It's hard to believe, but a trip that started off as a shared dream 8-9 years ago is now just six days away. We're heading off on Tuesday, January 15th to Peru to begin our "Kirkwood Adrift" trip. Our travels will take us to 4 continents, 14 countries and will span 110 days. We've had some people inquire as to where all our travels will take us - and when we'll be there. A quick list of highlights follows:
Jan 15 - 25: Peru (Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu) Jan 26 - Feb 7: Argentina and Chile (Buenos Aires, Argentinian and Chilean Patagonia) Feb 7 - 10: Brazil (Rio, Carnival) Feb 10 - 20: South Africa and Namibia (Cape Town, Wine Country, Namib Desert) Feb 20 - 28: Botswana Feb 29 - Mar 6: Tanzania Mar 7 - 22: Thailand and Cambodia (Bangkok, Angkor Wat/Siem Reap, Khao Lak) Mar 29 - Apr 4: Japan (Kyoto, Tokyo) Apr 5 - May 1: Australia, New Zealand
A few folks have expressed an interest in trying to meet up with us during our travels. We'd certainly welcome the company. Just let us know when and where you'll be joining!
We'll be keeping this blog updated periodically as our internet connectivity allows it. Thanks, y'all....
01.15.2013 - 01.15.2013
on mcpherson.nyc's travel map.
Luggage: As I told people about travelling the world for 110 days, one of the first questions was “How will you pack for a trip like that?” Here in this picture are my possessions for the next 3.5 months:
At the airport, my luggage weighed 34 pounds. I love shoes… and I only packed 4 pairs for this trip. That is huge for me considering it is hard for me to keep it under 5 pairs for a weekend trip. Every article of clothing has a purpose. All of the fancy camping clothes I got from REI are able to fold up inside a pocket on the clothing to save space. I like to wear fun clothes, but I am going to have to let that go the next few months on this trip. After putting my backpack to use, I must admit that it is really nice being able to move quickly in a new location.
How this dream trip came about: For the past 14 years I have been lucky to work as a performer. First I started in a ballet company, and then I toured Europe in a musical theater troupe performing West Side Story. For the last 8 years I’ve been lucky to dance with the Radio City Rockettes. Along my performing journey, I was driven to find employment that would let me travel and work. About 7 years ago I turned down the most ridiculous travelling contract ever with Crystal Cruises. Crystal is a high end cruise line, and the itinerary literally went around the world. This contract included stopping 5 nights at port in Rio de Janeiro to see Carnival, a stop in Cape Town, South Africa to enjoy wine country and so on. The itinerary would make anyone with even the slightest travel bug salivate. I had just asked Ryan to move in with me in our New York City apartment. He travelled from Los Angeles, got settled and I got offered this awesome contract. I must have been an extremely difficult girlfriend at the time: “Thanks for moving in with me last month, but I might leave for 50 weeks on this world cruise. You can visit me in Dubai… or Cape Town – but I hope your flight isn’t delayed because then you might miss me.” Well, I knew that I wanted to marry Ryan and I did not want to jeopardize our relationship. Ryan told me at that point about his long-time interest in taking a world trip and promised me that one day we could one day take a trip together to see everything around the world. I turned down the intriguing contract. It was the right decision because I married Ryan and we just embarked on our dream world trip making up just about everything we do each day.
Jumpstarting the trip:
If anyone has seen the movie “UP” you know the first couple of scenes really pull at your heart strings. The couple wants to take a trip, but life keeps happening and it is pushed further into the future. So much so that the main character’s wife gets sick and dies before they take their trip. I am not really an emotional person, but those scenes tore me up. This was a few years ago when I saw “UP”. Ryan came home that night and I knew we needed to create a plan or this illusive trip might fade away with the demands of life. I said “let’s stop just planning” this imaginary trip and let’s seriously do it. So we set a targeted date for the next 2-3 years as soon as we found a window that worked for both our careers. I am unemployed most of the year jumping from contract to contract, but Ryan has a really great job with tons of commitments. His leave of absence was going to need advanced planning with Human Resources and tons of other logistical things had to be worked out. Luckily, all of our stars aligned and the super-talented skills Ryan has as a consultant shifted to planning the most amazingly thought out trip ever. I’m so grateful it worked out and we’re on our journey... ===
Cusco. After flying 6.5 hours from Atlanta we arrived in Lima, Peru just after midnight. We cleared customs and stayed at the airport through the night. Our flight to Cusco was early the next morning and it didn’t make sense to leave the airport given our early flight the next day. It was wild staying in the food court at 3 a.m. There are flights that leave at all hours from the Lima airport – so if you didn’t know the time it could just have easily been 3 p.m. It didn’t matter that Ryan and I were pulling an all-nighter, we were so excited.
Once we got to Cusco we were able to recover at one of the most beautiful hotels that I’ve ever seen. A huge perk of this trip includes cashing in a bunch of Marriott Rewards points Ryan has earned over the years with his job. The JW Marriott in Cusco is beautiful. It used to be a monastery in the 1500s and was converted only recently into a gorgeous hotel. All of the interior design stays true to the Inca style, including a gorgeous floor to ceiling hanging crystals piece that pays homage to the Inca sun god.
After recovering from our all-nighter, Ryan and I walked all around town and visited the famous Plaza de Armas. In the Inca times it was the heart of the Inca capital. Now it is the nerve center of the modern city. We were seriously hustled in the plaza. Every other minute someone was trying to sell something to us: Inca inspired hats and scarves, paintings, carved boxes and so on. Even a 5 year old girl tried to sell me finger puppets. After saying “no gracias” she asked if I was from America. She replied: “Oh I like Obama, for you each puppet is only $1. You must buy.” She was incredibly persistent, bi-lingual, and the youngest hustler I have ever encountered. Once you travel a few blocks away from the square, the hustling stops. (I did pay this mom and daughter to take a picture with their baby goat though.)
A few blocks away from the square is the Mercado San Pedro. This place bustles with activity and each stall has a Peruvian selling different items. One of the best things to get at this market is the fruit juice (jugo). You can order almost any type of fruit and they create the freshest drink for you on the spot. All of the produce thus far in Peru has been the freshest and tastiest that I’ve ever had.
One other thing to mention: Ryan loves fancy food. Don’t get me wrong, I do too, but Ryan found out about this famous chef Gaston Acurio’s restaurant called “Chi Cha” and insisted we had to go! The restaurant offered modern takes on popular Andean recipes using local ingredients. I was not as adventurous as Ryan at this restaurant due to the fact I was recovering from altitude sickness but Ryan was like a kid in a candy store. We ordered trout, octopus and shrimp ceviche to share and Ryan ordered guinea pig for his entrée. What!! It totally weirds me out because I have house sat for my aunt’s guinea pig, Buttercup. Peruvians raise guinea pigs (cuy) commercially here in Peru. It was an amazing meal, and if you travel to Cusco I would definitely recommend trying out Chi Cha.
the Lares Trek: Our Path to Machu Picchu. Ryan and I booked a 4-day hiking package with Llama Path out of Cusco. The “Lares Trek” starts in the Sacred Valley of the Incas and finishes with the grand finale of seeing Machu Picchu. The fact that it was rainy season made us the only two trekkers with five people supporting us. Our team included a chef, an assistant chef, two porters, and our guide. Oh yeah, there were 5 horses that carried quite a bit of the camping equipment. The Llama Path team was so happy, and they kept saying how they loved the outdoors and their job. Our guide (a descendant of the Incas) was very informative and taught us quite a bit about the Incan culture and the history of the Inca Empire, the Spanish colonialization of the empire and the Incan communities of today. As an added bonus, both Roger (our guide) and the rest of the team have a soft spot for 80’s music from the U.S.
The trip included hiking a total of 38 kilometers over a mountain and through several small Andean communities. It was a humbling experience and required us to climb over a mountain pass approximately 16,000 feet above sea level (or almost 3 Denvers!). Personally I thought I was in good shape after finishing a Rockette contract, but hiking at high altitudes makes you slow! The trek was easy for the local Peruvians, but we were struggling at certain points. Regardless, the views were breathtaking. Since it was rainy season, everything was extremely green and lush. My favorite part was seeing the local Quechua people (Peruvians still following Incan traditions and lifestyle) herd their llamas, alpacas and sheep. Ah - I already miss the views!
The day before our Machu Picchu trip, we wrapped up the Lares Trek in the small village of Lares (5,000 people) at their geothermal hot springs where we soaked for a few hours to help our legs recover from the prior few days. After that, we drove a few miles down the road to Ollantaytambo where we would take a train to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu's closest town) stopping only to try a glass of "chicha" (corn beer) at roadside spot near Urubamba town. Chicha is considered to be the "Red Bull" of the Quechua people.
Grand Finale: Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and walking through the Inca ruins is inspiring. We arrived at Machu Picchu around 6am on the 22nd. The weather held up nicely for us and while there were a number of clouds around, they generally got out of the way quickly to allow great views of the Urubamba River Valley and the surrounding mountains. We took a brief tour with our guide before exploring on our own for a few hours. Among our favorite things from our visit to the ruins was Huayna Picchu (which Ryan climbed to get a bird’s eye view of the ruins), the “three windows” room and learning about the Inca solar calendar.
The Incas were an amazing civilization and far ahead of their time. One detail that sticks out is the fact that the Incas didn’t build anything over fault lines anywhere in their empire. When you walk through Machu Picchu, there are certain areas that have no structures on them. This is amazing because somehow the Incas in the 15th century knew where the fault lines were located underground. To this day, no scientist has been able to determine how the Incas were able to detect and avoid building atop any fault lines. Additionally, the Incas secured all their structures below ground using stone “girders” and built them on a slight triangle to maintain the integrity of the buildings through time and avoid any risks associated with earthquakes. It took 150 years to build Machu Picchu, and it was well worth our journey to stand in awe on Machu Picchu.
We’re in Lima for the moment heading for Buenos Aires and Patagonia on the 25th where we’re planning to end up in a tango class, trek across a glacier, take a few hikes around a massive national park in Chile and walk with some penguins at the southernmost town in the world. More to come soon!
Lima. Luckily, Ryan shares an appreciation for my favorite activity in a new foreign city: a bike tour. As we took the cab from the airport to the hotel, it became clear that Lima has huge traffic problems. Lima is a city with over 10 million people (a third of the population of Peru), and there is limited public transportation (one north-south route of overcrowded buses). There was a constant cacophony of honking horns throughout the city. I thought my favorite activity would wind up getting us hurt with the insane traffic, but it turned out to be really enjoyable. Lima has beaches along the Pacific Ocean, and guests at our hotel had their own surf boards. Our tour mainly went along the beachfront neighborhoods of Miraflores, Barranco and Chorrillos. Over the three-hour tour our guide Jose shared with us a lot of information about the history of Lima and his personal experiences growing up in a constantly-changing city. The past 150 years has seen Peru/Lima experience a number of political revolutions, two catastrophic earthquakes, a war with neighboring Chile (partly over the “guano” riches and mining resources that Bolivia and Peru had access to) that saw Miraflores, Chorrillos and much of Peru nearly removed from the map and tragic attacks throughout the county by the Sendero Luminosa (“Shining Path”) neo-communist group. This nearly-constant change throughout the country has left it in a decidedly “developing” state, but our experiences in Lima and Cusco left us with the sense that Peruvians are confident their worst days are behind them.
In typical McPherson fashion, we had to try the best culinary experience in Lima that we could afford. Ryan found a restaurant called PeScados Capitales that was well-reviewed on TripAdvisor. PeScados Capitales’ name is a play on the “Seven Deadly Sins” and we got a kick out of their James Joyce quote introducing the menu: “Dios ha hecho los alimentos y el diablo, la sal y las salsas” (“God has made the food and the devil, the salt and sauces.”) The ceviche mixta (sea snails, octopus, sole, shrimp – and of course sweet potatoes) was incredible, and we had to try the Pisco Sours that Peru is famous for. The Pisco Sour tasted like a Margarita to me, and I understood after having one what the hype was all about. Apparently, Chile likes to claim that they created the Pisco Sour, but Peruvians tell us that it was the opposite. Unrelated to any fancy dining, Ryan also developed an addiction to “Inca Cola” while in Lima and is concerned about going without it for the rest of the trip. On our final day in Lima, we travelled into the city center and headed to the Plaza de San Martin and the Plaza de Armas. The Plaza de San Martin is a memorial square built to honor Jose de San Martin – who, along with Simon Bolivar is credited as being one of the “liberators” of South America. In the Plaza de Armas, the only structure that has survived the numerous earthquakes and widespread violence since the 16th century is the central fountain. This area was the center of a continent-wide empire ruled by the Spanish. We visited the Monasterio de San Francisco, a bright yellow Franciscan monastery and church. The main reason for visiting this church was Ryan’s fascination with the catacombs underground. There are an estimated 70,000 people buried under the church. Most of the dead were one-time parishioners of the church, but several local saints are buried there as well. There were leg bones, hips and skulls everywhere once you go under the church area. In my opinion, it was super-creepy, but fascinating at the same time. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed on the tour, and Ryan could not use his skills to capture the catacombs.
Random travel note: So, everyone who travels extensively has to be flexible and ready to accept delays. I am including this part because I think it is funny. Since Ryan’s other home is the Marriott during the year, he is a platinum member. We arrived at the JW in Lima looking like scruffy backpackers, and the front desk said if we waited an hour they would upgrade us to a suite with a jacuzzi overlooking the Pacific on the 24th floor. Awesome! After that encounter we walked around trying to find a Laundromat to drop off our clothes. Well, no place nearby could get our clothing back to us within the time frame that we were in Lima… so we turned our suite into a Laundromat. We used the jacuzzi as our washing machine. I don’t think any other guest has used the gorgeous suite to clean clothes. I think the suite we stayed in was bigger than our home in Atlanta. The panoramic views of the ocean were breathtaking. When I called to ask for a late check-out, the front desk asked me if 8pm was okay. What?!?... Who has ever heard of such a late check out!? Well, our luck ran out there. We travelled to the airport to fly to Buenos Aires and our 11:30pm flight got changed to 8am the next day and we were put up at a not-so-hot hotel near Plaza de San Martin for our last night in Lima. Travelling is full of all sorts of challenges and surprises. After Buenos Aires, our spoiled, 5-star, used-to-royal-treatment selves are dropping down to hostel status.
Buenos Aires. If you attempt to do word association with Buenos Aires (or Argentina), you might come up with: tango, beef, financial crisis and Evita Peron. If you follow football (soccer) as well, you would potentially include Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. Luckily, in our first pass in Buenos Aires we experienced all of those things in one day. I have taken the bike tours up a level and found an all-day ultimate tour through Biking Buenos Aires. Considering we took this 8 hour biking excursion on a Sunday, it made travelling through the capital safe due to light traffic. Currently, Buenos Aires is trying to implement more biking paths and there are companies that offer rentals to locals (similar to Capital bike share in D.C.) We met our tour guide Koi and four other bikers from around the world and headed on our exploration of the beautiful Argentine capital. After a brief visit in San Telmo (the once home to BA’s wealthy elite – before yellow fever took care of that) our first stop was La Bombonera Stadium (home to the “Boca Juniors”) in the working-class neighborhood of La Boca. Notice in the picture that the Coca Cola sign is black instead of Red. The team’s colors are blue and yellow while their rival, River Plate’s (aka “los Millionaires”) colors are red and white. Obviously, no advertising on their building can have the other team colors!
Our next stop was the Caminito in the heart of La Boca. There were colorful buildings, artists selling paintings and tango dancers waiting to dance for tips. According to local legend, Carlos Gardel deserves credit for taking tango from the streets of La Boca to the rest of the world, becoming the first international tango star. Oddly enough, one popular theory re: the development of the dance is that it was originally performed with just men as a means of demonstrating their masculinity.
Our next main stop on the bike tour was the Puerto Madero, but before arriving in Puerto Madero our tour stopped by a memorial being constructed for “the disappeared” – victims of Argentina’s “Guerra Sucia” (Dirty War) from the late-70s and early-80s when the military ruled the country and over 30,000 citizens were “disappeared” any time they were perceived to speak out against the government. Puerto Madero houses BA’s most expensive real estate (like $2,500 USD/sq mtr). After Puerto Madero, our journey took us through a neighboring ecological park before we stopped at a parilla (steak restaurant) for a lunch of roasted pork sandwiches and sidra (alcoholic apple cider)! The afternoon highlights consisted of seeing a “city for the dead” at the Cementerio de la Recoleta. Koi told us that if you wanted your family to reside in the cemetery, it cost 5 million for the first 10 years plus expensive payments thereafter every ten years. I would not want to be in charge of those accounting books. Apparently, if your family can’t pay, the bodies and coffins are moved to the BA community cemetery. Evita Peron’s (maiden name – Duarte) grave is here and there were fresh flowers and pictures from children around her grave. After walking through the second cemetery in a few days, we enjoyed an uplifting tango street performance in the park followed by a local tea drink (Yerba Matte – served over iced pineapple juice in the summer) as an afternoon energy drink.
Back on our bikes, we stopped briefly at a memorial for soldiers killed in the (73-day long) Falkland Islands War in 1983 before we headed to the Plaza de Mayo. This is the nerve center of the city but also home to most of its social protests today. Plaza de Mayo’s place as a site of accepted civil disobedience dates back to the “Guerra Sucia” when Los Madres de la Plaza de Mayo began protesting there. “Los Madres” were a group of mothers whose children had been “disappeared.” They would show up every day and silently march in circles holding pictures of their missing children demanding answers from the government. To this day, many of them still march every Thursday as several of them still have no answers to what happened to their children. There is an obelisk built in the center to mark the first anniversary of BA’s independence from Spain. Taking up the east side of the Plaza de Mayo is the pink façade of Casa Rosada. Currently President Christina Kirchner’s offices are here – but until the 2001 financial crisis this is where all the Presidents lived. As such, this is where most all of BA’s famous political speeches were delivered to the masses, including where Evita and Juan Peron would address the people from the balcony. Even though I am a terrible singer, I was inspired to sing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” a few times yesterday.
Lastly, I want to point out that our guide showed us that when the financial system crashed, some locals took their frustrations out by shooting at the Ministry of Finance building. As we rode by on our bikes, we noticed that you could still see the bullet holes in the building. If you travel to Buenos Aires, we would totally recommend doing a bike tour. It was a great way to learn about the city, and see the sites. The only downfall is having a bit of a sore butt…
El Calafate. Flying into El Calafate felt like arriving in a small Colorado airport. Once outside the views and the fresh air replenishes you. On the way to the small town of El Calafate (population 18,000) it looked like a photographer enhanced the colors of the lakes and mountains to look more appealing. Patagonia is an enormous region that attracts hikers and outdoor enthusiasts of all ages from all over the world. The town of El Calafate consisted of small chocolatiers, craft beer bars, trendy restaurants, and of course an array of outdoor clothing stores like Columbia and Patagonia. Ryan and I enjoyed trying the local beer and gelato.
The next morning (thanks to the recommendations of some friends) we went on a huge outdoor adventure with the company Helio y Adventura. We took a bus to El Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and witnessed the enormous glacier Perito Moreno in action. The glacier is slowly melting into the lake and every time an enormous chunk of ice fell the crowd of people would ooh and ahh. It sounded like thunder when the ice would crash into the lake.
After stopping to sightsee, our tour guide took us on a hike to the glacier. After hiking for about an hour on the moraine we arrived glacier-side and were fitted for crampons and harnesses to walk around on the glacier. Our guides took us to an area that was melting at a much slower rate than that near the lake (and not going to break off), and we always felt safe trekking on the enormous glacier. When you have crampons on you have to essentially stomp around with your feet wide apart. A few times when we went up a hill on the glacier at an angle it hurt my ankles, but the alternative of not wearing crampons would have made it impossible to trek around on the glacier. During lunch we filled up our water bottle with water from a glacial sinkhole (a spot in the glacier where melted water pools and eventually forms a “hole” descending all the way to the bottom of the ice). We couldn’t remember better tasting water in our lives! The ice formations, caves, sinkholes, etc. on Perito Moreno were incredible! (NOTE: We’ve included a few choice favorites in this blog – but feel free to click on the “photography” link on the right of this page to see more pics from Perito Moreno – and from the rest of our travels.)
Over the course of our day, Ryan and I made a bunch of new friends. I love the camaraderie that travelers have. People kept offering us advice, telling us the best hotel/hostels to stay in and all sorts of travelling secrets. We went to dinner with a few of our new friends at La Tablita, a popular parilla in town after our excursion. Our party included: Hairul (Marine from Singapore), Thomas (Engineer from Munich working in China) and Gavin (Stockbroker from Lincoln Park in Chicago). It was a lively dinner swapping travelling stories over delicious Argentinian beef. Next stop: Chile!