In Cusco, Adventure Awaits

Gasp! Cough! Try and get some air! Put your hand on your chest (hoping that will help). Bend at the waist and try to find Oxygen. Steady yourself – place your hand onto the giant stone walls and begin panting and almost laughing (but not too much, you don’t have much air in your lungs). Look around. You are are somewhere special. The navel of the world, as they say, is all around you. It just happens to be very high up.

11,172 feet to be exact.

Flying into Cusco, you start to see a valley come into view and your plane descends down between two ridges – the sun is bright and the land is all shades of brown, orange, and green. The clay-tile roofs everywhere. Unmistakably, you are about to enter the sacred valley of Cusco, Peru.

When we landed, the idea of finding such an interesting city was the farthest thing from our minds. Rather, we had a simple plan: get to our hotel, get some food, rest up.

Our adventure was calling. In 3 days, we’d pack everything we could imagine needing, and begin the famed four day trek along the Inca Trail. We would hike 10 to 11 hours per day, camp each night, and on the final day, ascend up to Machu Picchu and (hopefully) beat the hordes of tourists taking the bus. We were doing it the real way. We were doing it the way.

Our adventure crew had 3 principal members:

  • Tim, a pacific northwester, was the chief architect of the entire trip, he raised the idea for the trip nearly a year in advance – his continuous excitement turned real when he sent us a screenshot of a $900 PayPal deposit.
  • Tom, a Bay Area native, was our technology expert, he created a Whatsapp group for us all to stay in communication, and a Google Sheet for us to track our purchases and to-do’s
  • Paul, that’s me, and I suppose my role was to serve as partial travel agent and Spanish translator.

Now the night before arrival, we’d each only managed a few hours of sleep – flying from Seattle or San Francisco, stopping in Bogota, Colombia, and then flying out at 6am and arriving in Cusco.

After going through customs we found an ATM, stuffed our wallets with the local currency, Soles, and found our driver, waiting for us.

While we had decidedly chosen to go “no-frills” – I believe an email correspondence early in the planning phase clearly proclaimed: we aren’t bringing any girlfriends, we don’t need fancy – our Lonely Planet recommended hostel had warmly offered to send us a driver and fetch us from the airport. Not too bad for $8 bucks a night for a bed.

We drove through these new streets, inching along at times in traffic, admiring the architecture, watching locals stroll the streets, and taking it all in. The air was crisp and dry. Distinguishably, we were far from the coast. It felt like Denver or Yosemite. The sun warm on your skin, but the air cool.

Like a ski town – corner stores all had worn signs for Patagonia or North Face gear, sleeping bags and Nalgene bottles dangled all around the door frame like strings of garlic to keep a Vampire at bay.

After checking in, we were shown our four person dorm room. Bunkbeds! I lunged forward and hurled my backpack onto the bottom bunk. (You always take a bottom bunk).

Tim and Tom claimed theirs and we noticed one bed was already drowning in maps, notepads, flyers, and unpacked duffle bags. Clearly we had a seasoned traveler. I made a mental note to inquire later if our mystery bunkmate had any tips or suggestions for Cusco.

We sipped tea, unpacked, and eventually gathered ourselves and headed out to stroll around Cusco and get our bearings – see what was what.

Immediately, you start to notice the people, the buildings, and it all seems to give you a window back into history. I wasn’t able to fully appreciate it all until after the trip and I read, Last City of the Incas. As the author recounts the collision that took place, I felt like I could see hints at it, while taking it all in and looking onto the faces of the local people:

“Nearly five hundred years ago, roughly one hundred and sixty-eight Spaniards and a handful of their African and Indian slaves arrived in what is now Peru. They soon collided with an Inca empire ten million strong, smashing into it like a giant meteor and leaving remnants of that collision scattered all over the continent. The modern-day visitor to Peru, in fact, can still see the results of that collision almost everywhere…”  — Kim MacQuarrie

Feeling the cobblestone and cracked streets beneath our hiking shoes and the fresh Cusco air, we wandered about in a bit of a daze. Part sleep deprivation, part wanderlust, and most of all, the altitude!

We were so high up – when you compare to Seattle or San Francisco sitting down at sea-level.

The air just wasn’t getting into our lungs and up into our brains. I’m sure there is a far more scientific and technical description of what happens and how the process works. But in Lehman’s terms: we were walking up a staircase and our chests felt funny, we were gasping for air, and we almost all rolled back and tumbled down the steps. We laughed, or tried laughing, but no air could come out. Gasping and exhaling, bent over at the waist with hands on our knees, someone pointed at a sign that stated the restaurant served beer and food.

The thought of a cold beer and a salty snack heightened our spirits and propelled us onward. Yes, medicine was close.

After we tried various soups, plates of roasted meat, and a bit of salad, while fortifying with a few cold Cuzquena beers, we all felt better and waddled back out into the city.

A few minutes later, we turned a corner and found the main deal. We had found the central square and arguable crux of Cusco. Yes, the Plaza.

We were standing in the Plaza de Armas.

Gazing out across the square you would be mesmerized by the architecture. The two churches – the Compania and the Cathedral – require an unobstructed gaze and plenty of time just staring, looking around, people watching, and contemplating, what it must have been like during the clash between Spaniards and the Incas.

From our historical perspective we then decided to do what any good tourist will likely do on their first night in a new city: find the local watering hole and get rip-roaring drunk!

Tom had spotted an Irish Pub that claimed to be the highest Pub on the planet and that was all the selling we needed.

Later that night, we found ourselves seated at a table yelling across a mix of American Pop and classic rock tunes. We talked of past travels, imagined what we may find on the Inca Trail, and met a mix of Aussie travelers and local Peruvians that liked to hang with the english speakers.

The next couple of days were spent stocking up on snacks and supplies, sampling the local food, and going on two “warm-up” hikes, including the historic Saksaywaman.

Perhaps the best way to give you a feel for Cusco is with a few snapshots I took with my iPhone 6S. More to come on Cusco and the Inca Trail hike in the next blog post…

Until next time,

#keeptraveling

Photos from Cusco

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Kinsale, Ireland: To Fort Charles and Fishy Fishy!

Ireland has plenty of famous sites and enough charm to lull you into a trance-like-state: visiting quaint towns, sipping Guinness, staring out at the green land and feeling the wind blow and swirl along the coast, then repeating. I could spend weeks, maybe months, endlessly getting lost along the southern coast of Ireland.

The guidebooks don’t make it any easier, as they make a lot of noise about the Cliffs of Moher, Killarney National Park, the Ring of Kerry, and many other top sites. But if I were sitting across from you at a local bar, whispering the secrets of my time in Ireland and recounting the lovely trip I’ve just returned from, I’d lean in real close, look from side to side to be sure no one was eavesdropping, and I’d share this: there is a historic town you must visit, due South from Cork, and it’s name is Kinsale! 

Not only that, I’d brush away some hanging cob-webs and raise the lantern close so you could see my face and implore you to pull out a pad and pen (Ok fine type it on your darn iPhone! You are ruining the image I’m painting here!) ………….

Where was I? Yes, Yes, jot down a few secrets for visiting Kinsale and then I’ll tell you what you can not miss.

#1 If you are driving from Cork take a secret scenic route – navigate your way to approach Fort Charles from the East. You will drive on a one-lane road, you won’t see many cars, you will feel like you’re driving up to someone’s house, and then, like magic you clear through the trees and can see Fort Charles in the distance. It’s amazing!

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#2 You can park at Fort Charles! Don’t forget that. Also the town, the center of Kinsale, and the boat harbor, are all a good 30 – 45 minute hike from the Fort. Don’t walk that. First park at the Fort, hike around, appreciate it, take it all in, then drive your car into town for lunch.

#3 Make a reservation at Fishy Fishy in advance. Go for lunch. It’s the best seafood in town and everyone knows it. After lunch stroll the few streets in the center of town – you’ll find little areas of sitting, a book store, and a few shops.

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#4 Get an afternoon drink outside at Bulman or the Spaniard

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#5 Just walk around the town center, then get up into the hills above the Spaniard – towards Fort Charles. The views and the houses are incredible. You may consider breaking in and never, ever leaving.

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Well there’s a few little tips. I guess if I was thinking of anything else to tell you, I’d carefully consider if you want to stay in Cork, which is a lovely city, and Ireland’s second largest city, or if you should instead look to rent a house up in the hills of Kinsale. (I loved Kinsale and would suggest staying for one night)

Perhaps it was just the french white wine and tasty oysters, maybe it was the magical drive that popped us out into a lush green outlook with a view of Kinsale, maybe it was just the sunshine and that calm ocean water with little sail boats quietly skimming along while their red sails seemed to gently wave hello. Something about Kinsale clearly got to me.

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Ok, now you can go plan your trip to Kinsale, Ireland.

Until next time,

#keeptraveling

(I’ve just returned from a 9 day trip around southern Ireland and will be posting my findings from each wonderful city. All photos were taken with my iPhone 6s or Nikon D3000)

 

Ireland: Just Got Back, You Should Go!

Wow, let me just say, wow! That’s how I’m feeling having toured the green hills and valleys, the stunning jagged coasts, and the bazillion fabulous little Pubs of Ireland.

Simply put, I’m deep in the post-travel blues when you can flip through the photos and remember the glorious feelings of freedom, exploration, and the untouched-white-snow feeling of heading into a town without knowing what you may find inside.

I was able to plan a trip that worked so well, flowed so effortlessly, that I will be writing up where we went, where we stayed, and of course, where to eat + drink. That will be coming up later this weekend!

For now, I’ll point you all to my Instagram where you can find a smattering of photos such as these: ( P.S. follow Take Ya There on Instagram)

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Well look for the travel articles and more details to come, but in the meantime I will leave you with a strong recommendation to plan a trip to Ireland for the last week of April or first week of May. The weather was dead on perfect!

Until next time,

#keeptraveling

Day Trip, Leaving Barcelona

This last February, I spent 4 days in the beautiful Barcelona basking in its ever-sunny climate and exploring the Catalan culture and history. Barcelona is a beautiful city and I recommend that everyone visits once in their lives just for the architecture alone. However, anyone who knows me knows that I love the outdoors and my…

via Montserrat Day Trip from Barcelona: Your Ultimate Guide to Montserrat National Park — World Inside My Pocket

3 of the Best Things I’ve Heard When Traveling

WHILE TRAVELING you are sure to meet all kinds of amazing people and will without a doubt, learn a few new things or bring back a fresh perspective. One of my favorite parts of visiting new countries and meeting new people has been those little sayings or phrases that I remember hearing; and no matter how long has passed, they’ve stuck with me. Some were funny or strange. Some seemed a bit more profound or important.

Here are the 3 best things I’ve heard while traveling:

Hope you enjoy!

#1 “Today is today….tomorrow? I don’t know?!”

Location: Sayulita, Mexico

On vacation with my girlfriend, we decided to sign up for a full day of sailing and snorkeling with Alley Cat, a very fun boat trip for the day!

The morning started off a bit sluggish: all the tourists were shuffling onto the large, 56 foot catamaran boat and the excitement level was hovering around a 3 or 4. While not depressing, the mood was understandable. A tinge of a headache, read like the headline on a newspaper, across many faces (Tequila the likely culprit) and the morning air was still chilly on the water. The sun beginning it’s day and rising just as slow as we were moving. By 8am, the seats and mesh netting hammock-style center of the boat was filled with huddled tourists. Brightly colored beach towels were wrapped over everyone’s shoulders and legs – makeshift blankets so some could still imagine they were in bed.

At 8:30am the boat motor came to life and all of the day guides piled onto the boat. Christmas music began to blast and they all ran to the front of the boat – standing in front of us like a theatre cast, ready for their final bow. The tip of their Santa hats dancing side to side.

The lead guide, Carlos, announced himself with a smile and as he saw everyone needed a pump up, he proclaimed in broken, accented English, “Today is today……tomorrow I don’t know? The boat laughed and chuckled.

As the boat glided over waves, the sun came up, and smiles brightened on everyone’s faces. Throughout the day, this saying would become (first) a little joke that we would giggle with a worried expression on our face (oh no this will be a long day!) and then it became everyone’s rallying cry (Today is TODAY!….)

I can remember myself thinking “oh crap what did we sign up for!” at this early morning hour – cold and on a boat, with overzealous dancing guides and loud Christmas music belting “Feliz Navidad” on repeat.

But once the boat set sail, the day became more and more fun: with snorkeling, swimming into a blue cave, and sightseeing. As the boat sped along, the sun rays warmed our ocean-salt kissed skin.

By 2 or 3pm in the afternoon, the vacationers had scarfed down tasty quesadillas and were now hitting the free and open bar – Coronas and Margaritas were being passed down the line.

By 4pm the boat was returning to our dock and the music was cranked up. The final 30 minutes were a euphoric sun-sparked party, with a conga line forming, a guide pouring Tequila down our gullets, and everyone embracing the phrase, “Today is today…tomorrow I don’t know!” It wasn’t quite Wolf of Wall Street (hey there were kids on board) but it was a party!

Thinking back, it’s almost one of those bumper sticker sayings, dead simple but the more you recall it, you start to nod along in agreement. I still think back to this day anytime I feel like skipping out on something that’d be out of a normal routine. Or just, if I can feel a negative vibe creeping in.

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Our guide Carlos

 

#2 “Oh, My Christmas!”

Location: Cusco, Peru

Traveling with my friends, Tim and Tom, we planned a backpacking trip to South America and knew we wanted to do the traditional Inca Trail hike: a 4 day pilgrimage of sorts, where we would hike and camp our way to Machu Picchu. We picked the tour provider, Llama Path, and we were so glad that we did. Their entire team was awesome! One of the best parts was our lead guide, Marcos, and his assistant, Gary.

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Marcos, leading our tour group

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From Left: Tom, Marcos, Paul, and Tim

Now Marcos was a very interesting tour guide. He claimed to be of Incan descent – imagining back his lineage to the times before Francisco Pizarro and his tired band of Spanish conquistadors showed up with a lust for Gold and treasure. He’d studied the history, read the ancient writings, and even spoke the indigenous language, called, “Quechua”.

A true guide – he knew every inch of these trails and would pull the group aside to trace a drawing in the sand, or point to a local plant and explain the magical properties that the Incas would extract from the plant – utilizing in important ways, for example to remedy a stomach ache or enhance libido.

He was a great guide – bringing plenty of energy to wake up any whiny Americans or Brits we had in tow in our group. He did, however, have some very bizarre sayings. Some we just weren’t sure if we had miss heard him. Others were so strange we’d spend an hour hiking along a trail, hopping over stones and branches, and discussing as a group with heads shaking and shoulders shrugging. You think he meant…does he understand…..who knows?

I’ll give you an example. After any pep talk or attempt to rile up the group, he’d look around and say, “C’mon Michael Jackson did it!”. An air of silence would sit in front of all our faces, as he chuckled and slapped his hands and gently rubbed together (as if to ignite a tiny tiny fire). The saying would keep popping up but we had no idea what it really meant. Was he referring to Micheal’s amazing early music (Billie Jean, Bad, Thriller, cmon!) or was he by chance referencing the Free Willy hit song or scene with an Orca leaping far overhead? Or did he mean the later years – with all those unsettling accusations, rumors involving young kids, the court trials, and odd, odd, behavior.

Hmm, still thinking on what that saying meant? Alas, I digress. His most memorable phrase was one he would blare out whenever excited, happy, giddy, or genuinely attempting to get everyone in a better mood. He’d jump into our dining tent and as the porters would walk in and serve a steaming bowl of soup he’d stuff his nose into the bowl, inhale like a college kid’s bong hit, and exude, “Oooh My Christmas!”.

The saying, we all assumed, meant that he was so happy, or something was so enjoyable, that it felt as if it was Christmas morning. Along our hike we’d hear this jolly saying at many different points: a beautiful view of mountains coming into perspective as we rounded a turn, a hot tea or soup being placed into his cold, trail-worn, hands, or even when he’d wake up from a short nap in his tent. All of these moments would warrant a grandiose, “Oh My Christmas!”

Whatever the origin, I distinctly remember the saying and it was a sure-fire way to get our group chuckling, shaking our heads, and thinking, Oh Marcos!

#3 “Suerte”

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Sometimes referred to as the Paris of South America, Buenos Aires will likely forever hold my heart. It’s a wondrous city, filled with cafes, parks, and herds of homeless dogs. The people all seem thoughtful, well-read, and are communal in many ways. Food and drink is a shared experience, a mate is always passed around, and a curious thing happens whenever you leave a shop, a stand, a restaurant, or any vendor of any sort, as you depart, you’ll waive or nod and blare out, “Suerte!”. Translated it means luck. So in many ways you’re wishing the other good luck. Of course it doubles as a goodbye, see ya later, or until next time, but when you really think about, what could be a better way to leave someone else, than to extend a sincere, good luck?

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A street corner in Buenos Aires.

So there you have it. A few phrases that have always stuck in my head. Suerte to all!

Until next time,

#keeptraveling

Your Next Trip? Irish Spring,Why Not?

Where to next? Ireland! After careful consideration, I’ve set the next destination as a jaunt to Ireland for lots of sightseeing, hanging out in Pubs, and a few hikes where particularly note-worthy.

I suppose the trip has always been on the list. It’s long been a favorite feel for my brother – an avid fan of Guinness, Hobbits, and places cold and wet (Seattle and Portland). So you see why Ireland would line up there…

In my mind, I’m picturing a wet little Shire from The Lord of the Rings (below) with lots of rain, or dew covered stone steps, and a wee fellow constantly coming around to hand me a fresh pint of Guinness.

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The trip I’ve planned has all been done with a relative low amount of effort and preparation. Finding flights was probably the most arduous process, but we settled on British Airways and included a stop-over in London to visit some old friends.

Once we booked the trip, I started to see more and more news about Ireland pop up.

St. Patrick’s Day was a few weeks back and I’d seen a joint announcement with Travelzoo, they did live stream of the parade and also mentioned that Ireland was one of their top travel destinations for 2017.

Even more recently, I’ve seen lovely Instagram posts about the Library at Trinity College in Dublin. Now it will be a must see. As a book lover, I think you might feel your heart flutter when you look at these photos. 

Ok so I’m going to Ireland, what’s the plan?

Well I did say this was low preparation but what I do know so far is we’re planning on a road trip style of visit where we may only have a day in each city. We are sticking to the Southern areas of Ireland. And of course, we must fly in and out of Dublin.

Here’s a snapshot of what I’m thinking:

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Have you been to Ireland? I’d love to hear tips or suggestions on what we should add to the trip? What is a must see?

Feel free to post as a comment below.

I’ll update you all when the plan is better built out. When’s the trip? At the end of the month!

Until next time,

#keeptraveling