Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Huacachina, Peru

While in Patagonia, we learned about sandboarding in Peru and made sure to work Huacachina into our itinerary. It´s a small town on a small lake nestled in very large sand dunes just outside Ica, Peru... and it's famous in South America for sandboarding.

The buggy ride to the dunes is worth it alone. Our driver was not at all afraid to come within inches of steep cliffs or go down the dunes at high speeds. We never knew what was coming next. It was really fun and beautiful too!

At first, going down can be a little intimidating because the dunes are so high and steep (the dune below was the first, and by far the smallest). But we quickly realized that with sand always collecting under the board, it takes a lot of speed to keep going.

Like in snowboarding, you spend a lot of time falling down before you really start having fun:

The mid-day heat started getting to Pascale so she did what any professional would do...

Just when we started to get the hang of it, it was already time to go back. Determined to conquer the dunes, we spent the afternoon practicing our skills behind the hostel.

It was good practice but not as fun without the buggy there to pick us up:

Waxing the board with a candle:

On our second round, we returned fearless and begging for more. We also realized that going face first is much faster and easier. This changed everything. Pascale will give us a quick demonstration:

It was also much cooler in the afternoon, and we got to see the sun go down behind the dunes.

We watched the sunset from this cliff´s edge, anxious to go again once the sun had dropped:

Again, it was time to leave way too soon.... but our sandboarding days are far from over.

If the secret to delicious food is cooking topless, then Aldo has it right. Our hostel had his little restaurant attached and out of this small, dark kitchen emerged some pretty amazing Peruvian dishes for only about 4 dollars per plate, which we shared. Here´s Aldo.... he was super nice:

A side note: The water bag you see hanging in the doorway is to keep flies away.... they say the fly sees its magnified reflection in the water and gets scared away. Many in latin america swear by it, including Aldo. He said he used laugh at the theory until it cleared out the swarms of flies in his kitchen.

This is Aldo´s assistant. We don't know how they found each other, but they're a perfect match. He lets her help out at his restaurant because like many in Ica, she lost work after the earthquake in Peru last year.

Another man working at our hostel walked with a cane because he said a wall collapsed on his foot during the earthquake. It´s pretty sad:


If the bird on the left looks wet, it´s because Pascale had just rescued it from drowning. A lady dropped the parrot's cage near the hostel's pool, and it rolled right into the murky water. Within seconds of witnessing this, Pascale leapt to action and heroically dove in after the caged parrot while the lady was still calling for help. Without her jumping in the pool fully dressed with her documents, passport and money still on her, the beautiful bird would most certainly not have survived.... luckily, her passport and documents recovered too.

As if saving parrots weren´t enough, Pascale made dear friends with this little monkey back at the hostel.... after he looked everywhere on her for food:

After some snacks and quality time with Pascale, the little guy got very attached, literally. The staff really had to come pry him off her so she could leave, and he whimpered and cried the whole time. It was really sad and didn't make it any easier for Pascale (who had gotten rather attached herself).

More photos: share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8QcN2TFq0bM9m

Lima, Peru

Instead of traveling for days in buses through the deserts of northern Chile to Peru, we opted to fly from Santiago to Lima.... and we scored again with being hooked up in a city, this time with Amy's friend, Vanessa, and her friend Nichole.

We stayed with Vanessa (and her baby, Alexa) from Washington, D.C. Vanessa is originally from Lima so her family still has an apartment here. Lucky for us, she happened to be in town!

They showed us the good life in Lima, complete with amazing food (we would argue the some of the best we've yet to have on this trip), beaches, and best of all, shopping designer clothing at a deep discount.

Some views of the sunset in Vanessa´s neighborhood:

While we thought that this was going to be a quick, overnight stop, our city impulses got in the way. Not only that, Pascale was able to practice her Peruvian driving skills (seven years of living in New York finally paid off). They drive like there are no traffic laws at all here, anything goes. Cutting someone off is the only way to merge, and Pascale did it beautifully.

We spent a day at the beach with Vanessa and Nichole. We laid out and enjoyed fresh blended tropical fruits. It was delightful. Here we are eating lunch at the country club.

¨Best on the Beach¨ went to.....



Pierce Brosnan and his matching blue rosary.... it really was no contest.

Perhaps the best thing we discovered in our few days here is lúcuma. It is a fruit that almost tastes like sweet potato and seems to be used in combination with everything. Whoever said, comfort food doesn't just grow on trees, was lying. This stuff is divine.

(As a side note, we were informed by Nichole that Peru has over 3,400 varieties of potatoes and found out that potatoes are believed to have originated in Peru, for those of you interested in useless trivia).

An overnight stay turned into four fun-filled days in Lima. How could we leave?

Nichole has her own t-shirt line so she brought us to the factory where they also make designer clothes out of their super soft cotton to export to the U.S. In a corner of the factory, they have a small store where they sell clothes for a fraction of the price. It was a girl´s dream.

So Lima was well worth the stop, even if we didn´t make it to any historical sites. Unfortunately, we don't have many photos from the city since we were also in some sketchy areas (we're only down to one camera right now and won't get back-up relief for anther month) but imagine another big sprawling urban environment. You get the picture?

A few more: share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8QcN2TFq0bM-q

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Santiago, Chile

Amy was introduced to Norman via Skype a few weeks before we left for South America, and we finally met him here. (Norman is American but has lived in Santiago for years and was super helpful whenever we had questions about our travels.) He happened to be in Valparaiso doing business with a friend, Cristián, the day we were leaving so they gave us a lift to Santiago.

Before leaving, they took us to a lovely lunch at the famous Cafe Turri, overlooking the water in Valparaiso.

With Cristián behind the wheel of his sporty car, we got to Santiago in no time. It was sort of like being in a high-speed chase or setting a record in the Indy 500, which made it all the more fun and far better than any bus we could've taken. We weren't as much fun, however.... both of us fell asleep almost the whole way there.

The best thing about Santiago for us was that we stayed in this city for absolutely free in luxury accommodations reminiscent of the W Hotel, compliments of our new friend, Cristián. Not only did he treat us to the best food that we´ve had in six weeks, we were able to take showers without shoes and take a much needed break of hovering over toilet seats.

Santiago reminded us very much of the U.S. It's very clean and even resembled CA in parts. For example, this is where we ate dinner one night in Cristián's neighborhood:

When we weren't with Cristián, we got around Santiago by taxi and our first subway system in South America. Pascale, of course, was a pro at navigating our way through city via the Metro:

Underground murals by the trains:

Cerro Santa Lucia has fountains, gardens and some nice views of the city at the top:

We both agreed that Santiago is LA´s sister city but with less graffitti and plastic surgery, except for what we left in a local restaurant.

As in many cities, a statue of a religious figure looks out over all of Santiago. The Virgin Mary can be seen day or night from anywhere atop the Cerro San Cristobal. We took cable cars to visit the her up close:

This is us still at the top of San Cristobal, but the city has multiple lookout points where we were able to view the smog from different angles, including those amazing sunsets.

We also tried to be a little more cultured in our experience and took in a museum but must admit that the best part of it was playing icescapades on the slick floors until the guards forced us to leave.

The visit would not have been complete without visiting the last of Neruda´s houses in Chile. What we would´ve given to be Matilde.

Neruda put PM in the window of their home to stand for Pablo and Matilde, and the sun design represents Matilde because the sun's rays reminded him of her hair. Such a romantic he was, probably even wrote her some poetry.

These clowns performed for tips in front a crowd that formed on a major street in Santiago. They did anything to entertain with their bicycle and suitcase of props--stopping traffic at their leisure, taunting the drivers, getting into people's cars or even laying down in the road. It was hilarious to watch....

You would never see this in the States:

Notice the second clown getting into the red car....

We met Raul on a tour when he was visiting Mendoza, Argentina. He is from Santiago originally but has lived all over the world, even in Los Angeles (Thousand Oaks). He was really friendly and invited us to come eat at his pizza restaurant "Verace," and cafe when we got to Santiago. We took him up on it....

Cultural note: Cristián gave us soft beds, wireless Internet, laundry service, hot showers, and salt that was powder fine.... but no pepper. These are two things that don't necessarily go together for everyone, but we realized it may be less of a Cristián thing and more of a Chilean thing.

This section of the grocery store is dedicated entirely to table salt in bags, bottles and boxes of all sizes, but you have to look long and hard to find even a packet of pepper.