Learning to cast net in the Amazon with Marcos

I had the pleasure of having lunch made by Shirley’s friend Joaquina (pollo al horno) and going fishing with Marcos, her husband. He makes all of his nets by hand and is extremely good at his craft. We caught devil fish, and other species common to this lake along the Madre del Rios. Today he will make traditional soup from the fish and Sunday we will be going fishing on the Madre Del Rios.


Yesterday’s Hike in the Rainforest and the days events.

Yesterday Shirley took me to a local lodge Estancia Bello Horizonte https://www.estanciabellohorizonte.com just a short distance from Puerto Maldonado with an beautiful rainforest hike, natural spring pool, and canopy climb. The price for the day also includes a delicious lunch. the staff was very accommodating and friendly. We had an amazing time and I was very appreciative to have such an great day together. Later that evening we went to the local stadium to see the celebration recognizing the local schools educational programs with volleyball games consisting of teachers from each school playing against each other in tournament. After the introduction ceremony we and to have pizza at our favorite spot El Horinitos http://elhornitopizzeria.com in the main square of Puerto Maldonado.

Back to Peru and trip to Aruba.

After spending about two months back in The United States and corresponding with Shirley. I decided it was time to head back to Peru to spend time with Shirley and take her up on her offer to show me more of Peru. We decided to first meet in Lima and fly to Aruba for a week before coming back to Peru. I packed my bags and booked my flight for Oct. 2 and scheduled with Shirley her flight from Puerto Maldonado so we could meet in Lima.

I was excited to be returning to Peru and also looking forward to seeing Shirley. I arrived at Pittsburgh airport two hours early and unfortunately my flight to Miami was delayed and therefore I would miss my connecting flight to Lima. So I had to take a completely different flight to Dallas Fort Worth with an eight-hour layover and then onto Lima. Eventually I made it to Lima and to my surprise Shirley was waiting for me at the airport with our driver “Walter” and flowers. I was not expecting her to be at the airport especially since my flight was twelve hours late and arrived at 6:00AM but I could hear her voice saying my name aloud as I made my way toward ground transportation. It touched my heart that she would not only come back to the airport to meet me but bring flowers. Lima airport is very busy so I made my way to her we embraced one another and made our way quickly outside, into our taxi, and an hour drive to our hotel in Miraflores. I was releived to be in Peru and happy to see Shirley again.

I was exhausted so I took a nap at the hotel Casa Andina Standard before Shirley showed me around lima and we went to get something to eat. Experiencing Peru with Shirley was an amazing experience compared to being alone or with a group as a tourist. She showed and taught me a lot of things that are customary for locals. I also learned of her great taste for Picarones, which are a donut like dessert with a type of syrup and I must say is very delicious. We explored lima more, including; the coastline, Locomar, Lovers Park, Miraflores marina lighthouse and she explained to me the history and politics of the region before we walked back to our hotel. We got ready and went out that evening for dinner before calling it a night because our flight for Aruba was in the morning.

Our flight to Aruba was a little turbulent but good overall. Shirley had not had much experience flying so it was a lot of new experiences for her but she handled everything with grace. Shirley has an amazing ability to stay positive and be kind yet assertive in stressful situations. Where as I sometimes get frustrated and have a hard time expressing my emotion without getting angry.

When we arrived in Aruba it was raining which was rare on the island. Our driver met us and assured us that the rain would stop shortly in the weather would be great. Since Shirley is fluent in Spanish she was able to communicate with some of the locals who came to Aruba from many Spanish-speaking countries including Peru. After about a 45 minute drive we arrived at our hotel the Marriott in Aruba and the rain had stopped. We checked in and made our way to our room. The partial view of the ocean was beautiful so we quickly unpacked our things, got our bathing suits on, and made our way to the beach. We enjoyed walking the beach looking for sea shells and absorbing the Caribbean breeze and sun. The Marriott is a beautiful and accommodating property. We had the most wonderful server named Odaliz. The Balashi Chill beer, mojito, and food were amazing but there should have been more entertainment, luckily I am pretty entertaining.

Aruba is a small beautiful arid desert island with an amazing beach and ocean. Often called the Dutch Caribbean. The island itself is small enough (20 miles long) to be explored in one day. So after spending a few days enjoying the hotel pool, beach, and ocean we decided to go on a guided Jeep tour of the island which included snorkeling at baby beach. A van picked us up and several other people from various hotels and we went to the starting point of the Jeep adventure. There were two other couples including a couple on their honeymoon from Italy. They did not feel comfortable driving and since I was very excited to get behind the wheel of the Jeep and explore the island they decided to ride with us which was a really cool experience especially since I am Italian but learned that Spanish and Italian are not as similar as I had thought they where.

We met our guide Juan who was a really free-spirited energetic guy. We all jumped in our jeeps and followed him to our first destination which would be the Aruba lighthouse. When we got there we got some fresh coconut juice and enjoyed a great view on that end of the island. Shirley got a picture with local Parrot and we got our picture take. Together as bride and groom on front of Italian restaurant “Faro Blanco” beside the lighthouse which Juan said was really good but excessive. We continued our journey along the very rugged rocky shoreline of Aruba where we would stop occasionally and enjoy the ocean. We also decided to pick up any trash we saw while exploring various locations. We visited the “Alto Vista Chapel” where I said a prayer for my mom and than got a Coco Loco from Dr. Coco Loco which is a rum spiced coconut water. We then continuing on to the “Aruba Ostrich farm” where we had lunch and experienced the life of an ostrich which are very strong aggressive but quite comical bird.

After leaving the ostrich farm we drove for another hour or so until we reached Baby Beach where we enjoyed the remainder of the day snorkeling and having A few drinks before returning to our starting point and then getting in a van to be dropped off at our hotel.

That night we had dinner at Texas de Brazil which was an amazing restaurant and great experience I highly recommend. Our waiter Edgar was without question the best waiter I’ve ever had in my life who made our evening exceptional which included a canister of sangria on the balcony. After dinner we walked along the beach back to our hotel and went to sleep.

The next morning we got up and went to the spa for our scheduled massage. We were truly pampered at the spa and it was exactly what we needed to completely relax. We then headed down to the beach and spent the day enjoying the ocean before going to the pool to catch lizards. That evening we walked the beach until we found a really lively tiki bar playing good music. We danced for a while and talked the night away. We enjoyed a few drinks maybe a few too many before returning to our hotel and passing out.

That evening we relaxed and enjoyed dinner at Giannis Restaurant which has really good pasta especially if you like cheese and I highly recommend. They bring out enormous rounds of parmesan cheese and light a type of alcohol which they pour onto the cheese. When the cheese is melted the pasta is placed onto the round of cheese and toss in it before plating. After dinner we enjoyed the local vendors and explored Irausquin Blvd. We then walked along the beach back to our hotel.

We got up the next day excited for the catamaran and went to have breakfast. Odaliz our waitress explained that the dock we would depart from was close enough that we could walk so we walked along the beach until we arrived at the dock and boarded the Catamaran, which was enormous and extremely well taken care of. They distributed the snorkel gear and gave us a brief orientation. Caesar was our guide who was extremely entertaining, informative, and responsible. The cruise included snorkeling in two locations with lunch and free drinks. Shirley has not much experience snorkeling except what we had done at baby beach but this water was very deep and far out in the ocean. She handled it like a trooper and I assured her she could hold on to me and I would not leave her side in the ocean unless she was comfortable. We saw an abundance of fish and later an amazing shipwreck. We also had time to swim and I enjoyed doing flips off the side of the catamaran. While relaxing and drinking a beer Shirley spotted a sea turtle which was absolutely beautiful and Cesar said is good luck. We spent another few hours enjoying the catamaran before watching the sunset together, appreciating each other, gods creation, and the amazing day we had. We had one more day exploring Aruba before we boarded a plane back to Peru. We where a little sad to say goodbye to Aruba but so excited to be exploring Peru more and visiting Shirley’s family in Abancay.

What about the Ego?

As I posted about ancient history in the Peru itinerary blog I thought about how much our egos play a role in keeping us from reaching our potential by magnifying fear of how we’ll be perceived or judged.

Are we afraid we’ll look silly, weak, dumb, or any myriad of emotions which hold us back from expressing ourselves fully. Maybe if we strip down our ego we have the ability to reach a greater communion with one another, god, and universal consciousness. I think one of the main things that holds us back is that it makes us very vulnerable and that strikes at the deepest fear in our being.

My mom never knew a stranger because she was always and open book and was genuinely interested in what people were saying. I know this because I never saw her judge anyone or have ulterior motives with anyone. She had an amazing ability to have deep meaningful friendships with people. I really admired and had the pleasure of experiencing that in its truest form as her closest friends were by her side as she was battling cancer.

Now believe me I have put my foot in my mouth many times and have had the tendency to close myself off from the world and not let people in but I think that’s par for the course when your diving so deep into emotions while experiencing such a diverse set of life events that make you question everything.

Everyone has developed there own unhealthy ways of dealing with things that affect them from closing off, overcompensating with material processions, to deflecting our judgement of ourselves onto others.

It would be nice if we had more time to focus on developing ourselves, creating healthy coping mechanism, and spirituality. This takes more energy and time than falling into self destructive bad habits which the world is full of in all forms… Maybe that’s there plan.

Untitled, 1982, Jean-Michel Basquiat, American, 1960–1988, acrylic, spray paint, and oilstick on canvas, 72-1/8″ x 68-1/8″

Back to Cusco and onto Oracles.

After leaving Aquas Calientes I returned to Cusco were I would spend the next 4 days including my birthday. During my stay in the Amazon I met a girl named Shirley whom said she was going to be in Cusco during my birthday and would show me around. I was excited and so after checking into my motel (which I decided to spoil myself for my birthday and stay at the Marriott) I called Shirley and asked if she would like to meet at the restaurant across the street from my hotel. Some of the members of the group I hiked with also met there including my friend Robert Da Bruce from Scotland. Shirley arrived and we had a few drinks and talked the remainder of the night. She knew some members of the group because they had previously been in the Amazon also.

That was a bitter sweet night because the members of the group that I hiked with where leaving the next day to continue onto Bolivia and some going home. It was great to have met Shirley and we made plans to goto Moray and Oracles the following day so I was excited for the new adventure with someone I felt a connection to and was looking forward to getting to know.

After laughing and talking late into the night everyone decided to head back to there hotels. Shirley and I made plans to meet the next day and explore Cusco. The morning arrived and I said goodbye to my fellow hikers as they continued on and then I met Shirley and we spent an amazing day together, I spoke only a little Spanish and she spoke intermediate English and we had no problem communicating.

That evening we met back at my hotel and had our first dinner together. I felt so fortunate to have had all these amazing experiences and met such genuine people. At dinner we made plans to goto Oracles to visit some of her family and see Moray site for my birthday.

Journey from the ancient city of Cusco to Ollantaytambo

Flying from Puerto Maldonado to Cusco is only about an hour or so and the flight this time was smooth and I would learn in the future on other flight that is not normally the case. I was excited to experience the ancient city of Cusco.

Cusco is a city in southeastern Peru, near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range. In 2013, the city had a population of 435,114 and its elevation is around 11,200 ft.

Cusco was the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th until the 16th-century Spanish conquest. In 1983 Cusco was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO with the title “City of Cuzco”. It has become a major tourist destination, hosting nearly 2 million visitors a year. The Constitution of Peru designates it as the Historical Capital of Peru.

Finding my way from the airport gate to ground transportation was easy and eventually I found my to the van that would be taking me to the hotel Casa Andina Koricancha in the heart of Cusco.

The street in Cusco are mostly made of brick and are extremely narrow with steep hills, the drivers can be crazy so you have to be aware. You can see a wide range of ancient architecture mixed with some more recent buildings. When I arrived at the hotel a parade was going on in the streets  many of the catholic schools and soldiers were celebration a catholic holiday specific to the region. I made my way to the front desk and checked in. I inquired about getting my laundry done as most of my cloths were dirty by this point and we would be leaving for the Inca Quarry Trail in a few days. The gentleman at the front desk told me it would be charged by weight which equaled about $3.00 a pound. Arriving at my room I found a very comfortable bed actually three LoL, nice bathroom, and general accommodations. I unloaded, took a hot shower (which had never felt better), gathered up my laundry and headed to the lobby. Once at the lobby I dropped the laundry off, met some friends in the lobby and headed out to dinner. Walking through Cusco is surreal, the ancient architecture, the energy, diversity, and history are all consuming. The city is full of tourist from all over the world as well as locals who still mostly practice there traditional trades. We decided to eat at Nuna a fairly newer restaurant which was recommended by a local. The atmosphere was comfortable and service was great although communication can be difficult is you are not fluent in Spanish. I indulged in some local craft beer which was pretty good. I also decided to try Alpaca, which I have to say is delicious and is better in my opinion than beef. After having a few more drinks we decided to head back to hotel because we would be having a meeting with our guides early in the mourning about the Inca Quarry Trail hike to Machu Picchu.

After a good nights rest I made my way down to the lobby to have breakfast, pick up my laundry, and went to attend the meeting about the Inca Quarry trail hike. I met with other travelers that would be going on the hike as well as the guides. The main guides name was Hugo and he was a funny and intelligent man. He explained the route we would take, the length of time, altitude, dangers, precautions, as well as what to be sure to bring. I would be the only American on the trek but would be joined by a Scottish gentleman, a 60 year old experienced Aussie bloke, a 33 year old versed traveler from Portugal, and a 23 year old girl from the UK as well as a host of porters, and guides. I felt good after the meeting but a bit nervous as I knew it would test my endurance. We parted ways as we would be meeting him and the rest of the team in Ollyantambo the following day.

I spent the remainder of the day exploring Cusco, trying different foods, shopping, chocolate factory, and coffee shop. I also explored many beautiful churches including Cusco Cathedral and San Blas Temple. After exploring for awhile longer I met up with some of the group for dinner and then we decided to go to an alpaca clothing factory and market.

Alpaca fleece is the natural fiber harvested from an alpaca. It is light or heavy in weight, depending on how it is spun. It is a soft, durable, luxurious and silky natural fiber. While similar to sheep’s wool, it is warmer, not prickly, and has no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic. Alpaca fiber is naturally water-repellent and difficult to ignite. Huacaya, an alpaca that grows soft spongy fiber, has natural crimp, thus making a naturally elastic yarn well-suited for knitting. Suri has no crimp and thus is a better fit for woven goods. The designer Armani has used Suri alpaca to fashion men’s and women’s suits. Alpaca fleece is made into various products, from very simple and inexpensive garments made by the indigenous communities to sophisticated, industrially made and expensive products such as suits. In the United States, groups of smaller alpaca breeders have banded together to create “fiber co-ops,” to make the manufacture of alpaca fiber products less expensive.

I have decided recently to start importing Alpaca clothing into the Ohio Valley. So if anyone is interested please let me know.

After dinner and a few drinks I decided to walk around for a little while and soak in the vibe and the sights of Cusco at night before venturing back to the hotel. I needed to get up at 5:30 to be on a van heading through the Sacred Valley on our way to the city of Ollantaytambo to start the treck to Machu Picchu.

I got up the next morning feeling a little altitude sickness but nothing a little coca tea would not relieve. I went down stairs, met the group and had breakfast. Our first stop on the way to Ollantaytambo would be Sacsayhuamán, which was a citadel on the northern outskirts of the city of Cusco, Peru, the historic capital of the Inca Empire. Sections were first built by the Killke culture about 1100; they had occupied the area since 900. The complex was expanded and added to by the Inca from the 13th century; they built dry stone walls constructed of huge stones. The workers carefully cut the boulders to fit them together tightly without mortar. The site is at an altitude 12,142 ft and has a beautiful overlook of Cusco. The shear size and magnitude of these structures is amazing and to think only about 30% of the original structure remains today.

After leaving Sacsayhuamán we headed back to the van to continue our drive through the Sacred Valley on the way to Ollantaytambo. Along the way we stopped to visit with a family that made pottery and hosted travelers. I was excited to experience this because I had taken pottery in high school and collage so it interested me. The family were gracious and prepared a delicious meal consisting of potato soup made from dried potatoes, avocado salad with bread, and chicken with rice. Also served with the meal was Chicha not the beer but the purple non-alcoholic drink made from corn. The meal was delicious and the hosts could not have been more genuine and kind. After talking for awhile we followed them to there studio were the created there pottery and to watch them work. As they began to work I could immediately tell how skilled there technique was and that it had been perfected by generation. It maintain its tradition from the way they cultivated the clay from the local mountains to the kick wheel they use to spin the pottery, the technique of decoration and the kiln they used to bake the pottery.

After leaving our hosting family we continued on our way to Ollantaytambo along the way stopping at a local bar to have some Chicha the alcoholic drink fermented in a pot from corn mash and sometimes mixed with strawberry juice. We also enjoyed a drinking game called Sapo which consists of tossing coins into a stand containing various slot with different points and a brass frog in the middle as a bullseye not to different from cornhole. We played a few games and had a few drinks and continued to Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo is a town and an Inca archaeological site in southern Peru which is about 45 miles northwest of Cusco. It is located at an altitude 9,160 ft above sea level. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti, who conquered the region and built the town and a ceremonial center. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru, it served as a stronghold for Manco Inca Yupanqui, leader of the Inca resistance. Nowadays, located in what is called the Sacred Valley of the Incas, it is an important tourist attraction on account of its Inca ruins and its location en route to one of the most common starting points for the four-day, three-night hike known as the Inca Trail

The ruins in Ollantaytambo are amazing and climbing the huge stones to the top is literally breathtaking. After exploring the ruins I headed to my hotel to check in and relax. Once I had checked in and unpacked my things I walked to the center square to get some dinner and have a few drinks. The stone streets in Ollantaytambo are ancient and open water ways are running down either side of the streets.  After exploring the stores, alleyways, and bars for awhile I met up with some members of the group for dinner at a local restaurant. We talked about the beginning of the Inca trail hike our diverse backgrounds and what had lead us to this point of wanting to visit Machu Picchu and hike the trail. After one to many drinks considering I had to be up at 5:00 AM to meet with the rest of the group, Hugo my trail guide, and his crew so our group could begin the Inca Quarry trail hike bright and early.

Woke up the next morning feeling great so I went and grabbed a quit coca tea and went to the lobby to meet the group to start the hike to Machu Picchu.