Part of the reason why I’m publishing this so late into May is that Joel and our two friends, Preeti and Bhanu, just spent the last week trekking through the Salkantay trail without any wifi. And then I came back to a flood of emails and “wtf I need to get my life together”, so it officially took me 10 days into the start of the month to get into proper shape for writing a post.
April belonged exclusively to South America. We spent the first handful of weeks in Brazil, exploring Rio’s beach vibe and nightlife scene, then arrived in Sao Paulo, Joel’s old stomping grounds. While he’s mostly Korean by ancestry, he grew up in Brazil and much of his family still lives there. This was his first time back since he was 8-years-old.
As a result, the majority of our time in Sao Paulo was spent spinning from cousins to aunts to family friends in a tornado of nostalgia and churrascarias.
We said our goodbyes sometime around the last week and headed straight to Peru.
Lima was…difficult. I have a post sitting in my drafts about what exactly made it so disappointing, which I’ll be publishing as soon as I can bear to relive the nightmare that is VivaAir.
After a few days in the capital, we moved onto Cusco, the darling and heart of Peruvian tourism. This is where Preeti and Bhanu met us. We spent a few days walking around the city and preparing for our upcoming hike (and struggling to breathe, because acclimation yo).
Places visited: Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Iguazu, Lima, Cusco, Maras, Pisac.
1. Crashing a Brazilian wedding: Okay, so I didn’t technically “crash” it, but I had no idea who the people getting married were. When Joel’s family heard that we were going to be in town, they added us to the guest list of an old family friend’s wedding (which already had 500+ people so I’m assuming no one really noticed). It was glorious. I haven’t been to many weddings, and certainly never to one of a different culture in a different country, so it was a unique opportunity to experience something distinctly local in my travels. The whole thing was 100% Brazilian socialite status. I mean, they ordered 100 bottles of high-end whiskey AND had a dancing robot with lasers shooting out of his chest. Try topping that.
2. Diving deep into Korean-Brazilian culture: With travel becoming more and more accessible, people are always on the lookout for the most “authentic” experiences. The places where no one goes and the stories that no one has heard of (yet). It’s like a massive game of Snake where, as the number of tourists grows, it gets ever more difficult to reach the egg.
Well, spending two weeks wrapped up in the Korean-Brazilian culture of Sao Paulo was probably about as niche as any of my travel experiences are ever going to get. We spent evenings eating Brazilian
It was fun, to say the least (and a big
3. Hiking up to Christ the Redeemer: If you’re going to visit a World Wonder, you should at least make sure that you worked for it (right?). We met a few people in our hostel and decided to make the hike up to Christ the Redeemer instead of taking the tram. By the time we got to the top, all sweaty and flushed from the humidity, we were met with some of the most beautiful city views I’d ever seen. Visiting Christ isn’t about the statue; it’s about Rio.
I wish I had better photos of this (mostly for the baby monkeys), but our hostel staff told us that several people have been robbed along the trail, so I didn’t want to risk bringing my camera. #southamericathings
4. Exploring Cusco’s Sacred Valley: Machu Picchu is a must-see (obvs) but the surrounding landscapes and archeological sights are what really stole my heart. We visited the salt mines of Maras and the ruins of
1. Getting sick in Iguazu: Our time in Sao Paulo could best be described as “let’s go eat at a buffet even though we just ate at a buffet”.
Do you know how terrible it is to go to FIVE buffets while you have the stomach flu
I woke up on our second day in Iguazu unable to move or eat or think. It felt like the worst hangover of my life, despite not having drunk anything the evening before. I was so fatigued that I couldn’t even touch the cinnamon rolls at breakfast. That’s how bad this was.
Luckily, I had already visited the Brazilian side of the falls the previous day, so I didn’t feel too guilty for calling in early. Everyone else left to see Argentina while I rested in bed watching Ghibli movies. By 10 am, anything I ate ended up back in the toilet.
2. Bed bugs in Lima: I’ve encountered bed bugs twice before Peru, but this might have been the worst of all. Not just because I counted a total of 34 (!) red bumps all over my body, or because they itched so bad that I was nearly in tears rubbing Tiger Balm and hydrocortisone cream everywhere, but because they got MY FACE. I had three bumps spread across my lower cheek like Orion’s Belt and all I could think about was the fact that during my most vulnerable state I had these little, blood-sucking creatures scurry along my jawline in the middle of the night. This is what nightmares are made of.
3. Delays to Cusco: I don’t usually hold beef with budget airlines, but if you ever find yourself visiting Machu Picchu, please, pay a little extra for a better flight. The Cusco airport is known for delays as it is (it’s a small landing strip nestled in an 11,000 ft valley that’s prone to rain and fog) and VivaAir takes hits from this harder than any. We flew all the way from Lima to Cusco, just for our pilot to realize he couldn’t land with the current weather, and literally (literally!) turned back around to Lima. Cue mad rush to the check-in counter, new flights, overnight stays at an airport hotel, another cancelled flight, more new flights, more hotel stays, and nearly missing our third flight due to gross overbooking. We finally made it to Cusco just a quick 3 days after scheduled.
1. Smoked ribs on the sidewalk: This little mom-and-pop shop outside of Joel’s aunt’s apartment has one guy smoking a massive slab of ribs on a BBQ every morning. It looked incredible and tasted just as good.
2. Polenta fries at Magic Chicken: We ate at this famous fried chicken restaurant in Sao Paulo and their polenta fries are amazing. Crispy and greasy on the outside, soft and smooth on the inside. They were gone faster than anything else on the table.
3. Pao de quejo, everywhere: I’ve never been a big fan of Brazilian food (too heavy and meaty for my tastes), but Brazilians got it right when they created these little balls of cheesy heaven. They’re snack-sized cassava rolls (think soft, mochi-like texture) flavored with savory cheese. AKA the most perfect snack, ever.
4. Ceviche in Lima: For all the things I didn’t like about our time in Lima, at least I can say that they make a mean ceviche here. I can’t pinpoint a particular meal that was best (possibly the portion we made during our cooking class), but every time was killer. Raw fish, lime juice, red onion, crushed garlic, and hot peppers. It’s like the Peruvians made a dish specially from all my favorite flavors.
Our last month abroad! Crazy, innit? We have just a few more days left in Peru, and then we’re spending our final three weeks in Colombia and the Caribbean. We’ll visit my dad and the rest of my family in Georgia before finally flying to LA, and a week later, driving up to SF.
Cities Visited: 7
Distance Traveled: 5,055 miles/8,135 km
Photos Taken: 1107
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