Archive for February, 2012

Extremes of Puno, Peru

Used: 2011

When I arranged my Puno tour, I had Edgar’s Adventures arrange my hotel in Puno as well, which was a very good idea as I got an excellent price on it. They put me at Camino Real Turistico which ended up being great.

The location was fantastic, on a busy corner, but a few blocks away from the main square and shopping lane, but not in a bad part of town at all. When I took a cab through town, we went through some very sketchy areas and I noticed that a lot of the hostels were located there. This place only cost me US$30 and it was well worth it. The wifi didn’t appear to be working when I stayed, but they had a excellent, fast, free computer in the breakfast room which I used for a quick email. The breakfast was okay. At least they offer something, but free breakfasts in Peru have nothing on what they offer in Europe. I don’t miss the Peru breakfasts at all.

I stayed there twice for a night each (I spent a night on Amatani Island in between) and in a different room each time. The first night I had a twin room on the 5th floor and the bathroom was HUGE! They provided soaps and the water pressure and temperature was fantastic, I wanted to live there. Best shower I had my entire time in Peru. The second time I stayed there, I was on the 2nd floor and was a bit nervous it would be loud, but it really wasn’t too bad. Again, excellent bathroom. The TV in both rooms was fab, the beds were comfy and there were ample amount of lights in the room. That seems to be a problem in Peru, some rooms are just very dark.

The front desk didn’t speak the best English, but I got my point across and understood them as well as I was nearing the end of my trip. I booked a flight from Puno back to Lima on StarPeru (story about THAT coming soon. It’s a good one, I promise!) but the airport in Puno is technically in Julianica, which 45 minutes away. I knew this was a popular destination and since I knew that not many flights left every day, when I told them my flight, they knew exactly what I needed to book. There were two options. I could take a private taxi for s/60 (US$20) or a collective (essentially a locals airport shuttle) for s/15 (US$5). While I promised myself I would only take taxis if I needed to get around long distance in Peru, that price different was a bit much for me. And since I was going the same way everyone else was, I trusted them to get us all to the airport on time. And it was a fine decision! I was one of the first pick ups, so I got to see around town as locals and tourists and other groups got in the large van before we were finally off. It was funny, I had been in the country about 2 weeks already and when the front desk person called the collective to make my reservation (she also knew my name, I didn’t have to tell her, talk about personal attention!) I understood everything she said on the phone! I was so proud of myself. But of course, if she tried to talk to me in Spanish, I would answer in English. Agh. Oh well.

Moral: This was actually probably my favorite hotel in Peru. Everything was perfect except I couldn’t get wifi on my phone, but it didn’t matter too much as there was a free computer to use. Everything else about this place was great! I would stay here again and recommend it to anyone.

**I wrote this review when I was living in Australia, sometime in late 2008, early 2009**
It’s been awhile since I have read a comedy! And I have always seen stuff from this author, but never picked it up (YAY! for the free pile!). I think I just get hung up in details sometimes. This book was entertaining, always saying Yes to everything (the movie was based on this book, but I read it even before I knew that they were even making a movie) and it’s a good experiment and a good way to live your life, I think. I know I have said yes more lately (crappy jobs, etc…) when I think of this book. You just never know what is around the corner. The downside of this book, is like all travel humour books, the authors seem to have like buckets of money. So like, the Dude sees an ad for a trip to Thailand. Gotta say YES! Girl-sort-of-friend asks you to come to Australia (on a separate trip from the previous Thailand trip) Gotta say YES! Seriously, if the world had unlimited money, I don’t think people would ever say No. But since most of us live in the real world, the word No has to come up at some point. And I can’t remember the turning point in the book (these books always have them) but it seemed kind of lame and forced. Otherwise, always entertaining and I hope to pick up more from this author once I get a library card!! God, I miss the freedom of the library instead of having to rely on the trash that people leave behind.

I was in New Zealand and Australia for exactly 2 years and 2 weeks. But with my timing, I was actually away for 3 Academy Award ceremonies. Growing up in Los Angeles, this was a huge deal. As I have gotten older (and cared about movies less and less) the deal has gotten smaller in my mind. But like someones sports teams that changes towns, I still keep an eye on them. What is getting buzz, what got too much buzz too early and is now left for dead. I care less, but I still find the whole thing kind of interesting. I might search out the best picture after the fact, but only when it finally makes it to TV. My favorite joke is that when I was flying back from Australia/New Zealand, I had the choice to watch Slumdog Millionaire, but chose High School Musical 3 over it. My reasoning? You try reading subtitles on that tiny little seat screen! So there are my priorities.

Anyway, for the most part, the Academy Awards are not a big deal overseas. Most countries has their own version of them and unless your country has a movie in contention (a-hem, Lord of the Rings), New Zealand didn’t air them on any channel and they are only on satellite in Australia. Not really the free-to-air channels we are used to in the United States.

The first year, I had just arrived in New Zealand hostel hopping. I waited until the show was over (like mid afternoon Monday) before I hopped online to read about the show. THE DEPARTED won that year, a movie I had not seen at the time (I would eventually see it later in 2007 on Sky Movies in New Zealand and then a bunch more during my time backpacking down the Australia East Coast in later 2008) and for the most part had no interest in. To me, it was too long. Though I was happy that “Marty” finally got his statue!

The second year, I was at my job and one of the perks being that I got to watch a lot of TV. I mean A LOT. We had a channel on our tv’s that was a feed of whatever the people in the satellite room were getting fed in at the time, usually whatever big event was happening around the world (I didn’t realize this before and missed the Super Bowel a few week prior, even though the commercials are filtered out of the feed) and today was the Academy Awards. We all had our owns tv’s and all changed them to the same channel and watched the show in our cubes, all laughing at the same part. Jon Stewart hosted that year. Since the show aired in the later afternoon on a Monday in New Zealand, the show ran long (of course) and everyone left the office, except for me. I had to see the end, even though I didn’t know what any of the best picture movies were. Most had not come to New Zealand yet, as they were smaller pictures that year. I do remember Diablo Cody won for Juno and I was really happy. I was also on chat with some friends back home who were watching and couldn’t believe that I was watching the show live, same as them with no delay. Oh, I was a nerd, I felt so special! The show did not air on any channel that year in New Zealand.

The third year, was a bit different. I was on a week long tour from Adelaide to Alice Springs (I just realized I never wrote about my tour! DO’H!). The big event during that ceremony was Heath Ledger getting nominated (and eventually won) after his death for the latest Batman movie. Most of that tour, we were out of cell phone range, which of course was nice. And since the tour was so long, we all kind of lost track on what date and day of the week it was. But once we got to Ayers Rock, my pals on the tour, an Irish couple I hung out with the most, started texting their friends back in Ireland to find out who won what. And I remember sitting around a picnic table in the Ayers Rock campgroup when the text came in that Heath had won! The three of us were so happy!! The rest of the group didn’t care (damn Euros) and even the tour guide, who was Australian thought Heath was a wanker or whatever. We found out the results from the rest of show during our meal and it was the most surreal way I ever “watched” the show before. When I got back to Melbourne a week later and had like 7 hours of computer time to waste before I left the country, I watched so many videos from that show.

And ever since then, I haven’t really cared about the show. I work in the film industry now and I could not careless about the show and who wins. But of course, I keep watching. If you were traveling during a major tv event, would you search it out to watch it live?

This book was perfect! I read it over a few weeks, going to bookstores when I was in Australia. Whatever, so sue me. It was written by a 40-year old Australian Dude who had done the backpacking rite of passage around Europe like 20 years previously and wanted to experience and write about what Europeans do when they come to the East Coast of Australia. It was pretty spot on! It was written like in the 2nd half of 2007, so a lot of things were still relevant to me (even though I read it after I did the East Coast in late 2008/early 2009). Some of the choices he made could have been a little better (like doing the self drive on Fraser instead of a tour) but he did hit all the spots that everyone does. Also, he spent a little too much time talking about Sydney and I wish he did what he did with Sydney with all the towns he hit. Like the Sydney chapter was like 70 pages or something and everything else was like 50 or less. A good read for the situation I was currently living. Plus, I love when he talked about the “theme song” of his trip. If I hear the Kings of Leon CD again, it will be too soon. That whole thing was the theme song of my trip. At least all the songs sound the same to me and I don’t full out hate it.

I got this book back in 2003 when I was in London and really liked it a lot and it was one of the few books that I never sold because I knew someday I would want to read it again. I thought about it a lot when I was in Australia and I was excited to re-read it when I got home. And I finally did! Like a dork I am, I got out my guide book from Australia and followed the authors travels around the country, even though a lot has changed since this book was written and then the guide book (I don’t have the latest edition) to now. I had been to about half the places the author talks about and he does a pretty good job describing them, which is why I think I saved this book and wanted to re-read it. It starts in Cairns and ends up in Darwin and takes the longest route ever to get there, most of it which is off the main backpackers trail, which I liked a lot. He goes from Cairns, to Alice, down to Port Augustus, over to Perth and up to Broome and all the parks to Darwin. He wants to find the “real” Australia and in reading it and talking to people, I don’t think he realized that he is talking to the real Australia. People are raciest and it’s hard to find aboriginals, just like it’s hard to find Indians in America. This is the book that put that in prospective for me, that the Aboriginals in Aus are just like the Indians here in America and I kind of got off my wanting to go to Australia and learn about them-kick, which I realized I didn’t really care about knowing about the Indians here and sort of felt bad about that. I like books that make me realize stuff about myself that I didn’t know before. It comes about so rarely! It’s not that I know much about myself, it’s just most of the books I read are crap.

Used: 2011

Since I am not really a tour person, I split my time in Peru up into two different tours, just in case one of them went bad. I went with a worldwide known company for my Inca Trail tour but in figuring out what else I wanted to do in Peru, I found a local company that could organize my time in Puno. Edgar’s Adventures is a full service agency for all things Puno and I had them put together a package for Lake Titicaca, hotel and transportation for me.

They booked me on the Turismo Mer bus service from Cusco to Puno, a ride that takes about 10 hours and makes lots of tourist stops along the way. Sign me up! At first, the communication on my ticket was not very good until I found out that I really didn’t have a ticket, just show my ID at the office. Thankfully, they had my name on a list (spelled incorrectly, but it was fine as this was not an air itinerary and they accepted me anyway).

Animals and the runes, Peru

Couple of things about the bus. There are a bunch of different companies and they all pretty much make the same stops and are the same price. If you can bunch it all together in a tour, it will probably end up being cheaper. I know my ticket was. The seats are assigned and at first I was on the aisle, sitting next to this HUGE German man and I groaned the moment he sat down. THANKFULLY the bus was not full (there were actually two buses leaving at the same time, to the same place) and the moment we pulled away, I spotted an empty ROW and bolted for it. So thankfully, I had an empty row for the entire trip. And because there were two buses, what would have been even better is if they split the group into English and Spanish speakers. It was a full on tourist bus, but that doesn’t mean that tourists don’t speak Spanish! I would say my bus was split and I’ll just assume that the other bus was split too. What if they just separated us and then the guides wouldn’t have to repeat everything twice? That would be too easy. While the bus was full service, attendants coming around and offering drinks and bread for free, I have to say BRING TOILTE PAPER for the rest stops! I hate using facilities on my transportation and pretty much all our stops were BYOTP.

Raqchi, Peru

I have the worst memory when it comes to the stops (we probably stopped about 5 or 6 times during the day) but here are the ones that made an impression on me:

– Andahuaylillas: beautiful church that they are in the process of restoring in the middle of a cute little town. Very interesting as this is quite far outside of Cusco, so everything in town centers around the church. So European!
– Raqchi: A total tourist trap of a village. Mainly runes, but interesting for that aspect of it. Just don’t get pulled into the shops and you’ll be fine. Love that the locals bring and farm the animals right up next to the runes. It’s all just so different from regular life.
-Lunch was buffet, which meant you got to eat as much as you want. Typical chicken and rice and veggie dishes, nothing much to write home about, decent as always. Good bathroom at this stop!
-We then stopped at a high peak, but I was so tired, that I didn’t get out of the bus. There wasn’t much to see, it was more of a rest stop in the middle of some beautiful scenery, surrounded by women who had set up shop on the side of the road. Luckily, I was sitting on the side of the bus that faced the mountains and had a beautiful view, so I just took some pictures through the window, which was fine for me. I was just pooped.
-Just the ride through the countryside was very interesting, seeing the locals wash their clothes in the river. Just something you don’t see in America anymore and you kind of can’t believe there are still people in this world that live that way. But there you go.
-Like everything in Peru, we arrived in Puno nearly an hour after we were supposed to, but my contact was thankfully still waiting for me. Apparently this happens pretty much every day.

Beautiful scene, with stuff to buy of course! Peru

Moral: The reviews on the tourist buses are mixed (vs taking a “locals” bus). Since my time was limited, I didn’t mind at all, plus got to see some more stuff (even though I was a bit ruin’ed out at this point) but I can see the downside if you are long on time but short on funds. They are kind of pricy for what they are, but I am really glad I took one instead of flying, at least on this leg. I budgeted the time for this and it’s a very common route and lots of buses take it and as far as I can tell, they are all pretty much the same. I think they all stop at similar stops, so the only difference was the price or quality of the bus. And I had no problems with the quality and service on Turismo Mer. I would recommend them for anyone traveling this route in the future.

Scene from the bus, Peru

More scene from Peru

I read this book like a millions years ago when I was just branching out into travel lit and read everything by Bryson. I must have sold my copy as I don’t have it anymore, so since coming back from Australia, I have wanted to reread it. I don’t remember it being very memorable and it was totally that. One thing that I sort of didn’t like was Bryson wrote way too much about everything that can kill you in Australia and it’s so not as bad as he writes. Yeah, Australia probably has like 8 out of the ten most lethal snakes/bugs/etc that can kill you, but the chances that you come across any of it in your travels is so slim. Everything that can kill you is more afraid of you then you are of it anyway, it’s so not a big deal there at all. But after reading this book, I can see why people don’t want to visit. He makes it seem scary! I liked the routes and places he wrote about, even though it was a little dated and his route took him all over the most random places. And of course, got to have a little on the Aboriginals and how they aren’t part of city culture there at all and he wanted to learn about them, but couldn’t, but it wasn’t a big part of his book (thank god). Anyway, I am glad I reread this book, but I can see why I didn’t keep it or have no reason to re-buy it.