March of the Penguins

Click on a photo below and scroll through to see our day of penguins.


Three weeks ago, we arrived in Puerto Madryn, Argentina just in time to see the molting Magellanic penguins at Punta Tomba reserve on the Peninsula Valdez. It was strange that the day was so warm and the beaches so sunny.   After Tierra del Fuego, we expected to see penguins while wrapped in ten layers of warm clothing. But it was beach weather, and the penguins just wanted to play in the water and hang out in shady spots (They particularly like to gather under the footbridges.)   It was incredible to be able to see so many penguins.   These are the last weeks here, as they finish molting and ready themselves to head north and follow the anchovies to warmer water.

In addition to all the penguins, we got to see a Choique (Darwin’s Rea), an ostrich-like bird, as well as several Guanaco, who seem to like hanging at the preserve where they are far from hunters. We felt really lucky–it was a very special day, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.   Enjoy the pictures!



The end of the world-Tierra del Fuego

We landed in Ushuaia, Argentina after cruising some amazing territory.

The highlight here was our trip to Tierra del Fuego National Park, after a drive through the Pipo River Valley. The park was created to protect the southern portion of sub-Antarctic forest. It rambles through the Andes and the region’s forests, rivers, lakes and peat bogs. We saw some gorgeous scenery, although the weather wasn’t great for bird-watching. But we did see an Andean Condor as well as crested ducks and brown pintails. We encountered quite a few of the endemic Fuegian red fox, too. The Pan American highway ends here–it begins in Alaska. I wonder how many have traveled its length through two continents? I’m not sure that will ever have a place on our bucket list—that’s a long road trip!

Here everything is the “southernmost” — the “fin del mundo” (end of the world) is definitely something locals brag about. We sent post cards from the southernmost post office at Lapataia Bay (actually postmark of “fin del mundo”) We passed through the southernmost settlements, saw the southernmost rugby and soccer fields, the southernmost golf course, and drank our southernmost glass of wine. It was pretty cold, this close to Antarctica, but not too bad, at least not after a New England winter.

And when we sailed away, we were rewarded with a beautiful rainbow over the water. Unforgettable.

After leaving Ushuaia, we rounded Cape Horn—the southern tip of South America. The weather wasn’t clear, but the winds were friendly enough for us to circle past twice—from east to west and then back around west to east–a very nice thing for the captain to do. Sadly, the photos don’t do it justice but you get the idea.

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Through the Straits of Magellan…

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The voyage through the Straits of Magellan to Punta Arenas was incredible. Hard to believe these waters were navigated in small sailboats back in the 16th century—truly amazing.   The fog was too thick to really see the Amalia Glacier, but it was still thrilling to be in these waters, to slip in between glaciers and through fjords on our way to Argentina.

Punta Arenas,our last stop in Chile, was an affluent Belle Epoque city back in the 19th century. Until the Panama Canal was completed, it was a transportation hub, and the robust Patagonian wool trade created wealth for many families.  The European style of the city is apparent in its center at the Plaza de Armas, and the architecture is stunning. We visited one of the mansions created during that time–the Palacio Sara Braun at the Plaza Muños Gamero.   At the main square, we stopped into the Cathedral, where the bishop was celebrating a special mass for the sailors who were in town—and there were lots of them.   South American naval academies from Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Columbia were all in town on this day, midway through their around-the-world sailing voyage.   This elite group of young sailors were happy to welcome visitors, pose for pictures, and swap travel stories—great fun!

Then we were off to continue our own adventure—through the Beagle Channel and Glacier Alley to Ushuaia, Argentina. We had wonderful weather in port, but sadly, it was mostly cloudy and overcast in the channels—so the photos don’t really do justice to the glaciers and beautiful channels.   But enjoy the photos anyway!

Puerto Chacabuco, Chile – the middle of nowhere!

…but the natural beauty was worth the trip.   After sailing out of Puerto Montt , through the Golfo De Ancud and into the Canal Moraleda, we got here–to the middle of nowhere.  So we visited the Aiken del Sur Private Park in the forests of Patagonia. Although the weather was damp, the wild fuschia was in bloom, the waterfall (Barba del Viejo or “Old Man’s Beard”) was running, of course, and we didn’t get rained on. The park rangers treated us to some empanadas, cheeses, and sweets, not to mention Chilean wine and Pisco sours, topped off by adorable folkloric dance performance by local school children.   Cute!

Now for a few days of sailing through the Chilean fjords and down to Punta Arenas. The weather may not be the best for viewing (or photographing) these natural wonders, but we’ll find a way to have fun!
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Waterfalls and Volcanoes in Patagonia.

Click on a thumbnail photo and scroll through slideshow using the arrows to see what we saw.


It was smooth sailing, literally, to Puerto Montt, Chile.  A transportation hub in Patagonia, it’s the best way to get to Chiloé and several other points of interest in the area.   Since we only had a day, we stayed local and visited the gorgeous rapids and waterfalls of the Petrohué River at V. Perez Rosales National Park, the lovely “city of roses” of Puerto Rava, beautifully situated on Lake Llanquhue, and then headed to the Osorno Volcano for a little hike. This time, we weren’t hiking up an active Volcano, so it was a little different from our experience in Sicily—but still exciting because of the incredibly beautiful views. As usual, the weather gods smiled upon us, and the dense cloud cover lifted as we reached the top of the volcano.   How lucky we were! We enjoyed a great lunch right across from the lake. It actually reminded us of Tahoe, enormous, peaceful, and deep blue.  What a beautiful part of the world!



Viña and Valpo

Valparaiso/how absurd/you are,/what a lunatic,/crazy port/what a head–

rolling hills,/disheveled, you never/finished combing your hair,/you’ve never/had time/to get dressed,

life has/always/surprised you

–translated from Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to Valparaiso”


After reluctantly leaving Santiago, we took a quick bus ride to Vina del Mar.   I had been here before, but way back in the days when Pinochet was in power—there were curfews and armed guards at every corner.  But I do have fond memories of the beautiful beaches and elegant clubs in Vina del Mar, and the bustle and artistic culture of its sister city Valparaiso.   Today, many things were as I remembered, some things were exciting and new, but sadly, much of these lovely cities seemed to me victims of neglect and disrepair.

I remember Viña del Mar as an elegant beach resort, but it just looked a bit seedy to me this time. (Perhaps this is because we visited in the shoulder season, after the city folk have gone back home.)   Nevertheless, the beaches are still gorgeous, although the water was way too cold for swimming, even for New Englanders.

When we moved on to Valparaiso, the colorful bustling nature of the city remains unchanged. Also unchanged, unfortunately, was the infrastructure, meaning it hasn’t been updated or improved.   The streets and sidewalks were broken, the wiring and plumbing still dragging remnants of the 1950’s, and the famous acensors of Valparaiso, those rickety old funicular/elevators that carry people up and down the many hills are fewer every year. As they break down they don’t seem to get repaired. Of the original 18, only about 7 are in working order today.

Still, there were some highlights. For me, the first was Neruda’s home up on the hill in Valparaiso—La Sebastiana. This was not open in Pinochet’s days—the poet’s political activism did not endear him with the dictator.  As we learned in Santiago, today Pablo Neruda is beloved throughout Chile, and his spirit is so apparent in the port city.   It was wonderful to visit the home and see his eclectic collections of art, nautical objects, sculpture, and trinkets. The home is in the Cerro Bellavista neighborhood, as is the Museo a Cielo Abierto (Museum of the Open Sky) a museum of murals from the 1960’s and 70’s. Sadly, the Acensor Espiritu Santo, the oldest in the city, was not open due to a recent accident. A small translated excerpt of Neruda’s poem, “Oda a Valparaiso” is this post’s epigraph. What he says of the port city still is true today–she hasn’t even had time to get dressed. (She hasn’t bathed in a long time either.)

That said, the arts scene is amazing. The city has always had a great polychromatic palette, mostly from the corrugated metal and paint salvaged from the port to shore up homes on the hills.  Today, the colors are everywhere. Instead of fighting the graffiti artists’ impulse to cover the surfaces with their original work, the city and its people have embraced and encouraged street art.   This has resulted in an embarrassment of riches all over Valparaiso.  Instead of “tagging” buildings, there is a mutual respect for those who paint  on the buildings, benches and stairways. Apparently, the best way to avoid having someone “tag” your building is to have a mural covering it. Nobody defiles a wall that has been thoughtfully painted.

Naturally we also enjoyed some typical Chilean food and some great, inexpensive Chilean wines while we were here.   Some of our favorite dishes are “Machas a la Parmesana” (gratin of razor clams with cheese), or corvina and eel served a thousand different ways. We had a wonderful dinner at Café Vinilo, on the restaurant row of the Cerro Alegre neighborhood, Almirante Montt . The chef, Gonazalo Lara, who also leads culinary tours and classes in Valparaiso, prepareds innovative and delicious game dishes.   They are also well-known for exotic ice creams, made from everything from local fruits I’ve never heard of, to corn and black olives.

The slide show will show some snapshots of the street art we passed in our wanderings. These are the images and colors that stay with us. Next, we board a ship which will take us to Patagonia, and will sail through the Straits of Magellan and around Cape Horn.   Looking forward to some adventures!

Click on any thumbnail image and toggle through to view the pictures.   Enjoy!

Capital times in Santiago,Chile

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After a long delay in Lima, our plane finally took off for Santiago. We were a bit concerned since multiple delays meant landing at about 4 a.m.   But we called our hostal and let them know we’d be delayed; they assured us someone answers the bell 24/7—we crossed our fingers.   When we arrived, after taking the very reasonably priced airport shuttle service for a half-hour drive, we were exhausted.   We walked up to the door, the shuttle driver took off without waiting, and there was a scribbled paper sign —“Bell does not work, please pull string gently.”   This did not give us a good feeling. You can imagine how happy we felt to see Sebastian’s smiling face, in spite of the hour. The makeshift bell works perfectly well, and this place, Hostal Rio Amazonas, was one of the favorite placeswe’ve been on this trip.   The rooms were spacious and quiet, bathrooms modern, the building and common spaces just adorable and full of great original art, with a gorgeous central courtyard, high-speed free WI-Fi and a cute little bar with use of their computers if needed.   We met travelers from all over the world–some RV’ers, some bikers, (both motor and pedal), some “flexitarians” like us who drive, fly, cruise, hike, or whatever works.   It was fun at breakfast swapping tips and travel stories with our fellow gypsies.   And once again, we came to realize that we have barely traveled compared to the year-long treks of some of these people from every stage of life—20’s, 30’s all the way up to 70’s.   This is NOT the seedy European youth hostel of our youth—this is just a nice informal lodging, but with a much lower price tag. So many people just trade in their worldly encumbrance for wings—it’s hardly unique.

We didn’t know for sure until morning that we’d won the location lottery—this spot was absolutely ideal for us! But now for the real meat of the story—Santiago itself.   I’d been to Chile before, but never to Santiago, except for airport stops.   We absolutely adored this very cosmopolitan city. We found it to be clean, safe, super-friendly, and really easy to navigate.   We did the usual tourist circuit.

Day one, sleep deprived, what does one really wish for? Not teaming noise and traffic, that’s for sure. Again, our good luck held out, as the South American Xgames were taking place that first day, so the streets were closed to traffic so that bicycle races could take place.   It made it so much easier to walk into the city center, and to visit the Mercado Central where the daily catch of fish is hauled in for retail, restaurants, and wholesalers.   It’s essential for us to visit a market in every city, as we’re all about the food and the wine.   This did not disappoint. There are 10 or 15 restaurants right in the market, and when you order, they go to the fishmonger’s stall, pick out the fish, walk it across the way to the open-sided cooking area, and then drop it off at the table.   Not elegant, but wow, is it yummy! A fish lover’s paradise, and the gorgeous Chilean whites from the Casablanca Valley are perfect with this simple food.

Ascending Cerro Cristobál, the hill in the Bellavista neighborhood overlooking the entire city of Santiago, gave us a sense of the enormous and beautiful the landscape in the city and its surrounds.   We walked for miles, visiting the Catedral Metropolitana, the underground art spaces, the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes (fine arts and contemporary arts museums are housed there–free on Sunday, which was our arrival day—yeah!).

We even had a chance to visit wineries without even leaving Santiago.   The wonderful staff at our hostal gave us detailed directions by Metro and brief (inexpensive) taxi rides to reach two wineries–the enormous Concha y Toro winery, which gives an excellent tasting and tour of both vineyard and cellars , and the Cousino Macul winery. In between, we had a fabulous lunch at La Vaquita Echa in Pirque.    It was a long walk from the winery, and we kept asking locals how much farther.   Each one gave the same answer “about 300 meters on the right.”   Three THOUSAND meters later, we got there–but it was worth every step for the traditional Chilean barbecue. There was music and dancing and a great rustic setting—a terrific afternoon just outside of the city proper.

Back in Santiago the next day, we visited La Chascona, the house of Pablo Neruda, which had special meaning to me as a lifelong lover of his poetry.   The entire neighborhood of Bella Vista seems dedicated to Neruda—the restaurants and bars quote him on their menus and walls, photos and memorabilia of Neruda’s days in Santiago are displayed everywhere. Apparently, when he was in residence with his love Matilde nicknamed “La Chascona” (the disheveled one), they had an “open door” policy. Anyone who wondered by was welcomed, and it became Santiago’s version of the wine-fueled bohemian and intellectual drawing room that Gertrude Stein created in Paris. It had an amazing vibe just being among their collections of objects and this quirky and original home. We were especially fond of the portrait of Matilde by Diego Rivera. Neruda is really beloved in Santiago and throughout Chile, and that warmth was palpable in the actual rooms where he made one of his homes.

Since we were staying right on the border between the Centro and the Barrio Bellavista, we had a chance to walk to everything we wanted to see.   And Bellavista has the best restaurant and bar scene. We enjoyed an incredible performance by Hugo Cruz at La Casa en al Aire, is one of the most soulful Tango singers you can imagine–he literally gave us chills.   We also enjoyed Galindo, a great gastropub packed with late-night revelers and serving amazing food. The slide show includes a photo of us enjoying a bottle of “Cristal” at a sidewalk café. ( Not the French champagne Cristal of our New York expense-account days. ) This is the local beer, selling for 1500 Chilean pesos a Litre!($3US) The most popular bar in Bellavista was “Harvard,” aka “The Harvard Club.” This cracked us up; it was full from noon to 3 am, mostly with students from the 5 local Universities.   We took a picture but didn’t light there; we definitely would have raised the average age.   One other happy coincidence—we were in Santiago for the Presidential inauguration.   Since term limits are for only four consecutive years, the conservative president is leaving and the socialist president is taking another shot at it—she served four years ago.   They seem to be alternating, and can do so indefinitely.   But it did my heart good to this peaceful, uneventful transition of power,( especially since the last time I was in Chile, there was serious political unrest and a midnight curfew)—a profound improvement for this wonderful country.

On our last day in Santiago, we took the Metro to the Barrio Brasil, an up and coming neighborhood that reminded us of New York’s Soho or maybe Tribeca, back in the 1970’s or early 80’s. This fringe neighborhood is full of galleries , creative spaces, antiques stores, and street art- fun to visit.   We discovered “La Peluqueria Francesa” –the French Barbershop—rumored to have been created for Napolean when this neighborhood was a French quarter.   I’m not sure the history is true, but it is a fun, quirky restaurant/bar/barber/antiques store.   Even finding the restroom (disguised by an armoire entry) was entertaining. And the seafood chupe we had was really rich and quite memorable, as was our server Julian, a young Frenchman married to a Chilena, so proud of this special place.

Next trip—and we’re certain we will be coming back to Chile—we’ll visit the ski resorts and the Atacama desert.   But for this trip, we headed to the coast and then down to Patagonia for the glaciers, volcanoes, penguins and guanacos. More Chilean adventures to follow!

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Machu Picchu – finally!

Ten years ago, we had booked a trip to Machu Picchu.  We planned to hike the Inca trail to the site and stop in other Sacred Valley sites along the way.    That happened to be about the time that things took a turn, and economic “uncertainty” caused us to cancel the trip.   (No worries, they let us apply the deposit to a much more economical trip—and we ended up kayaking in the Sea of Cortez the following year—not too shabby!)   In any case, it took us these ten years to finally get to Machu Picchu, long near the top of our bucket list.

Since it is now ten years, one bad knee and one bad hip later, we didn’t hike the entire way on the Inca Trail.   We took the combination bus/train route from Cusco, and all of our hiking took place in the ruins themselves.   Perhaps it’s because getting here was a dream deferred, but it was magnificent, gorgeous, and almost overwhelming.    When we arrived it began to pour heavy rain, and we thought our good traveler’s luck had let us down.  But after the extremely scary bus ride in the rain from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu—about 20 minutes of sheer terror—we got to the gateway just as the clouds started to lift and the sun came out.

The astounding scenery of the cloud forest and the mysterious ‘lost city of the Incas,’ about which we still know very little, was well worth the wait.  No more chatter.  Just enjoy the photos.

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High on Cusco

Even before the plane started its decent for Cusco, we could see the tops of mountains that appeared to be level with the airplane windows.   Everyone talks about how high it is in Cusco—but until you’re there, it’s just talk.  At 3,399 meters (11,152 feet), it’s about as high as we’ve ever been without ascending a mountain by trail or chairlift.   So many warned us about altitude sickness, but we both had barely any problem, aside from a little shortness of breath the first day and a mild headache. I had a prescription for Diamox, but decided not to take it after I read the contraindications.  We followed the popular advice for altitude sickness:

1 – drink plenty of water – check!

2–get enough rest and take naps – check!

3—drink lots of coca tea – check!

4—move a little slower – check!

5 – don’t drink alcohol…er…four out of five ain’t bad, right?

Our time in Cusco was brief but eventful.  We visited the Cathedral, and really enjoyed the leadership of Mario, a very knowledgeable local guide.  Wandering the town of Cusco itself was fun, in spite of having to thread through a gauntlet of locals hawking everything from tours to shoe shines, massages to banquets…tourism is big business in Cusco.

Speaking of business, I have to mention the Hotel Casablanca.  It is a very inexpensive budget hotel in a central locaction in the village of Cusco.  The rooms are clean and perfectly nice, with private baths, hot water, cable TV.  There was even a high-speed internet connection, something I never expected in a town where so many of the local people still dress in traditional costumes and carry heavy loads up and down the mountains on their backs.   At times it looks like it could be 500 years ago—and then somebody pulls out their iphone, and the illusion is broken.   The owner of the hotel, Juan, is in his 70’s and moves and speaks very slowly…but he is the most helpful person we’ve ever encountered in our travels.   Not only did he pick us up at the airport, he drove us around a bit first so that we’d have the lay of the land.  In addition to the usual advice about altitude, he had the staff carry our bags upstairs, even our day packs, lest we suffer from altitude sickness, and they immediately served us coca tea in our room.

On the day we traveled to Machu Picchu from Cusco, Juan checked our tickets to be sure we knew the how’s and where’s of getting there—Peru rail, combination train and bus.  Since there is more than one station in Cusco, and the arrangements can be complicated, he not only had a taxi waiting to take us to the station at 5:30 a.m, he was up waiting for us in the lobby, and accompanied us in the taxi to be sure we got off without any problems.  Really sweet!   When it was time to leave Cusco, his daughter, Rocio, checked on our flights and printed our boarding passes without our asking.   The staff brought us tea, water, and served a breakfast of our choosing each morning.   We really thought we felt like part of the family–this was a budget hotel with 5-star service.

We enjoyed lots of things about Cusco.   Not least was a fabulous dinner at Cicciolina, near the Cathedral.  Great service and outstanding cuisine at a fair price.

On the main avenue, Avenida del Sol, the  stonework of Qorinkancha, an ancient Inca temple once completely covered in gold, stands as the foundation of the church of Santo Domingo, built on the spot–after removing the gold, of course

We also love to visit markets, and the market of San Pedro is fascinating for the produce, meats, breads, cheeses, and for the native Andean people who bring their goods to sell there.   Watermelon is in season, and we saw people munching on big hunks of melon nearly everywhere we went.

Just strolling through the village was a lovely experience, with extraordinary views of the sky and mountains at every turn.  On our last day, we stopped for coffee at the Plaza de Armas, the main square where the Cathedral stands.   While we were sitting and sipping, there were two groups celebrating The International Day of the Woman.   One group gave out purple ribbons, carried purple balloons, and insisted in giving out “abrazos – gratis” (free hugs) to every woman they saw.   A little weird if you’re not accustomed to embracing strangers on the street.  The second group was a bit older on average, with about a 50/50 mix of modern and traditional native attire worn by the participants.   They played drums and carried signs protesting poor treatment of women and workers, as well as lies and corruption of government and politicians. I think they might be called “Occupy the Andes.”   It made for a colorful morning.

Of course, Cusco is the starting point for most people going to Machu Picchu, either by hiking trails, or by rails or roads.   That experience, and the corresponding photos, will have to wait for another post.  Enjoy the pics—click on one and toggle through using the arrows to see the slide show.

Once in love with Lima

(To view as a slide show, click on an image below and toggle through using arrows)

The first stop on our South American tour was Lima, Peru.We stayed in a small hotel in Miraflores, and having arrived very late at night, we had no idea that the city was such a roiling, bustling, crazy anthill. Thinking that we would move around town by foot or by public transportation, as we usually do, we found ourselves absolutely confounded by the bus system. There are private and public buses, electric buses, vans and mini-vans, and I am in awe of anyone who can figure out who goes where, when, and for what price. Intimidated, we walked in Miraflores instead, and when we went to central Lima, we took a taxi. We were happy to discover that: a) distances are far greater than one expects and b) taxies are dirt cheap. We had a great few days in Lima, and every person we encountered was friendly and helpful.
Why begin in Lima? We have always wanted to visit Machu Picchu, and so would have to fly into Lima before heading to Cusco and then Aguas Calientes in order to go to the famous site. But, to anyone who has met us, you will not be surprised to hear that the burgeoning culinary scene in Peru was an equally compelling reason to spend some time in the capital. It did not disappoint. Incredibly fresh ingredients, particularly seafood, can be found from the funkiest little café to the poshest “Nuevo Peruano” restaurant. We had three especially memorable meals. El Cordano was special just because of the location close to the government seat; an old, traditional bar/restaurant that has served every Peruvian President since independence. The typical Peruvian food was simple and very well prepared, and the vibe was a little like time traveling. Second, Huaca Pucllana restaurant, set right in the ancient ruins, was outstanding for the views alone. Although a little higher-priced than our usual haunts, to sit in this incredibly unique setting, a pre-Columbian restored adobe ceremonial center from Lima culture, dating back to 400 AD, was otherworldly. A little charred octopus while sitting among the ruins–why not? Last, and most memorable for me, was Pescados Capitales in the warehouse loft area of the Miraflores disctrict, where we had some of the best ceviche I’ve ever eaten. I will dream about the scallops, they were that good.
But we did more than eat and drink and walk our feet off while in Lima. Naturally, there are churches and cathedrals to visit. Two of the most important are the the Cathedral of Lima and the Iglesia Santo Domingo, where the first University in the Americas was founded, (sorry, William and Mary). The Cathedral, where construction began in 1535, is the place where conquistador Francisco Pizarro is interned, and where he was reunited with his head in the 1980’s—a pretty fascinating story. The crypts were deliciously creepy, and the cathedral quite lovely. The Iglesia de Santo Domingo and its priory, however, house the most important bones for Peruvian Catholics—the skulls of three saints—Santa Rosa de Lima, the first Saint to be canonized in the Americas, San Martín de Porres, the first African-American saint to be recognized by the Vatican, and San Juan Macías.
While visiting one of the two main squares in Lima, Plaza San Martín, we came upon a crowd of people carrying placards and demonstrating for workers’ rights. It was fun to hear the Peruvian version of the Internacional being sung in the square. Next we moved on to the Plaza de Armas, where the Cathedral, Government Palace, and Santo Domingo are all located. Distracted by the demonstrations at Plaza San Martín, we arrived too late to see the changing of the guard at the Palace. No problem—my new bff Percy Olazabal (yes, it’s a Basque name!) told us to come back at 6 en punto to see the guards march again for the lowering of the flag. After asking about our travels and hometowns, he posed, rifle at the ready, for a photo with me. Not something that would happen at the White House or Buckingham Palace, is it?
While in the Central part of Lima, we had to stop at the Hotel Bolivar, a grand old hotel, although its grandeur is a bit faded now. I remembered drinking Pisco sours there—too many Pisco sours—when I was barely out of high school. It was nice to go back and have another drink—this time just one—so many years later.
Our stay was perfect in Lima, if not a little too short. While strolling out to the beach area one morning, after asking directions of yet another friendly local who was so helpful he practically offered to carry us, Ray turned to me and said, “I’m in love with Lima!”