Days 1 – 8: On Traveling (Peru is not Southeast Asia)

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Okay, so I obviously know that South America isn’t Southeast Asia. As a traveler, however, I did expect certain things that just aren’t true out here:

  • Even though it’s summer here in Peru, it’s not warm. It’s San Francisco cold. It’s starting to rain right now as I type this in my hostel’s outdoor cafe.


  • I forgot that you can’t leave anything valuable in your checked luggage. Even the cheap ass cell phone that I bought in Vietnam for $20 US got stolen from my backpack’s top pocket! They left the charger in the bag to let me know that no, I didn’t leave it behind, it was taken from me. They even took the carabiners hanging on the outside of my bag. Fuckers!!


  • Despite knowing Spanish, it’s been much harder for me to to navigate Cusco. I can’t find a single place that sells cell phones.  I sometimes find places that sell sim cards, but that’s very rare (most people use prepaid phone cards and they can be found in call centers and some convenience stores). The laundromat is closed at odd hours of the day. It’s taken me a little while to navigate this place. My hostel receptionists have been really sweet and great people, but don’t always know where to find things here. (Addendum: I finally found a cell phone store this evening – it was in the non-touristy part of town, of course).


  • I can’t seem to find a lot of local Peruvian food here that’s not touristy, but that’s probably because I haven’t wandered around town enough. Most of the places I’ve been to sell American or European type food (well, that is like Luang Prabang). I did get food from a place where a lot of local Cusco residents eat – it’s some chicken and fries joint. I got the pollo a la plancha. At least the sauces were the shit!


  • Stuff here is waayyyyy more expensive than I thought. Despite the obvious poverty throughout most of Peru, there’s an enormous gap between the rich and the poor. I spend more money here than I do in the states, mostly because I cook at home and bike to work. $1US = about $2.53 NS (soles). So for every 10 soles I spend, that’s the equivalent of about $4US. With the exception of my pollo a la plancha for 8 soles, everything else that I’ve eaten has been in the 18 soles to 38 soles range. There also doesn’t seem to be a lot of street food vendors here where you can get meals.

    The plaza near my first hostel.

    The plaza near my first hostel

So if you come here, do more homework than I did:

  • Do a better check on the weather before you pack. Actually, just check Lonely Planet or your guidebook for the best seasons and months out of the year that are most recommended for travel.


  • Check the altitude (EVERYONE I know has gotten altitude sickness – mine happened while climbing Machu Picchu, a story for another day) and get altitude meds (that you can take any time of the day). Some people take the meds before flying into Peru, which I’d recommend because I had a few friends that got really sick after they landed at the Cusco airport.


  • Bring more than one warm sweatshirt or hoodie, don’t bother with bringing more than two pairs of shorts (unless you go to countries like Argentina or more south during South America’s summer), and bring some thick, warm-ass socks!! Lots of cold hardwood floors in my hostels. It definitely makes life more pleasant.


  • Bring lots of plastic bags of all sizes. Your clothes will get wet, it’s nice to separate the dry from the wet, the clean and wet from the dirty and wet, your underwear and socks from your shirts, etc.


  • Bring sunscreen, SPF 50 or above. I don’t care how well you tan at home, try being exposed to a bright sky (cloudy or sunny) at an elevation of 11,500 ft. It changes the game up completely.


  • Bring a big warm jacket (one that’s waterproof is even better), and wear lots of layers (you’ll get hot or cold at moment’s notice). If you bring a rain shell, make sure it’s very waterproof – some lose their waterproofing after constant rain.


  • DO NOT BRING RIPPED MONEY! If your bills have a single little tear in them, they will not be accepted. Double check your bills before you leave. As always, most places don’t accept credit card (but they do here more than in Southeast Asia, where I used my credit card only at airports). Many of my friends have had a lot of trouble with the banks and ATM machines in South America , so just be aware (get a lot of money out at once, but stash it in different places in your bags, so you don’t end up stranded somewhere with a non-functioning ATM machine situation).

* * * * *

Ollantaytambo, Peru

Ollantaytambo, Peru

My motto on traveling is that I like to go on trips with ZERO expectations. None at all. I don’t even expect to have fun. It’s been my biggest help, as I would otherwise be in a shitty mood after all the things that I”ve gone through so far: cold and wet weather (which makes me have, err, constant bad stomach problems), stolen stuff, getting 6 hours of sleep over 2 days of travel by plane, more missing or stolen stuff, paying lots of money for hostel stays and mediocre food, getting so sick hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu that I thought I’d have to be rescued by helicopter on day 3, and seeing a man and his friends grieve over the death of his girlfriend on New Years day.

The trip has had its ups and downs, but despite the challenges, it’s still been amazing. I’m HELLA grateful to be here. This country is beautiful, the people here are so dope, the Incan/Quechua history is rich and the temples are impressive…and I’ve learned so so so much in just a few days of my travels. Many thanks to all my friends, family, and co-workers, who have helped make this trip possible, I definitely couldn’t have done it all without you.

Today, I woke up after another consecutive night of less than 5 hours of sleep. I was exhausted, had stomach pains, and was incredibly sunburned. My quads and calves still hurt like all hell from doing the Machu Picchu trek for the past 4 days, and I was still thinking about the craziness of New Years day, just the day before.

I walked up the street to look for a less expensive place to stay, and came across the most amazing little hostel called Hostal los Ninos on la Calle Fierro. As  I came through the door, I looked into the courtyard and saw the sun shining down brightly on the patio for the first time in 5 days. The sweet young man at the receptionist desk took me up the street to my very own spacious “apartment” room,  equipped with two beds, hardwood floors, a balcony overlooking the streets, and a skylight. It was like finding my very own sanctuary. Throughout these past few days, I’ve realized many things. Life gives us as much as it takes away. It’s our moments of peace and hardship, life and death, that remind us to have gratitude, to appreciate the moment, to have faith and know that while change and endings are inevitable, redemption is also possible.



Posted: January 2, 2013

Author: Tiffany

Category: Americas, Blog, Peru

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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