Would you like fries with that? What to eat in Cusco, Peru.

by Val Bromann  :::  08-23-2014  :::  Comments (2)

I love fries. I really do. A good fry is heaven. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, a touch of salt.

But in Peru they are always just greasy and limp.

And they come with everything. Everything.

I never thought I’d get sick of fries. But I also don’t need them twice a day…

Soup at San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru

Fried fish at San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru

A two-course lunch of soup and fried fish with rice, salad, and beans for 4 soles (about $1.50) at San Pedro Market. Note: I could have gotten fries instead of beans.

 

Beef with fried rice and fries in Cusco, Peru

Beef with fried rice and fries. They have some weird combinations.

 

Lomo Saltado in Cusco, Peru

Lomo saltado: a Peruvian stir fry of beef, onions, and tomatoes (this version also had mushrooms and peppers) served with rice and, you guessed it, fries.

 

Aji Gallina in Cusco, Peru

Aji Gallina: spicy Peruvian creamed chicken. Mixed with fries.

 

Arroz mixto at San Pedro Market in Cusco, Peru

Arroz mixto at San Pedro Market. Sausage, avocado, runny egg, salad, plantain, rice, and, yup, fries.

 

Chicharrón in Cusco, Peru

Chicharrón, because who doesn’t love crispy, fatty, deep-fried pork? This didn’t come with fries. But there was a potato.

 

Brownie and hot chocolate at the chocolate museum in Cusco, Peru

Brownie and hot chocolate at the Chocolate Museum. Because there was a chocolate museum just down the street from my hostel. Luckily, no chocolate-dipped fries.

 

Trout ceviche in Cusco, Peru

Trout ceviche. Which didn’t come with fries but did come with sweet potato. And giant corn.

 

Cuy - Guinea pig - in Cusco, Peru

And, of course, Cuy. Guinea pig.

 


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Cusco, Admittedly.

by Val Bromann  :::  08-20-2014  :::  Comment

Starbucks in Cusco, Peru

In all honesty, this is how I spent half of my time in Cusco, Peru.

I know. I know.

But hear me out.

I have both a major freelance project and a major personal project to work on (plus my blog and photos and all that). And Starbucks, most places in the world, has reliable wifi, big cups of coffee, and is a place I don’t feel guilty sitting for four hours after only ordering a coffee.

Also, I swear the Cusco Starbucks has more outlets than any place I’ve ever seen.

Also, I would be much more willing to go to local coffee shops if any of them opened before 9am, when, you know, a person might want coffee.

So, since I’ve being honest here. I spent about half my time in Cusco in Starbucks doing work.

And I’m OK with that.

But that’s not to say that all I did was sit in a Starbucks in Cusco. I’m not that lame.

I did other things, I swear. Like go to a bunch of museums. And take a walking tour. And wander the markets. And visit the cathedral.

Things like that.

In the original plan I had in my head I was going to spend two months in Cusco to get work done. But I just couldn’t get that into the city. Yes, it’s beautiful. Yes, at night, the hills light up and if you stand in the main square everything looks like a fairy tale. Yes, if you walk the excruciating walk up to San Blas you’ll be greeted by a cute little hippy section that feels miles away from the cathedral.

But, after two weeks, I was ready to move on…

Cusco, Peru

Pisco sour in Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru


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What’s your mule? (Trekking Peru’s Colca Canyon)

by Val Bromann  :::  08-14-2014  :::  Comments (3)

This is what 4am looks like when you’re at the bottom of a canyon that cuts off power for the night. It’s what 4am looks like when your group, the “slow group,” starts its ascent. Black. So black you can’t even see a foot in front of you. But, if you look up, there will be stars. More stars than you’ve ever seen. So you turn off your flashlight, and stand, for a moment, staring upwards, wishing you knew more constellations, any constellations, before turning it back on and meeting your guide.

The rest of the group, the other half, the “fast group,” is still asleep. They will leave 45 or so minutes after you. But you need the extra time because you’re terribly out of shape, because you can’t go more than a few steps on an incline without your breath getting heavy, your heart beating fast. Despite that, for some reason, you decided you were going to hike the 1200 meters to the top of Colca Canyon. For some reason, you decided you could make it up without a mule.

You could have rented a mule to ride to the top of the canyon. It was an option. In fact, the whole two days prior, you said, every time you had to stop, every time your legs ached and your heart pounded and your chest collapsed, “On the third day, I’m renting a mule.”

On the first day, when you hiked down into the canyon for four hours, you fell behind everyone else. When your guide would stop the group at a resting point, and you’d finally catch up to them, your legs shook, your breath shook. When you had to walk just ten minutes up a path you clung to the rocks, you clung to your chest. When you reached the guesthouse you’d be staying at that night, you downed a water, a Coke, some Lomo Saltado, and then could hardly get up from your plastic chair. “I think I’m going to need a mule,” you told the girl next to you.

On the second day, on a half hour climb to a rest area that had overpriced chocolate bars and guinie pigs in cages waiting to be grilled, you were the last one to arrive. When you did, finally, you collapsed into a chair, dripping with sweat.

“I’m renting a mule,” you muttered as you peeled an orange and unwrapped a Twix bar.

But you didn’t rent the mule.

There are many options for trekking Peru’s Colca Canyon. You can do it yourself, but if you’re a solo traveler, if you spent the week before working at your laptop and met no one else in Arequipa, it’s probably best to take a tour. Be with others. If you search online you’ll find websites that tell you it costs $250 and that it has to be booked five months ahead. Or you can ask your hostel two days before and book a tour for $50. You can take a bus tour or you can take a trek and treks last two days or three days. At first a three-day trek sounds like it would be worse than a two-day trek, but it’s actually better. Both cover the same distance, both have the same amount of walking. The three-day trek just spreads it out more. For either trek, there’s an option to rent a mule to take you up to the top of the canyon on your last day.

On the second day of your trip you are happy you took the three day over the two day excursion. You arrived at the hotel in the afternoon, when it was still hot enough to enjoy the pool for 15 minutes or so. The two-day-trippers arrived much later, much more exhausted, after the sun started to disappear and the air started to chill. After a quick swim, you laid in the grass and pondered whether you should get a mule the next day. Even when you booked the tour you were certain that you were going to get the mule to take you up the canyon on the third day of the trek. You were certain that you would never make it up yourself. And the past two days of trekking only confirmed that you were in no shape to hike for three hours uphill. Usually you’re good with downhill, but, on this trip, even that had been struggle.

But no one else in your group needed a mule. Not the American couple who were living in Lima. Not the three Dutch couples who weren’t traveling together. Not the older Australian woman. Not the German girl who came on the trek covered in red puffy spots that you worried the whole time you’d contract.

The only other person who was considering a mule was her friend, another German girl, who had also been slow and had some trouble.

You talked to her, that afternoon, and together decided that you would do it. You would trek up the canyon together and not get mules. You could do it.

Mules were expensive, anyways. Seventy Soles. Twenty-five dollars. Which doesn’t seem like a lot of money except that the whole three day trek, including two night of accommodation, transportation, and most of the meals, was only fifty dollars.

That night, in front of a bonfire, the guide asked if anyone wanted to rent a mule, and then, after you all said no, time and again, asked you, “are you sure?”

“Yes.”

But the next morning, fifteen minutes into the hike up, at 4:15 in the morning, in the pitch black, when your breath was already heaving, when your legs were already shaking, when the guide pointed you and the five others who joined in the “slow group” in the right direction, before turning around to guide the others, you wished you had gotten the mule.

The German girl, the one who agreed that she would be slow too, she got a mule.

She woke up that morning saying she was sick and was up all night. The guide called around and found her an extra one. You cursed her as she stayed behind and considered asking if he could find you one too. But you kept quiet. It was 4:15 in the morning. It was pitch black. You had a long trek ahead of you. There was no other option but to walk.

At first, you are in front, leading the group of women behind you with your iPhone’s flashlight. That is how prepared you are to trek. You’re using the flashlight function on your iPhone. Another girl has walking sticks, most everyone else has headlamps. You have an iPhone.

You walk, leading them around turns you can’t see, pausing at corners when one turn would lead you up and the other would send you slipping down the rocks. You walk until you can’t walk. Until you need a break, a sip of water, oxygen.

You ask then if anyone else wants to take the lead and, luckily, Rosalind, the older woman, the olive farmer from Australia, offers to take over. You’re grateful. Because you feel so guilty for the other girls that they joined you in the slow group that you would spend the whole morning pushing yourself too far, too fast, if you stayed in front.

You tried to convince people not to join you. Sure there were a few who would benefit from the 45 minute head start. The Dutch girl who, on the first day, was sick from altitude. The German girl. The one who got the mule.

The others decided, the night before, that they wanted to join the “slow group.” They wanted to take their time, enjoy a leisurely pace that the “fast group” wouldn’t have. I tried telling them that it wasn’t a matter of fast and slow, it was a matter of normal and slow. But somehow the slow group became bigger than the fast group, the normal group.

Rosalind, and her headlamp, take the lead. She goes at a slow pace and instills a one-hundred on, one-hundred off stride. One-hundred paces. One-hundred count rest. It’s just what you need to get your heart rate back to normal. To feel normal.

Slowly, the sun starts to rise. Slowly, you make your way up the canyon. You increase your pace to 150. Then 200. You take breaks here and there to eat some Oreos, drink some water, take some photos.

It’s two and a half hours later and the sun is out, when your guide, and the rest of the group catch up to you. The girls you had been trekking with all morning now increase their pace. But you still struggle. More so than before because you’ve made it two-thirds of the way up a canyon you had no business climbing.

You still have an hour to go.

The guide turns on his iPod, cranks up, “Eye of the Tiger,” and you continue to walk.

At one point, a man with three mules passes you. Two of the mules are carrying supplies and the other is free. Your guide asks if you want it. He could ask if you could hitch a lift.

But you decline. You’ve made it this far. You’re close to the end. You can finish.

As the mules disappear up the canyon, you immediately regret saying no. You slow down. There are more stairs and stairs are hard because you have to pull yourself up. You prefer the stretches of dirt paths.

“Half hour more,” the guide says. Half hour more. You think back to the day before. To the half hour climb. You managed that. And, today, you managed your way nearly to the top. You walk. You take breaks. You can feel your heart in your ears.

But you walk.

You look up and see the top. And you see some of the rest of your trekking group there watching down at you, cheering that you can make it. You can make it. You are almost there. Your guide cranks up Jason Mraz behind you:

But I won’t hesitate no more, no more.
It cannot wait, I’m yours.

And you put one foot in front of the other.

You turn a corner and realize it’s your last one.

He plays, “We are the Champions,” behind you, and you walk the last part of the path, and you cry.

Not a lot, just a few little tears. Because you did it. Because you did something you didn’t think you could do. Because you pushed yourself to do something you didn’t think you could do.

And you think about that mule you could have taken. How much easier it would have been. And you think about all the mules in your life. The ex-boyfriends. The bank accounts. Your mother’s house. All those things you fall back on instead of pushing yourself for more.

And you wipe the tears from your eyes, and you laugh, and you smile, and you stop to breathe, as you meet your other trek-mates at the top of the canyon. As you hug them, and high five them, and shake their hands.


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I’ve been here before. (On Arequipa, Peru. On not knowing what the hell I’m doing.)

by Val Bromann  :::  08-07-2014  :::  Comments (4)

Arequipa, Peru.

This is Antigua.

That’s all I could think when I entered the main square in Arequipa, Peru. Both were surrounded by walkways of arched columns where touts would constantly hassle you to book a tour, eat at their restaurant, buy some sunglasses. Both were flanked by a giant church. Both centered around a park, a fountain, where women in traditional garb tried to get you to buy traditional souvenir, eat some ice cream, or, in Arequipa’s case, take your photo with an alpaca.

It was bigger than Antigua, but so eerily familiar that I often forgot where exactly I was.

Standing in the main square, my first day in town, brought me back to last March, when I arrived in Guatemala, scared, unsure of myself, not knowing if I was in the right place. Back to a place where I wandered aimlessly not knowing what to do with myself until I finally said, “Fuck it,” and got a crepe at the crepe place or a bagel at the bagel place because I couldn’t figure out where else to go.

Sometimes I feel like a horrid traveler.

But then I realize something that snaps me out of my funk: it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter if I spent 9 days in a place and really only saw a convent. It doesn’t matter if I ate pizza for dinner because I was really craving pizza and my stomach was feeling kind of fucked. It doesn’t matter that I booked everything through my hostel because I didn’t want to shop around. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t go out of my way to find the best adobo in town. Nothing matters. You’re not being a bad traveler or a good one. You’re just being. And doing whatever you need to do at that very moment.

It’s a lesson I forget sometimes as I chastise myself for not going out of my way to do anything. As I go to the Lonely Planet recommended restaurant because no one seems to be in any restaurants so how can I tell what’s good or not. As I make ramen for dinner because I don’t feel like cooking or sitting alone in a restaurant. As I sit in the hostel common room watching a movie.

It doesn’t matter.

I spent nine nights in Arequipa, though I barely left the hostel outside of a morning at the Santa Catalina Monastery and meals.

I had this huge kick of inspiration for retooling my blog and making it more mobile friendly that all I did was hog one of the very few outlets in my hostel and stare back and forth between my laptop and my phone. Sometimes when you’re in the mood for something you just have to go with it. I did come to Peru, after all, to get shit done.

Arequipa, Peru.

Arequipa, Peru.

Arequipa, Peru.

Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa, Peru.

Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa, Peru.

Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa, Peru.

Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa, Peru.

Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa, Peru.

p.s. how many Alpaca sweaters do you think I will own before I leave here?

Arequipa, Peru.


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(Not) Sandboarding in Huacachina. (Or, I’m a totally uncool backpacker. And I’m kind of OK with that.)

by Val Bromann  :::  07-30-2014  :::  Comments (3)

Huacachina, Peru

Huacachina is a weird little outlet in southwestern Peru. The town, if you can even call it that, centers around a natural lake, and that is surrounded by giant dunes of sand. It’s a vintage relic, really, one of those places you could imagine being filled with rich Peruvians on a weekend holiday back in the seventies.

But this is 2014, and it’s kind of run down, and it retains all that 70s charm, and local vacationers, while still there, have been outnumbered with bus-loads of tourists stopping to take photos before getting back on the bus, and backpackers there for one thing: sandboarding.

Sandboarding excursions in Huacachina are the thing to do. For two hours you’re taken in a dune buggy up and down the sand dunes making stops to either slide down slopes on a wooden board or, for the more adventurous types, standing on an actual snowboard.

“How bad is the dune buggy,” I asked the woman at my hostel.

“Not bad at all,” she said.

I bought the ticket but, sure she was lying, downed 3 Dramamine, 2 Advil, and a hit of some holistic motion sickness drug I bought once because I can never find Dramamine in the store (seriously, where do they hide it?).

I didn’t actually want to go sandboarding. I didn’t actually want to go in a dune-buggy ride that I’d heard described as a roller coaster.

I did want to go deep into the dunes to take photos.

I’ll tell you this: it’s not easy being me. It’s not easy being a girl who is constantly afraid of everything. Who, even if she’s survived something before, doesn’t seem to remember that she made it out alive. It’s exhausting.

And so, as I stood on top of the sand dunes, looking out over the horizon, looking over the edge as everyone else slid belly-down down the slope, I looked at my driver, shook my head, and strapped myself back into my seatbelt.

I’m sure everyone else in the party thought i was totally lame. But, so be it, I’ll be my lame self if I want to.

Besides, the dune buggy itself was more than enough thrill to last me for months. Those who described it as a rollercoaster were right on point. The driver would speed up, impossibly fast, bringing us up impossibly tall dunes before teetering on a edge which we could barely see beyond. We were sideways, we were straight up, we were straight down.

It was a roller coaster. Without a track. Maneuvered by an insane Peruvian.

Luckily, for the English girls surrounding me, I had taken all those drugs.

Huacachina, Peru

Huacachina, Peru

Sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

Sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

Sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

Sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

Sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru

Dogs in the sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

Sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

Sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

Sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru

Sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru

Sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru

Sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru

Huacachina, Peru

Huacachina, Peru

Huacachina, Peru

Huacachina, Peru


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