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Peru – part IV

Part V- Machu Picchu

Day 7

We woke up real early in the morning, in hope to see the sun rise from the top of Machu Picchu, the “Lost City of the Incas”, one of the new 7 wonders of the world. We made sure our backpacks for the day were ready (aka: water bottle, rain poncho, sun screen, snacks, hat, chocolate, tickets, and… passport!).

Some of us took the zigzaging bus up to the top (including yours truly), while others, braver, and better knee equipped, hiked up the steep steps.

Needless to say, at the top we discovered the many clouds that blocked the sunrise.

Good morning clouds of Machu Picchu

Good morning clouds of Machu Picchu

So, traveling with my son, until the rest of the family comes, we made our way on the trail that led up to the Sungate, on the western side.

Hello Alpaca

Hello Alpaca

With the thin air, and the narrow road at times, it took us a while to get to the Sungate, but the view was incredible.

The sun rising behind the clouds at the Sungate

The sun rising behind the clouds at the Sungate

MP5
At the Sungate one always meets people that have just hiked up the Inca Trail for 4-5 days to get to Machu Picchu. This is where we sat and rested, waited for the clouds to disperse and reveal MP with all its splendor, and waited for our food 🙂

meeting a group that just hiked for 5 days us the Inca Trail

meeting a group that just hiked for 5 days up the Inca Trail

After a little food (and energy). Lior and I started to climb down.

gotta be careful on the narrow road

gotta be careful on the narrow road

Can you spot the ruins of Machu Picchu ?

Can you spot the ruins of Machu Picchu ?

Short clip HERE

Glory Glory Hallelujah!

Glory Glory Hallelujah!

new friends

new friends

a must photo- unavoidable. Wayna Picchu in the background

a must photo- unavoidable. Wayna Picchu in the background

After we have hiked the trail to/from the Sun Gate, we joined an English speaking tour guide. Recommended!
From here on, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. There are many (but many more were left behind)…

overall look of the village

Overall look. Close by is the religious center, behind are the residential and industrial sectors

the agricultural terraces

the agricultural terraces

MP20

Quechua Peruvians tour their ancestor's landmark

Quechua Peruvians tour their ancestors’ landmark

an ancient view

an ancient view

terraces

terraces

who spots

who spots Alpacas?

heading back to the bus, down to Aguas Calientes

heading back to the bus, down to Aguas Calientes

After we made sure that our passports were stamped with the Machu Picchu mark, we took the bus back down. We were so tired after a long and interesting day, and went straight to the local market, where the cheapest and best homemade food is found (not to mix with the touristic craft market).

The local food market for great cheap meals and fruit juice

The local food market for great cheap meals and fruit juice

We filled our bellies, and now we had to kill time until our train ride, back to Ollantaytambo, and from there, a bus ride to Cusco. The boys went their way (to the hot springs), and us girls spend the best time ever, at the Vida Spa on Yahuar Huaca street, with an hour long hot stone massage. What a great way to end this day. A word from my daughter:

Lior: If you decide to hike up Machu Picchu, like I did, make sure you are physically capable! I thought it would be no big deal because it is ‘just’ one hour, all stairs hike. On the contrary, it was one of the hardest hikes of my life because it was one hour, all stairs! The steps are made of huge slabs of rock, so are not all even, and are mostly very big. So if you still want to hike up, make sure to time your wake up accordingly to how long it takes you to hike!

Since we woke up at 5 am, we did not get the chance to see the sunrise. Still, the view is beautiful, and it is more appreciable on foot. When the clouds are blocking the sun, it is a bit chilly (think sweater weather), but when the sun comes out, it is in FULL FORCE! The Incas built Machu Picchu in accordance with the sun, so it gets the maximum amount of light possible, so it gets hot quickly; make sure to bring sunscreen and a hat! After finally reaching the historic site, we hiked about another hour up to the sun gate (easy compared to the initial hike), to see the famous views, and the sun. Just our luck, as we got there, the clouds came in and blocked the view. We ate lunch there, and after walking a bit down the path back to the main site, the sun came back out…

After the tour, which is really good because I learned some history (!), take some time to just explore on your own. Machu Picchu is huge, and it is fun to explore all the nooks and crannies of the place, and get to know the alpacas! By the end of the day, you will have been able to say: “I’ve been to Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world!” , and realize the enormity of the statement.

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Peru- Part III beginning

Yap, this post is long, as was our day spent in the Sacred Valley. I should mention that El Valle Sagrado is full of pretty little towns, Inca sites, and markets (such as Chinchero). After visiting Chinchero, we slowly made our way to Moray. Here are some scenes from our drive to Moray.

surrounded by majestic mountains is the Sacred Valley

surrounded by majestic mountains lies the Sacred Valley

We went to take or photo, and cute Quechua kids joined us

We went to take or photo, and cute Quechua kids joined us

on our way, farmers with oxen are plowing. The old way

on our way, farmers with oxen are plowing. The old way

I had to stop our driver, as I wanted to see the oxen at close range, and the smiley young farmer

I had to stop our driver, as I wanted to see the oxen at close range, and the smiley young farmer

Moray is an impressive look-alike huge amphitheater. Different levels of terraces are carved into earth, each layer is at a different depth. The theory is that the Incas used the terraces as a big experiment for crop growing- each crop would be planed at a different level, as some researchers have established that there is a variation of about 4 degree C between each of the terrace levels. Don’t forget the Tourist Ticket bought in Cusco, to enter this site.

Moray from up above. Can you spot the people in the distance?

Moray from up above. Can you spot the people in the distance?

starting to climb down the concentric levels

starting to climb down the concentric levels

Once in Moray, you’ll sometimes notice small groups of people performing some “earthing” or “grounding” in the very center of bottom circle, as a ritual. It’s a religious Incan ritual “El pago a la Pacha Mama” (the retribution to mother earth), an Andean ritual where one thanks the earth for its gifts and asks for fortune.

and climbing down from one level to the other on special "stairs" carved by the Incas into the walls

and climbing down from one level to the other on special “stairs” placed by the Incas into the walls

And now, back on the winding road through the Sacred Valley, towards the Salinas.

A river view in the Sacred Valley

A river view in the Sacred Valley

gettin' close to the Salinas

gettin’ close to the Salinas. Wes started noticing those curvy cactus everywhere

wow, breathtaking view of the Salinas, from high above

wow, a surreal view of the Salinas, from high above. better click to see the large version

One of the most astonishing places to see, both from above- high in the mountain, and from ground level, are the Salinas. Thousands of salt pans that have been used to extract salt since Inca times. The pools are fed by a saltwater hot spring, which has been diverted into the salt beds where the water evaporates and leaves crystallized salt to be harvested.

beautiful Salinas

beautiful Salinas

Carlos, our driver, is trying to balance the path between the Salinas

Carlos, our driver, is trying to balance the path between the Salinas

a lump of dried salt at the Salinas

a lump of dried salt at the Salinas

kids near a stand selling salt from the Salinas

kids near a stand selling salt from the Salinas, and other chachkes

After lunch in the village of Urubamba, we headed to the village of Pisac, our final destination for the day. Many people arrive to Pisac on Sunday, for its BIG market. We went there for the spectacular views. After crossing town, we start climbing up hill with our car, up and up and up. As if we didn’t see amazing panoramas until now, the ones from the Pisac Inca ruins were wonderful. Temples, Inca tombs, stone ruins, and terraces sprawl on top of the mountain.

climbing to Pisac behind this truck

climbing to Pisac behind this truck

from 3353 meters (11,000 feet) the eyes can see far far away

from 3353 meters (11,000 feet) the eyes can see far far away

terraces of Pisac. One has to imagine, how did the Inca managed plants at this heights and in such a neat order

terraces of Pisac. One has to imagine, how did the Inca managed plants at this heights and in such a neat order

cute Quechua girls are playing in the ruins

cute Quechua girls are playing in the ruins

Pisac ruins

Pisac ruins

it's easy to get lost in Pisac

it’s easy to get lost up there (or down there)

at these altitudes it's getting pretty cold. Alpaca wool helps

at these altitudes it’s getting pretty cold. Alpaca wool helps

We got home (our hostel) quite late and tired, but it was a great day. The next day, we just took a break, and went… rafting.

Lior: Moray is supercool. Apparently, if you got to the center of the very last circle, it is really warm! There were some people crowding around the bottom, trying to catch its heat like a firepit. A lot of people really like the Salineras, but I thought they were just OK. One good thing about them is they show up really nice in pictures (“omg, not even edited!”)

The best thing, by far, was Pisac. I love love love climbing about and just exploring on my own. Unfortunately, we saved it for last, so we didn’t have too much time there. Also, a lot of people get altitude sickness there (like my brothers, I didn’t!), because it’s even higher up than Cusco! Anyway, the ancient ruins of Pisac are stunning, and overall so much fun! We met some kids there, whom I played with, and we traded bracelets. Overall, successful!

Day 5

A day of fun!! Woke up early to join a group led by a cute guy, Noel, from Mayuc. It was cool, we all had great fun. Afterwards, we spent some time in a Peruvian style sauna, and got to eat warm lunch. Everybody later got their hands up on the zip-lines, and I got to take the pictures. We got home late, tired, and once again- very happy.

We all just seem to be paying attention before the rafting. We're actually very cold

We all just seem to be paying attention before the rafting. We’re actually very cold

Let the fun begin...

Let the fun begin…

we named ourselves "La Cucaracha" team, and we were very successful

we named ourselves “La Cucaracha” team, and we were very successful

viva la cucaracha !

viva la cucaracha !

and a glimpse of zip-lining

and a glimpse of zip-lining

Lior: Doesn’t matter how old you are~ GO RAFTING! This was just one of the most fun days, mainly because the adrenaline rush. Being in a river, you are at the bottom of a valley, and the view is simply amazing! It kind of compares to the Colorado River (what I’ve seen in pictures, never actually been there). After, when everyone went to the sauna, I skipped and went straight to the shower. Having gone to sleepaway camp for 5 years, I know that when it comes to hot showers, it is actually war. After, we went ziplining over a “raging river” (definitely a river, not so much the raging). Ziplining is so liberating, and everyone should do it, no matter how scared they are!

This day was so much fun, but also very energy draining. Make sure to get a good night’s sleep before, and make sure you have a bed to collapse on after!

Peru- Aguas Calientes

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Peru- part I

Part II- Cusco and around

Day 3

We took our time waking up in the morning, stretching, yawning, reading, and finally, heading to some great coffee, and nice fresh fruits for breakfast. Oh yeah, breakfast is provided by our hostel. Once again, there is no “too much” Coca tea. It is always suggested to have more.

We booked a city tour of Cusco and its surroundings for the afternoon, so we had all morning to wonder around Cusco as we pleased. Of course, I already picked a brochure about the chocolate museum, so that’s where we headed. The choco museo is indeed a cute place. Small, humble, BUT you get to taste  some real good hand-made chocolate produced from the Peruvian cocoa beans, as well as some cocoa tea (not to be mixed with coca tea), cocoa liqueur, and enjoy the nice atmosphere in their tiny cafeteria, which serves…. all things chocolate. And… it’s FREE! Certainly something kids and adults of our family loved.

Fresh aromatic chocolate with Cusco views (and coffee, and crepes, and hot cacao)

Dahh, of course we ended up buying chocolates.

After we drowned in chocolate, we continued via Marques to Santa Clara, to San Pedro Market. What a sight! We love markets. Everything from clothes, bags, fruits, breads, fresh juices, meat, tailors, and what-not. This is truly a recommended market, as it’s not so touristic and one can find Peruvians dressed in colorful and vibrant clothes. These are the Quechua people, the ethnic group of the central Andes, taken to be the descendants of the ancient Inca. I could have strolled in the market for hours, just looking at people’s faces, at cute babies and kids, at the different vendors selling all kinds of strange stuff.

cusco, peru, market

All roads lead to Mercado Central de San Pedro

Quechuan women

Quechuan women

Mercado Central de San Pedro vendors

Mercado Central de San Pedro vendors

people of San Pedro Market

people of San Pedro Market

She weighed the figs that I bought, and I also got a smile

She weighed the figs that I bought, and I also got a smile

Bread Ladies of San Pedro

Bread Ladies of San Pedro

I just couldn’t get enough of all the market had to offer. Here’s more:

Cusco market

colorful abundance

fruits, free range eggs, decorated breads of all kinds

fruits, free range eggs, decorated breads of all kinds

Peru is known for it's Maize (corn). colorful, chewier, sweeter

Peru is known for it’s Maize (corn). colorful, chewier, sweeter

We scheduled a city tour, so by early afternoon, we needed to hurry back. We knew we’ll be back for Mercado San Pedro.

on the way back:

sittin', weavin'

sittin’, weavin’

cusco3

About tours: it’s good to have at least one general tour, to be able to understand who’s against who, in the long Peruvian history. It’s also an opportunity to ask questions, and to see certain things that otherwise, one would probably neglect. Having said all that, a guided tour, from our experience, is also rushed, and was tackled by some impatience on behalf of the guide. So, if you’re staying more than just a few days in Cusco, I would suggest to concentrate on the places you want to see and “feel”, and take a taxi over there, so you get as much time as you want, without being rushed.

Our tour guide was very knowledgeable, and spoke excellent English, which was a big plus. We visited the main archeological Inca sites around Cusco that included: Saqsayhuaman, that like many Inca constructions, is made of large polished dry stone walls, with boulders carefully cut to fit together tightly without mortar. How the Inca managed to fit the huge stones is still a mystery. I was very impressed with this place, the ruins and the scenery. Qenqo, a holy place where mummification took place. Tambomachay, a series of aqueducts, a tribute to water as a source of life.

Saqsaywaman huge stones, each carved like a puzzle piece

Saqsayhuaman, huge stones, each carved like a puzzle piece

Some of the huge walls held surprises in the form of hidden Inca symbols, such as the snake, guinea pig, condor, and more.

Saqsayhuaman. Can you spot the Llama?

Saqsayhuaman. Can you spot the Llama?

Saqsayhuaman ruins

Saqsayhuaman ruins

Alpacas grazing in Saqsayhuaman

Alpacas grazing in Saqsayhuaman

Cusco, as seen from Saqsayhuaman

Cusco, as seen from Saqsayhuaman (click for larger view)

We got back at night, hungry! We rushed off to this fancy-shmancy restaurant, that was really worth the climb up the hill (remember- we’re still under the influence of low oxygen) and the price. It was delicious, and one of the best causitas I’ve tasted.

Golden potatoes mixed with yellow pepper cream layered with avocados, smoked trout, and Andean lake caviar

Golden potatoes mixed with yellow pepper cream layered with avocados, smoked trout, and Andean lake caviar

Lior:

Since we scheduled a tour for later the afternoon, we had the whole morning free! First on the bucket list: the Choco Museo! Being a chocoholic, I can easily say that this was a highlight of my time in Cusco. It’s a really small museum tucked away on the second floor of an inner courtyard. Their small kitchen is part of the museum, and you can watch how they handmake the chocolates from scratch! This is so much better than going to a large scale chocolate factory, where you just see chocolate coming out of machines. The end of the visit concluded with a delicious mochaccino in their cafe, and many new chocolate bars.

    After leaving the museum, we walked a few blocks and reached the Market San Pedro. This market is huge, and offers everything from sweaters, to smoothies, to hot soup. It is very organized with big sections separating the produce. This way, you can walk down a cheese aisle, or a meat aisle of your choosing. All the booths in a particular aisle will all have the same exact thing, so you get people waving you over to buy their things, and there is a lot of commotion. One thing that you should definitely do in Peru is eat in a market. Usually in the back of the market, food stands can be found with huge portions of real local food, nice people, and cheaper than anything you’ve ever seen before! For example, our family of five paid S/. 23 for a meal (about $8). Its so much fun to interact with the local people, and eat the food they make right in front of us!

    Later in the day we took the CityTour, which has its pros and cons. The sites we visited (other than the church) were rushed, and its as if I wasn’t even there. On the other hand, I felt like I learned a lot! For example, did you know that the Inca were one of the first peoples to educate women? They had men and women universities, where the girls learned things like housework and nursing (obviously far from perfect, but also far ahead of so many other cultures). It also gives an insight to the history of the Incas, which is really insight to the history of the people! I can understand where much of the resentment for the church comes from, as it ruined (literally) the Inca empire.

    Finally, tired, we went out to eat. Highly recommended, Marcelo Batata is a fabulous restaurant, with fabulous food! Very filling, very delicious!

Peru Sacred Valley

 

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Part I- from NY to Lima to Cusco

I was toying with the idea of going to Peru for quite some time. Now back home, I can easily say it was a fulfilling experience both for us as a family, and as individuals. I encourage you to read this post because it’s unique. It is co-blogged by my daughter (Lior), who has a set of fresh eyes to explore the world, and a flowing language to describe it, and by myself.

Also- be sure to read the next parts of our journey, as it gets better yet!!

“Wow” is almost the only thing I can think of, as I am still in awe of our adventures in Peru. And it’s a good thing that I decided to sit and write as everything is still fresh in my mind. It will take a few days, though.

But first things first. We were lucky that the state of NJ has decided to let most teachers to go on conferences or conventions, or whatever, for a whole week at the beginning of November, which allowed us to enjoy the best time in Peru. Why? because it’s the beginning of the wet season in Peru, which means far less tourists, and cheaper prices. And yes, it does mean rain, too, but not as much. We have already enjoyed that weather in Costa Rica a few years back, so we already knew that we’re lucky to travel during the first week of November.

You’re welcome to read everything, including the small details, or just skip over to some photos. I think some of the tips may be beneficial if you’re planning a short visit.

So, it all begins in planning. Once you decide to go to Peru, start doing your homework. Get the kids involved. It’s fun. I checked out the Lonely Planet from our local library and it contained tons of useful info. Once I knew the dates, I bought plane tickets for all five of us via Kayak. It makes sense to shop around and “play” with dates and airports, until the best deal is found.

Day 1

We flew from LaGuardia airport in NYC, to Miami, to Lima, Peru. We left real early on Thursday, Halloween morning, with more than 4 hours in Miami, to arrive late at night in Lima.

LaGuardia Airport celebrates Halloween

LaGuardia Airport celebrates Halloween

on our way to Lima

Layover in Miami

I’ll admit, for a second there, the kids were starting to have have second thoughts after basking in the Miami sun, gazing at pastel colored buildings, and licking some dripping ice cream.

An approximate five hours of flight got us to Lima, where we were picked up by our hostel driver. Yes, there is a fancy hotel right at the airport, but it’s quite expensive. Though it saves time, and the hassle of a 30 minute drive into town, especially when we had to catch a very early flight in the morning to Cusco, we still preferred the hostel option as it saved muchos $$$. Our hostel, The Place, is located in a very good neighborhood in Lima, the Miraflores. We had no time to explore Lima, as we were dead tired after such a long travel, and had to get up at 5am the next day for our flight. Besides, it was late, where would we go? But we did return to this little, quiet hostel at the end of our trip, and spent some nice time walking around. The staff, especially Louisa and Gustavo were welcoming and knowledgeable, and Gustavo’s English gave us a sense of familiarity. Though we had to leave at 5:30am, they managed to prepare a basic breakfast for us: great coffee, hot chocolate for the little one, and toasts for all of us.

La Place Hostel, Miraflores, Lima

The Place Hostel, Miraflores, Lima

Lior:

The layover in Miami was super convenient (for me). The warm weather was a welcome change from the bitter October cold, even if for just a few hours! It brought back sweet summertime memories, so be careful not to fall into Miami temptation! You are still on a trip to a place way cooler~ Peru!

The drive to Miraflores is really enjoyable! Since Lima (and all of its 43 districts) are on a cliff, there is a highway that runs on the coast line. There aren’t many people on the beaches, as they aren’t developed yet, but you can see some daredevil surfers in the water. Besides, the fresh Pacific Ocean air feels good! I didn’t get to see much of Miraflores that night, I passed out for a much needed sleep instead.

Day 2

We started our day at dawn, rushing to get to our Cusco flight. It’s a short flight. Do try and sit by a window. Cruising at cloud level, you’ll notice the magnificent mountain tops all around, some are green, some snow covered.

Landed in Cusco, we were welcomed and picked up by Marlene of Cusco Hope Travel, who helped and eased our travel. Thanks to Marlene, whome helped us arrange the trip that we wanted, tailored specifically to our needs, things went smooth, or if there were any problems, they were quickly fixed. Traveling with kids, as well as the short time period we had for this trip, made us “round” or “soften” any rough edges that could have popped out, and that’s where Marlene came in.

Driving to the guesthouse, our 9th grader started chatting with Marlene in Spanish. How cool is that? Already a gain! the road took us through a bustling city, lots of people on the streets as well as… Dogs! Lots and lots of dogs. But these were beautiful, healthy dogs. Houses seemed to be half-finished, yet if zoomed out, it looks like a colorful fairy-tale village.

A cute guesthouse (La Rojas), located in a central location, welcomed us with coca leaf tea. We sat (fell) on the couches, drank our teas, and listened to Marlene’s explanations.

It is VERY! important to remember that Cusco is nestled between mountains, yet on itself is at an altitude of 3,400 meters above sea level. You must take it easy. Even the smallest step or climb, will shortly be felt by your heart. Well, not everyone is sensitive, but one never knows. See TIPS for the popular, energizing, stomach-calmer, altitude-fixer, and a remedy to just about anything in Peru: Coca Tea!

one family's journy to Peru

Coca Leaves Tea are offered immediately

Regardless of warnings, we felt so good, we set out to explore our neighborhood in Cusco, which is, by the way, classified as a world heritage site by UNESCO.

Cusco, Peru

Plaza De Armas, the main square

One family's journey to Peru

We had to shine our shoes. Actually, we just needed to sit down

Another view of Plaza De Armas (Plaza of the army)

Another view of Plaza De Armas (Plaza of the army)

Finally, after 30 minutes, back in the hostel, to take it easy, and have more Coca Tea

Finally, after 30 minutes, back in the hostel, to take it easy, and have more Coca Tea, and sleep

After some sleep, yes, even in the middle of the day, we got up for some food, and another lazy stroll in this fun city. There’s admission fee to many attractions in the city and around it, so it’s well worth it to purchase the one ticket that includes entrance to many of the sights, and it’s valid for 10 days. The tickets are 130 soles (~$47) for adults, 70 soles for teens, and free for kids under 10 years.

With the ticket, we found out about the traditional Quechua dances, and we headed down Avenda Sol to see them. It was nice, relaxing, and at times interesting (and even funny) to watch the dances. The costumes were beautiful.

colors, sounds, jumps at the traditional dance show

colors, sounds, jumps and chats at the traditional dance show

Lior:

The flight to Cusco was definitely memorable! From takeoff to landing, there is a perfect view of the Andes Mountains! It is so picturesque to see the top of snow capped mountains among the clouds.

Cusco had a very good first impression! First, the air feels clean, and fun to breath (I know coming from near New York). A lot of people get altitude sickness, but I didn’t! My theory is that because I play a wind instrument seriously, and do breathing exercises, my lungs are used to taking in different amounts of air. Go figure! As a treatment for this altitude sickness (and according to the locals, everything else as well), one can drink coca tea. As an avid tea drinker, this was definitely a plus! If you don’t like tea, they also sell coca candy, which tastes like cough drops.

 The city has cobblestone streets, with many plazas. Plaza des Armes is really nice, but I soon realized that it is the epitome of a tourist trap. Which is OK! That is, if you like tourist traps, which is totally respectable! There are lots of women and children walking around in traditional clothes and carrying sheep, wanting you to take a picture. Also, there are TONS of sweaters (perfect for the sweater weather in America). If you aren’t one for tourist traps though, just walk a little bit up the road, or find an cool looking alley. There may not be as many stores, but you get to look at the real life, and see how people live!

 As for the stores, they are a good chance for a cheap buy! Don’t take the initially offered price, bargain! There are nice shoes, sweaters, socks, and fuzzy leggings that you can buy for a good price. The sweaters may or may not be good quality, so be careful. If you want top notch clothes, you can buy in the official looking stores, otherwise, just buy from the people on the street market type shops. One particular alley off of Plaza des Armes, Procuradores, has a lot of neat stores and restaurants.

Tips:

General + Lima

  • If you’re traveling with children, most airlines will allow you to board the plane before the others, or at least right after first class. In order for that to happen, make sure the flight attendants at the check-in counter sees your kids, or better yet, hears them. Another good tip: we each carried a small back-pack that contained one set of emergency clothing, and a book. With only one small carry-on, airlines allowed us to board first, before others. Of course we each had our own suitcase that was already checked in.
  • once going through Peruvian immigration, you receive a little note/form per each passenger. Keep that note in a safe place. You will have to present it once exiting Peru. If you don’t have it- you’ll have to pay $$.
  • make sure you have a pick-up from the airport by your hotel or hostel, as well as a drop-off at the airport, for your next flight, and that its included in the price.
  • At Hostel La Place, be sure to ask for the better rooms upstairs, especially rooms 212 and 205, as they had newer showers. We always had 2 rooms- one for the kids and for us, adults.

Cusco

  • We did not have much time to spend in total, so we cut our stay in Lima to minimum. Try  to find a flight that leaves Lima asap if you’re like us. We ordered our flight to/from Cusco with Star Peru. We had very good experience with them.
  • Get a seat by a window, it’s worth it. Views are amazing.
  • On your way to Cusco ask for, and drink the coca leaf tea. It will not only get you used to the (almost) popular drink and make a true Peruvian out of you, but it will seriously  help you with altitude sickness.
  • If you’ll stay at La Rojas (our hostel), make sure to ask  for the rooms upstairs, especially the ones facing AWAY from the main street (Tigre) and the crossing little street (Teqsiqocha). Though they may seem pretty innocent during the day, those streets are very noisy during the night. There are discotheques and pubs not far, that are erupting all of the sudden in the middle of the night, and you’ll feel, like I did, that you’re surrounded by drums. Not a good idea, unless you’re a party animal.
  • A good, reasonable priced restaurant, that serves local Peruvian dishes next to some key western dishes (Pizza anyone?) is Pacha Mama located between Plaza de Armas and the hostel, on Saphi Rd (or Plateros). I had the best Ceviche here. Notice some streets have 2 names: one in Spanish, and one in Quechua.
  • First day in Cusco is a good day to take it easy and walk slowly to Avenda El Sol, to buy: tourist ticket (Boleto Turístico del Cusco) that allows entrance to many of Cusco and surrounding sights. Also on Avenda El Sol, are many money changers. To avoid high exchange rates and commission charges, only exchange a minimal amount of cash at the airport upon your arrival, and the rest- in Lima or Cusco. It is better you take small denomination bills or pocket money as vendors, shops and taxis do not often have change. Be careful with bills and examine that they are not old, worn or even slightly torn, as nobody will accept them. Finally, be sure to buy water bottle, and sun screen. Unfortunately, the tap water isn’t drinkable, and it is important to drink lots of water. Although the temps might not be too high, think that you’ll be at around 3,300 meters above sea level, so the sun hits pretty hard! Oh- also- the hostels we stayed in did not have shampoo (did have soap, though). So, we had a little shampoo sample we brought with us from the US for the first night in Lima, but bought a bigger bottle in Cusco.

See Part II- Cusco and around

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gluten free, dairy free, carrot cake

gluten free, dairy free, carrot cake

It’s been over a few months that I have been living Paleo style. Although the transition for me is not that hard (tossing away breads, pasta, cakes, etc. are, in fact, a piece of cake. It’s the yogurts that I miss), I can’t force it on my kids.

In order to minimize, what I believe, is one of the most harmful “foods” that can go in my kids’ bodies, aka gluten, I try and make snacks, cakes, and munchies that are gluten free for them. These are not a major portion of their diet, but “that little something” when they need something sweet, when they have friends over, or when I have friends over 🙂

Experimenting before with gluten free chocolate cake that turned out awesome, I went ahead and concocted this carrot cake, after a regular recipe that I had, but of course, modified it. Once again, the star ingredient is the chickpea flour, that I discovered in the Indian store.

my secret ingredient to gluten free baking

chickpea flour, also called Besan flour, or Gram flour, from the Indian store.

So if you’re looking for a gluten free cake, for any bunch of reasons (hey, Passover is coming up, so it’s kosher, too), give it a try.

you’ll need:

  • greased 9″ round cake pan. I used the spring-form one.  A square pan will also do.
  • 1.5 cups chickpea flour;
  • half cup sugar;
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder, aluminum free;
  • pinch of salt (yap, salt);
  • 2 tsp cinnamon powder;
  • 2 tsp good quality vanilla extract;
  • 3 heaped Tbsp coconut oil, in a small glass;
  • 1 cup water;
  • 2 cups grated carrots;
  • 1 egg;
  • good quality chocolate chips, optional.
love the colors

love the colors

how-to:

Heat oven to 350°f.

Throw the chickpea flour in a bowl. Since this flour tends to have clusters, try to crush them with a tablespoon. Add the rest of the dry ingredients (not the chocolate chips), and mix well.

Add the grated carrots in the dry mixture, and mix so the carrots are covered well with the flour all over, and you see these cute orangy little chunks.

carrot chunks, cuties

carrot chunks, cuties

Insert the glass with the coconut oil into the micro, run it for 20 seconds, mix the oil with a spoon until it’s melted. If not melted, insert for another 10 seconds. This should be enough. Add the coconut oil to the mixture, along with the water, and vanilla extract, and whisk slowly together, until smooth and all the flour dissolved. Now add the egg, and once again, whisk slowly together.

It's not snow. It's coconut oil in a cool blue glass, waiting to be melted

It’s not snow. It’s coconut oil in a cool blue glass, waiting to be melted

Pour the whole mixture onto the greased pan. Now is the time to add some chocolate chips if you want, right on top.

The whole thing goes on vacation in the oven, for 50-60 minutes. As with chickpea flour, don’t expect a high rise. Good things come in small packages.

notes:

  • Grated carrots? I just throw them in the food processor. Life should be easy.
  • I try to use coconut oil for almost all of my bakings/fryings, for two main reasons: (1) I stay away from bad industrial seed oils (corn, cottonseed, soybean, safflower, sunflower, canola, etc.) and use only, what I consider, good fat, for the reasons mentioned in the link about the gluten (above), and (2) coconut oil is not vulnerable to the oxidative damage that occurs with high-heat cooking using other fats.
  • If you’d rather keep out of refined sugar, use Raw honey, or, soak a few dates in hot water for 30 minutes, and  throw them with the carrots in the food processor and don’t use any other sweetener. Feel free to adjust sweeteners according to your sweet tasting buds (most cake recipes call for 1.5 cups of sugar, but we don’t like it that sweet);
  • when adding the water, you may notice that you need a bit more than 1 cup. you want to have a smooth fluidish batter.
  • I mentioned 50-60 minutes in the oven, as every oven is different. Check after 50 minutes to see that the cake is dry on top, and golden.
  • If you want to get fancy, real fancy, sprinkle some powdered sugar on top, once the cake has cooled down.
fancy carrot cake

fancy carrot cake

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Weather is certainly cool enough to make me long for a sweet smell in the house, the smell that goes with… cookies of course (and coffee).

choco-butter cookies

they are easy to make (ahem.. if you have a food processor), and kids love helping. notice that we don’t like the cookies to taste too sweet, but sugar can always be added as desired.

you’ll need:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 TS sugar
  • 2 TS powdered sugar
  • 1 TS ground flax seeds
  • 2 TS unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 and 3/4 sticks of unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

put all dry ingredients in the food processor and … process on high-speed, until all powders have unified nicely. all the processing stages need to be quick, only a few seconds.

dry ingredients for choco-butter cookies in food processor

dry ingredients for choco-butter cookies

add chunks of butter and process until the mixture looks somewhat like crumbs. don’t over do it-  the butter has to remain cool.

added butter to choco-butter cookies

add eggs and vanilla extract and process until the mixture builds up into a dough-ball.

choco-butter dough

separate dough into two balls. plastic wrap them. into the fridge they go to rest for 1 hour.

two nice choco-butter paper weights

warm the oven to 410F. when you’re ready for some fun, and the dough has been cold in the fridge for at least an hour, take it out, spread/flatten on your best kitchen table – use some flour so it doesn’t stick to the rolling-pin, and cut out circles or any other cool shape.

cut out choco-butter cookies

as you can see, I use parchment baking paper instead of greasing the pan. once the oven is 410F, put the baking pan in the oven, set your timer to 13 minutes, and start working on your next batch of cookies – different baking sheet. of course, each oven is different, so you’ll have to watch the first batch, so not to burn the cookies. after 13 minutes, take out the pan and let it rest and cool down a bit (5-7 minutes). sprinkle some powdered sugar on top and transfer to a cookie dish.

having fun with dough

these are the same kind of cookies- only without cocoa and without the ground flax seeds. instead, add 3 more TS of flour.

just butter cookies

bon appetit !

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YES I can

I have not been writing in my blog for quite sometime. I really want to share some nice moments, like our summer in Tuscany, etc. I will, but it’ll take time. Because…

The cold air has been gushing in, almost at once. I can’t postpone it no longer. This week it has to be done.  Revolutionize the closets: bring back those bulky winter clothes, and tuck the summer back into its corner, till next year. 3 kids, 3 wardrobes. one more for the parents. All by the end of this week, otherwise, we’ll all freeze to death. I also need to buy a new fire detector to replace the out-of-order one. And a charger to the computer. And buy a gift to a friend’s birthday party. And start thinking and preparing for Friday’s dinner with friends. We are social, after all. These are just random tasks that change every week.  I know every mom faces those tasks.

Then there’s the everyday, full-time job tasks of every week that don’t change: regular laundries, food shopping, cleaning, cooking.

And the specific jobs we received from our other boss – the school teachers:  projects, exams, homework. No, I don’t do and won’t do my kids’ homework for them. I talk about those projects that I was directly ordered by the teachers to do. You know, the ones about sitting together with our kids and collecting family memories and making a presentation. You know, the one where you receive a letter from school that starts with “Dear Parents…”. And as for exams and homework, I need to be on top of everything and remind, remind and remind, and even lend a helping hand when needed.

The automatic pilot that drives the kids around town to their sports activities, music, friends. That same pilot also stands with a virtual hammer to insist that the kids practice for their music lessons, and at times get into a vocal fight over it.

And the talking, knowing, inquiring the kids about their day in school, their friends. Listening to stories. Reacting.

And then there’s the every-once-in-a-while work to do. The “real” work, for our dear Boa.

Finally, for my own sanity and secluded bubble, there’s that English course I’m taking, where I have to produce 2 formal essays every week, based on research and backed by citations. Books, notebooks, pencils are scattered across the dining table.

I am not complaining. In fact I consider my self very lucky. I am only explaining what every mom already knows. The obvious.

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