About LindseyRBerg

I am a recent USC Trojan alum living in Los Angeles but originally from Boston. I absolutely LOVE to travel and wanted to keep a blog about my experience abroad.

Rio de Janeiro – The final South American stop

The final post of an amazing trip is always the most difficult to post because at this point, I have settled back into real life and am attempting to do my second-to-least favorite thing, unpack. (Note: my least favorite is actually doing the packing). On Wednesday, we left beautiful Salvador for another amazing city, Rio de Janeiro.

We arrived around 3pm to Rio after an easy hour and 45 minute flight. We took a taxi to the incredible hotel, The Fasano. Someone told us before we left that we would have a hard time leaving the hotel and boy were they right! The infinity pool at the hotel that sits right on Ipanema beach is magnificent.  

    
   

When we arrived and settled into our room, we had caprinhias at the pool and then got ready for the event of the evening – a Brazil Cup football (soccer) match. This match was played at the famous Maracana stadium in Rio and was a match between two local teams Flamengo and Vasco. It was such a cool experience to be there cheering on the teams. The stadium was louder than most American sporting events we have been to! 

  
On our second day, we woke up early and went straight up to the roof to enjoy the pool. We wanted to be sure to take in some rays today since the next day was a bit cooler and we figured would be a better day to sightsee. The clouds were supposed to roll in a bit later in the day so we booked a tour for the afternoon. For breakfast, we got acai bowls – one of my favorite things to eat in New York. Acai is a reddish-purple fruit that comes from acai palm trees that are in South America. I got mine with banana and granola in it and it was delicious!  

 
After we ate breakfast, we walked around Ipanema beach, ate a delicious lunch of too many appetizers at this cute cafe called Felice Cafe that was recommended by the hotel. Around 2:15pm we were picked up by a van from our hotel to go on our favela tour. The word “favela” means slum in Portuguese. These favelas are so interesting because they mostly sit on two or three mains roads then houses are built up around them and they contain these mazes of alleys and stairs to get up. Many of the residents do not pay for electricity or water and just steal it from the electrical poles. Some families have owned their homes for so long that they do not even pay rent. The drug dealing and other crime in favelas used to be much worse but since their recent pacification in 2008, the crime has decreased. Since then, people have begun touring favelas, staying at hostels and even attending parties in favelas. It has become an interesting part of the culture in Brazil and is very interesting to see. We visited Rochina, the largest favela in Rio, and Vila Canoas.  

    
   
My favorite part of the tour was visiting this after school program in Vila Canoas. We learned that children in public schools are only in school until around noon and sometimes show up with no teachers because they are often on strike. The public schools in Rio do not provide enough support for their students. As a future educator, this broke my heart. It was very special being able to walk around the school, see the classrooms and some of the children. Visit Para Ti Website Here  

   
After our tour was over, we went out to this dinner at a restaurant that was recommended by the hotel in an area called Leblon. They informed us that Giuseppe Grill was the best meat and fish in the city. We enjoyed the decor and had a good meal but did not find it to be any better than some restaurants in New York. Thus far, Salvador was taking the cake for best food!

Our third day was our day of Rio tourism! We began with acai bowls and then took a taxi to the base of Corcovado, a mountain in Rio. We took a train to the top of Corcovado to see the most famous monument in Rio – Christ the Redeemer. The statue sits on the tallest mountain in Rio and is 13 stories high and overlook and blesses the entire city. It is really massive when you are up close but we didn’t admire its beauty for too long being the good jews that we are!  

    
   
After our train ride down Corcovado, we headed to our next tourist spot – Escadaria Selaron, the stairs of Chilean artist Jorge Selaron. These beautiful steps are located in the Lapa area and are covered in tiles from over 60 different countries. We walked up and down admiring all the different tiles and searched for a tile of Boston but were only able to find New York City (and Chicago, Alaska, Georgia, Maine… very odd our hometown wasn’t included!)  

    
 
Next, we walked through the city to the business center of town and ate at this 120 year old restaurant called Confeitaria Colombo. The restaurant had massive ceilings and the walls were adorned with mirrors. We had a very decadent lunch!  

 
The last stop on our day of Rio tourism was Pao do Acucar or Sugarloaf mountain. Everyone told us how incredible the views from Sugarloaf were but it wasn’t until we took the two cable cars up the mountain that we could really understand what they meant. You can really see the entire city with its beaches, favelas and mountains and it was spectacular!  

    
 
We were exhausted form our busy day so we took a nap then went out to dinner at Restaurant MEE, an Asian fusion Michelin star restaurant at Copacabana Palace. We had a delicious late dinner with a bottle of sake to celebrate our final night in Rio. Our trip went by so quickly! That night, we decided to go out on the town. Per some recommendations from friends, we headed to Rio Scenarium, a huge samba club. We had a fun night dancing on the different floors to Brazilian music. After, we headed to the hotel and discovered that the bar at our hotel turns into a small nightclub at night so we had a glass of wine there then headed to bed. We had such a blast on our night out in Rio!

The next morning was our final day in Rio. We checked out of our hotel then spent the rest of the day relaxing at the rooftop pool at the Fasano until our 9pm flight back to New York. Our trip was so incredible and I cannot believe it has been a week since we left! Until the next trip…

Salvador – Brazil’s Happiness Capital

We arrived in Salvador on Wednesday evening after a connection in Sao Paolo. We figured we would be able to eat in the airport since Sao Paolo is the largest city in Brazil but their offerings consisted of ham and cheese sandwiches and cup of noodles – so gross. When we landed in Salvador we were picked up by a driver from our hotel for a pricey $6. We opted to do this instead of taking a cab because Salvador is much less touristy than some of the other areas and many people do not speak English. We arrived at our hotel, Aram Yami, and could not believe how gorgeous it was. Aram Yami is rated #1 on Trip Advisor and is a small, boutique hotel. The hotel’s decor was charming and the staff spoke nearly perfect English and made us feel right at home. After the first portion of our trip staying in hostels, it felt so great to be in a hotel and “splurging,” although splurging at one of the nicest and best rated hotels in Salvador was around USD$150  per night. Our room was on the top floor and had two private balconies overlooking the entire city. The hotel had an infinity pool and we sure felt spoiled!  

Here are some photos of the outside of the hotel located in Santo Antonio, just next to Pelourinho, the lobby of the hotel, our room and the infinity pool:

    
   

We arrived around 6pm so we were ready to go out for a delicious dinner. We heard great things about the food in Bahia. Bahia is the coastal state that Salvador is in. Bahian food consists of lots of fish so I was excited to try their local cuisine. The hotel recommended a restaurant called Maria Mata Mouro in Pelourinho. We walked through the colorful streets to the restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious bottle of Argentian Malbec followed by the traditional dish called Moqueca, which is a delicious fish stew. This was by far one of hte best meals we have had so far. I love Bahian food! The restaurant also had this adorable back garden area which made the meal even more enjoyable.  

   

The next day was supposed to be gorgeous with highs around 85 degrees so we decided to explore the famous beaches of Bahia. Although the city of Salvador has a number of beautiful beaches, the truly spectacular beaches are a bit of a drive from Salvador. We decided to hire a taxi to take us an hour and a half North to Praia do Forte. Since this would be our best day of weather we felt we deserved a day of relaxation on a beach. We enjoyed caprinihas and took in the rays.  

    
 

After we both finished reading our books, it was around 2:30pm and we were hungry for lunch. We walked to the cute beach town to explore a bit more. The next Bahian food we wanted to try was Acaraje. Acaraje is a ball of deep fried peas filled with shrimp and vegetables in a spicy sauce. It was so delicious and super spicy! We even had locals playing this interesting instrument with a caribbean sound as we enjoyed our lunch.  

 

  

   

After lunch, our taxi driver took us to the Tamar Project in Praia do Forte. This is a sea turtle preservation area where they help sea turtles survive. We got to walk around a look at these incredinle animals. They are so cute and grow to be massive!  

    
    
 
After we walked around the Tamar Project, we headed back to Salvador. We jumped into the pool at the hotel then showered and got ready for dinner. We had dinner at a Japanese restaurant that was recommended along the water in Salvador. The restaurant was cool and the outdoor patio had glass panels so you could see into the water but the food was average. 

The next day. we woke up around 8:30am so we could go explore the city. We enjoyed our complimentary breakfast at the hotel and headed out to explore the streets of Salvador. The incredible thing about the city is the colonial architecture and the colorful buildings. Salvador was the first capital of Brazil when it was colonized by the Portugese and is actually one of the oldest colonial cities in all of the Americas. It is now the third largest city in Brazil in terms of population. It has a ton of African influence as well because it was a major port for African ships bringing slaves over from Africa. It is a dark part of their history but Salvador embraces its African influences in a beautiful way. Here are some gorgeous views of the city of Salvador and the streets of Pelourinho or the historic center. The name Pelourinho was actually named after a whipping post used for African slaves that used to be located in the center of town.  

    
    
   
As we continued our tour around the city, our next stop was taking their elevator to the lower part of the city. The city is connected by these two elevators that connect the lower and upper towns. When we got to the lower portion of  the city, we walked through this market that used to be used to trade slaves. Outside of the market, people were perfoming Capoeira, a combination of martial arts and dance.  

   
When we took the elevator back up, we explored the views of the water from this history museum.  You can also see the elevator that we took as well.

   
Another special thing about walking around Salvador is the Bahia bands that are all over doors and churches. They symbolize three wishes and different colors represent different things. We loved the vibrant colors that adorned Senhor do Bonfirm.  

    
   
For lunch, we ate at this culinary school that came highly recommended called SENAC. It was a buffet style  and the food was ok but the service was great and it was definitely neat to support a local culinary school. After lunch, we went back to the hotel to enjoy the sunset in the pool. For dinner, we ate at Poro Reste e Bar. This restaurant was brand new and actually owned by a woman that used to work at our hotel named Bia. She was so nice, the decor was great  and we had a great experience there.

   
After dinner we wanted to get a true cultural experience. Apparently, Tuesday nights in Salvador are the best night to explore. Salvador is Brazil’s happiness capital for its street parties and music that take over the cultural center of the city. Walking around the streets you could really see why. It was so much fun dancing in the streets with the local drummers. We also went to a show called Geronimo but we actually prefered the free street music instead! Walking around Salvador at night was just as beautiful as during the day but you have to be careful past 11pm because it can get a bit dangerous if you are not careful!  

  

  

  

  

  

  

We were so thrilled that we decided to go to Salvador and spend our day in Praia do Forte. We sure did do it perfectly! I loved the Bahian food and would love to go back and explore more of their amazing beach towns next time. The next and final stop on our journey is Rio – I cannot wait to share our experience with all of you!

“Poor Niagara” – Iguasu Falls, Brazil

We woke up once again bright and early at 5:15am in Cusco to catch our flight to Iguasu Falls. Everytime I travel, I learn more and more about people and new tips for travelling. Our new lesson from this trip was do not trust anyone that works in a hostel with important information. The night before, the hostel worker, after I insisted on checking out that evening, told us that we could check out in the morning, get a taxi within ten minutes and arrive to the airport in Cusco only an hour before our flight. I was hesistant since I know the ‘hostel speed’ is slower than most and an hour before seemed like not much time. Of course when we woke up, their credit card machine wasn’t working since it was early and the computer needed to ‘wake up’ and then the taxi took 20 minutes to arrive. We thought were still fine on time until we arrived to the airport with a line for LAN airlines that was out the door. Since LAN is One World and I have gold status on American Airlines, I somehow convinced the guy that since I was One World Ruby that I could go in the priority lane, which you technically can only do if you are sapphire or emerald. Luckily, it worked and we were right through security – Thank god for Priority Status! 

We arrived Friday evening to Foz do Iguassu in Brazil. We were very excited to arrive to the second half of our journey. We got to the hostel, Che Lagarto, and were very impressed. The hostel was more like a hotel than a hostel. We took amazing hot showers and washed all of our disgusting trek clothing that was creating a disgusting stentch in our suitcases. Finally I had clean Lululemons to wear! On our way to the hostel, we asked our taxi driver if there was a good Brazillian steakhouse nearby that he recommended, he mentioned this place called Churrascaria Bufalo Branco. When we got to the hostel, we wanted to confirm that this was a good spot so we asked the front desk what they preferred. This one guy was overly pushy and suggested this other one that was 20 minutes away and reached to these pamphlets that were sitting on the front desk, as if they had some deal with the restaurant. Based on the lesson we learned earlier we decided to go to the other place since the reviews online were good and we didn’t trust the hostel worker. Before we left for dinner, the hostel had free Capirinhas on the rooftop so we had two of the cocktails then walked to the steakhouse. The Brazillian steakhouse ended up being very mediocre. I guess we will never know if the people at this hostel were right or not. We are looking forward to trying another delicious steakhouse when we get to Rio where we know they are great!

The next morning we slept in until 8am – we couldn’t believe it! What a joy it was to sleep past 6am! We grabbed free breakfast at the hostel then headed out to see the waterfalls or cataratas in Portugese. It was really starting to sink in that we were no longer in Peru. Atleast in Peru, we both know enough Spanish to get by and communicate. We both know zero Portugese except hello, thank you and we don’t speak Portugese. This leg of the trip would certainly be much more difficult because of the language barrier. We finally got on the public bus to the falls, which took 30 minutes longer than the people at the hostel told us – shocker! We got off and immediately went over to Helisul, the helicopter company that flies you over the falls. I had already been in a helicopter with Auntie Missy when we flew over the Apostales on the Great Ocean Road in Australia but wanted to experience the falls first from above. Gabe had also never been in a helicopter before. This was an awesome way to view the falls before going up close to see them ourselves. 

Here are some photos from the helicopter ride. In the last one you can even see a rainbow:

    
     

  

After our helicopter ride, we got our tickets to enter the national park and took a bus to the start of the trail. People had told us that the Brazil side was not as great as the Argentina side but since Americans need visas for both countires, we didn’t want to pay $250 just to pass over into Argentina for a day. Also, with only one day we likely wouldn’t have enough time to do both. We got to the head of the trail and got to see the falls from afar. At first, we thought that perhaps they were right about not getting too close on the Brazil side. We saw gorgeous views from afar but nothing too close. As the trail progressed, we got closer and closer until we got to the point called Devil’s Throat where you are literally standing on top of the falls! Boy were they wrong. We got soaked just standing there and had a long trail along the entirety of the falls. Eleanor Roosevelt was sure right when she said, “Poor Niagara” after seeing these falls. They are massive and unlike anything we had ever seen before. As we walked along the path, they just kept going and going. It is so cool to be at such a spectacular place that is on the border of three countires in South America – Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. The pictures don’t even do the falls justice. If you ever have the urge to come to South America, do not miss a trip to see this amazing natural wonder.  

    
    
   

Another interesting thing about our trip to the falls were these graphic photographs on the buses and all over signs walking into the falls of this bloody human hand with warnings saying “Don’t feed the Quatis.” We were both very confused about what a Quatis was and why we would ever feed them. It became very clear what they were because the Quatis or skunk/rodent-like  animals were running all over the trail along the falls. I, of course, screamed everytime one came near me as Gabe tried to photograph them and laughed.

Here is a Quatis:  

 
Here is an awesome photo that Gabe took at the falls of a butterfly: 

 

After we finished the trail, I decided to be the best girlfriend ever and go with Gabe to the Parque do Aves or the bird park. If any of you do not already know, birds are high on my list of least favorite animals. It is something about their flapping that really grosses me out. I did think it would be cool to see a toucan but I wasn’t thrilled about going in general. Gabe loved the bird park while I held on tightly in the parrot cages. I must say, some were very pretty from afar but not when they flapped past me.  

    
 

Following our trip to see the birds, we had nap time then went to dinner at this sushi place called Taj. The restaurant was trendy and had a DJ and everything and even charged a R$5 cover charge. We have learned that the food in Iguasu is not the best but we didn’t go for the culinary experience – we went to see the falls and were thrilled we did! Sunday morning we were off to Salvador, Brazil! 

Inca Jungle Trek – Days 3 & 4

Inca Jungle Trek – Day 3 – Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes

Day 3 began bright and early once again. This time we headed to go zip lining through the jungle and over rivers in 5 different zip lines. We had a blast. Gabe and I captured some awesome videos on his Go Pro which we will have to show you all once we are back in America. We even had a suspension bridge we had to walk across which I thought was much scarier than the zip line. The zip line was really fun since we got to go over beautiful landscapes and it felt like you were flying. I think a big takeaway for me is that I prefer secure bridges in countries like America with all of their planks in tact!! 

  

Following zip lining, we ate lunch then starting hiking again to Aguas Calientes. Our lunch spot was at this place on the way called Cabana de Gabriel – what a coincidence! I had to take a picture:  

 

Here are some photos from our hike to Aguas Calientes:    

    
     

Aguas Calientes is a tourist town that is right down the mountain from Machu Picchu. It is the gateway to enter the city and has tons of nice hotels, restaurants and tourist stops. We got to this town around 3pm and had some free time to explore. We went to a restaurant with wifi, drank some Cusquena local beer and enjoyed the mountain scenery. This day ended very early because the next day was the highlight and reason for our entire trip to Peru – MACHU PICCHU! 

Inca Jungle Trek – Day 4 – Machu Picchu

Our alarm went off at 4:00am for us to begin getting ready for our day of hiking and exploration. We finally made it to the big day. For those who don’t know, we planned our entire trip around going to Machu Picchu. Visiting this Incan city in the mountains was on both of our bucket lists and we were dying to go see it for ourselves. We left the hostal and started our climb all the way from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu city. This hike began at 4:45am and consistented of around 1,300 steps up the side of the mountain. Some of our group opted to take the bus up instead but Gabe and I wanted to accomplish this difficult feat and see the sunrise over the mountain. This climb was one of the hardest hikes I have ever done. Each step was harder than the one before. Initially, it was so dark that we had  to use my iPhone light to illuminate the path. (We accidentally left my head lamp in Cusco with our luggage – big mistake!) As the sun rose over the mountain peaks, we were all dripping in sweat and gasping for breathe but we stopped to take in some of the breathtaking views. Finally after about an hour and a half we finally reached the top! I have never been so happy to sit down. 

Here are some photos from the climb up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes during sunrise including a map of the path we hiked up:   

    
  

We arrived to the entrance of Machu Picchu with huge long lines of tourists waiting to get inside when the gates open. We met our tour guide who then took us through the gates to Machu Picchu city. This city that was built around 1450 as a religious and political center for the Incans and thought of as a link between the Amazon and the Andes was unbelieve to see in person. After climing all those steps up it was unimaginable how these people brought all the soil, stones and everything up the mountain to build this entire city. Luckily, the Spanish during their colonization never found Machu Picchu because they would have probably would have destroyed it. We learned about some of the history of the city and walked around with our group taking in the gorgeous city. 

Some of my favorite photos that I took of Macchu Picchu:  

    
    
    
 

We had to leave our group behind a few minutes early to go to the most spectacular part of our journey, the hike to Waynapicchu (also known as Huyana Picchu). This is one of the two mountains that overlooks Machu Picchu that is available for tourists to hike. Waynapicchu is closer than its counterpart, Machu Picchu mountain, and gets booked up in advance because only 400 people are allowed to climb it each day. It also offers closer views, a more steep and rigorous climb and its own ruins, caves and rocks at the summit. We had to begin our hike up between 7:00 – 8:00am. We arrived at 7:58am to begin but sat down just past the ticket checkpoint to rest our legs and have a snack. We were still exhausted from the hike up earlier but knew we had to do this.  We were happy to finally be on our own and away from the group and decided to go at our own pace. This time ended up being perfect because the trail up was relatively uncrowded. They definitely were not kidding about the steep climb! The steps consisted of rocks that were smaller than our feet and made us focus on our balance in addition to being out of breath. The views from this mountain were unlike anything I have ever seen before. Not only did it feel amazing to accomplish such a difficult task, the aerial views of Machu Picchu and the 360 degree views of green mountains and snow capped mountains made us feel like we were on top of the world. We took our time climbing around the top of the mountain which had big boulders, some smaller caves and unforgettable views. The pictures speak for themselves… 

   

    
    
   

We thought the tough part was over then we realized that we actualy had to descend down the mountain on these same tiny steps. I may have been less out of breath but the balancing and the stress on our knees definitely took a toll on us on the way down. The sun had also come up and it was starting to get hot. We were thrilled to have done this hike early in the morning and not in the heat. We made it down around 10:45am and both felt like we could barely walk but felt so accomplished. We finished walking around Machu Picchu and then took the bus down because the thought of 1,300 steps down sounded like torture. 

Saying we were exhausted was an understatement. Each step we took was like climbing another mountain and we had to wait until our train left Aguas Calientes at 4:20pm. We grabbed lunch in our sweaty, smelly hiking clothes and discovered this nice hotel called El Mapi. I found the hotel bar that had wifi and comfy couches and we pretended to be guests and got comfortable. We then treated ourselves to hour long massages for $12 – I am going to miss Peruvian Soles! The next part of the day felt like another day itself. We both kept saying that hiking to Machu Picchu felt like yesterday. Finally we boarded our train to Ollyentambo. After arriving, we took a bus to Cusco and arrived at our hostel around 8:15pm completely drained and ready for bed. We grabbed a quick dinner at the hostel and went right to sleep. The next day we had to wake up early again for our flight to Iguasu Falls, Brazil. Our trip to Peru was incredible and flew by! I am so happy to have experienced all that we did and with such a great travel partner! (Don’t worry Auntie Missy you still take the prize!)

Inca Jungle Trek – Days 1 & 2

Inca Jungle Trek – Day 1 – Cusco to Santa Maria

Our 4-day journey to Machu Picchu began bright and early with a 6:30am group meeting time at the Loki Hostel.  

Here is a photo outside of the hostel during sunrise: 

 

At Loki travel, there is an option to do 3 or 4 day treks and when we met our group, it appeared most people did the 3 day trek so they were seperating from our group that evening. This seemed a bit strange to us since the day they miss is the big hiking day through the mountains and part of the original Inca trail. Our group on the first day consisted of Germans, Dutch, English, Brazillian, Swiss and French people. We instantly became friends with this adorable Dutch couple that seemed to be around our age but unfortunately, they too would be leaving us that evening. 

I already knew that this day would be my least favorite because today’s main activity was biking down a windy mountain road. For those who do not know, I can barely ride a bike in a driveway let alone down a mountain with other people, cars and trucks in a foreign country. Gabe on the other hand has a bike in New York City and absolutely loves it. I was deemed photographer and van-rider for the majority of the day. We rode up to the top of a beautiful snow-capped mountain called Abra Malaga which has an elevation of approx 14,160 ft. above sea level. When we got out of the van we were freezing. We were literally in the clouds on top of this mountain! I hugged Gabe and wished him luck on his trek down the mountain while I watched from the van. The bikers went down windy roads down the mountain, initally nearly getting frost bite on their fingers and by the time an hour passed, it was hot outside. Gabe had a blast and I enjoyed broken Spanish conversation from the front seat of the van with a driver that did not speak one word of English. 

Here are some photos from Abra Malaga and Gabe’s bike trip:  

    
    
    
 

After we stopped at lunch in the tiny town of Santa Maria where we would be spending the night. We checked into our hostel which has way too many mosquitos for our liking! This area was extremely buggy and everyone in the group had bites all over! The  3 day people left our group at this point which left us with one Brazillian, five French people and two English girls. We were the only ones not in College which made us feel very old. The Brazillian spoke little English leaving us outnumbered by the French in terms of the spoken language in the group. 

Following lunch, we went white water rafting down the Olleyantambo River. We had a blast going down Class 1, 2, 3 and 3+ rapids. By the end, we were soaked and eaten alive by mosquitos but it was definitely worth it. Gabe took some pictures on his Go Pro which I will add later since my camera is not waterproof! After rafting we took freezing cold showers, had dinner with the group then went to bed early! We have somehow become early birds on this trip.

Inca Jungle Trek – Day 2 – Santa Maria to Santa Teresa

Day 2 of our trek began with another 6:30am wake up. Following breakfast, we all jumped into the back of this open air truck to head to the starting point for our day of hiking. The views were gorgeous and it was really fun sitting on the back of the truck. 

Here is a photo of us and some of our fellow group members in the back of the truck:  

 

We began our hike through the mountains. It was absolutely gorgeous. Although our hiking lasted all day, our tour guide gave us lots of breaks to give us some Peruvian history and teach us about making coffee, the use of coca leaves and about the native language before the Spanish colonized Peru called Quechua. Some of the places we stopped also had animals like monkeys and chinchillas. I was obviously terrified of touching these creatures but Gabe was brave enough to hold the monkeys. One was a bit more aggressive and even tried to grab my camera out of my hands!

Here is a photo of our group on the hike:  

 

Photos of some of the views from our hike and the animals along the way:    

    
    
   

Eventually, we reached our lunch spot and got to take naps in nice hammocks. We then continued the hike along the Urubamba river. Eventually we got to this bridge that we had to cross to continue the hike. I am usually fairly brave when it comes to things like this but this bridge was swinging across the river. It was even missing wooden planks at certain parts. I held onto Gabe’s backpack screaming the entire time – which he captured on his Go Pro and I am sure will be hilarious once we review the videos back in New York. 

Here is the terrifying bridge:  

   

Luckily, we made it across in one piece and finished our hike in Santa Teresa. The night concluded at these hot springs which sounded amazing but ended up just being this tourist trap and essencially like large swimming pools of hot water. We were exhausted so we went in anyway and it felt great but we were expecting more natural hot springs. The bugs that night were horrible and my legs were covered in bug bites! We went to bed early again but did not feel very well rested due to our severly bitten legs! One of the French girls in our group had so many bug bites on her leg it looked like she had chicken pox. Her entire leg swelled up and she had to go to la farmacia to get some medicine because clearly she had a bad allergic reaction – atleast ours weren’t that bad!

Cusco 

Day 1 –

We have finally arrived in South America. Our trip in, although consisting of three flights was fairly seamless. The only disappointment was leaving my neck pillow in the Lima airport after taking a snooze before our 8am flight to Cusco! I guess I will need to purchase a new one before my next flight. We arrived at the Cusco airport around 9:30am on Saturday and were so excited to be there. We had a driver from our hostel meet us at the airport with a sign that said “Gabriel Grossman”. This luxury service cost us a whopping $6. We were loving Peruvian Soles already! 

We finally arrived at our hostel, Loki Cusco. We were able to check right into our Deluxe Matrimonial Room which was enormous and even had a TV and panoramic views of Cusco – this may not seem like much if you don’t frequent hostels but usually rooms are filled with bunk beds and shared bathrooms. We were living in hostel luxury! The hostel was also one of the coolest I have ever seen. It had an outdoor volleyball court, outdoor and indoor searing in their bar and just had a great vibe – it came recommended from both my friend and Gabe’s friends and they did not steer us wrong. 

Surprisingly, we did not feel too tired upon our arrival. We made sure to hydrate because Cusco sits at 11,000 ft above sea level. We did not want to get altitude sickness and ruin the rest of our trip! We decided to go out and explore. We walked to the main square of the city called Plaza de Armas. On our way, we saw some couples dining on these patios on the second floor on a side street that overlooks the plaza. We decided to go up and take the last open table outside. The sun was really coming out. Initially it was quite cold but with the sun shining and the day progressing it warmed up! For our breakfast, we had our first taste of Mate de Coca. This is a tea that derives from the coca plant. This tea helps significantly with the altitude and is more similar to drinking a strong cup of coffee. It was delicious and gave us the energy we needed to keep exploring! 

Here is a view of the Plaza de Armas from our lunch spot: 

 
Gabe and I at Plaza de Armas:  

Next, we went on a free walking tour that departed from Plaza de Armas called Free Walking Peru by Marco. The tour guide had great energy and taught us all about Peruvian history while showing us the city. He told his own story about growing up in the Amazon and by age 7 was collecting coca leaves that he provided to drug dealers. He moved away from the Amazon and to Cusco but made a beautiful point that everyone should love their own home, regardless of where they are from because we don’t choose where we are from. Another fun fact he told us was that in the Peruvian native language Quechua, there is no word for friend, only brothers and sisters. This is because everyone is your brother and sister and gives back to the earth. I thought this was really special. We walked all around the town and went in a small music shop where we heard a number of Peruvian instruments including a 16 string guitar and a large horn that resembled a shofar. Our last stop was in a part of town called San Blas. This area is uphill but has incredible views of the city. Our tour ended with free Pisco Sours, a Peruvian cocktail. It was pretty delicious! After our small sip of Perivan alcohol we were beat from all the uphill walking and decided to head back to the hostel for a nap so we could make it out that night.

Us drinking our Pisco sours:  

Our nap truly rejuvenated us! It was very necessary. We kept questioning why we were so exhausted and completely forgot that we had travelled all the way from New York and arrived this morning. The day felt so long that it felt surreal that we had just arrived in Peru. After our nap we decided to just grab some dinner at the all you can eat BBQ at the hostel. We grabbed a few local Cusquena cervezas and sat with this group of Argentineans and Chileans. I practiced my Spanish and was starting to recall much of what I had learned in school. Following the BBQ and meeting some interesting people from around the world, we ventured off on our own to this live music bar that Gabe’s friend had recommended. It was called Km 0 and was this tiny place that had a small room with a Peruvian band. We got the last table luckily and sat and enjoyed another Pisco Sour with live music in the background. We were pretty exhausted still so we went home around midnight.

Day 2 – 

Our second day began around 8:30am following a rude awakening by the roosters of Cusco. Well, they really began making loud noises starting around 5am but we somehow managed to fall back to sleep. We ate breakfast at Loki hostel then headed out to hike up to the ruins just outside of Cusco called Sacasayhuman. We underestimated the walk up to the ruins. There were so many steps but we powered through knowing it would be great preparation for our trek to Machu Picchu the next day. 

Steps up to the ruins:

  
The ruins were beautiful and sat among a gorgeous landscape. The views of the city of Cusco were amazing as well. Here are some of the views:  

    
    
 
After viewing and hiking around Sacasayhuman, we went to San Pedro Market. This is the main market in Cusco and features different booths with local foods and also an area where locals dine and eat Peruvian food. Most of the markets I have been to in Southeast Asia and other areas are full of tourists so it was really cool to see a place that was filled with locals.  

 
Next, we walked to the square and decided to hunt for a delicious lunch. We found this nice organic restaurant called Greens and ended up sitting next to a family from Beverly, Mass – it sure is a small world! This place was pricier for a Cusco restaurant but definitely attracted other American families since it was on the nicer side. We had this delicious trout ceviche with mango and alpaca sliders. Alpaca is a meat commonly served in Cusco and tastes similar to lamb. It was actually delicious! I have become such an adventurous meat eater thanks to Gabe! 

Here is a picture of us wandering through Plaza de Armas and stumbling upon a baby llama:  

 
After lunch, we went hunting for some Cusco souvenirs including hats and sweaters because it has been freezing at night and in the morning in Peru and we did not come well enough prepared. While we were shopping, a British girl recommended this one particular shop with the sweetest Peruvian woman running it. We went there and loved this woman. She had great stuff for very cheap prices. She even gave us these adorable pins to wear as a token of her gratitude. After we bought some items, she started to dress us in these colorful Peruvian garments and insisted that she take a photo. We are certainly glad she did!  

 After we took another afternoon nap then had to report to the Loki travel office for a briefing for our trek that began the next day. The briefing was informational and just reminded us about our 6:30am departure from the hostel offices – so early! 

Following the briefing, we stumbled upon this amazing rooftop bar called Marcelo Batata. Gabe enjoyed a dirty martini while I had a ‘Piscopolian’ – a twist on the cosmopolitan with the Peruvian alcohol Pisco. 

Here is a view from the restaurant:  

 

Then we went to this incredible restaurant that came recommended to us called Fallen Angel. The decor in this guest house and restaurant was not like anything I have ever seen. The tables were bathtubs filled with fish with glass over them. There were crazy sculptures and art all over the place. It was one of the coolest restaurants I have ever been to. The food was delicious except for our main course which Gabe insisted on trying while we were in Peru. We ordered the Cuy or Guinea Pig. Yes, this 8 year vegetarian actually tried guinea pig. The gross creature even had its legs in the air and had teeth… It also tasted gross but hey, at least I can say I tried it. 

Here is our disgusting Cuy:  

 

The next day we left bright and early for our 4 day trek – more to come!

Siem Reap, Cambodia: Save the Best for Last

Sorry for the delay in posting, my 32-hour travel day and my health got in the way, but I will get to that later!

After our arrival in Siem Reap, we met our tour guide, Sophak (which we remembered since it rhymes with Tupac the rapper, but he did not find this amusing nor did he have any idea what we were talking about). On our way to the hotel, we pulled over to see the beautiful sunset. Cambodia probably had the clearest sky of all the countries we have been to so far!

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Our hotel, the Victoria Angkor Resort, had gorgeous grounds and an amazing patio and swimming pool. Sophak told us this was a 5-star hotel but once we saw our room, we realized that this was probably not the case. Not to say the hotel wasn’t very nice but the rooms were definitely not 5-star but the hotel pool and surroundings were amazing.

The next morning on January 2nd, we spent the majority of our day looking at the amazing temples around Siem Reap. There is of course a ton of history I could go into but the remarkable part of the temples of Angkor are their beauty and intricate detail so I will leave most of the further research for you to Google on your own time!

We began our day exploring the ancient city of Angkor Thom, which translates to Great City. The city was established by King Jayavarman VII during the late 12th Century of the Khmer empire. Before we entered the city, we once again saw some more elephants! These elephants looked darker and a bit different than the ones we saw in Thailand. We asked Sophak why that was and he told us that they were actually painted darker for the tourists. So strange! We also got to see our first monkey in Cambodia. Although many people were petting the small monkey, that is a quick way to get some strange diseases so I held back my urges.

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The walk up to the city Angkor Thom was spectacular. The pathway to the ancient city was lined with statues. Some of which had been restored but others which were still decapitated.

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The center of Angkor Thom featured a very famous temple, Bayon. Bayon is known for its massive stone faces on each of the towers of the Buddhist temple. This is one of the sites I was looking forward to when going to SE Asia. The detail and the size of the faces were truly amazing especially since they were made in the late 12th century.

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As we were walking around the grounds, I kept noticing such beautiful children trying to sell us souvenirs or just playing around the temples while their mothers sold the goods. The children of Cambodia were beautiful but we learned that they were only in school for half of a day and the other half some children tried to come sell goods to tourists to earn money. Sophak told us that we should ignore the children trying to sell us to us because by giving them money, we were teaching them that they could make a living without school and by just coming to the tourist areas everyday. That made sense to us but it was still so difficult to ignore these beautiful children. It reminded me of my time working at a school in Guatemala and made me want to do something to help children in other countries that can barely afford to go to school. Here is one image that really struck me while we were walking around. Throughout the rest of this post I will continue to post a few image of children that I found particularly touching.

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Here are some more images from Angkor Thom from the temple of Baphuon, which was built in the 11th century and dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva, as well as the Terrace of Elephants, which was used by King Jayavarman VII as a platform address the public and his army.

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We left Angkor Thom and went to have lunch to escape the heat of the Cambodian sun. I ordered the traditional Cambodian dish, Fish Amok, which was served in a coconut and tasted similar to curry. It was delicious! I also ordered fresh coconut juice to go along with it. This was definitely one of my favorite lunches on the trip!

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That afternoon, we went to the largest religious temple in the entire world, Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century first as a Hindu temple and then transferred into a Buddhist complex. The temple was extraordinary and a highlight of the entire trip. Every detail and bas-relief on the temple walls must have taken hundreds of people years to build. With that said, our tour guide loved to talk about each tiny detail of the temple walls. We got over that fairly quickly since we are the fast-paced, not detail-oriented type of travelers. We had to teach him to hurry along so we could just enjoy the beauty of the temple.

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What an incredible site to see! We also got to see more wild monkey but these monkeys were adults. These two idiot boys were chasing this one monkey around and we saw the animal get very angry and clench its teeth and then actually chase after them. It was pretty freaky. Eventually as we were walking down the path leaving Angkor Wat, there was a woman drinking a can of Coca Cola. A monkey actually leaped up to jump and grab the can out of her hand. I would have screamed at the top of my lungs and freaked out but this woman was very smart and just threw the can onto the ground. That smart little monkey was very happy with himself.

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We were done around 3pm and got to lay by our hotel pool until we sat down for dinner at our hotel. Our strict rule-following tour guide told us we had to eat the buffet dinner at the restaurant, Koulen, where we were seeing a show that evening but we made the executive decision that the $12 was cheap enough for us to just see the show and not also eat the crappy buffet, and that getting our tan on sounded a lot more appealing! Well, we should have realized earlier that in general, we just do not appreciate things like cultural dance (especially from our tribal experience in Kuranda, Australia a few years back). The show was a cultural Cambodian dance of the female spirit, Aspara. Some people may have enjoyed it but we would have preferred more time shopping or lying by the pool.

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After our disappointing show, we went to another night market in another city. I got these amazing charcoal rubs from the walls of Angkor Wat that I absolutely love. I can’t wait to hang them up in my room. We decided that we should actually live a little and stay up past our bedtime since it was our last night in Southeast Asia so we went to a bar to hear some fun live music. It was a blast! After about two beers, we of course ended up stopping for hour-long $5 foot massages before heading to the hotel to go to bed. We had to end our trip with another foot massage, right?!

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Our last day in Siem Reap finally came, I could not believe the trip was finally coming to an end! We began our trip with a drive to the temple Banteay Srei which was built in the10th century and dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva. The intricacy in the carvings was unlike any other temple we have seen.

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After this temple, we went on to the “Tomb Raider” temple or as Auntie Missy thought Sophak was saying the “Terminator” temple. I told her he meant the movie with Angelina Jolie not the Arnold movie! This temple called Ta Prohm was unbelievable cool because the trees from the jungle surrounding the temple are actually growing out of the ruins, creating a very Indiana Jones feel to the temple.

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After our visit to Ta Prohm, we headed back to the hotel to lay out at the pool again for a few hours before heading to the airport. The next flight was another short flight on Cambodian Angkor Air to Bangkok to begin my 32-hour journey home. I started sneezing and feeling sick before we even got to the airport

Once we arrived in Bangkok, I felt even worse than before. I am very lucky that my cold did not come on until the final day of the trip but I knew the long trip home would be even longer now that I was feeling under the weather. The second we got to the Bangkok airport hotel, I went straight to sleep. By the way, the Novotel hotel near the airport was so nice. We were both joking about how this hotel had a nicer bathroom, bed and more outlets than some of the hotels we stayed in, and this was just an airport hotel! Pretty ironic!

The next morning, we got up early and go on our flight to Hong Kong and then to Los Angeles. After lots of broken sleep, I made it home to my bed. Peter picked me up from the airport in LA with beautiful flowers, what an amazing boyfriend I have! Since then, I have been pretty much sleeping the entire time. I have to go back to work tomorrow but will post a final trip summary when I am feeling a bit better.