A Michigan Girl Gets a Taste of a West-Coast Lake. Don’t Miss These Spots in Lake Tahoe!

Someday I may look back on this blog post and reflect on how lucky I was to be able to sneak a rustic Tahoe trip into a a gap of time sandwiched between a global pandemic, buying my first house and switching jobs. I have always been the type to seize an opportunity- especially if it means some socially- distanced adventures and seeing one of my best friends (it had been TWO whole years) before public life (may or may not) shut back down.

Tahoe Vista Sunset, 2020

Despite all of this, I made time to research some go-to spots around the lake. Being a very visually motivated person- I didn’t really take into consideration HOW to get to some of these locations… but more on that later.

I will say this- I didn’t know much about Lake Tahoe… I just knew it was beautiful and that I wanted to go. Being from Michigan, I assumed it was the size of one of our small, central lakes. Maybe a few miles around. UHM no. Driving the perimeter of Lake Tahoe can take up to THREE hours and its 72 miles around. For this reason, it is important to consider what you are planning on doing while you are there so that choosing a place to stay is more convenient and central to any hikes, lookouts or restaurants you would like to go to.

I also feel like its worth mentioning for people that are totally unfamiliar with the area that the lake is split up into North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe. Both sides have different vibes so depending on what kind of experience you are looking for would depend on where you want to stay. From what I understand, South Lake is more of a younger, party vibe and North Lake is more family-esque and low key. We stayed in North Lake Tahoe.

I delved into a lot of research about which specific hikes I wanted to do and where I would end up with the best tree lined, sun soaked views of the lake. In all honesty, as long as you have a general idea of what you would like to see, it’s not super important to plan out every single hike. The trails are EVERYWHERE and if you head in the general direction of where you want to go- you will find a trail.

Thats not to say that some of them aren’t HARD. Which leads me into my first excursion- Secret cove.

Secret Cove– North Lake Tahoe (Nevada Side)

FIRST OFF- when you google the trail to get to secret cove it says “the trail is steep at first and then mellows out to a gentle 3/4 mile walk”….. the trail is steep the ENTIRE way. It is virtually like walking down into a sand pit. On the way down my friend and I saw some poor souls lugging a rolling cart back up to their cars, exasperated and drenched in sweat. Many blessings to them because I could barley maneuver the trail with my tiny backpack and Birkenstock’s.

Once you do start to see the cove, it’s like reaching the holy land. The beach itself is very small but crystal blue with large, smooth rocks scattering the surface. The cove used to be a little secret between locals but now lots of tourists hoard there for the views and relaxed vibe… or the fact that clothing is optional. Our greeting upon entering the base of the beach was a very old naked man yelling at everyone that the beach was full… we receded to a nearby cluster of rocks where people were sunbathing and swimming to shelter our eyes and avoid a naked brawl. By the way, the water is ICE cold. When I finally took the plunge I thought my heart had stopped beating for a minute or two.

The large quarries of rocks, pure sun and ice-cold water made the steep trudge down to the cove worth it. We knew we had the climb going back up to look forward to, so we brought a lot of water and sunscreen. The sun is unforgiving and the higher altitude can be deceiving. Walking back up to the car was no small task. We took frequent breaks but were dirty, sweaty and exhausted by the time we made it back to the car. This spot is worth the views but is not for the faint heart. I honestly have no idea how some of the older people at the beach made it down in one piece.

Tahoe Vista and Kings Beach– North Lake Tahoe

We stayed at an adorably rustic air bnb in North Lake Tahoe, right around the corner from Kings Beach. Kings beach is a quaint little town with a great walking strip dotted with ice cream shops, restaurants and views of the water. There is a lovely dock (Geo-tagged in my phone as Tahoe Vista) right in town where we caught this GORGEOUS sunset our second night, a water-colored masterpiece! Kids were happily jumping off the dock while I ate ice cream and gawked at the swirling, cotton candy skies.

Me and Meg at Kings Beach

Every time I saw pictures of Tahoe there was always a killer sunset in the mix. I am very grateful we were able to experience the beauty of these mid-summer skies. I highly recommend staying at Kings Beach if you are looking for access to amazing hikes, great restaurants and a charming, easily walkable town.

Emerald Bay– South Lake Tahoe

Emerald Bay, 2020

Probably the most well-known spot in Lake Tahoe is Emerald Bay State Park, with Fannette Island sitting right in the middle. The area boasts eagle falls which has an adjacent trail, as well as Vikingsholm, one of the first summer homes in Lake Tahoe and one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the United States. (Tours were closed because of Coronavirus, otherwise I would have loved to see the inside)

The outlook of Emerald Bay, 2020

Parking and walking down the trail to the base of Emerald bay is really straight forward. I thought I would need to research trails in order to find a convenient one (god forbid we got lost) but there is a walking path (still relatively steep) that leads down to the bay with beautiful views of the water, bathrooms, and the beginning of the Eagle Falls Trail.

We walked a mile or two of the Eagle Falls Trail and then decided to head back the way that we came down, but the trail itself is not too long and well marked. If you want to spend some time exploring the main areas of Emerald Bay, I highly recommend the hike down and around Eagle Falls to get the full experience!

Eagle Rock Trail– Mid- Lake Tahoe?!

The top of Eagle Rock, 2020

Eagle Rock is easy to find, but easy to miss. This is another popular spot with a smooth .4 mile hike up to cliffs between North and South Lake Tahoe. I recommend this spot for a great panoramic moment with the lake. Just be very careful because it is extremely rocky and unstable.

My restaurant recommendation: Jake’s on the Lake!– Tahoe City

The Food. That is all. Its a Lake Tahoe Staple with gorgeous marina views and.. HULA PIE. How I have survived 27 years on this earth without experiencing this ice-cream- cookie crumble crust- whipped cream- fudgey delight is something I will forever lament. It even comes on its own cute little plate! I also had a melt in your mouth braised short rib dish with sweet carrots and some fresh oysters with mignonette sauce. TO DIE!

Hula Pie deliciousness.

And there you have it folks! Go to Lake Tahoe, eat hula pie, and dive into some heart-stoping H2O!

In that order ­čÖé

The Three BEST Restaurants Near Rome’s Trastevere District

One of my first dinners in Rome, lady and the tramp style

I studied abroad in Rome, Italy in 2014. Back then I was 20. I didn’t appreciate or think about food and wine the way that I do now. I never cooked then. I ate nutella out of a jar with a spoon and burned some frozen croquettes in a panini maker in my tiny apartment kitchen on via degli scipioni in Prati. To me, wine was wine and it all tasted relatively the same. An Italian boy made fun of me and my friend when he found out we were drinking 1 Euro bottles of cooking wine that his mother used. Essentially, it was Italian swill.

UGH. If only I could slap 20 year old Alyssa for her wasted youth and absence of worship for all that is Italian cuisine.

on my way to class in Rome, 2014

Thankfully I had an entire culture of food laid before me on every corner. All I had to do was skip down the marble steps of my building, shout a “buona sera” to the little granny that lived next door and have a hot slice of pizzete rossa or pizza bianca tossed on a plate and into my eager hands.

And thats not to say that I didn’t have amazing meals. I absolutely did. And that is why I am highlighting them in this list. To cleanse my soul of the atrocities I committed while gallivanting in Europe. To let the world know that these places exist and to resurrect my unappreciative former self and allow her to repent her sins, through the delights I am about to bring forth in this blog post.

1. Roma Spartia

Pure happiness at Roma Spartia
Tagliolini Cacio E Pepe.. TO DIE

Cacio e pepe is a Roman delight made of pecorino cheese and pepper swirled between the folds of tonnarelli pasta. You can find it on almost any menu in Rome and Roma Spartia in Trastevere has a specific version of this creamy, tangy dish that was also featured on the show No Reservations.

The pasta is cradled in a shaped bowl of crunchy Parmesan… I don’t think theres a way to go wrong here.

P.S. Don’t skip dessert!

prosciutto and melon

2. La Vecchia Taverna

La vecchia taverna

Nestled in the heart of the Jewish ghetto is La Vecchia Taverna which is a true Roman gem… if you can find it. The outside of the restaurant is rather inconspicuous and we had heard good things about the place beforehand but didn’t realize what we were truly in for. Unfortunately I don’t have as many pictures as I would have certainly taken now.

As we sat down the owners catered to our every whim. There were dishes upon dishes of fresh bread, fried artichokes, grilled vegetables and homemade cheeses. The staff is super friendly and the food was fresh and flavorful. If you want to delve into something truly authentic and romantically Roman- head to La Vecchia Taverna.

Grilled eggplant and mozzarella

3. Dar Poeta

This place has 18 different kinds of bruschetta and nutella stuffed calzones that ooze out of flaky pockets of dough, what else could you ask for? Even though it is third on the list, it is first in my heart and stomach. I had many nights where this tried and true eatery was all I needed to satisfy my every culinary whim. Next time you are on the older side of Rome, swing over to Dar Poeta for sweet or savory bruschetta, pizza that will haunt your dreams and nutella calzones that are worth every single carb/calorie and gram of sugar!

Nutella Calzone

The Top Five Things To Do In (And Around) Lima, Peru

Lima, the capital of Peru, is one of South America’s largest cities and sprawls along the Pacific Coast in a swirl of beautiful beaches, bustling metropolis and Colonial design.

We landed in Lima after a week of hiking, biking, backpacking and climbing around Cuzco and frankly, I was tired. If you are going to visit both Cuzco and Lima on a trip to Peru, I would ABSOLUTELY recommend doing Cuzco first. Lima is a nice treat during the second phase of your trip and it is much less intense, depending on what you do.

1. Parque Kennedy/ La Lucha Sangucheria

I am going to outline the five things I think are must do’s in Lima, trust me- you will thank me later!

Nestled in the heart of the Mira Flores district of Lima is Parque Kennedy, a small park that hosts hundreds of cats… and no one knows how they originally got there! The area is well maintained and a lot of the cats are really friendly and will even sit in your lap! Others scale trees, lay just out of reach from petting or aloofly prowl for food as cats love to do. The park was named after President John F. Kennedy in honor of the support he gave to Peru. The park is surrounded by streets of shops and is also near a shopping center called the Indian Market that has booth after booth of handmade Peruvian goods.

Also across from the market is La Lucha, a sandwich shop known for their delicious chicharr├│n (fried pork belly) among other favorites with chicken, beef and pork. They also sport a list of native fruit juices such as l├║cuma or guanabana which are fun to try with a savory sandwich! They are open until 3 a.m. on the weekends so make sure you swing by to pet a cat and grab a juice and a sandwich on your way to some shopping!

2. Barranco

Barranco, considered the most romantic and bohemian area of Lima, was my favorite district. It is home to many of Peru’s leading artists, photographers, designers and musicians. Aside from the park sculptures, intricate graffiti and cobblestone pathways that showcase Barranco’s vibrant energy- it is a place that allows for beautiful discoveries such as unique architecture, buzzing cafes and seaside landscapes. If you are looking for thriving culture and an array of restaurant choices- head to Barranco for a Pisco Sour and a stroll across the Bridge of Sighs, the wooden bridge that spans across the main area of Barranco, to see some art and watch life unfold in front of you.

3. La Candelaria (located in Barranco)

Located in within the confines of Barranco is La Candelaria, a dinner show that puts on an array of traditional Peruvian dances such as La Marinera, Huayno, and Supaypa wasin tusuq (dance of scissors). The show goes into the wee hours of the morning with one performance after another, an eccentric presenter and delicious lomo saltado which we feasted on with our pisco sours. They also have performance breaks where people are invited on stage to dance, it is a unique experience to be had and one that you do not want to miss in Lima.

Supaypa wasin tusuq Dance
Lomo saltado at La Candelaria

4. The city center of Lima/ China town for Chifa

The Presidential Palace built by Francisco Pizarro in 1535

The city center of Lima is a colonial extravagance not to be missed. The central square known as Plaza De Armas has a lovely walking area with beautiful architecture and lots of street vendors ready to sell you keychains! The changing of the guard is every day at 11:45am, we missed it due to security reasons but if you plan your day around the city center make sure to meander over around that time.

Catacombs of the Church of San Francisco

Also nearby is one of the city centers main tourist attractions, the Church and Cathedral of San Francisco. I wont advise you to visit the catacombs if you are claustrophobic- I am and it was challenging to weave myself down into the eerie darkness of the catacombs without having a panic attack. However, I love history (especially morbid history… I know I’m a weirdo) and the story behind the troughs and troughs of bones is this: Wealthy Lime├▒os thought that their final resting place would be in plots purchased beneath the monastery. The catacombs ran out of room eventually but were still burying wealthy catholics on top of each other. Now the bones are arranged in patterned formation and displays fragments of the rumored 75,000 souls buried in these dark trenches.

After the sinister bones display, we worked up an appetite!! So we headed over to China Town…

Whilst in China town we feasted on Chifa. I was not prepared for the Chifa pleasures awaiting me in Lima. The food was so fresh and flavorful. It’s literally the best Chinese food I’ve ever had in my life. It was super fresh, the portions were HUGE and the table spun so there is always the option of stealing the last dumpling from across the table! Chinese immigrants came to Peru in the early 20th century and infused their traditions with Peruvian cuisine making a culinary child worthy of the gods… and my taste buds. Make sure to stop in China town for some Chifa dishes on the way through the city center of Lima!

5. Paracas, Ica and the Huacachina Desert

Islas Ballestas- Ica, Peru

The small coastal town of Paracas is a spot that is overlooked in many travel itineraries but not something to be missed. It lies in the Ica region which is 152 miles from Lima. The streets of the town host restaurants, shops and hostels but the main attraction is the boat tour (which you should book in advance) that you can take to Islas Ballestas to see lots of sea life such as penguins, seals and various types of birds. The boat tour lasts about two hours and covers three islands. Tip: Don’t leave your mouth hanging open, the birds chose victims a plenty as the tour boats innocently float beneath their prepped and feathered… wings.

Another treat on the tour is seeing the Nazca lines carved into the side of the first island called the candelbra which was made around 200 BCE! No one is sure how exactly the ancient people of Paracas constructed this drawing, but they were aware of the wind direction and because of that, the drawing has never withered away.

Candelbra Nazca Lines in Ica, Peru

Another thing we all learned is that seals make noises that sound like they “want to speak to a manager.” I was mind blown by the sounds that come out of their mouth… (video below).

A wailing seal?!
Precious lil penguins taking a dip

Huacachina Desert

Huacachina

The Huacachina desert is a tiny oasis surrounded by sand dunes in southwestern Peru. The village itself only has a population of 100 people but thousands of tourists visit every year. For this reason there are a fair amount of party hostels, bars and restaurants that surround the lagoon that sits in the center of town.

Sand dunes of Huacachina

Legend has it that the lagoon was created because a beautiful native princess took off her clothing to bathe but saw a male hunter approaching from behind through her mirror. She was startled and ran from the area but left behind her mirror which turned into the lake. The woman is rumored to still live in the oasis as a mermaid!

We took a bus tour called Peru Hop that left from Lima and stopped in Ica and then Huacachina. It was a very full day of adventure and the tour guide was very nice. However the tour itself was a little like hurding cattle and it felt extremely rushed. We had to rush through lunch when we got to Huacachina to do our dune buggy ride. So if I went back again I would go to Huacachina seperatley and spend the night in order to have a day of relaxing and heading up into the dunes at my own pace.

With that being said the actual dune buggy ride was a blast! I do wish we had had a little more time to explore the dunes and walk around but we raced around with our driver on the dunes and had the option of sand boarding which I didn’t opt to do because I didn’t want a mouth full of sand. When our tour was done and we drove back into town I had sand on very orfiice of my body. Hair, shoes, mouth, underwear. So be prepared to get covered. I dumped probably a pound out of each shoe when we got back to the bus to head back to Lima.

Trying not to think about all the sand in my shoes…

The entire time we were on the dunes I couldn’t help but think about how much my dad would have loved it. He always wanted to ride dune buggies in Traverse City, Michigan with me but we just never got around to it. I know he was smiling down at me and getting a kick out of all of us screaming on the buggies and dumping sand out of our shoes. Our buggy ride ended in serenity, watching the sunset between the dunes.

Peru is a fantastic country with SO much to offer. Although we were there for two weeks I could have easily spent a month and had plenty to do, see and taste! What stories do you have about your travels to Peru?

Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors: One of the Most Influential Artists Still Living

Yayoi Kusama

Over the last handful of years, Yayoi Kusama’s work has gone from psychedelic installation to instagram sensation. I am not going to lie, I saw my feed polluted with selfie-crazed art lovers taking pictures in glowing spaces I had never seen before, and I was immediately intrigued.

I forked up the money to go to her installation in Atlanta, which was sporting the last leg of a collection of her infinity mirror rooms: small chambers that catapult you into a swirling warp of infinite space. Think “circus-fun-house-on-steroids.” The only reason I was able to go to the exhibit is due to the swift realization that 1. I was late to the game and needed to act quickly and 2. because I was scouring the cockles of the internet for weeks reading twitter feeds and looking at stub hub and craigslist to try to get my paws on these illusive tickets. The alternative was lining up at 1 am and standing in line through a cold rainy night in February (which I was prepared to do) to MAYBE getting to see her works.

The reason I am writing about this is because, like so many others, I think her work is stunning. Yayoi is a 90 year old Japanese woman who still has millennials scraping at tickets for her sold out shows. If that doesn’t hold some serious pop culture power, I don’t know what does. The reason she is appealing to so many is the frantic way that she propels people into her visions, through a small cube that warps your perception of space. You are also well aware you have only a precious 60 seconds to absorb it all (Yayoi requested the rooms be timed this way).

I fight pain, anxiety, and fear every day, and the only method I have found that relieves my illness is to keep creating art. I followed the thread of art and somehow discovered a path that would allow me to live.

– Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi’s work is meant to purge her aching mind of the accumulations, obsessions and repetitions that haunt her… by sharing her visions with the world. I don’t think it gets much more intimate than that.

“The Infinity mirror rooms allow us to reassess Kusama’s entire artistic practice by offering a new understanding of the corporeal limits of perception under conditions that define optics, tactility, and intuition of matter.”

Mika Yoshitake
Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, 2009
Fireflies on the water, 2002- Toledo Museum of Art
Lets Survive Forever, 2017- WDNR Chicago

All I can say is that if you haven’t seen her works in any major exhibits around the world, find one and fight for tickets. Even if you aren’t a big art lover, her spaces transform the senses and it is both memorable and therapeutic. I know that her works will be swirling around museums for years to come.

If you have any questions regarding the rooms or the process of viewing them, comment below.

Peru: Tips for the short(ish) hike of the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu and the city of Cuzco.

The “Short” Inca trail and Wi├▒ay Wayna:

Views from the Inca trail

Maximum Altitude: 2732 m / 8964 ft
Minimum Altitude: 2088 m / 6850 ft
Distance Travelled: 10.79 km / 6.67 ml (to Inti Punku)
Approximate Walking Time: 7 hours

We decided to do the “short” Inca trail which is a seven hour hike on a mountain path paved by the Incas which ends after the Sun Gate, a post that looks over Machu Picchu. The Inca trail that we walked was the last leg in a longer 4 days and 3 nights hike that many other crunchier, rustic and bolder hikers brave to get the ultimate satisfaction of reaching the Sun Gate on their last day. However, I was content with a one day sweaty trudge up to the architectural glory awaiting me.

A couple of tips before attempting the hike:

DO bring a camelback. I didn’t have one and I wish that I did. You are sweaty, sticky and constantly moving. Having the ability to drink water as you walk is essential and important.

DO wear sunscreen AND bug spray (and re-apply). The bugs are vicious and hungry. Even if it is overcast, the sun still scorches your skin and you are rarely in the shade the majority of the hike.

DO wear water-wicking clothing that covers you. It is humid. It is hot. No one wants a chafed ass. There are lots of sticks and stones that will break your bones… or just scrape your skin.

DO race ahead of the crowds when you first get off the train to the Inca trail. Everyone starts the trail at the same time and the bathrooms at the front of the trail slow people down. We literally ran to the front of the crowds with our guide and staying ahead made it much more peaceful and relaxing. You feel like you are the only one on the trail and you don’t have to listen to every other guides conversations.

DO hit the gym/ train before doing the trail. You don’t need to be an athlete by any means but building up some stamina will make the day much more enjoyable and will you will avoid feeling light-headed.

The Inca trail route
A waterfall right before Wi├▒ay Wayna

The first treasure that is seen on the Inca trail is the ruins of Wi├▒ay Wayna, a mid-15th century Incan site that was used for possibly a resting place or religious purpose and construction-wise is honestly, a human miracle. (They had to have been rolling stones for YEARS). Its a steep climb up to the site and will give you some serious vertigo. There are government protected llamas- or as I call them, “llamas gone rogue” that gorge on grass on all of the ridiculously steep terraces that carve along the mountain. As long as you drink plenty of water, say a little prayer to the Incas, and don’t think about how high up you are- I cannot recommend enough the delight that is Wi├▒ay Wayna. 

Wi├▒ay Wayna in the distance 
Rouge Llamas

After a few more hours of hiking we reached the Sun Gate, which overlooks Machu Picchu…

Machu Picchu in the distance

The Sun Gate is a small structure that allows you to stop and take some photos of the sights and get a drink of water. Going with a guide on the trail is best because they will have much more knowledge on the history of each stop.

The trail finally descends down to Machu Picchu where it ends. A lot of people will do the Inca hike one day and come back the next day to visit Machu Picchu, which I will touch on next.

The end of our hike leading to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu:

Ahhh Machu Picchu. The holiest of holy’s. People wait lifetimes to have the opportunity to experience this place. It is truly magnificent. An impossible feat for people 600 years ago to build. But that is the mystery of it all. What was used to construct this place? How were these massive stones placed on the edge of a mountain, with perfect precision?

Upon entering Machu Picchu there will be lots of crowds and people, even on the first trips to the site. I highly recommend going as early as you can. It will be less hot, there will be (maybe) less people. And the morning fog is still hanging beautifully above the city.

Some guides will be better than others. I highly recommend doing your research on specific guides/tours and companies to see what their reviews are. Our guide booked through our tour company kept us ahead of the crowds, found the best spot for pictures, and kept us on time because lines to take the buses back down the mountain pile up and curve down the road. The earlier you can get back to the bus, the better.

 

The city of Cuzco:

Cuzco is a large, colorful city that somewhat surprisingly looks Spanish in design. The streets are adorned in cobblestones and flowers with open communal squares sporting fountains and fruit stands.

*one thing to note: there are women in traditional Peruvian clothing holding baby llamas or carting around grown llamas both in the city and at historical sites and monuments. These animals are taken from their mothers as infants and bottle fed. They are usually abused, underfed, and not socialized with their own kind. DO NOT take pictures with them or give them money, it supports animal cruelty.

San Pedro Market:

Our first stop in the city was at the San Pedro Market. It is a Cusque├▒an market famous for its exotic produce, long lines of fresh-fruit smoothie makers, flowers, meat market, alpaca textiles and medicinal herb stalls. We purchased Peruvian chocolates and candies, some home made cheeses, a wheel of fresh bread, coffee, tea, place mats, and blankets at the market.

Tips on the market:

-Be careful about what you try at this market (assuming you are coming from somewhere outside of South America). Although the soups, meats, and produce look tantalizing- the water has elements in it that make people unaccustomed to it very sick.

– Ask people before you take pictures of them. It is super tempting to take pictures of stall owners at the market but many do not want to be photographed and get angry, even if you offer to buy a product from them. Be respectful.

– Barter. People at the market expect it and you can get items at insanely good prices.

– Always watch for pick pocketers. That goes for the market or any public place that is crowded.

Here are my favorite components of the market:

The Sacsayhuman fortress:

This fortress is where the Incas made their final stand against Spanish conquistadores in 1536. It is known for its large stone walls that again, are a human architectural miracle considering their size and precise shapes. I highly recommend visiting this site, it is very impressive and gives great insight into the labor and structure of ancient Incan spaces.

The San Blas neighborhood and Cuzco’s city centre:

San Blas was my favorite walking area of Cuzco due to its bohemian vibes. It attracts wanderers, hippies and artists because of its laid back energy and artisan shops. There are lots of interesting cafes and restaurants. The streets are decorated in art and flowers. Its worth a nice stroll to take in all the charm of the district!

With a fusion of Incan and colonial architecture, the city center of Cuzco has its own unique charm that you don’t want to miss. Cathedral Basilica is a must-see because of the famous guinea pig last supper painting, featuring Peruvian Quechua painter, Marco Zapata’s work.

City centre of Cuzco

For our final meal in Cuzco we feasted on lomo saltado, a stirfry of beef, onions, fries and tomatoes as well as papa a la huanca├şna, boiled yellow potatoes in a spicy cream sauce with hard boiled egg. We also had empanadas, tamales, and sangria. I honestly didn’t have one bad meal in Peru and even lost weight despite how much I was eating. The food is THAT fresh, and its also extremely cheap compared to the United States.

And that concludes my thoughts on Cuzco. I could honestly do a completely separate blog just on the food in Peru because it blew me away in quality and flavor but regardless, I hope you find this information useful in booking your trip, and feel free to reach out with questions!

Happy Travels,

Alyssa

Peru: My dish on Ollayntantambo, Maras salt mines, and a Pachamanca feast!

Well hello there again!

I have been MIA for quite some time. A lot has happened in my life since my last post about Hawaii in April 2018. Right before my trip to Peru, my dad passed away. It was very sudden and very heartbreaking. I considered not going on the trip because I wasn’t sure how I would handle it but in the end decided to go to lift my spirits (as travel always does) and because it is the last thing I have ever done that my dad knew about. My dad is the biggest reason I have been able to travel so much over the years and I owe a lot of my cultural experiences and sense of adventure to him. I knew he would want me to go and enjoy it.

With that being said, this trip to Peru has been in the works for a little over a year. It started with me mentioning the notion to my boyfriend Kevin’s mother Norma about how much I would love to experience the country with their family (she is a native Peruvian from Lima). After that was retaliated with much enthusiasm it was full gear coordination mode and reaching out to a travel agency to set up our itinerary.

It is recommended if not CRITICAL that you book a trip to Peru through an agency. This is because of how spread out everything is, what types of needs you will have (specifically if you are coming from North America and are not accustomed to the altitude) and also for safety.

We used Quechua Treks to plan our trip and as a collective group we have nothing but amazing things to say.

But now I will get into the juice regarding my favorite activities, food and thoughts on Cuzco. We were there for a 14 day whirlwind and it was very exhausting but also completely wonderful and I learned so much! So again to avoid writing a novel about every thing I did and saw I will highlight my favorites starting with the town of Ollayntantambo and our hike in Yucay.

*I will also note here that my trip had too many things I wanted to discuss and show so there is a second part of this post focused on the city of Cuzco and Machu Picchu and another post solely focused on Lima.

Ollayntantambo:

IMG_7287.jpeg
A restaurant in Ollayntantambo selling Cuy (guinea pig) a national dish. 

Ollayntantambo is a small mountain town in Cuzco and flush with tourists since it has a direct train to Machu Picchu. The town revolves around one square that is dotted with shops and small eateries and it feels relatively safe and is quite charming. We stayed at El Albergue which was directly across from the train station. It was very rustic and had its own restaurant and small cocktail bar (pisco sour, anyone?). The food was so FRESH and excellent (but more on this later).

Ollayntantambo is a good place to get souvenirs because they have some unique tapestries and other hand made goods that are cheaper than in Lima or larger towns  around Cuzco like Aguas Calientes and are guaranteed to be authentic. I got a beautiful hand-made hot pink tapestry telling an old Peruvian folk tale for under 100 dollars and didn’t see anything like it anywhere else.

Restaurant-wise we ate our breakfasts and dinner at the hotel and one night we dined at Chuncho which is in the heart of the square. Let it be known that I had no idea Peru had such a wide variety of potatoes and corn! Each potato has its own distinct flavor and texture as well! Chuncho had delicious cocktails and farm to table dishes like the spicy chicken stew we ordered. Also- Kevin tried Cuy and hated it. (He said it was too fussy with the tiny bones and it had a greasy, gamey taste).

Hike in Yucay:

Yucay (as our guide, Zac said) is an overlooked activity in Cuzco. We did a walking tour of a trail following a wide channel stream that trickles down from Mt. San Juan. It was a beautiful day for the hike and we were the only people out and about on the trail (the benefits of it being overlooked) and all I can say is WOW!

It was extremely serene and relaxing (also challenging and dusty (BUT DO IT ANYWAY). We also made a doggy friend who followed us back down the mountain and who shared our lunch with us.

*Side note: the amount of stray dogs in Peru (specifically Cuzco) is astronomical and I was beside myself each time I saw one. If only I could leave the United States behind and start a dog resort in Cuzco!

Maras Moray Mountain Biking:

I have one word to sum up mountain biking: In insanely high altitude. Literally closer to the sun. That word is WATER. Say it with me. WAHHHTERRRR.

My aunt calls me an aquarium because I could probably slam a few fish bowls of the stuff over a light lunch that only lasts an hour. I am no weakling when it comes to how much H2O I can chug at all hours of the day. The reason I am making such a fuss about this is because I was doing my usual fish-bowl ingesting during our mountain bike exploration and it STILL wasn’t enough. I felt overheated and sick after 20 minutes of biking. The sights were gorgeous and it was worth the views but the terrain was rough, the road was dusty, and the air was dry (and devoid of oxygen a.k.a high altitude).

To sum this up: if you are a biking enthusiast who is okay with not breathing or at least feeling very out of shape- go to Maras Moray to mountain bike. But for the rest of us mere mortals, I would recommend staying on the bus.

Vilcanota Mountain Range: Chicon and the Pumahuanca

Our Pachamanca meal at the El Albergue hotel in Ollantaytambo:

I am now going to circle back to our hotel, El Albergue. The hotel is a rustic treasure nestled in the heart of an organic farm growing vegetables, farming llamas, and guinea pigs and even has its own distillery, all encompassed by gorgeous mountain views. All of our meals (and cocktails) were farm to table deliciousness.

view from our room at the El Albergue
Pisco sour (a Peruvian classic) at the El Albergue cocktail lounge

Cuisine-wise my ultimate highlight was the pachamanca feast that was made personally for us and presented by the Albergue chef himself.

What is a pachamanca you may ask? Listen well because this style of Peruvian cooking will change your life… and it should be a new mini-mission of yours to have at some point.

Pachamanca (meaning “earth oven”)  is a traditional Incan meal that is seared on hot stones underground. The stones are layered on top to create a steam that slow cooks the meat. It is similar to the kalua Polynesian pig roasting style typical for a luau. Our lunch consisted of chicken, pork, and lamb with andean potatoes and camote, organic vegetables, chicha morada (which is a purple corn sweet beverage) and house salad. The meat, vegetables and spices are covered with the stones and a tarp is laid over top and then buried with dirt to create mouth-watering smoke perfumed meat that falls off the bone in juicy tenderness.

Below shows some samples of the processÔÇŽ

Once this meal was graciously served to us, we were able to hear more about the history of the farm and the traditions that they have in place to ensure authenticity and exciting flavor in their dishes.

Andean potatoes
An assortment of lamb, chicken and pork
Fresh salad from the garden
Sweet corn cake and cafe for dessert
Our group with the chef
El Albergue organic farm 

After a delicious meal we headed over to a Ca├▒azo (sugar cane liquor) distillery and coffee roasting facility located on the property.

The distillery was very impressive given the fact that they are constantly experimenting with different flavors and textures. They also produce an assortment of spirits such as rum, gin and vodka using Ca├▒azo. These spirits can be found around Peru but I don’t believe they can be found in North America or the majority of South America.

Selection of artisanal spirits 

Maras Salt Mines:

Let me start by saying I have seen pictures of the salt mines on social media for a while now and originally, this was the site that I was most excited about going to. Most of the images I saw showed people walking around within the mines and I was so excited to see the squares of salt up close…

Our tour guide informed us that just this spring they had restricted people from walking within the mines because they were damaging them. I was SO disappointed I could only see them from afar and also… PEOPLE SUCK. Why can’t you just go and appreciate natural beauty without defiling it?!?! Anyways, rant over.

The salt mines aesthetically did not disappoint. But other than taking in the views there isn’t much else to do in this location. There are little market stands aligning the path down to the views of the mine selling the regular tourist garb, though.

Worker at the Maras salt mine

And that concludes one of THREE blog posts I have about Peru. My other blogs focus JUST on Lima and the city of Cuzco and Machu Picchu (including the Inca Trail)

Go check them out!

The Big Island of Hawai╩╗i

I wish I would have started this ten trips ago. I always thought it was more romantic to write in a journal versus type a blog during my trips, but I now realize how much more tangible a virtual post is. I mean honestly its 2018. Either way I figured I would give a cliff notes version of my most recent adventure which was to the big island of Hawai╩╗i.

My experience was a bit different than most people given that my aunt moved to Hawai╩╗i in her 20’s, married a local and never looked back. It is only natural that my family would eventually make our way over to unveil the bohemian- hippie- simple islander lifestyle that she had so easily adapted. So, the week leading up to Christmas I packed the lightest suitcase in the history of my travels (aka bathing suits and a pair of shorts) and we flew the grueling route from Detroit to Kailua- Kona. The majority of our trip we stayed at the Royal Kona- a ten minute drive from my aunts condo.

I can be observant when I want to be and I peak during travel time… that being said these are my first impressions:

  1. Everyones casual. In demeanor, in clothing, in attitude.
  2. The people are lovely, and they find humor in everything- that includes making me eat a mollusk that my uncle cut off of a rock that tasted like a booger (wheres the cocktail sauce?!)
  3. The whole idea of “island time”- it couldn’t be more true, life just moves slower and I think the mainland has a lot to learn from that.
  4. If you stare at the ocean long enough with no agenda, you actually mentally and physically relax. It really works I promise.
  5. As a sign of respect, older people are called “Uncle” and “Auntie” which was confusing at first but I dig it now.

In order to not write a small book about my trip, I can summarize it into 3 major highlights.

  1. Waipi╩╗o Valley
  2. The beach cookout/ Octopus Hunt
  3. The Luau (tourism requires)

Waipi╩╗o Valley:

The lookout from Waipi╩╗o Valley

This place is nothing short of spectacular. It is thus far the most aesthetically beautiful place I have ever been. I hadn’t even googled a picture before we decided to drive the two hour trip around the island to visit. The drive alone was stunning, every 20 minutes the entire terrain changed. Like many I have always envisioned Hawai╩╗i to be predominately ocean, palm trees and grassy hills. On our drive we experienced miles of post-apocalyptic looking lava fields, bamboo forests, deep valleys of waterfalls and rolling pastures with plenty of cows.

In the heart of the valley

Waipi╩╗o itself was something out of a dream. Anyone going to the big island should make it a priority to visit, even though it is not the easiest place to get to. The road down into the valley is claimed to be the steepest road in America. They advise no compact cars to attempt the descent and for good reason. Just seeing people walking up and down the road made me cringe in pain. Luckily we had a family friend who not only had a fun jeep to take us down but also had property in the middle of the valley that had been in the family for generations. Winding around the valley through trees, huge ditches and puddles, amidst wild horses, a commune of wandering backpackers and curious tourists was kind of stressful but very interesting. We ended up having a pack of tourists following our vehicle down private property roads assuming we were also breaking rules… until we finally told them to turn back and closed the gate.

His property was right smack dab in the middle of the valley, walls of vegetation and waterfalls were on all sides. He had an irrigation system set up to produce vegetables and flowers. The valley is the kind of sweet serenity you get no other place. It was very quiet except for our voices and the occasional trickle of water or rustle of leaves. It just didn’t look like a real place and I’m still awe struck that people actually LIVE there.

Black sand beach of Waipi╩╗o Valley

We took the Jeep to the front of the valley where a black sand beach was capped with woods, an occasional hipster pick up truck grill-out and lots of tourists. This is a place I would have planned to spend more time at (and also arrived earlier to avoid tourists all over the place) had I known the beauty and ability to camp. That means a lot coming from me because I have never desired to camp ANYWHERE else.

To me- Waipi╩╗o Valley was one of the biggest highlights in Hilo and on my entire trip in general and it is a big bucket list item for me to be able to return and spend more time.

2. The beach cookout/octopus hunt:

Having an uncle who was born and raised on the island means I had an “in” to a family beach cookout. All his nieces and nephews arrived with a huge tent, poke, pizza, noodles, crab, tuna- you name it.

The “Ohana” family attitude proves true with people related or not. Everyone is very communal and happy to kick back with a beer, some food and eventually make their way to the ocean to boogie board or surf. Since it was a few days until Christmas, we listened to festive music on the beach which was odd for a Michigander but a nice change from the -7 degree temps back home.

My Uncle tricked me into eating some sort of weird clam that I mentioned earlier which did not go down well even though my Aunt persisted that people DO in fact eat it. I also tried spam wrapped in seaweed which is a local favorite, even the grocery store had 20 different flavors. The reasoning behind the spam craze goes back to the World War Two days when GI’s ate it in all different ways due to the fact that it didn’t need refrigeration… you can even find spam on McDonald’s and Burger King menus!

My sister was relentless in her desire to participate in an octopus hunt. My aunt and uncle are versed in spear fishing and cooking the plunder at home in a big pot. We decided to go out on our boogie boards to follow my uncle with his spear around hunting octo-houses. Octopus make little houses out of stones so if you have the patience to scour the ocean floor you just might get lucky. After about 20 minutes paddling around in the water my uncle found one. He poked at it under its rock and we watched the tentacles curl around the spear. At first he had it but then it released some ink and jetted away under a different rock.

He poked around in a rock mound a few feet away and had it for good that time. We were so excited we almost flipped off our board. He said you have to stroke the head of the octopus to calm it down so the tentacles don’t curl around your head and suffocate you.

He also flipped the head inside out to paralyze it and then beat it against a rock to make sure it was dead and to wash the ink off. The one that he caught was small to medium in size but he said he had caught one with tentacles as big as an arm!

Although I never got to eat our spoils, it was still exciting to see the action and know that it provided a family feast.

3. The Luau:

Ahhhh the Luau.

Growing up I took Hawaiian and Tahitian dance lessons and so my background knowledge of the art made me eager to see what a more authentic rendition would look like. It seems one of the biggest if not THE biggest touristy attraction on the island is to go to a luau complete with sugary mai-tai’s and smoked pork. The luau we attended knew how to keep the show moving and funnel traffic to the point that it was a bit overwhelming. We had a short happy hour before the show started and they opened with a couple of songs to warm up the crowd. They then announced the unveiling of the smoked pig across the lawn that had been underground covered in banana leaves for a handful of days. We all rushed to see the complete carcass dug up and swung onto a table as the meat literally fell off the bone. It was a horrifyingly fascinating and I couldn’t look away.

The dances were pretty spectacular. The opening dances told the history of the island which was packed with information that was hard to understand given that it was explained so fast. I learned that all of the dancers only do the shows as a part time gig and have to work other jobs on the side (my Uncle used to be a dancer) because it doesn’t pay enough.

If you had any doubts on picking The Big Island of Hawaii I can assure you that it will not disappoint in any way shape or form. There really is something for everyone. Kailua currently is becoming busier every year as a tourist destination and it is only a matter of time before it gets the foot traffic that some of the other islands are already accustomed to.