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I've had Machu Picchu on my list for a long time so when a deal popped up on one of the many sites I'm signed up for, I grabbed it. This meant going on the first guided tour since my high school French class trip but it seemed like the easy way to do it esp. since it included RT air from Miami-Lima, two flights within the country, all hotels (quite nice ones too) w/ breakfast, 3 dinners, a couple lunches, most tours and endless bus rides. Plus it was nice to let someone else be in charge since I'm always the "travel agent". Timing worked out well for my friend from NY Susana (and former ZBC dj, back when they were good haha) so late March it was. Which is the beginning of fall in Peru but thankfully, the weather posed no problems even tho various sites said it'd be either ridiculously hot or raining all the time. There was a super hassle with a change in the return flight and dealing with American to reschedule the BOS-MIA portion that I'd cashed miles for which was a drag, but it all worked out and I flew 1st class for my first time. Planned it so I'd have some time in South Beach (FYI, don't assume you can check your bags if you arrive way earlier than your take off time) to check out the deco buildings. They're beautiful but the place itself is pretty annoying, esp. when the EDM fest "Ultra" is going on. And all the people drinking those tubs of cocktails with a beer poured in. I did check out one fancy bar, the Broken Shaker, and one dive bar on the list. Man, they were going hard at Max's Club Deuce at 4 in the afternoon. Grabbed a Cuban snack, stopped by a museum, took a bunch of photos, waited forever for the bus back to the airport then had to shell out $40 cash to take a cab back (really, Miami cabs don't take credit cards?). Thankfully I had it on me.
Met Susana at the airport and flew at midnight on LAN which was a pretty decent airline (until our return flight). Landed at 5:30AM, checked in for an hour sleep and a shower then a quick look around our neighborhood of Miraflores. Being a pedestrian in Lima is tough. Actually being a driver ain't so easy either, stop signs are in short supply. The record store on my list that was closeby unfortunately was no longer open and after getting a yummy lunch of pork sandwich and yucca fries, there wasn't much time until our first tour of the city. Saw the Huaca Pucllana pyramids, the gorgeous Iglesia de San Francisco and inside were these really cool catacombs which we couldn't take pictures of. There were 5 kids between the ages of 7-13 on the trip and this was esp. interesting for them. That nite we went to the "bohemian" section of town, Barranco, and the bar Santa Rosa overlooking the ocean for the first of many Pisco sours (http://southamericanfood.about.com/od/drinks/r/classicpiscosour.htm). This one sucked so bad, it was like a bad margarita and oh joy, it's 2 for 1. Then we couldn't find the recommended restaurant on my list but lucked out with a pretty good meal of grilled meat, potatoes and huge kernel corn. (We had to think about everything we ate having been informed to not eat unpeeled fruits and vegetables, drink only bottled water including brushing teeth, etc.) To add insult to injury, we couldn't find two bars that were supposed to be in the neighborhood or they were closed, sigh.
We flew out early then hopped on the first of many bus rides driving thru Cusco on our way to a special lunch in Chinchero where we had lots of dishes w/ more of that big kernel corn and the main attraction, guinea pig. Believe it or not, this is a delicacy but it tasted like shoe leather. After a weaving demonstration (more interesting than it sounds) and more time on the bus, we arrived at the Sacred Valley and muddy Urubamba. While some of the group went on a hike, I went back to the village to find the lady selling grilled items at the side of the road. I had what I think was basically a hot dog with a potato stuck at the end of a skewer but a friend heard that that's usually beef heart. I'm not convinced but I ate it with no repercussions. Bought a few souvenirs then we headed back to the hotel, which looked pretty shady from the outside but was a really nice place. We had our first group dinner at a restaurant down the road which was pretty tasty, they love trout in Peru, and I drank a much improved pisco sour. The next day Susana and I wandered around and hit the huge market in Urubamba, enjoyed the nice weather watching the locals and got our best meal of the trip at El Huacatay (food report here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/900567). Pricier than what we'd seen (but still a comparative deal), we split a nice trout tartare w/ avocado and a great gnocchi dish. Since the lounge looked so inviting, we came back that nite for the best pisco sour of the trip. Highly recommended. Unfortunately, our pizza dinner on the main street wasn't so good and took forever, not like we were in a rush to go anywhere. You can imagine what the nightlife in Urubamba is like, although we did see a bar or two that looked promising.
We had a 4AM wakeup call on Thurs. to take a bus to the train then a shuttle bus for our day at Machu Picchu. This was 90% of why I wanted to take this trip and it didn't disappoint. The day started crappy but the rain stopped and eventually the clouds cleared for the many photos we millions of tourists were taking. Really couldn't have asked for a better day. People made their way back to town for lunch and shopping, you can always find alpaca sweaters, blankets, things with llamas on them, etc. Did I get ripped off on my silver bracelet? Maybe, but it's a cute design. Later that nite, Susana, Nick, Jill and I explored the center of Cusco looking for a casual snack but nothing was speaking to us. Took our apprentice tour guide Frank's advice and went to Norton's, a totally westernized bar w/ a million beers, flags from all over the world and a sweet waiter who went to Brown Univ. Split a veggie sandwich and fries and enjoyed hanging out there. On Fri. some folks did group tours but I just didn't feel like being on a schedule so I wandered around town, went to the big market across the street and eventually met up with Nick and Jill to head to the Museo del Pisco which our Brown boy recommended for a good cocktail (nicely steering us away from the ones at Norton's). The hazards of only eating a donut for lunch was that a pisco sour at 3:30 meant I got SHITfaced. I never get drunk even tho I don't drink much, but this one really packed a punch. It wasn't as good as in Urubamba but the repercussions were pretty funny. I still don't know if I tipped the waiter. I grabbed a café con leche which I spilled much of then ran into some other group people waiting to watch one of the many processions during Holy Week. We had a group meal at the restaurant across from the hotel which wasn't great (tried alpaca but Nick's from few days previous was better than mine, tastes like hangar steak) then 12 of us plus Frank went to the cute bar down the street and had a fun time. I unfortunately wasn't in the mood for another pisco sour even tho they got raves but freezing cold water (with safe ice) was good and we had fun.
A long day of traveling back to Lima on Mon. and as I mentioned on MBR, not enough time to take a cab to the area of town with a few record stores. This hurt me deeply but we were going going going and I just didn't feel like rushing out to that part of town with barely any time to look at stuff, so Kelly, Sierra and I walked down to the gorgeous park by the ocean then it was time for our farewell dinner at El Seniorio del Sulco. We had to hop on a bus again but it was an excellent and fun dinner. Most of us ended up at a rooftop bar La Catedral Pisco Lounge across from our hotel for a final drink with Edgar our guide. It would have been a perfect end to the trip had we not had a hellish time getting thru the reservation lines at LAN in Lima the next morning. Something about our tour group couldn't check in until the other group did so we're standing around forever, Susana and I the last two in line. On top of things, each person in the tour group took forever to get a boarding pass as opposed to a normal person going thru. It was getting a little too close to boarding time for our liking but there was nothing we could do but rush thru all the other lines as fast as possible. Suz managed to buy her cigarettes and chocolate at the duty free but there was so little time, I missed any last minute cute things and a bottle of pisco. Sigh. Thankfully Cathy, a native Peruvian, talked to some people and got our group a special line to zip thru customs. From there it was uneventful to Miami where we got a nice Cuban meal at La Carreta in the airport waiting for our connections. I got back to screwed up Logan whose baggage carousel brings out a handful of bags then just stops, so we stood around for 30-40 min waiting for the rest to unload. But they showed up so I'll stop complaining (except for the lack of time in Lima), cuz overall it was an outstanding trip. Now who can give me some connections in Charleston, SC?