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Cusco, Perú - Observations & Revelations

or, better write this stuff down before we forget it... by Anne & Noah (team effort)


View World Trip 2012 on noahv's travel map.

Since our last post on our initial observations from Peru, we've left Yanahuara in the Sacred Valley and settled into Cusco. To save you the hassle of pulling up the details, Cusco is the seventh largest city in Perú with a little over 400K people, well behind Lima's 9.5M. Better to think of it as the center of the Inca empire, and the hub for exploring the numerous Inca ruins in the area, including Machu Picchu.

But enough of the history lesson - here's what we've been doing and noticed in the 10 days that we've been in Cusco:

Adventurous Wandering

We spend a great deal of time unofficially lost. We must be getting the lay of the land a bit since Leah remarked gleefully just yesterday "hey, this is the street we were lost on before!" We are happy to wander as long as there is no exhaustion and starvation involved. So far we have had excellent luck stumbling upon cafes we like and we have explored parts of the city tourist feet rarely tread. Maps and guide books have not been especially helpful so far.

The Two Hour Lunch

Our host family provides breakfast and dinner while we are on our own for lunch. Turns out, lunch is a slow meal. We have waited at cafes for 45 plus minutes for sandwiches. We are cool with this now and don't expect prompt service. We come prepared with a deck of cards. Last week we decided to try a local Chinese Restaurant (Chifa) and were unnerved by the speed at which the food arrived. The kids talk about it like that lunch was some sort of circus act.

Connectivity

It is not as easy to be connected as we imagined. Access to the Internet is sketchy. We are lucky to have reasonable reliable service in our family stay (casa familia), but it's not unusual to see notices like this:
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Cafés and bars that advertise "free wi-fi" don't always deliver. We found it often takes 5 or more minutes for a single picture to upload -- so we are encouraged to be selective. Apple products are not mainstream - so we have to hope that our collection of ipod, ipad, and macbook air don't require parts or servicing. Skype is great but our contacts never seem to be online!!!

Peruvian Idyosycracies

  • Peruvians dress modestly, but advertising takes full advantage of "sex sells" - even for green tea:

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  • Wine is expensive, compared to beer and rum. S/25 (about $10) for a bottle of wine, compared to S/15 (~$4) for a bottle of ron (rum).
  • Cusco is a tourist-centered city, so restaurants are very split between tourist and local, with tourist places charging 3x + more than the local spots
  • Many restaurants have a printed menu, which is usually different from what the actual menu is. You also need to ask if there is a menu del dia (menu of the day - a choice of appetizer or soup, main course, and drink) - typically much less than a la carte off the menu.

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  • There are a ton of stray/loose/homeless dogs in the city (perros vagabundos), necessitating a certain amount of vigilance while walking down the sidewalk (and I don't just mean because they sleep there...)

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  • Typical toilets do not include toilet paper or toilet seats. And no, you still can't flush paper down the toilet.
  • Electricity and gasoline are very expensive (about $18/gal according to our highly scientific calculations), but labor is cheap.
  • We've gotten pretty good at understanding Spanish, but there are always a few signs that we just can't figure out. This one was alongside the walking path to Tambomachay (ruins just outside Cusco city).

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  • Brand names still make us laugh

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What We are Living Without -- and REALLY Miss!

  • The people we love
  • Our dog Zillah, but we are glad she's being loved by her foster family in Seattle
  • Sriracha sauce -- we HAVE scoured the markets to no avail!
  • Showers with more hot water and fewer electrical currents
  • Room temperature to mean warm, and not "barely above freezing"

Our Favorite Things About Perú (specifically Cusco) So Far

  • Peruvians have been friendly, patient, and kind - They are OK with our "learners Spanish".
  • Children and Families are treasured here, so traveling with ours gives us an immediate starting point for conversation and shared experiences.
  • The Food is Delicious!
  • Ease and Economy of Transportation - a 20-30 min taxi ride costs about $1 for the 4 of us and busses are about 40 cents. Our 2 hour long bus ride from Urubamba to Cusco was a mere $1 each.
  • Peru is a deeply spiritual, traditional, and culturally rich place. We have been moved by the intensity with which Peruvians embrace their history and national identity. They seem to live it.
  • There are llamas here!!!

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What We Have Learned About Ourselves

  • We get stared at all the time. At first this was really unnerving. Then, it became only mostly unnerving. It still feels a bit weird. Probably because we're tall and white. Or perhaps because Leah has BIG BLUE EYES. Guess we should get used to it...I don't think SEAsia or China are going to be much different. We are learning to live with the fact that we will stick out as we travel for the next year.
  • Leah can make friends with anyone (especially little girls and animals).

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  • We make a thousand mistakes a day - the key seems to be staying positive and patient. As a family we've been trying to exist in the new normal of 24/7 togetherness.

So far, we love it. It's not easy, being somewhere that is different from what we're used to, and where we are (quite obviously) the "foreigners". Although we're learning - the language, the city, the culture - we're still the strangers in town. However, we're doing it, and we're doing it as a team.

Posted by noahv 18:41 Archived in Peru Tagged children travel peru spanish cusco observations Comments (2)

Kid Trip Musings

from Alex and Leah

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One of the top 3 questions that we get when we start talking about the trip is "what do your kids think about this?"

Good question - so we thought we would ask A & L directly. Here's what they said:

What will you miss?

  • A: Mostly my friends, but playing on the computer too. And Zillah, our perro negro.
  • L: Our dog Zillah! I don’t want anything to happen to her while we’re gone!

What scares you?

  • A: Going to places we’ve never ever been before.
  • L: That someone might get hurt or die.

What are you looking forward to seeing? (e.g. Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat)

  • A: Great Barrier Reef - it looks awesome and the snorkeling will be epic.
  • L: The big heads on Easter Island - and beautiful sights all over.

What are you looking forward to doing? (e.g. riding horses, bungee jumping)

  • A: Snorkeling, riding horses, and trying new foods.
  • L: Riding horses, and working with pandas and elephants.

Do you think your parents are crazy?

  • A: Pequeño.
  • L: Yeah.

Note: I think that they might have given the same answer here even if we weren't going on the trip!

What do your friends say now?

  • A: That is seems really awesome and they wish they could come.
  • L: That they are really jealous and will miss me a lot. They want to come too.

What do you think your friends will say when you get back?

  • A: Can I see the pictures of you and the baby pandas?
  • L: How was it? Glad you’re back - can I see the pictures?

What do you think you will learn? About people? About places? About food? About yourself?

  • A: People don’t live like we do in America. And that I can do stuff that I didn’t think that I could.
  • L: People do stuff differently than us, and I’ll have to learn to eat new foods.

What do you think will be the hardest part of the trip?

  • A: Adjusting my body clock to different time zones.
  • L: Having to rent our house to people we don’t know; leaving my friends and my dog!

What do you think will be the most fun part of the trip?

  • A: Taking bunches of photos, and going to the panda sanctuary and the Elephant Nature Park!
  • L: Taking care of animals and going to Tahiti.

There you have it - apparently animals figure large in the thoughts of our kids. More to come from A & L as we go forward!

Posted by noahv 21:41 Archived in USA Tagged children kids Comments (2)

T.M.I. - Can We be Plugged in Without Being Tuned Out?

Navigating the Dark Side of Mobile Technology as We Travel

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pres·ent
n.

1. A moment or period in time perceptible as intermediate between past and future; now.
2. Now being considered; actually here or involved.
3. Readily available; immediate.
4. Alert to circumstances; attentive

For our upcoming adventure, one of my primary goals is to be present. I want to be open to new ideas, people, and experiences. I'm looking forward to being "out of touch" with my comfortable Seattle life sometimes as we explore the larger world. Ideally, my family will be on the same "Carpe Diem" quest – but will technology help or hinder us? I am anticipating some challenges . . .

Challenge #1

ME

I will start right off by confessing a dependent relationship with my iphone. I treasure the ability to call up Google Maps and just follow the purple line to my destination. I love having a portable calendar that is synched with Noah, three schools, and two soccer teams. I rely on my contacts list and the ability to "google it" anytime. Yesterday I called up my sister in Singapore and chatted with her on Skype face to face ON MY PHONE -- for free! How cool is that??!

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Although I admit that in many ways technology has made my life easier, I also get a bit sentimental about the days when DVD players didn't come standard in mini-vans and face-to-face conversations between people occurred regularly on trains and in coffee shops.

Pressing Questions for Myself

  • Do I really need the constant information and entertainment? Is being "bored" no longer an option? Staring out the window obsolete?
  • Does the fact that I CAN share experiences immediately via Facebook or Twitter make that a priority?
  • Is logging on to "Trip Advisor" better than asking locals or visiting the Tourist Office?
  • Will I be able to turn off the navigation system and fly by the seat of my pants?
  • Can I get OK with being lost or not knowing if the Sounders won?

Good thing we are writing a blog – and I can keep you posted.

Conversations with Strangers

When I was in my final month of Graduate school I was on a train from Boston to New York and struck up a conversation with the gentleman next to me (inspired by the books we were reading). Turns out he lived in Newport, Rhode Island and ran a sailboat chartering business. By the time we got to New York he asked me to send him my resume for a summer job. Despite the fact that I had never even been on a sailboat, I got the job -- and that one conversation led to two amazing summer adventures! I learned how to sail and got to live on Weatherly (a 12 Meter Americas Cup Defender) in Newport Harbor! How much I would have missed if I had been hooked into headphones on that train?

Challenge #2

NOAH

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My husband (and partner in crime) is an official computer geek and has worked in the wireless industry for over ten years. He will probably write a rebuttal blog entry extolling the virtues of modern technology tools.

He knows it bugs me when he chooses technology based connectivity over person-to-person conversation, looks up stuff on his phone during dinner, or worse – listens to his music on ski lifts with me! He usually respects my wishes. He may even make a solid argument about conversations via technology being no less valid. We shall see . . . .

Challenge #3

THE KIDS

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Does anyone else think it is strange to take a school age child out to a restaurant only to have him play on his DS at the table throughout the meal? I have seen this more and more in the past few years and was even sitting next to a family recently whose child was playing a loud game without headphones as the adults chatted over the noise. Crazy!

I drive by our local middle school almost every day and see a vast majority of the kids walking in groups but not talking to each other – they are either listening to headphones or texting. Is it unrealistic to hope that won't be my kids?

OK, so my kids don’t have a DS or a fancy cell phone, but I am not opposed to using the videos and games on my phone to entertain them during longer trips. I also think it can be positive for them to be able to "tune out" sometimes. listen to their own music, etc. We plan on purchasing e-readers for them before the trip (possibilities here) and will have my old Iphone loaded with their music - but otherwise we have some decisions to make.

Essentially I think that, for me, it comes down to manners. I am not OK with my kids being rude because they are distracted by their "devices". So we will have to set ground rules for appropriate usage. That will take a whole new post!

Challenge #4

Safety

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Tourists tend to make easy targets for crimes of all sorts.
Wikitravel has some good general tips for how to avoid being a victim as does the US Government.
Most major cities have warnings about pickpockets and scams.

The core message in these "alerts" is that we (as visitors) need to be alert and aware of our surroundings in order to avoid being a target of crime. I guess I'm thinking that pulling out an expensive tablet as a map or wearing headphones might make us seem wealthy, less attentive, and thus an even bigger target. What do you think?

Striking a Balance

When my sister and I travelled through Europe in 1988 it was with the ripped out pages from "Europe on $30 a day" as our guide. We called home every week or so, read whatever paperbacks we could find in English, kept journals, took lots of photographs (with film even), and sent postcards.

Our family 2012-2013 adventure will involve more sophisticated gear, but I believe that the essentials of travelling are the same. We can use technology to help us with all those things listed above and more. We will just need to balance our opportunities to "tune out" with our mobile devices (perfectly appropriate sometimes) with the goal of engaging with a new environment and soaking up the experience.

I think the key to achieving this balance and being more present is time. Our plans involve longer stays in fewer locations with community based volunteering jobs as well. We may cover less ground - but experience more.
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I truly hope my ramblings have sparked good conversations. Please share your perspective!!!

Thanks for Reading! Hope you get the "Presents" you Desire and We Wish You a Joyful 2012!

Up Next -- More on the Role of Technology as We Gear Up for "World Schooling" our Kids

Posted by annevl 20:30 Tagged children technology world trip safety Comments (6)

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