organ music: Mendelssohn's Wedding March. We popped in and sure enough, there was a wedding going on and the organ was shaking the whole building. It gave me chills. After lunch, we climbed up to the San Cristobal overlook, to see the city. On Sunday we took a 3-hour 'free' walking tour. They are very careful to inform you that tips are expected at the end of the 'free' tour. It was really good, and even though I am about 100 years older than everyone else on the tour, I managed to survive all the way through.
December 9 - 11: Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu
Monday morning we took the early train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the town which exists to serve all the travelers visiting Machu Picchu. It's a cute place. You must walk through the tourist market in order to get to the town, smart! It was a five minute walk to our hotel, Gringo Bill's. It's a pretty funky place that feels like it's been pasted together from random parts. Our 'suite' was up several flights of stairs, leaving me gasping, and really was a room with an attached porch that had been made into a dormitory. The bathroom was full of surprises, with a leaky shower and a crazy jacuzzi tub that sprayed water everywhere.
We got the first bus to Machu Picchu on the morning of December 10, arriving around 6 am. Rosa found our guide Jacqui, and we were among the last of the first round of visitors. This meant that we were more or less alone, not among a throng, and could proceed in a relaxed way.
I can't find the words to describe the experience of visiting Machu Picchu. It is a magical site. The place, the structures that are still there hundreds of years later, the care that the Peruvian people have taken to preserve it, the story of how and why it was built, how and why it was abandoned (Conquistadors), and how it was re-discovered are all part of the fascination I feel for the place. Click here to see a small selection of my photos from Machu Picchu.
We spent the remainder of the day in Aguas Calientes and took the train back to Cusco the next day. We had dinner in Cusco, visited the King of Maps which is also a chocolate shop, and took it easy.
December 12 - 14: On the Belmond Andean Explorer, Cusco to Arequipa
On Thursday we checked out of Cusco B&B again, and boarded the Belmond train for a most exquisite trip through the highlands to the southern city of Arequipa. I have always liked trains, but this one set the bar for train travel in the stratosphere. The train itself is beautiful, built in Australia. The cabins are as comfortable as I imagine a train cabin can be. Of course, I had the fanciest: the "Suite". In addition to the sleeping cars, there is a piano bar car, a dining car, a galley car, a spa car, an observation car which also has a bar, and an open-air caboose for fresh-air 270 degree viewing. You can see photos of the train here.
Apart from the luxurious train, and the friendly staff ready to help with every little thing, we traveled three days through the Peruvian Altiplano, a place of endless variation and beauty. We visited the Raqch'i ruins and watched the sun rise over Lake Titicaca, above 4,000 meters above sea level, or over 14,000 feet. The second day was an all-day boat trip onto the lake, with visits to a the Uros people on a floating island, and a visit to Taquile Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At about this point the elevation really started to get to me, so I didn't participate in the next day's activity which involved a hike to some caves. I stayed on the train and marveled at the landscape.
As the train gradually descends to Arequipa, it drops about 7,000 feet in elevation. We reached Arequipa mid-afternoon on the third day, took a taxi to our hotel, and got our bearings.
December 15 - 16: Arequipa
We explored Arequipa a bit on Saturday evening, and then more completely on Sunday. It's known as the "White City", from the white or pink volcanic stone that was used to build it. Only 17 km from the city is an active volcano, Misti, and her fellow volcanoes which dominate the view. We started out on another 'free' walking tour, but the guide was so bad that we jumped ship as soon as his back was turned and went back up to the city center. Good thing we did. We were doing a little tourist shopping while waiting for the Puku Puku coffee shop to open, and a parade went by. It was about 15 minutes long, and groups of dancers, bands, and fantastic costumes that resembled New Orleans' Mardi Gras Indians as much as anything else. What they were celebrating is still a mystery to me - but it was one of the coolest things I saw in Arequipa.
After the parade, and then a coffee at Puku Puku, we walked to Mundo Alpaca, which turned out to be almost as cool as the parade. They have a few alpacas in a nice little pen, with grazing and shade; a "Noble Fiber Museum", a Machine Museum, a backstrap weaving demonstration by a woman whose mother taught her when she was 8 years old, all of it carefully explained and lovingly displayed. I didn't take many photos, but visit their website and you will see how cool it is. They also have a luxury shop with many lovely products.
December 16 - 17: Back to Lima
On Monday we flew back to Lima. After checking in at our hotel, the Ibis Reducto Miraflores, we did a few errands, had an empanada at the San Antonio cafe across the street, and then paid a visit to the Hostal Seņorial, which is the hotel I stayed at in 1988 and 1989 as a new mom. One of my favorite people from back then, Filomeno, was at the desk when we walked in. The placed has expanded and changed considerably, and is quite chic these days. Being there took me back to those days and I realized that a good part of my fondness for Lima and for the experiences I had back then had to do with how well I felt cared for by the staff. I'm sure they wondered why we didn't stay there this time - but I think I might have melted down entirely if we had.
We ate again at Edo Sushi, Japanese/Peruvian fusion Sushi. There are several around Lima, and if you like sushi, don't miss going to one.
Tuesday morning, December 17, Rosa left very early for a trip to the jungle. I had the whole day to myself, so I took a couple of long walks. I walked to the John F. Kennedy Park, where there was a wonderful display of photos of women around the world; and then on to the Indian Market which we had missed on our early gallop through Lima. Later on I walked to the beach, then back to the Ibis, where I packed up and got ready to go back to the airport for my flight home. What a splendid trip.