Posts Tagged With: lima

Quest of the Gods – Day 15, Journey home

Boarding started at 00:30, and everything was normal – I took my seat, did up my belt, stuck on my eye mask and fell deep asleep.  I’d love to tell you a lot about the flight, but honestly… I woke up 30 minutes before landing, when they turned the lights back on.  The lady next to me commented that “you slept like a baby” – I had managed to sleep for almost 5 hours non stop.  My flight route was: Lima – Houston – Chicago – Frankfurt – Gothenburg.

Plane selfie

Plane selfie

When we landed in Houston, I made my way to the next gate.  My boarding pass was flagged up as TSA-PRE which means I should get the expedited security process, but on connecting flights in Houston there was no TSA-PRE line so I had to join the normal security line and go through the usual TSA rubbish of taking shoes off, emptying laptops out, etc.

I had a while to kill in Houston and even though it was only 7am local time, I stopped in at a diner in the terminal and ordered a veggie burger and a milkshake.  I was trying to shift my body back into European time, so eating a lunch sized meal at breakfast is part of the process.  I had actually been craving french fries and a veggie burger for a few days (the food in Peru was amazing, but always very healthy… sometimes you need to cheat a bit!).

Once I got to the gate, they announced that the plane was “still in the hanger” and that the “super” machines they use to transport them aren’t to super, because 2 of them had broken down and therefore we would be delayed departing out of Houston.  I was freaking out because I had a 1:09 connection in Houston and the lady at the gate looked sympathetic but was unable to do anything until we started boarding, by which time it was too late.   Luckily Chicago is a busy airport so if I missed my german connection i’m sure there would be another possible route.

Plane selfie

Plane selfie

As it happens, I slept almost all of the Houston-Chicago flight as well, waking just before landing again.  I wish I could write a manual for how I do it, because i’m sure everyone would like to be able to do this – but I have no idea.  I think it’s a combination of being on far too many planes, and having a small body.

Knowing Chicago well, I was sad to see we arrived in the B gates and my connecting flight was departing from C…. this meant I had to tackle THE TUNNEL.  If you’ve been to Chicago, you’ll know what I mean. It’s a crazy underground tunnel which passes right under the jetway between the two terminals, and is decorated in horrible neon sculptures.  I RAN from B14 to C10, literally sprinting, and was pleased to make it to the gate before they started boarding the last group… I sat down in my seat, wondering if someone was also running with my bag.

We arrived early in Frankfurt, at 5:15am.  I have been to Frankfurt well over 30 times this year, and made it extremely quickly through immigration and into the executive lounge. Life was starting to feel a bit more normal now – croissant, coffee, yoghurt and familiar surroundings.

I headed to the gate a little early to enquire about my bag… had it made it?  I was told by the gate assistant that it had, and they were loading it onto the plane as we spoke.  Phew!  That would have been a frustrating end to the holiday, albeit an all too familiar situation for me.  Once we boarded the plane, I was surprised by just how quiet the flight was…. I guess a 7am departure from Frankfurt on a Monday isn’t a popular flight to Sweden.

Plane selfie

Plane selfie

On the last leg, I finished reading The Book Thief, which was a really well written and touching storyline.  I need to try and see the movie now, since it really intrigues me how you can create a movie covering such a broad timeline in a teenage life.

Landing in Gothenburg, I reflected that i’d last seen a bed at 7am two days before (this was now Monday morning, I had woken up on Saturday in Lima).  Thank god I can sleep on planes! It had somehow turned into Christmas time when we got to the terminal in Gothenburg, which kind of took me by surprise.  I wasn’t able to enjoy that though, since I felt pretty gross, and desperate for a shower, which is exactly what I did as soon as I got home.

Christmas in GOT

Christmas in GOT

Home… the end of the journey.

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Quest of the Gods – Day 13, Back to Lima

Sleeping in a sauna isn’t easy, and I woke up at 5am with a headache.  Feeling ready to start the day (we had to leave at 6 anyway), I got up and took a shower.  This was interrupted at 5:15am by the wake up call I had booked with the hotel – not ideal!  At around 5:30, I headed downstairs expecting a quiet breakfast but arrived into mayhem, as a large tour of french canadians were also leaving at 6am and the breakfast room was heaving.  I had a quick breakfast of cornflakes and yoghurt, before our departure at 6am to Juliaca.

The airport in Juliaca is tiny, with only two gates, and once again (as they did in Puerto Maldonado) they manually searched our checked bags with hands.  Everyone was pretty quiet/tired at this point.

Once through security, a local band piped up and tried to get us all to buy their CDs by playing very loudly at 6:30am… not the best sales pitch i’ve ever heard, and I quite honestly considered buying a CD to make them go away!

Boarding in Juliaca

Boarding in Juliaca

The flight was uneventful, except that Mike managed finally to get a photo of me sleeping (which I had prided myself on not doing the entire time we were travelling together!)

Once we arrived in Lima we were picked up by a local transfer, which just so happened to be Fantasy Transport… that amused me greatly, although it may have been the tiredness and altitude adjustment that made it seem funny.

Fantasy transport

Fantasy transport

We checked back into the Miraflores hotel we started at, and they had given me a suite!  We headed quickly back out from the hotel and split into two groups – Mike and Kirsten had a cooking lesson, so Steffi, Ruth and I headed to a local fish restaurant for lunch since they wanted to try Cebiche.

Asparagus risotto

Asparagus risotto

Cebiche, 4 ways

Cebiche, 4 ways

Cebiche and Sushi

Cebiche and Sushi

The Cebiche looked amazing but seafood is something I think i’ll never enjoy, even if I were to start eating meat again.  The thought of it kind of makes me feel strange!

After lunch we pottered around the shopping mall for a bit, which mainly had western brands.  Ruth found a book shop and bought a couple of cooking books, and then we headed for coffee in a coffee shop I had spotted the first time we were in Lima.

Arabica, amazing coffee

Arabica, amazing coffee

Arabica was my kind of mecca, with great coffee and quirky decor.  I could have wasted many days there, but sadly we only had time for one coffee.

Once we got back to the hotel I called (using a real phone!) United to try and adjust my flights.  Everyone else is leaving before 10am tomorrow, and my flight isn’t until 1am the next day!  Unfortunately there wasn’t a better flight option, so I chose to stay with the original plan which gives me a full day on my own in Lima.

With some effort, I managed to repack everything back into one bag which is great since lugging two bags around the world seemed to increase the risk of losing one of them quite considerably.

Successful, I met with Steffi for a couple of rounds of Shithead and Pisco sours in the hotel bar… I tried a Ginger infused Pisco which was amazing.  As the others became ready, they also joined us and we ended up with a big group game before meeting at 18:30 for taxis to our final dinner together in a Chifa restaurant.  Chifa is Peruvian style Chinese cuisine and Harold had (true to form) booked us a table at a really great restaurant (Madam Tusan).  Infact this place is known as one of the best in the country.

After sitting down for dinner, we ordered our food and were merrily making conversation when suddenly there was a rumble quickly followed by an extremely abrupt “everyone, get out now!” by Harold.  Half a second later, we felt a second rumble and this time there was no mistaking it – we were being hit by an earthquake!  We quickly made our way outside and explained what was happening to the rest of the group who were less aware of the tremor.  It was quite an exciting experience, but after a few minutes we were let back into the restaurant since things seemed to have quietened down.  Everyone stayed on edge for a few minutes though!

The food was great, with vegetarian fried rice and some braised tofu dishes along with amazing looking meat dishes.

Vegetarian fried rice

Vegetarian fried rice

Something with meat

Something with meat

Braised tofu

Braised tofu

After the main course we said a big thank you to Harold and gave him his appreciation for the amazing effort of the last two weeks.  We added a lot of jokes into his thank you card.

After receiving our tips, Harold told us his story: 7 years ago his parents house was hit by an earthquake.  He and his family were trapped underground for 20 minutes whilst the rubble trapped them, and since then he has been donating his tips to his parents to help them rebuild their lives.  Everyone felt very humbled hearing this, and i’m sure life in Peru is a lot harder than we have been led to believe.  We all promised to pass word to our friends about how amazing Peru is, since tourism is helping the country to develop.

Sobered, and humbled, we headed to a book store across the road where I bought a cooking book and then we jumped into a taxi to head to a water park for a night time fountain show which is kind of famous.  The taxi rides were hilarious, and I think we all put an extra effort into feeling good since it was the last night.

Taxi selfie

Taxi selfie

Fountain selfie

Fountain selfie

Fountain photo

Fountain photo

Arty fountain

Arty fountain

Beautiful fountain

Beautiful fountain

Fountain tunnel

Fountain tunnel

Group in the tunnel

Group in the tunnel

Steffi with lasers

Steffi with lasers

Laser show

Laser show

Laser show selfie

Laser show selfie

After the water park, we went back to the hotel in one taxi which was certainly intimate!  We sat down for a few final rounds of Shithead before bed, and made sure to exchange email addresses so we could keep in touch after departure tomorrow.  Ruth leaves at 7am, so we won’t be up to see her, but will make an effort to see Steffi, Mike, Kirsten and Harold before they all go their separate ways in the morning.

I went to bed reflecting on just what an amazing experience this had been.  More on that soon.

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Quest of the Gods – Day 2, Jungle

After dreaming excitedly of the jungle, I woke before my alarm at 5:45.  At 6:00, the planned wake up call came through and I prised myself out of bed to quickly shower and repack then head down for breakfast.  The breakfast was a buffet style and included in the price of the tour (as it will be throughout the tour) – I had some granola, a banana, some bread rolls and a glass of orange juice.

At 7:00 we met in the foyer of the hotel to head back to Lima airport in a transfer van.  The airport is about 70 minutes from the hotel, and during the van journey Harold gave us a brief guide to the history of Peru and spoke a lot about the troubles in the past, particularly when the van was driving through some rougher areas of Lima.  Harold distributed our boarding passes – we are travelling with Avianca who are a Star Alliance airline, so my United miles work for this trip too!  Harold had pre-selected seats for both flights, since we would fly first to Cusco and then stay on the same plane to Puerto Maldonado.  Puerto Maldonado is the gateway to the amazon basin and very close to the Brazil border, which makes it a pretty busy city by Peruvian standards.  When we landed at the airport we were the only plane on the tarmac, so it clearly isn’t that busy!

Plane selfie - Lima to Cusco

Plane selfie – Lima to Cusco

Plane Selfie - Cusco to Puerto Maldonado

Plane Selfie – Cusco to Puerto Maldonado

The first flight was uneventful, but late.  Or rather, running on Peruvian timing.  Once we landed in Cusco there were no gates free so we had to wait a while, and then wait whilst everyone deplaned, before we shifted to our second seats.  For the second flight Harold had arranged window seats for us all, so that we could watch the views of the river from the window.  Although we were visiting the Amazon basin, the river itself was the Tambopata river which is a tributary to the Amazon.  From the plane, it is one of the typical views of the Amazon basin – oxbow lakes, meanders, and huge amounts of vegetation. The second flight was short – only 30 minutes – and landing in Puerto Maldonado we could feel the excitement building.

The jungle from the plane

The jungle from the plane

Tambopata River from the plane

Tambopata River from the plane

After collecting our bags, we headed out of the airport to meet our local guide, Ronald (Ronny) who would be looking after us in the jungle.  We jumped onto a minibus and were taken to a small Gadventures office where we swapped out our big bags/suitcases for small duffle bags which we would take into the jungle (since the humidity is high and we don’t need all our clothes for the 2 nights in the jungle).  The repacking took 20 minutes and we had a chance to go to a local shop to buy ponchos, snacks, etc – I bought an ice cream!

Bus selfie

Once the bags were repacked, we got back onto the minibus for a 45 minute trip to the river.  The road was basic to say the least, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend the trip to anyone who gets motion sickness… bumpy, but amazing and we began wildlife spotting as we drove along.  At the port, we boarded the boat which would take us on a 2 1/2 hour journey into the amazon basin to the lodge.  It’s worth mentioning that the service level of the staff here is incredible – we didnt even carry our bags down to the boat –  the Gadventures staff did that for us!

Boat selfie

Boat selfie

Harold had warned us that we should have our eyes open as soon as we got onto the boat, and he wasn’t wrong – the wildlife spotting started almost immediately!  We saw vultures, monkeys and a giant guinea pig creature called a Capybara.  Every time the guides spotted something of interest they called the boat to a halt and we moved in close to take photos, and were given explanations of the habitat around the creatures too.  We also saw a basking turtle on a piece of wood, which was fascinating.

Capybaras

Capybaras

Turtle on some wood

Turtle on some wood

A family of monkeys

A family of monkeys

During the journey we were served a packed lunch – mine was mushrooms, vegetables and rice, together with two of the worlds smallest bananas!  Those bananas were so cute, and are available all the time in the lodge.

Smallest bananas ever!

Smallest bananas ever!

Vegetables and rice

Vegetables and rice

 

Shortly before arriving at the Tambopata Eco Lodge we saw a spectacular sunset, which felt very special with the river spread out infront of us.  Once we arrived, we headed up the river bank to the lodge and straight into the bar where we were served welcome cocktails of fruit juice and then were given 45 minutes to freshen up in our rooms before a slide show presentation.  The electricity is only on in the lodge from 5pm – 10pm, so this was also the chance to recharge our cameras for the nighttime activities.

Sunset on the Tambopata

Sunset on the Tambopata

The rooms are amazing in the lodge – I had half of the building to myself, and as you can see, it was a really special experience.  There’s no electricity at all in the buildings, so we had to use headtorches and candles for everything – even setting up the mosquito nets, which seemed quite dangerous to me!

My home for the 2 nights

My home for the 2 nights

After a quick freshen up, we met in the bar and ordered a round of Passion Sours before heading into the slide show presentation. The barmaid wasn’t the fastest, so Harold had to bring the cocktails in for us after the slideshow started, but again – the service level was impeccable.  Nothing was too much trouble, and there was no bitterness to us being late or an inconvenience by ordering drinks before an activity.  The slideshow was educational and gave us an idea of what we could expect to see over the next few days, including Caiman which are probably the most impressive creature which lives around the lodge.

After the slide show, we headed to the dinner hall for dinner which was served buffet style.  The lodge had been prepared for my vegetarian needs and Ronny saught me out to hand me a plate of vegetables as soon as I arrived.  The food was amazing, and Ronny told us that almost all of it was grown within 10 minutes of the lodge.  For dessert they served crepes, and on the table was purple corn juice (Chica Morada) which is a Peruvian speciality.

As soon as dinner was finished we prepared and headed out for the legendary “night walk”.  This is a walk in the dark using head torches and cameras to spot some of the night residents in the rainforest.  We only walked about 300 meters from the lodge, but we saw so many amazing creatures.  Check out the photos for just a few examples – some were way too fast or far away to take decent photos of!

Tiny lizard on a leaf

Tiny lizard on a leaf

Giant ant on a tree trunk

Giant ant on a tree trunk

A cricket

A cricket

Not even sure what this one is!

Not even sure what this one is!

A stick insect - not hiding well in the camera flash!

A stick insect – not hiding well in the camera flash!

Some sort of huge beetle

Some sort of huge beetle

A scary looking caterpillar

A scary looking caterpillar

Grasshopper, maybe?

Grasshopper, maybe?

Poisonous frog.  We know it was poisonous because it didn't run away when it saw us.

Poisonous frog. We know it was poisonous because it didn’t run away when it saw us.

A millipede

A millipede

A lizard thing with cool camouflage

A lizard thing with cool camouflage

 

After the night walk, to steady our neves we settled down for another Passion Sour (it would be rude not to, after all… it’s helping the local economy!) and reminisced about our first day of adventuring.

Once the cocktails dried up (the electricity got shut off), we headed to our cabins for bed time – preparing for bed by candllight was special, and getting into bed listening to the sounds of the jungle was an experience I will never forget.

The breakfast meeting was set at 6am the next day since we had a packed day of activities planned, so I drifted off to sounds of the jungle in fear of my 5am alarm! (No wake up calls provided in the cabins – there were no phones!)

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Quest of the Gods – Day 1, Lima

After an uncomfortable nights sleep on the plane, I woke around 7am to be fed a small plane breakfast.  We should have landed around 6:50am, but due to turbulance and a late departure (I don’t remember the departure, I was asleep before that) we were running a bit late.  After landing, the immigration was pretty quick and bags arrived safely.

After clearing customs I spotted a Gadventures guy with a sign with my name on it (I wish i’d remembered to take a photo of that!) and was led to a waiting minibus for my transfer to the hotel. I was the only guest arriving at that time, and the driver seemed to have a heavy foot – I swear we hit 160mph on the motorway between the Lima airport and the hotel.  The transfer took about an hour, and I arrived at the Hotel Antigua Miraflores, which is a really cute boutique hotel in the fashionable district in Lima.  Clearly the ‘Comfort’ tour was going to be nice!

Hotel Antigua Miraflores

Hotel Antigua Miraflores

Hotel Bar

Hotel Bar

As soon as I checked in I was informed that 2 others guests were waiting for me in the hotel lobby – Steffi, who I had been talking with on the Gadventures forum, and Ruth who had arrived on the same transfer as her.  I said a quick hello to them and then headed to my room for a shower, shave and change before we formed a group and went exploring to find breakfast since none of us had really eaten the plane breakfast.

We found a great little cafe where we all ordered breakfast – Steffi and I had Eggs Florentine with bread rolls, jam, glazed strawberries and a latte – it was great, and not too expensive at S27 ($10).

Breakfast, day 2 - with Ruth (left) and Steffi (right)

Breakfast, day 2 – with Ruth (left) and Steffi (right)

Feeling full, we started to explore Miraflores a little bit – including the nearby John F Kennedy Park, which was full of a community of wild cats who live there.  My second JFK in 24 hours! Around the edges of the park were zumba and spinning classes – clearly a fashionable and healthy neighbourhood.

Cats in the JFK park

Cats in the JFK park

Spinning class

Spinning class

My Lonely Planet guide to Peru had a suggested walking tour of Lima which we decided we’d like to do.  After consulting the hotel, they booked us a taxi to the start point and it arrived super quickly – at a cost of just S17 ($8.50) we rode for around 20 minutes into the city centre.  I love the Lonely Planet guides – they really do give a good insight into a city and the walking tour didn’t disappoint.

We visited:

Big square, old hotel

Big square, old hotel

Street full of shoe shops

Street full of shoe shops

Big church with fancy alters - mass was happening

Big church with fancy alters – mass was happening

Mass

Mass

More of the big church

More of the big church

Lots and lots of yellow buildings

Lots and lots of yellow buildings

Big square next to the presidents house

Big square next to the presidents house

Once we reached the big square it was clear there was “something going on”… Consulting the guide we found the footnote text that each day at 12:00 there is a changing of the guard parade outside the presidential house.  We joined the crowds and waited the 15 minutes until the parade started – it was an impressive display of horses and mounted band, and we got to see the Peruvian president (Ollanta Humala) and his family, all within 5 hours of landing in the country!

My best paparazzi shot

My best paparazzi shot

Changing of the guard

Changing of the guard

After the changing of the guard we headed towards the famous St. Francisco monastery and crypt, passing by a section of the city where you could see slums on the hillside.  At St. Francisco a mass was happening so we quietly walked around the church before signing up to an English guided tour.  You could say that we attended mass twice – which would beat my normal annual attendance figure by at least 2!

San Francisco (no golden gate bridge)

San Francisco (no golden gate bridge)

The guided tour was pretty interesting learning about St. Francisco (which was/is a monastery) and were shown a lot of their artworks, library and the crypt underneath the main building.  My favourite piece was a painting known as “The last supper with guineapigs”.  The painting is from the 17th century and really does feature guineapigs as a dish on the table – they’re a speciality in Peru (called Cuy) and the painting was done at the time when the Spaniards were converting Peru to Catholicism, so relating the food to their local foods made a lot of sense.

The Last Supper - Diego de la Puente

The Last Supper – Diego de la Puente

After the artwork, we were shown into the crypt which was really creepy – they estimate there could be as many as 25,000 bodies in there and many of them have been excavated so you can see the collections of similar bones arranged in very creepy forms.  They have recently added glass covers to the crypts since visitors were stealing the skulls!

Feeling a little light headed after such a visit, we decided lunch was in order.  Hard to believe it was only 13:00 and we had already visited mass twice, a park full of cats, a street full of shoe shops, watched the changing of the guard, seen the peruvian president and 25,000 dead bodies!

Inca Kola

Inca Kola

Lunch was a simple vegetable soup for me, whilst Ruth opted to order an Inca Kola (the local preferred soft drink… a horrible flourescent yellow colour which is full of artificial flavours and colours, but it actually not that bad to drink).  Steffi was feeling braver – she ordered a Pisco Sour (the local preferred cocktail… Pisco, Sugar Syrup, Lime juice and Egg White, with a drop of bitters added).  We all enjoyed trying peruvian style drinks, and the Pisco Sour in particular went down well.  I expect we’ll try one or two more, just to check we really do like them… you understand!

After lunch the walking tour suggested we head towards a market area, which we did but quickly left when we discovered the strong fish smell near the entrance – I think we were all still feeling quite light headed after the crypt.  We headed into China Town in Lima which was bustling full of people since it was a Sunday afternoon.  It was great to see so many people out and about, as the city had felt kind of empty when we started the tour.

After browsing China town for a while we decided to get a taxi back to the hotel as the walking tour was over. We had been advised only to get into ‘legitimate’ taxis, but not given much advice about how to tell which were legitimate and which weren’t.  We ended up walking a few kms around the streets to find a taxi, and ended up with a driver who bartered the price before we got in.  We ended up paying S18 ($9) to get back to the hotel and although the driver knew where we were going, he did keep asking for the address again and again!

Once we got back to the hotel, one thing was evident… sunburn!  Stupidly none of us had considered the beautiful warm weather, since it was grey and cloudy when we left the hotel.  We all felt the effects and a soothing cold shower at least helped to stem the burning in the short term.

Sunburn!

Sunburn!

I settled down in the hotel bar with a cup of loose leaf tea (a blend of Green, Black and Strawberry flavours) to relax before meeting the rest of our group at 19:00.  The notice pinned to the wall in the hotel gave all of our names, so there was much speculation about the other names to try and figure out who we would be travelling with!  The good news was that there were only 7 names listed, and by this point we already knew 3!

We decided to check out the Chocolate Museum which is extremely close to the hotel.  The museum was tiny, but they greeted us warmly with mugs of Chocolate Tea, and a guided tour in english of the chocolate making process.  It was interesting to see everything done small scale – the rooms were no bigger than my living room at home but they featured the whole chocolate making process.  Maybe I should convert my living room… yum!

Chocolate Fondue

Chocolate Fondue

We sat down and ordered a chocolate fondue which was devine and a great way to get to know Steffi and Ruth better – shared food always helps conversation!

After filling ourselves with more calories, we decided to go back to Miraflores square (JFK park) since it seemed to be a hive of activity and we still had a couple of hours before the meeting.  We heard music and went to investigate and were greeted with a public dance event – lots of older couples dancing to ballroom tracks in the centre of the square.  It was a beautiful event and loads of people were watching.  Around the outside of the park was an art gallery of artists displaying their work for sale, and we spent a happy 45 minutes looking at all the different styles of Peruvian art.

Peruvian Tea Dance

Peruvian Tea Dance

Art on sale

Art on sale

On the way back to the hotel, we discovered a Christmas shop and Steffi made out with a reindeer.

Steffi's new boyfriend

Steffi’s new boyfriend

Finally it was time for our meeting, and we gathered in the hotel lobby to meet our guide and the others on the tour.  Gadventures allow upto 16 people on the trips, so we had all feared being part of a big group.  No need to fear – we only had 7, and our guide Harold introduced us to the tour in a really friendly way.  Harold has a huge smile and put us all at ease immediately.  As well as me, Steffi and Ruth there are two couples on our tour – Al & Asfia, and Mike & Kirsten – both of whom are on their honeymoon!  So it looks like Steffi, Ruth and I are likely to be hanging out as a group of 3 quite often!

The briefing was very exciting and Harold had produced little spreadsheets with all the details we needed, day by day.  The way he talks about all of the trip whet my apetite and I was so excited to get started!  It’s amazing the level of detail that Gadventures go to – even pre-selecting our seats on the internal flights to make sure we get the best view of whilst travelling across the country.  It really feels like i’ll be able to relax on this trip, knowing that all those little details are being taken care of.

No detail left untouched

No detail left untouched

True to the above form, Harold had booked a table for us at a local outdoor restaurant – and we were presented with Pisco Sours as soon as we sat down (my second taste already, and it’s still day one!).  I followed up by ordering a Passion Sour (which is a Pisco Sour made with Passion Fruit Juice instead of Lime Juice) and was handed a special vegetarian menu that the restaurant had arranged “for Gadventures”.   These guys clearly have influence in this country!  I ordered a vegetarian fried rice, and we chatted a lot.  It was great to start to get knowing everyone, and after dinner Harold reminded us that we were planning to meet at 7am to depart for our first part of the adventure – a trip to the amazon rainforest!

Dinner as a group - from left: Asfia, Me, Ruth, Harold, Steffi, Kirsten, Michael

Dinner as a group – from left: Asfia, Me, Ruth, Harold, Steffi, Kirsten, Michael

Since I am the only single guy travelling on the trip, my itinerary has been upgraded to give me a single room to myself throughout the trip – a $600 upgrade!

Pretty chandelier in the hotel

Pretty chandelier in the hotel

Arty shot of the hotel bar

Arty shot of the hotel bar

We headed to bed early, with Harold booking 6am alarm calls for us all… we didn’t even have to pick up the phone to arrange it!  I slept, dreaming of jungle adventures!

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Quest of the Gods – Day 0, Departure

The day was finally here… November 1st, at 4:00am, my alarm sounded.  Time to depart on the biggest adventure of my life. Excited didn’t even begin to cover it.  I jumped out of bed, had the worlds quickest shower and prepared for my 4:30 taxi.  As always, my taxi was late arriving due to my address being impossible to find unless you live there.  Basically my apartment is one street but the address is of another street (the next one over).  They always screw it up, so I wasn’t surprised to be carrying my bag down the hill to meet the driver.

After a quick check-in process at Gothenburg Landvetter airport, I settled down to buy breakfast – I was too early for the lounge to be open!  Breakfast was a cheese sandwich, yoghurt and a latte.  Decent food, although at 5am anything tastes okay, I think.

Breakfast

 

I played my usual trick of waiting by the gate (since the lounge was closed) and was rewarded by being first on the plane – a nice feeling and small reward for my 100,000+ miles a year!  Whilst waiting to board, I was amazed to notice that everyone was staring at their phones like zombies.  Normally I wouldn’t pick up on this, but being phone-less made me much more observant (and possibly jealous?).  I guess most people look like zombies before 6am anyway.

Once onboard, I was seated in my ‘usual’ seat, 8A, and settled in for a quick selfie before a micro-nap on the first leg of the flight – Lufthansa hop to Frankfurt.

The first of many selfies

The flight was pretty uneventful, but when we landed in Frankfurt the fog was intense!  After a quick bus transfer to the terminal, I made my way to the lounge in International Departures (Z gates) – I’m always amazed at how quickly you can get through Frankfurt airport if you’re lucky.

Sunrise between GOT and FRA

Fog in Frankfurt airport

Once through Frankfurt I found the United counter in the lounge and was issued with my boarding pass for the second flight – complete with the magic ‘SSSS’ mark which, the lady warned me, means that I was randomly selected for extra security screening.  I was warned to be at the gate ‘at least 30 minutes’ before boarding time, since this process ‘can take some time’ and ‘we wont wait for you’.  Great.  So much for a chill out in the departure lounge.  I did manage to squeeze in a second coffee (4am start!) and some cookies before I had to head to the gate for the screening.

Randomly selected for security screening

Second coffee of the day

The security screening turned out to be pretty quick – they gathered a bunch of us together and asked us to come to a seperate secreening areas.  There we were asked to switch on all our electronic devices (for me, that was only my camera) and then we were allowed back to the gate to board the plane first.  I have no problem with security screening since I would definitely prefer that to any problems when the plane is in the air!

We were boarded via a bus (Frankfurt has a tendancy to do this even for bigger flights), and our bus seemed to get lost during the journey to the gate (possibly due to the fog?).  Even so, I took my seat pretty quickly and it was time for another selfie.

Selfie #2

Selfie #2

 

I love the United trans-atlantic service, not because its particularly good but i’m so familiar with it that I could basically recite the inflight announcements all the way through the flight.  Our departure was delayed by almost an hour due to the fog in Frankfurt, which didn’t bode well for my 1h30 connection in Newark.  Still, it’s a nice long flight so time to relax and enjoy some movies.  During the 10 hour flight I watched:

  • A fault in our stars – which made me cry, and was definitely a beautiful movie
  • 22 Jump Street – which was really boring, just like 21 jump street
  • Happy Christmas – which was weird, and made me uncomfortable because Anna Kendrick played a happy character instead of a grumpy businesswoman as she is typecast
  • Earth to Echo – which I couldn’t decide if it was a kids or grown ups movie.  For a kids movie, there was a lot of swearing, but the plot and style really didn’t cater to adults.

I also watched the obligatory “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” which they always have on the United inflight entertainment.  My dinner was served and it was basically Mushrooms and Rice, which meant for me that my dinner was Rice.  Oh well, you can’t win everything.

Due to the foggy departure, we ended up landing in Newark 35 minutes late, leaving me with just 55 minutes to get through immigration, collect my bags, progress through customs, re-check my bags, obtain my boarding pass for the connecting flight, change terminal and go through security, then board the flight.  As you’ve probably already guessed, that didn’t happen – I gave it a damn good go, but when I got to the check-in counter for my connecting flight it was already closed. I was pretty fed up at that point and shouted a bit to the guy at the counter, who helpfully told me to go bother someone else since he didn’t work for Avianca.

I eventually made my way to the United service counter, since I booked the flight with United, and they started by offering me a ticket on the same flight a day later… uh no!  “I’m not misssing the start of a vacation I have been waiting for for 6 months” I told them, and started to throw a frequent flier fit (FFF?) – I was rewarded with a more senior agent at the desk who was able to rebook me onto a flight with LAN Peru directly to Lima, leaving New York later that day.  The problem: the flight was leaving from JFK and I was at Newark.  Luckily the United lady was on my side and even issued me a voucher for the taxi fare, and a meal voucher to cover my meal in Newark before I left.  Being a frequent flier REALLY helps in these sort of situations – the taxi alone was $95, more than i’d paid for my ticket (since I used airmiles!).

Newark to JFK

Newark to JFK

Using my $7 meal voucher I invested in piles of bad food, since I had eaten so badly on the plane over.

Pizza, Mac and Cheese and a Protein drink

The next challenge, I realised, was to contact Gadventures to let them know my arrival plans had changed – I was scheduled to arrive at 2:05am, and i’m pretty sure whoever was going to meet me wouldn’t want to sit at the airport until my new arrival at 6:50am!  No problem, I thought…. i’ll call the US toll free number from a payphone.  Oh.  Payphones.  Do they even still exist?!  Well, the answer was yes, and I actually got to use 3 different ones before I managed to get through to Gadventures.  Clearly the phones aren’t well managed on a Saturday!

Payphone Selfie

I did find myself thinking that this problem would have been so much easier if I was holding a mobile phone in my hand, but I was determined not to let it bug me – I ended up changing some $1 bills into quarters and using coins to call the Peruvian office who answered immediately and were very helpful.  My flight change was no problem, and all I had to do was cross New York in a taxi and wait in JFK for 6 hours.  The taxi ride was uneventful, although we did get to see a great sunset over the Brooklyn bridge.

Sunset over Brooklyn

Sunset over Brooklyn

One advantage of this little detour is that I got to experience JFK – I’ve never flown through there, since it’s not a United hub.  I have to say I was pretty impressed with it, although it was  like almost every other US airport, with a Starbucks, Auntie Annes and a Hudson News… the US airports have so little local character (at least Hudson News is relevant in New York, I suppose).

At this point i’d been on the go almost 20 hours and still hadn’t boarded my flight from Lima – despite a coffee, pretzel and lemonade, I was feeling exhausted (maybe from all the carbs!) so as soon a I boarded my flight to Lima, I snapped a final selfie and settled in for the long night flight to Peru.  I had basically the worst seat on any plane – the non-reclining, back row, next to the toilet seat.  But it was a seat, and I was finally on the way, and I was so excited for the true adventure to begin!

Final day one selfie… tired!

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Three Perfect Days – Lima

I’m a United frequent flier, which means I generally spend a disproportionate amount of time reading their inflight magazine, Hemispheres.

Three Perfect Days - Lima

Every month they run a feature called “Three perfect days” and in May they featured Lima!  I was really excited to read this, since it was just after i’d booked the trip to Peru!

Take a read – it sounds like an awesome place!  Wish I ate fish and meat though – so many amazing culinary delights! http://www.hemispheresmagazine.com/2014/05/01/three-perfect-days-lima/

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My travel route to Peru

I booked my trip to Peru using air miles, which means my options were pretty restricted when it comes to which route I could take.  United, who I carry my loyalty with, offered me the routing:

Gothenburg – Frankfurt – Newark – San Salvadore – Lima

Lima – Houston – Chicago – Frankfurt – Gothenburg

It’s kind of insane, but it’s a lot cheaper to use air miles on a trip like this than to book it directly.  So by the time I get to Lima I will have spent 25 hours on planes, and face the same on the way home.  Not unusual for me, but still… adventure starts a long way from home!

Flight Route Map

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