Tag Archives: Food

Peru – The Traveler’s Ideal

7 Jan

The View from Machu Picchu

Within every region of the world, countries are known for different things, and staggeringly diverse Latin America is no exception. In Latin America, Brazil is known for its party culture. Costa Rica is known for its accessible natural beauty. Bolivia is known for its indigenous culture. Overall, It’s not always the case that, to a traveler, a country seems to have just about everything a traveler could want. But it’s exactly the case with Peru. If a god could design a country to be interesting and ideal to travelers, there’s a decent chance that country would look something like Peru.

Since December 12, I have been exploring this incredible country. I had my first impressions of the country in Lima, where I visited Huaca Pucclana Pyramid and tried some fine Ceviche. Afterwards, I took an overnight bus to Arequipa. Arequipa is a high-altitude city at the foot of El Misti, a large volcano whose famous snows sadly disappeared five years ago due to Global Warming. From Arequipa, I took a 3 day trekking tour into Colca Canyon, one of the greatest natural wonders on Earth. It is the world’s biggest canyon, home to Condors and various types of Cacti. Indigenous people live in villages in the bottom of the canyon, where local tour groups stay overnight between hiking days. After I got back from Colca Canyon, I took a six hour bus ride over to Puno. Puno is not a particularly pleasant town, but it’s a good place to spend a few days in, as it is the base for seeing the Uros and Taquile islands. Then I took another 6 hour bus ride, this time to Cusco, the ancient Inca capital, now known for its blend of Spanish and Indigenous culture. I went on the Salkantay trek, a longer but less pricey alternative to the Inca trail. Afterwards, I took a wildlife tour to the Amazon, specifically the edge of the Manu reserve. The wildlife is breathtaking. There’s a staggering variety of species. The most memorable to me were the bullet ants, the monkeys, and the macaws.

Peru does culture and sights, and it does those very well. No other ruin in the Americas is as famous as Machu Picchu. Peru is also home to other ruins, such as Huaca Pucllana in Lima and Kuelap in the north. Peru has great food too, from Alpaca steaks in the mountains to Ceviche on the coast. Peru also is one of the most beautiful countries on earth. The coast, amazon, and andes all have incredible landscapes and opportunities to experience nature. The tourism infrastructure for trekking and other types of tours is well set-up.

Peru’s cuisine is very good. It isn’t as renowned as that of the French of Chinese, but a trip to Peru is a far greater culinary experience than say, a trip to Ireland or Poland. You have to try Cuy (guinea pig). it’s expensive and there isn’t much meat, but it’s very tasty!

Peru’s culture has a fascinating blend of indigenous and colonial influences. There are three languages: Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara. While Spanish is spoken almost everywhere, adventurous travelers can try out speaking a bit of Quechua in the Andes region. The indigenous peoples of Peru, in some places at least, still wear traditional clothing which varies from village to village.

Peru is also relatively safe compared to its northern neighbors, such as Ecuador and Colombia. There is a far lower violent crime rate, and the worst that happens to many travelers is being pestered by unprofessional tour guides in one of Cusco’s squares. You still should be careful though.

Peru was my first time in South America (the last inhabited continent I had left to set foot on), and it did not disappoint. I’d highly recommend it for any adventurous traveler!

How white privilege exists in travel

6 Sep

Race, gender, and ethnic issues are a tricky topic. They enflame internet trolls, they are used by politicians to divide people on issues, and they are issues where even well-intentioned privileged people can give the completely wrong impression to less privileged people.

For a white male traveler, privilege is a difficult thing to confront. We like to think that anyone can travel if they want, and that the world is perfectly open to you, as long as you aren’t hung up on how the US media portrays other nations. We write pretentious blog posts that emphasize how there’s a common humanity in all of us (a major pet peeve of mine), without stopping to think about how our way of life is, to some degree, dependent on our privileges.

Because I am a white traveler, I wanted to write some examples of how white privilege manifests itself in travel:

  • I am more likely to come from a family that can afford travel
  • I can walk around in a western or Eastern European city knowing that people are not going to be violent to me simply because of my race
  • I can go to a country where nonwhites are the majority, knowing that I will be a respected, privileged guest who locals are interested in getting to know
  • My passion for travel is not assumed to be “special and unusual” simply due to my race.
  • My way of speech and accent is considered “proper english”, the standard to which nonwhites’ english speaking ability is measured up to.
  • I can go through the US customs and immigration line without being suspected of being a terrorist

There are countless other examples too. But my point is, white male travelers need to realize that they are privileged, and when they see travelers of other races being treated badly, they need to do something about it and speak out, not just post on Facebook about what happened.

The Far East of Europe: Seven things Travelers love about Visiting Ukraine

17 Aug

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Ukraine’s not an easy place to travel, but it’s worth it. My last post was about the unique challenges of traveling in one of Europe’s last tourism frontiers. But why visit if it’s a challenging destination? This post explains some of the joys of visiting Ukraine.

1: Stunning Architecture

Few countries have more interesting architecture than Ukraine. The architecture of Ukraine is stunning, from the wooden cabins of the Carpathians to the grand palaces of Lviv. Ukrainian Architecture has a long history and varies tremendously from region to region. Some is more Russian influenced, and some of it is more Central European influenced.

2: Beautiful Countryside

Ukraine’s small towns are unspoiled, have few tourists, and in some regions have beautiful surroundings. The Carpathian region is the best example. A trek, bike ride or even bus ride through this region will give you a taste of one of the last truly untouched regions of Europe.

3: It’s Cheap!

In a country where youth hostels are $6 a night in the most touristy city, one can expect Ukraine to be cheap. Many people talk about Eastern Europe being “cheap”, but only in Ukraine and east of it is this perception truly still accurate. Coming from Hungary or Slovakia, your money will go much further. You can easily get by on $30 a day.

4: The Fascinating History

Ukraine’s history is long, and filled with influences from within its own culture and from the surrounding countries. It swung back and forth between being influenced by Central European culture and by Russian culture. Today, the country’s multicultural history is evident in its regional differences.

5: The mosaic of Slavic Cultures

Some neighboring countries, such as Poland, are quite homogenous, but Ukraine is a Slavic mosaic. Every region of Ukraine feels different, thanks to the outside influences of neighboring countries as well as the different landscapes and architectural styles. There’s the Russian-dominated East (don’t visit right now!), the Polish-influenced west, the diverse range of cultures in the Carpathians, the classical Ukrainian centre, and the Tatar and Russian-Influenced Crimea (don’t visit right now either!).

6: The Hearty Food

I’ll admit that cuisine from this world region is not my favorite, but it’s definitely quite filling. The food served is meaty, starchy, and somewhat stodgy, but it’s very cheap. Lviv and other major cities are home to Georgian restaurants, whose cuisines are by far superior to Russian and Ukranian cuisines according to most travelers and foodies.

7: The few other tourists

It’s rare now that a former USSR country lacks tourists. Czech Republic? Packed with tourists. Hungary? Packed with tourists. Poland? Also packed with tourists. But Ukraine, like the Caucasus, is yet to be discovered. You’ll sometimes have the museums all to yourself, and there are still restaurants in the Carpathians which have never seen a foreigner.

US culture for foreign tourists: about American cities

24 Feb

As I’m back home in the US after a great trip to Budapest, Hungary, I thought I’d do a post about the pros and cons of US cities, and how they differ from cities in other parts of the world (in good and bad ways). So, without further delay, here are some fundamental qualities of US cities that every foreign tourist should know before they visit a US city for the first time. I will do this for other world regions’ cities too.

1. US cities are diverse but segregated

While many of America’s more left-leaning citizens boast that their country’s cities are “melting pots” of many cultures from around the world, the reality is a bit more complex than that. US cities are diverse indeed, and every city has its own unique demographic pie. In many ways, however, the average US city is more of a lumpy stew than a melting pot. The cities are heavily divided among racial, class, and ethnic lines, and people from neighborhoods of very different races and cultures don’t interact so much. This is especially true in the suburban areas. Even the bigger, denser cities, like New York, have a lot of divisions between neighborhoods. It’s just harder to notice these divisions on a crowded subway train full of many types of people, or in a tourist area like Times Square.

2. Most US Cities are car-dependent, although some are improving their public transit options

There are many US cities where if you’re poor, you ride the bus, and if you’re not, you drive. End of story. It’s a very snobby thing rooted in classism. Cities with subways or trams rather than just buses tend to have less of this snobbery, because trains generally attract a more diverse set of riders. The car dependence of many us cities is a result of the mass migration of wealthy (usually white) families out to suburbs that took place in the 1950’s. In these suburbs, there simply wasn’t enough density for people to see much need to keep public transportation a few decades later. Today more American cities, like Denver and Los Angeles, are reviving their tram systems and metro systems, although there is still a long way to go.

3. American cities are modern in some ways, and old-fashioned in others

The cities of America generally have more modern buildings in their centers than those of Europe, but do all these cities have the modern liberal attitudes and public infrastructure that characterizes those quaint European cities? Unfortunately not. Many US cities are sadly deeply divided, and the culture here is generally more conservative and religious than that of western Europe. Even San Francisco, Boston and New York aren’t as left-wing as western Europe. There is more crime, and more paranoia as a result of that crime. There is less of a welfare system. There isn’t as much tolerance, and people live more insular lives.

4. It’s not all ugly, make sure to still visit US cities!

Not everything about US cities is bad. US cities generally have a lot of interesting diversity, a good amount of international cuisine, a somewhat prosperous feel in the nicer areas, and some very interesting attractions. The museums in New York are great, as are the ones in San Francisco and Chicago. The best cities to visit are Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Miami, New Orleans, Savannah, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

5. Crime is less of a concern now than in the 1980’s

While it’s true that places like Detroit, and certain parts of many other cities are definitely places to stay away from, crime in US cities has gone down for the most part, and it’s good news for travelers. From my experience, I’ve felt pretty safe in most major US cities, and crime rates have gone way down in places like New York. The peak of crime was the 1980’s. Thankfully we are now living in a less violent time in America.

I’m at Kaffitar, an Icelandic coffee chain store and my trip to Iceland is coming to an end. I have decided to write about my experiences in this wonderful country and offer tips for visiting it.

The first day I was here I arrived and explored Reykjavik. It’s not “The Paris of the Far North” or anything like that but it does deserve time. There are a few museums and interesting streets to walk around. Reykjavik really tells me what a small city is supposed to be in the 21st century. Apart from the small amount of public transport and the sprawl, I really think this is a good-looking role model for a small city when it comes to infrastructure. The buildings are all contemporary, even somewhat futuristic. Unlike in US cities, the bridges don’t look like they are rusty and falling apart. They look like what bridges should look like in the 21st century. There is some graffiti, but not too much, and I heard that street art is actually legal in some areas of the city (This is fine with me considering the amount money I’m guessing police spend removing street art every week in other cities)

Basically, if the city had skyscrapers, more public transit, and flying cars, it would look like a small, clean version of an ideal futuristic city.

The second day I was here I went on my first tour. It was a glacier hike and sightseeing tour with Reykjavik Excursions, a company I definitely recommend (The glacier hike part was run by Icelandic mountain guides). The glacier hike is, for the most part, not scary or difficult. At first I stamped my crampon-equipped shoes into the ice very hard because I thought I’d be more secure, but over time I realized you could walk almost as lightly as you could with normal shoes and still be fine. The glacier won’t be around for much longer due to Global Warming. The guide showed us the point it used to go down to back in 2005, right near the parking lot. Now it is a 15 minute walk to the glacier. At the end, the guide scared us and told us that a volcano behind the glacier is expected to erupt any day in the next year or so, and that the eruption will be much worse than that of Eyjafjallajokull in 2010. He said the glacier would melt almost instantly, and there would be rushing water passing through the valley at a rate of 300,000 cubic meters per second. He used this to motivate us to go down back to the parking lot faster, but he was not lying, as I found out from another tour guide the next day.

The next day, I did the greatest hike in my life. At almost 300 usd, the Thorsmork Volcano hike by arctic adventures is expensive, but well worth it. First you do a two hour drive into a beaitiful valley full of rainbows and rivers. The guide showed us whole new canyons which had been formed by the 2010 eruption. After this, you do a 5 mile hike up a volcano and 5 miles back down. The first part of the ascent is on a ridge next to a valley full of small golden trees. The second part is on a windswept hillside with a very slippery, muddy, steep climb up. The third stage is a flat barren moonscape with patches of snow here and there, and lots of fog. The final stage is climbing an ashy peak with lots of snow. There was sleet being thrust into our faces at all times and you couldn’t see more than about 100 feet in front of you, but it was worth it.

The next day, I did the golden circle tour. This was a great tour where we saw waterfalls and geysers. It was a relaxing bus tour, just what I needed after the hike the day before. This tour was run by Reykjavik Excursions.

All of the tours I did were incredible.

My tips for visiting Iceland are as follows:

1. Don’t make the Golden Circle your only tour. It is a fantastic tour but the more challenging hiking tours give you access to scenery you’d never be able to see on a regular bus tour. If you come to Iceland, don’t just do the Golden Circle. You’ll have a much better time if you do some more adventurous tours as well.

2. Eat at cheap local places rather than expensive ones. I tried eating at an expensive Pakistani restaurant in Reykjavik centre which showed of lots of tripadvisor awards at the door. In the US, I feel like I can trust pakistani restaurants with lots of tripadvisor awards. This food, however, was nothing compared to curries I’ve eaten in the US or the UK, and at 2900 isk for a lamb saffron curry, it was a lot more expensive. The curry tasted more like mustard mixed with mayonaise than Curry.

3. The people are happy to speak English. As I found, speaking Icelandic didn’t get me any more respect than speaking English. In many cultures they seem to like it if you learn the local language, but Icelanders don’t seem to care.

4. Be prepared to adjust back to regular tap water after leaving Iceland. Icelandic tap water is all glacial pure water and is the best in the world.

5. Enjoy it!!!

Overall, Iceland is a fascinating country that deserves to be seen.

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