Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and a little bit of Panama

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Some trips are more tumultuous than others. And that is precisely how I choose to describe my time in these three beautiful countries.

I preface this by saying that because of my carelessness, I lost my phone, wallet, IDs and most importantly, a lot of time (spent driving to numerous banks and Western Unions in order to retrieve money in each country) after I was pick-pocketed on a beach. Because of this, it was difficult even to wake up on time (no alarms), communicate with people, cancel the cards (before a laptop and another expensive technology was purchased on my cards), transport myself – and take pictures (my camera battery eventually died). It could have been anywhere in the world, and it happened to me because of me, and perhaps for a reason that is beyond my mental reach at the moment – it did happen to me once before (and it changed my life), which is quite a governing thought.

Now that the negative is out, I can focus on the greater picture, and marvel at the beauty that was my time in these countries, of course, as always, greatly due to the people I met.

Here’s a little play by play of what I did during my 2 weeks in South America, this March:

Day 1: Peru

I walked around Lima

Day 2: 

I met with the Peruvian Tourism Board, learning about their efforts to promote their Peruvian cuisine

I went to the Peruvian Food/Cultural Dance Show: Brisas Del Titicaca

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Day 3-5: 

I flew to Cusco!

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And found this beautiful baby. ❤

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And these talented weavers speaking in their native Quechua language.

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And ate this incredible corn. The perspective is off in the picture, but each piece of corn is about the size of an American nickel.

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And fell in love with a llama.

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Train to Machu Pichu – $3 for locals $100 for tourists – private company, subsidized by tourism

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Workers unloading equipment for those Coming back from Inca Trail

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And got a “private” tour of Machu Pichu with this brilliant man – ended up being no-one on my group tour!

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And bumped into my friend, Giuseppe, whom I met exactly two years ago in Berlin through CS! He’s now working in Cusco! (Small world).

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People have more hemoglobin in Cusco due to the altitude — rosier checks, bugger lungs, helps them to breathe more

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And met with representatives from Pro Mujer in Lima! Was gifted this beautiful image <3.

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How the beautiful dyes are made in Peru – organic colors

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Went to a cultural dance show!

Days 6-9: Ecuador 

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Flew to Guayaquil where I spent time with this beautiful Couchsurfer, Veronica.

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Spent 4 hours driving around with this honorable cab driver, until we were finally able to get money transferred to me — without him knowing if he would ever get paid for his time.

Met with the Ecuadorian Tourism Ministry to learn all about their foods:

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Love the way processed foods simplify the decision making processes – depicting whether or not something is high or low in fat, sugar, salt!

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Went food shopping with my Couchsurfing host, Andres and his family.

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Was amazed by the diversity of beans.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And the diversity of potatoes! Ecuador had over 7000 diverse potatoes about 100 years ago!

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And then we ate.

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And ate!

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Made it to the center of the earth and balanced an egg on a nail!

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Met up with some more Couchsurfers ^^

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Had some really good moonshine.

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And saw a really giant cabbage!

Day 9: Layover in Panama City – nice colonial architecture in city center! 

Days 10-14: Colombia

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Stumbled upon my salsera friend in Cartagena!

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Met up with incredible incredible first-time Couchsurfers who helped me to explore Bogota, gave me a salsa CD, fed me, took me to/from the airport, and most importantly, inspired me greatly with their stories.

Foods I like:

      PERU:

Papa a la guancaina, Quinoa with nuts, Corn chips

     EDUADOR:

Cheese is amazing! , Ice-cream de paisa, Banana with cheese inside, Choclo – corn

      COLOMBIA: 

How many arepas they have!, Arequipa; RECIPE FOR COLOMBIAN DRINK:  Colombian soda (colombiana), agua ardiente, colombian beer

Interesting learnings: 

Peru:

  • Heard someone say — “Pero tiene calorie — Peruvian dog heals you if you sleep with it” — calories aka referring to the transfer of energy that occurs
  • Smoke before coming into the mountain – blow steam, asking for permission because mountains are alive and sacred
  • Machu Pichu – did not build on tectonic rift because they knew the structures built there would break and/or fail; energy changes there, to the point where pendulums held over this area freak out
  • Incense give mother death blessings, burry chocolates and sweets or asked there because she liked that
  • They were great astronomers – believed in sun as god because he gave them all of the land’s bearings
  • Peru Rail – made by British who in exchange took their land and minerals – now, tourists subsidize travel for local who pay $3 vs. our $120 round trip
  • 1911 Hiram Bingham discovered Machu Pichu while searching fro another land – where the Incans fought the Spanish (Incan king relocated there because Spanish were there – that land, unlike Machu Pichu had gold, which is why the Spanish never made it to Machu Pichu) — in 1912 Bingan was sponsored by Yale and the National Geographic Society to restore/clean up Machu Pichu, which at the time was completely covered in forests.
  • 1500 people visit Machu Pichu each day
  • Heard someone say, “Que dice la cabeza” – interesting way to say this, almost separating mind and body
  • Cuzco means — ombligo del mundo (belly button of the world) – as was once considered – center of the world
  • Surround Machu Pichu home = agricultural area – sustainable farming
  • Homes build facing east for more sun and ventilations on incline as to not block one another
  • Traditional names change – Quespe to Quispe – to be more Spanish like
  • Women for smarts, beauty of the sun would even be sacrificed during bad natural times would clean and create jewelry for the clergy; could maybe be king’s concubines
  • People have more hemoglobin here — rosier checks, bugger lungs, helps them to breathe more
  • 80s – 90s terrorism = decrease in tourism because of communism — 8x tourism from that time
  • Saw dog eating another dead dog — even driver was surprised — cannibalism!
  • Sacred valley – fertility, river – reflection of the milky way
  • Saw a human stop sign

Ecuador:

  • 1880 began cultivating cacao in Ghana
  • For Aztecs and Mayans – chocolate = sacred drink
  • Chocolate: high flovanoid = protects from sun; smell relaxes; releases endorphins = cultivates love
  • Aztecs: traded 10 grams of cacao for 1 rabbit
  • People use mole to mix spices then add a bit of water for seasoning
  • 1830 Ecuador separated itself from Colombia
  • Fought Peru over land in the Amazon and Ecuador lost – so lost a lot of land
  • Position on the equator = interesting climactically = lots of diverse flare and fauna — i.e. galapagos – darwin!
  • French helped build monument in center of the earth

At the Central Bank of Ecuador: 

  • Bartering happened first – had designated places where they would trade during Precolumbian era – would walk around trading stuff, no horses prior to Columbus
  • Would trade volcanic rocks, cinnamon, cacao – “peppa de pro” – which is said to have originated in Ecuador, coca leaves for chewing – energy to keep walking, conch shell which looks like a uterus = fertility – used as offering for the gods
  • Ecuadorian “mandala” would be primary merchants — now represented in a clay figure – strong looking, gold chains making him a merchant — must speak many languages – women merchants wore more jewels, still merchants
  • Change to coin once the conquest happens
  • Spain had coins since the 13th century — 1492 = Spanish came and found gold – were told that people from the South came with gold, so they went South
  • The Spanish had to accept to barter until 1535  when gold became a thing in Mexico
  • First coins were made with a hammer like tostones – they were imperfect and as such were easily falsified
  • From images of “both worlds being conquered under one king” to images of Filip V to Carlos III and Greek gods, which were an infatuation for all
  • From Mexico to Bolivia, they used the same coins, as they were all part of the same kingdom
  • 1821 – Ecuador gained independence from Spain, under the reign of Simon Bolivar which united Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia under the GRAN COLOMBIA
  • 1830 — Independence – first president = Juan Jose Flores – got machine from England to make first Ecuadorian coins – Gold Escudos + Silver reales
  • Gold previously used for deities, not for money –  natives recognized the value of gold, but did not equate it to commercial value, was sacred!
  • Gold needs to be mixed with copper, or else it disintegrates completely
  • 1860 — Begin to export cacao, so Ecuador gets so much more money and create their first banks/banking systems with help from American/European systems that were already established
  • 2000 – because of importing a lot of American products (no limit on importation) and overall consumption foreign goods = devaluation of Ecuadorian money = eventual high inflation and switch to the dollar – as it is today

Colombia:

  • Lots of Venezuelans, as in Ecuador and Peru, escaping persecution and danger – many prostitute themselves in the “Tolerance” zones, which are filled with drugs and violence –many are tricked into being there
  • Many are reluctant to travel to the US/Mexico, as they face discrimination for being Colombian and the stereotypes associated with them i.e. as drug dealers and pimps
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Travel: tips, tricks and why I do it. Part II – HOW

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How badly do you want it? I won’t preach, and I won’t deny that there are extenuating circumstances that may prevent individuals from setting aside funds for travel. And when I say travel (n.) I mean — going to another place for the sake of the place itself, for getting to know the place vs. vacationing (n.) — going to a place for the sake of yourself, relaxation, escape. The former already assumes a sacrifice, a potential sacrifice of comfort for the satisfaction of being, of experiencing, and of immersing yourself. In simpler terms, I travel to travel — to meet people, to eat their food, sleep where they sleep and learn how they live (as much as possible), versus to take part in their most luxurious offerings, catered to outsiders, often curated by outsiders themselves. Sometimes, the two overlap, of course, but assuming a life of travel vs. one of vacationing cuts down your costs in half + already. It’s all about the mentality.

For me — this means limiting my daily habits to cater to the greater, consistent goal of traveling as much as time permits. People have other vices.

Here’s how I do it:  

1231. Flights: 

I just recently began to involve myself with a points-credit card, which enables me to ultimately earn miles (equated to free travel miles on a plane) for my daily expenses. I.E. I’m still searching for options, but when I decide on one, I will update this.

In the meantime, what I’ve been doing is focusing on cheap flights — I’m healthy enough (at least for now) to endure long and uncomfortable flights if I have to. So 1-3 layovers for me is worth the trip, if it saves me serious money. And oftentimes, I don’t care where I’m going — flexibility is key.

Resources for finding cheap flights:

Flight Search Engines:
  • Skyscanner
  • Momondo
  • Kayak
  • Google Flights
  • Matrix Software: the site looks like it’s from the 1980s, but trust me, it’s good in its ways of helping you search for the most affordable options irrelevant of time and location; it’s used by many travel companies
Special Websites: — for when you don’t care about where you’re going, but you know you’re ready to leave 
  • Flight Deal
  • Secret Flying 
  • Entrusters: haven’t tried it, but apparently you can fly for free if you ship items for people around the world. It’s on my bucket list.
  • Travel Pirates
  • Groupon
  • Living Social
  • Concorde.io – I have yet to use it, but according to the founder on CNT: “I built this tool for people who are impulse flyers with flexible schedules. As one user recently put it, I am building a tool for the person who “…[wants to] know if I could suddenly get to Poland for $350”
Airlines: 
  • Air Asia — for cheap flights to and in between Asia
  • WoW Air — for cheap flights between Boston, Washington DC + Europe
  • Norwegian Air — for cheap flights between the US + Europe
Random tips on flights:
  • Check foreign versions of website i.e. expedia.fr vs. expedia.com
  • Clear history/cache — airlines keep your data and recent search history saved, often increasing prices just for you based on that
  • Call / pick up phone for better deals
  • Search for smaller airports in the same city, sometimes it’s cheaper to fly to/from there
  • Skiplagged — for finding cheap last minute flights
  • Purchase as close to a holiday as possible for a better deal
  • Cheap places to travel to by month: Travel and Leisure
  • If you travel on a budget airline, keep your luggage to about one carryon to avoid defraying your savings by extensive luggage costs
  •  Before booking your flight- make sure you have the necessary visa(s) you need; otherwise, if you can’t get it in time, you may end up losing your money! Sometimes with proof of upcoming flight you may get them expedited.
  •  To that end, make sure you have the necessary vaccinations needed (if in the US, according to the CDC).
housing
2. Housing: 
  • Hostels, of course, if you’re a student and/or budget traveler
  • New! – TalkTalkBNB– I just found out about this network whereby hosts/travelers meet, with a similar concept to CS VV, but with the intention of learning new languages from each other. I have yet to test it, but it’s definitely in my plans!
  • Couchsurfing.com — my personal favorite — for being hosted by or meeting up with locals (free, but it’s nice to bring a relevant gift to your host)
  • I just learned about Servas, also free and similar to CouchSurfing, but with a much more extensive application process whereby volunteers interview you for membership; stay is usually restricted to 1-2 nights
  • Airbnb.com — hotel alternative, where you can rent rooms, entire homes, and even bungalows or tree houses, among other options during your stay
  • My Twin Place — for Homeswapping
  • WWOOFING — for housing in exchange for your paid and/or volunteer work around the world
3. Random Tips: 
  • Let your banks/phone companies know a few days before your departure that you will be leaving to avoid disruptions in either service
  • For best exchange rates: my experience is that the best is to get cash out from an ATM once you get there and not get currency inadvance for each country; also, when asked to pay in your home currency or in theirs, it’s always best to go with theirs for the best rates
  • Take out the ‘deodorant’ in a deodorant bar and stuff it with cash/ credit cards or other valuables…I just learned this from attending the Women’s Travel Fest in March — Annie Griffiths, National Geographic’s first female photographer does this
  • Especially if you’re traveling extensively, make sure that you have the necessary medication prescriptions pre-approved for that time with your insurance — sometimes this may take weeks due to extensive paperwork and proof of travel
  • Check airport terminal of departure, as well as updates on flights as close to the night before or the day of to avoid wasting time in case your flights do get cancelled or terminals change
  • Check the currency the day of travel to know where your currency stands agains that of the destination
  • When done traveling then make sure to claim miles or rewards points from the respective airline, if it’s not done so automatically
  • Be aware of the country’s dialing code and of any relevant emergency numbers – keep a note of it on your phone!
  • Wikipedia, WikiTravel or do a simple Google search (for me on the plane or at airport) to have a fresh outlook on the history and culture / what to do in the country (if you’re being spontaneous) right before landing
  • Don’t board the plane right away if you’re not in business class because you’ll have to wait —  they will mostly always call your name if you’re late/if the plane is waiting for you
  • Always check to see the power outlet of the country / if you’ll need one of these universal converters
  • I like to lay down on the tray table of the airplane, when other positions are unbareable, but maybe clean it first since apparently it harbors more bacteria than your toilet
  • Sit near first class lounge for free wifi
  • When done traveling then make sure to claim miles or rewards points from the respective airline, if it’s not done so automatically
Passport: 
  • If you need a last minute passport (in the US), just show up at a local government agency! Don’t fall for local scams. Also, for some reason, they’re not allowed to tell you on the phone that they accept walk-ins, but my experience is that walk-ins are taken care of faster than those with an appointment.
Packing:
  • Roll your clothing like this for space saving in your bags/suitcases – Video + Video <— this one is just WOW; a girl packs 100 pieces of clothing into a carryon
  • Bring a water container, so you don’t have to pay for water – most places like Starbucks etc. will refill it for free— bring a filter for non-potable water (you’d be surprised how much you spend on water!)
  • Wear neutrals that can be washed/ mixed and matched and worn on different occasions to save room
  • Layers are your best friend!
  • Less is more! – Don’t bring emergency items like an umbrella, if you know that you can purchase them cheaply in the location (should you even need them), especially if the weather does not suggest rain.
Apps: 
  • Google Maps – works offline now, so you can use the application in the country of destination; it’s like a modern-day compass ?
  • Download necessary maps + translators before getting to destination, just in case you don’t have wifi when you land

Road Trip resources:

For Renting an RV: Cruise America
Maps and other resources:
Additional Resources: 

 

Where I’ve been so far according to TripAdvisor: where i've been

PPS; It’s not super accurate, since I’ve never been to Australia/ it confused some other cities for being there

*I will continue to update this blog post