Friday, December 21, 2012

Cuy and Coca Tea in Cuzco

There were two things that I wanted to try while traveling in Peru, and they were cuy (guinea pig) and coca tea. Before the trip I had read many accounts of trying this delectable little beast, but they were inconclusive. Most of them consisted of how terrible it was. Many of the blogs I read had scathing comments from animal rights advocates stating that is was wrong to eat a pet. Here's the thing though. In Peru, the guinea pig is raised to be eaten just like a cow or chicken in many other places, so I was willing to give it a try.  

Since I was the leader of my group, it was my duty to provide a cultural adventure for all those who dared to try it. I wasn't feeling very daring, but hey, you only live once. After talking to Victor (our fearless and fabulous guide) about the best place to eat the little creature, I was on a mission that I wasn't going to be talked out of. I rallied the troops and managed to get many people interested including people from the other groups.

In just a short while, three little "pigs" arrived at our table. They were all dressed up in a pepper hat seated on a bed of veggies. The presentation was beautiful, but let's be honest here, it was still a guinea pig. I always wanted one as a pet, and now I was going to eat one. There wasn't much meat on the little guy, but from the pieces I had (don't ask which pieces because I'm not even sure) it wasn't half bad. Sure it had a gamey flavor, but it was more like eating rabbit than anything else. I went back for seconds, and I even finished up the parts that no one wanted. What a great day for travel!

The coca tea doesn't have much of a story behind it, but it is worth mentioning. Since the altitude of Cuzco is about 11,000 ft., many people can get altitude sickness. This can present in various forms including fatigue, headaches, and an overall blah feeling (yes, blah is a medical term). One of the best things to do to combat this unpleasantness is to stay hydrated. And one of the best ways to stay hydrated in Cuzco is by drinking coca tea (made from the coca leaf). It can be found at any hotel in the area and most places you may visit. I liked it immediately, but it is an acquired taste (a pungent herbal flavor). I had a cup every time I walked through the lobby of the hotel and one before bed. It worked like a charm. I felt amazing the whole time I was there. No altitude problems for me.

Since I am on the topic of food and beverage, I must mention my favorite Peruvian cocktail the Pisco Sour. This drink is made with the Peruvian brandy called Pisco, sugar, lime juice, and egg whites. The egg whites give it the frothiness at the top. It sort of tastes like a margarita with a bit more bite. It is an amazing accompaniment to a nice bowl of ceviche.

Lima in One Day

My time in Lima was full of all sorts of interesting new facts and information. While it was just a quick stay, our guide, Omar did a great job teaching us about Peruvian culture and kept us laughing too. At one point while he was talking in the front of the bus he fell almost into the drivers lap. "Sometimes it happens," he replied and barely missed a beat in his talk about all of the varieties of potatoes found throughout Peru. Since I am on the topic of potatoes, there are over 3,000 varieties! Who knew? Also fascinating was that there are over 300 different types of corn. I was able to sample a couple while I was there including the purple kind that makes a lovely drink called chicha morada. 

Culturally, there is a quite a diverse mix of people who live in Lima. Mestizo, or mixed race people make up the majority of the population here. There is also a large population of Chinese immigrants who have had a significant influence on the cuisine. Chifa, a Chinese/Peruvian restaurant is commonplace along the city streets. The influence is so strong in fact that there is no Chinatown because there is a complete integration into the culture.

The rest of the day was full of a trip to a history museum, the St. Francis Museum/ Church, and the Convento de San Francisco. And this was all before lunch! The history museum was like most museums full of artifacts like pottery telling the stories of a civilization long extinct. Omar's stories helped paint a picture of what the Incas were like and how advanced their society was. More on all of that in the Cuzco post. The church, which didn't allow pictures, was eerily beautiful. The ceiling was a series of wood carvings that fit together like a puzzle. The center courtyard was a rose garden with tiled columns all around the outside. Frescoes lined the upper walls while white mosaic spanish-style tiles line the mid and bottom parts. As I walked through admiring the architecture, the smell of sautéing garlic filled the air. I then walked through a couple of rooms past an alley way painted red with red pots lining the walkway. I then wandered into a room lined with gilded icons of saints. Each one had a story, and it made me wish I had paid more attention in my religious eduction classes as a child. 
The most disturbing but fascinating part of the day was the walk through the catacombs. Again, no photos were allowed, so I'll do my best to illuminate the experience. Into the underground crypts I went ducking my head so as not to smack my forehead on the very low ceilings. The light was minimal, and the smell was appropriately musty with a hint of death. Around each corner was a different display of various bones. I came to find out that approximately 25,000 people had been buried here. I use the term buried very loosely though because there are just piles and piles of bones just out in the open. They are just grave-like holes full of leg bones. How this is a tourist attraction or "decoration" as it was called; I'm not sure. Walking through more creepy low tunnels past empty candelabras I came upon an image that will stay with me for a very long time. There were skulls arranged in concentric circles connected by femur bones. It looked like something out of a medieval secret society meeting. 

The rest of the day involved lunch at a seaside mall called Larcomar in Miraflores which was just a couple short minutes from our hotel. Later on we headed over to JFK park to see all of the stray cats that just hang out there. Apparently it was the place to take a cat that was no longer wanted. There were so many cats just lounging in flower beds and chasing each other around. I had never seen anything like it before. Walking around the city at night was peaceful and beautiful, but I definitely recommend walking with a group. There is so much more to see and do in Lima, but for one day I truly felt like I was beginning to understand what a special country Peru is.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Leading a Tour Through Peru with EF

My trip to Peru was a different sort of trip than I have ever been on before on many different levels. The first being that I had been planning it for almost a year. I'm not much of a long range planner when it comes to travel or anything else for that matter.  I was also in charge of a group of eight other adults, and it made me very nervous. The nerves soon subsided though because everyone showed up to the meeting location on time and ready to go. Everyone was in good spirits and got along beautifully.

After a day of travel, we met Victor, our guide for the duration of the trip. It was getting late, so instead of waiting for the other group to get to the airport, we loaded our luggage into the bus and headed to the hotel. Driving through Lima I was hit with the overwhelming feeling that I felt at home. I had never been to South America before, so it came as a surprise that nothing surprised me about the city. I suddenly had the thought: Am I growing too accustomed to the travel life? Is that even possible? 
I wasn't "wowed" like the rest of the group seeing a McDonalds or a man juggling flaming sticks of fire in the middle of the street at red lights. It all seemed quite normal, and it made me smile. While I would be spending the bulk of my time with others, this trip would be very much an introspective one.  We continued driving toward the coast up and down the winding road past the ocean. It felt peaceful and dangerous at the same time. It was perfect.

To find out more about the amazing trip to the Land of the Incas visit:

Saturday, December 1, 2012


I was not planning on writing about my 5 short days in the small village of Marnay-sur-Seine, but it was such a lovely place I had to at least devote one post to it. Marnay is located an hour's train ride and a ten minute taxi ride (or 45 minute walk through the countryside) away from Paris. It was not a place I would have normally visited, but an opportunity arose to visit a very talented writer at a residency program called CAMAC Centre d'Arts located there. I just couldn't pass up the chance to see another side of France. Situated right along the Seine River, the castle-like structure provide a respite from the real world. You won't find much in this town except for maybe a few locals and a whole lot of farm animals. There are no hotels to stay for the night, no restaurants, and there isn't even a bakery. You have to get your baguettes from the next town, Nogent-sur-Seine.

What I did find, however, is a place that takes you back in time to simpler days. Long walks and deep thoughts provided the backdrop of a truly lovely and relaxing week.   While I was there at the end of April, while still rainy and a little chilly, the landscape was blooming and there were giant fields full of golden flowers that seemed to go on for miles. Marnay was the perfect place to catch up on sleep and take in the scenery. The wine was flowing, the food was wonderful (cooked by one of the resident artists), and the conversation was always interesting. I met people from all over the world pursuing their art. It made me want to pursue some kind of art.

While visiting the big cities in Europe are always exciting and a guaranteed good time, the smaller towns and villages are definitely worth a look. Visiting Marnay made me realize how many off the beaten track places there are in the world and how travel for me has barely begun.

For more information about the CAMAC residency program and a full review from writer Timothy L Marsh, visit:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Back and Better Than Ever!

It's been quite a while since I have posted, but I'm back and ready to catch up.  I have been very busy traveling all over the world to all sorts of wonderful places over the past few months. In the next couple of weeks I will be posting all about my amazing trip to Peru, my visit with good friends in Hawaii, and I'm going to do a spotlight on the Pacific Northwest.  Check back soon, you won't be disappointed.

For those who don't know me personally, I have recently moved to Amsterdam to teach at an international school. I have been having all sorts of adventures since I have been here, and those stories can be found on my sister blog  I will be updating my posts on this blog shortly as well.

In other news, check out my new article with the Go Overseas Website all about study abroad in San Jose, Costa Rica!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Prado, the Plazas, and some Pulpo

What a whirlwind tour. I am currently sitting in my Paris apartment relaxing and reflecting on the past couple days and looking ahead to the days to come. I'll get to Paris later, Madrid first.

Let me also say that I am unable to post pictures on the blog with my iPad, but I'll see if I can make it happen in the next few days.

I got on the first plane on Wednesday afternoon, and I can honestly say that I barely stopped until this moment. I don't even know where to begin because it was such a rush of events and people. What I will say though is that I met such great people. While I had a hard time remembering anyone's name, they were some of the nicest, most fun people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. It was only four days, but we bonded ;)

Back to the beginning, the travel part of the trip went very smoothly including customs. I then met up with some EF people (the company that I am working with for the Peruvian Adventure) and some other teachers like myself. We got all checked in, I met my roommate for the trip, Jenna, and I was in search of a cafe con leche to fight the impending jet lag. While most went to the Starbucks on the corner, I found a Spanish only cafe with a metal counter and small wooden tables. It was exactly what I was looking for. I sat for a while soaking in the moment and reading a few paragraphs of my book.

That moment of quiet relaxation didn't last long though because I had to meet up with the group and start the events of the day. No time for rest. The first order of the day was a lesson on the Madrid metro and some free time for lunch. My new friend Angela and I walked a bit and stumbled on an outdoor cafe and the group leaders. This was excellent because they were ordering tapas, so we jumped right in. Pulpo (octopus), patatas bravas, Spanish empanadas, and much more made up our lunch. There were many risk takers at the table trying all sorts of new food. It was an IB moment!

The walking tour continued and we all continued to get to know each other and learn a bit of history in the process. We walked all over the city to the Plaza Mayor and Plaza del Sol with all of the crazy characters and street performers. We walked up and down tiny alley ways and busy main roads. What I neglected to mention earlier was that there was a huge strike going on. Businesses were closed, the airport was empty except for a skeleton crew. Shops were closed and hundreds of people were walking the streets with signs and chanting. I'm not exactly sure of the details of the whole thing but it mainly had to do with service workers. From what Carmen, out tour director said, sometimes they could get out of hand, so we avoided it as much as we could.

Our next stop was the Prado museum home of epic works of art by famous Spanish painters. It just wasn't the same without Kate as my tour guide for that one. Angela wasn't so into it either, so we went outside to see how the strike was developing. The strikers were supposed to meet in the Plaza del Sol at 6 pm, and it was just about that time, so the streets were filling up. After everyone got their fill of art, the walking tour continued. It felt like hours went by before we got to the restaurant for dinner. By this point we were all getting very tired, but we powered through a dinner of some amazing asparagus with bacon, fish, and ice cream for dessert. Then there was more walking back to the hotel where I crashed (it was not a good sleep though). No time for blogging, no time for jet lag.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

On the Road Again

Hello All!
I'm about to be back on the road, or in this case in the air. I'm headed to Madrid today to meet up with teachers from all over the country. It's pretty exciting because we are going to spend four days not only learning about Madrid, but how to lead a tour. Journey and I will we totally ready for our trip to Peru by Sunday. Well, maybe not totally ready, but we will know a whole lot more.

Before I talk about my itinerary, I must comment on the packing miracle that has occurred. I was able to fit over 11 different outfits, a trench coat, and a light jacket among other things in just a carryon bag. It was nothing short of amazing. I just hope I didn't forget anything! Oh well, the shopping is great in Europe so I'm not worried. I wish I had taken a photo of all of the things before it all went to the suitcase.

So my first stop is Miami where I will have a 5 hour layover. Then it's an overnight flight to Madrid. I will be arriving at about 7:30 tomorrow morning. For any of my young followers, what time will it be in Kissimmee when I land in Madrid? I hope I can sleep on the plane because as soon as I get there we are going to hit the ground running. We will be taking a walking tour of Madrid and heading to the Prado, a famous art museum. I'll try to sneak some pictures for 3rd grade while I'm there. And that's only the first half of the day! More details to come when I get a break and when I find an internet connection.

Until next time...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Pristine Portland and Serious Salmon

I am gradually trying to catch up on my blogging, so I am posting in March for a trip that I actually took in November. I know, I know I must get better about this, but sometimes life just gets in the way.

Back in November I took a much needed jaunt to Portland, Oregon to visit one of the coolest people in the world, my friend Amber. We met under unusual circumstances, but that just makes for a fabulous friendship. We met on the CCS volunteer trip to Tanzania, so it was about time one of us trekked across the country to see each other in the "real world." We barely spoke in the year that passed between the life changing trip and the day of my flight, but this is one of those rare situations where it felt like no time passed even though it had been over a year. Friends like that are hard to find.

First stop was to the 30th floor of one of the tallest buildings in downtown Portland called the Portland City Grill. Great wine and stunning city views provided the perfect first stop to my weekend in Portlandia. This was shaping up to be just the weekend I needed.

There are so many things to see and do here, and one of top destinations is Multnomah Falls just outside the city. The falls are absolutely stunning, like something out of a movie complete with a viewing bridge for a photo op.  It is actually one of the places where the show Grimm was filmed. Multnomah Falls Lodge was the perfect spot for a leisurely lunch. While the falls were pretty breathtaking, the thing that got my attention the most was what I saw at the bottom of the falls in the calm part of the river. It was salmon spawning season, and there just happened to be some feisty salmon working their way up stream. I was completely fascinated by these committed creatures, so fish became the new focus of the day.

Just as we got to the Bonneville Fish Hatchery the typical Portland rain reared it's ugly head. The hatchery was an interesting place with an entrance reminiscent of a military base. Hatching fish was apparently serious business. Inside the hatchery, there was all sorts of interesting information about all sorts of fish that inhabit the nearby waters. I was still in search of Salmon, so we descended to the bottom floor to see the infamous fish ladders. This was truly amazing, a hidden gem of the natural world. These salmon, nearing the end of their lives fight the rushing current swimming through the ladders until they reach the place where they were born. If they make it that far, they lay their eggs and die shortly after. What an unfortunate adventure.

My need for fish knowledge was not yet satisfied with the hope of seeing a sturgeon on the horizon. This was not just any sturgeon, oh no, this was Herman the Sturgeon. This larger than life specimen hailed at over 10 feet in length and over 450lbs., and if that wasn't enough, he has been on the planet for over 70 years. This prehistoric beauty did not disappoint, and I was fascinated just standing there staring at him swim by wondering how these seemingly gentle giants have managed to survive so long.

After a long day of fish facts, it was time head to the famous McMenamins. This place was really something. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of this quirky little village (except for myself enjoying one of their local creations), but the best way I can describe it is a cross between the Vermont brewery Magic Hat and an assortment of charming little buildings from the age of traveling snake oil salesmen.  I found out that the McMenamin brothers made it their mission to convert old buildings like schools, lodges, and theaters into "pubs." They are much more than pubs though, they are pieces of history brought to life with a nostalgia of times gone by. There are countless McMenamins gems throughout Washington and Oregon, and I highly recommend that if you are in the area you find one and stay for a while to experience all they have to offer. It was the perfect end to a knowledge filled day.

Once the rain subsided, we headed back home to Amber's house to spend some time with my furry friend Harper in front of the fire. What a sweetheart!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bewitching Bean Town: My Visit to Boston!

This post is a lot late seeing as how I actually went to Boston at the very end of July. I wasn't sure if I wanted to put any domestic destinations on this blog, but why not? After spending a month celebrating my birthday, I decided to continue the festivities and head to Boston to visit my sister. I had been to this beautiful city many times before, but I was ready to have some key experiences worth writing about. 
 There are a couple of things that absolutely must happen while visiting, and one of them is lobster. My arthropod acquaintance came to me at the new Legal Seafood right on the Boston Harbor. This place was amazing complete with a third floor lounge area with glass walls and fireplaces. Even though we had to wait for a couple hours, the atmosphere was fantastic, and when dinner arrived, it was worth it. Not feeling very confident in my lobster cracking skills, I was assisted by our fearless lobster handler table-side. It was fun to watch an expert lobster cracker at work. The weather was less than ideal that night, so we went back to my sister Jessica's apartment in the North End. For a city apartment, it is pretty amazing.  She has a roof deck overlooking the harbor where I was happy to sit for hours and watch the party boats and the duck tours propel through the water. It was also nice to hear bits and pieces of history as the tour busses drove by. I hadn't realized how touristy this place actually was until this week. I guess it makes sense though because it is a big deal in terms of founding fathers and all. Jess actually lives across the street from one of the oldest cemeteries in the country. Copp's Hill is so old that you can't even read the tombstones anymore. They are just stone blocks leaning out of the ground. This brings me to my close encounter of the spiritual kind. I saw my first ghost. At first I thought is was my sister getting ready for work, but it happened around 3 in the morning and it didn't look like my sister. This ghost was a woman though and she was wearing a colonial type dress. I have no idea who she was or what she wanted, but just just looked at me for a while and then left. It was a pretty uneventful experience, but I'm sure she was a ghost and I saw her. While I doubt that many people will see a ghost tour that happens across the street at dusk, I now can say that I had my own spiritual encounter. 

After a couple of days it was time to get away from summer in the city to head to "The Cape," Cape Cod, Mass. This is where I would be meeting up with many extended family members including my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. When this group gets together it is always a great time. After waiting in the bus station for a ridiculously long time, we were on the road and sitting in some traffic. That is the way the Cape is in the summer though, so you just sit back, relax, and enjoy the fact that you aren't driving. This classic New England summer affair came complete with small cottages on the bay, fresh caught oysters, and a lot of relaxation. 

A rare occasion that most of the family is together. Grandparents, sisters, four cousins, two aunts, two uncles, but mom and dad were missing.

At weekend's end, it was back on the bus, and back to Boston. No visit to this historic city would be complete without a visit to Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox. The Sox have a long standing place in my family. I grew up watching games and listening to my father air his frustrations with bad calls and players not working up to their potential. Fenway has history, just like the city. The fans are of the most loyal in the country, and you can feel it as soon as you enter. Even if you don't like baseball, you can't help but get caught up in the Americana that exists within these stadium seats. I was especially enthralled with the playing of the spoons that took place in the bull pen. What a talented bunch of guys! I don't remember who won that night, but it didn't matter, it was a great time on a beautiful night!
My last day was spent wandering aimlessly in the city. It was a cloudy day with rain threatening hour by hour, but it didn't put a damper in the fun. I took a long walk by the water, watching the boats of all kinds, all the way to the Boston Aquarium. I wasn't planning on going in because I had been there many times before when I was younger. I was there to see the sea lion tank. What luck, it was feeding time and they were quite active. Once a sizable crowd had grown, I was off again in search of a nice waterside lunch. I found it at Joe's American Bar and Grill. I got a perfect little table with a stunning view of the harbor and sat and ate a lovely crab cake salad. Yummy! It was the perfect end to a really great week in  Boston.