austin + san antonio : where i saw so much burnt orange

antfeat

Welcome to Texas, or as it’s known in my childhood – Cowboy town. I’ve said this before but the US is really more of a conglomerate of different states than one unified country, which provides it an ample set of advantages and obstacles. Texas is one of its most distinctive states, with some even calling it a country by itself. To be fair, I discovered on this trip that at one point, Texas actually was its own self-governing country for a while. In fact, that was just the tip of a very large iceberg on how complex Texas’ history and legacy was, and I was just about to discover it. I started my trip by flying into Austin and taking the airport bus downtown.  One of my favorite things about the city is how well planned the public transportation is.  You can take buses everywhere for a flat price of $2.50 per 24 hour period.

capitol

The most iconic sight in Austin has to be the State Capitol. It’s almost like the center of gravity of the city, with its large stature imposing onto Congress Ave, the main road of Austin. It’s probably one of the biggest state capitols that I’ve ever seen and has a beautiful park surrounding it for a peaceful walk. I definitely took advantage of the ambiance for some quiet time.

ladybird

Austin has done a really good job of balancing its urban buildup with parks and natural expanses. One of my favorite parts of this effort is Lady Bug Lake on the east side of the city. It’s one of its largest water bodies and people frequent the area for all kinds of water sports such as stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking. Had I more time, I would have definitely wanted to hit the water too.

soco

If you’re looking for more of Austin’s restaurant and commercial life, head down to South Congress, which is literally south of Colorado River and Congress Ave. There’s a bunch of cool street markets, craft stores and amazing restaurants. I took a walk up back to the bridge crossing the river and stopped at a bunch of stores just to see what was being sold.

bats1

I would also plan the trip back up to the bridge to align with sunset, because one of Austin’s coolest attractions is the flight of the bats. At sunset, all the bats that lie underneath Congress Bridge come out in a swarm.

bats2

This is a hazy sight of it. I couldn’t get a good shot because it was storming and I really didn’t know what I was expecting and how to prepare my camera for it, but trust me when I tell you, it is one of the most memorable sights I’ve seen and I’ve seen some cool stuff around the world. The wait can be rather frustrating because the bats literally do what they want but I made some good conversation with the hundreds of people also in anticipation.

bartoncreek

Another cool place to check out is the Barton Springs. You have to pay a $8 fee to enter the actual pool where the water comes from naturally heated springs, but you can also swing through the children playground to this creek-like area. The actual pool is top-optional so note that when you’re heading there. Austin has a bunch of cool secrets like these.

6th

And then of course, what’s Austin without 6th Street. Austin is known as the live music capitol of the world, and the areas surrounding 6th street do host some of the liveliest pubs and bars I’ve seen in a city. There’s a bunch I liked including Jackalope, Blind Pig Pub and Bull McCabes (which is actually on Red River St). Grab a beer, chill out and dance with other tourists/locals. It’s a ball of a time. One place I highly recommend is the Midnight Cowboy speakeasy which needs reservations well in advance but does tableside cocktail preparations.

labbq1

Before I go on to talk about food, we must talk about food trucks. Austin has the most food truck parks I’ve seen in an US city, probably comparable to Portland. These are where some of the best food is dished out and it’s a lifestyle here to eat out on outdoor benches because the weather is always warm. I love love loved this.

labbq2

One of the places you MUST make your way to is La Barbecue. It’s a 2 hour wait if you just swing by but if you pre-order a week in advance, you can just come up and collect your order and pay immediately. The beef brisket is heavenly and is some of the best I’ve ever had in my life. It’s really depressing because I don’t know if I’m ever going to have such good brisket in a while. Their sausages are also really well done, with the meat mix being spot on and spicy. I also was a big fan of their potato salad.

torchys

The most recommended place to me was Torchy’s Tacos. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but Austin is famous for multiple things, and Tex-Mex is top on that list. Torchy’s is the epitomy of that celebration with savagely unique taco combinations and a mean queso dip. I’ve had comparable tacos in my travels around cities, but I will admit their queso is unbeatable. I personally liked their Green Chile Pork taco the best.

gordough

Another recommendation I’ll provided is for Gordough’s. I couldn’t make it out to their Public House where they serve ~donut burgers~ but I made a stop at a food truck and had one of their most populat donut dishes. I can’t remember what it’s called but it has whipped cream and fresh strawberries on a light fried donut. It was so good, but so sinful. Texan food isn’t known for being light but I didn’t know that so I was very overwhelmed quickly by how dense the food was. Make sure you take note of that, if not you’ll leave a few pounds heavier for sure.

Having seen Austin, I heard I had to check out San Antonio while I was nearby, so I booked a Greyhound and went out.

riverwalk

San Antonio is an absolutely beautiful city, and a lot more historically tied if you ask me. There’s a lot of events that happened around the area and the buildings and roads seem to reflect that. The centerpiece of the city though is the Riverwalk, which is a long expansive river that is banked by restaurants and bars. At some points, there are dams, bridges and even this performance area. You can take a boat cruise tour although I opted to walk the whole way and pick up on tidbits that the tour guides were sharing.

sanfernando

On the upper level lie more of San Antonio’s historical features, the most important being the San Fernando Cathedral. It is one of the oldest cathedrals in the US and has the architectural brilliance to show for it. I loved just walking around and admiring the stonework gone into the church, and the best part was that because I came on a Sunday, service was going on and I could peek into the stunning interior.

mexmart

If you continue westwards from the Cathedral, you’ll come across the largest Mexican Market outside of Mexico. This market has all kinds of stalls selling crafts, goods and memorabilia. There are also live music performances and talent shows.

mexstreet

Of course there’s a whole array of Mexican street food to choose from. I would say you’re gonna get more authentic Mexican food here than actual Tex-Mex which was a big thing for me because I’ve discovered a love for Mexican food since coming to the US. I’m really going to miss having easy access to Mexican food now that I’m out of the US.

alamo

And then we come to the Alamo, the highlight of my trip. From the memorable warcry ‘Remember the Alamo’, this area is a historical tribute to the complexities of Texas’s politics. The main building is actually a shrine of sorts to those who sacrificed their lives to protect the Mission (monikered ‘The Alamo’), but the whole campus holds artifacts and exhibits explaining how people fought over this area. It’s really an exciting and sobering visit, and completely meets the hype. It’s also completely free.

poblano

In San Antonio, I only had one meal, but this meal probably is as classic as it gets for my travels. I didn’t really want to drop a pretty penny on the Riverwalk restaurants but I also wanted good food. I basically camped outside the San Fernando church and followed those people who escaped church service early to reserve seats for lunch. I followed them to the nearby Poblano’s, which is a Mexican cafeteria that serves platters that are so affordable. I really had a hearty taco meal with chulapas here. Man, this was as good as it got for Mexican food.

Texas was an adventure and a ride. Be prepared for a very different part of the US when you cross these borders. There’s so much more I wish I did, like catch a rodeo or visit the famous Hamilton pools, but alas I must await my return to this exciting state. I will be back, Texas.

hooah.

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the seattle travelogue – welcome to emerald city

In the range of regions in the US, the Pacific Northwest is a favorite amongst anyone who wants to see the future of American cities. My previous trip on the West Cost stopped in Portland, and I was still itching to see Seattle, the emerald city. I finally found the opportunity to make my way there in April.

skyline

Seattle is a beautiful city and ranks high on my list as one of the most liveable cities I’ve been to. Aside from the rainy winter weather, Seattle has everything going for it – from a young progressive population to a beautiful natural backyard. From Kerry Park, you can get a sick view of the city and skyline including glimpses of the snowcapped Mt. Rainier and the Space Needle.

seattlecenter

The downtown area that caters to tourist basically revolves around the Seattle Center, which I honestly accidentally chanced upon during the walk down from Kerry Park. This area is a futuristic one with Glass Gardens, exhibitions, and other interesting sights. I’d say it’s more telling of Seattle’s commitment to being a city of the future and a meeting place of minds than anything else.

slu

One of the best things you can probably do for yourself while in Seattle is to find a way to do something at the Lake Union, the lake that stands in the middle of the city. The lake is absolutely beautiful especially with the mountains in the backdrop and the sun setting. You can do sports activities, ride a yacht (if you just so happen to own or rent one), or as I did, grab dinner by it. This is at White Swan Public House. 

poutine

I normally keep food recos for the end, but while we’re here, I’d say this restaurant’s main merit is its location and vibe. It’s charming and heartfelt, with good shellfish such as this clam poutine, but its service tends to be slow.

starbucks

Another place that is worth the visit is the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, where Starbucks shows its chops as a legitimate coffee producer. The place is divided into a coffee tasting area, a cafe, and a publicly viewable roastery.  You can talk to professional coffee roasters about the variety of blends and methods to extract coffee. It’s slightly sad that every other Starbucks in the world tends to be just sugary concoctions without the same appreciation for the coffee bean, but this was slightly redeeming.

coffee

I’d definitely recommend getting some flight from the menu. I got the cold brew flight, with one being a nitro version and they were really interesting profiles. They even give you info cards on the beans and where they come from.

pikeplace

Another big place to visit in Seattle is Pike Place Market. This is near the main downtown area of Seattle and is another tourist hotspot, although if you’ve followed my travelogues you would know I love markets anyway.

market

There’s a decent amount of goods here from flowers to spices to spreads. What’s especially captivating is the wide array of seafood that is freshly caught from the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t manage to get a good picture but there’s a shop that’s famous for throwing seafood between its folks when you order something, so if you’re willing to drop a dime just to see the act, definitely go for it.

pike

It’s probably worth taking the side-step to talk about some real issues in Seattle, beyond just the sights. Seattle has a huge problem with homelessness, and it becomes obvious once you walk the streets and look away from the mountains and straight onto your sidewalks. The city is largely filled with white upper middle-class to upper-class people, especially with the tech boom from Amazon and Microsoft, and it’s displacing people fast and furiously. Even at Pike Place, there’s a viewing area that is just occupied by homeless folk and it reminds you of how different people can experience the same city in vastly different ways. It’s worthy perspective to hold as you visit this city.

macandcheese

While you’re in Pike’s Place, make the slight detour to find the original Starbucks (which isn’t that interesting but worth noting of its existence) and also Beecher’s, which apparently has the best mac and cheese in the world (shown above).  The Mac and Cheese is extremely creamy but surprisingly not too heavy. You can see how they make the cheese in-house from the peering window.

fremont

Another good area to check out is Fremont, slightly north of downtown Capitol Hill, and where most people try to live. This is where our Airbnb was and the neighborhood was just such a pleasant place to be at. On the sunny day that we were there, it’s a beautiful walk to check out the town and have food at Paseo’s, a carribean sandwich place that will blow your mind away, and grab a cold beer at Fremont Brewery.

beer

Slightly west of Fremont is Ballard, which is where all of Seattle’s famous breweries are. My friends and I did a bar-hop and we got a good fill of amazing beer from the likes of Peddler, Populuxe and Reuben’s. You can go for flights at each place or enjoy a beautiful pint of it’s signature beers.

littlesi

Don’t miss out on exploring the natural backyard while you’re in Seattle. Make sure you go hiking or some sort of adventuring. We climbed Little Si, which was a 2 hour hike each way (mostly because I had lost a lot of my fitness), and the trail was absolutely stunning with the different terrains we had to traverse. Again the sights are amplified with the presence of snow-capped mountains.

sushi

For food, we’ll continue with seafood. You must appreciate the local catch including salmon, albacore, and geoduck. Moshi Moshi in Ballard is a good place to start with the sharing platter being around 60USD and the service being top-notch. It’s a small place and the neighborhood is a charming one, but the sushi and sashimi stand out as stars in this place.

portage

Brunch is also a big deal in Seattle, and Portage Bay is a well recommended venue with tons of gluten-free and farm to table options. I got the vegetable hash with pork belly strips and I ended up with a very filling yet healthy meal that tasted so fresh.

There’s a lot more places I didn’t get pictures of, but definitely, check out Canon (a whiskey speakeasy with great service and selection), Kedai Makan (a malaysian fusion restaurant if you miss southeast asian food) and Li’l Woody’s for greasy late night burgers. I’ve also heard Dick’s is a good place to check out for late night but I didn’t get the chance to go.

friends

I do want to take the time to thank Daniel and Mac for being such great hosts, showing me around this amazing city, taking care of me when I was enjoying myself too much and making me remember this city with such fond memories. I’m almost down for more adventures with these folks.

I’ll miss you Seattle and you better bet I’m coming back to visit you.

hooah.

some southern charleston charm

church

They call Charleston the ‘holy city’ which is kind of weird, given that the Vatican City comes to mind with that nickname. It’s well-intentioned though, as this beautiful city is charmed with church steeples instead of skyscrapers, which were guiding points for ships coming into the port. When Travel + Leisure ranked Charleston as the “Best City in the World” and I saw Anthony Bourdain make an episode about this city, I knew that I had to add it to my list of cities to visit in the US. So off I went on this adventure.

customhouse

When I was first learning about the US all the way in Singapore, I had two contrasting images. I had a visual image of New York city, the home of glam and modernity and where Alicia Keys belted out while on the piano. But I also had the image of the America of Atticus Finch and Scout – of the cute houses and prairies. The bible-thumping anglocentric not-so-diverse part of America. I had seen a lot of the first image in places like Chicago and DC, but in Charleston I had perhaps one of my first peeks into life into the second image. Charleston is historic. The buildings are stunning and quaint, and emblematic of the architectural styles of the south. You’ll find something traditional or historical at almost every corner, which made the travel more of a blast into the past than anything else.

market

One of the places to definitely stop by is the Charleston City Market. This is where a lot of the farmers and plantation owners – the main economy drivers in the Lowcountry – used to sell their goods. It’s one of the most visited places in Charleston and a National Historic Landmark.

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A lot of the goods here are craft materials that are really cool, but I think what caught my eye the most were the people selling Sweetgrass Baskets, traditionally made to winnow rice on plantations. The designs seemed intricate and inherited from generations of passing down the techniques. It’s probably one of the many ways to understand the conflicted past Charleston has, in recognizing its slavery-based past and still honoring the people and culture that it brought to the US.

college

Charleston is very heavily populated by students. Cistern Yard, shown above, is one of the more iconic parts of the campus of the College of Charleston and another reason to appreciate the beauty in the area.

horse

Contributing to the oldern charm are the horse carriages going about. I personally don’t go for these because they’ve become slightly cliche, but a lot of my fellow travelers have recommended this as a good way to tour the city with a guide and get a unique experience out of it too.

slavemart

There are many cool views and buildings to check out in Charleston, but if you were to prioritize any, it would have to be Chalmers Street in the French Quarter. This is a cobblestoned street, but it also used to be where the Old Slave Mart was. This is now a museum, but it’s a visual trigger for the disgusting past of the US, where slaves were traded and sold. It’s a necessary stop to understand that the beauty of Charleston hides some nastineness in plain sight.

ravenel-bridge

Aside from the city itself, it’s a good idea to explore the Lowcountry around Charleston and see more of what the region is about. The Ravenel Bridge is one of these sights, standing over the Cooper River, and connecting Charleston to Mount Pleasant. It’s like a mini Golden Gate Bridge but cool in its own way. I’d recommend driving through it too (walking may not be as pleasant).

fortsumter

A good place to catch a view of the bridge is on the way to Fort Sumter. You have to buy tickets for this, but it’s completely worth the cost as you take a 10 min ride out to this fort which has major historical significance. This was where the first ‘shot’ of the Civil War was fired and has contentious meanings for different people.

flags

One of the major reasons for this was because of the occupation of the fort by both Secessionists and the Union. Given that South Carolina was one of the first states to secede, this makes more sense. The Fort has seen a lot of damage and the history around it is pretty dramatic, so again I’d recommend the visit. The National Park rangers who manage the fort are very friendly and keen to impart the knowledge to visitors.

patriotspoint

Another historical sight to check out is Patriots Point which is in Mount Pleasant. This is mainly a museum area but it has aircraft carriers and major warships which are really cool. The tickets are slightly pricy which meant that I didn’t go onboard, but the view from afar is pretty stunning by itself.

boonehall

While in Mount Pleasant, take another 15 minutes east to go to Boone Hall Plantation which is one of the most gorgeous looking estates but again, another reminder of how slavery was such a big foundation of the economy here. Now the plantation serves more of a historical and an aesthetic purpose, providing backdrops for weddings and festivals with its beautiful promenades.

boonehallbldg

While in Boone Hall, the main building will definitely catch your attention. This is where The Notebook with Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling had some of its scenes and is therefore a photo attraction for many of the movie’s fans.

oyster

While we were in Boone Hall, the Oyster Festival was going on, which was a crazy good experience. They sold Lowcountry oysters by the buckets and my friend, George and I just gorged on them. This was definitely a highlight of the trip.

sullivan

Just south of Boone Hall is Sullivan’s Island, home to a simple expansive beach that provides a stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean. This is also the entry point for a lot fo the slaves that were brought into the Lowcountry. The island has seen a lot of battles fought here as well.

shemcreek

Finally, on your way back to Charleston, catch the sunset at Shem Creek, and if you have time, dinner and drinks too. This is one of my favorite photo opportunities I caught and is probably one of the best ways to capture the spirit of the Lowcountry.

angeloak

All the way on the west side of Charleston also lie many sights. Due to limited time, we couldn’t check out all of it (incl. Magnolia Plantation and some other marsh areas) but one sight that is grand is the Angel Oak. This is a 20-30 min drive from the city but is one of the oldest oaks around and you can see it the moment you arrive. It’s seen a lot and is truly gorgeous.

Charleston is also famous for its food. It’s seen a revival in its culinary scenes as a lot of local chefs have started trying to recover ingredients and styles from the south and integrate them back into the minds of major food enthusiasts. I’ll be honest, one of the main reasons why I came to Charleston was to try some good southern cuisine.

nastybiscuit

One of the best places to go is the Hominy Grill on Rutledge Ave, where you can get the Nasty Biscuit. This is a fried chicken biscuit sandwich, with a slightly spicy sausage gravy generously poured over it. The chicken was brined and fried well and the biscuit was fluffy in the middle but flaky on the outside, just the way it has to be. The gravy added a whole new dimension to the sandwich as the biscuit continued to soak it up.

bbq

South Carolina BBQ is pork oriented, but what makes it stand out is the White Mustard sauce that is unique to the region. At Swig & Swine, the portions are large and the prices affordable for a range of BBQ dishes with a myraid of sauce options including the SC BBQ Sauce. Definitely worth trying the Sweet Red Sauce as well. Also their Mac and Cheese IS AMAZING.  AND THEIR BRISKET. Yes, I typed it in CAPS. Yes, it’s that good.

pigearsalad

Finally, you know I had to make my way to Husk, where Sean Brock (one of my favorite chefs) has created a cultural entity around southern comfort food. It’s hard to get a place, so reserve early. Their brunch is what I’d recommend, even better if you have someone to share with. I started with their Pig’s Ears salad, a sweet and crispy mix of caramelized pig’s ears, onions and fresh cucumbers.

shrimpandgrits

The star of the show though was definitely the Shrimp and Grits. I love grits now because, in this dish, the soft flavorful grits were such a simple but addictive part of the meal. The shrimp was fresh and the soft-boiled egg was a bonus. I was so happy at the end of the meal.

Another place to drop by in Charleston is AC’s Bar and Grill which has the cheapest beer I’ve seen anywhere in the US. Most beers go at 2 USD and they don’t stop becoming cheaper at any point aka all day happy hour.

Charleston needs to be added to every list of cities to visit in the US. It adds more dimensions to what this country is about and provides just as much of a cultural and histroical experience as most other big cities. You can Uber around but I’d strongly recommend renting a car to see a lot of the natural parts of the Lowcountry.

Thank you Charleston for showing me southern hospitality. I look forward to coming back.

hooah

seeing south america – sao paulo + rio de janeiro + niteroi

The final country on the trip – Brazil. I was extremely excited for this last leg, especially given all the wild stories I’ve heard about times in this land. My ignorance was quickly challenged though, given that I had forgotten that Brazil spoke primarily Portuguese and not Spanish. There was a whole bunch of relearning that was about to occur.

Sao Paulo

spcity

I landed in Sao Paulo early in the morning (around 4am) and learnt that the airport is around 40 min away from the main city. It took me a long Uber ride, but I slept in and went downtown in the early afternoon. Av. Paulista is the main road where the business of the city occurs, and to be honest, given Sao Paulo’s positioning as Brazil’s economic and financial capital, this is where you’ll see a lot of your typical cityscapes. I quickly got bored on this road however. With the exception of some interesting architecture and the Museo de Arte, there wasn’t much to do in the city.

beco

I’m sure if I had stayed slightly longer I could have taken better advantage of what the city had to offer (such as the gardens), but I was mainly in Sao Paulo to transfer to Rio and had to prioritize my sightseeing. One of the things I definitely wanted to see was the Beco do Batman, which is in the west-central part of the city. It’s an alley filled with beautiful, stunning and absolutely trippy graffiti. It’s interesting given that the pursuit of law and order globally has sought to eradicate forms of expression such as graffiti, but here it’s celebrated and embraced.
fogo

There’s a friendly but not-so-friendly competition between Argentina and Brazil on who does meat better. Brazil’s steakhouses do whole cuts of meat and serve you slices. It’s normally done buffet style, such as in Fogo de Chao, which was overwhelmingly recommended as the best (and priciest) option. One must note that Fogo de Chao has restaurants in the US as well, and is now owned by American owners, so if you want a more local experience, you should look more. Having said that, Fogo de Chao in Sao Paulo was one of my favorite memories in Brazil and I was absolutely stuffed for the amount I paid. The meat cuts were delicious, having been seasoned right and done to perfection. My favorite cuts were the rump and short ribs. The chicken hearts are also a personal indulgence.

When I was in Sao Paulo, I stayed in JS Hostel, and I’d highly recommend it. The staff are very kind and the owner’s mother was such a darling in making sure I was taken care of. She even gave me a pillow to sleep on the couch (I had already checked out) and a towel to borrow for my shower while I waited for my night bus.  It’s also really good value for money.

Rio de Janeiro

I took the night bus from Sao Paulo on Expresso Do Sul to Rio. The SP bus terminal was expectedly chaotic, but the bus ride was safe and comfortable. They  even had charging ports and ‘wifi’ which was pretty clutch. I reached Rio at 3am and made a dumb mistake by deciding to walk a distance from the bus terminal in Rio to avoid paying exorbitant taxi fees. I quickly remembered everyone’s warnings about avoiding danger in Rio and given how dark it was, started realizing I was putting myself in a precarious situation. I quickly hailed a cab (which became difficult away from the terminal) and struggled to navigate us to my hostel. Lesson learnt – invest in safe transport to and fro your accommodation because you don’t want to lose all your belongings.

I spent the next 3 days exploring what Rio had to offer.

arcodalapa

Rio has a number of memorable locations. One of my favorites is the Carioca Aqueduct, situated near the Lapa district. This is a historical aqueduct that now transports a tram to Santa Teresa. It used to bring water from Carioca down to the city and stands as a pretty iconic sight in the city of Rio. What’s even more exciting though, is that at night (especially weekends), this whole place turns into a giant party, with alcohol and food stalls and open drinking. There are lights and noises, and the bars/clubs are right behind the Aqueduct. It’s quite the experience.

santateresa

Of course, you also have to explore the districts in Rio. These tend to be slightly less safe if you don’t have your wits about you, but spend some while in Rio and you’ll figure out how to navigate around. Santa Teresa is one of these districts, next to Lapa and built mostly on a hill. This makes for amazing views, and there are a lot of local bars and hangout spots here, especially in the evening.

escadaria

When you’re in Lapa, you should also check out the Mosaic Steps or the Escadaria Selaron which was a gift from a Chilean artist to the Brazilian people. It’s stunning and quite an artistic splendor. Of course, you have to bustle around other tourist, but there are so many interesting quirks here that you could spend a solid amount of time enjoying the different colors and combinations.

rioview

Rio’s main gift is in its ability to be a giant playground and such a diverse city. Right in the center of the city lies its Tijuca forest which is home to so much biodiversity.  If you take the tram up to the Christ the Redeemer statue, you can get a quick view through the forest and some pretty snazzy views such as this one.

cristo

One of the two iconic view spots in Rio is the Cristo Redentor statue (the other is Sugarloaf Mountain). Do not underestimate the line for the tram up here. Buy your ticket the day before from one of the tourist offices or at the station, or be prepared to buy a ticket for 4 hours later. Also time your trip. Some days, the top of the mountain is just so cloudy that you can’t see anything. I waited here for a total of 3 hours before I got this picture (I wasn’t going to waste my money and time already invested), but you do feel small when you stand next to the statue. The religious significance of the statue was felt but also it was mostly a giant tourist attraction. There is an area to pray behind the statue though. The whole trip up came up to approximately USD 30.

cristopeople

One thing to note though is really how incredibly packed this area is. Even with all the clouds, the area was filled with tourists who also would not budge till they got their photos. It also meant taking photos gets difficult, as everyone is using annoying selfie sticks or blocking up large spaces. You really have to go fast and furious on this.

ipanema

Of course, how could we talk about Rio without talking about its beaches. True to the stories, Rio’s beaches are beautiful with breathtaking backdrops and large amounts of space. There’s a strong mix of locals and tourists just taking in the heat, although I went in December and it was burning hot. Both Ipanema and Copacabana are beaches worth going to (they’re both right beside each other), but I’m a bigger fan of Ipanema simply because of the views.

fishingniteroi

When you’re in Rio, I’d strongly encourage taking a day trip to Niteroi, which is accessible by road or ferry. This is a neighboring with city with a quieter scene. You get better views of Rio from this side of the bay though, and a more local-centric community. For example, most of the fishing boats stay on this side of the bay.

viewfromtop

If you go up to Niteroi’s city park, you get access to these ledges where people paraglide from. Aside from paragliding, you also get these magnificent views of the bay.

niteroiview

As I was with my friend Ivana and her family, they also took me to this lesser known area (essentially a fort), where you get a sick view of both Sugarloaf mountain and the Cristo Redentor statue. The number of times where I was just overwhelmed by Rio and Niteroi’s beauty could not be tracked.

caipirinha

Moving onto to food and drink, I must start with the star of Rio – the Caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail. This is made with sugarcane liquor, lime and sugar and is a very potent drink that gives you the kick ready for the night. When people in Rio pregame, they normally buy 2 USD versions of these cocktails from street stalls and just go hard the whole night.

feijoda

Brazilian food tends to involve mostly rice, beans and a dish. They also have a really spicy chili extract sauce that is not for the weak. The dish people say is local to Rio and must be tried though, is the Feijoda. This is a stew with pork ribs, sausage and beans and is normally reserved for special occasions or the weekend, but at Bar do Mineiro in Santa Teresa, you can get this for a good rate. Man, I still remember the taste sometimes….

acai

Another common sight in Brazil is the Acai stalls. Acai is extremely expensive outside of Brazil, but here you can get smoothies, ice creams and other variations for incredibly affordable rates. It’s highly caloric but it provides energy quickly to the body. MegaMatte is a chain that provides this around town, along with Matte – another drink popular in South America.

ivana

I must extend my deepest thanks to Ivana, who I met 3 years ago in Berlin, Germany and who I’ve been so happy to continue keeping in touch with, for taking care of me and showing me around Niteroi. Her family and her really made me feel welcome in Brazil and showed me all the cool sights. It was good to see a familiar face after a long time!! Thank you Ivana!

In Rio, I stayed in PopArt Hostel which is in the Centro district of the city (away from the beaches). I would not recommend staying here, because the facilities are pretty battered and the staff aren’t as pleasant. I was there during the New Year season though, so I had to make do for affordable rates.

You can also Uber to get around everywhere in both SP and Rio, and they’re both pretty affordable. Rio has really good bus services though, and the tourist lines accept cash so I’d recommend using those more.

SIM cards – now this is probably where some advice is due. If you can, fly into Rio and get the TIM Tourist SIM. Brazil has a lot of restrictions for SIM cards to tourists (they mostly only allow citizens to get SIM cards) but the TIM tourist SIM is available in Rio readily and has the best value. I got a temporary SIM in SP because the Tourist SIMs ran out, but that was still expensive.

Finally, banks and ATMs charge hefty withdrawal fees in Brazil so either frontload your withdrawals or bring money already exchanged.

Brazil was a great time and an absolute party. I’m so happy  I got to see these three stunning cities and participate in local culture. There’s a lot I missed out on – such as favellas and the nature part of the country, but that only means I definitely have to come back.

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It’s been three months since I did this trip and I still miss South America sorely. The food, the people and the rich culture are so difficult to find anywhere else, and the cautions of safety wrongly shadow the the trove of warmth you find from the communities you visit. Yes, things are unexpected and danger abounds in new environments, but that’s also become countries are complex, pluralistic and ultimately still not developed. There’s so much to understand about the human condition from that alone.

hooah.

seeing south america: salta + buenos aires

Having been forced to take a detour around Uyuni, I was now on a plane from La Paz to Salta, Argentina. Northwestern Argentina is known for being beautiful to drive through with its desert like landscapes. Unfortunately, I missed out on that by taking this flight to avoid being held at gunpoint in Uyuni, but I guess I wasn’t trying to make this trip more dangerous than it already was turning out to be.

Salta

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Salta is a small city in the northwestern part of Argentina that is a good stop when on a multi-stop roadtrip in the region. It has beautiful architecture, as seen in the cathedrals above, and is deeply traditional. If you want to see true small-town west Argentina, Salta is without  a doubt a good choice. mercado

As part of the whole traditional gig, it’s quite the visit to Mercado San Miguel, where there’s wholesale sales of coca leaves and various other spices. I’m pretty sure you can buy large quantities of coca leaves here, which makes me wonder what people use it for…. Aside from that, you get to see life in motion at this market, especially early in the morning when people come to grab breakfast within the market.hotdog

What really made Salta stick out for me was the rich variety of food options that are renowned to have come from West Argentina. The Pancho (hotdog) isn’t one of them, I think, but they’re an interesting street snack. You start out with a regular hot dog, maybe slightly longer, and then you go to a full on buffet bar of sauces and toppings, where you can pile anything from corn to salsa to ham bits onto your Pancho. This can be found in Buenos Aires too but I just found it a lot more common in Salta.empanadas

Of course, you can’t go to Salta and not have empanadas, the Argentian version of saltenas, which are smaller but for some reason, tastier. They say that Salta has the best empanadas in the country, so I went and sampled a few from different stores. These puffed pastries make great snacks and are just an explosion of flavors.

The city is walkable so you don’t really need to use cabs other than to get to the airport, but even then they have accessible buses. It’s also very safe, so you can go out at night to some of the best traditional bars with folk music for an unique experience.

Salta was a pretty decent one-day trip on the way between Bolivia and Buenos Aires, and it gives you a good small town contrast to the big giant of BA.

Buenos Aires

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Buenos Aires is a capital city, in every sense of the word. It has a metropolitan center, large busy roads, famous restaurants and lots of interesting districts. I definitely enjoyed my time in BA, as it’s affectionately called, but there’s not an immediate sense that you’re in Argentina or that you’re in South America. I quickly learnt through the city tour that a lot of this has to do with the fact that the first group of people were infatuated with the French to the point that they built most of their cities modeled around European cities. In fact, BA was a largely an immigrant city for most of its history. Of course, when you’re in BA, you’ll definitely spend some time walking or driving on the largest urban road in the world – Avenida 9 de Julio, which runs through the centre. It has 7 lanes in each direction, and it’s quite the sight when it’s busy.

obelisco

Of course, when you’re on the road, you’ll also come across the Obelisco, which is right in the centre. It’s quite the phallic sight, and commemorates the fourth centenary of the first stone laid in the city. I’m personally not a fan of obelisks, but I guess this is a pretty famous part of the city.

clocktower

I don’t know if it’s the fault of the walking tour company I was with (FreeWalks) but Buenos Aires’s early history wasn’t very captivating because it isn’t based on a lot of grand gestures or ideological shifts. It’s essentially a story of a rich establishment that had its way and its eventual erosion.  It’s modern history is a lot more interesting though, and speaks volumes of the kinds of people in Argentina and the issues they have to navigate. Stuff like the Falkland wars are the exciting blips in history that make you peer a bit closer. This clocktower was given by the British actually, and resembles the Big Ben. It’s called the Torre Monumental, and after the Falkland wars was vandalized and damaged by locals. Just goes to show how different signals can be sent the by same building as time changes.

santelmo

What’s really cool about BA is not really in the main squares however, and more in the districts. San Telmo is one of my favorite districts, where dockworkers and other industrialists used to work, making this the essential heart of local life. The district has a strong bohemian vibe and houses many excellent restaurants and bars. It is home to a lot of beautiful street art and is where you go for professional tango shows. San Telmo was like taking a walk though a photogenic neighborhood. I highly recommend a couple of hours to explore this area.

laboca

Another interesting neighborhood to explore is La Boca, which is all the way southeast, near the docks. La Boca is home to a lot of Italian influence, mainly because of the influx of immigrants from Genoa who stayed here. It’s known as the colorful part of the city, for good reason. It’s painted in bright exciting colors, and make for great pictures. La Boca is known for being mainly dangerous outside of Caminito where the tourist area is, so I’d advise being cautious if exploring out of the main streets or late in the day. I personally did both, but I was with another male so I didn’t feel as unsafe.

tango

One of the things to definitely try to catch is an outdoor Tango show that happens spontaneously in Caminito. Tango is known as originating from BA, and was thought of as a dirty, lower class dance. Now it’s seen as a cultural essential and people flock to watch the shows in the city. You can catch it for free here!

cemetery

Spend some time in the Recoleta Cemetery, which is in the rich upper-class part of the city. The whole of Recoleta is populated with beautiful rich buildings, and the cemetery was meant to provide the same level of comfort to the rich when they died. They’re mini mansions, and each “grave” costs millions. You’ll find mostly aristocrat graves here, but there’s also the famous grave of Evita who many Argentinians adore as a woman for the people. It serves a good reminder of the level of inequality in BA.

floralis

Around Recoleta is also the Floralis Generica, a giant metal flower that was gifted by the famous architect Catalano. It opens up at dawn and closes at dusk, so definitely try to catch it at either time as it’s in motion.

el-ateno

If you have time, make your way to El Ateneo as well, which is a bookstore that’s housed in an old theatre. It’s known as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, and once you walk in, you definitely get why. The cafe is also housed on the stage, so you can grab a coffee there.

fugguzza

Buenos Aires has a lot of good food, both as an international city and a place of good local cuisine. One thing that you get best from BA is its pizza, known even as Argentinian Pizza, because of its adaptation from the recipes of the Genoans who immigrated. Pizzeria Guerrin is my go to, and I wanted to go back for more slices. The interesting slice is the Fugguzza, which is basically an onion pizza on white sauce, but there are also versions with ham and cheese.

offal

Of course, what does it mean to go to Buenos Aires or Argentina and not eat a lot of meat? I had so many different cuts of steak and ribs and other things while here, and I never got sick of it. At Gran Parilla Del Plata, you can get amazing portions for good value, even though it’s also known as one of the best parillas (steakhouses) in the city by the locals. One of the things I’d definitely recommend trying is the offal platter, which comes with intestines, kidneys, blood sausages and even sweetbread (the thryoid gland). This was what the poorer communities ate in BA, because grilling was universal, but it’s so good when done well.

asado

I also ate regular cuts of meat, including these short ribs, known as asado. Across the board, meat in the city is incredibly affordable and so well done. I was spoilt from the get go.

After your meal, try getting ice cream, especially Dulce de Leche which is a local favorite.

Buenos Aires is a fun city, and at night, you can go out to both traditional clubs/bars as well as local tango bars. I was here on Christmas and got to see magnificent fireworks on midnight going into Christmas, launched not so much by the city but by random people. There’s two main groups that launch fireworks: local Argentians and the Chinese immigrant community, and they tend to have a competition which was really cool to watch.

For hostels, I stayed at Rayuela Hostel, which I cannot recommend enough. It’s conveniently accessible and the staff are very helpful. They host a weekly BBQ, and we had ours on Christmas Eve which sweet Argentian wine (a lot of it in fact).

For SIM Cards, I recommend getting one from Personal,  but as with most South American cities, go to their local HQ and get it set up there because it can get very tricky, especially if you don’t know Spanish like I do. Personal has good coverage across Argentina.

ATMs in BA charge hefty transaction fees for foreign cards, so exchange money before coming in or front-load your withdrawals. Aside from that, the blue dollar isn’t much of a thing anymore so don’t worry about the scares about inflation etc. that used to be valid.

Uber is convenient and available, but the costs add up. Public transportation though is very accessible and well connected so I’d encourage using it as much as you can. Most hostels have travel passes you can rent to use on public transport.

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I want to thank Linus, who was such a good friend and resource on this trip. He provided a lot of good recommendations and even gave me a starter’s pack to the history and context of BA. I’m glad I managed to catch up with this friend from Singapore and have some good conversations on topics back home. Thanks bro.

The trip goes on its last leg, as I make my way to Sao Paolo in Brazil. All my Spanish that I had picked up will become useless as I quickly realize Portugese is the language of use here…

hooah.

seeing south america: lake titicaca + la paz

Peru had been an absolutely epic adventure, but it was time to move on and explore new territories. Taking a bus through the mountains, I was on a journey to Lake Titicaca and Bolivia. Whatever I thought I knew about South America was going to be challenged by what I was about to see across the border.

Puno

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In order to cross the border, I booked a seat on Bolivia Hop which is a really affordable bus service that takes you from Cusco to La Paz, with stops along Lake Titicaca. Most of the people on the bus are fellow travellers and backpackers, making it a worthwhile time to get to know people who are probably on similar trails and willing to explore with you.

The bus makes a stop at Puno early in the morning, which is a Peruvian town on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable water body on the Earth. Altitude is still high, so expect to see mountains all around and still have shortness of breath. The lake is absolutely beautiful and supports so many people. What’s really interesting though is the Uros Floating Village, a village made on reeds that sits in the middle of the lake. The people were escaping from the Incans and formed a defensive settlement on the lake so they could move quickly.

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The islands are stable, housing ‘communities’ which are a couple of families pooling resources together to live on an ‘island’. The Uros start new islands normally when marrying out or wanting to start a new chapter of their lives, and the process takes a long time. The amount of reed needed is incredible, and the politics of it all is pretty interesting. The Peruvian government has committed to respecting indigenous populations and supports the Uros, even providing solar panels if you look closely enough, to ensure a basic standard of living. A lot of critics say that the Uros these days only live as such as a way to earn money from tourism, sharing that it’s kitschy. I don’t know how I feel about it, but I definitely found it interesting that such a way of life even existed and that there’s more to South America than just grand civilisations and beautiful landscapes. Indigenous people add to the flavour.

Copacabana

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From Puno, you’ll cross to Bolivia, which has quick border crossing process. People joke that it’s like stepping back in time, but honestly it’s not that bad. The visa process is a bit of a struggle, so I do recommend planning ahead for it, but Singaporeans get to go for free if you go to an Embassy or Consulate before crossing the border. To be honest, the only reason why I wanted to go to Bolivia was to see Uyuni, which ended up falling flat for reasons I’ll share later,  but I was about to discover some interesting sights. For one, Lake Titicaca is more beautiful on the Bolivian side, and Copacabana which is the city on the lake in Bolivia gives you access to more parts of the lake.

isla

One of the things you must do is to take a boat out to Isla de Sol, which is precious in Incan and Ayamara history as the birthplace of civilisation. It’s a small island and takes a hike to get around, which is difficult given the altitude. There are a couple of things to see on the island, including the famous but small Sun Temple, but the real prize are the views out from the island.

cordil

One of the best views are of the Cordillera Real, a beautiful snow-capped mountain range that just takes your breath away. Seated in the foreground is Isla de Luna, the sister island to Isla de Sol.

donkey

The Yumani village is situated on the island, and there are donkeys, alpacas and lots of hard labour. The woman are incredibly strong and visibly present carrying loads up and down the hills, while the men work on construction activities or are smoking outside. It’s quite the sight, seeing the villagers just live.

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Of course, while in Copacabana, you should try to get Trout which is caught from the lake. It’s fresh and delicious, and if you find the right local restaurant you can get the above meal for 2USD.

La Paz

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After Copacabana, I made my way to La Paz, which is the seat of government of Bolivia. It’s a chaotic city, with noise and confusion everywhere. Bolivia is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, which makes travelling around it slightly dangerous and sketchy. On the bus ride, we had to go through El Alto which is where most locals live (La Paz is more of an urban work area). The roads were horrible and you couldn’t help but get scared as you went through it, but I guess that’s why they tell you not to go there.

cablecar

One of the best things to do in La Paz is to take the cable cars, which is a form of public transport in the country and therefore only costs 3USD for a two way trip lasting 20 minutes. Locals actually use it to commute, but tourists are allowed as well. The views of the city are stunning and remind you of how many people actually live and work in La Paz, and how chaotic this sun-baked city is.

bowler

Now La Paz has a lot of history. It was the heart of a lot of revolutions, especially with the Spanish. The Ayamara, which is the indigenous civilisation before the Spanish, still have a large presence. The city was divided between the rich Spanish and the simple Ayamara, making city tours a diverse walk through two concurrent histories. The picture above shows the typical garb of a cholita which is an Ayamaran woman. The bowler hats are quite the sight.

callejean

Calle Jean is a neighbourhood in the Spanish side of the city that’s colourful and full of art galleries and shops. It’s said to be haunted at night, but there’s also alternate explanations that describe how secret conversations of revolt happened here, sparking some of the biggest moments in Bolivian history.

witches

Another good sight in La Paz is the Witches Market, that’s in the Ayamara side of the city. It could make you a bit queasy, with all the strange smells and sights including Alapaca carcases, but it’s an insightful look into local culture and traditions.

sopademani

A lot of what I loved about Bolivia was the food though. It was exceptionally cheap, simple but delicious. Sopa de Mani, or peanut soup, is a local favourite and is a slightly peppery concoction that fills you up well. Llajuita is a good chain restaurant that serves local dishes in a clean environment so go there.

sillp

Silpanchos were one of my favourite meals, made up of rice and potatoes with a large thin piece of meat and egg over it. It’s really tasty, but very greasy. Silpich is where you want to go for this for a clean and cheap meal.

saltena

Of course, you can’t go to Bolivia without trying Saltenas. They were my favourite snack and I had so many. The chicken one comes with an egg in it, and while it’s similar dishes around the world, what makes a saltena stand out is its mix of spices and sauce that bring out so much flavour. The famous ones come from Pacena La Saltena and they’re really cheap and quick. Add some peppers for a strong kick.

Bolivia doesn’t use Uber so walking is probably your bet for getting around, although cabs so exist. I only used it to go to the airport, so I think you’ll be good with walking.

TIGO should be your choice of SIM Card, costing only 5-6USD for a comprehensive data plan for a whole week, and I’d recommend going straight to their HQ building to set up your phone.

Be careful of ATMs in Bolivia, because they have heavy transaction fees and also some of them run out of cash but don’t tell you until they return your card. Some have been heard to even deduct the amount from your card without giving you money so go to banks to get money from the ATM and make sure you can talk to someone in case things don’t work out.

Be prepared for unexpected changes in your plans to Bolivia though, as protests happen frequently and they mean business. My trip to Uyuni had to be cancelled as they shut down the town and had gun patrols blocking travellers going in or out. I met people who had to sneak out at 2am under the cover of darkness and walk for 20KM before reaching the nearest town to take a bus out. Don’t plan for more than the next day.

As for safety, practice regular safety habits and you should be fine. Go where there are a lot of people, and eat at places where there are lines. A great hostel to stay at is Loki Hostel, which is admittedly a party hostel but a great community. I have a lot of memories at their rooftop bar that has a beautiful view of the city and some of the craziest party animals.

Next post, I’ll share about my time in Salta and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Look forward to it!

hooah.

seeing south america: nasca + cusco + macchu picchu

The adventure continues as I move from Lima to Nasca. The journey leaves the city and goes to the desert, where sun-baked houses occupy the large expanse and sunsets are beautiful.

Nasca

Nasca is one of the smaller Peruvian towns, normally part of a larger trail going through Paracas and Ica, which I, unfortunately, didn’t have the time to explore this trip. The main highlight of Nasca, however, was the Nasca Lines, left by the extinguished Nasca settlements. You need to book a group flight to really see the lines in their true glory, and if you book early, you can get flights for as low as 70 USD. The average, otherwise, is 80 USD.  I flew with AeroParacas, which is decently reliable flight operator.

paracas

Once you’re up in the air, the whole flight takes around 30-40 minutes, with many dips and curls so don’t eat anything before your flight. The pilots do these so that you can get a closer view of the lines which are magnificent. You really need an eye for perspective to appreciate the intention and scale of the Nasca Lines, some of which are accurate to a high degree on their depiction of various animals and people. The Spider was my favourite, and one of the most visible drawings. It’s rumoured that these lines were drawn in worship to the Gods, or because of aliens, but because not much is known about the Nasca settlements, we will also not know much about the lines and their intentions for the foreseeable future.

spider

Getting to and from Nasca is easiest by bus (Cruz del Sur is my recommendation for quality service) and doesn’t really have much other for the tourist beyond the lines. There are some really cool aqueducts/wells and beautifully stunning landscapes so I would recommend one additional day to explore those. I must give one of my highest recommendations to NaNasqa Hostel, run by Roy (below). It’s by far one of the best representations of what a homely hostel should be, with Roy and his Mom making the personal effort to take care of you and make sure you’re well prepared for your trips. I had the pleasure of building the friendships I did with both Roy and Dino, another friend of the hostel. If you go to Nasca, definitely stay here.

nanasqa

On we must now continue on the rest of the trip.  I took the bus from Nasca to Cusco which was supposed to last approximately 12 hours. Unfortunately, I learned a very important lesson about South America on this journey, which was that you should never expect for plans to go they way you intend for them to. Protests are frequent and rampant, and tourists are often hostage to the situation at hand. We were stuck in the mountains on the way up to Cusco for 12 hours, and I learnt a bit about the state of affairs in mountain towns. It’s sobering to learn that much of Peru is left to fend for themselves, especially in the rural areas, and that as a result, many are left without basic resources such as clean water and access to supplies. This was an added lens to see this country through. Also, I used the 12 hours to acclimatise to the altitude, which helped when I reached Cusco.

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Cusco

Cusco is nearly 3600m about sea level, causing many to think of altitude sickness and Coca Leaves. Cusco was by far one of my favourite cities on this trip. It’s a big city, but much of its history remaining and breathing, with cobblestone streets and indigenous Incan descendants in traditional garb in plain sight. Cusco is a convenient entry point to understanding Incan civilisations and what Peru is mostly renowned for.

garb

Cusco as a town has a lot to offer in terms of history and culture. While there are many trips (beautiful but normally costly) you can base out of Cusco, I’d recommend starting with a walking tour of the city to understand the seat of Incan civilisation, as well as the Spanish occupation of the Incan empire.  For example, below you can see Qorikancha, which was the Incan Sun Temple and by extension, one of the most important buildings in the Incan Empire. It’s unfortunate then that when the Spanish occupied, they converted the temple to a church, destroying many of the cultural and historical aspects of the building. There are still remainders of the temple, and within the church as well, many beautiful Christian paintings and treasures.

qoricancha

Walking into the Plaza de Armas, you’ll see the many important buildings of Cusco. Below is the main cathedral of the city, which was again built over important Incan temples. It became a morbidly fun challenge to wonder what every Spanish/Christian building was built over and discover the rich heritage of both Incan culture and the Spanish occupation.

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Once you’re in Cusco, you can begin trying some of the more exquisite foods available. I tried Cuy (guinea pig), which has mixed reactions upon my utterance. I personally found it tasty, but too much of a hassle to eat and so won’t try it again. A good locals-only place to try cuy without breaking your wallet is La Chomba. Another meat I tried was Alpaca. I had it as a steak to really get familiar with the meat, but you can eat it in burgers or other meat dishes in Cusco. It’s tasty for sure, and lies somewhere between mutton and beef on the taste spectrum. Uchu Peruvian Steakhouse is where I went for mine, and the different sauces they offer help bring out different dimensions to the meat.

alpaca

Finally, once you build up the capability, eat Peruvian street food. Anticuchos were one of my favorite. They’re basically skewered beef hearts that are amazingly tasty and chewy.

anticuchos

Macchu Picchu

One of the must-do trips to take from Cusco is the one to Macchu Picchu, one of the only remaining ruins of the Incan civilisations that are also stunning beautiful. There are multiple ways to get there, and there are other blogs for this, but in essence, you can choose to hike there or take the train. I’d honestly have chosen to hike had I known you have to book 6 months in advance and pay nearly 600 USD for the whole package, but alas, I was not as prepared and had to book the fast trip. Booking a package is convenient and covers most of your logistics, all for an average of 200USD. A bus first takes you to Ollantaytamboo, itself a town with historical ruins, from which you take Perurail through the mountains to the base of Macchu Picchu.

train

The train carries both tourists and locals, and so as a way of prioritising locals (after many protests that complained about favouritism of services to tourists), tourists only get 2 cabins that are basically the equivalent of first-class cabins. This explains why tickets run out fast. The good thing is that the cabins do provide beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and landscapes so photo opportunities are available. The train reaches Aguas Calientes, which is a small town with no roads and multitudes of hotels and restaurants primarily catered for tourists. Trust me when I say that the town has nothing else going on besides Macchu Picchu. Prices also match the tourist phenomenon so don’t try to stay too long here.trainview

Buses go up to Macchu Picchu for 12USD a ride, or you can take a roughly 1.5 – 2 hour climb up the Incan steps to the entry gate. Either way, the highlight of the trip is walking past the entry point, up the small knoll and into the steppes that are iconic to what is Macchu Picchu. I had the luck to see the clouds leave the town and provide an astonishing view of this city. Taking the tour provided a thorough and comprehensive understanding of not only the city but the Incan civilisation as a whole, including how the people lived and how they worshipped. The mountains provide a backdrop that is not easily replicable and you truly feel like you’re living in the heavens. The photos I took reflect the beauty of the Macchu Picchu only to the minutest extents. One must stand amongst these ruins to truly appreciate them.

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Lllamas also roam these ruins freely, grazing and cheesing around. They’ll occasionally pose for a photo but like to be left alone most times.llama

From the main ruins, there are also multiple other trails you can follow, including climbing up the taller mountains on the sides to get a better view. I took a hike to see the Incan Bridge (below), which saw me walk along the sides of cliffs and overlook vertical drops. The bridge in itself is simple, but perplexing, and altogether dangerous.incabridge

Quickly, a good recommendation for hostels in Cusco is Pariwana Hostel, which is a large party-esque hostel with a lot of activities both internally and in Cusco. I’d recommend staying away from their internal travel agency and doing a bit of legwork around the city to book tours, but for everything else, Pariwana has got you covered for an affordable rate.

I left this part of Peru absolutely fed with adventure, beauty and emotion. There was so much richness that I hadn’t been exposed to before, especially with such frequency, and I was realizing my world was a lot bigger than I had thought it was. How much history does our world hold and how ignorant are we to think that we cannot take lessons away from our past?

I was about to find out as I made the journey forward to Lake Titicaca and Bolivia. Till then,

hooah