Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | August 16, 2018

Peru-ving Myself A Traveler Again: Entry #6

It’s been two days since I wrote because, as previously mentioned, I spent nearly a full day on the bus on the way back to Cusco, and then yesterday I basically needed some decompressing time so didn’t venture very far. The bus ride wasn’t bad – it was a double decker bus and for the first time ever, I was on the top floor. The seats were big and comfy, too, so I basically dozed the entire way back. Considering my cold, more sleep is probably not a bad thing at all.

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I got to eat a lovely Peruvian meal in the centre of that balcony!

I was picked up at the bus station and, thanks to the excellent service of Machu Picchu Latin America tours, was able to fetch my stored bag at the Midori and move to my new hotel, Esplendor. Midori is lovely and I would have stayed longer, but it was booked by the tour company so I had no idea where to stay and used Booking.com to find Esplendor. It’s a lovely hotel, a little bit further from the central area than the Midori but still well within walking distance. I have a lovely king bed and the room is fairly spacious and the courtyard has a fountain. It is also quiet, which I like.  After getting my stuff put away, I asked the nice staff member at the desk for a restaurant recommendation, and she directed me to La Feria, where I had excellent Peruvian food. I was brought a complimentary broth for a starter, then my main course was chicken skewers with potato and salad. All very delicious. I had a beer with dinner, seated in the balcony overlooking the Plaza Des L’Armas, and it was lovely, but the lemonades my neighbours were drinking also looked super tempting.

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A lovely Plaza with a lovely fountain I wanted to dance in.

 

After that it was back to the hotel to crash.  I got up in time to catch the free breakfast, and it was very good, with lots of things to choose from. Then I went back to the room to chill for a bit, before heading out to the square to wander for a few hours.  I had hoped to just find a quiet bench to read and nearly did, but everyone is in business in Cusco, and people keep approaching to show their art or jewelry or weaving. I’m not rude about declining, but it gets exhausting.

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My beautifully-plated bruschetta, which was even more delicious than it looks!

Instead, I found my way to Uchu, a Peruvian steakhouse some of the members of the group I was in for Machu Picchu mentioned. They weren’t open yet, so I got to sit and read in their courtyard before ordering a delicious and beautifully presented lunch. I started with a bruschetta made with mango and peppers and cream cheese and deliciousness. Then I had the alpaca steak with salad and crispy potatoes (you can choose from the kind of meat as well as a few sides). The dish comes on a hot volcanic rock at medium rare, so you can cook your steak to your liking on it. While I normally like medium rare, I found alpaca tastes better closer to well done. And dipped in the excellent sauces that come with it – a garlic one, and two levels of spicy that I could both eat! I definitely enjoyed my meal.

After that, I had to go to the bathroom and didn’t feel like finding the public washrooms, so I walked back to the hotel. I chilled some more in my room before taking advantage of the hot tub in the Esplendor courtyard. Not all the jets work but it still was lovely.

I was supposed to have a Shaman come to give a blessing as part of my tour the next day, but unfortunately he was delayed with other group members. The tour group, Travel and Health, got a hold of me a little late, but they did kindly reschedule though after my trip today.  They also confirmed my ungodly hour pickup (3:50 a.m.) so I called room service, at dinner, and went to bed to try to get as much sleep as possible. The room is comfortable and the king bed is cozy, so that helped.

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Believe it or not, this Canadian had to take off her jacket AND sweater even faced with this climate!

At the scheduled hour, my little tour bus arrived and I bundled myself into all my sweaters and napped, since we had to drive nearly three hours to our breakfast location. Funnily enough, that was about the only time I needed my warm clothes – even in the mountains, since the sun was warm, I actually found it hot.  Breakfast was nice, some fruit and yogurt and a hot soup, plus bread and jam. And coca tea, of course! Then we made our way another hour up to the starting point for going to the Rainbow Mountain.

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My horseman, Sirilo, and my horse Negro. Not pictured: my sore legs!

Now I am fat and no longer in good shape, so I chose to take a horse there and back.  There was no way I could walk several kilometres at 5000 and upward metres. I’d paid in advance, but there was some confusion I think and I had to pay the horseman at the top, but the guide reimbursed me at the end, so it all worked out. I would definitely recommend taking cash just in case – with so many people with different plans, and a horseman in a rush to get more customers, you can’t always guarantee that your guide will be with you when the time comes to pay.

They can’t take you all the way up to the Rainbow Mountain, so I did have some high altitude walking to do. I took it very slowly (and my guides checked in on me a lot and loaned me a walking stick, I think because my cold meant I was raspy and panting and making things sound worse than they actually were). I did have a few moments of dizziness, but I just stopped and took in air and carried on, slowly.

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Rainbow Mountain, in all it’s colourful glory.

The view was totally, totally worth it. Breathtaking in a whole other way. And I even climbed a little higher up the mountain peak opposite (halfway, not to the top, because I know my limits) to get a good photo. It’s spectacular.  Truly amazing.

After that, there was a bit of a walk down then a horse ride back to the point where the tour bus was. I have to admit, I was scared of falling off a lot on the way down, as my legs were already tired from gripping the horse on the way up, and there’s definitely a feeling of less control. But I didn’t fall off the horse (though I did come close once but managed to catch myself until the horseman could steady me) or the mountain, so wins all around.

We had some time at the starting point where I used the bathroom (or the squat toilets, not a huge fan) then picked up the half of the group who went the long way back as part of their package through the red valley (I didn’t know about it, so I can’t tell you anything about it), though it wasn’t too long. We had lunch at the same restaurant as before, a lovely buffet. Then it was another few hours in a warm bus (the A/C was on but not particularly effective) before getting dropped off at the Plaza Des L’Armas to walk back to the hotel because traffic was too crazy to get us to our hotels directly.  I was going to go in the hot tub again, but was too tired! Instead, I chilled until the Quescan Shaman arrived.

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Bonus Rainbow Mountain photo because it is just so gorgeous.

It was a lovely little blessing ceremony, just in the hotel lobby. I was given some fragrant water to run on my hands, then pat on my face and body. Then I was given some coca leaves to press to my heart.  The shaman then said some blessings using a pillow with sacred flowers and other items related to the land inside. It was very lovely, and I am glad I participated. Bringing this Andean blessing ceremony is also good for the community the Shaman (his name was Raoul) comes from, as a way of contributing to their economy. The tour group Travel and Healing that I booked with does this deliberately, as one of their ways to give back.

By the time the blessing was done, it was nearly 8 p.m. I decided on another room service night, since it is inexpensive and also I’m not sure my legs would be willing to carry me as far as a restaurant, let alone back. Tomorrow I’ll venture out a little bit with a couple of goals in mind. One, get one of the inexpensive massages that is on offer (I’ve already checked out the place and it is clean and the massage therapist has a certificate on her wall so not totally sketchy). Two, find another restaurant that was recommended. And three, chocolate. Delicious Peruvian chocolate.

 

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Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | August 13, 2018

Peru-ving Myself a Traveler Again: Entry #5

I’m sitting in my cozy room in the Intiqa Hotel in Puno after a great day on Lake Titicaca. I woke up earlier than my alarm this morning, and was up every few hours in the night. Nothing to do with the hotel room – honestly, it’s comfortable and quiet and I don’t know what the blanket on the bed is made of, but it may be the softest thing I’ve ever touched. No, I woke up every few hours to blow my nose, because I definitely have caught a cold.  It makes it doubly hard to breathe at this altitude, but I made it.

My transfer came to pick me up and take me to the port for around 8 o’clock, where I made my way across a few boats to get to mine, a bit of a tricky feat if not for the helpful skippers on each who helped us step across. Then we were on our way on Lake Titicaca for our first stop, one of the Uros floating islands. They are very cool man-made islands, created by lashing together blocks of soil held together with reed roots, then more reeds stacked and restocked on top to keep above the water.

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Floating islands made of reeds, boats made of reeds, and yes, they let me row it!

We spent a little time with the families on the island, as well as some on the boat made of reeds (with empty bottles inside for floatation). It was very lovely to be on the water in the sun, and my vigilance with the sunscreen and shade seems to have paid off.  We learned from our guide, Alex, not only about how the islands were created, but also about Lake Titicaca itself, which is a salt water lake and the name means “Puma Stone” as the shape resembles a puma, he said, at least if you “use your imagination (or drink a lot of Pisco Sour”).

After that, we were back on the water again to another of Uros Islands for a quick stop where I paid 1 sol to have my passport stamped and grabbed a bit of bread for a snack. Then it was back on the boat toward the Island of Taquile, which is on the bigger part of the lake. It was about an hour and a half, and I’ll admit I napped most of it. At Taquile, we walked up, up, up for 15 to 20 minutes in the hot sun. Between not being able to breathe through my nose and the altitude, I fear I sounded quite pitiful, and it is a bit embarrassing to be passed by the local men carrying heavy loads on their back, but I wasn’t the only one breathing heavily and I took comfort in that, and in making it to the top. There, we got to drift around the square and see local handicrafts, as the Taquila people are known for their weaving.

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The women will weave for five to six hours in a day. Beautiful, intricate work, though hard on the back!

After that break, there was a little more walking to where we were treated to a textiles demonstration and a delicious lunch. There was bread with some spiced onions and tomatoes to put on top and quinoa soup, followed by the choice of omelette or trout. I normally don’t like a lot of fish, but though I should give it a try and am so so glad I did! It was incredibly delicious, with the salt and spice it was cooked in.

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Beautiful views like this were a reward for taking the long walk to the next harbour!

After lunch, the group had the option of taking the long way to the harbour by foot, or returning down to the boat and taking it to meet the rest of the group. If you guessed that I took the shortcut… you’d lose whatever you wagered. No one else in the group was going to do it, and I’d done Machu Picchu, so I pressed on. It was a long walk – a good forty minutes – but most flat or downhill, so I did just fine, though I did have to take it slowly and my knees weren’t too happy with me. After that, we were back on the boat to Puno. I reapplied my sunscreen and let it sit for 20 minutes then made my way to the top of the boat, where I sat the rest of the journey until we had to come in to go to the port, letting the wind and spray hit me. It was perfect.

After that, it was back to the hotel by taxi through insane traffic (and roads seem to be a bit of a guideline here), where I rested a bit before heading to dinner at a place called La Casona, which had a good Trip Advisor score. It was very good, though I was less adventurous with this meal. I had a margarita pizza and a glass of wine, then a Dulce de Kiwicha (amaranth) for dessert. It was marvellous – as was the starter bread I got, for that matter. Now it’s off to bed soon and then back to Cuzco by bus tomorrow.  There likely won’t be an entry tomorrow as a result – I’m heading back the way I came and with fewer stops alone the way. And I’m not sure what I’ll get up to the next day, but hopefully just as wonderful!

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | August 12, 2018

Peru-ving Myself A Traveler Again: Entry #4

For someone who spent a good part of today napping on the bus between stops on the way to Puno, I am pretty tired. This Peru adventure has been go, go, go… which is not a bad thing. Just a tiring thing, and of course the medicine I take for motion sickness, harder breathing from the altitude combined with a cold I seemed to have picked up mean I have a little less energy to spare. But I still have energy (and coca candy to supplement) so it’s all good.

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Some of the scenery from the bus window that I didn’t nap through.

I checked out of the Midori Hotel this morning, and they kindly are storing my big suitcase for me until my return on Monday. My ride arrived at 6:10 a.m., so it was another early day. Then I was boarding the Cusela tour bus with Maro the driver and Juan Carlos the knowledgable guide.  We departed at 6:45 a.m. for our first stop about an hour from Cusco, where we visited San Pedro Apóstol de Andahuaylillas Church, also known as the Sistine Chapel of the Andes.  It is gorgeous, with a baroque and Andean style baroque ceiling that shows you where the church expanded once they began preaching in Indigenous languages, with new art over older frescos. It is very gorgeous, complete with gold plated altar pieces, incredibly ornate overall.  You aren’t allowed to take photos, but they gave us a CD of them as part of the tour, though those will have to wait until I’m home to get, as my laptop doesn’t take CDs.  In the meantime, I can direct you to the World’s Monument Fund to get an idea of what it looks like inside. (I also bought a cute knitted sweater with Alpacas since I was cold on the bus, and it was only 40 soles!)

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The remains of a temple at Raqchi.

From there, it onward to Raqchi, an Incan archeological site, from the Wiracocha period. One of the things I learned on this trip is that Inca was the title of the leader, not the people, even though we now commonly call this ancient people “Incas”.  Of course, by then I didn’t need the sweater though I certainly needed the sunscreen I’d doubled up on. The sun is hot here. I’m trying to avoid more sunburn. We’ll see – it’s hard to apply on my own, though I’m doing my best.

Our next stop was not far from Raqchi, just a nice restaurant where we ate at a buffet. Unfortunately, nothing is really labeled so I can’t go into the neat traditional desserts I tried, including some sort of purple sauce on fruit (I think made from the black corn from which Chicha Morada is made) and something similar to rice pudding except it was definitely a different kind of grain, a bit fatter and rounder but no less delicious.

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The beautiful, snow-capped mountains that can be seen from La Raya.

From there is was onward to La Raya for a photo opportunity and yet another shopping stop. I did my duty and picked up a cute souvenir for my niece and nephew even though they got one already. We then went to a small museum of pre-Incan artifacts in Pukara (though no photos there either) and I had time to grab a delicious latte made with Peruvian coffee beans before it was back on the bus and onward to Puno.

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Some of the buildings along the way.

Though I missed part of the scenery napping on the way, I did see lots. It really is very beautiful here, with the mountains. There is also a lot of poverty, and I’d be remiss not to mention it.  It hurts the heart a little, to hear the plaintive cry of a older woman on the church steps just calling for “Papa, Mama” to put something in her hat. To see how differently some people live here, how hard they clearly work. But there is also happiness and playfulness and of course great beauty.

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A woman works in a field along the road to Puno from Cusco.

Tomorrow I get to boat on Lake Titicaca, and have two nights in a row in the same hotel, to which I’m very looking forward.  I like how much I’m seeing, but it is also nice to have a base camp. I’m staying in the Intiqa Hotel. I can hear machinery or something outside from the window facing out into the street area, but other than that, this place seems quite quiet so far. The bed is a double and comfortable, and there’s not just a shower but a bathtub. I’m not spending as much time in the room having down time as planned because, in true Starfish fashion, I managed to get turned around and had a hard time finding my way back to my hotel after a lovely dinner at a restaurant called Giorgio, where I had an alpaca steak which was delicious.

But now it’s the time to crawl into bed, I think, and get some good sleep for more climbing tomorrow. Did I mention I’m in Puno, where it’s more than 3,800 metres above sea level, so greater than in Cusco even? No? Well it is. So more adjusting to do – and more excuses for coca candies!

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | August 11, 2018

Peru-ving Myself A Traveler Again: Entry # 3

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Why yes I did walk all the way up those stairs to the sun temple. 

I’m back in Cusco at the lovey Hotel Midori, which has internet access enough to do a post. I’m not sure how coherent it will be – I had a Pisco Sour at dinner and it hit me like a freight train. There’s also been so much activity crammed into a such a short amount of time, and I’m bagged!

Yesterday was my trip to the Sacred Valley, where I joined a lovely group and visited Pisaq and Ollantaytambo, a couple of ancient sites, as well as a few shopping sites along the way, including a place where there was a short silversmithing demonstration.  The altitude and my lack of physical fitness meant I didn’t go too far up at the first site, but I still pushed myself. In the Incan archeological site  Ollantaytambo, I went all the way up to the sun temple with the group, some 230 odd stairs up. I’m very proud of myself. I also got a wicked sunburn and am much less proud of myself for that.

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On a foggy day, one can’t see much-u picchu.

After that, my group caught a train to Aguas Calientes, the access point to Machu Picchu. The train was running a little late so we didn’t arrive until about seven pm, but the chia seed cookies offered by Inca Rail were divine. I grabbed some water and snacks for the next day, and a light dinner of quinoa tabouleh at a restaurant whose name I don’t remember and was fine but not excellent. Then it was back to the Hatun Samay where I decided I should hit the sack since my pick up was for 5:30 a.m. The hotel is a little more run down than the Hotel Midori where I’m staying in Cuzco, but it was clean and fairly quiet, minus a few voices in the stairwell incidents.

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The fog partly lifts, giving Machu Picchu a mystical, magical air.

Today, it was 5:30 to walk to the queue for the bus for Machu Picchu. It was raining and the poncho I’d bought came in handy (though honestly I thought the woman had said coca leaves and bought it by mistake) as the wait for the bus was about an hour. Then it was a windy road to Machu Picchu by bus for a half hour. The roads are so narrow that sometimes two busses can’t pass one another and one has to back up to a wider spot!

Machu Picchu was wet and foggy when we got there, but our guide, Erik, was very knowledgable and the fog lifted a little thought the morning, casting the site in a mystical sort of spell. Like the Sacred Valley, it too has many stairs, but I made it and I even walked up to a second temple even though I could have stayed behind with a couple other members of the group. I am quite proud of myself for that! The site was beautiful, and I would definitely recommend going, and I say that even though I slipped on some steps and went down on a metal grate. No blood shed, thankfully, though I did joke that there had almost been another human sacrifice.

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Llama! BABY LLAMA!

After meandering out (and saying hello to the llamas), I took a bus back to Aguas Clients, where I found myself kind of hustled into another not really memorable restaurant with the exact  same menu as the night before. I had the quinoa soup, and it was not nearly as good as the one I’d had at Incanto (nor really what the menu advertised).  I did get to write and send off my postcards, though!

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Different plants, minerals and insects create these awesome colours of wools. The baby alpaca wool is so soft, guys!

After that, it was a train back to the Ollantaytambo station, where I was picked up with two members of the group and driven by car back to Cuzco. We even stopped at a little market and got a very cool demonstration of how textiles are made by hand, from shaving the wool, washing it with a root from the jungle, spinning it, dying it, weaving it… My favourite was the red made by crushing a beetle or bug of some sort that lives in the cacti around the area. I even bought a cute tam in the colour.

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A Peruvian woman in traditional dress, with an alpaca. You can tell it is an alpaca because it is SO FLUFFY.

I had dinner at Incanto again because it was so great and I was too tired to check out something new (to the point the KFC looked tempting). It was wonderful, from the quick service despite my lack of reservation, the food (I had chicken stuffed with prosciutto and Andean cheese, like a Peruvian version of chicken cordon bleu with a side of creamy pasta) and the aforementioned Pisco Sour. I’m not sure what Pisco is, other than delicious, but it is kicking my behind!

Then it was back to the hotel to blog and change out my suitcase so I can take just the carryon to Puno tomorrow and have my big bag stowed. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s adventure – and to sleep. So many stairs over the past two days! SO MANY STAIRS.

 

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | August 9, 2018

Peru-ving Myself A Traveler Again: Entry #2

Though I wasn’t yet in Peru at the time of my last entry, after many days and airports and planes and a few hiccups, I have arrived in Peru. I am currently sitting on my bed in my cozy and cute room at the Midori Hotel in Cuzco, not far from the main square. But let me rewind a moment to how I got here.

From Calgary, I flew to Texas on Monday, where I arrived, got my bags, got checked into my hotel and quickly change so I could call myself an Uber (for the very first time) and make my way from Humble (where the airport is located) into Houston proper. There, I met up with a friend from my University of Edinburgh days. Katie suggested we meet at Picos, a “Tex Mex (Texan Mexican) Houston institution”, and I’m very glad we did. We an excellent catch up over fajitas and margaritas, since we hadn’t seen each other in person since September 2005! It was lovely to meet up and I definitely hope we get a chance to visit again in future!

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The busy main square in Cuzco, surrounded by mountains.

As ever when I have a plane to catch, sleeping becomes difficult, and I had to get up early to be at the airport for six.  I’d upgraded myself to business class for the leg to Cancun, so I had a nice breakfast and lots of room, but it wasn’t a super long flight and I didn’t manage to sleep. And then came the hiccups. I got to Mexico and filled out my little entry and exit form, but then it got lost, likely while my bags were being searched (I think my sunscreen looked like undeclared alcohol on the scanner or something.) But I didn’t find this out until I’d raced to find a shuttled only to be told the shuttle to my terminal had just gone and I was cutting it close on the three hour check in between countries. I let myself get hustled into a $50 US ride that did not, as advertised, take me 20 minutes to get to the terminal. It took five. I’m not sure if it is because of airport transport rules (only one company is allowed, not regular cabs) or whether I just was had, because that seems very steep. Regardless, the best was yet to come – I couldn’t check in without the exit form, lost somewhere in the other terminal.  My stress levels shot through the roof.

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A fun fountain in the square

Fortunately, replacing it was actually fairly easy, though the tiny slip of paper cost me another $32 US. And, as my lovely friend the Dolphin Whisperer has said to me a few times before, sometimes the cheapest way to pay for something is with money. Between the heat of the day, the lack of sleep, the adrenaline crash, though, by the time I was through security and waiting at my gate (for a good hour, so there wasn’t a need for a rush), I felt miserable. I got by on ginger chews I’d stashed to stave off altitude sickness nausea and a bottle of water until I was finally in the plane, but by then my body had completely stopped regulating my temperature properly. I spent most of the flight from Cancun to Lima melting ice against my skin to try to cool down.

Arriving in Peru was a little better, though my bag was one of the last off the plane so I had a moment of worry there. But it came, so I happily patted it and booked it to check it in before heading to the airport hotel, fortunately right across the street, to the chagrin of the 10 or so people who asked if I needed a taxi. It was 10 o’clock by that time, and I had only four hours before I had to get up. I had to decline the complimentary drink at the hotel (Wyndam Costa Del Sol). It’s expensive but very nice and well worth it for the convenience alone. I’ve booked it again for the way back, and hopefully will get at least twice the sleep of this round, because it took me forever to fall asleep even though the room was cool and comfortable. Some of it was the honking (right across from the airport has its drawbacks too) but mostly it was nerves and not being able to cool down.

Fortunately, my check in to Cuzco went fairly smoothly, and I was able to nap on the plane so I wasn’t a complete wreck once greeted by Fredi of Machu Picchu Latin America Tours at the airport: part of the package of my tour was airport pickup. Fredi had been in contact and kindly booked me an extra day at the Midori Hotel, so after eating some of the breakfast I crashed for a few blissful hours before getting up and doing a little (slow) exploration around the city square. I’d had my coca leaf tea with breakfast and was feeling pretty good about the altitude and breathing, but didn’t want to push it.

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It’s just so pretty here, and so different from home.

Guys, Cuzco is so beautiful, I felt like crying for some reason. From the buildings rising up the mountain side to the incredible architecture – it’s so gorgeous. I wish I could describe it better, but I’m still not at 100% and feeling jet lagged despite being out just one timezone because of the mess I made of my sleep pattern this week. I went through a really beautiful church with a huge carved altar. No pictures allowed, unfortunately, so you’ll just have to take my word it is worth the 10 soles (roughly three Canadian dollars) entry fee to walk around the Iglesia De La Compañia De Jesús. After that, I had some soup (a quinoa broth with egg and veggies) at Incanto, did a little more exploring around the square, then went back to the hotel to drink more coca tea. I chilled here for a bit before making my way to dinner at Ceviches where I ate – you guessed it – ceviche. It was very, very good. I didn’t finish my plate (or my bowl of soup earlier, for that matter) as jet lag (or whatever this is) tends to throw my appetite off, but it was very good, as was the Chicha Morado I had at both places. It’s a purple corn-based drink, at it was delicious. I’ll be sure to try some of the other local drinks at some point, but for now I’m sticking with the non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated to help keep from getting altitude sickness. Cuzco is nearly 3400 metres above sea level, and I definitely felt it tonight walking back up the hill after dinner.  It will take a day or two to get used to the difference in the oxygen, but so far it isn’t anything I can’t handle. And if there’s nausea and a bit of a headache, well… I’m actually pretty sure my flights did most of the damage. Still, I’m taking it slow and making sure to rest tonight as my body adjusts. I have to go to sleep soon anyway so I can  have breakfast before my pick up to head on the first tour bit of this adventure – onward to the Sacred Valley! But first, onward to dreamland!

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | August 6, 2018

Peru-ving Myself A Traveler Again: Entry #1

Despite what my title might suggest, I am not in Latin America – that is, not quite yet. Now that I’m more than settled into my condo and figured out what budget I need for homeownership, I felt ready to venture out farther than Canada on my own again. After hearing about Peru and Machu Picchu and the Rainbow Mountain, I felt compelled to make Peru my next big adventure.  Of course, Peru is very far from Yellowknife, and I’ve broken up my travel a bit, mostly on purpose (long story short, I now know how to book multi-destination flights on Priceline but not before accidentally clicking all the way through on a one way flight to Houston, so we’re taking an extra day. :D) It’s quite the trek I’m making of this trip, starting with a ticket to Calgary booked on points.

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Jonesey, Snort, and Howl look at the dark clouds rolling in on the river.

I arrived yesterday, then picked up a rental car and drove to Medicine Hat so I could visit with my very good friend who I’ll call Jonesey (a nickname from a play we did together). I adore Jonesey and wanted to get to know her boys “Snort” and “Howl” a little better, so even though I was running on five hours of sleep and had been up since 3:30 a.m., I picked up a rental car (a comfortable mid-size from Avis) and made my way to her lovely home. Her littlest guy wasn’t feeling well, so we stayed in, which was probably a good thing for me too – I barely made it through the delicious dinner Jonesey and her husband prepared before I had to crash. Both Snort and Howl outlasted me!

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Snort was scared at first, but then embraced feeding the horses.

I got more visiting in today, and Jonesey and the boys and I went on a little adventure to Echodale Park and the little rescue animal farm there is there while her husband stayed home since he is in the middle of building a deck onto the back of the house.  The boys were delighted by the animals, as was I, and we got in a bit of sunshine before the clouds rolled ominously in and we had to make haste to the car. We got in just before the downpour, but barely!  Then it was home for more visiting before I hit the road back to Calgary. I’m overnighting in the Sandman Hotel Calgary Airport. The bed is very comfortable, which is good, because I’m about to crash again. Tomorrow I fly to the Houston International Airport, and will maybe be meeting up with a former school who lives there.  But for now, I’m signing off, because I’ve still got some sleep to catch up on! I likely won’t blog tomorrow or the day after – because it’s pretty much all airports – but stay tuned for more down the road, especially once I actually make it to Peru!

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | December 15, 2017

Vancouver Island: Once More, Without the Stones #8

I have been home a few days now, but thought I would wrap up with a short entry about my last few days of vacation.  I left off on Saturday, with only vague plans for my Sunday. I started by doing a little Christmas shopping at some of the box stores that were open, looking for some gifts for people on my list. I found only a few, but knew I had most of my shopping done or planned for when I was home, so wasn’t too worried. I went back to my hotel for a while and vegged, then made myself go for a walk along this path behind the hotel rather than taking a nap, though I was tempted. It was a lovely saunter, though, so I’m glad I went. I got some lovely photos.

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Taking a stroll in Courtenay.

I ate at the White Spot again, in part because I just wanted hamburger and a short walk back. Then I went back to my room and wished that my holiday wasn’t over. The next morning, I drove in my rental to the airport in a heavy fog, which is not a metaphor.  It seems the universe heard my pleas, because my flight was cancelled. Rather than wait all day at the airport for a flight that might not get me out of Comox and then might not get home, I was rebooked for the next day. I called into work to take another vacation day, extended my rental car, then visited booking.com to see what my options were and scored another trip back to the Kingfisher Resort and Spa.

Given it was a few hours until check in, I did a bit more shopping on the main street area of Courtney, then made my way to the hotel. I got a bit turned around as the GPS seemed to think the address was down the highway the wrong way, but by four o’clock I was back in a room where I could see the ocean for one last day, plus try out one more of those fancy cocktails. The Sherry Cobbler is glorious, though I wish I could have found a way to eat the berries buried in the ice cubes without looking tacky. Next time!

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There’s no place like the ocean.

The next morning, Tuesday, was clear, so I made my way to my home, but not without a quick goodbye to the ocean. I know I’ll be back. I love it too much not to be. But it’s good to be home, too, even if I do have to go to work and not play and play all day. Until the next trip!

P.S. Upgraded myself to Plus seating on Westjet on the way home and it was wonderful, and not just because of the two Prosecco mini bottles I drank. I love having no one in the middle. Well worth the money to extend the holiday feeling a little longer!

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | December 10, 2017

Vancouver Island: Once More, Without the Stones #7

I didn’t write a post yesterday, because most of the day was spent on the road and then visiting with family, and by the time I got back to the hotel I was pretty bagged.  So today will cover two days!

Yesterday, we said goodbye to Ucluelet, and my parents and I made our way back along the winding road toward Courtenay.  The highway was really foggy, so it was a bit slow going, and it was a bit weird for me to be the one driving my parent for once, but kind of nice all the same. We stopped in Port Alberni for lunch/a break from the road, and I can’t quite remember the place name but it was something like The Turtle Cafe.  The food was good though I just had a salad.  I love eating salad down south – everything just tastes fresher!

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Beautiful, ethereal forest!

After Port Alberni, we stopped at Cathedral Grove.  It was a lot colder yesterday than it had been, but the dense fog made for a sort of magical atmosphere in the tall trees. I have no doubt it is also magical in the sun, and will have to verify in the the future. As it is, it is quite neat to be amongst such old, old tall trees.

A quick stop in Coombs after the Cathedral Grove was in order, where a few more Christmas gifts were purchased by my parents, and I bought a pastry called a Beesting, which is a glorious whipped cream and caramel concoction it took me two days to eat.  I also ran into a woman I know from Yellowknife; she and her husband used to live in my condo building until earlier this year, when they retired to Vancouver Island. It’s such a small world!

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In the absence of goats on the roof, I will be a stand in goat.

Courtenay was our next stopped, where we checked into the Holiday Inn Express. My aunt came to pick us up for dinner after work, and we went to Fresh Slice for some super inexpensive but delicious pizza of so many kinds. After eating dinner at her and my uncle’s home, my aunt took us out to look at the lights for a while, including a cool set at the Crown Isle Golf Resort, where they also take donations for the food bank as “admission”.  It was very lovely, though I finally have started to feel the chill, so was not able to stay out long!

Today was a little more shopping, first at a couple of craft fairs in Courtenay and Comox, then along 5th Street, the “main” street in Courtenay, including lunch at a pub where I had an excellent California Wrap. Shopping also included a stop at Hot Chocolates, where I cleared out the inventory of dark chocolate champagne truffles. I have about a dozen (plus another six in milk chocolate) which will be my New Year’s Eve treat.  They are my favourite, and I can’t get the good kind at home, just ones full of preservatives.  These I’ve popped in the fridge to stay until I leave, then into the freezer they’ll go to keep me from being tempted.

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Picture courtesy of Jenny Chartrand, Grey Owl Tattoo, who also did the art! Thanks again, Jenny, it is PERFECT!

After that, I went and got my tattoo on my ear coloured in at Grey Owl Tattoo, and also got to catch up with my friend Jenny (the tattoo artist and all around awesome person) while she did another tattoo, a gorgeous set of roses in grey-scale.  She’s about halfway done and it already looks amazing, so I can’t wait to see what she posts of the full work. Of course, I’m even more fond of my pretty little quill behind the ear. I also have to thank her for getting pictures for me – I can’t take my own given the location, though I did try and fail to do so in the mirror!

I had dinner at the White Spot after my tattoo, for proximity alone, a salad with candied salmon and beets. It was very good, and still left room for my Beesting leftovers!  Soon I’ll be off the internet and off to bed, to be well rested for my last day on the Island. It’s back home and back to work soon… but not yet. Not. Yet.

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | December 8, 2017

Vancouver Island: Once More, Without the Stones #6

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Sunrise on Terrace Beach

It was the perfect kind of low key day today, with enough sun and alone time to suit this introvert.  I started the day just before sunrise, creeping out after starting a pot of coffee to take pictures of the sun coming up on the beach. Then, after some coffee, my parents and I went to the Blue Room for breakfast, where I had a latte and a fisherman’s breakfast, which had eggs, hash browns, toast and ham, sausage, and bacon, which was awesome because I didn’t have to pick.

My parents went off to do some Christmas shopping (for me, I think, given the hints they dropped like anvils) while I gassed up the car and got a few groceries. They were content to walk home, so I got to do my daily walk on the Wild Pacific Trail.

 

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I climbed a tree!

I stuck to the coastal side this time; that is, I walked to the lighthouse along the coast and then back along the coast, even though it was longer, to get more time in with the ocean. It was lovely and sunny and warm today. I found my little cove again and debated taking a nap on a log, but thought that might be imprudent with the tide coming in.

I did a lot of soaking up the sun and picking about the rocks, though my ankle has been sore and stiff today.  I’m glad I did, because the ankle is probably always going to be a problem, but you don’t get to find a crab in a shell by sitting at home! (I was looking for a snail inside, but bravely took picture when I realized it was a tiny crab with scary spider-like legs.)

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I found a crab!

 

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Sunset on the beach

I came back to the cabin for a bit, as mom and dad were home with a treat, some apple cake, from the bakery. After a bit of down time, dad and I walked down to Little Beach to take pictures of the sunset. It is such a pretty little spot and so worth the glute workout you get walking up the hill from the cabins we’re staying at!

After that, I drove mom to pick up the Christmas letters she had printed (she’s finishing them here, where she’s got less outside pressures and stress) and mailed a few post cards, then we were back to make dinner.  Fortunately, not pasta this time!  We had barbecue chicken and rice and salad, followed by the blueberry pirogies I’d picked up in Coombs.

 

 

I’ve had my last soak in the hot tub, as we pack up tomorrow. I’m already sorry to see us go, even with the Cathedral Grove to look forward to tomorrow. It’s so beautiful here, and so restful, and so full of sunshine. At least I have another few nights on the Island before I have to go home to snow and cold!

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The view from our deck when the sun sets.

 

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | December 7, 2017

Vancouver Island: Once More, Without the Stones #5

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Sun and sea in my little cove.

So this will be a short entry, in part because I’m rather tired, especially after having to clear out a bunch of space in my iPhoto so I could import today’s photos. I’ve been shooting in raw files because I took a photo class and felt super fancy, but that apparently takes up more space than I thought about.  Hopefully going back to simply taking in .jpeg format will mean less sifting through and trying to delete enough and empty trash folders and crossing fingers going forward.

It was a bit of a lazy morning today, coffee and pancakes and a leisurely bath with a book, then a walk, partly with my mom then we kind of drifted off and did our own pace along the trail. The sun was just lovely and warm, and so I found a nice little cove poked away off the path and got some vitamin D and quiet time.

 

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I made friends with this bird too, even without breadcrumb bribes.

After our walks, we all came home and ate lunch. Dad and I finished off the leftover pasta. I am glad. It was good, but three days in a row is enough for me.

Then we went back to my lovely beach to watch surfers and the sunset.  I wore my swimsuit and shorts so I could wade without worry about getting wet.

 

 

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Surfers and sunset

 

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Goodnight, Tofino.

It was a little chilly, but not too cold to keep me from the ocean.  Once the sun was down, we had dinner at Shelter, a lovely pub-style restaurant in Tofino with excellent ambience. Mom, Dad, and I all had burgers and fries, and Dad also had the Caesar salad on the side, while I tried their Brussels sprouts, which are breaded and have cheese on them. Everything was fantastic.

Having spent over an hour in and out of the ocean, I was a bit chilly, so I warmed up in the hot tub when we got back, with a plastic cup of sparkling wine. I wish I’d brought my tripod, because the stars were phenomenal tonight. There must be so little light pollution and very clear skies here, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many starts at once. It was incredible.

I’m not sure what tomorrow will bring, except more happy oceanness.  I know I’ve said it before, but it bears saying again: I love, love, love it here.

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