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The Fab Five February 22, 2010

Posted by Jen Pappas in Top 5.
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We’ve been back in the United States just over four weeks now, and rare is the day that goes by without some sort of reference to the time we spent in Latin America. Luckily, this blog is a useful place to return to each time we start to murmur, “Remember when…?” We’ll continue to update this blog whenever we get the opportunity to travel, which judging from our bank accounts, won’t be for a awhile.

Until then, we give you a list of our top five destinations from the six months we spent in Central and South America. Big, rural, majestic, gritty… These are places that caught our attention, prolonged our stay and kept us wishing for a teleportation device.

We'd like to award an honorable mention to the city of Mendoza, Argentina. Although it didn't make our list, it was awful close and we'd return to wine country in a heartbeat. They also had the best looking girls there, but that really only benefits Steve.

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4. Cusco, Peru February 22, 2010

Posted by Jen Pappas in Cusco, Top 5.
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Altitude sickness aside, we were enthralled by the old-world vibe, cobbled streets and mysterious corridors of Cusco. We also had some of the best meals of our entire trip here, and let’s not forget nearby Machu Picchu… 

The rooftops of Cusco.

My Favorite Balcony in Cusco September 30, 2009

Posted by Jen Pappas in Cusco.
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Jen on the balcony at her favorite coffee shop overlooking the plaza. -  Cusco, Peru

Jen on the balcony at her favorite coffee shop overlooking the plaza. - Cusco, Peru

Recycler of the Year September 30, 2009

Posted by Jen Pappas in Cusco.
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We thought our packs were heavy. When he asked for money after Steve took this pic, Steve told him,  ¨Don´t look at me, you put that thing on your back, not me.¨ -  Cusco, Peru

We thought our packs were heavy. When he asked for money after Steve took this pic, Steve told him, ¨Don´t look at me, you put that thing on your back, not me.¨ - Cusco, Peru

The Marching Band Refused to Yield September 23, 2009

Posted by Jen Pappas in Cusco.
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parade in downtown Cusco ...after watching them go by a couple of different days and multiple times it´s obvious the only song they know how to play is the them song from "Rocky"

parade in downtown Cusco ...after watching them go by a couple of different days and multiple times it´s obvious the only song they know how to play is the them song from "Rocky"

Cusco at Dusk September 16, 2009

Posted by Jen Pappas in Cusco, Favorite Pics.
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Sunset at the main plaza in Cusco

Sunset at the main plaza in Cusco

Plaza de Armas September 15, 2009

Posted by Jen Pappas in Cusco.
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main plaza in Cusco

main plaza in Cusco

More Cathedrals September 15, 2009

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Cathedral in downtown Cusco

Cathedral in downtown Cusco

Where the Plaza Meets the Sky September 15, 2009

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the main plaza in downtown Cusco

the main plaza in downtown Cusco

From Nasca to Cusco September 13, 2009

Posted by Jen Pappas in Nasca and Cusco, Peru Posts.
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Well, after our overflight adventure of the Nazca Lines last Monday, it was a good thing we didn´t end up leaving for Cusco until Tuesday evening because we were both fighting some serious nausea after 35 minutes in a 6-passenger Cessna. In order for both sides of the plane to have equal opportunity and see each different figure, the pilot did a series of circles and loops around every single one… Ugh! Steve was okay just looking out the window but staring thru the camera lens and trying to focus the shots ended up getting to him. He was positively green once we landed. Other than that, the flight went smooth. We found the huge trapezoids to be the most impressive because of their sheer size and precision.  The figures were also pretty neat and every time we approached a new one, a voice through our headsets would slowly announce its name in Spanish followed by English: “Mono. Mon-key” It was very sunny out when we were up in the air so a lot of the photos look a little washed out. However, Steve was able to get a good one of “The Astronaut”, one of his favorites. 

We went to a small planatarium at the Nasca Lines Hotel the night before our flight to fill our little brains with some more information. Sounds like they really know absolutely nothing about them for sure. One theory thinks the lines are a marking for water sources, one thinks they were for ritualistic walks, and another feels they were astronomical markers. They gave us all the data they had, and all of them still seem like big guesses. The alien theory wasn´t mentioned but seems like as good an explanation as any. The most interesting thing about the lines is how much total area they collectively cover, and that there’s proof their construction spanned over 800 years! All in all, they were definitely worth seeing. The guy who owns and runs our hostal went on and on in Spanish about them but when we mentioned we were heading to Machu Picchu next, he made it seem like they will pale in comparison.

Nasca in itself is hard to explain. If I describe the physical appearance of the town itself, it would sound like a total dump… it’s a lot more than that really but it is kind of a dump by our standards. At the same time, on the bus ride from Lima we saw areas of towns that would make Nasca feel like paradise. You want to feel sorry for the people living here but when you look at them it’s easy to tell that this is their home, most probably don’t wish for anything else.  If we took Mario, our hostal owner back home with us you’d think Nasca is filled with energetic people full of life and laughter.

We made it safe and sound to Cusco Wednesday morning after a 15-hour bus ride. We had no idea, howver, that we’d have to go up and over the Andes to get there. In Peru, most of the Andean peaks are over 19,000 feet, with one that’s measures in at 22,000! We now know what altitude sickness feels like. Once we got to the top and began heading back down the mountain, bus attendants started handing out cotton swabs dipped in alcohol so you could rub it under your nose and mouth to inhale it. It helped a little but we still felt crappy. After that plane ride over the Lines, the winding bus ride, and the altitude nausea, our bodies were not too happy.

Luckily, Cusco has been more than worth it. The city is the beating heart of the ancient Incan Empire and the archeological capital of Latin America. For us, it’s by far the most European city, with sprawling plazas and narrow cobblestone streets barely big enough for a taxi to fit through. The streets are lined with artesan shops, restaurants, hostels, internet cafes and costumed women hawking everything from jewelry and blankets to pastries and finger puppets. Llamas walk by like its nobody´s business. Behind every nook and cranny is a courtyard or shop.

We are staying in a lovely little hostel at the top of a hill in the Plaza San Blas, a bohemian barrio of Cusco. Somehow, we scored an attic-like room with 4 (?) beds, private bathroom and six nightstands for $25 a night. Breakfast is included but even better is the panoramic view of the city from our rooftop. A short, steep walk down the hill is the Plaza de Armas, Cusco´s city center, and an excellent place for a meal or a drink on one of the balconies overlooking the square.

Our first day here, still fighting altitude sickness, (Cusco´s elevation is 11,000 feet) but intent on exploring, Steve got suckered into holding a baby lamb by a woman in traditional costume who charged 5 soles, ($1.75) just for me to take their picture. So worth it to see Steve with a baby lamb in his arms. We also stumbled upon a parade of kindergarten-aged kids dressed up in various costumes made out of newspaper. Each get-up was so ornate, right down to the very last detail. The pirate, for example, not only had an eye-patch and hook, but belt buckle and swashbuckler boots, all made out of newspaper! Other favorites included a rosy-cheeked, mustached police officer, a gladiator, dinosaur and a cowboy.

Later that night, we shared dinner and drinks on the second floor of an impossibly small artsy cafe. Downstairs, a band kept tuning their instruments as more and more people tried to cram themselves in. It was Pete might describe as “quirky” or “weird”, aka very San Francisco.

Yesterday, we took the majority of our clothes in to be laundered, (thank God) shared what might be the world´s best $2 egg, avocado and tomato sandwich and booked our train tickets into Machu Picchu for Monday, September 14.

The train will wind through some amazing scenery on it´s way to the Lost City, taking about 3 ½ hours to get there. We are anxious, excited and ready to see what many describe as the defining moment of their time in Peru.