Hey all, finally got a chance to add a new set of pics.  These are from Bariloche, Argentina which is considered Argentina’s playground.  The scenery was great, but by this time I was finished with Patagonia (even though Bariloche is part of the Lake District) and outdoor activities.  After this, it was on to Mendoza and wine tasting!  As for my current travels, I made my way through Dublin and Ireland for New Year’s.  I’m currently in London after visiting northern England.  On to Paris this week.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/24363966@N05/sets/72157612729434976/ or click on the Flickr link to the right.

Hey everyone, I’ve posted a lot of pics from my first week in Buenos Aires on my Flickr account.  You can see the set at : http://www.flickr.com/photos/24363966@N05/sets/72157609565509830/ or by clicking on the Flickr widget on the right side of this page.

Cathedral of Cuzco

Cathedral of Cuzco

Cusco is the historical and cultural capital of Peru.  Also considered the capital of the Inca civilization, the
city is 11,000 feet above sea level.  It can be spelled Cusco or Cuzco (or Qusqu in the local Quechua language). I found it to be a charming, but exhausting city to walk around.  The altitude also made it cold, with temperatures around 30 degrees at night, and 60 during the day.
I decided not to rough it and flew to Cuzco from Lima instead of taking the 26 hour bus ride.  When I got off the plane I could notice the difference in altitude immediately.  Simple things like walking up steps were tougher because it was hard to breath.  It was so tiring one day I took three naps.  Most people have a hard time with the altitude.  I talked to one person who still did not feel better after six weeks of staying in Cuzco.

Mainly, for most travelers Cusco is the gateway to Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas.  However, it is also located near the Sacred Valley, which has a lot of other Inca sites that are worth visiting.  I did not get a
chance to see them because I spent most of my time being frustrated in my efforts to get to Machu Picchu.
First, I needed to buy train tickets to Aguas Calientes, the tourist town that has sprung up next to Machu Picchu.

The Peru Rail website was not co-operating.  So I decided to go to the railway station to buy tickets, but are the tickets located in the same station that the train leaves from?  Of course not.  Tickets can be purchased at the other train station at the opposite side of town. That station’s train goes to Puno and Lake Titicaca.
So, on my second day in Cusco I decide to take a walk to the train station.  It was not far, but there was a
torrential downpour happening.  Not really a big deal.  I know I have to take the weather as it comes.  What I
didn’t realize though, was that the town was on strike (for what I don’t know) and the railway station was closed.   So then I walked back to my hostel in the rain, huffing and puffing uphill.
I got a first hand glimpse of Latin American life and Latin American time.  The people of Peru and Bolivia are
constantly striking or building roadblocks and it is just a part of life that has to be dealt with.  What I found
out later on was that the strike was organized for one day and one day only, so I knew I could try again at the train station the next day.  The strikers did not seem violent or aggressive and the absence of taxis in the city made the air quite pleasant.
While walking back to my hostel I passed by a travel agency called Liz’s Explorers.  I had heard good things about them on other Peru travel blogs so I decided to check them out.  I went in and asked them if they could get train tickets.  Amazingly, on the day of the strike, they were able to sell me a return trip train ticket (at no extra cost or commission) and I had the ticket in hand by 6 o’clock.  I still had to book a hostel in Aguas Calientes, but that didn’t turn out to be a problem.  All in all it was a learning experience and I think I handled it well and with patience.  I was glad it worked out thought, because I was ready to see Machu Picchu and then get down to a lower altitude.
One thing I noticed in Cuzco, and in most of the places I visited in South America so far, is that there are tons of wild dogs roaming the streets.  Some roam in packs, other alone while some dangerously try to bite car tires as cars drive by at 30 mph.  They aren’t dangerous, but they will follow you around hoping for food.

I did find my Cusco experience to be much better than Lima.  I was feeling better, except for the altitude, but I was also getting into the swing of long-term travel.  I started making friends and seeing some amazing places.  It gave me the perfect mindset for visiting Machu Picchu.

After getting up at 4 AM my flight landed in Lima around midnight.  After heading through customs I got to the arrival area where my scheduled ride was not there to meet me (a common theme in Peru, but more on that later).  It took me over 30 minutes to find an official taxi to take me to my hostel.  In Lima, anyone can be a taxi driver.  All you need is a car.  No license required.  However, it makes for a dodgy situation at midnight because its the equivalent of getting into a stranger’s car.  So the safe bet is to take an official airport taxi.

Plaza des Armas

Plaza des Armas

As we left the terminal Lima was dark, dirty, and empty.  There was a cop on EVERY corner.  Just what I needed to feel nice and comfy on the first night of my trip.  We got to my hostel without incident, except for some bumps and bruises as the taxi driver drove like a madman.  I got into my room, which was cold and noisy.  Pillow must be spanish for “sandbag”, because that’s what I felt underneath my head.  As I lay there in the dark I thought “What the hell am I doing here?”

Lima is a mainly overcast, dirty, Latin American city.  It has no charm or character not even in it’s main square , Plaza des Armas.  On my first day I walked there and didn’t find much to see or do.  There are some churches, catacombs, and museums to see, but they didn’t interest me much.  In fact, my mood matched the gloomy overcast sky.  So I did what any backpacker dealing with initial jitters and homesickness would do.  I booked myself into the Radisson in Miraflores for a couple of nights.

Miraflores is a suburb of Lima that is situated on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  It has all the comforts of home.  There is a mall on the cliffs called LarcoMar that has Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and of all things, Hooters.  You can go surfing, paragliding, or waste your money in the casino of the Sheraton hotel across the street.  It was paradise and a couple of grande vanilla lattes was just what I needed to feel better.  I started to get used to being on my own in a foreign country and interacting with people.  Within a few days I knew more Spanish then I thought possible within such a short time.

Miraflores

Miraflores

In Lima, the traffic is ridiculous.  There are few traffic lights or signs.  Crossing the street is like playing Frogger.  Intersections consist of a mass of cars trying to keep going or get through the intersection, inching their way across.  Honking cars and belching black smoke are the norm, but yet it works.  I never saw any pedestrians get hit or any cars smash into each other.

One last thing about Lima, and Peru in general.  The plumbing stinks, literally and figuratively.  Most toilets have a waste basket next to them where you place your used toilet paper.  Otherwise, flushing paper down the toilet can cause some major problems with the pipes.  The irony of all this?  There is never any toilet paper so bring your own roll.  That’s what most Peruvians do.  I’m glad I did.

Hey everyone, I apologize for dragging my feet on posting, but I’ve been dealing with some homesickness and altitude fatigue (it is about 11,000 ft here in Cusco, Peru).  I’ll try to post some stories soon.  In the meantime, I posted some pics of Lima in my Flickr account.  Here’s the link:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/24363966@N05/sets/72157607865582481/

Tomorrow I head to Machupicchu, the lost city of the Incas.  Even though there will be many tourists there I can’t help but feel like Indiana Jones exploring an archaeological treasure.  More to follow…

I gave notice this week and told my bosses that the 26th would be my last day.  They were overwhelmingly positive about the whole thing.  They are sad to see me go, but I think they understood my need to undertake this adventure.  I am trying to repay them by doing the best I can to make my departure easier on my co-workers.

The scary thing about all this is now that I’ve given notice I’ve basically commited myself to going on this trip.  I have so much to do and little time to do it.  I’ve sold some furniture, took care of some pre-trip errands, and finished getting my meds and shots (more on how I spent less than I thought on health related costs in a future post).

I also went to STA Travel today to find a cheaper ticket from Lima to New York.  They are an amazing help!  The best price I could find on my own was $860 and they found me a ticket for $710.  I will definately be contacting them from the road to help me with flights.  If you’re in Seattle the STA Travel office is located in the U-District.

A great part of any trip, if its for one week or one year, is the ability to just lay there and relax whether its on the beach, in a hammock, or in bed. However, for some, the fun of laying in bed gets old because they’ve come down with one of the many nasty diseases that can hit travelers. Keeping that in mind, I decided to go get some vaccinations to reduce the chances that I’ll be lounging around somewhere in a nasty feverish sweat. However, shots can be expensive. I’m looking at about $600 in costs for the vaccinations and that’s even with help from health insurance. That brings me to a few good points.

Shop around to find the best value: Go to your doctor’s office, travel clinics, and public health clinics to find the best prices. You don’t have to get all your shots from the same place so mix and match to find the lowest costs. However, be careful of consultation, per visit, and administration fees for each shot. I’m speaking from experience as I got caught off guard paying $15 for each shot. Instead, I could’ve saved about $35 by going to the public health clinic. That’s several nights lodging in many countries.

Use those rare health insurance benefits: If you’re not going to have health insurance while you travel then it makes sense to check your current insurance benefits and have them incur some of the costs before you go. I get up to $300 a year for preventitive medicine. That’s not much, but it will help. Also, find out what your insurance will and will not cover. I wound up paying the full cost of my yellow fever vaccinations because it was not covered, but insurance covered Hep A/Hep B and consultation costs. This is the time to get out the microscope so
you can read the fine print of your policy.

Get all your vaccinations documented: Some countries require an international certificate of vaccination (often known as the yellow booklet) in order to be allowed entry. It’s almost as important as your passport. Besides, it will help to know your vaccination history if you get sick while travelling. Make sure that the information (personal, vaccinations) is correct to avoid worries at the border.

Don’t get all your shots at once: If you do you’ll probably end up feeling like shit for a day or more. Some vaccinations require a course of several shots to be taken within several months. So don’t leave it until the last minute either. The Twinrix (Hep A/Hep B) combo I am currently taking requires three shots. The second needs to be taken one month after the first and the last shot is taken five to six months after the first.

A good source of information is guidebooks and the CDC website. You can find out which shots are required and which are recommended for the areas that you want to visit. But don’t be afraid to wing it if you aren’t sure where you travels will take you. These vaccines can be administered while on the road. Just make sure the clinic you go to is clean and they use sterile needles.

Here’s a list of the vaccinations I am getting, plus their costs:

Shots:

Twinrix (Hep A/Hep B): 109.60 per shot * 3 = 328.80
Tetanus/Diptheria : 52.60
Polio: 49.60
Yellow Fever: 105.60
One time “Counseling” fee: $134.60 (Expensive, but I don’t have to pay for future visits)

Prescriptions:

Oral Typhoid Vaccine: $52
Malaria Pills (DOXYCYCLINE): $30 for 200 pills (These need to be taken daily before, during, and after visiting an affected area)
Travellers Diarrhea: (CIPRO): $21 for 18 pills (Good for everywhere but India and Thailand)
Travellers Diarrhea: (AZITHROMYCIN): $21 for 6 pills (Good for India and Thailand and also for sinus infections)

Total: $795.20 (but hopefully down to $495.20 with insurance benefits)

It’s a lot of money, but it’s worth it. I’ll probably get sick at some point during the year, but hopefully it will be a minor case of Montezuma’s Revenge or Delhi Belly (call it what you will). Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to enjoy myself instead of spending quality time with Hepatits B.