By Mikey Beats
We woke up just before 8am to the coffee grinder. All our things were prepped and all my stuff needed to be placed into my travel backpack. That backpack had been to Brazil with me, Ecuador and Panama with Jenny and now it would get me through Peru.
We stopped by Ramiro’s taco shop after a few quick texts to tie down loose ends and we hit the road. My breakfast burrito ended up all over my shirt as I was eating and driving. Just another aroma to remind me of home I guess.
We got to LAX a few hours early and took our time finding a cheap option to park the car for ten days. The garage was called Quick Park.
After checking in and going through security, we got lunch at a Samuel Adam’s bar. When it was time, we boarded the plane and we were off.
The plane food was surprisingly good and the sleeping accommodations were less than desirable, but with four hours of sleep, you can sleep anywhere.
My lower back seemed to take the travel well as I experienced only mild discomfort. I attribute most of that to the pain killers and muscle relaxers I was on.
My reading choice of The Celestine Prophecy was a symbolic choice at best as reading this book at 34 seemed to be less exciting than when I read it at 19. Nevertheless, this book was the reason why I wanted to visit Machu Pichu for so many years.
The coincidence of bumping into that couple at the end of Crystal Pier a couple days before I left PB was undeniable and needed to be taken seriously. The dude mentioned James Redfield’s masterpiece, after I had told them I was leaving for Peru in a couple days, and he said he had given it to his fiancé for a gateway drug into spiritual awareness.
After landing in Lima, deboarding, and going through customs, we stepped outside for our first taste of Peruvian air. It had the consistent smell of diesel, like most South American cities, but less acidic than the Tijuana smell.
The air temp seemed about 65º and the humidity was light. It was warmer than I thought it was going to be, that’s a good thing. We were greeted by Guilermo holding a sign with “Jennifer Beltran” on it. Into the cab and to the hotel we went.
The hotel we stayed at for our night layover in Lima was called SM Hotel. It was a cute and contemporary little hotel and for only $60 a night that included complimentary rides from and to the airport plus a free breakfast, this place is on my travel list.
I had awoken a little early because the front desk called with our wake up call, an hour early. The woman apologized immediately, saying in broken English, “I sorry, am confused.” She couldn’t be as confused as I was because I was still in a fog.
After more kisses from my wife than a little puppy gives, we opened the curtains for our first glimpse of Lima, Peru during the day. My first impression of the neighborhood we were in was that streets were really clean. I also noticed that the houses were all really close together, much like the houses in San Francisco.
I heard a car drive by pumping either political propaganda or selling something over a loud speaker. The message wasn’t clearly audible due to the double pained window between us and the street.
We walked down the stairs into the common area for our hosted breakfast. Jenny and I decided on scrambled eggs and papaya, accompanied by coffee and French bread. The coffee was strong and the bread filling. This was the standard South American breakfast complete with a choice of fruit juices.
I checked my Facebook with the free wifi and noticed a comment from one of my favorite Mexican women, Chelo Manríquez. She posted an Anthony Bordain link from a show that aired the night we arrived in Lima. When I saw that it was going to air after we left, I was so bummed, but seeing this link made me happy.
I read Bordain’s blog post, watched his teaser video and realized that he was in Lima when he filmed that show. I decided to follow in his footsteps which lead me to the restaurant Chez Wong’s. I decided we’d have to go there on our next layover in Lima at the end of our trip on the 11th of June.
Bordain hit a couple other spots which we will for sure try and get out to. I had been a fan of his show for years. So to actually follow his steps in Lima got me really excited.
Jenny and I went to check out and the total was different than the bookit.com price. I can only imagine that this is a regular occurrence with Americans and/or foreign travelers. Luckily, Jenny produced the confirmation that she had printed out and we sorted out the price.
Guilermo was again our taxi driver and after a Spanglish conversation we learned he was originally from Cuba. We found out there was a show in Lima about the border between the US and Mexico which was wildly popular here. He asked us many questions about living on the border with TJ and we were more than happy to answer.
On a trip full of coincidences, we didn’t really trip out when Jenny bumped into a nursing school friend in the terminal. We talked about her tough traveling experiences which included cliff diving in Peru which nearly left her paralyzed and drowned.
It’s kind of crazy to think that had we had walked down that terminal a minute sooner or later, we would have missed that connection with her. She said she was off to Brazil after Cuzco and I gave her much advice about the country that I had visited many times.
After a cafe con leche, Jenny and I headed to board our plane. Walking down the boarding corridor, a foul stench hit the line of people. I could tell this wasn’t a normal smell because many of the people in line moaned and held anything they could to their noses in order to avoid the smell.
At first it smelled like a mix of Lama turds and sweat, but as we reached the door to the plane, I realized it was a dead animal smell originating from the AC duct outside the plane (thankfully.) A rat must have gotten stuck and rotted away. This was one of those, “Not in America” moments. I had a similar moment when I walked through the security check with my shoes on.
Next stop, Cuzco.
The flight out of Lima took us through a cloudy sky that we traveled on top of for about 20 minutes when it cleared to reveal a very mountainous terrain. On the decent into Cuzco, the countryside became clearly visible with several rocky ranges seeming to have been turned on their sides when the Andes formed.
As we came down closer to the ground, the outskirts of Cuzco revealed many dirt roads connecting farms and houses with walls made of what seemed to be mud or adobe. Once closer to the airport, the dirt roads turned to paved roads and the buildings grew larger. The color of the city revealed itself to be a brownish orange on everything from buildings to billboards. The landing was smooth.
People told us that as soon as we’d step off the plane we’d feel the thin air. Well, I didn’t feel anything right away, but I knew I would.
Jenny and I collected our belongings and fetched a cab to our hotel Arqueologo. The car ride wasn’t very eventful but we got our first taste of rough roads and crazy traffic. The cars there are very small, unlike the U.S. where we as Americans feel the bigger the better, they seem to feel the smaller the wiser. I agree.
From the outside the hotel blended into the rest of the buildings with no spaces in between. The road was made of organized rocks that seemed relatively close to cobblestones with a small drainage canal running down the middle. The hotel had a small entryway that opened up into a small social area.
The first thing I noticed was the pile of coca leaves next to a hot pot of water. I grabbed a bunch and started to chew them and almost instantly felt energized. The hotel receptionist warned us not to eat too much after 6pm or we wouldn’t go to sleep.
After getting settled into our cute little cabin like room, yeah I wrote cute, we got ready to walk to the Plaza del Armas. The plaza opened up where there were many old churches towering skywards. Last time I had seen anything like this, I was in Zacatecas, Mexico where those churches seemed to be from the same age as the ones we saw in Cuzco. The roads were all cobblestone and there was a huge open area in the middle of a four sided plaza. I would estimate that the plaza was about four football fields wide and about three long. All in the background were hills with many houses scattered in no particular order. The scene definitely took me back to the 1700’s
We were hungry and picked a street to walk down. Every open door along the way seemed to be either selling things to tourists or recruiting them to eat and drink there. We walked for a couple blocks when we noticed several voices coming from one restaurant. We looked in and saw what seemed to be all locals. That is always the place I want to eat.
It took us a little while to order food because we didn’t know how to order. Not because of a language barrier but because we didn’t know the ordering protocol. Eventually we ordered drinks and I had my first Inca Kola which was much like a ginger ale mixed with a Mountain Dew. We both order the pollo milaneza, or fried chicken, which came with home fried potatoes, rice and veggies.
The condiments on every table was ketchup, mayonnaise (ew, warm mayo?!) salt and vinegar. There was also a very red onion heavy sort of salsa with a good kick to it. That salsa went all over my everything. I also ordered a Chicha de Quinoa Jarra which tasted a bit funny. Kind of like if it was fermented Quinoa. We both took a sip and then we waited to see if we’d get sick. We decided it was best just to take a sip and leave it as was. This place definitely wasn’t the food boner I always look for, but at $20 Soles or about $9 total, we weren’t complaining.
We left the restaurant and peaked our heads into a shop that advertised coca candy. I wasn’t twisting Jenny’s arm when she reached out for some coca hard candy.
After a four block walk uphill to our hotel, we again headed straight to the coca tea and made ourselves a batch. We wanted to take it easy and get acclimated to the altitude. The dizziness had begun so I decided to rest up until we met up with our good friend Rebecca.
Rebekah is a long time friend of ours and together her and Jenny had shared many experiences traveling together. They both went to Ecuador for three months to spend time teaching English to children in a rural area outside of Ambato.
As I have spoken before about many coincidences, Rebekah happened to be in Cuzco on the same day as our arrival. The following day her and her fiancé Dan would be departing the country. We decided it was a must to meet up and set a time of 7:30pm at our hotel. We really were thrown back a few decades not being able to just call each other and zero in on our locations.
Surprisingly, Rebekah and Dan showed up almost on time. Lots of hugs, lots of stories of their travels through Peru and, of course, lots of Pisco Sours. I, of course, didn’t order one [Mikey no longer drinks alcohol] but I did have a sip just to know the taste. Even if I was drinking I wouldn’t drink that crap. Ha! It was super sweet and sour and screamed of an imminent hangover after three of them. If you have ever had a strong Margarita in Mexico or a Caipariha in Brazil, it would be much of the same.
I did have a Siete Tea which was a mix of seven teas including coca and matte, that was very good, great caffeine rush too. After I bought the first round, I went off to Chi Chas that my buddy Chelo recommended.
Chi Chas was a block away from the Plaza De Armas and on the second floor of an unassuming building. There were no neon signs, no arrows pointing to the place just a flight of stairs off the street. If you didn’t know where it was, I doubt you could find it.
Once we got into our seats the level of service was superb and the clientele was well dressed. A round of Pisco Sours was ordered and I had strawberries with milk, kind of like a smoothie.
For appetizers I had a fresh greens salad with roasted red bell peppers and tomatoes doused in a sweet vinaigrette. We all split octopus grilled on a stick with mash potatoes and a fish served sashimi style with a light lemon juice dressing and served with a corn crostini.
For the main course I chose a sliced sirloin served on a bed of grits, topped with grilled onions and roasted tomatoes. On top of all that, they served two fried eggs. For desert we shared fried dough balls, kind of like hush puppies, with a melted core of dark chocolate and a scoop of coconut ice cream.
Oh man. This place was for sure a food boner.
After stuffing ourselves silly and telling stories of anything and everything we have accomplished in life, we decided to meet up with some other people Rebekah and Dan were traveling with at an Irish pub named Paddy’s.
Paddy’s boasts being the highest altitude Irish bar in the world. I guess if you need accolades to sell you pints, there’s one for the marketing team.
I met a tour guide who was showing these English kids around Cuzco and he asked me how many languages I spoke, more than likely assuming since I was American, I would only speak one. I responded that I speak three languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese. He mentioned he also spoke Portuguese and we started a five minute conversation about our time in Brazil. I asked him if he had Soul Glow in his Jerry Curl and he stared at me blankly.
We stayed there for a round of beers and then trotted off to a nightclub, of sorts, called Mythology. The strobe lights there left a lot to be desired as I felt like I was constantly on the edge of a seizure. I will compliment the DJ for using CD’s and kind of mixing. Shout out to the guy in the Cookie Monster outfit who knew how to party!
The four of us headed over to Norton’s for a night cap and shortly after, we parted ways with Rebekah and Dan until their wedding the following September and then headed for some shut eye.
Mikey Beats Beltran is a native San Diegan and veteran of the local music scene. He started off as a teenager working at Soma Live in Bay Park and he’s currently the co-owner and Vice President of Sleeping Giant Music. He has over ten years of DJing experience that has taken him all over the US. He lives in Pacific Beach, with his wife Jenny, where he was recently elected to the PB Planning Group. You can follow him on Twitter @MikeyBeats.