Thursday, April 21, 2016

Boston, MA, USA: Meeting the Brand-New Niece!

Taking a quick hiatus from the travel part of my life, there were actually real-life things happening at home while I was gone (life apparently goes on, WHAT)!  Namely, my sister just had a baby, and she is our family's first grandchild/child, and she's probably only the world's most adorable baby.

So from Lima, I made a quick week-long pit stop in Boston to visit the newest member of the fam!  I made sure my return flight back to South America afterwards was booked ahead of time, because I was afraid that home (my first time back in the States in 6 months!) would lure me in with its cushy, clean, bedbug-free enticing-ness.  This post will be super quick; just a quick photo highlight reel of my week in Boston.  Travel posts will resume right afterwards. Though if you care about me or my life or about families or life in general, read on!

Photo Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Wait, before I start the photo portion - can I just tell you the second I knew I was back in the States?  RULES. RULES STARTED APPEARING. They wouldn't let me bring my adorable tiny water bottle aboard the airplane in Panama (a layover), even though I'd purchased it IN the terminal. And I noticed that it was ONLY for the U.S.-bound flights that they had this rule (people in other gates heading to other countries were throwing back water and having a grand ol' time, no problem).  Rude. Give me back my mini-Dasani!  And then I waited an hour in customs because something didn't match on my customs form. Cries.
  • All this was instantly forgotten after a night on my own personal cloud that my sister calls a guest bed, and an extended amount of time in the hot, TEMP-ADJUSTABLE, amazing, high-pressured shower. And doing a load of wash in the laundry machine. I miss you, laundry machine (my favorite chore!).  Wait, they're not called laundry machines, are they..?
  • Besides these photos, all the essential stops were made, including Target and Nordstrom Rack.
  • Photo cliffnotes, commence!

Boston, I even kind of missed you!  The focal point of this photo is not supposed to be the MetroCab, FYI.  It's just getting to be spring, and I MISS THAT FEELING of the cusp of Spring!  That first day you hesitantly don a thin windbreaker for the first time and don't consequently die of hypothermia is the BEST. 

We made homemade pizzas. This chill, at-home kind of stuff is the stuff I absolutely miss the most. To not be able to run to Trader Joe's, pick up some kale (and by kale I mean frozen dumplings), make dinner and plop down in front of the TV....that's the stuff I miss.  (P.S. Trader Joe's has amazing frozen dumplings)


And completely unbeknownst to us, the Monday I was in town was the famous Boston Marathon!

My mom also came to town for the last couple of days, and we all went marathon-watching! Baby Linds is enthralled, clearly.

Watching people run is hypnotizing. We were at Mile 26, so people know they're almost done, and it's kind of amazing to see them push through.  Though not gonna lie, a lot of them look like they're on the struggle bus.

This looks completely unappetizing, but it was a completely appetizing Mexican dinner. Because I HAVE MISSED YOU, MEXI FOOD

  • Ok, perhaps get ready for a zillion photos of the niece.

Linden went to sleep. So we took selfies with her, obvs

Her sleepiness was infectious

I purchased Linds a new strawberry-themed outfit (dream outfit!), and we did her 1-month photoshoot in it

This baby is suspicious of everything and I love it

......"who are you"

Big stretch!

On a side note, Sherm's sister purchased the best gift of all time: Taylor Swift's greatest hits in lullaby form.  I may or may not have spent an entire playtime with Linden making her sing and dance to Tay Swift Lullabies. You have to start them on the classics young.

  • Overall, was so beyond happy to spend so much time with my family - especially after missing Christmas with them, it was truly, truly a blessing (though - Hi Dad! I haven't forgotten about you!)  Ah, on that note, it was also a blessing to get my taxes done so the IRS doesn't hunt me down.  Last of all, Delta Air Lines not being able to close the plane door (not sure what kind of racket they're running here) caused me to miss my flight and have to be re-booked for the next day = an extra day with the fam!  So that I am counting as a blessing as well.

So next, I'm headed back to South America - to Ecuador!  I had this ticket booked way in advance, and no, it's not near the earthquake sites - though it is incredibly sad, and I will obviously see if I can be of use somewhere along the way.  XO and see you all on the flip side!

Moment of the Day (just because it was insane):
On my second attempt to get to Ecuador a day late, I had a couple hours of layover in Atlanta - and all I wanted was some Wendy's. Their chili is amazing, even though someone once told me it was made with old burger meat they couldn't sell (who cares, I eat old burgers all the time) and yeah, there was once that finger-in-chili issue a long time ago but SO WHAT. Anyhow, they don't seem to have a Wendy's in the Delta terminal. Just a PSA for all you people so you don't waste your time. I DIGRESS.

So I was chilling in the food court, without a cup of Wendy's chili, when I saw a familiar face walk by me.

It's Karim!
Karim is a friend of mine from NYC - in the spirit of honesty, we dated for a hot second until he tried to ghost me, but that was a long time ago and I've obvi semi-forgiven him bc now we're buddies. He was on his way to Colombia for a quick vacay, but it was SO CRAZY to run into him at the airport, WHAT are the chances?!  However, it was really good to see him and share an airport meal with him!  Oh, and sorry I called you out on the internet, K. Kind of.

Ok for reals, see you all in Ecuador! 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Lima, Peru: Family Time, Surfing, and Soccer

From Cuzco, I pulled a very un-backpacker-like move and flew to the capital of Lima (it is apparently a 24-hour bus ride and when I said never again, I meant never again. Or at least never again if there is an affordable flight).

Arriving in Lima, I headed to my friend Martín's apartment. Martin is a friend of mine that I met while studying abroad in Japan, 11 years ago (CRYY). He was one of my best friends - we basically did everything together while living in Osaka during Fall Semester 2004. He's Peruvian (like, actually from Peru - not in the way that I'm Chinese), and I'm pretty sure his stories about Peru are what inspired me to want to visit the country in the first place.

Martin now lives in Lima with his wife and 1-year old (adorable) baby, and they so-very-kindly let me stay with them for the weekend. Not only that, but Martin sent his work driver to pick me up from the airport - which was amazing (balllerrrr).

Look at the photo I managed to scrounge up from the depths of the internet!
Here is me and Martin at a takoyaki party in Japan; circa 2004. SUCH BABIES.

And here's Martin and I now!  Looking like we haven't aged a day (right?? ....RIGHT??)

And here is Martin with his adorable fam: his wife Adriana, and their daughter Olivia

What It's All About:
Lima is the capital of Peru with almost 10 million people, and is located on the Western Coast of the country - right on the ocean!  There's tons of neighborhoods that make up the city, with the two most popular neighborhoods for tourists being Miraflores and Barranco.  Both these neighborhoods are super nice and are located right on the coastline.

Looking out over the ocean from Miraflores

Besides having the coastline, Lima is also known for its restaurants.  It's kind of a gastronomic capital as well, and there are so, so many delicious, amazing places to eat - from sushi to seafood to ceviche.

I stayed with Martin in his apartment between the two neighborhoods (which has its own name, but which I've promptly forgotten) over the weekend, and then holed up in a hostel in Miraflores for two more nights before flying out.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Spent a couple of days just hanging out around Lima with Martin and his fam - eating delicious food, sprawling out in my own bed, taking walks, and catching up.  

We went to a super-trendy farmers' market (because everything was fancy and organic) - Martin claims these weird lumpy green fruits on the right are the most delicious fruit of all time, but I forgot their name and I accidentally left mine on his kitchen counter when I left. So rumor unconfirmed.

We went down to the neighborhood of Barranco for lunch. Seriously, they have this amazing ceviche here - just huge fat chunks of pink fish, giant corn (Peru is known for giant corn), onions, avocados, and some olive oil.  It's amazing. Why did I not take a photo.

Wandering around Barranco on a perfect day

Olivia loves music - so when we found these street musicians, she was enthralled. How adorable is she.

I think this is in Miraflores - overlooking the ocean.

We took a brief walk through the tons of parks that border the water in Miraflores.

On Sunday, Martin's brother hosted a BBQ at his apartment with the entire fam. I LOVED this - not only were the apartment and views and roof deck absolutely beautiful, but Martin had the most delightful, sweetest family ever. His brother and wife have three kids, and both Martin's parents were there as well. 

And it didn't hurt that the BBQ was delicious

Home-cooked meals are seriously the best. Especially when I'm not the one doing the cooking.

  • After three days of living a proper Lima life with Martin, he had to head out of town on a business trip (actual..responsibilities..?) - so I checked myself into a hostel for my last two nights in town.  My friend Eddie and his friend had just arrived into Lima and met me at the hostel - my fifth time meeting up with him in South America (met in Buenos Aires, had dinner in El Calafate, bike riding in San Pedro, and a night out in Cuzco).  Seriously, so many people have such similar travel schedules that it's super common to be in a city at the same time someone else you met in a previous city.  

This is Parque Kennedy in Miraflores - which Eddie refers to as the "cat park", because there are tons and tons and tons of cats who chill at the park and have the run of the place.  It's like a cat wonderland. And as soon as the park ends, there are no more cats. It's like they know it's their territory.

Cats cats cats

It was actually a really nice park. Some of the cats were cozied up in parkgoers' laps and such.

  • Eddie, Niclas (from Sweden; I'd met him already in San Pedro; he was on the canyon bike ride), and I went surfing right off the coast - a 10-minute walk from our hostel.  We seriously just sauntered down to the coast and there were tons of outfitters offering wetsuits/surfboard rentals and lessons.   Lessons were so cheap that the three of us signed up for a 2-hour lesson (50 soles a person, which is ~$15).  At this point, I've taken my fair share of surfing lessons - so arguably, I probably don't really need additional ones - but I'm terrible at picking waves and I like having someone there to tell me exactly when to paddle, when to stand up, and which wave to wait for. It's like the lazy man's way of surfing. 

The beach in Lima! This one is full of giant black rocks. And to avoid said giant rocks, you have to go out super super far into the water to catch the waves. Seriously, 90% of the day was me trying to paddle myself back out to the ocean against the current, which was EXHAUSTING. Arms almost fell off.  The surfing lessons basically paid for themselves near the end of the lesson, when our teacher, Robert, had to start swimming out to me to drag me further into the ocean, because my arms were rebelling.

Surf crew! L to R: Niclas, me, and Eddie

We were trying to figure out what the hand signal is that surfers do #clearlyauthentic

It was such hard work paddling back out to sea that it got to the point where you would catch a wave, and you'd stand up and surf and feel like you were king of the world, but deep down inside you were thinking "oh sht, the farther I ride this wave inland, the farther I have to swim back out afterwards ABORT ABORT"
Real Eddie quote: "You were doing so well surfing, but why did you just jump off the board in the middle of riding the wave?"

A fancy restaurant that juts out into the water

  • My last night in Lima, Eddie and Niclas had checked into a different hostel because they had prior reservations - they sent me a message saying they'd drop by my hostel to pick me up and we were going to watch some soccer game.  I honestly assumed we were heading to a bar to watch some soccer game one of them cared about, but imagine my surprise when we got a cab and started heading way across town to the actual soccer stadium.  Two Peruvian teams were playing, and we easily picked up scalped tickets outside - because apparently the Peruvian teams aren't that good?

My first soccer match!  Which is obviously a game in super-high demand, judging by how full the stands are

The game was Sporting Cristal vs. Atletico Nacional.  Sporting Cristal seems to be the local team that everyone supports, and both teams seem to be absolutely terrible.

The final score of the game. Confession: I took this photo so I could later remember the names of the teams playing. 

Niclas (Sweden), Eddie (UK), me, and Sarah (Germany).
I've decided that I like watching soccer games!  I like that they are only 90 minutes. And I like the theatrics when the players fall over and pretend to be injured.

Terrible fuzzy photo of the opposing side's fans. When they scored the (one and only) goal, the fans went nuts and shoved each other and tumbled down to the front (typical move, apparently), which actually looked pretty dangerous.  Also, it is def a thing to be shirtless and swing your shirt above your head. 

  • Five days in Lima passed by super quickly, and even though I clearly didn't pack my days full of activities per usual, it was absolutely perfect.  I loved that Lima smelled of the ocean. I loved that there were hip, trendy cafes and mega-supermarkets again. I didn't love how my arms almost fell off while surfing, but overall, my entire time in Lima just felt so much more local, and it was exactly what I needed.  

MVP of the Day:
OF COURSE this goes to Martin and his incredibly lovely fam. Spending family time with Martin and his family and getting a glimpse into life in Lima was my absolute favorite part of all.  There's something beautiful about knowing someone at a completely different phase of their life, and then seeing how different and amazing life has turned out for them.

So MUCHAS GRACIAS to each and every one of the Riofrios.  <3

Moment of the Day:
I love getting to a big, modern city after a long time without big-city conveniences. One of my top items of business was to chop my hair off - it's gone way too long without a cut, and it kept getting caught in my backpack straps when I'd put my backpack on.  So armed with a photo and rusty high-school Spanish skills, I wandered into a nearby salon and asked for a "corte; pero no demasiado corto" (cut; but not too short) (I think my high school Spanish teacher is out there crying somewhere).  And then prayed that the stylist (who spoke zero English) wouldn't shave my head.


And there it is!  Points for not being bald!  The lady seriously cut off about 8 inches and I panicked briefly as huge chunks of my hair dropped to the floor, but it turned out fine - and you have no idea the sense of accomplishment I felt at having done this alone. AND IT WAS $10. And they threw in a manicure for $3.  It was the winningest moment ever.

$3 manicure, and a gratuitous shot of the arm bracelets, as they stand now.  I know it looks like a million, but you have no idea how many bracelets have snapped/fallen off/disappeared at this point.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Cuzco, Peru: Making Chocolate & Eating Guinea Pigs

After our tour of Lake Titicaca, Kevin, Marleen and I moved onto the famous city of Cuzco, Peru! (I make it sound easy. It was a 5-hour bus ride).

What It's All About:
Cuzco, Peru is famous because it is the jumping-off point for Machu Picchu!  The city itself is amazing - it's gorgeous and the historic cobblestoned streets are lined with old Incan walls and monumental buildings. Cuzco itself is a part of the Sacred Valley, where you can find TONS of amazing old-school Incan villages, ruins, buildings, temples, and history.  You can seriously spend a week here.

Cuzco's Plaza de Armas!  SO PRETTY

I've been to Cuzco before, about 5.5 years ago when I took a trip to Machu Picchu with He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.  So while most backpackers spend a good chunk of time in the city, I breezed through for a couple days (Cuzco is on the way to Lima, which is where I was headed next - so it was on the way! Efficiency!).  And since I'd already seen all the main attractions/events, I spent my time doing whatever I wanted, which was AMAZING. Sometimes, it's good to not have a list of must-do's: not that seeing amazing worldly sites is hard work or anything, but it can sometimes be just as good to relax.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Spent the first night wandering the streets of Cuzco and playing interesting Dutch dice games with Kevin and Marleen.  To be honest, I remember so many of the streets/restaurants/hotels from way back when I visited.  But even in the span of 5, 6 years - Cuzco has gotten SO much busier. There are way, way more people and cars and tourists. And now I sound 100 years old. BACK IN THE DAY....

Plaza de Armas by night

Some of the old, narrow passageways - still have Incan walls as the base!

This is an incredibly strange Dutch game Kevin/Marleen taught me...I think it's called "Worms." And the goal is to roll dice and collect worms. At least the name is straightforward...

  • Next day, other tourists went to visit historic Incan temples.....and I went to the Choco Museo (yep, it is exactly what it sounds like)(also, it wasn't just me - Marleen and Kevin joined as well). They offer these chocolate classes where you get to make your own chocolate - but in my defense, you also learn tons about the cacao plant and how to harvest the beans and the entire process, etc.  So really, it's incredibly educational. No, really.

    I had this crazy fruit for breakfast, called a granadilla. It's kind of like a pomegranate with the juicy seeds inside, except it tastes a little like passion fruit and looks like a wonky orange.

    I could watch this lady pipe chocolate all day

    Part of the process is heating up the cacao beans

    And you grind the toasted cacao beans into a paste. Though mine never really made it past the "fine grit" stage. I blame weak forearms.

    Here is our choco teacher - we also made three types of chocolate drinks, including choco tea and spicy hot choco

    And then we got to make our own chocolates! And add any kind of spice/crush-in/flavor we wanted! I meticulously diversified every kind of choco in my tray, but in the end, just wished I had filled every mold cup up with sprinkles and called it a day, because that was the best

    So much chocolate magic being created

    They let us lick the chocolate bowls when we were done with our molds. Marleen and Kevin and I maybe got in a tiny choco fight, hence the smudges

    Finished product! Which I nommed down in like, 10 seconds.

    • Because Cuzco/Machu Picchu has become such a popular tourist destination, it really is a traveller's paradise: cheap massages, shopping, delicious food, etc.  I spent the rest of the day shopping through Cuzco's handicraft markets, getting a 20 sole massage (WHICH IS $6 = BASICALLY FREE), drinking fresh juices, and losing myself in the maze-like streets.  

    I love you, Cuzco
    • If anyone is visiting Cuzco and is reading this blog post - there are SO many incredible sites to visit in Cuzco: Qorikancha (the Golden temple), Sacsayhuaman (amazing ruins with HUGE ROCKS), Pisac (nearby town with an amazing market and ruins), and a million other amazing, fascinating, awe-inspiring Sacred Valley sites (Ollantaytambo, Chinchero, etc.).  Not to mention Machu Picchu.  So you should def not come visit Cuzco and think the #1 sight is the chocolate museum. It's the #2 sight. Obviously.

    Meal of the Day:
    Finally! I got to try guinea pig (yes, even after I saw the small squeaky cute things running around our homestay family's floor in Lake Titicaca).  In Peru, guinea pig is a traditional dish called cuy, which they eat on special occasions in certain areas.  

    I can't tell if it's adding insult to injury that the guinea pig comes out with a jaunty lettuce/tomato hat, mounting a potato and with a pepper stuffed in its mouth.

    And it's big! Squeak squeak

    So in the spirit of honesty, I have to say that it kind of tasted like chicken....but not as good. The skin was super rubbery/tough, the bones were super small, and there wasn't a ton of meat.  But it wasn't terrible. The consensus between Kevin and Marleen and I was that it was fine, but we probably won't ever feel the need to try it ever again. Ever. For the rest of time.